A good portion of CAGE THE DEAD, Chapter 1 to whet your appetite. I am planning on releasing this book by end of June if all goes according to plan! Enjoy the rest of your Sunday! Now, back to editing....
|Gaia and Solomon|
As Gaia arrives to work that fateful day to a zoo full of visitors, including students from a nearby school, strange things begin to happen. After hearing rumors of a deadly virus being released and then news of a terrifying broadcast, she begins to witness both zoo employees and patrons dying and coming back from the dead as flesh-eating zombies. Will Gaia be able to survive the chaotic environment created by both the wild predators and the living dead?
This book contains graphic sexual content, strong language, and violence. It is intended for mature audiences.
The taste of a French vanilla cappuccino was fresh on Gaia’s lips as she peered out the window of the café, whipped cream on her nose and a smile on her face. She squinted against the sun despite the sunglasses on her face. It was November and not the slightest chill was in the air. That alone was the reason she moved to this clime many years ago, to enjoy the year-round sun. And she didn’t mind seeing the hard bodies that accompanied the sunny weather—both men and women alike. She admitted on more than one occasion, and to Adam’s delight, that the female body was slightly more appealing to observe, what with its curves and soft edges. She wasn’t a prude, she would often say to him and he would flash her that beautiful smile that she fell in love with those many years ago.
She and Adam had just arrived to share a cup of coffee and enjoy an hour of comfort before his job took her away from him again for four consecutive days. She did not enjoy the shift work that he did, but the three-day weekends were certainly nice, even if they were Monday through Wednesday, especially in the summer months when she had coverage at the zoo and they could enjoy the beach that was less than an hour away.
In addition, she had the flexibility of seeing him at her job, where she performed her main function there as a primate specialist, and where she was pretty much left alone to do her thing, not having to report to anyone, especially on the weekends. The zoo had one or two supervisors there on Saturdays, and she and Adam would often share a romantic lunch in the reptile house since he didn’t particularly relish the smells of the primate enclosure. Or they might visit Sal’s Safari to see what specials he was running, and since the zoo wasn’t always busy those days, they did have some free time to enjoy. Gaia’s employer, Kristen, was very understanding of the visits and never gave her any grief about them. The zoo was where they spent most of their time, other than their apartment whenever they were both off, which was a rarity.
As she caught her reflection in the mirror, she brushed a hand through her short blonde locks and grimaced, believing she wasn’t at her best today, but Adam never voiced any such concerns from the time they had first started dating until now.
And neither did the animals.
She sat in silent appreciation of the wonderful animals that she had come to know these past few years. There was Rocky, the seven hundred pound grizzly; a pair of male tigers, Theo and Buster, whom she was just getting to know; Luna the Jaguar and a recent mother to a litter of three. But what made her smile most, was Molly, her mama gorilla and her babies whom they had yet to name, despite the passing of five months; and Solomon, the huge silverback papa with which she’d developed a special bond. And there was always her best girlfriend, Maye, a white-headed capuchin monkey.
The zoo was a bit on the small side, but that was the way she liked it. She had a natural affinity toward animals, which far surpassed by comparison, her comfort level when dealing with her own species.
You know where you stand with an animal, she often said to Adam, who would shake his head knowingly. Humans were less predictable and quick to disappoint.
This was her experience, being a woman of twenty-four years and never married. Adam was the last in a short line of people that understood her, through and through, and that took some time.
She sipped her hot drink and gave thought to that notion until Adam returned from the restrooms, wiping his hands on his jeans. “No paper towels in there…again,” he said with a smile. It was an ongoing joke that they shared, Gaia poking fun that they lived in a one horse town, and they would often tease Maria, the owner of the café, about just such things.
“Though the coffee is excellent,” Gaia countered. Adam pulled her in close and kissed her deeply, her eyes closing, enjoying the taste of his lips on hers.
There was hardly anyone else in the café today, except for a man that appeared to be passing through, dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase. He had been on the phone for the past hour, and Gaia had overheard him talking about directions out of town. There was also a woman and her children enjoying breakfast, dressed in clothing that might suggest that they were headed to the beach. It was an unusually warm day today, and so they were probably taking advantage of the nice weather.
“It’s about that time,” Adam said, pointing to his watch and tapping its face. It was close to starting time for her shift at the zoo, and he was going to drive her in today as her vehicle—an old rust colored jeep that must have had every part replaced by now, and which Adam constantly begged her to sell—was in the shop getting work done…again.
She stood, finished the coffee and tossed the empty container in the trashcan, waved goodbye to Maria and followed Adam to his prized toy, a 2006 Mustang GT, all in black with leather interior.
It wasn’t ten minutes before they arrived at the gates of the zoo, Gaia opening the door and staring out at the beautiful scene.
The zoo was busy this morning, passersby coming and going, bringing their excitable children in to observe and interact with the wildlife. The grounds were very open, atypical of a standard zoo, but more resembling a huge land with enclosures for all the animals and a staff of approximately twenty to care for it.
And take care of it they did, often sacrificing personal time and money to do whatever had to be done to keep the zoo open and profitable.
Kristen, the owner, was a very generous woman who inherited the zoo from her father, Charles, who passed away less than three months ago. And Kristen vowed to keep the place running with the help of her son and the rest of the staff, always giving of themselves early and often when it came to the animals’ welfare.
Sal’s Safari, the famous and sole restaurant on the grounds, was famous for its hearty breakfasts, soy burgers and vegetarian style platters, as well as many other dishes that might satisfy the tourists. The zoo also sported a petting zoo for children, which were the closest things resembling a traditional zoo, and a place in which she frequented.
“Sorry, hon, was just thinking of Kristen’s dad,” Gaia said as she kissed Adam gently, standing on her tiptoes and giving him a hug. “I’ll see you a bit later. I gotta go home, wash up and I’ll bring you lunch,” Adam said, smacking her on the butt as she turned around.
“You got it. See you soon,” she called over her shoulder, heading to the changing room attached to the house located near the far western side of the zoo, where she dressed into her uniform. A few moments later, she was on her way to check in Maye and gather her up for company on her shift, as she did each and every day for the past few years now, when she heard a familiar voice call to her.
“Hey, Gaia,” called Aubrey, one of the pair who watered and fed the animals. Gaia waved back and strode right past her and everyone else toward the monkey pens to get Maye.
“Looking for her?” Aubrey asked, pointing to the rather large windowpane of the restaurant. Inside, she could see the capuchin in between the glass and the draperies.
“How did she get over there?” Gaia asked, hands on hips and shaking her head at Maye.
“Well, Sal asked for her this morning. I guess he has grown fond of the little rascal,” Aubrey said with a chuckle.
“So she watches him cook breakfast for everyone, eh?”
“Well, he does feed her a ton of bananas, ya know,” Aubrey clarified, following Gaia to the restaurant that was populated with some guests as well as a portion of the staff who hadn’t started their shifts just yet.
“Heya, sweetie,” Gaia said, as the monkey hopped over to the entrance of the restaurant to meet her. And as was typical, Maye swiftly made it to her standard perch upon Gaia’s shoulder. “High five,” she added as Maye slapped her outstretched hand.
“We do have time for breakfast, I hope?” Aubrey asked, gesturing toward an open table.
“I kind of already ate,” Gaia said, drawing a narrow eyed look from Aubrey.
“And by eat, you mean, you watched Adam eat and you sipped cappuccino?”
“What’ll it be, girls?” Sal said, interrupting Gaia’s stammering response and standing over the pair proudly wearing his soiled apron.
“Right. Okay, I will get some pancakes.” As Sal began to walk away, she corrected, “A short stack, Sal!”
“What are you getting? He didn’t even ask,” Gaia said, giggling as they both knew that Aubrey got the same thing every day—a bowl of oatmeal and a piece of buttered toast.
“There’s been some weird things going on in the news today, Gaia. Have you seen it?”
“No, I haven’t had any contact with the media today, just the way I like it!” Gaia said enthusiastically, never being one to listen to the news and its numerous reports of people dying, companies going belly up, and the general malaise of society that is described all too frequently.
“It’s kind of been going on all around,” Aubrey said in a hushed tone as the food arrived.
“This is for Maye,” Sal said, handing the capuchin a pair of bananas that seemed to quiet her. “Thanks, Sal!”
“Anything for Miss Maye,”” he said with a smile as he disappeared behind the counter.
“Gaia, I’m serious! There’s something—“
“Can we maybe talk about something else? Or at least let me finish my pancakes that you made me order?” Gaia added with a brief chuckle in an attempt to defuse her curt response. Aubrey returned a forced smile and the pair ate their breakfast in relative silence.
Gaia could not help but overhear a few discussions about the sickness going around, and how the chaperones from the school were trying to keep the children focused on their fun day at the zoo instead. As Gaia listened to the conversations around her, she focused on one particular young girl talking about how excited she was to be at the zoo. It reminded Gaia of herself as a child.
Soon after the uncomfortably silent breakfast, Gaia stopped as they were exiting and grabbed Aubrey by the hand. “I’m sorry. That was really shitty of me.”
“It’s okay, Gee. I know you’ve got a lot going on with the babies. Molly and Solomon are proud parents right? Have you named ‘em yet?”
“No, I haven’t yet. Not sure what to name them yet. Waiting for inspiration, you know? Anyway, what is going on around here?” Gaia said, running after Maye, who hopped along in front of her without a care in the world.
“We’ve got a sick lion,” Aubrey called from behind Gaia, pulling her attention to regard the older woman. Aubrey had worked here for several years prior to Gaia’s hiring, and she knew both the animals and the grounds very well.
“Isn’t Doctor Friedman here?” Gaia asked incredulously, wondering where their almost-twenty-four-hour-a-day veterinarian was this day. Doctor Nancy Friedman was a wonderful doctor who lived nearby and loved animals so much that she would often spend a good portion of her free time here at the zoo. Kristen had even extended her an invitation to stay at the house, but Nancy refused each time, citing that she was more comfortable in her own lab.
The lab was set up with multiple operating rooms, with one in particular which Nancy had converted into makeshift living quarters. Doctor Freidman was a bit obsessive with regards to her lab running properly and had even had a generator put in directly beneath her lab. She was quite obsessive about her own supplies and whatnot, Gaia knew, and often heard comments within the zoo regarding opinions on how O.C.D. doctors were the ‘best ones’. It was a well-known fact that Nancy was a bit obsessive-compulsive, which had its boons and banes just like anything else. But, Nancy was fanatical about making sure that every contingency was taken into consideration.
“She is actually quite sick,” Aubrey replied, wiping sweat from her head, and replacing her hat back on her head. There was a bit more concern than usual in Aubrey’s brown eyes and Gaia could not ignore it.
“What’s going on?” she asked, continuing her journey toward the cats, specifically, the jaguar pens, to see Luna and her litter of three, the first such litter for the jaguars to date. Aubrey followed closely behind and ran ahead of Gaia to get in front of her. Nick was very excited about it and took everyone out for drinks a few days ago, which was a blast, Gaia recalled.
“Listen, something’s going on. Eddie and Kim are out sick today, and some others are working under the weather. And like I said, forty five minutes ago or so, I heard something on the news that scared the shit out of me.” Gaia stopped and stared at her, eyes widening with expectancy of said news. “What is it?! What is it that everyone is so freaked out about?”
“There are reports of people…getting sick…and well…it mentioned something about people dying.”
“That’s most definitely sad,” Gaia said, rerouting herself into a circuitous path around Aubrey.
“That’s not the worrisome part. Reports are saying that after they die…they are coming back to life.” Gaia stopped and turned on Aubrey with skepticism laced upon her features, tilting her head to the side, as she remained silent for a moment, staring at her and all around them.
“You’re shitting me, right?”
“I wish I were,” Aubrey said with a frown
“What the hell channel were you watching?!”
“Mainstream news, Gaia. It’s why I want you to come back and check in on Dr. Friedman with me,” Aubrey stated more than asked. “Gaia! I’m not kidding!”
Just then, Gaia turned to take note of a rather large crowd of people as they began running past them in a panic toward the exit. People were being trampled; both women and children alike, and the sight gave Gaia pause. She could not believe what was happening.
“Are there animals loose?” she asked, wondering what was happening.
Another crazed man ran past the two of them, “the dead are alive!”
“They must have just heard the news report. It’s on in the restaurant,” Aubrey said. “And to be honest, I’m not feeling too well either. And I’m scared.”
“It’s probably psychosomatic.”
“I appreciate that you studied psychology, but you don’t have a degree. I can do without the analysis,” Aubrey said, wiping more sweat from her brow. Gaia looked at her more closely, seeing that she did look a bit pale. “And what I'm feelin’ is real.”
“Are you talkin’ about people dying and then coming back to life!? Are you serious?! “ Aubrey nodded her agreement and looked expectantly at Gaia “Like in the fuckin’ movies?!”
But before Aubrey could answer, she caught sight of something like what Aubrey was discussing. It was something that at one time may have been a woman—an adult woman with dark hair tied up in a bun—but was now vomiting blood. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human anymore. That much Gaia could tell.
It chased down and easily overtook an older man, tackling him and leaning over him. And then it did the unthinkable: it began tearing flesh from the man’s shoulder and neck.
“What the fuck is that?!” Gaia asked in disbelief.
It was very primal and reminded Gaia of a predator in the wild, only much more…profane. The crazed woman ran at such a swift speed that Gaia couldn’t believe it was bipedal. She became immediately sick to her stomach and felt the pancakes in her stomach making their way back up.
Aubrey pulled a pistol, aimed it and fired it at the creature as it continued to rip flesh from the elderly man pinned helplessly beneath it. A dart hit the thing in the side of the head and it turned to regard the pair of zookeepers and the monkey, and then it stood looking away from its current victim to regard them, and then ran after them with terrifying speed.
“Holy shit!” Gaia said as she ran, pulling Aubrey along with her. It was suddenly clear that tranquilizer darts had no effect on the thing, whatever it was.
“What the hell is that?!” Gaia asked, scooping up Maye and scanning the nearby area for a place to seek shelter from the insanity erupting around her. She saw a nearby washroom and decided that it was as good a place as any in which to hide.
“It looks like…a zombie,” Aubrey suggested as she ran away from it, Gaia following closely behind. Another few of the things emerged from the ticket kiosks to their left. Gaia, a bike rider and a daily visitor to the gym up until about two months ago, outpaced Aubrey quickly. Suddenly, this newest group of zombies was in between the two and Aubrey freaked. There was nowhere for her to go.
“I gotta find Adam!” Gaia yelled in a panic.
The three zombies, two in front and the one chasing behind, converged on Aubrey swiftly. But, before they got to her, a shot rang out from behind them and the trailing one fell to the earth.
The pair of women looked back to see Kristen’s son, Nick, rifle in hand, waving her toward him. He had a safari jacket on and his beard was visibly soaked.
“Oh thank God!” Aubrey yelled, making her way toward him. The two zombies, seeing Gaia now, suddenly ran toward her. She spun and raced toward the bathroom, Maye hanging desperately onto her neck, arriving at the washroom door seconds before the zombies and slamming the door shut on them. It all happened so fast that she hadn’t even gotten a chance to see where Nick and Aubrey were headed.
“Shit, Maye! What are we gonna do?” she asked rhetorically, as Maye steadied herself once more on Gaia’s shoulder. She heard the banging of hands against the door and leaned against it. The door gave slightly under their assault and seconds later, a pale hand was reaching for her. She leaned against it hard and slammed it shut on fingers, which fell to the ceramic floor. Gaia’s gaze went from the severed digits to surveying her surroundings, seeing a window on the opposite side of the room.
She had to make a break for it. She panicked, knowing that this was her only shot of getting out alive. It was a tight fit, but if she dove headfirst, she could break the glass and make it through. It would have to be perfect.
“Maye, you go!” Gaia instructed, and the monkey made its way reluctantly to the window. “Go! I’m coming!” Maye easily climbed through the window and disappeared.
“She’ll be fine,” Gaia told herself and steadied her breathing as best she could.
She released her hand from the door and her heart thundered in her chest. And then it almost stopped entirely as she felt the cold grip of a lifeless hand grasp her arm. She whipped her head round to see the gray, wide and crazed eyes of her imminent killer, and she felt her bowels wanting to give way under the fear. The zombie shoved the door wide and pulled her toward its snapping jaws.
All Artwork and covers of my works by William J. Kenney & Carlos Cara
All maps, names and content copyright Ashenclaw Studios 2014 unless otherwise noted.