Rebuilding the world after a zombie apocalypse is no easy task. That’s where the Zombie Response Teams come in.
Check out an exclusive excerpt from Stephanie Grey‘s new novel ZRT: Division Tennessee, releasing October 7th, 2021!
It’s been three years since the zombie outbreak almost destroyed the world. Humanity fought back and the Zombie Response Team was created, an organization that has numerous divisions throughout the United States that are dispatched to destroy the dwindling undead population.
Elisabeth Mayfair heads up Team Mayfair. As the Team Leader, she works hard at dispensing and eliminating zombies, and her desire to protect her sister Margo and all she holds dear is her driving force.
But Elisabeth has a secret. She’s an Abnormal who gained special abilities after being bit by a zombie. Using her newly acquired skills gives Elisabeth an advantage against the undead. But Abnormals aren’t fully understood, and she must keep her condition a secret or risk her own life.
When Elisabeth discovers a zombie uprising in the small town of Pine Valley, Tennessee, she and her team are tested to their limits as they face hordes that appear out of nowhere. As they search for the cause of the new outbreaks, they will uncover a plot that threatens not only the fragile stability of Pine Valley, but the world itself.
“5 Stars, Elite Zombie Teams Kick Butt… Highly recommend it, if you like entertaining zombie novels.”— Sally, Goodreads Reviewer
Three Years Ago
Elisabeth Mayfair scurried up the concrete wall with their supplies. After tossing the bags to the yard on the other side, she reached down to help her twin sister, Margo, pull herself up. The horde that had been chasing them caught up and grabbed Margo’s foot. They violently yanked her down, and without thinking, Elisabeth jumped from the top of the wall and began swinging the ax that she always carried. The more decomposed undead lost their heads quickly; the fresher ones were only partially decapitated. She felt a pinch on her right shoulder blade but kept swinging until she saw Margo had safely gotten up the wall.
Elisabeth hurled her ax over the barrier and climbed quickly. “What?” she asked. “There’s blood on you,” Margo replied. Her face was wet with tears.
“Yes, some of the fresher ones still have liquid blood.”
“No, Lizzy. It’s your blood.” The sisters climbed down to their side of the wall, and Margo gingerly lifted Elisabeth’s shirt, gasping at the bite wound. “We’ll clean it and maybe kill the infection in time. We can cauterize it.”
Elisabeth shook her head. “No. You need to shoot me. I don’t want to become one of them.” Margo frowned and shook her head slowly. “For God’s sake, Margo, I’ll do it myself.” She stormed away to her room, passing her mother sitting quietly in the den. The window was open; her mother had heard everything. She made no move to stop her daughter.
Elisabeth grasped her gun tightly, her hand trembling. Margo filled the doorway, her arms folded. “What are you doing? Move. I’m going to the woods so you won’t have me rotting here.”
“Oh, Lizzy,” Margo said softly. “Always so strong. I wonder if you’re strong enough to survive this.” Quickly, Margo pulled the door shut and locked it with a skeleton key.
Seven days passed, and Elisabeth heard the door unlock slowly.
Margo was on point, though her 9mm weapon wavered slightly. Their mother lingered behind her, a shotgun firmly pressed against her shoulder and her finger on the trigger. Margo opened the door, and let out a small cry of surprise to find Elisabeth curled up on her bed, her eyes crimson.
“Either shoot me or get me something to drink,” Elisabeth demanded.
Their mother dropped to her knees, the shotgun clattering to the floor as tears cascaded freely down her cheeks while she prayed.
Margo cautiously approached Elisabeth, her palms clammy. “Lizzy?”
Elisabeth sat up and swung her legs over the bed. She took off her shirt so that her sister could see her back. The bite mark was now a faint scar.
Margo rushed toward her sister and embraced her tightly. “Oh, my God, Lizzy! I’m so happy you’re alive! I knew you could make it! I knew you’d be a survivor! We thought those were just rumors, but I’m so thankful the rumors were true this time!”
Uncomfortable with the overwhelming sense of emotion, Elisabeth opened her mouth to speak.
“No, Lizzy!” Margo screamed. She raised her gun and fired.
“Fuck, Margo!” Elisabeth shouted. She placed her hand over her stomach, blood seeping between her fingers.
Margo dropped her weapon and put her own hands over Elisabeth’s wound to add pressure. “I thought you were going to bite me! I’m so sorry!” she said with a sob.
The blood was already clotting. “What in the hell?” the twins asked in unison. Elisabeth raised her shirt for the second time that morning and watched the wound close. She leaned forward, and the exit wound was already healed. “You were lucky that was a clean through and through shot,” she said warily. “I don’t know if I would have survived having a bullet in me.”
Margo laughed uneasily. “We need to figure out what other kind of super powers you have.”
“Excuse me, ma’am, but there’s a zombie walking around the shoe department.”
“Thank you. I’ll take care of it right away.” Libby Porter sighed as the customer hastily walked out of the store. Those damn zombies would never go away. Three years after the war—battle, really— and you could still find them wandering around the world. Some poor creature would get bitten and wake up a week later as a zombie. Symptoms? Ha! Waking up as a zombie is a pretty good symptom pointing toward your new condition.
Libby flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder and reached for the phone. She dialed 917.
“Zombie Hotline. How may we help you today?” quipped a crisp female voice.
“Hi, my name is Libby Porter. I work at Bella Couture and we have a zombie in the shoe department. Oh, no. Scratch that. He’s gone over to the accessories department.”
“Are there people around?”
Libby snorted. “Of course there are.”
A pause. “Ma’am, why haven’t you cleared the area? Zombies are still dangerous. You need to make an announcement immediately and clear the area. A team is already on their way.”
“Whatever, lady. Just get me some damn guns here, okay?” Libby hung up the phone. Who did that woman think she was? She wasn’t going to clear out the store because of one zombie. People could still browse and enjoy their shopping experience. A little bit of a stench and the small threat of a zombie’s quick lunge if you get too close wasn’t so bad. Just don’t be an idiot and get too close! The economy was still getting back on its feet, and she wasn’t about to lose her commission. Libby had her eye on the new turquoise necklace that had recently arrived, and she leaned over the counter to peer down into its sparkling beauty.
Lost in her thoughts, Libby didn’t notice the zombie had moved again. The smell of rot assaulted her and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Looking up, she saw the zombie was now just across the counter and growling at her. “Oh, shove off you piece of decay.” Libby backed away from the counter and walked toward the exit from her area and into the rest of the store, her four-inch heels clicking against the floor. The zombie had already moved to block her way. “Son of a bitch!” she shouted. “Someone please help me!” She frantically looked around, but there wasn’t a customer in sight.
Libby reached out and grabbed a fist full of diamond bracelets dangling from their display and slid them over her knuckles. She cocked her arm back and, with all of her might, punched the zombie in the face.
Confused, the zombie staggered back and Libby bolted toward the main exit.
Men in battle gear charged through the entrance. “It’s about damn time!” Libby shouted. She shook off the bracelets and noticed a cut on her hand.
A tall woman with chestnut hair stepped into the store, her mouth moving rapidly as she gave orders through her throat mic. Finally, she noticed Libby standing nearby. “Libby Porter,” the woman said, her voice steady and not questioning to whom she was speaking.
Libby felt herself stand up straighter. “Yes.”
“You reported a zombie to dispatch seventeen minutes ago.”
Libby nodded. “I did. He’s…” Libby trailed off. She wasn’t sure where the zombie had gone.
The woman eyed Libby’s wounded hand and started reaching into her wrist cuff. “How did you get cut?”
“I punched the zombie in the face.” “Did you have any protection?”
Libby pointed to the diamond bracelets on the floor. “Yes, I put those over my knuckles.”
The woman nodded and yanked a syringe out of her wrist cuff. “You’ve mixed blood with the infected. This will help.” She grabbed Libby’s arm and turned her wrist so that it was facing up. “This will sting a little,” she warned. Quickly, she plunged the needle into Libby’s soft flesh and Libby heard herself sigh for the second time that day. Her knees buckled and the chestnut-haired woman gently caught her and helped her to a comfortable sitting position on the floor. Libby leaned forward, her head resting on her hands until sleep overwhelmed her and she fell onto her side.
Elisabeth Mayfair watched Libby Porter die peacefully. She pressed her fingers to Libby’s neck to be sure, then removed her gun from her holster and shot Libby between her eyes.
“Jesus, did you have to shoot her in the face?”
“Yes, I did, Rhys. You know the protocol.”
Rhys Corben frowned, his dark brown eyebrows knitting together.
“Was she even infected?”
Rhys and Elisabeth turned to face the voice that was, despite numerous throat lozenges, destined to be scratchy. “Yes,” Elisabeth replied.
Dallas Anderson stepped closer and put his left boot onto Libby’s wrist, rolling it so that he could see her knuckles. He inhaled sharply. “You determined she was infected without a field test? It isn’t possible to tell from a wound this small,” Dallas snapped. “You could’ve stabbed her through her brain stem so that it wouldn’t have marked her face for the funeral.”
Rhys snorted. “You’re wrong. You know Elisabeth is an Abnormal.”
Dallas narrowed his pale blue eyes. “Oh, yes, the lady in charge is in that role because she’s an Abnormal.”
“You’re on the cleanup team, Dallas. Dispose of this body properly. We’ll discuss your attitude when we get back.”
Amelia Stone slapped Dallas on his back. “Come on, cowboy. Tuck your tail between your legs and let’s clean up the mess.” She turned and winked at Elisabeth over her shoulder.
Elisabeth watched Amelia lead Dallas away to gather the cleanup supplies from their vehicle. Usually, there was a specific crew to take care of the bodies, but they were all out at other sites. A thought flickered briefly that there was a potential, unmentioned outbreak, but it was quickly dismissed. While the members of the Zombie Response Team, or ZRT, weren’t military by any means, she knew that information like that would be out in the open and never a secret. Secrets like that were too dangerous to the public. Half of the world’s population had been lost because the original government didn’t want to scare people. What they didn’t realize is that an unprepared population is unpredictable and, quite frankly, scared shitless when some walking undead thing comes charging into their living rooms during an episode of a late-night talk show.
Her own team was strong, despite their occasional disputes. They had all signed up because they had lost people they loved and, now that the war was almost over, wanted to make sure another outbreak didn’t happen. When she had taken over almost a year ago, she had promised them transparency and that she’d die herself before she let anything happen to one of them.
Elisabeth spoke quietly with the manager of Bella Couture, apologizing for the mess she had created. She was grateful for his positive attitude and that he wasn’t upset. The manager shook her hand and thanked her once more for ZRT’s swift response before walking away, already on the phone trying to find a replacement for Libby Porter.
The team had returned to The Creamery, the affectionate term given to the crematorium ZRT used as its headquarters. It had added a very comfortable office space with spacious, cushy offices for its team leaders. Having a crematorium onsite to dispose of the bodies was extremely convenient. It definitely beat the days when they had to bury each one. There were the cases where the family wanted the body for a funeral service, but some families didn’t want the negative stigma of a zombie in their bloodline and paid ZRT to dispose of them quietly.
“I want to know how in the hell a zombie made it to the mall without anyone noticing,” Rhys said, removing his black body armor.
“He was fairly fresh,” Dallas answered. He began breaking down his Ruger AR-556 to clean. “I suppose people saw him and just thought he was homeless. No one is going to stop a homeless guy from going into a mall.”
“What about the smell? You can notice the smell of a zombie. No, don’t look at me like that, Dallas. They all have a stench.”
“What all has a stench?” Elisabeth asked, joining the rest of her team in the locker room. She began to remove her own weapons and armor.
Rhys paused and eyed Elisabeth carefully. She was absently stroking the small hatchet she carried. He cleared his throat nervously. He wasn’t about to tell Elisabeth that, as an Abnormal, she had an odd scent that he couldn’t quite place. Fresh dirt, maybe?
“He’s talking about the zombie smell,” Amelia answered. She glanced quickly at Rhys as if she had done him a favor.
“Oh.” Elisabeth nodded in agreement. “They do. I know I must.” She watched as her team looked everywhere in the room but at her. “Guys, stop it. I know I smell. I just hope I don’t stink. Comes with the territory of everything else we get after being bitten.”
“I don’t care how they smell. I’m shooting them. Every single one,” Dallas said. His weapon was in pieces on the table in front of him, his cleaning supplies lovingly laid out next to it.
Elisabeth’s head snapped in Dallas’ direction. “I thought you preferred to sever the brain stem and keep their faces intact,” she said coldly.
The rest of the team froze as Dallas reddened. “She’s got a family,” he said quietly.
“You can start doing that for the next Libby Porter,” Elisabeth replied. She gazed over her team. “Don’t question me again in the field when it comes to whether or not people are zombies. I can literally smell it on them, and feel the virus coursing underneath their skin when I touch them. Do you understand?”
“Get dressed. You have reports to turn in.”
When Elisabeth left the locker room, Rhys burped loudly. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Awkwardness makes me gassy.”
Amelia laughed and slipped her cream silk blouse over her head. “Better out your mouth than your ass.”
Elisabeth tapped her pen thoughtfully against her chin. Rhys had asked a good question earlier: how had that zombie made it into the mall undetected? She had heard her team talking amongst themselves before they were aware of her presence. Eavesdropping hadn’t always been a habit of hers, but she had found it could be useful. As the war came to a close and society tried to piece itself back together, people climbing the ladder had a nasty habit of claiming they had plans to lead everyone else. The truth, she learned, was that they had an outline and they were basically all the same: eliminate the enemy, which, in this case, was the rest of the zombies. Elisabeth wasn’t sure if they’d ever actually get all of the zombies; the world was just too big with too many hiding places and too many areas that remained third world countries with few resources. With the United States unable to spare any extra soldiers, it couldn’t continue to be the world police and the rest of NATO had had to step up and become more active in solving the pandemic.
When the news of Abnormals hit, the military immediately tried to shut down the so-called “rumors.” People were desperate. People were stupid. They tried chaining up their loved ones or locking them in a room like Elisabeth herself had been in the hope that they somehow carried the gene that bonded with the virus. The odds of actually bonding were astronomical, and Elisabeth didn’t know anyone else like herself. Oh, they existed, that she was sure of. She wished she could meet them so that she could compare which abilities had been gained. Were they each different, or were they all the same? Either way, Abnormals were commodities and usually placed as leaders for eradication teams. Zombie Response Team was all over the United States, and Elisabeth couldn’t imagine it being an entity that ever vanished. She knew there were other companies throughout the world that were similar to ZRT, but they were smaller and less organized.
The zombie that had entered the mall had been fairly fresh. Its clothes weren’t tattered and its hair wasn’t too askew. It couldn’t have come from very far away. Sometimes, people took a trip somewhere remote where the certainty of clearance wasn’t one hundred percent and came back infected unknowingly. She’d had Research do some digging to unearth the zombie’s whereabouts. His name was Jasper Tonks, and he had been a financial advisor.
Elisabeth frowned. Libby Porter didn’t have to die. She supposed she didn’t have to shoot her in the head, but that was the most efficient way of ensuring that a future zombie stayed dead. She didn’t distrust the serum that she carried with her, but a bullet scrambling the brain helped her sleep better at night. Elisabeth had begged ZRT to have mandatory classes on how to handle the zombies if encountered, but they firmly told her no. Letting her anger get the best of her, Elisabeth had smashed her hand on the conference table and it broke in half, crumpling inward.
“Damn it, Ethan, the public needs to learn how not to be a bunch of idiots!”
Ethan Brown didn’t flinch. “The people aren’t ‘idiots,’” he replied calmly. “This war is fresh on their minds and they are well aware of the consequences of getting too close to the infected. What we need to keep everything rolling smoothly is for the public to feel secure and safe in their daily lives the way they did prewar.”
“What you’re saying translates to you want them to have a false sense of security so that, over time, they will become more complacent and unable to defend themselves. Ethan, those gun rights activists are already starting to crawl out of the woodwork and we all know it was the ones with the guns that saved our asses in the first place. Call them rednecks if you will, but those men and women saved a lot of lives with their hidden arsenals.”
Ethan shook his head. “This discussion is over, Elisabeth.” He leaned closer and almost whispered to her. “I’d drop it if I were you. Just because you’re an Abnormal doesn’t mean you won’t get put down. You’re still technically infected with the virus and we don’t know if you can pass it on or not. Be lucky your kind haven’t been herded and turned into lab experiments.”
Elisabeth raised her chin defiantly. “Are you threatening me?”
The head of ZRT Division Tennessee simply stared evenly at the Abnormal until quickly turning on his heel and exiting the room. Over his shoulder, he said casually, “You owe us a new table.”
ZRT: Division Tennessee Releases on October 7th, 2021!
Preorder your copy at the links below:
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About the Author:
Stephanie is a graduate of East Tennessee State University, and she holds a degree in journalism. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, visiting museums, reading, and playing with her cat. One day she may even turn into a crazy cat lady because nothing in life is interesting without a little bit of crazy.