Undead Ultra, page 1
Other Works by Camille Picott
Sulan, Episode 1: The League
Sulan, Episode 2: Risk Alleviator
The Warrior & The Flower, 3 Kingdoms, Book 1
Raggedy Chan: A Chinese Heritage Tale, Book 1
Nine-Tail Fox: A Chinese Heritage Tale, Book 2
Raggedy Chan - An Illustrated Adventure
By Camille Picott
Pixiu Press * Healdsburg, CA
Copyright 2016 Camille Picott
All rights reserved.
ISBN 10: 1530675081
ISBN 13: 978-1530675081
Copyedit by Chrissy Wolfe, EFC Services, LLC
With deepest gratitude to my Zombie Recon Team, who helped me explore the trails and rails traversed by the characters in this book.
Chris & Kylah Picott
Chapter 1: Dropping a Deuce
Chapter 2: Dead Drunk
Chapter 3: Red Hats
Chapter 4: Disconnected
Chapter 5: Car Trouble
Chapter 6: Broken Skull
Chapter 7: Prep
Chapter 8: Don’t Be an Idiot
Chapter 9: Boy Scouts
Chapter 10: The Tracks
Chapter 11: One Tough Man
Chapter 12: Spikes
Chapter 13: Ultra Dog
Chapter 14: Hopland
Chapter 15: Ace Hardware
Chapter 16: Storewide Clearance
Chapter 17: Fuel
Chapter 18: When the Wheels Fall Off
Chapter 19: Bonk
Chapter 20: If I Get Eaten
Chapter 21: Breaking and Entering
Chapter 22: Portland Malady
Chapter 23: Visitors
Chapter 24: Bonging in the Brambles
Chapter 25: Pigs
Chapter 26: Regrets
Chapter 27: Zombie Rollers
Chapter 28: Purple Passion
Chapter 29: Tunnel
Chapter 30: Granola Bitch
Chapter 31: Fun Run
Chapter 32: Jingle Bells
Chapter 33: Dead End
Chapter 34: The Next Right Thing
Chapter 35: River Crossing
Chapter 36: Happy Campers
Chapter 37: Silver Buckle
Chapter 38: Attack and Stack
Chapter 39: Paperclip
Chapter 40: Strong Enough
Chapter 41: Nausea
Chapter 42: Nothing But the Dead
Chapter 43: Aleisha
Chapter 44: Separate Ways
Chapter 45: Out of Gas
Chapter 46: Suffer Better
Chapter 47: Tourist Trap
Chapter 48: Run, Jackalope
Chapter 49: BFF
Chapter 50: Fatigue Factor
Chapter 51: Batshit Crazy
Chapter 52: Death Run
Chapter 53: Avenue of the Giants
Chapter 54: Arcata
Chapter 55: Finisher
About the Author
Dropping a Deuce
There’s something liberating about a long run. I love everything about it: the salty dribble of sweat in my eyes; the smell of wet dirt on the trail in the morning; the burning in my calves as I plow uphill; the exhilaration of a stunning view after that uphill climb; the thrashing of my quads on the inevitable downhill; and the screaming ache in my biceps from pumping up and down for hours on end.
My soul finds peace in the mindless labor of the run and the untamed nature of the trail. Some call it the runner’s high, some call it trail surfing. I call it joy. Bliss. Oblivion.
Unfortunately, all these fancy adjectives evade me this morning. I’m stalled only three miles into today’s run. Standing on the single-track trail that circumnavigates Lake Sonoma in Northern California, I wait for my running buddy to drop a deuce in the woods.
“Hey, Kate.” Frederico pokes his head out from behind a tree. His shoulder-length, curly gray hair is pulled back in its customary ponytail. In his early sixties, he’s been running and racing for over thirty years. “Can I borrow your socks?”
I make a face at him. “What’s wrong with your socks?”
“I used them.”
“Both of them?”
He wrinkles his nose. “I ate chili last night.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Mrs. Crowell’s habanero chili?”
“Yeah.” He doesn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed for holding out on me. The little old lady who lives next door to Frederico is legendary for her chili.
Grumbling, I plop onto the ground and unlace my shoes. I hate running without socks. Knowing one won’t be enough to mop up Mrs. Crowell’s chili, I pull off both of them.
“You’re washing these,” I say, tossing them in Frederico’s direction.
He gives me a wicked smile as he catches the socks. “Did I mention my washing machine is broken?”
“Fuck you.” I half scowl, half grin at him. “Those are brand-new socks. The least you could have done was get some chili for me.”
“I knew there wouldn’t be enough socks for both of us, so I ate it all myself.”
I chuck a rock at his head. He ducks back behind the tree. The rock bounces harmlessly into the brush.
I’d like to say this is the first time something like this has happened. I’d like to say I’ve never asked to borrow his socks. When you run for hours and hours out in the middle of nowhere, shit happens. Literally. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend to help you out.
“All done.” Frederico jogs back out to the trail. The front pouches on his hydration pack bulge with the soiled socks.
“Yick.” I plug my nose. “You smell like shit.”
He arches an eyebrow at me. “I’ll have you know, little jackalope, that my shit doesn’t stink. It smells like roses.”
Jackalope is Frederico’s nickname for me. It’s a jackrabbit with antlers, an urban myth in North America.
“You wish,” I reply with a roll of my eyes. “I’m running in front so I don’t have to be downwind of you.”
I break into an easy lope, skimming up the narrow, uneven trail. The thick tread of my trail shoes grip the damp earth and provide sure footing.
The morning is glorious, crisp with the smell of last night’s heavy spring rain. Bars of sunlight break through the trees, ephemeral strands that dance with life. To my right, I glimpse the serene blue of Lake Sonoma. A hawk glides on invisible currents of air.
Frederico and I have twenty miles planned for today. I feel myself slipping into the joy of the run. My brain moves into a state of pleasant numbness, a special place where the ache in my heart subsides. Out here, running through the woods, I can almost pretend Kyle is home, waiting for me.
“Kate, I gotta go again.”
Frederico’s voice draws me up short, reality snapping back in around me. I turn around in time to see him dash behind another tree.
“All my other socks are in the car,” I call, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. We haven’t even done four miles yet. “I saw some poison oak a little ways back. Want me to get you some?”
“Fuck you, Jackalope,” he calls back cheerfully.
I sigh, scuffing the tread of my running shoe irritably in the dirt. Through the dappled morning light, something red flashes in the corner of my eye.
I turn, peering through the trees. After a moment, I realiz
Wild pigs are pretty common at Lake Sonoma. They wreak havoc in the parks with their rooting. What’s not common is to find a dead one with its blood and entrails pooling on the forest floor.
“There’s a dead pig over here,” I call to Frederico. “It’s stomach has been ripped out.” Flies and maggots have already congregated on the animal’s body. Poor thing.
“It’s hunting season,” Frederico calls back.
That’s true. We’ve run into hunters out here on our runs, some with guns and some with bows. It can be creepy to come across armed men in camouflage in the middle of the woods, but so far all our encounters have been friendly.
“Poor bastard probably got shot but managed to get away,” I agree.
“Mountain lion or coyote could have taken it down once it was wounded.” Frederico trots out of the trees and takes a look at the dead pig. “Yeah, I’d say something with claws and teeth definitely got into that guy.”
“God.” I take a step back from him and plug my nose. “You’re starting to smell like porta potty.”
He makes an apologetic face. “Oak leaves make shitty ass wipes.” His expression morphs into one of earnest wheedling. “Can we go back to the car?”
I scowl in response.
“Pretty please?” he says.
“I really needed this run today,” I mutter. When I run, I don’t have to think about anything other than my next step, my next breath. Everything is better when I run and shut off my brain.
“Remember when I ran thirty-eight miles smelling my own shit at Western States?” Frederico asks.
I snort. Western States is a 100-mile footrace from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Kyle and I crewed for Frederico at that race, meeting him at the various aid stations with food and other running supplies. Some bad fish had given Frederico a serious case of runs. We ran out of extra shorts and socks by mile sixty-two. He was too tired by that point to care much about wiping. After that experience, he vowed never to run with a smelly ass again.
“I’ll buy you breakfast,” Frederico says, eyes plaintive. “Bread Box?”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I want breakfast at Bread Box, plus coffee and an apple fritter. And I want you to wash my socks.”
“Deal.” He holds out his hand, like we’re supposed to shake on it. I give him a look. He chuckles. After a beat, I laugh, too. It feels good to laugh. Maybe this morning isn’t a complete waste.
I take one last look at the dead pig. As I do, a vulture rustles through the trees and lands on the carcass, casting its beady gaze briefly on us before turning its full attention back to its feast. The bird pecks at a ropy length of intestine, its leathery, red head almost the same hue as the pig’s blood.
I shiver and turn away, leading the way back up the trail.
Forty minutes later, we trot back into the gravel parking lot. My white hatchback waits for us. It’s covered with a permanent layer of dust because I’m always leaving it at trailheads.
“Do you have any extra shorts in the car?” Frederico asks.
“Yeah.” I pop the trunk and rummage in my running gear box. “Here you go.” I hand him a pair of fluorescent-pink running shorts. “These will complement your complexion.”
He chuckles, amiably moving to the passenger side of the car to change.
I pull off my hydration pack, take a last sip from the water tube, then toss it into the trunk. As I close the hatch, I catch site of my reflection in the glass.
God, I look like shit. My pink, moisture-wicking tee sits on thin shoulders. Short brown hair is pulled back in a tight French braid, revealing a lean face that borders on gaunt. My neck looks long and rubbery, like a turkey’s. Lots of running and not enough eating. Food doesn’t hold much interest these days, not without Kyle.
My gray roots are showing, making me look older than my thirty-nine years. I should get them dyed, but there just doesn’t seem any point to it most days.
I make a mental note to eat two apple fritters at breakfast. Taking care of my hair might be a pain in the ass, but Frederico is paying for breakfast. Besides, eating isn’t such a chore when I have company.
“There’s another dead pig over there.” Frederico gestures over the hood of my car.
I look across the gravel parking lot and catch sight of the pig carcass. Three vultures are having a field day with it.
“Some hunter out here is a bad shot,” I mutter, plopping into the driver’s seat.
“No kidding.” Frederico, decked out in my pink running shorts, slides into the passenger seat. “We should let the park ranger know on the way out.”
“Yeah.” A creepy feeling crawls up my spine. I shake it off, turning my attention away from the dead animal and focusing on my friend instead. “Pink is totally your color, by the way.”
He flips me the bird and gives me a mock scowl.
Grinning, I fire up the engine of the car. NPR blares out of the speakers as I pull onto the road.
“Rioting at the port of Portland, Oregon continues to escalate,” the voice of the news reporter says. “Riots started just forty-eight hours ago when dock workers attacked peaceful protestors. Protestors are from Stop Hunger Now, an organization dedicated to ending world hunger. Members are protesting the port’s union-mandated slowdown, which has caused hundreds of food containers to spoil. Thousands of tons of food have been left to rot in the containers during the slowdown—”
“Depressing.” Frederico flips the channel, turning it to a classic rock station.
We stop at the ranger station. The light is on and the door is ajar, but no one’s inside.
“Maybe the ranger went to grab a coffee or something,” I offer.
Frederico shrugs. “Guess they’ll hear about the dead pigs eventually. Can’t say we didn’t try.”
“Guess so.” I shake off the image of the gutted pigs, pressing the accelerator and exiting the park.
We drive back toward the town of Healdsburg with the windows rolled down, letting the morning spring air infuse the car. The rolling, tree-covered hills of Lake Sonoma disappear behind us. Vineyards take their place, the tips of green buds pushing out of the bare brown vines.
The thought of going home to an empty house makes my insides feel like a crushed can. I feel some relief as I detour toward the Plaza in downtown Healdsburg, where Bread Box diner is located.
The once-quaint farming town, nestled in the heart of Northern California wine country, has transformed over the years. The town I grew up in has morphed into a tourist destination with overpriced clothing stores, winery tasting rooms, and restaurants with menus that require a French-English dictionary. Even at this early hour on a Saturday morning, the sidewalks are already thronging with tourists.
Thankfully there are still a few places, like Bread Box, that cater to locals. Maybe I’ll ditch the apple fritters and get scones instead with my breakfast. Bread Box makes the best cheddar cheese scones. They were Kyle’s favorite. There was a time when he ate them every day for breakfast. That fad lasted until he started having trouble buttoning his pants. After that, the scones became a rare treat, though they were no less loved. Eating one will make me feel close to him. And I want to feel close to him.
“What the hell?” I slam on my brakes as a twenty-something in six-inch heels staggers off the sidewalk and nearly falls into my car.
“Watch where you’re going!” Frederico shouts at the drunk girl.
She laughs uproariously, as if nearly walking into a moving car is worthy of a Comedy Central skit. Her pack of girlfriends laughs with her, hauling her back onto the sidewalk as they grin and wave at me. Every last one has on skin-tight clothing and ten pounds of makeup. They carry wine glasses and sport matching fluorescent-green wristbands, the sort you’d get at rock concert.
It’s only nine in the morning and it’s clear this pack of Barbies is already shit-faced. Did they start the day o
The drunk Barbie band roves off in search of the next tasting room. Hopefully they packed a few barf bags in those designer purses.
My car rolls farther into downtown. There are people everywhere, all of them carrying wine glasses and wearing fluorescent-green wristbands.
“Barrel Tasting weekend,” I groan. I’d forgotten about that.
“Two weekends of drunken festivities.” Frederico purses his lips.
People come from all over the world to sample wine out of the barrels of Healdsburg wineries. Our population of ten thousand will literally double with the influx of tourists.
I thought it was cool when I first moved to town when I was younger. Now, as I nose my car through the streets, hoping to avoid hitting another drunk idiot, I just find it annoying.
I manage to snag a parking spot only a block away from Bread Box. Dressed in spandex compression pants, with sweat stains on my face and in my armpits, I look absolutely fabulous amidst the decked out stiletto tourists. I tug my visor down, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Frederico practically struts into their midst, my pink shorts ablaze.
Despite myself, I have to smile at the odd looks he gets. At least he doesn’t smell like shit anymore. That would get attention.
We shoulder our way through the tourists and their wine glasses before finally arriving at Bread Box. The inside of the restaurant is like stepping through a time machine. Formica tables. Vinyl chairs. Chipped linoleum floor.
I love this place. While the rest of the Healdsburg Plaza has transformed over the years, Bread Box has remained unchanged. It’s too dive-like to attract the fancy tourists that roll into town, which means it’s mostly empty this morning. No French-English dictionary to eat here, thank you very much.
CAMILLE PICOTT SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Sulan, Episode 1: The LeagueWorld Kingdom Warrior (3 Kingdoms - Book 0.5)Death MatchEscapeDawn PatrolThe League
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