You've somehow stumbled upon the page of Dan DeWitt, genre-hopping author of the zombie thriller ORPHEUS, the Norse mythology adventure ODINSONS, and the horror short-story collection UNDERNEATH. There's lots more where those came from, so stick around.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Orpheus" Chapter One

The Rookie 

He didn't want to turn the corner. He didn't know what was ahead of him, but the only thing that was worse than that was that he had no idea what might be behind him. That thought served to overcome his fear, albeit temporarily, but long enough to decide to move ahead.

He raised his pistol, remembering his training that seemed to have taken place a lifetime ago. He took a series of quick, shallow breaths, calming himself the best he could under the circumstances. He was tired, alone, and scared out of his mind, but he was taking that corner now. He mouthed a silent battle cry and moved quickly to the door on the opposite side of the hall. It was slightly ajar, and he pushed it open with his shoulder, taking care that it didn't bang against the wall as it swung open. He stepped to his left, out of the doorway but not moving any further into the room, either. Despite the increasing dimness, he didn't need his flashlight to see that the room was empty and theoretically safe. 
He clicked the door shut quietly and leaned against it. He released the breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding and raised his flashlight. He swept it across what appeared to be a sitting room or a study in a slow arc, looking for anything that was both useful and portable. He didn't immediately see anything that fit that description, but there was an old-fashioned rolltop desk in the corner that might hold a treasure or two.

He moved to the desk, double- and triple-checking that he was really alone. He rolled it up and found nothing but basic supplies: paper, pens, a stapler, rubber bands, and some index cards. He grabbed the rubber bands and, as an afterthought, the index cards. Those could come in handy for marking, at least. He started rifling through the drawers, not coming up with much, until the second-to-last drawer.

Jackpot, he thought, and he grabbed the several unopened packages of batteries that were there for the taking. He decided that there was nothing else worth weighing him down, so he moved to leave. He put his ear to the door and listened for sounds. He wished that the door had something as simple as a peephole, but he didn't think there was anything out there. He opened the door, looked both ways like a kid crossing the street would, and continued down the hallway.

He heard a noise behind him and froze in his tracks. He spun around and saw one of the things at the end of the corridor. It must have rounded the corner just after he'd figured it to be safe. It still had its back to him, and he had plenty of time to deal with it. He raised his pistol and fired. The report was loud in the hall, but his aim was flawless, and the round hit it in the face. The thing moved a few more steps before realizing that it was dead. It fell to the ground, lying still for the second and last time.

I'm such a bada- was all he could manage to think before another noise, much closer this time, sounded in his ears. He barely had time to register that before a hand gripped his shoulder and tried to pull him closer.


He shot his left arm behind him. When he made contact with the thing's chest, he pushed it away with a grunt. Its grip was broken and he got a bit of separation, but it moved to close the gap. This one was fast, and he was unable to get off a head shot, so he settled for several in its chest. The slugs knocked it backward, but it came for him again. This time he steadied his weapon with both hands and squeezed off two more rounds, the second taking the thing in the top of the head.
Two more appeared at the opposite end of the long hallway, attracted by the commotion. These two moved almost normally, and were in a near-sprint after him. 
Sprinters. Figures.

Still, he knew that he had enough time.

And I have nine rounds. I'm okay.

He fired two more shots, the first in the neck. The second shot was fatal, hitting it almost perfectly between the eyes. He adjusted his aim to dispatch the second one and pulled the trigger.

The hammer fell on an empty cylinder. He fired again, but he was either jammed or out.

I can't be out. This is a 15-round magazine!

He felt around his waist for a spare magazine and came up with nothing. He realized what had happened, and broke into a run away from his pursuer. His heart was pounding as he tried to find something to put between him and the thing to buy him enough time to figure something out. The hallway was lined with doors, but if he guessed wrong and chose one that was locked it would be all over. He wouldn't have time for a second guess. 
Then he saw the door to the stairwell. Above it was a red sign that said “EXIT” and it had a welcome crashbar lock release on it.

I can blow through that and catch my breath, at least.

He did just that. He slammed the door shut behind him and sat down with his back to it. He braced his legs against the handrail and prepared for the impact. It was more violent than he anticipated, but the door held closed. He heard a rapid flurry of pounding against the door for several minutes, but it began to wane quickly. 
All I have to do is wait it out for a little while.

He heard a sound that made his heart drop. He was on the third floor, and the door to the stairwell was definitely secure. What he'd heard was the second floor door being opened and slamming shut. He was trapped between the thing behind him and whatever just came through the door. He didn't know what to do.

Please be Shufflers. Maybe they'll just fall down the stairs. Even if they don't, I can deal with a couple of Shufflers hand-to-hand if I have to. I'm okay.

They weren't Shufflers. They were Sprinters. Two of them. And they knew he was there. He grabbed his expandable baton from his hip and extended it with a flick of his wrist and a metallic click. 
I can do this!

He stood up to confront them and adopted a fighting stance. He raised the baton to strike, when the door behind him opened. He'd forgotten all about that one. It fell on top of him. He tried to strike its head with the baton, but he had no angle or leverage. Its face moved towards his throat with a hungry sneer.

One of the second-floor Sprinters had reached him on the landing. It stared down at him, head shaking in disapproval. It pulled off its mask and drawled, “Now what did y'all learn today, bait?”

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