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Excerpt for Survivalist by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


SURVIVALIST

Jim Brew



Text Copyright © 2018 Jim Brew


All Rights Reserved


Table of Contents













Chapter 1



Roy Tucker lay in the morning snow. Clouds of breath curled from his thick, iron-grey beard. A flurry of white whispered down from black-bellied clouds, coating already over-laden branches. Melt-water gleamed on Roy's bald scalp. An ache nibbled through his neck and shoulders. Staring down the groove of his handcrafted crossbow made it worse. Clamping his jaw to retard his chattering teeth made his face hurt. Hunger's first pangs rippled through his gut. The old man wanted to head back to the comfort of his underground bunker, forget the world in a moonshine haze. Roy Tucker had always been a man who put business before pleasure.

Slate grey eyes locked onto the trio of monstrosities, Roy adjusted his aim. The three stragglers hunched over a patch of steaming red smeared across the mid-winter snow. Two pushed at one another, mismatched limbs flailing as they struggled to secure scraps from the stag's carcass. The third mutant hunkered off to the left. Arms drawn tight to its furry chest, its wide eyes were locked on the brewing fight. The coward winced, averting its gaze as the larger of the three swung an over-hand left into its adversary's drooping face. Cartilage and bone snapped with the dry crack of broken twigs. The victim staggered back. Its twisted, hoof-like foot caught the deer's shattered rib cage. Thin arms pin-wheeled Leathery shoulders tilted backwards. A mewling cry droned from between flabby, purple lips. The unfortunate creature tumbled onto the discarded skull. Barbed antlers slurped and ripped through its leathery hide. Its shrill cry weakened to a rasp. Bloody chunks of half-deflated lung hung from bony spiked poking through its chest.

The victor reared up to its full height, pumped twisted fists in celebration. Eyes narrowed to slits, mouth a twisted grin, it moved with an uneven gait to its impaled rival. Squatting down, the mutant reached out with stubby fingers. Another scream, wire-tight, rent the air. The dying mutant's eyeball came away with a wet pop. Optical nerves dangled from the victor's fist. Steaming blood dripped from yellow nails, rolled down filthy fingers. The victor examined its spoils, muzzle darting around the morsel. Teeth snapped shut, devouring the snack in a single bite.

With the speed and grace of a man thirty years his junior, Roy rose up onto a knee. Pulling the crossbow tight to his shoulder, he drew a bead on the victor's skull. The trigger clicked. Taught cable twanged in the still air, gifting the fletched bolt with kinetic energy. Black feathers spun. The quarrel's steel tip glimmered in what light broke through the forest canopy.

A shriek of warning burst from the coward's throat. Too slow, the victor turned. Its gore-soaked lips, ropes of nerve tissue hanging from a corner, slackened in shock . The vicious projectile pierced flesh. Blood and optical fluid erupted around the fire-hardened shaft. The mutant's twisted body dropped to the ground.

Roy leapt to his feet. Stabbing his weapon into the snow, he jabbed a foot into its iron stirrup. Trembling, cold-chapped hands seized cable. Arms and back flared with effort as he bent the massive bow stave to his will. Wood and steel creaked before the bowstring finally clicked into place. A smooth, practised movement had a quarrel in place and the weapon shouldered. Eyes narrowed, he sighted the fleeing survivor. Forcing his breath to a slow, even rhythm, Roy slid his finger inside the trigger guard. Deadly steel gleamed at the weapon's front. His fur-covered quarry disappeared behind a tree.

"Dammit," Roy cursed.

Pinning the bow to his chest, he leapt into the chase. White powder arched from his combat boots and crunched beneath his soles. Vapour clouds puffed from his beard with each grunted breath. Weapon held close, he followed the coward's splay-footed tracks. The footprints veered right. Churned earth and frost swallowed them amid the spoor of a passing army.

Roy slowed to a halt. He brought the bow to bear. Ducking behind an oak's massive trunk, he scanned the wood line for the straggler or its friends. The chemical, unwashed stink of a mutant horde scoured his throat. Time had eased the scent, reducing it to a mild irritant. His gaze shifted toward the skeletal canopy. Midnight black feathers ruffled in the branches above. Beady eyes stared down from behind a razor-edged beak. Anger flared in Roy's gut. A moment later relief replaced it.

"Two out of three ain't bad."

Shaking his head, a smile nestling beneath his beard, Roy smoothed down his rawhide greatcoat and shouldered his weapon. With the slow, silent steps of a naturalised forest-dweller, he moved through the trees, angling toward the entrance of his subterranean home and his moonshine still.

A thunderous boom stopped him dead. Reflexes took him to a knee, bow gripped in ready hands. Ravens burst from lifeless branches, their piercing shrieks deafening the hunter for a full minute. Black wings carried away the raucous cloud. The muted, gurgling rumble of a struggling engine filled the void of sound.

A sneer on his bearded lips, Roy swept his gaze left-to-right. Pulse quickening, he picked up the motor's mournful tune. In a single motion, he sprang to his feet and ran toward the noise. Ears prickling and throat dry, he broke through the tree line. His sneer twisted into an angry rumble.

A black scar of ruined tarmac peeked through snow drifts on the valley floor below. Abandoned, rusted-out vehicles peppered the road. A panel van, more rust brown showing than its original navy blue paint, crawled between piles of mouldering scrap. Thick plumes of greasy black smoke churned from its exhaust. The fog ceased momentarily. A gunshot crack blared loud before the smog returned in a solitary, foul-smelling cloud. A fatal shudder rocked the van. The whining combustion engine died.

Roy hunkered down among the rock-and-weed strangled slope. Resting his bow atop the boulder he'd chosen for cover, he scanned the opposite slope. When nothing moved along the snowy ridge, he gave a grim nod. Slamming doors drew his attention back to the crippled vehicle.

Driver and passenger sides wide open, the van looked to Roy like a stranded whale. A figure crept from the cabin. Even at distance, Roy spotted the nervousness in his gait. Taking in the surrounding area with exaggerated, too-quick turns of his head, the man circled to the bonnet. He eased up the hood while still surveying the area. The engine lid crashed back into place with a ringing clang.

"Idiot," Roy spat.

Breaking cover, the old hunter slipped from behind a rock. Boots dislodging rocks and pebbles, he sped down the slope. He switched his gaze between the two travellers and the shifting bank of shadow lurking beneath the opposite tree line. When he looked back, the woman had retreated inside the van, slamming the driver's door as she did so.


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