The Romero Strain

A group of New Yorkers survive a zombie outbreak by navigating the city’s utility and transportation tunnels, only to discover a terrifying threat below.

Synopsis

For J.D. Nichols and his dog Max the day started out like any other, with a walk along the streets of the Lower East Side. The morning was eventful––a day J.D. needed his skills as a paramedic and his extensive knowledge of New York’s underground to survivor a zombie outbreak.

After coming to the aid of a young girl, the pair flee to a nearby power facility and find themselves chased into the city’s underground by a zombie horde. Along their subterranean journey, they gather survivors while traveling to Grand Central Terminal, where J.D. believes help will be found. Their hopes quickly end when they discover Grand Central overrun with the undead.

J.D., bitten, knows he has limited time as he struggles to find a safe haven for his companions. In their search they stumble upon an enigmatic scientist who divulges a most ominous secret that forces J.D. to confront an adversary born from a lab deep below.


Sneak Peak Excerpt

PART I

WHEN DARKNESS FALLS

 

I. Book of the unDead

 

My name is J.D. and I am undead, or will be shortly. The virus that ravages this city has infected me, and I am about to enter into phase three symptoms, or so I have been told. By whom, I will explain shortly.

My fever is high, and I can feel a chill running deep into my body with an accompanying pain that pierces my stiffening muscles. My recollections of earlier hours are a bit hazy, but I remember telling my dog Max to slow down and heel. Max is well trained, but he sometimes forgets his place and gets excited when he knows he’s heading home. I have to remind him, on those rare occasions, who the pack leader is. My loyal friend is here next to me as I document this chronicle of events. I write for history’s sake, if there is a future. Let this End of Days’ record enlighten anyone who may read it. Not all of humanity went out in a miserable whimper, but as the expressions goes, kicking and screaming.

Or as I did, kicking and killing.

 

II. A Virgin amongst the Living Dead

 

It began like any normal Monday morning in April, just a few days past my 28th birthday. It was a mild day in New York City––sunny skies, a light, cool breeze, and a few fluffy, white clouds. I was coming back from a walk with Max, my three-year-old German shepherd. I tried to give Max as much exercise as possible so he didn’t become bored. Being a working breed, we always went for our daily walks with packs strapped on our backs. Max didn’t carry much, just some essentials. I always carried too many items, even with my minimal go-bag. Being the city that it was, I needed to be prepared, even if I was walking the dog.

We had just come from the East Village Park along the East River, crossing over the pedestrian bridge at 10th Street and through the Jacob Riis Houses. As always, we turned north on Avenue D and headed toward 12th Street. There were other routes we could have taken, but that was the most peaceful, and in the spring, the most enjoyable. I liked to walk under the tall branches of the cherry tree that overhung the chain-link fence in front of Saint Emeric’s Church. I paused for a moment, looking up at the long limbs of the immense tree. Max, too, seemed to enjoy the tree, trying to catch a falling petal with his mouth. We cut through the Haven Plaza low-income housing courtyard which brought us to C Town Supermarket on Avenue C, known by people of Alphabet City as Loisaida Avenue; Spanglish for the Lower East Side. We were about to cross the street and head north when I heard a female voice screaming, “Help, help, he’s trying to kill me!”

She was a young schoolgirl, made obvious by the school uniform she was wearing, though the uniform couldn’t hide her physical maturity. As she drew nearer, I could see her well-developed chest through her partly undone white Peter Pan collar blouse, bouncing vigorously on her slim frame. Her complexion was light brown. Her hair, a deep rich, shining brunette, was pulled into a ponytail.

My fixation distracted me momentarily from her pursuer, until a twinge of guilt, slight as it was, told me she may look eighteen but was more likely thirteen. Her loud screams and pleas for help jolted me out of my schoolgirl uniform fantasy as she drew within feet of me.

I saw him moving toward us as the girl grabbed my arm and hid behind me. His hurried approach was more borderline lumbering than running. Max’s fur along the back of his neck stood up. He was poised to lunge, snarling with his teeth bared, ready to protect me if necessary. But I wasn’t too concerned. I knew how to defend myself.

 

* * *

 

Being the son of a police officer sucked. It did not earn me automatic respect. Having a cop for a father earned me less respect than being the fat sloppy kid in school. I was the skinny, dorky kid whose parents made him take ballet and piano lessons. It wasn’t that my fellow classmates disliked the police; it was the fact that when I first started getting picked on I used the My father is a cop and if you don’t leave me alone he’s gonna kick your dad’s ass card once too often. It wasn’t long before my tormentors realized I was full of shit. It was true; I was full of shit, and I was called on it on a regular basis.

My father was not amused by my bragging, but was sympathetic to my dilemma. He decided I needed to be taught how to defend myself, and took me to the YMCA every Saturday for six months for kickboxing and self-defense lessons, which were taught by one of his commanding officers. I was twelve. Having successfully mastered the basics in kickboxing and self-defense techniques, my father enrolled me in a Jeet Kune Do academy, the same place the police department had sent him to train.

Some kids get sent to summer camp to get away from the city, to enjoy nature, and so their parents can have some privacy. My parents sent me to summer camp at The Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in Marina Del Rey, California, because they knew if they didn’t, I was going to make their lives miserable all summer.

Having learned practical elements of Kali, Eskrima, Jun Fan kung fu, Silat, and advance elements of Jeet Kune Do, I returned home with a strong body and a stronger will—will, not mind. I had embraced the physical aspects of Way of the Intercepting Fist, but not the spiritual. Instead of being a perpetual victim, I became the constant bully. I garnered the wrath of my middle school teachers, and my father’s. He never allowed me to take another lesson while under his roof. My bad attitude would continue into my early twenties, when a fateful event brought upon an epiphany.

 

* * *

 

As the man approached I could see he looked ill. His face was pale, grey, and drawn with a few open sores. His eyes were sickly and glassy, but filled with a singular intensity of doing me harm. Max barked and growled wildly. I had never seen such an intensity of alarm from him. I gave his leash a tug and told him to be silent.

The sickly man drew within yards. I shouted for him to stop but he kept steadfast in his intent to apprehend the girl. When he refused to yield and reached out for me; I side-kicked him above the larynx, hard enough to put him down but not hard enough to break the hyoid bone or tear any thyroid cartilage. I expected him to drop to his knees, but he staggered back and lunged at me again. I snap-kicked him square in the testicles, but nothing. I became concerned, very concerned. If those two places didn’t bring him to his knees, he must have been completely tweaked out. I was able to sidestep him on his third lunge and kick him in the left kneecap. He went down hard, not even trying to brace his fall with his hands. I had to do something quick, and kicking him again wasn’t going to do it. I had the girl screaming in my ear and Max ready-to-go on my command, but I wanted this guy for myself.

“Achterzijde, blif,” I commanded, and Max stepped back. I stepped back a few feet and grabbed a municipal green mesh garbage can, which stood next to the crosswalk light. I hoisted it up and swung it, slamming it in the middle of his back. He went down again; his face slammed on the sidewalk.

As quickly as he fell he began to rise up.

“Stay down!” I yelled, but he didn’t heed my warning. Again I slammed him squarely in the upper lumbar region, but for a third time his fall only momentarily impeded him. I raised the receptacle yet again, this time higher, and slammed it against the back of his head. Down he went once more, his head thumping loudly on the hard sidewalk. But like the previous times, it did not stop him from rising. I couldn’t believe he was getting up again.

I lifted the can nearly above my head, and as he was almost upright, I slammed it into the upper side of his skull. The impact of the hard metal bottom support ring slamming against his cranium was so devastating that it split his parietal bone open. He finally collapsed. He lay twitching on the ground, brain matter exposed, hemorrhaging a deep purple color.

“God damn it!” I yelled, and turned to the girl, who was still screaming. “Shut up!” I bellowed over her incessant, grating noise. I was pissed. My red ringer 10003 postal code t-shirt was ruined from all the shit that had slid out of the trashcan while I was defending her, and all she could do was scream in my ear. She stopped screaming and cried, which was a lesser irritation but still damn annoying.

“What that fuck is going on?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” she sobbed repeatedly, and began to mutter rapidly in Spanish. “Él intentó agarrarme. Él tenía ojos locos. Me separé de el y comencé a correr. ¡Pero él me sigio! Grité y grité. ¡Pero nadie me ayudaría! Entonces yo—”

“Hey, hey. Inglés, chica. Inglés.” I interupted. “No puedo entenderte cuando hablas asi.”

I was surprised that a crowd hadn’t gathered. I looked around as I took out my cell phone to dial 9-1-1. It was only 7:00 a.m., but someone should have been sticking his or her nose into this.

“I want to report an emergency on Avenue C and 12th Street, Manhattan… Nichols, J.D. Nichols… 646-867-5309… What? No, I’m not being funny.” The operator asked me to state the nature of emergency. “There was an attempted assault on a young girl by an aggressive and delirious male, in which I interceded using a garbage can… no, just the assailant who is unconscious, unresponsive, and suffering—what? Did anyone come in physical contact with the assailant?” I repeated the operator’s question, which was unusual response. “My foot to his balls. Does that count?” As usual, I was being a smart-ass. “What? Bit!?” I repeated, with astonishment and curiosity in my tone at such an unusual question. “Ah… I don’t know. I didn’t. Maybe the girl.”

That was a fucking weird question, I thought. I looked at the girl who Max was comforting, or I should say, who Max was sucking up to. “Max, afstammen. Broeden op.” He moved from the girl to me and sat down. “Logeren.”

The girl looked puzzled by what I was saying, and a bit pissed that I called the dog away from her. At least she had stopped sobbing.

“Señorita. ¿Cuál es tu nombre?”

“Marisol,” she said.

Why? I thought. Why the hell not! I just saved your life and most likely killed someone, and you ask me why I want to know your name? “9-1-1 wants to know if you were bitten,” I said, holding my tongue.

“Él solamente me… on my arm. See,” she said as she revealed the small scratch on her forearm. “See. A small scratch, no bites,” she assured me.

“No. No bites, just a scratch on her arm. Yeah. Yeah, all right.”

“What did they say?” she asked, concern in her voice.

He said wait here for a patrol car.”

“Why did he ask if I was bit?” Now she was being a smart-ass. A little spunk in her after all.

“Yeah. Weird, huh? Didn’t seem to interested in the assailant, just if we got bit. That is kind of weird.”

I could hear the police sirens growing closer.
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