The new cover came to our in box yesterday. I won't spend a bunch of time yammering, but I am thrilled as always by the work of Shawn Conn, the man who will be responsible for every cover in the DEAD series. And as an added treat, the scene I sent him that he based the cover on...
Shouldering his rifle, Jody exited the empty mess tent. As he walked along the muddy road that led into town, he began to take a closer look at the faces of the men. They looked tired. Many stared at the ground as they walked, their heads hanging as if it were too much effort to keep their chins off their chests. These men were beaten up and simply operating out of programmed discipline.
As he reached the high school, a queasy feeling began to build in his gut. His coffee suddenly felt like it had changed to concentrated acid, and he could feel an unpleasant burning in the back of his throat.
In the center of the parking lot was a hastily erected platform. It looked like little more than a few saw horses side-by-side with a sheet of three-quarter inch plywood on top. It was positioned directly below a sign that used to welcome students to Bald Knob High School—Go Bulldogs! Draped over the sign were two nooses and standing beside them was Captain Gould and Chuck “Slider” Monterro.
This could not be good, Jody thought.
As the men arrived, Jody was struck by just how few of them remained. He began to do a head count. Counting the locals who had been conscripted, there were a total of fifty-three men and women gathered minus the captain and Slider.
It took Jody a moment to register the fact that the two hooded figures beside them were wearing uniforms. This could not be happening. He began to scan the faces of the men, but everybody was so haggard that even familiar faces were hard to recognize. He wondered only briefly if he looked as worn out and beaten as these other men and women.
As he continued to scan the faces trying to figure out who might be under those hoods, his heart began to race. He couldn’t find Danny. He looked back to the hooded figures and tried to see if the body types might match his friend. It was impossible; they had just been eating breakfast and talking. Yet, he couldn’t see Danny anywh—
“What the fuck is this?” a voice whispered in his ear making Jody jump almost out of his boots. And that would have been a feat considering the fact that it felt like his socks had melded into his skin and that the boots were grafted on by way of the filth.
Jody spun to find Danny standing at his shoulder. He resisted the urge to hug the man. However, the look of relief on his face told the story.
“You thought one of those guys might be me?” Danny gasped. “Well I’ve walked the rows and I can tell you who it is. It’s Livius Nedin and Robb Olson.”
“What?” Jody had to bite his tongue and lower his voice. Several heads had turned his way and two of those heads belonged to the captain and Slider.
“A couple of the guys said that three of the civilian conscripts came into their tent and cuffed them while reading from some piece of paper listing a series of UCMJ violations that they supposedly committed,” Danny whispered.
“This just keeps getting worse,” Jody moaned.
“Men of Charlie Company…a-ten-hut!” a large woman that Jody vaguely recognized as one of the local bartenders bellowed. She was decked out in an ill-fitting uniform that looked as if the buttons might pop off at any moment and burrow into somebody’s eye. The spaces between each straining button bubbled out revealing her pale, cottage cheese-like flesh underneath. Her jowls quivered with each syllable and continued to sway just a bit for a few seconds after she spoke.
The soldiers came dutifully to attention. Heads came up and eyes stared straight ahead, but Jody didn’t think they were seeing anything. The captain climbed up onto the sheet of plywood and Jody couldn’t help but wish for it to break along with the man’s neck. Slider and the woman—Jody thought she resembled those pig-faced guards in Jabba’s palace in the Star Wars movie—manhandled each of the hooded men up onto the platform and then each took a place on either side.
“We have among us men who do not feel the need to follow orders…men who would take for themselves…not just of supplies, but liberties with those we are sworn to protect,” the captain announced, using the bullhorn so that everybody could hear him clearly.
Jody noticed both men squirm, but the nylon line used to bind them had secured their arms tightly to their sides and they could do little more than shudder.
“We have been given a solemn duty and I will not have our honor damaged by a few…”
He droned on, but Jody had tuned him out. This was wrong. He knew both of those men well. Neither would do what they were being charged with. He puzzled over the situation until a collective gasp snatched his attention back to the scene up front. Both men had been fitted with his noose and shoved off the platform. The drop wasn’t severe enough to snap their necks, so they flopped at the ends of their lines for what seemed like an eternity.
It was too much. Jody’s coffee had swirled with his stomach acid and created a toxic mixture. Doubling over, he vomited his breakfast all over his filthy boots.
He wasn’t alone.