The Last Flag
Race the Dead Book 1
by Wren Cavanagh Genre: Dystopian Horror, Thriller
What would you do to pay the bills; to survive, or to just get rich, would you compete against other teams in a quarantined town filthy with zombies wanting to bite out your throat?
Emma and Lewis sign up for the race, they need the money to save his life. But they won't just be racing the dead, the surprise blizzard or the other contestants.
Because anger and vengeance know no bounds and like everyone in the blighted town they become pawns in a game of retribution.
The contestants become nothing more than live entertainment to viewers who watch and judge their every move in the town of Prideful as they race each other to arrive alive to a final flag. The team that makes will get airlifted out alive and go back home richer for it, the others walk back to a pittance and if they are not careful. They won't get out at all.
The helicopters lifted off from their respective locations at the town’s cardinal points. For the landings, the pilots made a show of finding a good spot, good editing would do the rest. It would create the impression of action and urgency where there wasn’t much of it; for ‘safety’ the pilots hovered close to ground and let the members of the four teams jump out of the open doors. All a show—a few ladders and some thick blankets thrown over the barbed wire would have worked as well. Or cutting a hole in the fence. But cutting through it would have caused legal issues, worse, the noises might eventually draw out some of the town’s current inhabitants. And everyone wanted intact fences between them and the turned.
The players now had two days to reach as many flags as possible. They would be told how many flags the other teams had, for added pressure. If they went past two days the cash pot would drop hourly by hundreds of thousands of dollars. A million today not being what it used to be, the contestant had better be hauling ass.
The video streams from the aerial drones, the helicopters, and the cameramen showed that most of the teams had gotten quickly organized once they hit the ground, and trotted off without a hitch. With one exception: The voice of the senior editor came in through Tom’s headset.
“Tom, first fuck up.”
“Great, who is it?”
“Joe from Striker,” replied the man as he zoomed in on the feed for the team.
Tom nodded, he looked at the fallen man on his tablet and opened his microphone. His voice came in over the video feed. “It looks like we have a player down. A player in danger! And that can put his team mates in danger. Joe Rosling from team Striker is on the ground and not getting up! Team striker has hit the ground and is already behind. Joe Rosling! Joe, looks like you got hurt there.”
Joe, the Army vet, tall and wiry, with wild shoulder length brown hair tied back in a pony tail and biker mustache, sat grimacing on the ground. He looked embarrassed and his lips formed a tight white line on a face from which pain had already drained all color.
“Just a sprain. I’ll be okay.” He gasped through clenched teeth and killed any credibility his reply might have had. Joe tried to get up and held his hand out to Lew for support. With the other man’s help he
struggled to his feet, but when he tried to put weight on the hurt foot he gave a sharp cry and fell back on his ass.
The awkward silence and frustration was palpable as the camera feed streamed on and minutes passed. Ross Boulez, the team’s assigned cameraman, panned in on the reaction of the team members.
Embarrassment, anger and impatience were the predominant emotions.
“Think you can keep going, Joe?” Tom asked. “Your team is waiting on you. Do you need to be extracted?”
The man shook his head. “I'm good.” With a pained, tight lipped expression and Lew’ help, he managed to get back up and started walking. Emma and Lew clapped and patted him on the back, but they looked doubtful. The team left at a slow trot that soon turned into a slow walk, and then to a funeral procession pace march as Joe limped along and kept up as best he could.
“That guy is done. Right now he’s just looking pathetic.” Said Fats “So far, so boring. Where are all the dead people? I don’t see dead people.
Our viewers want to see dead people.”
“They're there,” Cheryl snapped.
“Hooo! I see one!” A junior executive whose name no one had yet bothered to remember pointed excitedly at one of the screens. “I see one!”
Once pointed out and seen, the dead man could not be unseen. It was at the south-most point of the town, as the She Devils progressed past a tire retailer where the haggard apparition came out of one of the open bays. So well had the lack of life, the dust and grime camouflaged the man, that he had seemed invisible as he stood by a grimy and scuffed wall, unnoticed until he finally moved.
The gray man incongruously dressed in a disheveled gray three piece suit, covered in dirt and dust, had blended perfectly with the gray cement walls of the bay. He staggered out like a careful drunk and made his way toward the women like a man in no hurry, a man with nowhere special to go.
Cho, the team leader and weapon bearer, passed him by blithely, without noticing as did Kate Keller,they were both gazing straight ahead as if already locking on the final goal. Both women were oblivious to the threat and it was Xhiu Lee, the shy one who carried the food and first aid kits and already dragged behind, who saw him.
“Hey! Everyone! Look to your left!”
The two women up front stopped in their jog and turned their attention to where Xhiu was pointing. The expressionless man continued his approach but now seemed to be struggling to hasten his pace. They all looked unsure on how to proceed. They had seen the Turned on the news and in the movies. But most people had yet run into them one on one. In the movies they were zombies, gory, noisy semi-dismembered corpses whose most prominent features were their teeth. You popped them in the head and that was it. Show business always made killing look easy.
“He looks...” Xhiu hesitated, “…normal.”
“From a distance maybe, look at his eyes,” Kate whispered.
Now a few feet away, the man’s eyes were easily visible. Opaque, cloudy pupils, the left eye was rotted and blown, visibly larger than the right.
“Okay,” conceded Xhiu, “not even close to normal.”
The forlorn figure staggered faster toward them.
“Wow. It’s like he’s getting desperate to reach us. Sad. C’mon, let's go people,” Cho said.
The three women looked at each other, shrugged and resumed their run with none of the arrogance and levity they displayed at the start of the race. The dead man began to follow them, but slow and unsteady, he was soon left behind.
Wren Cavanagh, that would be me. Also writes under the pen name Junior Sokolov.
An artist and writer from great North West.
I am grateful that I have this opportunity to share my work and imagination with you. Growing up my head was always stuck in a book or a comic book (before they got fancy and got the moniker "graphic novels").
More often than not those books were filled with monsters, werewolves and vampires.
Then the likes of Godzilla showed up along with their brethren, born from the very justified fear of the atomic bomb and its consequences.
And that is what I love. Escaping into worlds of monsters and heroes, and sometimes they are one and the same!
Letting my imagination run along and bring into the narrative what I see around me everyday.
I hope that you will enjoy my stories. Find in them a temporary and enjoyable escape of your own.
What is Notch Publishing House?
I created it when I started as an indie writer using the pen name of Wren Cavanagh. But I’ve always wanted to add more writers. I love reading, love hearing different voices and interpretations on established mythologies and of course, love being entertained as a reader. It’s why I have just launched our first anthology / contest event.
So that we may hear new voices and establish a relationships talented writers.
• What is the anthology event about?
It’s built on Lovecratian Mythos. But I wanted fiction that transports that mythology to a recent world. Nowadays we wear fitness trackers or phones that know where we are. Can remember and anticipate our habits. We connect and access our devices across networks on multiple platforms. Cameras are everywhere. Can old monsters keep their mystery? Do they have any more privacy that we do? We could have space stations on faraway planets in decades.
And as for humans, things and attitudes have changed since the times Lovecraft created his works. How many people would slap a video of Innsmouth odd citizen waddling into the ocean faster than you could say Dagon. Vlog ghouls or do or maybe use AIs to trap an elder God. Or are we too jaded for them, who cares about Cthulu when are off to an hospital visit without insurance. When you see climate changes take out your farms.
• What are the payment, or prizes?
The anthology pays out anywhere from $10 to $25, depending on length and quality. I’d like to assume the quality will be good all around. So it’ll be down to length and originality. I hope we’ll have a lot of diverse voice. And there’s no charge to submit the fiction. https://nphzone.com/anthologies-and-contests/darkness-wired-anthology-2019/
• The Contest?
The contest has multiple awards:
1st place: $500, 2 paperbacks and a digital copy of the book.
2nd Place: $200, 2 paperbacks and a digital copy of the book.
3rd place: $100, 2 paperbacks and a digital copy of the book.
4th place: $50, 2 paperbacks and a digital copy of the book.
5th place: $30, 2 paperbacks and a digital copy of the book.
All others: $25.00 and 1 paperback, a digital copy of the book. https://nphzone.com/anthologies-and-contests/darkness-wired-contest-2019/
• But it has a fee.
Yes it does. Notch Publishing House it still a small business and it’ll help defray some of the costs. I kept the fee as low as I could to allow as many people as possible to enter the contest. Realistically a couple of fancy Starbucks drink could be more expensive than submitting a manuscript to us. And I think the prizes make it worth it.
Some writers are not fans of the fees. And I understand that point of view. I have entered contest that had fees. You really feel like you’re putting yourself on the line. Conversely, I read comments from other writers who say it motivates them.
• Who do you hope will contribute, to the contest or the anthology?
Anyone with talent and a love for the genre of course. But I’d love to read fiction from folks who are not commonly heard. Minorities, artists and writers from underserved communities. Straight as well as LGBTQ writers. I’d love to hear their take on the Lovecraftian mythos.
For the contest contributors we have special prompts.
• What are Notch’s Publishing House’s next projects?
We have coming up the Honeycomb novel. Sci-fi horror, combined with plantary colonization. The sequel to “The Last Flag” a zombie novel. And of course Jericho the cat from heaven who fights the supernatural in a quaint Oregon coastal town will make a comeback later in the year.
• Who is Notch?
A feral cat I rescued some years back. He loves to read.
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!