The following is an UNEDITED excerpt from my latest novel Origins of the Outbreak:
“Aww yeah! This is just like The Walking Dead on TV, man!”
“Shut the fuck up and finish unpacking those boxes.”
“Way harsh, Mr. Thomas. What did I do to you?”
“I’m sorry, Brandon. You’re right, I shouldn’t have said that to you.”
“Rock on, man. I get it,” Brandon replied with his characteristic goofy smile. “It’s a stressful time in the CenTex.”
“You bet your butt it is, young man. And we need to keep those shelves stocked until we run out of food. Once that happens, you’re free to go do… whatever it is that you do.”
“Hey, by the way, my mom called. Can I set aside a box of food to take home? She has the twins and is afraid to leave the house.”
“Of course, Brandon. Set whatever you need aside and mark your box. I’ll just deduct the total from your paycheck.”
“Oh… bummer. I thought maybe you’d let me have some stuff for free since I was the only employee that bothered to show up today besides Julie at the register.”
The owner of Thomas’ Organics and Mideast Kabobs grimaced as he hefted a box of organic oranges onto the pallet jack. “It’s not like I don’t appreciate it, Brandon — I do. More than you could possibly imagine. But I’ve got a business to run and the way things are looking, this whole region is gonna go under. I’ve got to sell all this food and then get out of here while I still can.”
Brandon’s face fell and he asked, “Do you really think it’s that bad, Mr. T.?. I was joking about the zombie apocalypse, that’s some real scary shit. Y’know?”
“Yeah, I know, son. If this is really as bad as everyone’s saying, we’ll need to try and make it to the interstate and head north as soon as we can.”
“We’re over ten miles from Belton. You really think this is gonna make it this far? I heard that the National Guard was on the way to put up roadblocks and stuff.”
“They are, but think about it — hey, keep working! Think about it, Brandon. All that open country, there’s no way the military can completely circle the town. Something is gonna get through and then all hell is gonna break loose at another area. There’s nothing that can be done to stop this once it starts spreading.”
The boy set his box of canned all-natural, dolphin-free, no nitrate tuna into the cart he used to stock the shelves and said, “Um, maybe I’m gonna knock off early today, Mr. T. What you said makes a lot of sense. My mom is at home alone with my brothers — she probably needs me there with her.”
Mr. Thomas set his box down in exasperation and snarled, “You listen here, you little punk wannabe hippy. You’re gonna do your job and help me get this place emptied of food.”
Brandon looked at him in horror. Mr. Thomas had never talked to him like that before and it was totally against the man’s character. “Uh, are you okay? That’s not a very nice thing to say to your best employee.”
Once again, the owner relaxed. “Dammit, Brandon. I’m stressed the heck out. I’m sorry. Come on, help me out for another hour or so and I’ll pay you cash… Plus, you can take that box of groceries home for free.”
His face brightened and he said, “Sure thing, Mr. T.! I know you’re stressed. We’ll get this job done and everything will be alright.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it, son,” Mr. Thomas replied.
After a few minutes of working in silence, Brandon clears his throat and says, “Hey, um… I’m really craving some nicotine, is it cool if I take a break?”
The older man regarded him for a moment. “Don’t you smoke one of those electronic cigarette things?”
“Yeah, check it out,” Brandon replied with a flourish that brought his psychedelic-patterned metal e-cig from his pocket. “She’s so sweet, and I have a special blueberry-mocha flavor cartridge loaded up. I haven’t tried it yet, but my guy at the shop says it’s to die for.”
Mr. Thomas harumpfed, “Maybe the wrong choice of words, son. Look, just light it up in here and keep working.”
“Are you for reals Mr. T.? That’s totally cool.”
The store owner cracked open a bottle of kombucha and said, “Didn’t know the old man could party, huh?”
Before long the aromas of artificial blueberries and chocolate filled the small stock room and they finished their task. Brandon shoved his heavily-laden cart out through the heavy plastic sheeting and entered a world of chaos.
People were shoving one another and running through the store with carts loaded down with foodstuffs. He hadn’t even made it all the way out of the dividers before a lady began taking things from his stock cart. The whole scene was crazy and wasn’t anywhere near the way that the customers of Thomas’ Organics and Mideast Kabobs normally acted.
“Whoa, whoa!” he shouted as someone tried to grab the entire cart from him.
“I’ll pay for it. It’s already loaded, so you just saved me a whole bunch of time, give it here,” a tall guy who normally ordered a lamb, hummus and feta shawarma said.
“Don’t you even wanna know what’s in here, dude?”
“Don’t care, it’s food,” he replied and jerked the cart away from the stockman.
“Okay, hey Mr. T., you need help over there in the produce?” he yelled across the store.
The old man was in the middle of a tongue-lashing from some lady who was shaking a bag full of apples in his face. He looked over to Brandon and walked away from her. The woman stared in anger for a moment and then began throwing fruit into her cart.
“It’s a madhouse, Brandon. I don’t think Julie is going to be able to keep up,” he said as he pointed towards the poor girl at the one open register.
“You have insurance, right Mr. Thomas?”
“’Cause I just saw two carts of food go through the door without paying!”
“Goddammit!” the owner shouted and ran towards the front of the store. Brandon ran after him and burst through the sliding doors into the parking lot.
If he’d been surprised by what he saw inside, the parking lot was another matter all together. Cars were parked wherever the driver had decided to get out, most of the times, nowhere near a parking spot. Several fender-benders had people shouting and cursing at each other and he was pretty sure that over in the far end of the parking lot someone was in the process of getting jumped for their groceries.
“Mr. T.! Hey, come back, we can’t do anything about it! It’s not safe out here, man.”
The owner ignored him and grabbed the arm of the man who’d stolen one of the carts of food. Brandon couldn’t tell what either of them said, but he watched in horror as the customer punched Mr. Thomas in the face. The old man crumpled like a rag doll and the man hurried off to his car.
“Oh, shit!” he said and ran to aid the owner.
“Are you okay?” Brandon asked when he got to Mr. Thomas. The older man sat on his rear in the middle of the parking lot holding a hand over his left eye.
“Yeah, I guess we need to close up shop and get everyone home,” he conceded.
“Good idea, Mr. T.,” the youth agreed.
Brandon knelt down to help him up and the old man’s eyes when wide. “Look out!” he shouted.
Brandon started to turn around when pain exploded in his shoulder and he was knocked to the ground. “Ow! What the hell?”
A growl in his ear made him turn his head and the creature bit into his cheek. Brandon screamed in pain and was dimly aware of Mr. Thomas looming over him.
The old man kicked out hard into the side of the creature and sent it sprawling. Despite his age, he bent down and quickly pulled Brandon to his feet and they rushed inside the store.
Brandon ignored the pain and the blood and helped Mr. Thomas pull down the metal cage over the doors.
“That’ll keep that fucker out!” Mr. Thomas said. “Now, lets see your face.”
Brandon turned towards the man who’d been his boss, and even his friend, for the past two years and promptly fell over.
Within minutes, he came back and attacked Mr. Thomas and everyone who was trapped inside with him.