I’ve been working on on the first novel in The Risen Series, called Undertaking Hartford. It is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, zombie western.
In a corrupt world where lifespan can be endlessly extended, the price of immortality is tapping into the residual deposits of life-force left behind in places where people have expired. The dead are not amused.
When the spirits of violated dead begin possessing corpses and rising to take vengeance, it is a group of specially trained mercenaries called Undertakers that stand as the sole protection to preserve the living.
This is an excerpt from the work in progress and is a scene from a storyline I may cut from the first book. If you enjoy it, please share.
It Sucks to be the Bull
Excerpt from Undertaking Hartford
This troll looks odd.
No, odd is the wrong word. Empty. That’s it. This troll looks empty.
Dark, unfocused pupils blinked from beneath the grey brow that overhung the troll’s deep eye sockets. It blinked its yellow eyes again and then a third time. Other than this, it was motionless.
“That’s the one,” the boy said, standing upright and tall for the age of only thirteen. He had been crouching because trolls can’t make you out so easily if you are close to the ground, not that it seemed to matter with this troll.
“Are you sure you want this one? We have much better stock. This one is slated to be euthanized this evening.” Joyce’s voice was incredulous. As a Slaver, he had much finer specimens to show the boy; ones that would fetch a much more handsome price from the deep pockets of his customer, Jürgen, The Grand Inquisitor’s seventh son. “Allow me to show you another one,” he pleaded.
“Enough. This one. What is it called?”
Checking the tattered inventory sheet and running his finger to the bottom, Joyce flipped the page over and found what he was looking for. “its name is Club, Master Jürgen.”
“Bind it and have it delivered to The Octagon by pre-dark, two nights fore.”
“Certainly, Master Jürgen. There is but the matter of payment.”
Joyce paused, just enough to clue Jürgen. “Four, matched, retreaded tires and forty field rations.”
Jürgen’s gaze shifted from the troll to the Slaver. “And for that price, I expect it bathed, dressed in clean loins and well fed before delivery. Is that clear?”
“Certainly, Master Jürgen.” The grin was slight on the Slaver’s face. A mongrel specimen, sold for a premium price. “It will be done.”
“Well fed, Slaver. Proper granite, not the dirt clods you commonly fill their bellies with. I will have the feces checked and there will be issue between my father’s house and yours if it is not granite.”
“Certainly, Master Jürgen.” Granite came at a premium and Joyce silently counted his diminishing profit but was still very much in the black considering the broken troll was to be destroyed anyway. Any profit was more than he would have had. He forced a smile at his young client.
As they walked away, the troll called Club continued to blink, unfocused and oblivious.
A yellow bus sat upright and half buried in the courtyard. It was once used to dispatch children to institutions of learning, but now is a rusty centerpiece of the courtyard of Erred Yester, the Grand Inquisitor of Hartford. The bottom half of the bus was buried and the front half, some twelve feet or so, stuck upright. With some effort, you could pull yourself up to the opened door and get inside of the bus. If you did, you were rewarded with the musty smell of earth and rust, ripped seats and a cavernous 42 foot drop to a pit where the door at the back of the bus read “Only open in case of emergency.”
Jürgen’s favorite place to think was on the second row seat on the driver’s side in the upright school bus. From here, he would sit and look out the window, past the courtyard in front of his home that faced out toward the town’s square. He would let gravity pull his head back, hanging over the seat, the blood draining from his legs and into his core, eventually rushing into the lowest center of gravity in his body, his cranium.
Sometimes, he burned the Sweat Leaf to help him relax and free his mind to wander but not now. Soon, he would raise the curtain and expose the mighty Oz for all to see, but more importantly, he would show his father exactly how his seventh son saw him.
Would it matter? Jürgen was sure it would.
Jürgen is too young to remember that bull fighting was a traditional spectacle in Spain, when there was such a place as Spain. The bull fighter, or Matador, would stand in the arena, cheered on by spectators, as an agitated bull repeatedly charged him. He stepped aside at the last possible moment, avoiding being gored on the horns of the bull, risking his life. As the exhibition went on and the bull made several unsuccessful passes, a horseback rider entered the ring to stab the bull in the back with a spear, weakening it. Now with this injury, the bull could not hold his head high and is handicapped.
Then, three banderilleros enter the arena and each attempt to plant two banderillas, sharp barbed sticks into the bull’s shoulders. These anger and invigorate but further weaken the bull that has been tired by his repeated attacks and the blood loss from the injuries.
Finally, the matador re-enters the ring with a sword behind an ornate red cape and attempts to stab the bull through the shoulder blades as he passes. A strong thrust at a perfect angle would go straight into the beast’s heart, killing him.
Here’s the thing, and it’s important to Jürgen though he doesn’t know it yet. Sometimes, the Matador killed the bull. Most times, in fact. But sometimes the bull killed the Matador. In such a situation, the bull was to be released to live out his life as a stud, but that’s not what really happened.
Once taken out of the arena, they killed the bull. No matter what, it sucks to be the bull.
These days, bulls are scarce. When you do have one, you need him to stud. But we do have undead. We have lots of undead, and that’s what we put in the Octagon. That’s our bullfight.
Most undead, when a spirit inhabits and animates a corpse, it’s in a horrific frame of mind. They scream and attack, clawing and biting and kicking. I think they are in the frame of mind they were in just before they were killed – trapped in that moment, forever feeling the fear and horror that dawns on a person in the seconds before they cease to exist. Unable to move past that, they are driven crazy.
Or something. It’s just an idea. No one really knows why the zombies act like they do but it’s not their fault they are the way they are. They had no choice. Not like the grey skinned, deformed trolls.
In the days during The Decent, there were some people who kept jacking-in to rejuv over and over, despite the damage it was doing; the released spirits and Risen resulted from the process. Over time, it fried their brains but left them with an amazing capacity to heal rapidly and the ability to digest stone. Their teeth and digestive system were inexplicably strong, but they had toasted their brains and possessed the intellect of a deranged infant on a perpetual temper tantrum.
Violent and incredibly difficult to kill, Trolls have always scared the hell out of me. I think it’s the eyes. The grey skin and extended brow don’t help but the yellow eyes just freak me out. Well, that and the fact that you can blow a troll’s head off and it will still fight for three or four minutes afterwards.
There are the rare trolls that don’t act frenzied and wild. Once, Magnus tried to train one to help him around the shop. Just fetch tools and things. Magnus reasoned that they were only human or at least, once were. I miss Magnus.
I don’t usually go to the games at the Octagon but Master Jürgen wanted an undertaker as a bodyguard. So many undead around makes some folks nervous, even when they are corralled like broken horses. I don’t mind, really. It affords me the opportunity to watch the elite of Hartford that I am tasked with protecting. They are far more dangerous than the risen in the arena.
Grand Inquisitor Erred Yester and his young wife discussed the weather – it is hot isn’t it? Humidity more than the heat, I think. This is the sort of thing they said to each other, like strangers passing in the city courtyard. The banal conversation came and went throughout the bloody spectacle in the arena below – an unarmed man, convicted of stealing knife – left to fight ten zombies with the knife he stole. It was a butter knife.
Master Jürgen sat quietly, unmoved by the cheers of the crowds and life and death struggle in the arena below. I assessed him as the most dangerous of them all. Watching intently over tented fingers, he is a most peculiar boy.
Everything went as expected until the third fight when Master Jürgen’s troll named Club was brought in, chained to the back of a horse-drawn wagon. Club stumbled and fell, dragged for a few paces before pulling itself back up and stumbling more. When the wagon suddenly stopped, the troll banged it’s head on it, soliciting laughter from the crowds. Master Jürgen did not laugh.
Club was unchained and the wagon was pulled around and out of the arena. Club stood still, blinking. The announcer’s voice crackled from the speakers placed around the Octagon. It was a raw voice, primed and keen like a well-oiled meat grinder.
“The next fight comes courtesy of Master Jürgen of the venerable house of Yester. A troll – the ultimate source of the Risen! The cause of the plague on humanity – will face a lawful fate!” The crowd cheered and the Grand Inquisitor clapped, albeit absently.
“You see, Father? I have bought a troll. A troll to be slain for your birthday present.” Jürgen climbed into this father’s lap even though he was much too big and kissed his father’s cheek.
“A fine present, son. Trolls are a blight on us all and they fight well in the arena. I will enjoy it.” He was shoving the boy out of lap as he said this.
The gates opened in the arena and some thirty risen shambled in, some running and others, more decimated, just shuffled. One crawled. Club stood motionless in the center of the arena.
“Look closely father. Look closely!” Master Jürgen’s boyish voice rose. He grabbed his father’s shoulder and pointed. “Do you know this troll, father?”
Grand Inquisitor Erred Yester leaned forward then. He looked toward the troll with newfound interest, but only interest and nothing more. Then his jaw dropped open and he screamed. Standing from his seat in the box overlooking the arena he yelled, “Stop. Stop it now!”
But it was too late to intervene and the risen closed in and attacked the stationary troll who collapsed to the ground and then was obscured beneath the undead, piling on. A grey, severed arm flew out of the pile.
Grand Inquisitor Erred Yester stumbled back and fell into his chair, his young wife asking what is wrong. The crowd cheered at the spectacle.
Yester didn’t answer his wife and instead grabbed his son by the scruff of the neck and pulled him down close. “That was your mother!”
“And curse her loins, Father. Curse them to hell. And curse you!” He jerked away and stormed out of the box and down the stairs.
I followed since I was hired to protect Master Jürgen. He went out of the Octagon and past the square. He didn’t stop until he got to the bus in his father’s courtyard. He jumped up and pulled himself in the door and I followed, taking a seat opposite him, dangling my legs into the dark abyss below.
Master Jürgen sat there, breathing hard but saying nothing. It was not my place to speak unless spoken to, so I remained quiet. Finally he said, “Only open in case of emergency.”
His eyes were wet with tears as he looked across the aisle and I didn’t understand, so when he rolled over the edge of the seat and fell some thirty feet into the back of the bus, I was shocked.
Doc Trene tried to save him but Master Jürgen did not survive his injuries. It was a bitter day in the Grand Inquisitor’s household and I was most grateful that the blame of Master Jürgen’s death was abated and I was allowed to leave. Still, a thirteen year old boy had died unnecessarily.
Even when the bull wins, the bull dies.
© 2012-2013, Mitch Lavender