Ryan Brown Play Dead: A Thriller

ISBN 13: 9781441853202

Play Dead: A Thriller

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9781441853202: Play Dead: A Thriller
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A darkly humorous, rich, and pungent zombie shocker that melds our national obsession with football and the newest wave of fascination with the undead.

For the first time in Killington High School history, the Jackrabbits football team is one win away from the district championship where it will face its most vicious rival, the Elmwood Heights Badgers. On the way to the game, the Jackrabbits’ bus plunges into a river, killing every player except for bad-boy quarterback Cole Logan who is certain the crash was no accident—given that Cole himself was severely injured in a brutal attack by three ski-masked men earlier that day. Bent on payback, Cole turns to a mysterious fan skilled in black magic to resurrect his teammates. But unless the undead Jackrabbits defeat their murderous rival on the field, the team is destined for hell. In a desperate race against time, with only his coach’s clever daughter, Savannah Hickman, to assist him, Cole must lead his zombie team to victory...in a final showdown where the stakes aren’t just life or death—but damnation or salvation.

Boundlessly imaginative and thrillingly satisfying, Play Dead gives small-town Texas an electrifying jolt of the supernatural.

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About the Author:

Ryan Brown is a former actor who has appeared on The Young and The Restless, Law & Order, and numerous feature films. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children. Play Dead is his first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

Three Days Earlier

GAME day.

Cole Logan had awoken and begun working long before the alarm went off. He considered it work even though it was something he did while lying in bed, his eyes closed. It usually took him a good half hour to run through the entire offensive playbook, watching the X’s and O’s shift around his mind like Scrabble tiles. Years of practice had enabled him to visualize with vivid clarity the pass routes of his primary and secondary receivers, to read shifting defenses and assess the balance of the field. He was about to start in on the no-huddle offensive series when the clock radio sounded.

“...was brought to you by Hardware Dan’s on Jenkins and Mason. Find it all at Hardware Dan’s. The time is now six thirty.”

The local announcer went on to wish everyone a “cracking good morning and a happy Halloween.”

Halloween?

So it was. He had forgotten about it until that moment. The holiday was just another thing that had faded into the background over the past few months, when he’d had little time to think about anything other than the X’s and O’s.

“...can expect more clouds, with temperatures much cooler than yesterday’s. Highs in the upper forties with late-afternoon thunderstorms likely to hang around through the evening. Gonna be a sloppy night for football folks, so remember to bring . . .”

Cole clicked off the radio, flung away the sheet, and came up off the mattress on the floor. His knees and ankles creaked as he rose onto his toes and stretched his arms toward the ceiling. He rotated his throwing arm until blood flowed into the gravelly joint.

Stepping over strewn gym clothes, he moved to the door and peered across the trailer’s narrow hallway. Two sets of feet poked out from beneath a twisted sheet on his mother’s bed. A tattoo wrapped around one of the man’s ankles. It looked like either a mermaid or a dragon. Something with scales. It might have been familiar, but he couldn’t be sure. They had all started to look alike lately.

Cole hadn’t bothered to check the time when his mother and the man had come stumbling in last night. He’d heard the front door swing open, some laughter, beers being cracked open. Then came two or three minutes of creaking springs before, finally, snoring.

He shut the door, slipped Guns N’ Roses into the CD player, and put on his headphones. He did fifty quick push-ups as “Paradise City” rang through his head, then he lit a Marlboro and smoked slowly as Axl Rose wailed through “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When the song ended and the cigarette was finished, he stopped the CD and threw on the nearest T-shirt and Levi’s from the floor. At the dresser, he slipped a silver hoop into his earlobe, then ran gel through his matted black hair.

His little visitor came calling right on schedule, scratching at the window beside the dresser. Black Mona’s cats never slept in. The old woman in the next trailer over had to have three dozen of them now; they seemed to breed like a virus. There were times Cole wanted to shoot the damn things, especially when they appeared early on weekends. He’d have done it, too—shot them dead without remorse.

If the cats had belonged to anyone but Black Mona.

If even half the rumors he’d heard about the old woman were true, he wasn’t prepared to take any chances. In fact, to stay in her good graces, he had even made a habit of feeding her cats a little something when they came around.

He slid the window open a few inches. A gray tabby stood on the cooling unit below the sill. It cocked its head and gazed at him through sleepy eyes. He noticed the eyes were mismatched. One was coal black, the other crystalline blue. A plaid collar hung from its neck with a tarnished copper name tag that read COODLES. That was just one of the things he hated about cats—they always had stupid names.

Coodles blinked, stretched, yawned, and purred expectantly. Cole took mercy. Knowing he would surely come to regret the dependence that would follow, he tossed out what remained of last night’s bologna fold-over from the paper plate beside his mattress. The cat tucked in without so much as a sniff of inspection.

Cole slid the window closed and checked himself in the mirror. He’d take shit for it from school faculty, but he decided shaving could wait one more day. For fear of waking the sleeping couple across the hall, he decided that brushing his teeth could wait too. He smeared toothpaste over his teeth with an index finger, then grabbed his boots and leather jacket. He tiptoed through the trailer, took a pint carton of milk and a Pop-Tart from the kitchenette, and crept out the front door.

The rain-soaked Killington Daily was puffed like a sponge on the front step. He looked at his picture on the front page, taken at a press conference on the practice field the previous afternoon. Ink bled down his face, making him look like a young Alice Cooper in shoulder pads. JACKRABBITS SEEKING ONE MORE VICTORY FOR TRIP TO DISTRICT, the headline read. There was a caption below the photo: Rebel QB Cole Logan continues to prove the skeptics wrong, see story on 6A. Cole already knew the story and knew he’d like his own version of it better. He tossed the paper into the oil drum–cum–ash can beside the door.

The air was bitter and carried a dampness that ate through clothing and seeped into bones like acid. He slipped into his jacket and zipped it up under his chin. He pulled his boots up over wet socks, then leaned against the door, finished off the milk, and ate the Pop-Tart in three bites. He was debating having one more smoke before hitting the road when he heard a noise to his right—wet leaves shifting underfoot at the side of the house. There were multiple footfalls. He cursed. Word of the bologna sandwich must have spread through the local feline population. He feared that tomorrow the whole pride would show up expecting a buffet if he didn’t put a stop to things right now.

He went down the steps, picked up the rain-warped football that had lived in his yard since the fourth grade, and circled a wide arc across the gravel drive. He set his fingers on the laces, hoping one tightly thrown spiral into the middle of the pack would be enough to send the cats scurrying away for good.

But when the side of the trailer came into view, he saw only one cat, just below his bedroom window. It was the same cat he had fed moments before, only now it lay on its back, split open from chin to tail, its innards spilling onto the mud. A narrow ribbon of steam rose from the gaping wound.

The football fell from his limp hands. He spun around in place, not quite sure what he was looking for. A coyote most likely. Maybe a bobcat; they were rare in these parts, but not unheard of. He was more worried that it had been a dog. Mr. Garner down the street had a pair of pit bulls that were known to get loose from time to time. And unlike a coyote or bobcat, a pit bull wouldn’t hesitate to attack a man in the same ferocious manner it had attacked a helpless housecat.

He saw no movement in the surrounding woods, animal or otherwise.

His eyes went back to the cat. He approached it slowly, covering his nose to fend off the smell. Standing over it, he realized that the cat had not been ripped open by animal teeth. In fact, it hadn’t been ripped open at all, but rather sliced. The cut was clean, symmetrical. Nothing jagged. It almost looked to be the work of . . .

The first blow struck him across the back of the neck.

Before the pain even registered, the attackers spun him around, pinning his back against the side of the trailer. A stomach punch robbed him of the chance to cry out. Through swimming spots he saw two men before him and a third in the distance. All three wore jeans, sneakers, and ski masks under hooded sweatshirts.

The biggest of the three planted a forearm against Cole’s neck.

Cole tried to speak but only managed a strangled gasp.

“Keep your fucking mouth shut!” The shorter man picked up the dead cat with a gloved hand and mashed the carcass into Cole’s face.

Cole gagged and pitched forward, spitting gore.

“We’ll do the talking here, Logan,” hissed the taller man. His voice was calm, level. His breath was hot against Cole’s cheek. “Our message is real simple, asshole. If you walk onto that field tonight, you’ll be the next one that gets cut. We’ll gut you like a fucking fish if you even suit up. Understood?”

Cole shook his head, struggling against his restraints.

Another stomach punch halted his resistance.

The arm pressed harder against Cole’s neck. “Today you take a dive, Logan. It’s real simple. You find a reason not to play, or we’ll give you one. And then we’ll go after the rest of the team. Understand?”

Cole managed to draw a breath. A coppery taste trickled down his throat. Through clenched teeth, he told the men to go fuck themselves.

The attackers shared a glance.

A grin parted the taller man’s mouth. “I kinda hoped you’d say that.” His lips brushed against Cole’s ear. “Because there’s nothing better in this world than putting the hurt on a candy-ass quarterback.” He pressed a hand over Cole’s mouth. With the other hand he pulled a hatchet from under his sweatshirt.

His accomplice pinned Cole’s wrist to the side of the house.

The hatchet came up.

“Let’s see you play now, motherfucker.”

Then the blade came down hard on its mark.

© 2010 Ryan Brown

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