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Damir Salkovic

Damir Salkovic, Author of Kill Zone Damir’s short fiction has been featured in the Lovecraft Ezine, Dimension6 Magazine, and in horror and speculative fiction anthologies by Gehenna & Hinnom Books, The Bolthole, Source Point Press, Grinning Skull Press, Ulthar Press and others. He lives in Virginia and earns his living as an auditor, a profession that supplies nightmare material for his stories and plenty of writing time in the form of long-haul flights and interminable layovers.

https://darkerrealities.wordpress.com
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7224637.Damir
           

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Kill Zone by Damir Salkovic

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Kill Zone by Damir Salkovic Frank Clayton’s life has fallen apart in the wake of his son’s death. His wife has left him, he has been blacklisted from employment and his citizen-consumer status had been taken away, leaving him no choice but to enlist in a murderous reality show. When an opportunity comes up to escape his predicament, he finds out that he still has something to live for: revenge.

Armed with wealth and influence, Frank decides to bring the war to the studio, the powerful corporations and the society that has forced him to make an impossible choice. But hidden interests are manipulating him, trying to turn him into a pawn of the very forces he’s fighting against. The world he moves in now is every bit as lethal as the trenches and machine guns of the kill zone.

                                                                             Excerpt
Word Count: 89100
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Excerpts

Kill Zone

One

They left the trenches right after the sirens and made their way through collapsed houses and wreckage. Progress was slow; the men cursed and groaned as they clambered over broken beams and piles of junked machinery.

Dawn was just breaking, a thin white line on the edge of the flat, featureless horizon. Watery light trickled through the smoke and dust, across the bombed-out buildings and courtyards, but the rutted streets under the shattered skyline were still awash in shadows. Already the air was heating up, promising another blistering day.

Clayton hung at the rear of the infantry column, keeping his eyes on the back of the man in front of him, placing each foot as carefully as he could, feeling grit and ash crunch under the soles of his boots in the dark. He supposed he had been lucky so far. In the first episode of the show, his assault company had alighted on the killing beach long after the worst of the massacre was over, encountering only sporadic enemy fire. Days later, as they hunkered down in the remains of a razed village during the push inland, a soldier from another unit had told them that thousands had died during the landing, many of them never making it off the barges. The body count exceeded all network estimates and the advertising revenue was nearly double. Ninety-two percent up from last quarter, the man had shouted over the dull thump of explosions, like he was reading a corporate propaganda piece. The feverish shine in his eyes, the pride in a job well done, had made Clayton sick to his stomach.

Death was everywhere. Death in the lenses of hidden cameras, playing on high-definition screens, over and over, to the cheers of a faraway crowd. Sooner or later it would be his turn.

But he was still breathing, still walking. He wasn’t a corpse.

The squad moved out of the ruins, into the open space of a rubble-strewn square. The sound of running water reached Clayton’s ears over the stomping of boots and the thump of distant explosions. Lieutenant Hall called a halt and the platoon crouched behind a low wall. On the other side of the wall was a concrete embankment, dark water rushing and swirling below.

Clayton saw a narrow bridge leading across the river, to a small stone dock and a row of low, square tenements. It was light enough now to see the tattered flags hanging from empty windows. Enemy forces had held the near side of the river until late afternoon the previous day, when they had been forced across under concentrated artillery fire. There had been no response so far from their own guns, entrenched in the earthworks on the single hill behind town. Command, faceless and cryptic, reported the enemy was digging in to make a stand. What this meant was anyone’s guess, but Clayton expected a massacre, and to judge by the whey faces around him the rest of the unit shared his sentiment.

Hunched over to avoid the attention of snipers, the lieutenant moved along the ranks, barking commands. Prescott and Zielinsky hopped over the wall and moved forward, bent over low and clutching their rifles, using the crumbling bridge balustrade as cover. The assault platoon waited in heavy, tense silence, broken only by coughs and muffled whispers. Kintner started to light a cigarette and Sergeant Bennings knocked it out of his hands.

The purpose of luck, Prescott had said in the early days of the war, was to eventually run out. He had delivered this pearl of wisdom while the squad was sitting in a farmhouse cellar on the edge of one of the cleared villages, drinking wine from bottles made to look dusty and sharing cigarettes. To Clayton the proclamation had sounded trite, the type of dime store philosophy without substance or meaning that could sound insightful only to a mind fogged with tranks and spent adrenaline. Lately he found himself going back to the words, turning them over in his sleepless nights. He had thought that by enlisting he would leave his entire life behind, find a degree of resigned tranquility, if not peace, in the senseless, tumultuous grind of the war machine. But some ghosts refused to be stilled. They came to him in the blackest depths of night, in the small, still hours just before dawn. No matter how hard he tried, they always caught him unprepared.

He raised himself and looked over the wall. On the bridge, Zielinsky stopped and stood on tiptoe to inspect an empty sandbag emplacement. Prescott hunkered a few steps back, scanning the pocked façades of the tenement buildings. Zielinsky glanced over his shoulder. Lieutenant Hall waved him forward. The two men started to climb.

As if on cue, hell broke loose.

The machine gun opened up as soon as Zielinsky’s boots touched the other side of the barrier, the bullets tearing through flesh and canvas alike. Clayton saw the scout crumple backward, saw Prescott leap down from the sandbag wall and flatten himself against the set stones of the bridge. Two more guns joined in, followed by scattered small-arms fire. A cloud of dust and sand enveloped the emplacement. Bullets whined and chipped the wall behind which the soldiers were crouching. Panicking, he thought, surprised by his ability to think clearly and rationally. They’re panicking. He glanced at the dirty faces around him, white and strained with fear. Eyes rolling like those of cattle being led to slaughter. He repressed a terrible urge to laugh.

Lieutenant Hall leaped over the wall and motioned the unit forward. Clayton could see the man’s mouth opening and closing, but the crash of gunfire drowned out all sound save for the roar of blood in his ears, the triphammer beat of his heart. Invisible guns poured scorching fire from every direction. Several men went down, but those only grazed hobbled and shoved ahead, and the platoon charged on, a huge, bellowing animal frightened into a frenzy. Nothing would stop it now.

Machine guns stitched the embankment, but dust and smoke covered all, and for the time being the enemy was firing blind. Clayton’s mind had retreated completely in terror. The thinking part of him embraced death; the beast in him wanted to live. Bullets spat at him from the smoke, ripped through flesh, cracked off the stone of the bridge. He watched his hands shove a dead soldier aside, his feet scramble over sandbags and bodies and into the killing field beyond.

He stumbled through a shell crater, found cover, and knelt. Some of the soldiers had taken cover behind the stone parapet and were returning fire. The long concrete terrace between the bridge and the block of houses was littered with dead bodies. He fired like an automaton, aiming at muzzle flashes, pausing only to insert a fresh clip into his rifle. Through the settling dust, he could make out a shape crawling slowly toward the entrance of the nearest building, halting as the firing subsided, faster when it picked up again. Under the first floor windows, out of sight of the defenders, it raised itself to its knees; Prescott, white as a ghost with dust, pulling a grenade off his belt and yanking the pin with deliberate, unhurried movements.

Turning away, he closed his eyes, clapped his palms to his ears and counted the explosions. When he looked back, smoke was pouring out of the destroyed doorway and two lower-floor windows, and the men of the assault platoon were pouring in. Shots lit up the darkness within. The machine guns were no longer firing. He saw a soldier in enemy uniform climb out on the sill of a second-floor window, dangle by his arms for a moment, then drop the remaining distance. The man grimaced as he got up and limped into the shadows between the buildings. His uniform was dark and stuck to his side with blood, and he left a thin scarlet trail behind him. Clayton shouldered his rifle, lined up the shot and squeezed the trigger. The soldier’s head snapped to the side; he fell to his knees and tumbled forward.

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