Readers of the saga that is the DEAD series are probably aware that the 11th book in the series is due to be released in just over a month. That means it is time to start dropping a few peeks under the hood. Funny thing, but the "Vignettes" sections were only supposed to be global snapshots of what was happening in the world of the DEAD series. Sort of a chance for the reader to take a breath between the main stories. I had no intention of any of them lasting very long. Yet, here we are in the homestretch and Juan remains. He has become his own "major" story line of sorts. I thought it would be nice to start my previews with the man who has the only actual catch phrase in the series.
|The lighter side of zombies.|
Juan felt himself slip from consciousness. His last memory was seeing a pair of legs coming his direction. He wished desperately that he could see Mackenzie’s face as it was before she died, but the only image was that of the sallow faced, tracer-riddled eyes that had consumed her beauty in those last days.
The next thing he knew, Juan’s eyes were struggling to adjust to the flickering light of a fire. Through slitted eyelids, he could make out the log walls of a cabin. He was trying to decide if he was in a good place, or maybe this was a new and horrible basement scene like the one he’d endured at the hands of a crazy woman all those years ago.
“You thirsty?” a man’s voice asked. It was rough, and sounded awkward.
Great, Juan thought, zombies have finally learned how to talk.
“Daddy!” a familiar chorus of squeals brought him to fully awake and Juan was suddenly frantic. He was bound and unable to move. He began to squirm, frantic to come to the rescue of his daughters, Della and Denita.
“Easy, mister,” the awkward voice warned.
A shadow fell over Juan as a coarse spun shirt filled his entire field of vision. Juan looked up and could only see a dark outline against the light of the fire. There was a moment where he wanted to scream as he felt hands fumbling for him, but then he was suddenly free to move.
“Just take it easy, mister,” the voice whispered. “The girls don’t need to see you all frazzled. Took them a mighty long spell to get comfortable here.”
Juan tried to sit up and found that his head swam the moment he got less than halfway upright. He lay back down and took a deep breath to try and get his nerves settled. That was also just enough time for two small figures to climb up and on top of him. Both girls began talking a million miles an hour, not a single word managing to make sense as both talked over the other and neither relating a similar part of the story. Then he heard something that got his attention.
“Wait!” Juan groaned, getting his elbows underneath him and easing up just a bit. “What was that ‘bout the deaders?”
“The Grizzly Man came in and chopped them all down just in time to save Keith and the horses and Brianne. Then he talked with Keith and they said they would meet you in Ankledge,” Denita spoke with amazing surety.
“Actually, my name is Gerald, but your girls think it is fun to call me the Grizzly Man.” A hand that looked as if it could engulf both of Juan’s at once came forward and waited to be clasped in greeting. Juan shook the man’s hand and accepted the help to a completely upright position.
Juan’s eyes had finally adjusted to the light and he took in the figure that spoke. His daughters had chosen well in their nickname. The man was taller than any human being that Juan had ever met in his life. He was wearing a heavy shirt that was partially unbuttoned to display more hair on the man’s chest than most men had on their heads, and then there was the beard. ZZ Top in their heyday could not compare to the thick and massive beard that climbed the man’s cheeks to the point of almost hiding his eyes, and hung low enough down to settle on the solid but ample belly.
“Juan Hoya,” he said absently as his eyes drifted around an open cabin that looked like the setting for a really cheesy horror movie.
The walls were adorned with the heads of bears, wildcats, moose, and a variety of other animals that all stared back with empty gazes. One shelf had a variety of smaller animals. This was where his gaze lingered. There looked to be a squirrel or some such animal on a tiny unicycle. He saw a skunk reading a newspaper while seated on a miniature toilet, and then there was an arctic fox wearing glasses and leaning against a light post checking his wristwatch.
The man noticed Juan’s gaze and made an embarrassed cough. He started for the shelf and then stopped as if realizing that he could not cover anything up as the cat was already out of the bag so to speak.
“Alone out in the Alaskan wilderness, you come up with some…interesting ways to bide your time.” The man reached over and adjusted the fox so that it was easier to see the fact that it appeared—above everything else already apparent—to be smiling down at a mouse that was standing beside him in some sort of jacket.
Juan made a grunt as his eyes now shifted to the arsenal of bladed and spiked weapons adorning one entire wall. One sword in particular looked to be taller than his daughters. The gleam from the firelight and the few hanging lanterns gave away that the edges were finely honed. Juan had no doubt that every single blade on that wall was sharpened to a razor’s edge.
“So, as your daughters already told you,” Gerald rumbled, “your friends went ahead to Anchorage.” He made a point to enunciate the word as he winked at Della and Denita.
“How long have I been out?” Juan asked cautiously.
“In and out for over a week,” the man replied.
“Grizzly Man had to clean your butt!” Della snickered, and then both she and Denita were giggling uncontrollably.
“You have been taking care of us this entire time?” Juan gave the man a curious look.
“He killed the deader wolves before they could eat you,” Denita said around the last of her giggles.
Everything came flooding back for Juan. The horse falling, the pain in his leg, and the wolves. No matter how many times he encountered those horrible things, he did not think he would ever not be totally creeped out by them.
“You took a nasty fall,” Gerald said with a nod. “All that noise distracted the wolves from their original target.”
“Huh?” Juan shook himself clear of the memory and focused on Gerald again. “What target was that?”
“Me,” the big man said with a sigh. “Damn things had me dead to rights. Already took down my bear. I’m gonna miss old Walt.”
Suddenly, the nickname was making a lot more sense.