An excerpt of Age of Blood, the second book in the SEAL Team 666 paranormal military thriller series by Weston Ochse (available October 15, 2013).
When a Senator’s daughter is kidnapped by a mysterious group with ties to the supernatural . . . it’s clearly a job for SEAL TEAM 666. As Triple Six gets involved, they discover links to the Zeta Cartel, a newly discovered temple beneath Mexico City, and a group known as Followers of the Flayed One. International politics, cross-border narco-terrorism, and an insidious force operating inside the team soon threaten to derail the mission. Forced to partner with several militant ex-patriots and a former Zeta hitman-turned-skinwalker, Triple Six is the world's only hope to stop the return of the Age of Blood.
NEW ORLEANS CEMETERY. NIGHT.
That’ll Leave A Mark was spray-painted in garish Day-Glo pink across the front of a seventeenth-century headstone. The out-of-the-way and run-down cemetery was the perfect setting for a horror movie. The ambience was complete with Spanish-moss-hung ancient trees, low ground fog, aboveground crypts crouching like intruders, anomalous statues that could be shrines to the elder gods, and the total absence of sound, except for a tinkling of zydeco on the extreme edge of hearing. And the characters, the complement of characters, inclusive of the astonishingly believable voodoo queen, were as terrifying as they were fantastic. So Petty Officer First Class Jack Walker was pretty pleased with himself that he made this observation while perched high in a tree far away from the action and armed with a sniper rifle.
Only this wasn’t a movie. Through his scope, Walker watched as Voodoo Queen Madame Laboy stood imperiously on the raised sarcophagus behind a wall of bulletproof glass, her arms outstretched as if she were the puppeteer for the vast array of undead which were pulling themselves upright from where they lay on the ground. More than a dozen naked zombies clawed their way to their feet, their jerky movements as they tried to operate their dead limbs increasing the creep factor tenfold. Some of them still had Y-incisions from medical-school students’ inexpert autopsies. Others were fresher, their mortal wounds still weeping fluid, their expressions full of surprise as if they’d just figured out they were no longer alive.
Walker swung the long barrel of the Stoner SR-25 sniper rifle back and forth as he continued observing the scene through the Leupold Mark 4 scope. The other four members of SEAL Team 666 huddled in the middle of the cemetery. Holmes, Laws, YaYa, and the new guy, Yank, stood roughly back-to-back. They wore body armor, including Kevlar forearm pads, Kevlar gloves, and Kevlar shin guards. They each held a slender two-foot metal baton in one hand and a Marine Ka-Bar in the other. Their heads were completely covered with metal helmets, depriving them of sight, sound, and smell. If they were to survive, it would be by touch alone.
The zombies were pretty much as Walker expected—shamblers. Like sailors after a forty-eight-hour drinking jag in Balibago, Philippines. Several bumped into crypts and were redirected.
Walker’s gaze was drawn back to Madame Laboy as she started to sing something in low, guttural French. A mishmash of red and purple satin covered her matronly figure. Her graying hair was piled high and infused with copper coils. Enough of her beauty remained that she could still command a room’s attention, not to mention a pantheon of the undead in a Southern gothic cemetery.
At the sound of her song, the zombies snapped their bodies straight and cocked their heads as if they were listening—which after this reaction, Walker had no doubt they were. Within moments of hearing her, they were all staring with dead eyes at the four SEALs. Then, as one, the zombies moved toward them.
Walker wished he could put a round through the Voodoo Queen’s head. It wouldn’t even be hard. Everything seemed a little easier after he took out the Somali pirates on heavy seas last year at over three thousand meters. Except that the rounds in his rifle stood no chance against the specially designed glass. Still, he could figure out a way to put his rifle to good use. He sighted in, took a moment, and fired. Dust exploded from the ground between Holmes’s feet. The SEAL straightened, tapped the man next to him, who did the same to the next, until they were all alerted to the approaching zombies.
Dragging and tripping, the undead moved faster than expected. With their arms out, fingers curled, teeth gnashing, the first wave attacked.
At first touch, each SEAL used his baton to isolate an arm and spin his attacker. Then the knife blade slid along the back until it found the neck. A hard saw with the serrated edge and the head fell free to hang by gristle and skin as the zombie dropped, lifeless once more.
A male voice spoke through Walker’s Multiband Intra/Inter Team Radio (MBITR) headset. “Increasing volume to five decibels. SEALs, move apart.”
The four SEALs did as commanded. Each one set one foot forward like a fencer, their helmeted faces pointing toward the ground, as they concentrated on what little hearing they were allowed as their only sense.
Holmes encountered a raised crypt and quickly pulled himself atop it. Yank, YaYa, and Laws remained on the ground. They moved their batons and knives in a slow dance, waiting.
They didn’t have long. Thirty more zombies rose from places along the ground where they’d been placed earlier. The problem with cemeteries in New Orleans is that the water table is too high to bury someone in the ground. Instead, people must be buried in aboveground crypts, which can run from the utilitarian to the elaborate. Since the SEALs didn’t want to raise the dead of unknown families, the crypts themselves were kept shut. Instead, Naval Special Warfare Command had requisitioned a number of cadavers, which had been strategically placed along the ground by a cohort of confused Navy seamen, who knew better than to question the details of their classified mission to relocate the recent dead.
Holmes spun as he felt a zombie brush his lower leg. Walker watched through his scope when she turned to face Holmes. She’d been a beautiful girl before something had smashed in the side of her face. She grabbed the SEAL’s leg and tried to pull him to her, but she lacked the strength, instead creating a stationary target for Holmes’s weapons. He slammed the tip of the knife into the center of her skull. Her body ceased all function. He pulled the knife free as she fell.
But Holmes had no time to waste. Two more zombies moved toward him. An African American zombie who was tall and muscled enough to have played professional basketball grabbed one of Holmes’s arms. An overweight, balding white guy grabbed one of Holmes’s legs. Holmes kicked out to rid himself of the zombie on his leg, but as he did, he was jerked off balance by the taller one.
Walker quickly scanned the other three SEALs and saw that while each was engaged, they were holding their own, except for possibly Yank, who had lowered his head and was ramming himself into a clot of three zombies. Still, they were on their feet and fighting, not at all like the SEAL team leader, who was now on the ground and straddled by a freakishly tall zombie. Even while Holmes fought desperately to rid himself of the creature on his chest, the overweight zombie was trying to chew on his leg. Try as the zombie might, he couldn’t bite through the Kevlar, nor could he find a way around it with the booted foot of Holmes’s other leg continually slamming into his face.
Walker prepared to fire. The objective of the training was to help better prepare the SEALs for situations where they had limited use of their senses. No one was supposed to die. In fact, it was Walker’s job to make sure that no one did. Still, he hesitated, watching through the scope as Holmes fought for his life. Walker could afford his boss a few more seconds. After all, nothing was faster than a sniper round.
The zombie kept trying to grab the side of Holmes’s head as if it were a basketball. The fact that Holmes had a metal helmet on didn’t seem to deter the zombie, and Holmes himself kept acting as if the helmet weren’t there. Why not let the zombie try and bite through the composite metal?
It was as if Holmes realized this at the same time Walker thought it. Holmes relaxed and the zombie immediately grabbed his head. He brought it to his face to get a better hold and snapped his jaw shut, breaking several teeth on the metal.
Not being able to see, Holmes had no idea this had occurred, but in one smooth move he slammed the knife into the side of the zombie’s head. He continued pushing until the creature tumbled off him. Without hesitation, Holmes scissored his legs and wrapped them around the other zombie’s head. Holmes rolled, causing the overweight zombie to tumble headfirst after him until Holmes straddled the zombie. The SEAL team leader no longer had a knife but he still held the baton. He placed one end of it on the bottom of the zombie’s jaw and shoved until it disappeared into the creature’s brain.
Walker couldn’t help but shake his head and smile. “Not bad, Chief. Not bad at all.”
Holmes dispatched three more, using the baton in the same manner.
Yank got to his feet from where he looked like he’d been rolling in a pile of dead zombies. Walker made a note to talk to the new SEAL. No matter how much Kevlar he wore, his zeal for battle wouldn’t stop a zombie from possibly finding a chink in his armor. Even after this, the metaphor should be lived.
YaYa and Laws each stood in the center of a pile of his own dead zombies. Other than Madame Laboy, the SEALs were the only ones left in the cemetery.
A series of beeps piped through his MBITR, followed by “Control to Triple Six. Training complete. You may remove your sensory-deprivation helmets.”
The four SEALs below Walker did as they were told and their faces were revealed.
Lieutenant Commander Sam Holmes, blond-haired, square-jawed paradigm of a SEAL, life dedicated to the cause of freedom.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Tim Laws, blond-haired, lanky, a smile already creasing a long, thoughtful face that hid an intelligence unmatched by the others.
Chief Petty Officer Ali Jabouri, or YaYa, Arab American, dark-skinned, dark hair, built like a runner, trying to prove that he was as apple-pie American as everyone else.
Petty Officer Second Class Shonn Yankowski, African American, shaved head, tattoos, burns along the left side of his face from a house fire back home in Compton.
Just as the SEALs began to high-five and celebrate, each examining the zombies he’d killed without the ability to see, they were interrupted by a terrible scraping sound. All eyes went to one of the raised crypts, this one more elaborate and twice the size of most others.
The four-inch-thick metal cover was moving aside. An immense hand reached from underneath and grabbed the lip of the crypt’s lid, a talon the size of a dinner knife jutting from each finger.
The hairs on the back of Walker’s neck began to buzz. He’d felt something electric the entire time, but he’d written it off as the zombies or Madame Laboy. But now with the metal cover free, his skin began to tingle. Whatever this was, it was much more than they’d expected, setting off his supernatural warning system like no horde of zombies ever could.
Madame Laboy’s voice rose. She screamed a series of words that weren’t part of any language Walker had ever heard. Her hands punched at the air in a complex pattern. What she was doing was many levels of mastery beyond the raising of the dead.
Walker watched as the monstrous hand lost its grip on the crypt cover, and let it drop back in place, disappearing beneath it.
Madame Laboy ran around the bulletproof shield and sped toward the crypt. With the help of Yank, she climbed on top of the lid, where she began to spit, and curse, and cast more spells.
“What was that?” Holmes asked.
She ignored him for a moment, then said, “Something I’d almost forgotten about. Something I’d misplaced.”
“Pretty fucking big to misplace,” Laws said, casting a worried eye at the crypt.
“You live as long as me and you’ll forget a lot of things, mon petit guerrier.” She stared at him, as if daring him to ask her age.
Laws snorted. He knew better than to upset a voodoo queen.
NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, NEW ORLEANS.
Triple Six sprawled in the briefing room chairs as they watched the training event unfold over and over and over on the flatscreen television. At first everyone laughed, pointing to where Yank had stepped into the guts of a zombie and almost fallen, or where Laws had missed the same old woman over and over, only to accidentally skewer her when he tripped. But by the fifth time through, no one was laughing. Sure, they’d survived the event, but they all knew they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been wearing so much Kevlar body armor to protect them. They could also feel their collective breath cease when the thing in the crypt tried to get out.
“Do we know what that was?” Walker asked.
Laws, who was on his second Big Gulp, paused in chewing on the straw long enough to answer, “Don’t remember anything like that in the mission logs.”
The logs went back to the Revolutionary War. Triple Six had existed in one form or another since its creation by the First Continental Congress. Their first existence was as the Light-Horsemen, a Continental Army special-mission unit under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee, the grandfather of Robert E. Lee. A special unit of Lee’s Legion, the Light-Horsemen worked behind the scenes to hasten Cornwallis’s surrender, most notably at Pyle’s Massacre, the first evidence of the British use of lycanthropes against the colony. Henry Lee’s son would command the Red Dragoons during the Mexican-American War, their greatest service coming during the bloody assault at Molino del Rey.
Triple Six had also been known as the Roanoke Irregulars, Jefferson’s Order of the Mount, Roosevelt’s Special Brigade, and Wilson’s Warders. The names changed, but the missions remained the same—a dedicated group of men and a dog assigned a mission no one else knew about to recover, kill, disable, or remove something so far beyond the norm that the average citizen should never know of its existence.
Walker was just beginning to read the mission logs, choosing missions at random, just to become familiar with some of the things the team had encountered before. Covering seventy-two volumes, the handwritten logs were lengthy accounts of the missions, sometimes grinding into excruciating detail about the men, the equipment, and the methods used to take down one supernatural foe or another. It was beyond interesting, and he’d have loved to make the reading of those who’d come before him a priority, but he had his fiancée, Jen, to consider, and he was eager to spend more time with her.
“I do remember Madame Laboy, though,” Laws added, looking over at Holmes to see if the leader had anything to add. When he didn’t, Laws continued, “She’s mentioned several times. Hurricane Katrina and the Battle of New Orleans, for instance.”
“The Battle of…” Yank gave Laws a look like he thought the other SEAL was joking. “Maybe it was a relative.”
“Maybe so.” Laws sipped his Big Gulp, with a slight smile on his face.
“But don’t count on it,” Walker added.
“You really need to read the logs,” YaYa said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Walker noticed that he was still sick. YaYa had been enduring a seemingly unshakable flu. With his jacket zipped up and his hands shoved into his pockets he looked positively miserable.
“If I had more than eight seconds, I’d look at the damn logs,” Yank said, still unused to the pace and closeness of Triple Six. At times he seemed to get visibly angry, reacting as if they weren’t a close-knit bunch of brothers. “But that helmet shit fucking sucked. When are we ever going to be forced to wear those?”
“Easy, Yank,” Laws said, trying to win the FNG over with a smile.
But Yank clearly had something to get off his chest. He leaned forward and came just short of pounding the table. “What sort of team is this to put us with a bunch of fucking zombies? I mean, when you said it, I thought you were kidding. Fuck.” He gave the TV, which had been paused on the battle, an angry glare. “If I’d known, I might not have joined.”
Everyone turned quietly toward Holmes. “Do you want out?” Holmes asked, his voice low but sharp as a razor.
“No, I just want—”
Holmes cut him off by sitting forward quickly, “I asked if you wanted out. I didn’t ask you for your opinion or for your favorite color. A one-word answer will suffice.”
Yank breathed through his nose and his nostrils flared. His fists remained on the table, but they seemed to strain to stay there.
Laws set his Big Gulp down and leaned forward. “I think you’d better answer the question,” he said softly.
Walker didn’t know what everyone else thought as they stared at Yank, but no matter how mad and how mean he looked, Yank seemed more scared than anything else. Walker recognized it because he’d felt it himself. His first day at the orphanage, his first day at BUD/S (basic underwater demolition/SEAL) training, his first day with Triple Six. Walker’s life seemed to be filled with first days. Maybe that was the problem. Yank didn’t have many first days. And this was his first day embracing the reality of the Triple Six mission.
Finally Yank shook his head. “No.”
Holmes nodded and sat back. “Fine. Then stop telling us what you think and start telling us what you’ll do. I brought you on because you’re a weapons specialist and an expert on hand-to-hand.” He pressed the remote and the action continued. “See there,” he pointed. “Laws was using the same technique over and over. Although it worked, anything else but a zombie might have figured that out.”
“Ouch. Damned with faint praise,” Laws murmured.
“What we need,” Holmes continued, “are some moves we can transition to when we’re concentrating on not using any of our senses.”
“Sounds like something out of Kwai Chang Caine,” Walker said. He’d been folding a piece of paper into an airplane and was finishing the creasing of the wings.
Laws shook his head. “Nuh-uh. You mean Kung Fu.”
Yank turned to observe the pair as they argued.
“Wasn’t that the TV show?” Walker asked.
Laws nodded. “Caine was played by David Carradine. Took the place of Bruce Lee, who originally came up with the idea for the show.”
Walker nodded, dropping the paper airplane on the table as he leaned back in his chair. He remembered catching episodes of the show dubbed in Filipino when he was at the orphanage. “Yeah. For sure Bruce Lee was badass, but Carradine was cool. Guess they wanted cool.”
Laws laughed. “Actually, they wanted white.”
YaYa snatched the airplane from the table, lit the tail of it with a match, and soared it across the room. “Actually,” he said, mimicking Laws’s tone, “that white man died in a backroom brothel in Bangkok with a noose around his neck and his Johnson in his hand.” When the plane crashed into the wall, YaYa added, “Kaboom!”
Everyone stared at the burning airplane for a moment; then Yank went over and stomped it out. YaYa’s face held a small smile as he watched the flames disappear, but nothing he had said had been particularly funny.
Holmes snapped everyone back to the topic at hand. “Okay, enough about David Carradine. Let’s get back to it. So what do you think, Yank? Can you work something up?”
As Yank studied the film, his fists relaxed. “Sure. Probably something Filipino or Chinese. Either silat or wing chun. I can work up some flowing-hands movement that will allow us to counter anything we need to.” He nodded as he thought it through. “Wing chun for sure.”
“Good.” Holmes turned to YaYa and was about to say something when the door opened and Alexis Billings, administrator for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (the Sissy’s) special projects division, of which Triple Six was a part, strode in. She wore a gray dress suit with black high heels. She was about thirty, slender, with red hair pulled back into a professional bun.
Walker recognized the look in her eyes. He’d seen it the day she’d jerked him out of SEAL training, marching right up to his drill instructors on the beach, handing over a letter from their commander, and marching away with him in her back pocket. There was a mission to be completed and she was delivering it.
Holmes started to stand and take her into another room, but she surprised everyone and waved him back into his seat. “No time. We have a problem.” She handed a thumb drive to YaYa. “Plug this in.”
While YaYa did as he was told, she addressed the team. “Emily Withers, daughter of Senator Christopher Withers, ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—my boss and the approval authority for the Top Secret funding line your unit has appreciated these last few years—has gone missing.”
She let the words hang for a moment, then added, “Perhaps ‘missing’ is not the right word. Chief Jabouri, are we ready?”
He selected a file and the zombie training scene was replaced with the black and white image of a beach somewhere. The perspective was from above, but not directly.
“Emily Withers was in Cabo San Lucas on holiday. That’s her.…” She pointed at the screen and a young woman walked into the picture. The woman removed her shorts and made a pile of her things on the sand before running into the water. The room remained silent as they watched her swim to the upper edge of the frame. That the camera didn’t move with her indicated that it was probably a static security camera. She floated on her back for a few moments, then apparently felt something beneath her. She turned and looked around; then it happened again and she began to swim. Then suddenly she went beneath the water. Everyone sat forward. Yank audibly gasped when she shot back to the surface like a bobber.
“What the hell was that?” Yank asked.
“Wait for it,” Billings said, her arms crossed, a frown burying her face.
The girl began to swim again, but was dragged down. Then their voices erupted as she rose from the water in the mouth of a creature that went on and on and on, nearly fifty feet in length, coiling and uncoiling across the waves until both she and the creature disappeared into the water.
“And there you have it,” Alexis said, flipping the back of her hand at the screen before turning and giving Holmes a hard look.
“Was that what I think it was?” Walker said.
“If you mean a sea monster, it sure the hell looked like it,” Laws said.
“We’re not sure what it is,” Billings said. “All we know is that it took the senator’s daughter.”
“Then this is a body recovery,” YaYa said.
“Not necessarily,” Billings responded.
YaYa pointed at the screen, a look of disbelief on his face. “We all saw what happened. She was floating in the water, along came a sea monster, and she became a snack.” Realizing his own words, he gulped and looked down. “I mean … she was taken.”
Billings had kept her eyes on Holmes the entire time. “What do you think?”
Holmes sighed. “Although I tend to agree with YaYa, there’s a window of possibility.”
Yank looked from Holmes to YaYa with visible incredulity. “Really? Please tell us, because I don’t see it. I’m with YaYa. I saw her taken. You saw her taken. Hell, we all saw her taken.”
Holmes looked at Laws. “Do you want to explain it to them?”
Laws nodded. “Sure.” He stood and walked to the screen. It had been rewound to where the creature was first revealed and zoomed in until it was almost completely pixellated. “What are the odds that in the whole wide universe, a single sea monster or whatever the fuck this is, just happened to be cruising the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, and just happened to find the daughter of one of the top five highest-ranking politicians in America?” He turned. “Walker, what do you think?”
“Pretty long odds, sir.”
“Pretty long, indeed.”
“And you, Laws?”
“What Walker said.”
“Could just be coincidence,” Yank surmised.
This answer engendered a broad smile from Laws. “Out of the mouths of babes. Coincidence, you say? That word is the reason Triple Six exists. We don’t believe in it. When someone else says it, we know it’s time to investigate.”
“So you think someone could be behind this? Someone arranged to snatch her?” Walker asked.
“Either that,” Laws’s smile faded and was replaced by complete seriousness, “or it’s mere coincidence.”
“Doesn’t matter what it is. We’re on mission. Everyone get ready. We leave in an hour.” Billings stepped forward. “One more thing. On an unrelated matter, a shipment from the Salton Sea warehouse was hijacked. We need to track the load.”
“You got GPS on it, right? Radio-frequency IDs?” Holmes asked.
“We do, but this is pretty sensitive. Several crates of chupacabra bones. We don’t want some local cop shop involved. We want to keep this in the family.”
Holmes thought about it and nodded. “YaYa, I’m sending you. Stop by Balboa after and get rid of whatever bug you have, then Charlie Mike and link up.” He turned back to Billings. “Anything else?”
“No, except I don’t have to reinforce how—”
“No, you don’t. If she’s alive, we’ll track her down. If she’s deceased, we’ll find her body.”
“Don’t thank me. It’s what we do. Come on, SEALs. Get your asses in gear.”
Copyright © 2013 by Weston Ochse.
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Weston Ochse has won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for short fiction. He is a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer and current intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency.