It’s about a month later than I would’ve liked, but Volume 2 of Shotgun Grandma is now available! If you haven’t read Volume 1 yet, now’s the time. It’s on a free promotional run until 12/2, so grab it for free while you can. For those of you who have already read Volume 1, I’ve added a sample chapter from Volume 2 below. Give it a read and let me know what you think!
Danny Cho sat on a case of unopened beer with his arms in his sleeves and seven empty cans of Red Bull at his feet. The low hum of the cooler fan never slowed, and the smell of mildew filled the air. Danny’s teeth began chattering within the first hour of voluntarily barricading himself in the Shell station walk-in cooler. He didn’t know how long it had been since, but if he had to guess he would think it had been fifteen hours at least. What worried him most was that he could no longer feel the tips of his fingers. It didn’t take a doctor to realize that was a bad sign. He would’ve been screwed had there not been a coat hanging up inside.
Barely audible over the fan was a soft clicking to Danny’s left.
He glanced over with annoyance. He already knew what it was. It had been just as persistent as the fan that breathed cold doom into his refrigerated prison.
The zombie wore a bright red stocking cap with a logo skewed to the side—it was illegible—but Danny guessed it was a heavy metal band. The long sharp text folded together like a patchwork of thorns keeping its identity a secret from the world, albeit from one of surely dozens of fans who ventured to a band merch site and happily clicked the buy button. Strands of hair that stuck together as if wet poked out from underneath the hat and fell almost at shoulder length. Blood soaked the zombie’s mouth and it clattered its teeth together as it watched Danny from the small viewing window on the other side.
“I wonder how the living you would’ve felt about being a glorified prison warden,” Danny said to the window. Then he snorted realizing that whoever the zombie had been before, probably would’ve thought his new condition to be “pretty metal”. He knew the types. There were a few in his school. Not really bad people, just a bit too rowdy for his taste. Not to mention the wrong crowd to fall into for someone trying for a free ride scholarship.
Danny had been on his way to Emma’s when he stopped to get gas and Emma’s favorite candy, Twizzlers. He was in line when the first zombie rushed into the convenience store.
The thought of the attack brought Danny’s attention through metal shelves holding countless bottles of soda and through the glass cooler doors to catch a glimpse of said zombie. It stood stupidly staring at the cash register behind the counter. That’s where it had found its first victim—the gas station clerk. The zombie was a fat balding man with tan colored sweatshirt covered in spots of blood and a bright vest that must’ve been from a construction site.
Danny had always thought of himself as a hero. Not in real life, but he fantasized about it often. He wanted to be just like his favorite sword-wielding anime character, Obaki, who would have never run from a fight. He was the scariest character in the show, but only to the villains. He was a gentle-spirit, but when it came to a fight, he could never back down from the challenge. And when his bloodlust was strong, he was unstoppable—a killing machine with three great swords that he used to chop armies in half… Danny was not that guy though.
When the dead construction worker rushed into the store, Danny froze. If he hadn’t been off to the side of the entrance he could’ve easily been the zombie’s first target. And he’d seen firsthand how that would’ve turned out. The clerk barely had time to scream before the undead man began ripping him apart. More zombies filtered in from the street, probably hearing the screams as what they were—a dinner bell. When more came in, Danny did the one thing that Obaki never did… He ran. He ran straight for the back. He didn’t stop when more people began to scream and the only reason he even stopped at the cooler was because of the red-hatted zombie that still stood guard outside the door. It had sighted him early and chased him the whole way. The only fight Danny put up was to throw the Twizzlers and eventually his phone at his pursuer, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Neither distracted the zombie and now he sat trapped in a cooler with no way of calling for help or even to check on Emma.
The thought of her brought a pang of guilt to his gut. Danny was her boyfriend. He should be there to comfort and protect her, but instead, he got himself trapped fleeing like a coward. How was she doing through all this? Was she even alive? What Danny would give just to know if she was okay…
He could see his phone still lying on the floor outside the cooler doors. The back of his phone case—three-crossing swords with a bloody banner curling around them with the title, Sword Grinder within—taunted him. Communication was so close…
The red-hatted zombie continued to tap on the glass outside.
Yet so far away.
From what Danny was able to make out from the hours of his entrapment was that there were only two zombies in the whole store—red-hat outside and the construction worker behind the register. When hell broke loose before, a couple people must’ve made it outside because most of the herd that broke in fled after them, and the few who found meals wandered off after a while. Only two. Danny could handle two dead-brains… Couldn’t he? He had been in this predicament for hours and he’d never tried. He thought the Red Bulls might pump him up with enough courage to run out there just like Obaki would, but after seven cans the only thing accounted for was an abundance of urine and possible heart palpitations. Danny was ashamed that he allowed himself to sit here this long. What if Emma was still alive out there? Even worse, what if she was wandering around out there trying to find him? No one would ever find him in this damn cooler. He had to do something, if not for himself, then for Emma.
Danny stood locking eyes with the zombie pawing at the viewing window of the cooler door. His heart beat wildly and he could feel the slightest tingle in his fingertips. He looked around for something to use against the red-hatted undead rebel and came up short other than a box cutter with a plastic safety guard. He settled on a forty-ounce brown bottle of beer and the coldness of it stole away the little feeling he had just gained in his fingers. Before Danny could open the cooler door latch, movement outside the doors caught his attention.
Someone in a military-green jacket and matching duffel bag slunk about one of the shelves of chips and stopped just before one of the cooler doors. This close, Danny could see that it was a guy not much older than him—probably just out of high school—with hair buzzed short and a lean face. His attire and the way he moved screamed military and Danny dared to hope.
When the cooler door opened, the mystery figure began grabbing water bottles and placing them into his bag with care.
Danny turned back to look at the viewing window and the red-hatted zombie was still in sight. Whoever this guy was he was good. He barely made a sound as he worked. If Danny hadn’t seen him, he probably would’ve never realized he was there. Neither zombie seemed to notice either. But this was clearly not a rescue mission. For one, the guy was alone. For two, he was stuffing water bottles into a bag, most likely for himself, so the thought of a military rescue seemed out of the question at this point. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t help Danny. The guy seemed capable and Danny had caught a glimpse of a large knife at the guy’s belt, logic would dictate that he knew how to use it. It was better than a beer bottle at any rate. This was Danny’s shot—probably his only shot—out of the cooler.
As another water bottle glided off the shelf, Danny leaned in closer from the opposite side of the door hoping to whisper to the newcomer, but then something awful happened…
A loud tune that went off every day at 4:30 AM—the tune that announced it was time for Danny to get out of bed and get in an early study session before school—played over the vibrations of a phone on a tile floor.
The phone was only feet away from the guy in the military jacket and he was quick to react. He was on top of the phone in a split second—and instead of silencing it like a normal person would do—the guy stomped it with a heavy boot. To his credit, the alarm stopped, but it was too late. The undead construction worker behind the register was already moving toward what created the sound and when Danny checked the viewing window, red-hat was gone too.
Gripping the bottle neck-in-hand, Danny ran for the cooler door. He was just in time to see the back of a shambling form in a red hat pushing open a saloon door leading to the storefront. Danny followed suit and when he turned the corner, GI Joe was viciously knifing the construction worker who had a firm grasp on his jacket collar. The red hat zombie was nearly on top of the two of them.
Not thinking, Danny yelled and launched the beer bottle toward the zombie. To his surprise, it caught the zombie’s attention and the bottle connected with its forehead. It stumbled backward, but only for a second. Then, it began heading toward Danny… And fast.
Something comparable to a dog whimper escaped from Danny’s lips and he turned to flee back into the cooler. He could hear the shuffling and wet rasps of the zombie behind him and he turned as they grew louder.
The zombie outstretched a contorted hand toward Danny, but it was stopped before it could grab hold. An arm hooked around the red-hat zombie and a knife found its way into the zombie’s temple. It went limp and the rasps gurgled out of existence.
When the body dropped, GI Joe became visible. His green jacket was pocked with inky spots of blood and he was sheathing his knife, eyes locked onto Danny.
“Thanks,” Danny muttered. His hands were shaking and tingled with life now that they had been exposed to the warmth of the store. “My name’s Danny,” he said feeling uncomfortable. The military-looking guy didn’t say anything; he just kept staring like he was sizing Danny up.
“Where’d you come from?” GI Joe finally said.
“I was in the cooler,” Danny said pointing a thumb back. “I hid in there when things started to go down.” Danny instantly regretted mentioning hiding. It wasn’t a very flattering thing to admit, but this guy was making him nervous and it just kind of came out.
To his surprise, the military-looking guy seemed to accept this answer. He nodded and went back toward where his bag had dropped during the scuffle.
“So… Sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Danny said.
“I didn’t give it.”
Nice guy, Danny thought. Maybe not a nice guy, but he was a capable one. As much as he wanted to be, Danny wasn’t. He had run away twice now, only working up enough courage to throw a bottle before fleeing. If he was going to make it back to Emma, he would need help. Convincing this guy for help might be a lost cause, but he had to try.
“Where are you heading?” Danny asked, changing the subject.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” GI Joe said while stuffing his bag full of beef jerky. “Why? What’s it to you?”
“Well, I was going to offer you a ride. My truck’s still parked out front. I just have to check on someone first if you didn’t mind a detour.”
The military-looking guy walked over and Danny flinched when he grew close. “You got any weapons? Gun, knife, anything like that?”
“Nooo,” Danny said confused. “Should I?”
“Yeah, you should.”
Danny swallowed hard. Did he make a mistake in trusting this guy? He didn’t know anything about him other than he seemed very comfortable with violence. He could easily just kill Danny and take his keys away if he wanted. The cooler seemed to be calling to Danny at this point.
“I’ll take you up on that ride. Name’s Tyler by the way.” He extended a hand toward Danny while shouldering his bag on his back.
Danny clasped Tyler’s hand a little confused, but happy he wasn’t about to be murdered. He couldn’t help but notice as Tyler’s jacket sleeve pulled up, a thick scar that banded around his wrist. At first glance, Danny thought maybe Tyler could have had a dance with a suicide at one point, but the mark was different; it was too thick, and it went the whole circumference of his arm.
Tyler noticed Danny staring and he pulled his arm back.
Danny did his best to avoid eye contact with Tyler after realizing his mistake. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I didn’t mean to—.”
“It’s nothing,” Tyler said sharply. “You might want to grab a few things while you can. I don’t know if you’ve seen what’s out there yet, but I don’t think anyone’s coming to the rescue.” He pulled a mesh shopping bag off of a rack and threw it at Danny, who caught it in turn. “Then we can go.”
“Remember, there’s a detour,” Danny said. “First things first, I’m picking up my girlfriend before I go anywhere else.”
A look of pity flashed across Tyler’s face. “Sure we are,” he said but didn’t elaborate further. “Make sure to grab water,” he called over his shoulder as he walked out the door and sat waiting on the sidewalk.
Danny still stood in place, mesh bag draped in his arms, and a new sense of dread creeping up his spine. What was happening out there?