WIP-ish Wednesday: Zach’s Choice

Back before the release of Strain, I was posting regular snippets for writerly-type themed days like Seven-Sentence Sunday and whatnot, and I sort of got out of the habit of that. I thought I would try to get back into it.

Technically, Juggernaut isn’t a WIP, but I’m not going to restrict myself on those grounds. I’m just going to set Wednesday aside as a day to introduce people to characters and concepts from Juggernaut, Bane, and maybe some of my already released books they’re not familiar with.

For those of you who aren’t already aware, Juggernaut is a prequel, set roughly ten years before Strain, in which we see the events immediately preceding and following the apocalyptic pandemic from the perspective of two men who are tangentially involved in those events. For a nearly five chapter long excerpt please check out the Juggernaut product page at Riptide Publishing. (note: please read the warnings and additional details tabs and/or be advised that the excerpt may contain objectionable or triggering material.)


They helped destroy the world. Now they have to survive the new one.

For rentboy Nico Fernández, it’s a simple job: seduce a presidential advisor to help cement approval to launch Project Juggernaut. He’s done similar work for General Logan McClosky before, and manipulating people for his favorite client beats the hell out of being trafficked for slave wages in some corporate brothel.

Zach Houtman feels called to work with the most vulnerable outcasts of society. But his father, the Reverend Maurice Houtman, insists that Zach work for him instead as he runs for Senate. Zach reluctantly agrees, but is horrified to see his father leave behind Christ’s mandate of love and mercy to preach malicious zealotry and violence instead. Zach even starts to suspect his father is working with fundamentalist terrorists.

When Project Juggernaut accidentally unleashes a deadly plague that claims billions of lives, Nico and Zach are thrown together, each bearing a burden of guilt. With only each other for safety and solace, they must make their way through a new world, one where the handful of people left alive are willing to do anything—and kill anyone—to survive.

In this scene, rentboy Nico Fernandez has been sheltering in a garden shed in Zach Houtman’s backyard. Zach’s has held his zealot of a father, Maurice, off from driving Nico away at gunpoint. Now Maurice has locked Zach in and is trying to drive Nico away, and Zach is faced with a choice: does he stay and weather the post-pandemic world with his abusive father and brother, or does he risk the safety of numbers and shelter to strike out with Nico?

You can see last week’s excerpt here.

Voices from the backyard pulled him out of his meditation, and he looked out his window to see his father standing on the patio steps, holding a baseball bat. Jacob stood at his shoulder with a golf club.

“Come out of there! Come out of there right now!” Maurice shouted at the shed.

Slowly, the door opened, and Nico stepped out, one hand held behind his back. Zach’s breath caught at his first sight of the man he’d known only by voice for weeks. Nico’s clothes were filthy and his hair stringy. Weeks’ worth of beard covered the lower half of his face, and he was thin, nearly gaunt. But still, he was beautiful. Sober, dark-fringed brown eyes peered out from a light-brown face, and Zach felt that rightness in his chest again.

He wasn’t meant to be with his father and Jacob. Whether or not they could be saved and brought back to God wasn’t a task the Lord meant for Zach to take on. He was meant to go with Nico.

As Zach watched, something dawned on Nico’s face.


“Reverend Maurice Houtman. Wow. Well, that just fucking figures.” Nico shook his head, his tone both bitter and amused. “Of all the yards for me to wind up in.”

“How do you know me?” the reverend snarled suspiciously. “Did someone send you here?”

“I recognize you from the vids. I could never watch anything on Sundays without seeing you running your mouth on some pundit’s show or another. Then, of course, there’s also the fact that your RAL goon squad tried to murder my mother.”

Zach wanted to reject the accusation. He didn’t want to believe his father was capable of being behind the RAL’s actions. But he couldn’t. Not anymore. He’d overheard his father’s conversation the previous summer, the one that had coincided all too well with everything Zach knew about the RAL’s attack on that midsummer bonfire.

Maurice tightened his grip on the bat, shifting his defensive stance. “Who are you?”

“Nicolás Fernández. Or maybe you’d recognize my working name, Octavio Costas.”

“The faggot son of the whore,” he sneered. “Get out of here before I finish the job God’s soldiers failed to do.”

“Try it and you’ll be dead before you can finish swinging.” Nico lifted his chin defiantly, raising the hand he’d been hiding to aim a handgun at Maurice. “I won’t let you murder me. Where’s Zach?”

“Zacharias is praying and repenting. Now it makes sense, his disobedience. You are Satan’s own emissary, sent here to tempt him away from the Lord. But I won’t allow it. Once my son knows what you are—a sodomite and a whore—he’ll finally see his error.”

Nico’s eyes flickered at that, doubt crossing his face. “If that’s true, fine. I want to hear it from him. I’m able to travel now, so I’ll leave, but I want to see that he’s all right first.”

The reverend shook his head. “He’ll be better once you’re gone. We’ll go away, somewhere that your kind can never reach us again.”

“Still trying to elevate yourself to a position of authority?” Nico smirked. “Your whole self-serving, power-hungry dogma would be a lot more convincing if I didn’t know just who your campaign contributors were, back before the pandemic.”

“You think the opinion of someone who gained his notoriety by selling his body matters to me?”

“I may have been a hustler, but at least I was never a hypocrite,” Nico said with a shrug. “Where’s Zach? And spare me the whole repentance bullshit, because I know he’s no bigger fan of your fire-and-brimstone idiocy than I am.”

“Zacharias is none of your concern. Get off my property!”

“I swear I will go through you if I have to, and if I do, it’s going to be very bad for you.”

Zach was tempted to open the window and call down, but he worried that if he distracted Nico from his standoff with Maurice and Jacob, they might manage a blitz attack and get ahold of the handgun. Swearing, Zach rushed over to his desk and ripped the drawer out, spilling its contents on the floor to find something he could use on the hinges of the door.

He worked frantically, aware of his father’s incensed and increasingly less coherent shouting. Using the flathead screwdriver he’d found as a lever, he lifted the pins out of the hinges, then wedged his fingers into the gap at the bottom of the door to pull it open, despite the hook latch his father had installed on the other side.

Then Zach dug in his closet for the duffel bag he’d traveled with when they’d been stuck in quarantine over the holidays and stuffed two changes of clothes, several pairs of socks and underwear, and an extra pair of shoes inside. He hesitated a moment before adding his Bible, as well. Not the one his parents had given him for his confirmation, but the secret one he kept tucked away.

Storming down the hall to Naomi’s bedroom, he flipped the mattress over and dug out the boxes of shells and spare rounds. From the gun cabinet downstairs, he loaded one handgun and stuck it into his waistband, threw another into the duffel, and slung a shotgun over his shoulder, leaving the other behind. He couldn’t leave them completely defenseless.

The bag was heavy, dragging on one shoulder, pulling him off-balance. Sooner or later he’d have to replace it with a rucksack, but for now it would have to do.

Jacob spotted Zach first, giving him a startled look as he came through the patio door. Zach drew the handgun from his waistband. He held it at his side, but the safety was off, and if either of them looked ready to use their clubs, he’d use it. A warning shot, first, and then to wound only if he had to.

“Put down the bat.” Zach’s voice was calm. He was calm. The terrible fear and impotent rage he’d always felt when confronting Maurice before was gone. The anger was there, but it was a steady, purposeful, righteous anger. He’d never been more sure of himself. “I’m leaving. We’releaving.”

1 Comment

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One response to “WIP-ish Wednesday: Zach’s Choice

  1. Reblogged this on Leta Blake and commented:
    Excited for Amelia’s prequel to Strain! Here’s a snippet!

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