Authors: Nick Cole
THE DARK KNIGHT
Copyright 2015 Nick Cole
THE DARK KNIGHT
Of Apocalypse Weird
© Copyright 2015 Nick Cole
All rights reserved. No portion of this book
may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without
the written permission of the author.
Published by Wonderment
Cover Design by Mike
Editing by Ellen Cambell
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Cole or to read his blog, visit:
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Apocalypse Weird is owned
and operated by Wonderment Media Corporation
The Dark Knight
Braddock attached his static line to
the wire that ran the length of the red-lit cargo bay. The rear ramp of the
C-130 began to lower, exposing golden morning sunlight. Air rushed in to beat
at digital cammo fatigues and rucksacks. It had been dark when the three
military transports had lifted off from the base out in the depths of Death
Valley. Braddock could now see the two trailing C-130’s that made up the rest
of Task Force 19 behind them, one below and one above the open ramp door. He
circled his hand once and the rest of his company stood and began to attach
their static lines to the wire running the length of the interior. Each of the
mercenaries had been highly trained before ever leaving the military for
private contract work. They knew the drill.
Braddock checked his watch once more. Three minutes to
oh-nine-hundred. 22 September. Below, out the ramp door and a couple of
thousand feet down, herds of wandering dead mixed in and among the vast empty
sprawl of southern California. The two trailing C-130’s, each slate gray, each
marked with the Tarragon logo, adjusted their positions to jump altitude.
Braddock thought of the... man... known as Mr. Steele. Of
his face and what lay beneath it. After landing out in the nowhere end of
Death Valley, after watching LA go up in a low-yield nuclear blast, they’d
gotten out of the chopper in the middle of a dry and seemingly endless waste
surrounding an old abandoned military base. The massive... man...
machine-thing... that had taken out multiple hostiles from a moving helicopter
atop the US Bank Tower had then purposefully strode off across the tarmac of
the runway toward a lone air traffic control tower. After that, Braddock
hadn’t seen Mr. Steele again. Instead he’d been greeted by 1
Sergeant Bannon and led to the company he would take charge of. Echo Company
was made up of ex-soldiers who’d somehow disappeared down the rabbit hole that
surrounded the mysterious Tarragon Corporation.
Now, back in the C-130 speeding above the ruins of Southern
California, they were two minutes out from jumping on Task Force 19’s current
objective, Iron Castle. The orders that came up on a secure new smartphone,
issued to Braddock along with all the high-speed gear he could strap, all
embossed in gray relief with the Tarragon Logo and the like of which Braddock
had never seen before, were to secure a perimeter around objective Iron Castle
and begin sweeping operations. All zombies and survivors were to be
Again Braddock remembered his Handler’s voice. What she’d
said. In his mind he could still see the web address he’d found her at for
their last conversation.
Did it still exist? Or had it been burned? She’d
instructed him to do, “Whatever it takes.” After Operation Pitbull, the
voice, the woman on the other side of the link, was probably the last surviving
representative of government.
Do whatever it takes to stop whoever it is that’s destroying
America, and the world.Those had been Braddock’s final orders. Do whatever it
takes to stop Mr. Steele.
Thirty seconds to Jump.
Braddock was running his hand across his gear when the C-130
just off the port wing exploded. A dark shape, an attack jet of some sort,
raced away behind the flight of cargo planes and tore off into the foothills to
the east. As it peeled away, Braddock tracked and identified it as an A-10
Warthog close air support aircraft. Already the burning wreckage of the
breaking apart C-130 was raining down into the neighborhoods of Santa Ana just
below. Far out behind them, Braddock could see the A-10 turning back toward the
flight. He knew it was coming back for another pass, and he knew they were
sitting ducks inside the slow and low C-130’s.
Nothing in the Op Order that had come in on the snazzy, new
smartphone had said anything about expected resistance. The government had
collapsed, and for all intents and purposes there were no active combat-ready
units left in the American arsenal. A mile behind them, the Warthog leveled
out and a second later launched an air-to-air missile that snaked toward them
like a smoking sidewinder. Both C-130’s peeled away from each other, ejecting
flares and chaff. Braddock and the rest of Echo Company were thrown against the
interior of the fuselage.
The Captain of Braddock’s C-130 was screaming, “Scrub the
mission” over the net. One of Braddock’s men, a guy who’d identified himself
as Tim Ward back at the base in Death Valley, disconnected from the static line
and ran for the open cargo ramp. There was a loud BANG. Metallic. Awful.
But distant. Suddenly the C-130 pitched violently to starboard and Braddock
could see the other bird on fire and nose diving straight into a small hill.
The disconnected soldier ran for the cargo ramp, and in that
moment Braddock thought that wasn’t such a bad idea as he heard the A-10
whir-hum past the C-130 like a streak of whining death as it fired its chain
gun into the fuselage. Large holes erupted across the top of the cabin,
shooting sudden shafts of daylight down on bleeding and maimed men.
Then the lights went out. Braddock was blind.
Men all around him were screaming. Yelling. Braddock waved
his hand in front of his face.
“I’m, blind!” screamed the desperate pilot over the open
communications net. Braddock and everyone else could hear him ask the
co-pilot, “Can you see anything!?!”
Braddock reached up and felt the static line. His fingers
closed around the D-clip.
Time to jump, he thought to himself.
He felt the plane level out.
“Can anyone onboard see anything?” asked the pilot over the
net, the terror barely contained within his voice. Braddock heard several men
around him frantically admit that they too could not see as they swore and
“Must be some kind of weapon,” Braddock muttered and
continued to wave his hand in front of his sightless eyes.
He waited for the A-10, for the demonic sound of it to come
back, rushing at them again for one last final pass... and then blow them to
bits. And when it didn’t, maybe, thought Braddock, maybe the A-10 pilot had
gone blind too. Braddock let go of the static line.
Blind, in a wounded bird, jumping into the Zombocalypse
would only take him away from his objective, even if it meant saving his own
Whatever it takes
, he remembered her saying again.
Whatever it took he would kill Mr. Steel.
A few minutes more of blindness and men were crying. One
was screaming about Hell. The blindness... the darkness was so deep it felt
real. Even to Braddock. Like it was a living thing that could be touched.
The pilot came over the net once again. His voice was now
almost lunatic and his teeth chattered across and over each word. “I don’t
know what’s going... on... but I’ve got us locked back into the... autopilot.
We’re returning to base. M-mm-mission... scu-scrubbed.”
Braddock unhooked his static line and sat down. He thought
about nothing. He tried to block out everything. The drone of the engines.
The whistling air racing across the shot-to-shreds fuselage just beyond his
head. Grown, hardened killers, sobbing like frightened children all around
him. And even the nightmare underneath Mr. Steele’s face.
But he couldn’t forget that. Once you’d seen what lay
underneath the face... you couldn’t forget it. Ever.
“Iron Castle” was scrubbed. For now.
Holiday, Frank, Ash, Ritter, Candace and Dante had each
finally, feeling their way out to the street and calling for help, found each
They too were blind.
They knew they were now sitting in the middle of the
street. They could feel the narrow hot road beneath them that ran through the
close packed townhomes of the Vineyards.
“What the hell is going on?” hissed Dante.
Of course Frank said he didn’t know, but urged them to
remain calm nonetheless.
“I don’t even know who in the hell you are... and you’re
telling me to be cool?” hissed Dante at Frank even louder.
“Maybe you nailed it on the head, big man,” said Ritter, his
voice dry and husky in the morning heat they could feel rising on their faces.
“Maybe this is hell. Maybe we didn’t make it out of that office building.”
Holiday said nothing. He could feel someone, maybe the
woman known as Candace leaning against him. Touching him and jumping every
time she’d get too close. Her skin was cold and thin. The darkness seemed to
smother voices as everyone around him asked a question or argued with someone
else. It felt to Holiday as though his face were hidden under a pillow. As
though he were listening from behind a thick curtain to something not meant to
be listened to. A feeling that felt familiar to him though he could never
recall having actually listened to a conversation from behind a thick curtain.
Or any curtain.
When the blindness, which is what Ash thought of it as, hit,
she’d been checking the still unconscious kid. They told her his name was
Skully. Now sitting in the street as the morning heat began to rise, her mind
raced rapidly through medical conditions that could cause mass blindness. She
kept coming back to stress.
“Least that weird wind stopped howling and stuff when it all
started,” muttered Dante. “Thought it was like a tornado comin’.”
Ash had wandered out into the street, leaving the townhome
they’d set up as an aid station, to look for help. When Ritter finally
answered her calls she found out he too was blind. An hour later, all of them
huddled together with no one really saying anything productive and Ritter and
Dante working themselves up into a serious fight while all of them were just
hoping it would end soon, Ash announced, “We’re suffering from a sort of group
psychosis brought on by emotional stress.”
That stopped everyone.
“How so?” ventured Candace after a moment. “How could we
all be suffering from the same thing?”
“Trauma,” stated Ash. But the statement came out like a
guess. “After what’s happened... what we’ve all seen and been through... this
must be some sort of mental breakdown. I mean...” her voice halted. Even she,
after all she’d been through, all she’d seen, couldn’t believe she was about to
say what she’d say next. “The dead. That thing in the fog...”
“What thing in the fog?” whispered Dante frantically, his
voice low and serious. Ash continued, ignoring him.
“All of this might be just too much for the human mind to
rationalize. It’s happened before. Like people seeing... an oasis that isn’t
there when they’re dying of thirst.”
“Does that ever really happen?” asked Ritter. “I mean,
movies yeah, but really? C’mon Doc, I ain’t buying that.”
“It does,” shouted Ash, sick of it all. Sick of the whole
mess. “It does happen!” She took a shallow breath. Waved her hand in front
of her face once more. “It does,” she whispered.
“Listen, all I’m saying is that this might be stress
related, and if it is caused by stress, then the good news is it’s not
physical. It’s not something... it’s not a permanent condition. If we can all
just take a breath and relax, we might... see again.” Ash realized she was
talking with her hands and that it didn’t matter because no one could see her
Everyone heard Dante suck in a lungful of air and then
exhale like a cartoon bull might snort in anger just moments before charging
Bugs Bunny the Matador.
“Nothin’!” he muttered.
“Give it a moment,” Ash said in her most soothing,
For a few minutes they sat there, in the middle of the
street. Breathing slowly. Breathing deeply.
“What about the zombies?” asked Candace. “The dead. They
“Not helping,” interrupted Ash.
Then Frank spoke. “Food.”
No one replied. But Frank knew they were listening.
“I have this one dish,” Frank continued. His baritone voice
used to telling intimate stories, anecdotes, chit-chat between lounge standards
I Left my Heart in San Francisco
. “I have
this one dish that used to always settle down my...”
“It used to settle down someone I love very much. It’s my secret
recipe. Probably the one...” he paused again, his voice catching in his
throat. If they could’ve seen him, they’d have seen the tear that escaped one
eye and ran away. Frank knew they couldn’t, and so he let it run as if that
tear were something, or someone, that just needed to be let go of. Some poison
that needed letting. He sighed and said, “It might just be the only thing I
ever did right in my whole life.”
A crow barked at something far off.
“Maybe,” muttered Frank.
“What’s the dish?” asked Ritter.
Frank came back from wherever, whenever, he was. “Pasta
Aglio e Olio. It’s so simple anyone could make it, but when it’s done right...
well, it heals a lot of things. Even broken hearts, maybe. Maybe.”
“How...” Candace paused. Swallowing. “How do you make it?
“Pastaolio”,” she asked, mispronouncing the dish.
Frank sighed again. It was the sigh of someone lifting all
the weight the world could possibly settle on one man, or woman, off
themselves, one more time, again. “Pasta Aglio e Olio.” His voice softly sang
the name like it was some love song they all once knew. “I haven’t made it in
a long time. Probably only make it one more time in my life. Maybe.”
No one said anything.
“My dad was blind,” said Dante. “But he could fry up a
chicken like nobody’s business.”