Chapter 1

1. Return of the Tiny Fingers

The tiny fingers under the door were missing. Jenni stared down at the dark, terrifying crack under the front door, waiting for the tiny pink digits to suddenly appear and begin straining toward her.

Standing on the front porch of her home, she felt the cool morning air teasing her dark hair and ruffling her pink nightgown and robe.

“Benji?” she whispered.

The hard, steady knocking against the door was a terrifying reminder that her zombified husband, Lloyd, was just on the other side. She could barely make out the dim outline of his form through its frosted glass panes set in the door. Blood was smeared in the inside of the windows, making it harder to see into the house.

“Benji?”

Jenni waited for the tiny fingers, but they didn’t come. Slowly, she squatted down, her trembling fingers touching the cold cement of the front stoop. The crack under the door was far too big. She had told Lloyd that many times. It was so easy for someone to slide their fingers under it...or a tiny little hand, trying to reach its mother.

“Benji?”

Lloyd was throwing himself against the door now, and it shook beneath the impact of his body. Benji’s tiny little fingers should be pressed under the door right now, reaching for her, straining for her. But they weren’t there. The crack under the door, ominous in its promise, did not give birth to tiny bloody fingers.

“Mom!”

Jenni rose sharply to her feet.

“Mikey?”

Her twelve-year-old son ran around the side of the house, barefoot and in his pajamas, clutching his toddler brother tightly in his arms.

“Mikey! Benji!” Jenni stumbled as she rushed toward them.

“We got out the back door, Mom!”

Jenni crushed her sons tightly against her body, their small bodies pressing against hers. Benji’s arms wrapped around her neck, and she could feel his tears against her flesh.

“Mommy! Daddy is scary!” Benji wept and thrust one tiny thumb into his mouth.

Jenni smothered her boys with kisses. Clutching them tightly, crying, and thanking God for their survival, she pulled them away from the house.

“Mom, we gotta get away! Dad is crazy! Mom, he’s crazy!” Mikey exclaimed.

“We’ll get away! I promise. We just have to wait a minute or two and Katie will be here in a white truck,” Jenni answered him, clutching his hand.

“Who, Mom?”

“Katie. She’s coming to save us,” Jenni assured him. She looked back toward the house warily and saw Lloyd was now banging on the window next to the front door. Katie would be here at any moment now. She remembered from...

Scowling, she stood on her front lawn, trying not to think too hard about what was happening, of what had happened before...

Shaking her head, she looked toward the house. The window splintered and glass rained down. Lloyd began to push his way out.

“Mom! Mom! Where is Katie?”

Mikey was holding her hand so tightly, he was crushing her fingers. Benji sobbed loudly, his wet face against her neck, his tiny fingers gripping the collar of her nightgown.

“She should be here! She should be arriving right now!” Jenni dragged Mikey further from the house, her feet touching the cold asphalt of the street. The road remained empty. The white truck was nowhere to be seen. Jenni whirled around, her black eyes scanning her neighborhood for the white truck that should be their salvation.

“Mom! Mom!” Mikey’s voice was high and terrified. He was pointing at Lloyd, who had crashed to the ground outside the house and was struggling to get up.

“Katie, where are you?” Jenni screamed.

Lloyd staggered to his feet and looked toward her and the boys. With an unholy screech, he began to race toward them, his hands outstretched.

Jenni screamed again and began to run down the street as fast as she could.

Benji clung to her as Mikey ran beside her. She could already feel her body tiring and her lungs burning. Benji felt so heavy in her arms and Mikey held onto her robe as they ran. Her bare feet slapping hard against the pavement, Jenni ran for her life and those of her children. She could hear Lloyd behind her, gaining on them, his terrible screech filling the morning air.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Benji was moaning and she felt his bladder release as warm urine poured down her leg.

“Katie! Hurry! Katie!” Jenni kept screaming, her body tired and sore.Then the doors of the houses began to fly open. Mutilated, bloody figures began to race into the street toward them, screeching their death cries, hands flung out before them.“Mommy! Mommy!” Mikey and Benji’s voice chorused in terror.“Run! Run!”Ahead, the street was beginning to fill with the hungry undead. All of them were racing toward her and her children. Their horrible, bloody mouths were opening wide, waiting to feast on them.“Katie! Katie!” Jenni sobbed as her leaden legs weakened even more.“Katie, please!”She ran as the undead began to close in around her.2. Hitchhikers of the Living Dead“Katie!” Jenni awoke with a start, banging her head against the passenger side window of the truck. “Ouch! Dammit!” She gripped her head with one hand and forced the nightmare back from her waking thoughts.Looking up, she gasped.A badly mauled zombie face was pressed against the window, its tongue licking desperately against the glass where her head had rested a few seconds before.Drawing sharply back from the window, she fumbled for her gun. The zombie slammed its mangled hand against the window, moaning.“Fuck,” she muttered. She still felt groggy from sleeping.Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Katarina moving around the front of the parked truck, her pistol out. “I got him, Jenni,” she called out.The zombie, hearing Katarina’s voice, turned away from the window and howled. The homely redhead aimed and fired one shot. The zombie’s head burst, its body collapsing onto the road.“Thanks!” Jenni called out, rubbing her eyes, trying to wake up all the way. She had fallen asleep on the way back from a scavenging run. It had been very successful. There had been no loss of life and they were returning with a lot of supplies that were needed to make it through to the Spring.Katarina climbed back into the truck, slid behind the steering wheel, and slammed the door. She let out a sigh. “Felix would have to pee where there are zombies around.”“Couldn’t hold it, huh?“No. He said he was going to explode. I told him to hang it out the window. He laughed.” Katarina frowned. “I was serious.”“Boys are dumb. Where is he?” Jenni glanced through the bloodsplattered window at the side mirror and saw Felix’s reflection. He was just zipping up and another zombie lay dead not too far from him.“He better finish the hell up so we can get home. This latest cold front sucks.” Katarina rubbed her hands over the steering wheel, her knuckles bright red from the cold. “I want some nice hot coffee.”Winter was hitting hard in Texas and it was one of the worst ones in years. Snow had fallen already three times, and Ed was muttering about ice storms. They were barely a week into January, and already Jenni was sick of the new year. It was so damn cold.“That sounds so good. And a nice warm bed with a nice warm Juan in it.”Jenni grinned.Katarina blushed almost the color of her hair.Felix wrenched open the back door and slid in. “I urinated on my shoes!Can’t a man relieve himself without those damn things showing up. I’m quite irate!”Jenni slid around in her seat and grinned at him. “Should have held it, huh?”“When a man has to go, he has to go!” Felix folded his arms across his broad chest and glared at her. He wore several layers of clothing under his usual tracksuit and his black skin looked beautiful against the whiteness of the fabric. Felix dressed like a gangster, but spoke with a sophisticated air most of the time. He was the adopted son of rich white parents from Houston and would have graduated with a masters in literature if not for the zombie apocalypse. Jenni liked him a lot and they enjoyed teasing each other.After the nightmare she had just endured, she was glad to joke around again. She could not get the final image of her and the boys fleeing down the zombie-infested neighborhood street out of her head. It had been so vivid, so real. If Katie had not arrived that morning, saving her, Jenni would have ended up fleeing on foot alone and she knew she would have perished. The boys had never made it out of the house. Lloyd had killed them.Jenni laid her head against the backrest and stared at Katarina as she drove the truck back onto the country road to continue the journey home.The rest of the caravan was waiting up ahead. As their truck drew near, those vehicles slowly began to accelerate. Soon the small convoy was speeding down the country roads back toward the fort.“I can’t believe my shoes are ruined,” Felix muttered again, then pulled out a book from his backpack. “It will be difficult to find a good replacement.”“You could try to clean them up,” Katarina offered.