He'd engrave an invitation, but by the time he finished it, he'd be zombie bits. His heart pounded as he realized how hopeless it was. They were growing in number and he was tiring at the same rate. Every time he swung with the sword, it took more out of him, and while they'd stumble back, he wasn't killing any of them. Honestly, he wasn't even slowing them down.

He was surrounded and they were hungry for what few brain cells he had left. But you know what? He wasn't about to give in or give up. If he was going to go out, it would be the way he'd come into this world.

Fighting for every single breath.

No one gets the better of me.

Ever.

Growling out loud, he fought the demons and zombies back with everything he had.

The walls around him shook and rumbled. Ian hid behind him, knotting his tiny hands in the tail end of Nick's shirt, as he tried to make it to a window or door so that at least the little guy would survive the night. But he was getting tired. His stamina was lagging.

A crash sounded to his right.

His stomach hit the ground as cold dread filled him. Expecting it to be more zombies, Nick backed away.

Out of nowhere, a huge gray extended-cab pickup truck that had metal plates welded to it like a cattle scoop came through the wall, narrowly missing him and Ian. It careened through the zombies at a breakneck speed as if it was a lawnmower after crabgrass.

Nick froze as the driving style reminded him of his favorite redneck savant. No, it couldn't be.... They were dead....

But even so a glimmer of hope ignited inside him.

A loud "Yee-haw" sounded as the truck doors were slung open and Bubba, Mark, Caleb, Nekoda, Simi, and Alex spilled out with weapons galore (well, not Simi; she came out bearing only a large bottle of barbecue sauce while licking her chops, and interestingly enough, she wore a large white lobster bib). Mark was armed with a flamethrower as he ran for the first group of zombies.

Bubba stood in the door and propped his arms up on the top of the truck with a crossbow so that he could snipe at them. "Head down, Mark!" he shouted before he let fly an arrow that landed right between the eyes of the zombie in front of Mark.

Nekoda ran to Nick with a cattle prod. "Here, I'll trade you." She handed it to him, then took Ian from him and ran with the kid to the truck so that Bubba could keep him safe.

Nick used the cattle prod to zap Tabitha, Eric, Madaug, and his mom. They staggered back as their brains rebooted and they became human again.

Tabitha recovered the quickest. Snarling in anger, she grabbed the demon nearest her and snapped his neck. "Turn me into a zombie ... you suck!" She jerked a set of sais out of her boots and went to town on their rotten hides.

How she remembered being a zombie, Nick had no idea, but he was too busy fighting off the others to worry about it right now. Eric pulled the metal belt off his waist, which turned out to be an iron whip, and took up a position at Tabitha's back so that he could guard her while Madaug took his mother to Bubba's truck to stay with Ian.

Simi was snapping off pieces of the zombies and laughing as she skipped around them, daring them to touch her. Meanwhile, Caleb, in human form, was fighting the three demons with moves Jet Li would envy.

Nekoda came out of the truck with a katana she brandished like a ninja queen. Nick froze as he watched her for a second. Dang, she was flexible and skilled.

He hissed as a zombie shoved him. Turning, he shocked it, then stabbed it with his sword.

And still they kept coming. Nothing they did seemed to matter. This new breed of zombie wouldn't be stopped. Not by hacking, burning, or stabbing. Dog, who trained them? The Terminator? Nekoda screamed.

Nick turned to see two zombies on her like the last piece of steak in a dog kennel.

His heart sank. They were going to kill her.

Do something. Because if he didn't, they wouldn't survive this.

You vJII have the power to command the dead....

Ambrose might have been on meth. Or he might have been telling the truth.

Hoping for the latter, Nick ran to help her. The first zombie he reached spun on him and bit him hard in the shoulder. "I'm really getting tired of this." Nick stabbed the zombie through the heart.

Still it kept fighting.

"Run, Kody!"

She refused. "Not without you." While he appreciated the thought, the girl was insane.

Nick put himself between her and them. "This isn't looking good for us. Is it too late to switch sides?"

Kody gave him a smile that made him weak in the knees and strong in resolve. "I have faith in you, Nick." And then she did the most unexpected thing of all.

She pressed her lips against his.

Nick was stunned as he tasted her. For an instant, time stood still as his breath mixed with hers and her tongue swept against his. This ... this was better than anything he'd ever dreamed and it made his entire body heat up.

Great, I would get my first real kiss three seconds before the zombies kill me.

His luck never changed.

Kody cried out as a zombie ripped her from his arms and slung her to the ground. A group of them descended on her.

Nick felt the book heating again in his pocket as it whispered to him.

To make the dead behave, Total dominion you must crave.

Huh? What crack was the book on?

But no sooner had he thought that than he finally understood. It was something Brynna had done a report on in school last year. At the time he'd thought it stupid, but he finally got it.

Visualization. In order to make something happen, to become something else, you had to see it clearly in your mind. That was the first step of achieving success. Vague dreams never amounted to anything. Only those that were fully seen could manifest.

Just like with the dagger.

Thoughts had power. Negative and positive. They influenced everything. They could empower a person or rip them to shreds.

And hopefully, tonight, they'd save all their lives.

Closing his eyes, Nick saw himself like the character in the Zombie Hunter video game.

/ vJII fear no evil for I am the baddest beast in the land. I am the power they cant tear down. And my w'll is law

They wll do as I say. The dead dont command me.

I command them.

Power, true power, comes from w'thin. Not w'thout. Laughing as the He-Man chant went through his head, Nick opened his eyes.

And everything looked different. There was a haze around the people and a dull glow over the zombies.

More than that, he could actually hear the zombies in his head. No, not zombies. What he heard were the evil souls that the mortents had summoned to take over the dead bodies and reanimate them.

The bodywas only a vessel. And it was time to empty it and send them home. All of them.

To make the zombies fall and vanish.

A simple spell and touch you must brandish.

Nick shook his head to clear that gibberish. "Really, book, your rhymes seriously suck."

Fine then, Malachai, you try rhyming in a language not your owi. You're lucky I'm even helping you. Not like I care whether or not you live or die. You know I can get a whole newmaster who'd be glad to have me... human. It spat that last word at him like it was the lowest insult imaginable.

Yeah, his book had some serious attitude problems. But at least it whispered the words he needed.

Ashes to ashes. Zombie head gashes. Dust to dust.

Return to your graves you must.

But the words sounded so much better in the book's native tongue, which were:

Tirre Time. Grauzsa ton.

Dhani Dhani Madabauhn.

Thank goodness he only had to say the latter to kill them. Along with one more bit.

He had to touch them too. Gross, but effective, and the moment he said the words and put a hand on them, they fell to the ground like a bunch of bad actors.

Bubba and the others stood back as Nick made his way through them until the only ones left were the three demons who hadn't been banished.

The mortents glared at him.

"This isn't over, Malachai," the woman spat at him, her eyes glowing deep in the dim light.

Nick scoffed. "Oh yes it is. I banish your smelly arses back to the holes they crawled out of. You do not command me and you never will."

Evil laughter rang in his ears. "You say that today, but come tomorrow ... it's so much easier to go wrong than it ever is to go right. We will win this. You'll see. Before all is said and done, you will be on our side. This I promise you."

Nick didn't believe it for a second. "You should never underestimate the stubbornness of a Cajun guttersnipe. We wrote the book on cutting our noses off to spite our faces." Glaring at them, he used his newfound powers to banish them.

Tabitha wiped the blood off her sais onto her pant legs. "That's right. Get thee behind me, bitches. I don't got no time for you. Ha!"

Nick shook his head. "Good thing there's only one of you, right?"

Eric snorted. "You do know she has a twin sister?"

Nick didn't even want to contemplate that gene pool. Right now, he was merely glad to have the demons gone and his life not threatened.

At least hopefully not for the next hour or so.

Kody came running up to him. 'Are you all right?"

Before he could stop himself, Nick pulled her into his arms and held her. He just needed to feel someone close to him who wasn't trying to eat his brains or kill him.

And God, she felt great.

"Yeah, I'm all right. How did you get here?"

She pulled back to gesture toward Mark. "I was surrounded by zombies when he showed up with his monster truck and ran them down. He told me to get in and I didn't argue."

Nick laughed. "I think that's how I got sucked into all of this." But it didn't explain everything.

He went over to Bubba, who was packing up his crossbow and bolts into Mark's truck. It was so good to see him alive, even if he did have a gash and bruise on his forehead. Nick would have hugged him in relief too, but knowing Bubba he might shoot him for it. "I saw the truck blow up. I thought you were dead."

Bubba pointed to Alex. "I told you about those shapeshifters and their wicked powers."

Alex held his hands up. "You're lucky they worked. At my age, it's a rare thing that they do what I want them to, and they're what caused the truck to explode when I used them to get us out."

He turned to Caleb, who had his arms crossed over his chest as he cocked one arrogant brow. "Oh, they kicked my ass hard. I'll be limping for a few weeks, no doubt. But I'm a lot tougher than I look, and while they might have had me on the ground for a few, they weren't demon enough to keep me there."

Nick jumped as he heard something shattering behind him. Turning around, he saw Madaug at the gaming console, where he was smashing it with a pipe he must have found on the ground. He beat on it until both the machine and the disc were busted beyond repair.

Then he stomped both and ended up by jumping up and down on them.

Once he finished his tantrum, he went to his mom and hugged her close. "I'm so sorry for everything I did." He looked down at Ian and grabbed him too. "I'm so glad you're both all right. I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you. I love you guys so much."

Ian grinned. "Does this mean I can come into your room whenever I want?"

Madaug shoved at him. "Don't push it, E. I'm not that grateful."

Eric and Tabitha joined them. "Thanks, Nick," Tabitha said. "We owe you."

Nick shook Eric's hand. "I would say any time, but really, next time zombies attack, call Bubba. He's the one ready to believe you. Remember the number: 1-888-Ca-Bubba. 'If he can't fix your problems one way, he'll fix them another.' There ain't no Nick in that slogan. After this, Nick's retiring to work for Kyrian as a go-fer. That's all I want to do. I don't want to know nothing about zombie slaying, duck urine, or anything else paranormal. Ever."

But Nick still had one person left to speak to.

Mark.

"How did you survive?" he asked as Mark left Simi, who was licking her fingers and joined them by the truck.

Mark flashed him a grin. "What? Did you forget the first rule I taught you, boy?"

Nick scowled as he tried to remember Mark's various rules for survival. "Duck urine chases away every living and unliving thing?"

"Nah, that's number six. Rule number one: I don't have to outrun the zombie. I just have to outrun you. How you think Eric and Tabitha got captured?"

Tabitha laughed. "Oh please. Inspector Gadget over there made a blowtorch out of Eric's art sealant and a lighter. I'm not sure the house is still standing, but he got us out of there and Simi covered the rest of our retreat. We'd have gotten away completely had Eric not tripped and I made the mistake of going back for him while Mark was hot-wiring a neighbor's car."



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