Posts Tagged ‘zombie fiction’

Used by permission as posted on Tim’s Book Reviews.

Working StiffsPremise: Pro-Well Pharmaceuticals is Pittsburgh’s premiere pharmaceutical company, led by the former meth dealer Marshall Owens, developing drugs that treat diseases and ailments such as erectile dysfunction. When a terrible accident stops production, however, their dirty little secret is revealed: the factory workforce is actually full of zombies who only need payment in human flesh.

The office employees quickly go into survival mode, banding together or falling victim to undead hunger. They gather makeshift weapons of paper cutters and staplers in order to fight off zombie hordes as they try to escape the building before it’s time to clock out. Marshall Owens has barricaded himself in his fourth floor office, but his surviving employees might have plans of making him pay for his crimes against nature.

The zombie horde amassing outside the building makes their escape plans even more of a challenge, especially with no contact with the outside world. The outbreak has spread to other parts of the city, but the surrounded building isn’t enough to make these employees work overtime.

Themes: Survival is the key in any zombie outbreak, and that is no different in Working Stiffs. Improvisation is essential, especially when trying to find food, water, and weapons. Knowing your enemy is important as you make a plan for survival. The employees search for office supplies that can double as weapons and do their best to plan for escape from the Pro-Well building. We are given insight into the creativity needed for survival situations.

Romance sort of plays a role in the story, though a small part, even if it is unrequited or hidden between unlikely characters. Two employees make their secret romance known, while the goth girl on her first day of work longs for the gay pessimist who becomes the appointed leader of the survivors.

Pros: The dialogue is pretty funny if you aren’t offended by obscenity. The unique characters are probably the best part of Working Stiffs, being thoughtfully characterized without becoming too much of a caricaturization. I liked the fast pace of the action and the funny conversations, especially of the boorish O’Brien. And the loveable General will surprise everyone with his leadership. I also liked that no one is safe when it comes to becoming a zombie meal.

Cons: One of the problems I had with Working Stiffs was that I wasn’t convinced the improvised weapons would have been quite as effective as they were. I don’t think reams of paper and telephones with cords attached would smash a skull as well as they did in the story. A minor gripe considering the humorous nature of the book, I feel like it ended with a few loose ends unresolved while other things tied up too quickly. Perhaps it needed a bigger climactic event to have more payoff. I thought some of the content was offensive for the sake of being offensive, such as with the self-depreciating homosexual or the comments about obese people.

Recommendations: If there is such a thing as a lighthearted zombie gore fest, this falls into that category. Working Stiffs is humorous, full of violence, gore, profanity, and indiscriminately offensive toward all social groups, from geek to goth, including religion, race, age, sexual preference, weight, et al. Some people will be offended by these things while others will greatly enjoy the book because of them. I have a feeling after reading this review you will know which camp you fall into. Think of Working Stiffs as a cross between Office Space and Shaun of the Dead.

– Tim
Working Stiffs on Goodreads
Lucy Leitner on Twitter
Working Stiffs on Facebook
Buy Working Stiffs on Amazon
Necro Publishing

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And now for the giveaway!
We will pick two US/Canada winners to receive a signed copy and one international winner to receive an ebook. All you have to do is answer the question in the comments below:

“What would be your weapon of choice if you were stuck in an office building during a zombie outbreak?”

You can also get extra entries in the contest, but you must answer the question for them to count:
+1 Follow Lucy on Twitter @TheLucyLeitner
+1 Follow ZAI on Twitter @zpoc_awareness
+1 Tweet about the giveaway & post a link to your tweet
+1 Like Working Stiffs on Facebook
+1 Like Zombie Awareness International on Facebook

Make sure you post extra entries in your comment. Also let us know if you are a US/Canada or international entry. You have until 11:59 p.m. PT on Friday, October 26 to enter. Winners will be chosen from entries and contacted by email within 48 hours to get your shipping information. Good luck to everyone!

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Used by permission as posted on Tim’s Book Reviews.

By the Blood of Heroes (The Great Undead War, #1)Premise: In the midst of World War I, Major Jack Freeman gets in a dogfight with Baron Manfred von Richthofen. When he is shot down by the Red Baron, veteran Captain Michael Burke is the logical choice to go in to rescue him. Burke must gather several trusted men to make the suicide mission because not only is Jack his half brother, but he is also the son of the president.

To make things worse, the Germans have produced a corpse gas that turns the dead into zombies, raising enemy and ally to fight again and unleashing an almost unlimited supply of new soldiers into the fray. On top of this, it also seems that they have modified the gas to work on the living as well, raising Richthofen from the dead but also giving him enhanced abilities and strength.

Burke must find a way to sneak into the German prison camp to rescue Freeman before they learn his political secret, but also before they have a chance to experiment on him and release their new and improved corpse gas upon the world using tunneling machines and airships to turn the tide. Will Burke be successful, or will it be too late for the Allies and the world?

Themes: By the Blood of Heroes is almost primarily a war story. It could survive on its own without the zombie and steampunk elements, though these things create a mystique and incorporate current trends with the military aspects of the book.

In a way, By the Blood of Heroes is a heist novel in the way that Burke and his men plan their infiltration of the German camp to accomplish the goal of rescuing Freeman. Among other things, in their discovery of the corpse gas production facilities their plans change and they are forced to improvise as they go.

Pros: While I can’t vouch completely for the accuracy of all the weaponry, the historical military lingo is evidence that Joseph Nassise did his homework for this book. The blending of steampunk and zombies in the historical military setting is accomplished masterfully, creating a zombie novel far better than others I have read, but quite unique comparatively.

Cons: Knowing what I know about zombies, it is hard to believe that they have the potential to have heightened senses and abilities while at the same time constantly decomposing. I also wasn’t a fan of the cover. Despite its unique setting, seeing the Red Baron with a decomposing face seemed cliche for the zombie genre.

Recommendations: On seeing the cover for By the Blood of Heroes and reading the blurb, I was wary of it being too cheesy. I was thankfully proven wrong that this turned out to be a historical war story that played the zombie and steampunk cards judiciously. I put this up there in the same vein as Boneshaker and Dreadnought by Cherie Priest in the realm of successful cross-genre fiction, blending historical fiction, zombies, and steampunk all in one tasty story. I am very much looking forward to Book 2.

Joseph Nassise’s website
By the Blood of Heroes on Goodreads

– Tim

Hollowland (The Hollows, #1)Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, the zombie virus had spread and zombies run rampant. The place where Remy King and her brother Max had been living is overrun with zombies and she is forced to escape. The only problem is that she thinks Max has been taken by the soldiers there to a quarantine to the north. That is her goal, but one of the other girls there, Harlow, ends up coming with her.

Along the way, they find a zombie-eating lion (of course), which Remy quickly names Ripley after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien. They also meet Blue, the reliable and intelligent pre-med student, and Lazlo, the former rock star. This small group encounters marauders, a religious cult, and of course zombies on the way to the quarantine where Max supposedly has been taken.

Remy must do everything she can to get to her brother, to find out where he is and what has happened to him. They hope to make it to the quarantine, but will Max be there even if they do?

Themes: Obviously, this is a story of survival. Not only must they survive zombies, but they must also survive their encounters with other people.

Hollowland is also a story of a journey. Getting from one point to another with a vehicle is one thing, but when roadblocks are thrown in the way the journey is more difficult. Going on foot becomes even more difficult when the way is teeming with zombies. It is also a journey of growth for the characters, as well.

Remy goes through a lot of self-discovery in the story, facing death, her ability to survive, be a leader, and keep other people alive. She also discovers herself as it pertains to romantic relationships. Her dislike of Lazlo is put to the test. Can she care for someone when survival is so uncertain?

Pros: If you like gory scenes of zombies being killed in strange and inventive ways, that is about all Hollowland has going for it. The other reason I even read it is that it is currently a free download on Amazon.

Cons: This is a classic case of show, don’t tell. That is, it is a case of what not to do. In a first person perspective, this book suffers from explaining things through internal monologue rather than just having them actively engage in the action. Another problem was even though this is first person, a very vital piece of information is held back until over halfway through the book, a piece of information that the protagonist knows that is only revealed seemingly when it suits the author in order to build false suspense. This is just sloppy writing, not to mention the myriad of grammar and spelling errors that plague this novel. There are more minute details that could have used some research, such as the main character sharpshooting a man off a roof a block away with a handgun. On top of all these things, we are left with a cliffhanger that requires us to read the next book in the series to find out what happens to the protagonist. The real problem is that at the end of this emotionless book with stilted prose I just didn’t care about any of the characters.

Recommendations: If you like mindless stories about zombies, this book might be for you. Its only redeeming quality is that it cost me nothing other than my time to read it. Other than that, I can think of much better books to waste time with than this. If you are going to self-publish, at least have the decency to have your books edited. I can see why Ms. Hocking had collected so many rejections by traditional publishers after reading Hollowland. I suppose she may have the last word since she has made millions in book sales, but it doesn’t make her books any better quality, at least not this one. If Hollowland is any indicator of her writing, I doubt I will ever read anything else she writes.

Hollowland on Goodreads
Amanda Hocking’s website
Amanda Hocking’s blog

– Tim

Dreadnought (The Clockwork Century, #3)Premise: Dreadnought is the followup novel to Boneshaker in the Clockwork Century series (if you exclude the novella Clementine). It is set during the Civil War, this time beginning our story in Richmond, Virgina in a Confederate hospital. Nurse Mercy Lynch is good at what she does and has seen her fair share of bloodied soldiers, but when she discovers her Union husband has been killed and her father is dying, she decides to leave for Tacoma, Washington to see him before he is gone for good.

The trip is difficult, to say the least. She has to hop a dirigible through the front lines of the battle. The airship she is on gets shot down but she is able to make it to St. Louis. From there she gets on a Union train known as the Dreadnought to travel through the vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi. The mysterious cargo it is carrying, however, draws the attention of bandits, Rebel soldiers, and an even faster Confederate train as they race to their destination over the Colorado Rockies. On the way to Salt Lake City, will Inspector Galeano discover what happened to a group of missing Mexican soldiers, and will Texas Ranger Horatio Korman learn what is in the last two cars of the infamous train?

When Mercy arrives in Tacoma she meets up with the sheriff who is supposed to lead her to her father. It is here in the Pacific Northwest that she encounters a completely different world full of characters familiar to those who have read Boneshaker. She is introduced to these new people by her maiden name: Swakhammer.

Themes: What is important to you when you are on the edge of losing everything? When she loses her husband and her father is on his deathbed, Mercy is faced with choosing what is important to her. Knowing her father and seeing him before it’s too late become the most important thing to her at this time, so the obstacles in her path are dwarfed by her desire to know the only family she has left.

This is also a story about personal growth. This journey to Tacoma is as metaphorical as it is literal as she makes important life decisions. Mercy left Richmond a strong-willed widow but her arrival in Tacoma and Seattle bring her face to face with her unknown past and an unsure future.

Pros: Mercy is an incredibly strong female lead character that can handle being on her own. She doesn’t swoon over the sight of a man, but she is also feminine and has personal conflict, all of which makes her likeable and realistic. The pacing for Dreadnought was perfect, starting with the creep of sickened soldiers and building to racing locomotives. All the story elements – airships, zombies, the steam walkers – stood the chance of being cheesy tropes, but here they are executed and woven together with a skill that makes them all believable and interesting. I liked the train plowing through hordes of zombies, but it was the giant steam-powered walkers that I really loved.

Cons: Some of the motivational conflicts between characters seemed a little forced in order to move plot points along, but when facing zombies I can see how they would make some of the decisions they did in spite of their allegiances. Since I liked the walking war machines I could have seen more of them in the story. Besides, I wanted to see a fight between a walker and zombies.

Recommendations: Dreadnought gathered steam (pun intended) beginning with the sobering realities of war and accelerating to breakneck speeds of shootouts on dueling trains. Cherie Priest took the foundation she laid with Boneshaker and created something new in Dreadnought, with a few tie-ins to its predecessor. The two stories are greatly different and you can read one without having read the other, but why would you want to? This story is a speeding juggernaut of action, mystery, and intrigue…with zombies.

Dreadnought on Goodreads
Cherie Priest’s website

– Tim

This is not your typical zombie book. In fact, it was an unexpected place to find zombies at all.

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Premise: Set during the Civil War, a poisonous gas is released when a burrowing contraption called the Boneshaker runs amok underneath downtown Seattle. Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke run through subterranean tunnels to find their way out of the walled downtown area to catch an zeppelin into fresh air. Throw in zombies and steampunk elements to this alternative historical fiction and you have Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

Zeke sneaks into the walled city of Seattle to find evidence that might clear his father, Leviticus Blue, of the crimes of burrowing under the city in the Boneshaker machine, originally designed to drill for gold, and releasing a toxic blight that changes people into zombie “rotters” that roam the streets. There are still people living in the sewers who have secured entrances and have found ways to filter the gas from their underground home. They have some helpful mechanical tools that aid them in their life that Dr. Minnericht has built, but no one really knows who he is or where he came from.

The mysterious Dr. Minnericht provides the people with tools and weapons, but he is also quite unknown. It is he who Briar seeks out to find her son, Zeke, because it is rumored that he could be Leviticus Blue, but she knows that to be impossible.

Themes: The relationship between a mother and her son plays a huge part in Boneshaker. She has raised Zeke alone since her husband took the Boneshaker for a destructive joyride by working in a factory and making sacrifices of the kind that parents do for their kids. Briar is even willing to delve into a zombie-infested cesspool in order to save and protect her son from harm.

Survival is hard enough without the threat of zombies, the yellowish noxious gas, the recurring earthquakes, and living under the whims of Dr. Minnericht. In such an unforgiving world, survival takes on a new meaning. Where else do you have to cover all your skin and wear a gas mask to go out in the streets and rummaging through buildings for simple supplies?

This is also a book about facing your demons. For Briar, going into the city is a challenge not only because of the rotters, but also because it means going to the home she left behind and unearthing the memories of the things that Leviticus Blue did to bring the city to its current state. Her husband supposedly died, but her father, Maynard Wilkes, saved people in the carnage caused by Leviticus. Will the people there know Briar by the legacy left by her father or the mistakes of her husband?

Pros: Priest successfully manages to combine elements of steampunk and zombie novels into one without coming across as forced or cheesy. The characters are well done, with a strong female main character that is far from cliche, her independent teenage son without all the expected angst, a cool Jeremiah Swakhammer that knows how to survive in the city, and the towering airship captain Andan Cly that helps Briar into the city to find Zeke. Boneshaker has an atmospheric style that makes this a fun read from start to finish.

Cons: I would have liked a little more world building simply to give genre fans something more to chew on. Basically, more zombie action for the zombie fans and more steampunk elements for the steampunk fans. Any twists at the end were also fairly obvious.

Recommendations: Needless to say, I loved this book. Even the brown printed text helped suck me deeper into the gritty world Priest has created. For people new to either steampunk or zombie books this is a good entry point for either. Others familiar with either genre (or subgenre) will be pleasantly surprised with new elements to both. This will be a flagship book for the steampunk genre, if it isn’t already.

Boneshaker on Goodreads
Cherie Priest’s website

– Tim

So for those of you into pain and suffering and self deprecation, it’s that time of year again. That’s right, NaNoWriMo!

What is this, you might ask? Well, it is a competition against yourself with no prizes where you attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

Well that’s only a measly 1667 words a day. No problem, right?  Yours truly has competed three years and never completed it once. I came close in 2007, with 44,000 words while running combat missions in Iraq. How I got there, I have no idea.

If you like to write, this is for you. If you hate your free time, this is for you. If you enjoy pain and suffering, this is for you.

It is also a lot of fun.

http://www.nanowrimo.org/en

Check it out – Eric

The Walking Dead: Rise of the GovernorPremise: Based on Robert Kirkman’s comic books of the same name, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor is set in time before The Walking Dead series on AMC, focusing on how the character of The Governor from the comics comes to power.

The novel follows Philip and Brian Blake, two brothers trying to survive in the midst of a strange outbreak of flesh-hungry undead, along with Philip’s young daughter Penny, and two of Philip’s friends. They move from place to place trying to find a way to make a new life in this world of zombie apocalypse, where they face bandits, paranoid survivors, and the ever-present threat of zombies.

The circumstances obviously are difficult for everyone to endure and people are pushed to their limits of what they are willing to do to survive. As Philip becomes more unstable, we see Brian willing to overlook increasingly heinous acts as he makes excuses to Philip’s friends for his behavior, especially as it pertains to protecting and doing what is best for Penny. They finally come to the town of Woodbury and find themselves in a leaderless situation on the brink of collapse.

Themes: In this story, we read about the relationships of people, both family and friends, and their loyalty to each other in a life or death situation. The Blakes are willing to do anything for each other, including overlooking faults and lack of judgment, for the sake of keeping their family together. Bobby and Nick are Philip’s friends, and they are loyal to him. In spite of Philip’s disdain for his brother’s weaknesses, he still remains loyal to Brian because they are family. Above all, Philip is willing to do anything to protect Penny, as is Brian, who keeps that as the one thing he is able to do amidst the killing and mayhem around him.

We also see the obvious theme of people pushed to the limits and what they are willing to do to survive when all options are exhausted. With roaming zombies biting and tearing people to pieces, scavenging thugs with guns, food and running water scarce, and shelter never quite being secure, characters will stab each other in the back, even if they are family. As Philip loses it, his actions help them all survive, but the also eventually bring more and more harm to the people around him. What are you willing to do to survive in dire circumstances?

Pros: The story is told in a third person present tense that adds to the immediacy of the narrative and gives the story an inherent tension. For a zombie thriller, I would say this is a good thing. The interactions between the characters are interesting, especially between Philip and Brian. I was intrigued by how Philip treats his older brother, who is quite the pushover. But Brian, who also looks up to his much tougher younger brother as someone who knows how to handle himself in tough situations and is the most likely to be a survivor, gives Philip the benefit of the doubt in the midst of ridicule from his brother. If you are looking for pure gore and zombie killing, you will find plenty of that here.

Cons: The character perspective changes a lot. I think it changes too often. I understand that you are seeing through the eyes of characters that go off on their own and there needs to be a tension of fear through their eyes, but for a novel it is distracting and sometimes confusing. The character motivations and consistencies just weren’t there for me either. I didn’t get the idea that Nick was a Christian until too late in the novel. I also thought that Brian’s eventual actions were too inconsistent with his character for the entire book. It is one thing to be pushed beyond reason or sanity, but you still have to keep character consistency. I’m also not the biggest fan of swearing in fiction, but especially when it is in narrative. Because the narrative is from the point of view of different characters and not an omniscient perspective this means that you see things through the characters’ eyes, but it doesn’t mean that the narrative in their heads needs so much swearing. I would say it was too much and unnecessary. Finally, if this is meant to be a trilogy (which I discovered it is) you still have to have a complete book and fulfill readers’ expectations. This book felt as if it was lacking an ending, especially for people who have never read the comics and have no idea who the Governor is. Not once does the book say that name.

Recommendations: If you are a fan of The Walking Dead series, definitely give this a try. It will give some back story into a character they may introduce in season two. If you are a fan of the comic books, you will probably enjoy reading some of the back story of a horrible villain. This is definitely an adult book with adult themes and adult language. Be aware of that when you are going into this. The Walking Dead is not for kids. My guess is if you like the television series you won’t be offended by anything in here. If you like an old-fashioned zombie flick, The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor is also right up your alley. A caveat I’ll throw in there would be that I might suggest waiting until all the books are out to read them together so that you’re not disappointed when you get to the end of this first book and it leaves you hanging.

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor on Goodreads
Robert Kirkman’s website
Jay Bonansinga’s website

– Tim

Monster Hunter International (MHI, #1)Premise: Monsters are real and there are competing organizations, including the government, out there fighting them in secret. Owen Z. Pitt is an accountant who is attacked by his werewolf boss one day and discovers he has a penchant for killing creatures, which leads him to be recruited by the private organization: Monster Hunter International. His size (he’s a big guy), upbringing with firearms (dad trained him from childhood with guns), and cage fighting past (he was also a bouncer) doesn’t hurt. This book contains just about every monster you can think of: vampires, werewolves, zombies, wights, ghouls, and even the mythical Wendigo.

The Monster Control Bureau is the secret government organization in charge of monster eradication. While not the primary antagonists in this story, they aren’t exactly shown in a pleasant light. They are what you might think of when you hear talk of “the Feds” with coverups and secret missions. They are a fine counterpoint to MHI and lead to some additional conflict throughout the story, even when the two organizations are forced to work together to fight the evil Cursed One, bent on not only ruling the world but destroying it.

Themes: One of the main plot threads through the story is love. Owen finds in Julie his soul mate: a beautiful woman who is still somewhat of an outcast because of her profession and her love of guns. Owen is immediately enamored with her for all of these things, even to the point of putting himself in harm’s way to protect her. The story behind how the Cursed One came to be gives us an insight into his motivation, with love at the center yet somehow still not truly being a motivating factor. For the Cursed One, love is simply another tool to be used to gain power. Love is a strong enough motivator for many of the characters to be willing to do anything to protect it.

Faith is prevalent throughout Monster Hunter International. Owen isn’t necessarily a religious person, but there are characters, like Trip and Milo, who are. At one point this theme is quite obvious, with Milo using his faith to fight a vampire directly. At other points the theme of faith is more subtle, with Owen’s team putting their faith in him to figure out how to save them even when he doesn’t know how to do so.

One more theme is the idea of finding your calling. Owen is an accountant, and has also been a bouncer, a cage fighter, and a competitive shooter, but he finds these things all leading him to his true calling of being a Monster Hunter. He also discovers his calling through the prophecy behind the Cursed One which leads to the final battle to save the world.

Pros: Monster Hunter International is a story for gun geeks and classic monster stories. If reading accurate descriptions of just about every firearm and weapon you can think of is your thing, then this book is for you. MHI abounds in splattering monsters from volleys of bullets. Again, if that is your thing, this is your book. Not only does the author prove he has done his research and knows his stuff, he also gives the reader some good characters and intense story pacing. This is a fun read with 700 pages that go by quickly, almost too quickly.

Cons: If your idea of vampires is sparkling and wooing teenagers then you will probably want to pass. If you aren’t into the gun porn, this isn’t your book either. If I had to have a complaint with this book it would be that I could see how the gun descriptions could grow tiresome to some readers after a while. I will say that Correia did back off the gun descriptions as the story progressed, but there were perhaps still too many for those sensitive to violence and guns. I also found some typos but those can be found in just about any book, even with the most diligent of editors.

Recommendations: If you want a fun, shoot ’em up monster story with a new flavor, look no further. Correia’s Monster Hunter International delivers, and not just with the premise. He proves in this book that he’s a good storyteller and writer.

Monster Hunter International on Goodreads
Larry Correia’s website

– Tim

We are pleased to be able to announce the winners of the first Zombie Awareness International short story contest!

We had eleven submissions total, all great stories. We would like to thank everyone who entered. We would also like to thank all of you for taking the time to stop by and read them and vote.

The race for first and second was a close one, as was the race for 3rd through 5th. The points spread on 3-5 was only 4 points.

So, without further ado, here are the winners:

5th place, honorable mention: 50 Days in Blood: A Last Will and Testament after the Zombie Apocalypse. By Jason Schwartz

4th place, honorable mention: Roulette By Raymond Contour

3rd place: Lookout By Kevin Gillihan

2nd place: My Birthday Wish By Kittyana Mitchell 

1st place: Shattered Memories: A Beginning By: Dale K Ostrom

Would the author of each story please contact us via email at zpoc.awareness@gmail.com

We would like to thank our generous sponsors, Kershaw Knives,USA. Author Sean T. Page. Also, Baen Book Publishing. Without their great support, this contest wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome as it was.

You guys are awesome!

Eric

ZAI

Roulette

by Raymond Contour

 

 

Moscow Prison, September 8, 1812

                Mikhail crouched on the cot in the corner of his cell shivering.  His arm was numb below the elbow, and his hand stunk where that bastard had bit him.  Bit him!  Now he had an infection from the bastard’s filthy mouth.  The bite was had become a weeping, stinking sore with a speed that horrified and astonished him.  He needed better food to fight the infection off.  Cold borscht and moldy bread was not enough.  At least his cellmate wouldn’t be biting anyone else.

Mikhail had always been strong and healthy, and when that moaning bastard had come at him a second time for another bite, Mikhail had used all his strength to put that biting mouth through the bars along with the head the mouth was part of.  The biter’s head had cracked and he had slid to the floor.  In a rage Mikhail stomped his head until one of his eyes popped out.

Stomach cramps nearly doubled him over.  He considered going over and kicking the body again, but wasn’t sure if he could make it as the room began to spin.

“Help me, I’m sick!” he cried out.  It was quickly getting worse.  He tried to stand, but accidently shit his pants instead.  As he rolled off the bed to the floor he could hear someone coming toward his cell.  He lifted his head, though it took every bit of his strength.

“Ah, looks like we have another.  Hurry, this one is going fast.  If we’re quick we won’t have to gag and tie him.  Come, you will be set free soon.”  Someone entered the cell and grabbed Mikhail by the ankles and dragged him into the hall before he blacked out.

 

 

Outside Moscow, September 13, 1812

 

                Bernard walked toward his tent.  Looking around he was amazed at how few tents remained from only a week ago, before Borodino.  Talk around the camp was that it had been the largest battle fought by the Grand Armee yet.  Supposedly it also delivered Napoleon his greatest loss of men.

Moscowwas in the distance, though.  It wasn’tSt. Petersburg, but when they took the city on the morrow it would certainly deal a heavy blow to the Russian morale.  Scouts had come back with reports that most of the city had been abandoned.  These Russians were no fools.  There was no way they could holdMoscownow that the greatest army in the known world was at their doorstep.  Bernard opened the flap to the tent and entered.

“Dear God, close that quick!  It’s freezing out there,” Jean-Claude barked at him.  None of them had gotten used to the cold here.  Back home it would be not yet autumn with warm days and cool nights.  Here it was freezing every night.

“Kiss my ass.  While you were in here sleeping I single-handedly killed a dozen Cossacks.  The Emperor says he will let us use their heads for latrines.  I am to be promoted to General tomorrow.”  There was no response.  The mood in the tent, and in the entire camp, was melancholy.  No one remained who had not lost a brother in arms atBorodino.  Bernard sat on his cot and began to pull off his boots.  He looked at the center of the tent where three muskets leaned against one another in a tripod.  It had been five.  The oil lamp that hung above them gave off poor light and worse heat.

“Good night, then brothers,” Bernard bid his tent-mates.

“And to you,” Jean-Claude replied.  Henri did not even respond.  They left the lamp on for heat through the night.

 

 

Moscow, September 13, 1812

               

                Petro stood in the abandoned mansion before his ataman, old Boris Ostap, listening as the plan was outlined.  Petro’s was the last unit of Cossacks left inMoscow.  In fact, his unit was some of the last Russians left inMoscow.  Days before the French had arrived outside the city most of the residents had been evacuated.  The pompous French fools believed that they would deal a heavy blow to the Russians by taking the city.  They had no idea what a hollow victory it would be for them.

“Outside in a paddock are several hundred prisoners,” the old man rumbled in his deep voice through his shaggy mustache.

“Yes, I heard them when we arrived.  Their moaning troubles the horses.  They are sick, yes?”

“That would be a great understatement,” the ataman said while rubbing his balding head at the temples.  He looked tired.  “They have some sort of disease that is very horrible.  They pass it to one another by biting.  Once they are bit they seem to almost die.  Their bodies rot and reek.  The process, I am told, is very painful.  Once they have caught the disease, though, they are truly something.  Aside from breaking open their skull, they cannot be stopped and they attack anything alive.  Prince Mikhail Kutuzov believes he would like to see this infection spread through the ranks of the French.”

“What do you require of my Cossacks,” Petro asked the old man.

“Tomorrow morning I want you to lead the diseased prisoners toward the French following the routes on the map I just showed you.”

“They seemed…unruly.  Will they listen to the commands of my men?”

“Hah!  No, Petro.  They will chase you as best they can through the streets.  It will be the job of your men to stay ahead of them while drawing them toward the advancing French.”

“I see.  I will now take some of that vodka you offered earlier.”

“You will need it.  There is more I need to tell you.  This is supposed to be secret from all but a few, but I feel you need to know.  Once the French have fully entered the city, the governor wants to put it to the torch.  Most everyone else thinks he’s mad, but he persists.”  Ataman Ostap poured the vodka into two glasses and slid one toward Petro.  “I fear that he will go ahead with his plan.  Keep track of where you go in the city tomorrow.  To herd the prisoners toward the French, many streets have been blocked.  You and your men do not want to be caught out there if the city does burn.”

Petro took the vodka and sipped it slowly.  It was good, the warmth spreading through his chest.  Whoever had owned this house before them had been of means and knew how to spend.

“I understand.  I will instruct my men and make sure all know where they should be.  I will lead the first group.  I will have Ivan lead the second group.  I will tell him about the fire, though.”

“You can trust him?”

“He’s my starshy uryadnik, if he could not be trusted he would not be such.”

“Ivan was made starshy before you were weaned.  He has stayed there because he is surly.  Effective, but still surly.”

“As you say, it is so.”  Petro bowed slightly, took the map, and turned to leave.  He left the room and made his way downstairs to the ground level.  As he walked through the largest home he had ever seen he pondered what Ostap had told him.  He and his men were almost as much strangers here inMoscowas the French.  They would need to make a second copy of the map for his second group.  Getting lost was absolutely a death sentence.

Petro stood at the front door between the two men set on guard there.  He began to head for the houses his Cossacks has turned into their barracks, but instead turned and made his way toward the paddock which contained the prisoners.  He needed to see just what he was dealing with.

He smelled them long before he got to the paddock.  He’d had a man under his first command take a ball to the thigh years ago.  It had festered and turned black, leaking a greenish pus.  The smell from the paddock reminded him of that leg thrown into a latrine.  He nearly gagged before a gust of wind blew through and weakened the stench.

The paddock was originally just that.  It had been for some princeling or tsar-hopeful to play at riding horses, being a circle several hundred feet across in the middle of what appeared to have once been an open square.  The fence around it had been strengthened and raised.  It was now more than twice his height and nowhere was there a large enough gap for him to stick more than his arm through.  As he studied it, the wind changed direction again and he coughed as the putrid smell made its way down his throat so thick he could almost feel it.

The noise from his cough seemed to stir the prisoners.  Their moaning began and rose in volume.  It had an eerie, pained sound to it.  Petro could see movement through the slats of the fence in the deepening dark of dusk.  Here and there hands were shoved through, reaching out for him.  Before he even gave a thought as to why, Petro drew his sabre.

Petro was not a cowardly man.  He was actually considered almost recklessly brave by his men, but at that moment something about these diseased prisoners drove a knife into soul.  Petro struck out with his sabre, the Cossack steel a blur in the twilight.  One of the reaching arms fell to the ground.

In his life Petro had used his sabre countless times in battle and in anger.  He did not remember a time like this.  The man who lost his arm did not cry out, nor did he even pull back what was left of his arm.  Worse was the blood.  Instead of shooting out bright red in time with a heartbeat, it leaked out in thick black drops.  Petro was stunned.  Every fiber of his body told him how wrong this was, but he needed to know what would be chasing him through the streets in the morning.

Making sure to avoid the growing number of arms reaching through the fence, Petro rammed his sabre between two slats.  He drove it up through the belly of the now-armless soldier, up past the ribs and into the heart.  As he withdrew the blade he twisted it to make sure he did as much damage as possible.  The cloudy eyes of the prisoner could be seen through some slats higher up.  The bastard didn’t even blink.  Petro drew one of the pistols at his belt, cocking the hammer in one smooth motion as the gun was brought up even with those eyes.

Petro pulled the trigger.  In a split second the hammer dragged the flint down the frizzen, sparks hit the pan igniting the flash charge, and the charge fired the pistol blasting a lead ball bigger than Petro’s thumb through the milky eye.  Even through the paddock fence Petro could see the head rupture and the prisoner drop to the ground completely still.

Two guards came running from the other side of the paddock, but Petro waved them away.  Petro holstered his pistol and sheathed his sabre as he walked away from the paddock.  He suddenly had no desire to sleep even in the same city as these monsters.  If this disease were loosed amongst the French, Petro decided, the city would have to burn to destroy them.  This disease could not be allowed to make its way across the motherland.

 

 

Outside Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

                Reveille had sounded not yet an hour ago, but the Grand Armee was already on the move.  Bernard, Jean-Claude, and Henri were on the road leading intoMoscow along with thousands of their countrymen.  For the first time sinceBorodino the mood amongst the troops was almost light.  News had moved through the army that the city was nearly deserted.

“Ah, dawn always looks bright when you know you will be sleeping in an enemy’s captured home come night,” Bernard declared.

“Sleeping on a bed, even a Russian bed, and under a roof will do good for every man here,” Jean-Claude said.  “We’re close enough to the head of the force that we should get a good house to before they’re all taken.”

“I suppose hoping that we find one with some wind is too much to ask for in this shitty country,” Henri nearly moaned.  He had lost his best friend atBorodinoand had been grieving since.

“Cheer up, Henri, we should be inside the city within the hour,” Bernard said as he clapped Henri on the back.

 

 

Moscow, near the paddock, September 14, 1812

 

Petro and his Cossacks stood a short distance from the paddock where the prisoners moaned and pushed against the fencing.  It almost seemed that they knew something was afoot, like they could sense what lay ahead.  Petro surveyed his men.  While the horses were unnerved, his men were doing their best to show no concern.

“Alright, Cossacks, you have your orders,” Petro addressed his men, “you have your equipment, you have your weapons, and you have your horses.  No one in the world can stand against you!”  The Cossacks were always dour before battle.  Today was no different.

“We are the last fifty Cossacks in Moscow.  I offered to the ataman to send thirty of you with the refugees.  I told him that to face forty thousand French twenty of us would be enough.  He said it was not allowed, as Prince Kutuzov feared if you were left loose amongst the refugee women that within two generations Russia would be overtaken by Cossacks.  I believe that was a reasonable fear.  You know what our orders from the ataman are today, and you know what your orders are from me.  It is my hope that we can complete our task and still catch up withMoscow’s women by the evening.  Now throw your asses in those saddles!”

Petro climbed into his saddle and cantered his horse over to where Ivan sat his own saddle.  The old veteran had fought in more battles than any other Cossack Petro had ever met.  The ataman was right in a way, as Ivan was truly surly when he had been drinking vodka.  Sober he was worse.  Certain things could be overlooked, though, when in the saddle charging at the enemy you were a demon.  Visually, a demon might have been preferable.  Ivan’s old face was a battlefield where wrinkles waged a constant war for dominance against his scars.  He kept most of his head shaved save for a long braided topknot of his white hair.  Petro had watched him strangle a man to death for having bad breath once.  Ivan’s company was not for all tastes.

It was behavior like that which caused Ivan to be tossed from commander to commander.  Petro was the first khorunzhy Ivan had served under for more than a year.  What amazed others who had been over him, was that Petro had promoted him all the way up to starshy uryadnik.   Placing men under him was the trick, Petro had found.  Some men would hate him, while some men were amazingly loyal to him.

“Remember, once you finish this, you and your men ride like hell.  Only engage the French if you have to.”

“Da.”  Ivan was not known as a wordy man.

“And be damn careful, between the French, the disease, and fire, there are many ways for a man to die today.”

“And you,” Ivan said after spitting out a large wad of phlegm.

“Men, form up!” Petro called and the Cossacks obeyed instantly.  Two teams of the finest mounted fighting menRussiahad ever produced readied themselves for their task.  Petro took his place at the head of his men while Ivan did the same.

Petro took a deep breath and signaled the guards at the paddock to open the gates.  The guards opened the locks and pulled open the paddock.  Instantly they were both set upon by the prisoners.  Petro and Ivan spurred their horses and leaped forward, their men following.  Chasing them toward the French were the screams of the guards.

Petro risked a glance over his shoulder just before the first turn that would lead them throughMoscow’s streets, and reigned his horse to a halt.  Hooves clattered on the cobbles of the street as his men did their best to not collide with one another.  Petro’s men looked at him and then followed his gaze back to the paddock.

The prisoners had stopped at the gates of the paddock where the guards fell to them.  It was not that they had stopped which caused Petro to stare, but why.  It looked from the few yards away where Petro was that the diseased prisoners were not just attacking the guards, but eating them.

The guards were no longer screaming and the prisoners were ripping and tearing pieces of flesh and guts and greedily stuffing them into their mouths.  Behind the first prisoners who stopped to attack the guards, the remainder of the occupants of the paddock moaned aloud while pushing and shoving to get closer to the fresh kill.  One of Petro’s younger Cossacks vomited loudly, setting the man next to him to the same task.

Petro looked to his right across the square to see that Ivan and his men had stopped as well.  Ivan looked to Petro seemingly asking for orders.  Petro was about to shrug when the prisoners apparently finished the last of the two guards and stood.  They seemed to be searching, more by scent than sight, for their next meal.  Petro had no intention of following the guards to their fate, nor seeing any of his men do so either.  He let out a loud cry to draw the attention of the prisoners, and Ivan followed suit.

The attention of every one of the prisoners that Petro could see immediately was upon either Petro or Ivan.  A cold sweat broke out across Petro’s body as he wheeled his horse and shot off once again at a gallop toward the route he was to lead the prisoners.  From the sound of it Ivan was doing likewise.  The faster his horse ran away from the prisoners the better Petro felt.

His unit had gone three blocks and through a slight bend in the roadway before he once again looked back to make sure the prisoners were following.  Once again he reigned in his horse.  This time his men were ready and the stop was much more orderly.  There was not one prisoner to be seen.  Petro’s men nervously looked to one another and to Petro.  These were good dependable men, but watching a man be eaten by a mob was apparently enough to shake them.

“Sir, where did they go, “ kazak Igor asked.

“I don’t know, perhaps they all followed the uryadnik and the men with him.”  Petro did not like to have his men hear him sounding unsure, but after what they had all just witnessed Petro seemed to be the least unsure of all the Cossacks in the street right now.  Then the wind changed and Petro’s horse suddenly acted as if it had been spooked.  Its eyes rolled around wildly and the beast tried to run farther down the street.  Petro almost lost control of him, but swiftly recovered.  Once he did he could see that his was not the only horse to act that way.  Then Petro caught the scent that had startled the horses.  It was the foul rot of the prisoners, and now Petro could hear their moans as well.

The mob of diseased prisoners was nearly two blocks away when Petro first saw them.  When he realized why the mob had been delayed he swore loudly.  The prisoners moved in a shambling horde no faster than a healthy man could walk.  Petro shouted again at the prisoners to see if they would move any faster, a few of the younger men looked at him as if he were crazy for calling to the monsters.

The prisoners seemed to speed up some, but not enough to make any real difference.  Petro swore again.

“Sir?” Petro was not even sure who spoke.  His mind was almost reeling with what this meant.

“This is bad, my Cossacks,” Petro addressed his men.  “The plan was for us to lead these horrors to the French, as you all know.   The streets down which the French will be forced to travel are blocked and barricaded to take the French to the point where they would be trapped with our prisoners,” Petro pointed down the street at the mob which was now halfway to the Cossacks.  “Look at these poor bastards, they move like old women.  The ataman’s plan was that we would make it to the square where the French are to be trapped with these ghouls just before the French arrive.  That way we, and uryadnik Ivan’s men, can get away down a third street with a barricade ready to fall behind us so that our escape will not be troubled by either the French or the prisoners.”  His men looked at him with no sign that they understood what the speed of the prisoners meant to them.  Most of them in fact were looking over their shoulders at the mob which was now a little less than a block away.  The horses were becoming almost uncontrollable.

“At this speed,” Petro pointed at the prisoners, “we will not make it to the square before the French.”  Realization spread through the men.  “We will be trapped between several hundred diseased madmen and tens of thousands of French soldiers,” Petro continued.  “My intention is to continue with the plan.  Hopefully we can break through the French so that some of us might escape yet.  Now we should get moving, the prisoners are almost upon us.”

“Sir, what’s that?” kazak Igor asked pointing past the mob to a point where the sky could be seen between two buildings.

“Dammit!” Petro cried as he wheeled his horse.  His men were glad to follow, creating more distance between them and the mob.  Petro looked back again.  It was no illusion Igor had seen.  There were three great black plumes of smoke rising in the distance. Moscowburned.

 

 

Moscow, inside the city proper, September 14, 1812

 

                Bernard marched in formation with Jean-Claude to his right and Henri to his left.  They had formed up just before entering the city and even at the reduced numbers following the losses at Borodino the Grand Armee was an impressive sight.  No wonder the Russians had abandoned their city.

The abandonment of the city must have been an unruly thing, Bernard though.  There were wagons and carts and furniture strewn everywhere, most of it blocking the side streets off the main road into the city.  Blocking at least two smaller streets that Bernard saw were piles of what looked like firewood and tipped over ox carts.  The thought of being a refugee in the surrounding fields without a fire for warmth was a horrible thought to Bernard.  The cold here, even in mid-September, was too much for him.  He began to keep track of where the wood piles he had seen were so that after he and his comrades found a home for the night he would be quick to round up enough wood for a roaring fire.  And he’d have to move quickly since they were near the rear now.

The march was easy now, the road being not only straight and flat, but paved also.  The army was almost to the square up ahead where they were to present themselves in formation to Emperor Napoleon as he officially took the city.  Had the sun made its way from behind the clouds Bernard might actually have been happy.  Until Henri opened his damned mouth, that is.

“Well, isn’t that just what this campaign needed,” the glum Frenchman to Bernard’s left said pointing to the distance.

“Fucking crazy Russians.  They’re burning their own city.  No doubt we’ll wind up on fire duty while the officers get the best houses.  We’ll be sleeping in a hovel with holes in the roof and walls freezing our asses off.”  Bernard’s mood could not have gotten any worse until he heard not too far ahead the clatter of hooves coming down a side street.  Between the heads of the men in front of him Bernard caught glimpses of a small group of what appeared to be Cossacks riding into the ranks from the right.

Bernard could hear the screams of men and orders being yelled out.  Gunshots sounded and the air began to fill with the powder smoke.  Bernard’s unit leader called out the order to fix bayonets.  As one the men brought their rifles off their shoulders and attached the needle sharp steel spikes the end of their rifles.

Bernard had seen this tactic from the Cossacks before.  They would ride into the middle of a column from the flank and fight their way through before the men could bring their rifles of bayonets to bear.  Men were reluctant to shoot at the Cossacks for fear of hitting their own, and the Cossacks would ride off after breaking through on the opposite side.  The French were often by that time busy affixing their bayonets and not ready to fire at the fleeing horsemen.

Jean-Claude was on the outside row and was just as familiar with the Cossack tricks as Bernard.  They both left their bayonets in the scabbard and leveled their muskets at the angle where the Cossacks would emerge.  The first one out was an old man with a long, white ponytail braided like a woman’s.  Jean-Claude pulled his trigger but had a misfire, the powder in his flashpan burning quickly but not igniting the charge in the barrel.  Bernard had better luck.  His shot cleanly took the horse out from under the Cossack just before he made it to a side street that was not blocked like all the others.

Now two more of the Cossacks had made it through and were past the dead horse as its rider struggled free.  In the blink of an eye the now-horseless Cossack drew his sabre and charged back at the column.  Bernard lost sight of the crazy bastard then.  More shots rang out, but they sounded not like the French muskets.  Bernard had heard Cossack pistols before and was sure that was what he was hearing.  Jean-Claude had another charge in his pan and was drawing back the hammer as he brought up the musket to his shoulder again.

A large group of Cossacks, what must have been the remainder of the force, broke free.  Jean-Claude’s musket roared and one of the Russian bastards lost a goodly portion of his skull.  Bernard was shocked to see the Cossack without a horse somehow break away from the melee he had entered, collect the riderless horse and follow his comrades down the side street.  A large crashing noise followed from the side street.  Some men ran after the Cossacks to try getting a shot off at them.  Bernard was one of those.

When he rounded the corner to look down the street where the Cossacks had made their escape he was shocked to see a pile of wood and stone debris, some of it still tumbling down to rest, and dust rising.  The Cossacks had obviously set up this ambush well.  There was no way that the French could clear the street in time to make a pursuit of any worth.

Bernard turned back toward his unit and for the first time got a good look at what the Cossack charge had cost the French.  He resumed his place back in formation between his friends.

“The bastards got away.  They had a bunch of wood and rocks waiting to be pulled down or something once they passed a point not too far down the street.”

“How bad is it up ahead,” Jean-Claude asked.

“A quick look is all I got.  I’d guess we lost between twenty and thirty men, dead or dying.  It’s going to be a bit before the column gets moving again.”  Bernard took a few moments to reload his musket and attach his bayonet.  If there was another Cossack ambush, he wanted to be ready.

“My God, they must have wounded more than you say,” Henri said.  “I can hear them moaning clear back here.”

 

 

Streets of Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

Petro and his men continued to trot their horses down the road according to their orders.  The mob behind them continued to keep pace.  Petro had sped the men up initially to give them at least one block of distance.  As they lured the prisoners forth, Petro had gotten a rough count of them.  He was fairly sure that about two thirds of the prisoners had followed his force.  Hopefully Ivan made it with the remainder.  They were only a few blocks from the point where they were to meet the main unobstructed roadway that the French would be using.

Petro had outlined his plan to the men as they had made their slow progress across the city.  Once they were within two blocks of the French, they would draw their sabers and charge the French column.  Whoever the last man through was would use his sabre to knock free the debris deadfall blocking the French from not only following the Cossacks, but also from escaping the prisoners.

Petro signaled a halt.  His men knew what to do without him needing to issue an order.  These were good men.  Some of the finest he had led or fought beside, and Petro hoped most of them would make it to the escape route.  Looking at them now, he was certain they knew how he felt, and Petro felt that to speak it out loud would somehow lessen the sentiment.

The moaning horde behind them was nearing.  Petro drew his own sabre and spurred his horse forward at a trot to the corner ahead, just beyond which was a short two blocks to the French column.  Had these shambling bastards behind him made better time Petro and his men would have pass just in front of the Russians.  But it was not to be this day.

Petro rounded the corner and kicked his horse to a full charge.  He could see the French ahead of him, none of them had heard him yet.  They seemed to be looking back behind them.  Petro had little time to worry about it before he was in among the French.

He and his horse were well experienced at this.  They bowled into the first few rows of Frenchmen.  Petro always found himself enjoying perhaps a little too much the surprised faces of men he caught unawares like this, his sabre moving up and down in a blur.

Frenchmen fell back before him as his horse lashed out with his front hooves.  Petro continued to press forward knowing that the men behind him were bringing up the rear of his charge.  A few of the Frenchmen must have had their rifles ready.  Muskets close by began to fire and Petro had to knock away multiple bayonets stabbing at him.

Petro was almost free of the French when one of the bastards stabbed low with his bayonet and managed to run the damn thing through Petro’s thigh and into his horse.  That’s all the horse needed to panic and break into a run as he passed the last Frenchman, though the damned musket bayonet remained in Petro’s leg.  His horse began to stumble and the bayonet waved back and forth sending explosions of pain through Petro’s entire body.

Petro breaking through the lines must have opened the French up.  Petro’s men were passing him and making it down the street to escape.  The number of French muskets firing now increased drastically, the French no longer afraid that they would hit their brothers in arms.  One of those French musket balls hit his horse and the damn thing tumbled throwing Petro to the ground near the deadfall.  As the horse lay on the ground screaming and thrashing, one of its legs struck the board holding the deadfall in place.  Petro covered his head as broken bits ofMoscowcrashed down around him.

 

 

Somewhere in Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

Bernard, Jean-Claude, Henri, and three others from their unit crouched low in a back room of a building they had broken the window out of and climbed into after the ranks broke.  Jean-Claude and Henri had shoved a table up over the broken window to make sure none of the monsters followed them into the building.  Bernard could still not believe what had happened.

Shortly after the first group of Cossacks had attacked and before the column had begun moving again, a group of Russian madmen attacked the column from the same direction as the Cossacks had.  The French had been made ready by the first Cossack attack and immediately began firing on the filthy men as they stumbled forward at the line.  Bernard saw clearly from where he stood on the opposite side of the column as musket balls hit their targets over and over again, though only a few of the Russians who were hit actually fell.  The mob awkwardly stumbled forward so slowly that the French had time to reload and fire another volley, though the second was no more effective than the first.  By then the Russian mob was upon the French.

Bayonets were no more effective than musket balls at stopping these Russians, and the first few rows of French were pulled down.  Thinking back on it, it seemed to Bernard that the Russians had used no weapons that he saw at all other than fists and teeth.  These Russians were savages.  They fought like dogs and set their own city on fire.

Bernard wasn’t close enough to have seen what triggered it, but suddenly the French broke.  Men were pushing past each other, screaming and falling in their rush to get away from the madmen who were attacking them.  Bernard had been pushed to the ground and would have been trampled had it not been for Henri pulling him up off the ground and dragging him along in their escape.  Somewhere back there where he fell was his musket.  All Bernard had left now to fight off these mad Russians was a long knife at his side.

Jean-Claude stood up and slowly made his way toward the broken window they had climbed through.  He peered out carefully.  Bernard could smell smoke from the fires now.  Jean-Claude turned back to them quickly.

“There are some soldiers coming this way – French soldiers.  I can seem them through the smoke,” he whispered.

“Call them over here and let them in for God’s sake,” one of the other men said.  Bernard didn’t know his name.  Bernard got up and went over to Jean-Claude to help him move the table.  At the sound of them moving it, the soldiers turned and headed toward them.

“Over here,” Jean-Claude whispered loudly.  “Get in here quick!”

Something about the soldiers was wrong.  At first Bernard couldn’t place it.  The soldiers were only a few feet away when Bernard heard one of them moan.  It was the same moan he had heard right before the attack.

“No, shove the table back.  They’re those Russians dressed in our uniforms!  Block the window!”

“What are you talking about, I know that one, his name is, hell I can’t remember, but he’s no damn Russian.”

The French soldiers made it to the window and Bernard drew his knife.  Jean-Claude was extending his hand to help them up when one tried to bite his hand.

“Dammit!  What are you-“

Bernard pulled Jean-Claude back quickly and stabbed the soldier in the eye.  He dropped immediately.  Jean-Claude was up and shoving the table back against the window with the strength of a man in a panic.  Just as the table blocked the window, Bernard saw as some of the smoke cleared that a large group of both the Russians and French soldiers were moving this way.  They had the same stumbling walk that the Russians had.

“We need to get out of this building.  More of them are coming this way. “  This time Jean-Claude didn’t argue.  The six Frenchmen made their way farther into the building.  Near the back was a door that lead to the street behind the building.  The six of them made their way out as quietly as possible.  In the distance they could hear musket shots, screams, and the crackling of fire nearby.  Under it all was the constant moaning.

 

 

 

Ambush point, Moscow, September 14, 1812

 

                Petro awoke with a mouth full of dirt and wood splinters.  He tried to sit up and spit it out, but his arm was trapped under a pile of debris.  He gagged and turned his head just in time to vomit.  While it was as unpleasant as every other time he had vomited, at least it seemed to clear a good deal of the debris from his mouth and throat.

It took a few moments for him to remember where he was.  Part of his confusion was from the smoke.  It was so thick that he thought it was night at first.  When he realized finally where he was he looked around for the French.  There were bodies strewn around the street that he could see and in the distance he could hear voices and muskets firing.

His right side was mostly under the debris from the deadfall.  He managed to get his arm free and then tried to move his leg.  He had to stifle a scream as he remembered the French bayonet.  Petro slowly dug his leg out from under the pile of rock and wood.  Once he was free he tried to stand.  He could hop some, but his leg would not bear enough weight for him to run.

In his belt sash, his scabbard was empty.  Of his four pistols only one was left.  His powder and bullets were kept in a bag on his saddle.  He assumed that his horse was somewhere under the tons of debris.  Perhaps out in the main street there were some additional weapons he could make use of.

Petro carefully hop-limped to the corner and peered out into the main street where the fight with the French had taken place some time ago.  Kneeling in the street was a Frenchman over the body of one of his countrymen.  No doubt he was grieving over a lost brother.  More importantly to Petro was the fact that the Frenchman was armed with a musket and had a long dirk at this side.  Petro slowly took aim at the Frenchman’s back and fired.

Had he the time to consider things, Petro would likely not have been surprised that his pistol misfired.  He also would most probably not have been surprised that the noise from the powder igniting in the flashpan attracted the attention of the Frenchman.  But even on this day Petro was shocked to see when the Frenchman stood that he had not been grieving over his comrade, but instead eating him.

The disease must move quickly, Petro thought, as the French ghoul moved toward him in that shambling way.  Its mouth hung slack, a piece of French uniform caught between two teeth.  Petro flipped his pistol around, gripping the barrel.  The grip of the pistol had a round brass cap made for using as a club.  Petro hoped he could muster the strength needed to crack one more thin French skull.

The madman seemed heedless of the pistol as he lunged at Petro.  Petro assumed that this day was going to continue in the same way it had so far as he felt the diseased cannibal’s body crash into his.  Petro’s injured leg gave way under him and the two of them fell to the ground.

Underneath the reeking body Petro realized that the thing was now a corpse.  He rolled it off of him and struggled to his feet.  A large, round indentation from his pistol butt was clearly visible in the thing’s temple.  Petro carefully reached down and took the dirk from the thing’s belt.  He drove it through the ear as hard as he could, sinking it in several inches.  The corpse didn’t twitch.  It was truly dead.

Petro looked up and down the street trying to get his bearings.  His exposure toMoscowwas extremely limited.  Clouds of smoke moved down the streets making it hard to see more than a few hundred feet in any direction.  That was enough though to let Petro see that up and down the street were men stumbling around singly, in pairs, and even a few large groups.  Petro knew that he would die here if he didn’t get away soon.  As he was backing toward the deadfall, he noticed something across the street.  It was another Cossack horse lying dead.  Petro made his way carefully over toward it trying not to make any noise or draw attention to himself in any other way.  Once at the horse’s corpse, he saw that it was Ivan’s.

Petro allowed himself only a second to hope that his comrade’s death had been quick.  Then he tore open the pouch on the saddle where Ivan kept his powder and bullets.  Petro reloaded his flashpan and stuffed his pistol back in his belt sash.  Then he opened saddlebag.

Petro and Ivan had come up with the decision to burnMoscoweven if the governor didn’t.  Petro knew that they could not let this disease loose on the Motherland.  Burning it down around the Frenchmen was the closest thing to a solution that he and Ivan could come up with the night before.  Inside the saddlebag were several torches, at least two pounds of gunpowder, and a tinderbox.  Petro took all of it and then clambered over the deadfall.  Even if Ivan’s men made it to freedom, they would not have known to start the fires near where the French had moved into the city earlier that morning.  With the fires that the governor had set moving the direction they were, if Petro could set fire to the city near the mouth of Ivan’s unit’s escape, he might be able to send his fire back toward the ones burning now.

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

The six Frenchmen were within a few blocks of where the Grand Armee had entered the city.  Henri had climbed up to the top of some sort of tower and seen that it was so.  He also said that there were fires burning everywhere, but that a large force of Napoleon’s men were heading this way being followed by an even larger group.  They figured if they continued in this same direction they would meet up with the force of their countrymen who were apparently getting the hell out of this nightmare city.

They came around a corner quietly hoping to avoid any of the monsters stalking the city and saw a filthy Russian crouched down near the street where one of the ox carts full of firewood had been tipped over.  He was striking a flint with what appeared to be a French long knife.

“That son of a bitch is trying to set that wood on fire!  He means to trap our men in this burning hell hole with those things,” Bernard growled.

“Hey!” Jean-Claude yelled at him.  Henri already had his musket shouldered and aimed at the Russian.

 

 

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

Petro had found one of the carts of wood near where the French had entered the city.  There was enough dry wood here to get a good fire going.  Petro dumped the gunpowder out in a pile of kindling and laid the torches on top of that.  He was trying to strike the flint with the shitty French knife when he heard someone behind him yell.  He stood awkwardly and turned to see six fucking Frenchmen, three of which had muskets.

Petro dropped the knife.  He had to start the fire and a musket ball in his chest would keep that from happening.

“We have to stop this disease.  Let me start the fire and we can all just go.  If this doesn’t get stopped here, there’s no telling how far it will spread.  Please, if you-“ one of the muskets roared.  Petro for an instant could only see a large orange ball.  Then it felt as though a horse had kicked him in the chest.

Petro crumpled to the ground.  His last thought before everything went black was, fucking French.

 

 

Moscow, near the entrance to the city, September 14, 1812

 

Bernard watched the Russian fall.  The wood pile behind him was splattered with blood.  Henri’s aim had been true.

“Quickly, we can meet up with the Armee just outside the city,” Jean-Claude said.  The six Frenchmen climbed over the wood in time to see several hundred of their brothers in arms emerge from a huge cloud of smoke.  Some of the men in front saw the six and waved at them to run.

“Get out of the city!  There are thousands of those things,” a man in front screamed.  Bernard and the others didn’t think or talk about it.  They turned and ran out ofMoscow.