Flesh Eatersby Joe McKinney
Out of the flooded streets of Houston, they emerge from plague-ridden waters. Dead. Rotting. Hungry. And as human survivors scramble to their rooftops for safety, the zombie hordes circle like sharks. The ultimate killing machines.
Houston is quarantined to halt the spread of the zombie plague. Anyone trying to/i>/i>/i>
Out of the flooded streets of Houston, they emerge from plague-ridden waters. Dead. Rotting. Hungry. And as human survivors scramble to their rooftops for safety, the zombie hordes circle like sharks. The ultimate killing machines.
Houston is quarantined to halt the spread of the zombie plague. Anyone trying to escape is shot on sight—living and dead. Emergency Ops sergeant Eleanor Norton has her work cut out for her. Salvaging boats and gathering explosives, Eleanor and her team struggle to maintain order. But when civilization finally breaks down, the feeding frenzy begins.
Biting, gnawing, feasting—but always craving more—the flesh-eaters increase their ranks every hour. With doomsday looming, Eleanor must focus on the people she loves—her husband and daughter—and a band of other survivors adrift in zombie-infested waters. If she can't bring them into the quarantine zone, they're all dead meat.
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By JOE MCKINNEY
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Joe McKinney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEleanor Norton's earliest memories were of hurricanes. As a little girl, she had seen Rita and Ike and Jacob rip Houston apart, their winds shearing off her neighbors' rooftops and sending them sailing away like kites. She remembered her family huddling like frightened animals in the hall closet, her mother trying to be brave but still squeezing her so tightly she'd left bruises on Eleanor's skin. Then, in high school, she'd lived through Brendan and Louis, storms that carried shrimp boats ten miles inland and blanketed the city with ocean water that dappled like molten copper in the morning sun. She still carried memories of water moccasins gliding past the top of the swing set in her backyard and pickup trucks floating like rafts down her street and grown men on their rooftops, crying without shame for all that they had lost.
She never outgrew that fear of storms. Even now at thirty-five, a mother of a beautiful twelve-year-old girl, a wife to a wonderful man, a looming hurricane could still reduce her to jelly. The wind and the slashing rain and the overwhelming floodwaters touched some deep atavistic impulse inside her to run for shelter. Cataclysmic storms were a fear many Houstonians lived with, though most never talked about it. But now, as she stood in line at the Wal-Mart, she could sense her own terror mirrored in the scurrying anxiousness of nearly everyone around her. Like her, they just wanted to buy their water and batteries and cans of Sterno and get home to their families before the storm made landfall. Waiting in line like this was maddening.
Eleanor had been doing fine in the days leading up to Hurricane Hector. She was working in the Houston Police Department's Emergency Operations Command, attending all the briefings, and bringing home what she learned to her family, making sure they were ready. The ritual of getting prepared had helped to keep the fear at bay. But that morning, when she left for work, the sky had been a bloody red, and all the terror she'd felt as a child came back in a flood. She'd gone to work—and tried to work, she really did—but she was distracted and irritable. Captain Mark Shaw, her boss, had noticed. He noticed everything; and, in truth, it hadn't been hard to tell what was going on with her. She kept returning to the main window, the one that looked out over the green lawns of the University of Houston. Outside the sky was changing from a horror-movie red to a windy, sodden gray, and she couldn't take her eyes off it.
Captain Shaw, who, despite his reputation, was not without mercy, sent her home.
"You'll do more good with your family anyway," he told her. "We got this. Go on home."
"Really? You're okay with me leaving?" she asked.
"It's no big deal. Everything that can be done has already been done. Nothing else to do here but ride it out. You can do that at home just as easily."
"I really appreciate this, Captain."
He dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
"I'll see you in the morning," he said. "Worse comes to worst, and we get some bad flooding, I'll send a boat by for you."
And so she'd gone to Wal-Mart for a few last-minute things, her fear mounting as the wind picked up and the sky grew darker. When she finally made it through the checkout line and walked outside to the parking lot, the gray sky above her was limned with an eerie chemical green. The air was dense as a wet towel against her skin. She swallowed nervously, ducked her head against a gusting breeze, and rushed to her car.
She hardly remembered the drive home.
But once she was home, she and Jim and their daughter Madison still had so much to do to get ready. She could hear Jim with his power drill out on the front porch putting up plywood over the glass, and, looking out the little window above the kitchen sink, she mouthed a silent plea for him to hurry.
It was getting really scary out there.
Part of Bays Bayou ran through the greenbelt behind their house, and Hector's storm surge had caused its waters to rise significantly. Already there was an inch or so of brackish water covering their lawn, and a sharp, howling wind sent lines of lacy silver waves through it.
They were surrounded by cottonwood and pines and giant oaks, and the same wind was tossing their branches back and forth, filling the air with leaves. Earlier that afternoon Hurricane Hector had been upgraded from a Category Three to a Category Five storm, meaning that it would blow inland with winds over one hundred fifty-five miles per hour; and though she tried to suppress the thought, she kept having visions of a sustained blast of wind breaking off tree limbs and shooting them like arrows through the sides of their home. It had happened before, during Rita and Ike, when she was a little girl.
She shook the memories of those storms from her mind and focused her attention out the window. From where she stood she could just see a corner of Ms. Hester's house across the street. The woman was eighty-four and struggling with what Eleanor suspected was incipient Alzheimer's disease; but she was a sweet old lady and, with both Jim and Eleanor's parents dead, had even filled in as the grandmother that Madison had never known. There had been several years, right around the time Madison was starting school and Eleanor was still slaving away as a detective in the Houston Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit and Jim was working at Gulfport Petrochemical, when they hadn't been able to afford child care. They were working all the time, but still miserably broke. Ms. Hester had come to their rescue. She took care of Madison during those years—cooked her dinners, taught her to paint, even picked her up from school on early-release days—and in so doing had earned a special place in Eleanor's heart. In all their hearts, actually.
And so it was with considerably more than neighborly concern that Eleanor watched the wind thrashing the pecan trees that surrounded Ms. Hester's little one-story white house. Madison had spent the last six summers collecting pecans from those trees, she and Ms. Hester shelling them and turning them into pecan pies and candied pralines. The trees were beautiful, even useful in their way, but they were notoriously ill-suited for bad weather. The wood was soft enough that the weight of the nuts alone could cause limbs to snap off in late summer. A strong Category Five hurricane wind would blast the trees to bits. How long would it take, she wondered, before one of those bits lanced through the roof, or a side wall, sending shards of glass through the house like bird shot from a twelve gauge?
"Mom, you okay?"
Eleanor half turned from the sink but said nothing.
"Uh, Mom, hello?"
This time Eleanor turned around. The thick note of sarcasm in Madison's voice was something new, something she'd picked up, Eleanor suspected, from Susie Tyler and Brandy Moore, two girls who had just recently become Madison's closest friends. The three girls spent nearly every day that summer running around together, sleeping over at each other's houses, learning how to be teenagers together. It was natural behavior, Eleanor knew, but that didn't mean she had to like it. Susie especially seemed like a bad influence, always so loud and disrespectful to the other girls' parents. She had an annoying habit of making everything a competition between her and Madison, never missing a chance to gloat over some small victory or rub in some awkward moment on Madison's part. And at twelve, Madison was having plenty of those.
Still, Eleanor backed off from actually telling Madison she couldn't hang out with Susie. Her own mother had been a shrew when it came to Eleanor's friends and had taken an almost sadistic delight in pointing out how much she disliked the girls Eleanor ran around with. It had made her afraid to have friends over, and Eleanor promised herself she wouldn't be the same way, even if it meant swallowing the urge to fire a broadside here and there.
"I think it's full, Mom," Madison said, nodding at the sink.
Eleanor glanced behind her and saw that the five-gallon plastic water jug she'd been filling at the sink was indeed running over. She turned off the tap, poured off a little, and then screwed down the cap.
She lifted it from the sink with a grunt and put it on the floor next to the other four jugs she'd just filled.
"That's the last of them anyway," she said.
Madison was sitting cross-legged on the linoleum floor, putting cans of soup into a cardboard box, but she paused long enough to study her mother.
"Mom, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, honey."
"You sure? You kinda zoned out there for a second."
Eleanor smiled, but didn't respond. There were times, certain moments when Madison had her head turned just the right way, when Eleanor could see how much her daughter really looked like Jim. It was in the profile, mainly. They had the same little upturn at the point of their nose, the same tapered chin, the same little tiny ears. Madison was the adolescent girl version of her father; but whereas those same features gave Jim an intelligent, studious aspect—especially when he wore his glasses—in Madison they became stunningly beautiful.
That girl is going to break a million hearts one day, Eleanor thought, and it was an idea that both terrified and delighted her.
"Why don't you take those upstairs, okay?" Eleanor said, nodding at the box of soup.
"I can't lift it."
"What? Sure you can."
"No, Mom," she said, the sarcasm oozing back into her voice, "I can't. It weighs, like, a whole ton."
"No, it doesn't. And don't say 'like.' You know I hate the way that sounds."
Madison sighed and made a dramatic show of rolling her eyes.
"Fine," Eleanor said. "We'll get your dad to do it. In the meantime, find something else you can carry. What's next on the family list?"
Madison huffed indignantly, then picked up a yellow, coil-bound notebook that Eleanor had prepared to guide the family during a hurricane. She called it their family disaster plan. It contained nearly everything they would need to know about the contents of their supply kits and evacuation routes, plus contingency plans for getting the family back together again after the storm, should they get separated. Each member of the family also had a backpack that contained an individual ninety-six-hour supply kit, a personal version of the yellow disaster plan notebook, family photos, important numbers, and a couple hundred dollars in cash. The backpacks were already upstairs. What Eleanor and Madison were doing now was checking off the family supply kit for sheltering in place and carting the contents upstairs, just in case the floodwaters swamped the first floor of their house.
Madison read from the list, pointing to items as she said their names. "Next up is sanitation. Toilet paper, soap, lady-time stuff"—Madison's eyebrows raised slightly at her mother's euphemism for feminine hygiene products—"disinfectant, bleach, garbage bags and ties. Why do you have those on here twice?"
"Garbage bags and ties. You've got them here and in the Miscellaneous section."
"The sanitation section ones are for when you have to go to the bathroom. There should be a bucket with a tight-fitting lid there, too."
Madison's lips parted slightly, her nose crinkling in disgust. "A bucket? Mom, that's gross."
"No, that's survival, kiddo. You've never been through one of these storms. You don't know how bad it can get. I remember when I was a girl the water was off for two weeks after Hurricane Ike. What do you think happens when the toilets stop flushing?"
"Well, yeah, but ..." Madison trailed off, her gaze shifting to the box of plastic trash bags as if she was suddenly too grossed out to touch them.
"You'll live," Eleanor said. "If it's all there, just take it upstairs."
The smile disappeared from Eleanor's face as she watched her daughter cart yet another cardboard box of supplies upstairs. There were rough times ahead, and the girl was in for one hell of an education on the fury of nature.
The thought sent Eleanor even deeper into her own head. She had talked with Jim an awful lot lately about how fast Madison was growing up. Her thirteenth birthday was only two months away, but the changes had already started. She and Madison had had the talk about the lady time, and it had been a lot harder, a lot more embarrassing, than Eleanor had expected it to be. But in a way that talk had prepared her to think of her daughter as a woman, something that Jim was having a much harder time doing. Perhaps it was Madison's smile, that giggly little smile of hers that so perfectly recalled the way she looked as a toddler. Or perhaps it was just Jim's stubborn streak. Eleanor wasn't sure. But whatever the reason, he seemed determined to avoid the issue. He still called Madison his little girl, and in fact had started using the phrase more and more in recent months, which indicated to Eleanor that he knew the truth, at least on some level, but was unwilling to face it.
She couldn't blame him. Not really. There were times— plenty of times, in fact—that she didn't want to face it, either.
Jim's electric drill had gone silent as he moved to a new window. The wind, too, quieted for a moment. And in that lull, Eleanor heard the sound of arguing from across the street. She craned her head out the window, and what she saw there made her chest tighten with both pity and rage.
Ms. Hester was standing in the front yard, looking smaller and even frailer than she had earlier that day, when Eleanor had passed her on her way into work. The wind was billowing her housedress out to one side, and her arms were crossed over her chest in a gesture that made her look completely helpless. Rain rings formed chain-mail patterns in the water at her feet. Standing at the edge of her lawn, next to a beat-to-hell red pickup, was her grandson, Bobby.
When the guys at work mentioned meth heads, Bobby Hester was the image that flared up in Eleanor's mind. He was tall and lanky, so skinny his clothes fit him like a potato sack on a flagpole. He wore his filthy blond hair down to his shoulders, and there were tattoos all up and down his arms, where the veins stood out like electrical cords beneath his skin.
He was the one Eleanor had heard yelling, and as she watched he opened the passenger door of his truck and put Ms. Hester's TV inside.
That manipulative, thieving little bastard, she thought.
Though she couldn't hear what Ms. Hester was saying, she could figure it out without any real difficulty. Ms. Hester was scared. She wanted him to stay with her during the storm. She was probably begging him to stay.
But Bobby Hester would never agree to something like that.
He had miraculously reappeared in her life about two years ago, at the same time she started slipping a little from the Alzheimer's. To Eleanor it was no coincidence. He was a wolf sensing an easy meal, nothing more. Certainly not the long-lost grandson he no doubt claimed to be. Eleanor had tried to say as much, but Ms. Hester wouldn't listen to a word of it. She adamantly refused to see Bobby as bad news. She welcomed him into her home. And he repaid her kindness by robbing her blind.
Now he was telling her to stop her whining. That he'd be back. That he just wanted to take her electronic stuff someplace safe. She wasn't holding back, was she? There wasn't a TV someplace she hadn't told him about?
The fucking bastard is gonna pawn everything she owns so he can get cash for his meth, Eleanor thought, and suddenly the image of her putting a bullet in his brain was very strong, and more than a little satisfying.
A knock on the window made her jump. It was Jim, looking in on her, his knuckles still poised at the glass.
She undid the latch and opened the window.
"You're seeing this, right?" he said.
"Yeah." Her pistol was upstairs in her backpack, and she couldn't help but wonder if she'd be able to hit Bobby from here. One good head shot would be all it'd take. "That man's a slime ball."
"That's true," Jim said. "You want me to go over there and tell her to stay with us?"
"I tried that this morning. She kept saying Bobby was going to stay with her tonight. That's all she would say. 'Bobby's coming. I'll be okay, Bobby's comin' over.' "
"Yeah, well, I don't think that's gonna happen."
"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped, and then instantly wanted to pull the words back. "Sorry."
He nodded. "It makes me angry, too."
Excerpted from FLESH EATERS by JOE MCKINNEY Copyright © 2011 by Joe McKinney. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Joe McKinney is the author of numerous horror, crime, and science fiction novels, including Quarantined, Dodging Bullets, and the four-part Dead World series. He has a master's degree in English literature and has worked as a homicide detective and a disaster mitigation specialist for the San Antonio Police Department.
Todd McLaren was involved in radio for more than twenty years in cities on both coasts. He left broadcasting for a full-time career in voice-overs, where he has been heard on more than 5,000 TV and radio commercials, as well as TV promos, narrations for documentaries on such networks as A&E and the History Channel, and films.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is a great series. This is the 3rd book.
How could I skip a zombie story that won the Bram Stoker Award for best novel? Perhaps this set my expectations too high, but I was sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say Flesh Eaters is bad. The problem is that it’s really just average. It’s an adept tale and a quick read, but never steps outside the typical disaster story stereotypes. Nothing surprised me, but again, nothing disappointed me either. It’s similar to an inoffensive pop song, which one forgets the tune as soon as the radio is turned off. The novel is set in the wake of a hurricane ravaging Houston, Texas. If the floods and havoc of the disaster wasn’t enough, there is a zombie outbreak added to the mix. The main character is a female police officer, which is a pleasant change from the typical macho-military-types who dominate the zombie genre. However, outside of being labeled a woman, this officer demonstrates few feminine qualities. Everything from her commanding style of speech, to the way she fights, and even how she describes a handsome coworker in purely physical terms, is masculine. If McKinney had changed her name from Eleanor to Eliot, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference. And worse still, nothing made me want to care for her, other than the fact she was inoffensive and not corrupt like the others. In this, McKinney offers a simplified morality play where the bland prevail, while anyone evil gets their just reward. Sure, this is friendly and uplifting, but the problem is that it’s not that interesting to read.
I had certain expectations when I started this book and even formed other expectations while reading. Because of this, when the book took a turn I wasn't expecting, I was jostled by it that much more. There were some very intense moments and at one point, I had to put the book down and come back to it. Joe does an incredible job of taking an incomprehensible situation and landing it right in the middle of your living room, quite literally! The characters were believable, which made it that much easier to associate with them and visualize what they were going through. Just made it that much scarier! This one starts a little slow, but it's all necessary to build the backstory. Push through it. You won't be disapointed and you won't want to put it down once it takes off!
First there was Rita; followed by Ike. Both were Category Five leaving a battered Houston barely surviving. Now a third Category Five hurricane Hector slams into the city followed by another even bigger storm Kyle. A secondary tidal wave hammered the city devastating chemical and oil containers. The dead were pushed by the contaminated rushing waters inland as far as forty-five miles from the city. Hurricane Mardel left the city underwater and the coastline moved several miles inland. As the crisis turned pandemic, people showed their true colors including the Nortons and the Shaws. Houston is a dead zone and the Shaws dynamite an underwater bank and take seven million dollars. Eleanor, Jon and their teenage daughter Madison want to just leave the city. One thing prevents the family from escaping Houston: zombies. The toxic soup created a necrosis virus that is a big brother to Ebola. The creatures are cannibals who neither talk nor think. With their strange eyes they hunt humans to kill and multiply the new species who own the Gulf coast Texas. Joe McKinney provides a scary prequel to Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead as a series of hurricanes (ignoring the alpha order) devastate Houston leading to a zombie infestation. Filled with plenty filled of action, readers will enjoy the depth of the tale as the Norton brood try to survive. Harriet Klausner
Joe uses his police experience to paint a clear picture for the reader. Stories are exciting and heart wrenching with a touch of humor. Good read.
Well written- had a hard time putting it down!!
Nice and brain tastic
I liked the story line but always with this authors books in this series for me is the irritating characters. And this is by far the book with the worst characters. The main character is in the middle of a zombie outbreak with her child and she actually spends time fantasizing about a fellow cops hunky good looks, umm huh, really? Come on! But, even with the ridiculous characters and trust me they are all pretty bad, the story still keeps you going. I would read it again.
this book is a must have its good i highly recommend, you wont want to put it down but by far Joe's best book was Dead City i hope he writes another book