Review: Day By Day Armageddon: Ghost Run by J.L. Bourne

Ghost Run by J.L. Bourne is the 4th installment of the Day by Day Armageddon series (Available July 19, 2016).

…The lock flew off; a tiny piece of steel struck me in the forehead, right between my mask and hood, splattering a few droplets of blood down into the fray below.

The undead went beserk.

I jammed my boot down blindly, striking bone and teeth, loosening the creature's bear-trap grip on my foot. Without looking, I threw myself upward, hitting the hatch with the back of my head and spilling light into the darkness below. Resembling strange deep-sea plant life, an ocean of hands reached up in unison to somehow will me back down the ladder and into their arms. One of them emerged from the array of limbs…

I took the shot down the hole, sending the thing back into the sea of waving hands.

Our narrator is Kilroy, a former military commander turned ultimate zompocalypse survivor. It's been over two years since the undead arose and the living fought back with nuclear bombs, reducing much of America—and probably the entire world—into a wasteland that’s both radioactive and teeming with hungry zombies.

Some of which are hungry radioactive zombies. Because, the only thing worse than a zombie determined to tear your throat out is one that can give you horrible tumors just by getting close to you.

All things considered, though, things are actually looking pretty good for our capable hero. Since his first diary entry in Day by Day Armageddon, Kil has found a loving wife and started a family in a fortified community in the Florida Keys. Surrounded by good people who are making the best of a bad situation, it's hard to ask for more in the new world order.

But, Kil isn't the sort to just sit back with his feet up and relax. With his military training and survival skills, there are few more suited to push into the mainland in search of other survivors or supplies. 

So, when Kil is sailing on his boat, Solitude, and catches a signal suggesting that someone from the former military group Task Force Phoenix is A) still alive and B) may have a cure for the undead virus, he decides to seek out the source of the transmission.

In true rugged survivalist fashion, he also decides to do it alone. His reasoning is that it's easier for a solitary man to avoid the zombie hordes and move quickly—and he's never been good at working with others. 

Along the way, he encounters plenty of strange and unexpected things. Early into his mission, he recovers a dog-like robot developed by the military that he names Checkers, a handy metal companion that can distract the hungry dead, drag him to safety when injured, and serves as a pack-mule for his vital ammunitions and supplies. 

While Kil and Checkers are navigating the Florida coast, they come across something straight out of Nightmareland:

Turning the corner north, I made out a street sign that was nearly covered in debris. The tall oak trees were all covered with gunk about nine feet off the ground.

Could the hurricane surge have reached that high? The answer to my mind's question could be heard in the trees.

Small branches snapped, forcing my attention upward. A dozen writhing undead were tangled in the gnarled branches, backs broken, arms and legs contorted into horrible positions of pain. One of the creatures had a fence post rammed entirely through its chest, another a small branch growing through its neck and shoulder. Alerted to my presence, they groaned and shook the branches, dropping acorns onto my head and back. I moved swiftly away from the trees of tormented souls, hoping that I'd finally seen it all.

The Day by Day Armageddon books are all presented as diaries, each written by Kil in his distinctively matter-of-fact, pragmatic voice. He's a consummate soldier, even though there's no one around to give orders any more, constantly sizing up his surroundings, meticulously attentive to his weapons and supplies, and willing to risk life or limb for someone else or a higher cause. 

He knows how to detach and look at the zombies as mere objects or faceless threats rather than ascribe all of their previous humanity to them. “These things were nothing more than biological machines running a kill program,” he writes dispassionately. “Walking viruses looking for healthy cells so that they might replicate until there was nothing left to infect. I had to reduce them to this. Looking at them in any other light was terrifying.”

All of this is, of course, thanks to author Bourne's own experience as a military officer; Ghost Run marks the fourth in the series and the last to be written while the author was on active duty. Our narrator's training and mindset comes across as incredibly authentic as a result. The details ring true, and Kil makes a point of mentioning practicalities of the apocalypse world that many might forget or ignore. 

When it becomes obvious that he'll need transport to make it to his goal, Kil ignores all manner of easy-to-operate vehicles, purely because the sort of fuel they need will have gone bad in the preceding two years of societal collapse. Instead, he homes in a big-rig truck at a Wal-Mart, knowing the diesel it runs on is more stable and viable. 

Much is also made of the necessity of multipurpose tools, proper weapon maintenance, and the realities of tending to injuries in a supremely hostile environment. This entire series is sure to appeal to preppers and survivalists, but Ghost Run is especially fun, given the insular nature of it. 

For 95% of the story, Kil is entirely on his own (a silent robot named Checkers hardly counts as a supporting character). There are no other characters to distract from our hero's thoughts, opinions, and experiences. While he has plenty of close calls and pulse-raising scrapes, we're confident in Kil's prowess and knowledge. 

It's great fun to ride along inside his head because we know we're in capable hands.

With its southern setting—Kil begins in Florida and moves towards Atlanta, Georgia, for the story's climax—it's not hard to draw allusions to The Walking Dead or George Romero's Day of the Dead (a vastly underrated film, in my opinion). You can practically feel the humid heat and hear the whining of the pesky mosquitoes.

Kil not only has to contend with zombies, wild animals, and radioactive fallout, but he also has to deal with dangerous looters driving Mad Max-style vehicles; one group's car has a still twitching zombie strapped to the front hood, while another has turned a crane's wrecking ball into a spiked weapon. 

“The wrecking ball definitely qualified in the top ten of the most screwed-up things I'd seen since this started. I wish I had a camera, because no one would ever believe this.”

As is usually the case in zombie fiction, our hero has more to fear from the living than from the dead, though the radiated undead are pretty damn terrifying with their juggernaut-like natures. 

Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Run is a deeply satisfying read for any fan of survivalist horror, zombie fiction, or military heroes. With its rousing pace and compelling narrator, it's best savored at a breathless sprint. The only real surprise is how this series has reached its fourth installment without a movie or TV deal being set in motion—its certainly cinematic enough in its action-packed flourishes. 

See also: Author J.L. Bourne discusses why our culture is so obsessed with zombies!

 

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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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