Smart Zombies (short story)

Smart Zombies, I hate them.

Mind you, “smart” is only in reference to the rest of them.  Smart zombies can open doors and figure simple problems out.  The average zombie can’t even get out of a car if the door is closed.  It will just try to chew its way out, breaking teeth and bones in the process.  Still it won’t stop; broken fingers and no teeth, it will still keep trying.

Smart Zombies will call others; a raspy, horrible screech.  They will organize mass assaults on locked doors or barricades and stand in the back, ordering the hordes of others on to attack; zombie generals of the War on Humanity.

The siege has been going on for three days now, and we have retreated to floor eight of the Madison Heights Apartment Building.  Floor after floor as they kept coming, we lost ground, defending the stairwells until we couldn’t anymore. Then we would abandon and go up another floor. The undead were like water flooding a sinking ship, and we were fleeing up and up, until there was nowhere else to go.  There were only eight floors in the building.  We were making a last stand before retreating to the roof, and if we did that, I’d jump to my death before I became one of those things.  I swear I would.

As we nailed them down the stairwell, the bodies mounted up as they fell on top of each other in the confined space.  This would give us a few minutes of relief as the zombies behind cleared the bodies away to try a new assault.  They didn’t rest, and we have been doing this for forty-two hours straight.  My vision is blurry, and sometimes I pass out, only to be awoken to the horror we faced and to pull the trigger again and again and again.  Only head-shots would put one down.  Thank God, we had ammo.

A hand on my shoulder pulled me back.  “Relief, Corporal!” 

Major Jensen took my place at the top of the stairwell, and I staggered back, exhausted.  Jensen had been moving the civilians up each floor as we lost ground, and he hasn’t had any more sleep than the rest of us.  Still, I would take the relief.  Just for five minutes, then I would be back at it.  I closed my eyes.

When I awoke, it was daylight, punctuated by staccato gunshots.  While asleep, I had heard the same sounds, but I guess I was too tired to notice.  It was daylight and we had held them off through the night.

“Back ‘em up!” That was the yell from the Sergeant Major, and the urgency stirred me to fully awake.  This meant we were losing the floor and only had the roof left.  Since I was the only non-civilian who wasn’t engaged in combat, I hurried the frightened residents up the final flight of stairs to the roof.   I pushed a boy who couldn’t have been ten years old, “Hurry!”

He walked a few steps and said, “Why don’t you shot a car?  The alarm would distract them, wouldn’t it?”

Zombies hated loud noises like alarms, and when they went off, they attacked the source with a horrible vengeance.  It was a good idea.  It might distract them from the smart zombie’s orders.

 “Move, son!”  I shoved the boy along towards the stairs leading to the roof and maneuvered to a window inside one apartment.  Looking out, the streets were filled with the undead; packed with stinking, animated corpses that were intent on attacking our building.  The zombie general was out of sight but calling them on with his scream.  I aimed my M-16 and shot out the windshield of a PT Cruiser; nothing. It didn’t have an alarm.  I focused on an Infiniti G-37 and fired.  The alarm blared into life, and the zombies around it turned, refocused on this new target that was making so much noise.

I shot out the windshield of a Ford Explorer, and it also erupted to life with an alarm.  I did the same with a Mazda RX-7 and a Chevy Tahoe parked on the street, each blaring and attracting more attackers.

Then I saw the general emerge from the building cattycorner to ours.  He was wearing a blood-stained lab coat, but the way he walked with purpose drew my attention, despite the thousands of other zombies shambling around the crowded street below.  He jumped up on a car and started to scream again, pointing at our building – a siren to call the others to attack his target.  I’ve heard that scream for the last three days and I knew it well.  He’s the guy.

The ten-year old boy said, “Here, stop it here.  Stop it now.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

I looked at the gun he held – a sniper rifle, equipped with a scope.  Checking that it was loaded, I pulled it up and drew a bead on the general zombie’s forehead, using the windowsill to steady my shot.  I fired.  His screech silenced, and he fell backwards.  The hoardes turned their focus to the alarms and began attacking the cars.

“They are retreating!” said the Sergeant Major, shocked.  Then he fell backward and laughed out loud for a moment before he passed out from exhaustion.

The waters receded, and we took back the top four floors that day.  Outside, the streets swim with the undead, but we live… for now.

© 2011, Mitch Lavender

A Kiss of Thorns (short story)

This story was originally published in 2012 in an anthology, It Didn’t Happen This Way, Untrue Stories, Volume One. I’ve touched it up a little, but the story remains the same. I hope you like it.


“Why do you feed the damned bird meat?”

“She likes it, and don’t use foul language. I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

“Sorry I swore, Mom. I’m not seven years old, you know.” Even as I said the words, I felt like I was still a child, still living with my mother and still being told what to do.

Mom was always fawning over her stupid Macaw, Jezebel, teaching her to say something new or just carrying on about how she was such a pretty bird.

“Pretty bird!  Pretty bird!” Jezebel would mimic back in that creepy, ventriloquist voice that parrots have.  My skin crawled every time the bird spoke, its head cocked sideways with its eye on me, seemingly dead but still seeing me.  Watching.  I shivered.

“What happened to fruit?  The thing used to eat fruit!”

“She likes hamburger more.”

“Fucking freak show, if you ask me.” 

“Such language!  Go to your room!”

As I closed the door behind me, it was one of the many times I was grateful for my aged mother’s Alzheimer’s.  She wouldn’t remember that exchange ten minutes later.  As for Jezebel, she was like a volatile, feathered tape recorder that might repeat anything that was said and reignite otherwise dormant synapses, sparking the discussion anew.   Damned bird.

Even when I was a kid, my mother loved that bird more than me. “Jazzy Jez,” she would call her, referring to the way she would bob up and down on her perch when music played.  Birds like this form an attachment to one person and barely tolerate anyone else.  The bird hated me, and I reciprocated.   Mom would enter Jezebel in shows, often winning some prize for plumage or… whatever.  The ribbons are displayed proudly on the walls of her room.  There were no pictures of my father or me; rest his soul.

Mother’s Alzheimer’s had grown worse over the last couple of years, and with my mother’s advanced Alzheimer’s, she couldn’t live alone.  I insisted that she move into my house, along with Jezebel.  It was the right thing to do.  She needed supervision, and they wouldn’t let Mom keep Jezebel in a nursing home due to the strict rules about pets.  It would have killed her to lose the bird, so Mom moved into the guest room, and so did Jezebel.

Jezebel behaved differently after the Northwest Texas Macaw Foundation’s Bird Show two weeks ago.  I drove Mother there, her fussing over the bird the whole way.  The show was canceled; something about the virus everyone is talking about and public gatherings not being allowed, but not before Jezebel got into a fight with a mean-looking Cockatiel at the show.  Jezebel didn’t seem injured, but she acted weird afterward.  She wouldn’t speak and clawed angrily at the mirror in her cage.  Mother obsessed with getting her well, and a trip to the vet did nothing to make things better. That’s when Mom started feeding her hamburger.  Jazzy Jez calmed down then and seemed more like her old, capricious self after getting some McDonalds’.  She liked raw meat even more, and she started speaking again.

“Where’s the beef?” Mom taught her to say.

Now that they have shut down the schools and my workplace due to the virus, I’m stuck at home with both of them.  Most stores have closed, too. It’s hard to find an open gas station, and vegetables are in short supply.  Apparently,  the virus spread from Mexico, and since most vegetables for the Southern United States come from Mexico, tomatoes, lettuce, and other produce were rare if not completely unavailable.  Last week, Houston was quarantined entirely; no one allowed in or out.  That could happen here. I’ll have to stock up on whatever supplies I can find.  The newly enforced curfew said you had to be indoors before sunset. 

I left Mom alone with the damned bird, and the next morning, I went out looking for an open store.  They were all closed, and the roads were oddly absent of cars, but I stopped at a roadside stand selling Tyler Roses and bought a dozen for $5.  My father used to bring yellow roses home to Mom from time to time, a demonstration of how much he loved her. “Despite your craziness, I love you.” It always melted Mom’s heart, and whatever troubled her about the day seemed to fade for a bit.  I hoped it would have the same effect if I gave them to her.

“You been into town?” the kid at the stand asked.

“Not yet.  Hope I can get some food.”

“You’ve got a gun, right?”

“Sure,” I lied, getting back into my car with the flowers. “This is Texas.  Who doesn’t have a gun?”

“Shoot for the head. It’s the only thing that works.”

I peeled out and went to the nearby store.  I could pick up some hamburger and soda at the grocery store, but they didn’t have much else.  The shelves were picked over; ransacked, really.  The sign outside said, “No bread, milk, or produce.” Or much of anything else.  Several Armed National Guard were outside and they looked nervous.  One approached me and handed me a flyer that had ‘NOTICE” printed across the top.

“Have the riots quieted down?” I asked.  The guard didn’t look at me, but I noticed his knuckles whiten a little on his M-16.  I didn’t press him for conversation and continued out to my car.

“Go home, sir.  Lock the doors and stay there.”

I turned around and asked, “Is it really that bad?”

He glanced at me sideways, and the look in his eyes told me it was. “Got a gun?” he asked.

“No.”

“Find one.  Wait,” he said, upholstering his pistol and handing it to me, grip first. “This is the safety; leave it on until you need to fire it.  Use both hands and aim for the head.  It has twelve rounds.”

I gawked at the gun being handed to me. “Why are you doing this?”

“Take it!”

“Thank you,” I said, grabbing the grip and feeling the weight of the weapon. “I really don’t think this is necessary…”

But the guard had turned and was already walking away.  I don’t have a license to carry a gun, I thought.

I had collected flowers, meat, Cokes, and a gun—none of the things I set out to pick up when I left this morning.  Reading the notice I had been handed, all things we’ve heard over and over for the last few weeks now: Avoid crowds, beware of people or animals acting strange or violent, stay indoors at night, lock the door, and drink only boiled or bottled water.  And it had a new one – don’t try to leave the city.  It didn’t say quarantine, but that’s what it meant.  I better get home.

Pulling into the driveway, I carried the food and flowers into the house and locked the door behind me.  There was no one outside for as far as I could see.  Putting the supplies down, I went back to see how Mom was doing.  I didn’t tell her I was going out because she never remembered, anyway. 

I took the roses and knocked on the door to her room. “Mom, are you up?”

“Mom, are you up?” quipped the parrot voice inside.  I hate that bird.  Turning the handle, I pushed the door open.

The first thing I noticed was the dark brown stain around my mother’s still body.  The gashes torn into neck and face made her unrecognizable except for the nighty that I knew was hers.  Perched on her chest and ripping at the flesh was Jezebel, blood covering her brilliantly colored breast and face.

“Where’s the beef?” Jezebel said, spreading  her wings and then laughing, “hah hah hah hah!”

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

“Mom!” I screamed, but I knew she was dead and had been for a while.  The blood had dried into the carpet and turned brown.  This had happened sometime last night.  You just had to feed her hamburger, didn’t you, Mom?

Jezebel flapped her wings and flew towards me, bloody and rasping, “Play that funky music, white boy!” She cawed.

Instinctively I swung at the bird and slapped her down to the floor with the bunch of roses, but she came back at me as I stumbled out into the hall.  I held up the roses to cover my face, and the bird landed on the flowers, flapping wildly and crying, “Kiss! Kiss!” The thorns raked my cheek, and I swung wildly, slamming Jezebel into the wall with the roses.  I turn and ran.

As I turned the corner and ran through the living room, I heard Jezebel singing the theme to Golden Girls, one of Mom’s favorite shows.  She hopped around the corner and cocked an eye at me.

“Thank you for being a friend.  Traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true. You’re a pal and a confidant.”

I rounded the counter into the kitchen.  Gun! The gun is in the car!  Jezebel spread her wings and flew up and over the counter, landing on the faucet over the sink.

“Who’s a pretty bird?” she cried happily.

I grabbed the two-pound package of hamburger and swung down, knocking her into the sink.  I had her trapped beneath the meat, and her wings beat wildly in the basin, but I continued to press down.  I heard bones cracking, but still she fought back with more strength than I would have imagined. Jamming down harder with both hands, her head moved to the garbage disposal drain, and I mashed her into it.

“Where’s the beef?” She cawed from inside of the drain.  “Son!  Help Me!  Help me!” she mimicked my mother’s last words, and I flipped the garbage disposal switch, and the blades powered to life, grinding the head off of the shuddering animal.

I held down firmly until Jezebel stopped twitching.  When I let go, I left the disposal running, grinding away at nothing.  The bird’s legs still stuck out of the drain at impossible angles, splayed by the package of hamburger.

Quarantine or not, I’m out of here! Running to the car, I pulled the pistol from the glove compartment and turned the safety off.  I had enough gas to get me out of town and maybe to Oklahoma.  Maybe things are better there.  I made it as far as the city limits, behind miles of other cars, also trying to leave.

The officer came around to my car and told me to turn around, but then he saw my face and pulled his gun.  “Infected!”  He shouted, and two other police ran over with guns drawn.

“Out of the car.  Out of the car!”

I complied, and they shoved me to the ground and bound my arms, taking the gun.

“How long ago did you get those injuries on your face?”

“These?  They are from some roses.  Just scratches.  An hour ago, maybe?”

Hoisting me up to my feet, they shoved me to a fenced-in area with a bunch of other people, also bound or handcuffed. 

“It’s just scratches from thorns! That’s all.  That’s all.”  My voice trailed off as they locked the gate and walked away.

“Thorns on roses!  Just thorns!” I shouted anew, but they weren’t listening.  Before nightfall, the pen was full of people they deemed ‘infected’, and they started executing us methodically.

© 2012, 2021 Mitch Lavender

Confessions of a Zombie Fiction Author

HelloMyName

“Hi. My name is Mitch Lavender, and I write fiction in the Horror-Zombie Genre.”

Hi Mitch.

“Over the last two years, I’ve been crafting a series of novels that follows the events that cause governments all over the world to fail and at the same time, the dead are getting up and attacking the living. In such a world, mercenaries have come forth to fight back the risen dead, protecting the innocent. Even dead animals rise and attack, and these men and women – vestiges from the Before Wars, are all that stand between the living and the undead, when the government is powerless to assist. They are Undertakers.”

I wait for a response but there is none. 12 step programs prohibit condemning a confession, and this is me, spilling my guts. I continue.

“I call the series The Risen. The first book is called Undertaking Hartford. It’s a good story, told in three acts with a unique twist on the genre that I have not seen before. I have likable characters and a smarmy, narrative voice that is in tune for the story. In truth, I think all components work in harmony, and I’ll go so far as to say it is the best thing I have ever written.”

Across the room of half-filled chairs I see disinterested looks and no eye contact. People are waiting for their turn to talk. Well, one person makes eye contact.

It’s Jennifer, and she’s a romance writer. She wants to do the sort of books that have Fabio on the cover. Her problem is that she writes intimate scenes so that they sound like someone is getting murdered.

His steely hardness plunged into her wet flesh again and again, each thrust making her scream louder and louder.

In a world of people with messed up perceptions of sexuality, Jennifer is their voice. She’s tragic in so many ways. She thinks her work is enticing, erotic and unique to the extent that it would draw readers that don’t usually read the genre. She believes this, deep in her soul.

Like her, I also think my zombie stories are exciting and inspired. That’s why we are in this support group.

Jennifer purses her painted-on lips into a pout. She raises a press-on fingernail to her mouth and licks it seductively with a flick of her tongue.

No one sees this but me. I keep talking.

While Undertaking Hartford might be an excellent story, I recognize the saturation level of the genre and don’t expect it to do well when released.

I sigh. My novel is doomed to be lost among the flotsam of the genre, and Jennifer is just a hot mess of unclaimed baggage.

“I have written seven short stories over the last month, and none of them have zombies. I have submitted four of them to publications, so we’ll see. I am proud of myself for that.”

Claps as I step down from the podium. They are just glad I am finished. Now they get their turn.

It’s not etiquette, but I don’t stay to listen to the others. I don’t even look back. As I reach my car in the parking lot, Jennifer calls out to me from the doorway.

“Zombies rule! Go with it.” She holds a thumb up.

I get in my car and drive home. So help me, Jennifer’s little act has me thinking about the second novel in The Risen series.

Truly, we are the blind leading the blind.

taillights

Zombie: An Original Short Story by Chuck Palahniuk

Not many magazines have the nutsack to publish a story by Chuck.  Let’s face it, he’s hardly New Yorker material, and I mean this in all possible, positive ways. Playboy not only published the story, they made it freely available to read online.    If you are here, you must be interested in reading it, so click the link (below) and go already!  This is classic Chuck, and though the story is called Zombie, it is not a typical zombie story.

I’ll give this a proper review later.  For now, enjoy.

And though this is in the SFW (Safe For Work) section of Playboy.com, I recommend that you DO NOT click this link while at work.  Better safe than explain to HR tomorrow why you were looking at anything on playboy.com while at work.

Just sayin’.

 

Chuckp-Zombie

Zombie: An Original Short Story by Chuck Palahniuk

http://playboysfw.kinja.com/zombie-a-new-original-short-story-by-chuck-palahniuk-1465542446

Excerpt from Undertaking Hartford–It Sucks to be the Bull

UH-promo-bc

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.”

“How much?”

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.

~~~~~

Undertaking Hartford-killer-cover-smallA 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

Review: World War Z Board game

World War Z Board Game from University Games will let you play as elite military or CIA personnel, racing against time to prevent a pandemic zombie apocalypse. It’s no secret that I liked the movie and I’ve been known to write a zombie story or two myself, so the genre is interesting to me and like I said, I thought the movie was pretty good, though it was nothing like the (much better) novel.

I bought World War Z – The Game and after reading the rules, played it with my son, Spencer. Just to be clear, this is an old-school board game with dice and people sitting around the table, conversing and interacting, analog style. This is also a cooperative game, so all of the players are united and playing towards the same goal of eliminating enough zombie hordes that the human race survives. If a player dies, he becomes a zombie and then plays in opposition to the remaining human players, which is an interesting take on the traitor element that is used effectively in Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica.

The game board is a map of the world divided into zones, not unlike what you see with the game Risk, but the resemblance to that classic ends there. There are also cards, polyhedral battle dice and cardboard counters. There are rules, which outline the actions a player can take each turn. It doesn’t really matter what actions you take though, because everything will come down to a dice roll.

Each player is given randomly dealt a Role Card, and these roles are not balanced. During your turn, you can move to a new part of the world. You can equip a combat card, showing a weapon. You can battle a zombie horde in an occupied zone, and you must escalate the threat by drawing a threat escalation card to determine how the zombie threat grows.

WWZ-rules and cardsWhile playing this game, there was a surreal sense of scale – we are working on a global map as elite military or CIA, but armed with a crowbar or baseball bat? I mean, the game has an aircraft carrier where you call in strikes on a map zone that takes out just as many zombie hordes as a player swinging a Louisville Slugger? More than that, the outcome of everything comes down to a dice roll. There is almost no strategy involved and a typical turn consists of moving to a zone and attacking zombies, over and over. You could leave all the pieces in the box and just roll the dice to get the same level of enjoyment out of the game as playing it by the rules.

While it hardly matters, considering the simplistic and bland rules – the component quality is poor. The cards are bland and have square corners, the board is uninspired and the cardboard counters are thick die-cut, but off-center. Overall, it is a shoddy box of sadness.

I bought this game at a discounted price, and I should have taken that as a sign. In reading the back of the box, it sounded like this might be Pandemic with a zombie theme, and there are elements of the game that are like Pandemic, such as the player roles, but it is a feeble imitation at best, rushed to market without enough play-testing to cash-in on a summer blockbuster movie’s release.

Every gamer worth his salt knows that movie tie-in games suck. It doesn’t matter if they are video games, board games or role-playing games – they are all bad with only the rarest exception. Really, they are worse than just bad. Movie tie-in games epitomize capitalism at its worst. They violate the memories of a movie we enjoyed. Rainbows fade to gray and unicorns castrate themselves with their own horns, breaking their necks in the process, to escape the badness that is a movie tie-in game. It’s very, very sad.

Games like this are to be avoided, but sometimes a soldier needs to step on the landmine to let everyone else know the danger present. That’s me, this time. Kaboom!

My rating for World War Z – The Game: The Z stands for ZERO, which exactly the score I give this game on a scale of 0-5. Stay away. Far, far away.

Short Story: A Kiss of Thorns

This story appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One, by Pantoum Press in 2012 and features a zombie Macaw.  Polly want some braaaaaiiins?
If you enjoy it, please share.

 

A Kiss of Thorns
by Mitch Lavender

“Mom, why do you feed the damned bird meat?”

“She likes it, and don’t use foul language. I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

“Sorry I swore. I’m not seven years old, you know.” Even as I said the words, I felt like I was still a child, still living with my mother and still being told what to do.

Mom was always fawning over her stupid Macaw, Jezebel, teaching her to say something new, or just carrying on about how she was such a pretty bird.

“Pretty bird! Pretty bird!” Jezebel would mimic back in that creepy, ventriloquist voice that parrots have. My skin crawled every time the bird spoke, that head cocked sideways with its eye on me, seemingly dead but still seeing me. Watching. Bringing shivers to the back of my neck.

“What happened to fruit? The thing used to eat fruit.”

“She likes hamburger more.”

“Big freak show, if you ask me.”

“Go to your room!” She commanded.

As I closed the door behind me, it was one of the many times I was grateful for my aged mother’s Alzheimer’s. Though she wouldn’t remember that exchange ten minutes later, Jezebel, a volatile, feathered tape recorder, might repeat anything that was said and reignite synapses that were otherwise dormant, sparking the discussion anew. Damned bird.

Even when I was a kid my mother loved that bird more than me. “Jazzy Jez” she called her, referring to the way she would bob up and down on her perch when music played. Birds like this form an attachment to one person and barely tolerate anyone else. The bird hated me, and I reciprocated. Mom would enter Jezebel in shows, often winning some prize for plumage or… whatever. The ribbons are displayed proudly on the walls of her room. There were no pictures of me or my father, rest his soul.

Mom’s Alzheimer’s had grown worse over the last couple of years, and with that, she couldn’t live alone. I insisted that she move into my house, along with Jezebel. It was the right thing to do. She needed supervision, and they wouldn’t let her keep Jezebel in a nursing home due to the strict rules about pets. It would have killed her to lose the bird, so Mom moved into the guest room and so did Jezebel.

Jezebel behaved different after the Northwest Texas Macaw Foundation’s bird show two weeks ago. I drove Mother there, her fussing over the bird the whole way. The show was cancelled; something about the virus everyone is talking about, and public gatherings not being allowed, but not before Jezebel got into a fight with a mean looking Cockatiel. Jezebel didn’t seem injured, but acted kind of weird afterwards. She wouldn’t speak, and clawed at the mirror in her cage. Mother obsessed with getting her well, but a trip to the vet did nothing to make things better. That’s when Mom started feeding her raw hamburger. Jazzy Jez calmed down then and seemed more like her old, capricious self after getting some McDonalds. She even started speaking again.

“Where’s the beef?” Mom taught her to say.

Now that they have shut down the schools and my place of work due to the virus, I’m stuck at home with both of them. Most stores have closed, too. It’s hard to find an open gas station and vegetables are in short supply. Apparently, the virus spread from Mexico, and since most vegetables for the Southern United States comes from there, tomatoes, lettuce and other produce were rare if not unavailable. Last week, Houston was quarantined; no one allowed in or out. That could happen here. I’ll have to stock up on whatever supplies I can find. The newly enforced curfew said you had to be indoors before sunset.

I left Mom alone with the damned bird the next morning and went out looking for an open store. They were all closed and the roads were oddly absent of cars, but I stopped at a roadside stand selling Tyler Roses and bought a dozen for $5. My father used to bring yellow roses home to Mom from time to time; a demonstration of how much he loved her. “Despite your craziness, I love you.” It always melted Mom’s heart, and whatever troubled her about the day seemed to fade for a bit. I hoped these would have the same effect.

Tyler Roses“You been into town?” the kid at the stand asked.

“Not yet. Hope I can get some food.”

“You’ve got a gun, right?”

“Sure,” I lied, getting back into my car with the flowers. “This is Texas. Who doesn’t have a gun?”

“Shoot for the head. It’s the only thing that works.”

I peeled out and drove to the nearby store. I was able to pick up some hamburger and soda, but they didn’t have much else. The shelves were picked over; ransacked, really. The sign outside said, “No bread, milk or produce.” Or much of anything else. Several armed National Guard were outside and they looked nervous. One approached me and handed me a flyer that had NOTICE printed across the top.

“Have the riots quieted down?” I asked. The guard didn’t look at me but I noticed his knuckles whiten a little on his M-16. I didn’t press him for conversation and continued out to my car.

“Go home, sir. Lock the doors and stay there.”

I turned around and asked, “Is it really that bad?”

He glanced at me sideways and the look in his eyes told me it was. “Got a gun?” he asked.

“No.”

“Find one. Wait.” He unholstered his pistol and handed it to me, grip first. “This is the safety. Leave it on until you need to fire it. Use both hands and aim for the head. It has twelve rounds.”

I gawked at the gun being handed to me. “Why are you doing this?”

“Take it!”

“Thank you,” I said, grabbing the grip and feeling the weight of the weapon. “I really don’t think this is…”

But the guard had turned and was already walking away. I don’t have a license to carry a gun.

I had collected flowers, meat, Cokes and a gun. None of the things I set out to pick up when I left this morning. The notice had all the things we’ve heard over and over for the last few weeks now: Avoid crowds, beware of people or animals acting strange or violent, stay indoors at night, lock the door, and drink only boiled or bottled water. And it had a new one – don’t try to leave the city. It didn’t say quarantine, but that’s what it meant. I’d better get home.

After parking in the driveway, I carried the food and flowers into the house and locked the door behind me. There was no one outside for as far as I could see. Leaving the supplies aside, I went back to see how Mom was doing. I hadn’t told her I was going out because she never remembered, anyway.

I took the roses and knocked on the door to her room. “Mom, are you up?”

“Mom, are you up?” quipped the parrot voice inside. I hate that bird. Turning the handle, I pushed the door open.

The first thing I noticed was the dark brown stain around my mother’s still body. The gashes torn into neck and face made her unrecognizable except for the nighty that I knew was hers. Perched on her chest and ripping at the flesh was Jezebel, blood covering her brilliantly colored breast and face.

“Where’s the beef?” Jezebel said, spreading her wings and laughing, “hah hah hah hah!”

“Mom!” I screamed, but I knew she was dead and had been for a while. The blood had dried into the carpet and turned brown. This had happened sometime last night. I stared at her body. You just had to feed her hamburger, didn’t you, Mom?

Jezebel flapped her wings and flew towards me, bloody and rasping, “Play that funky music, white boy!”

Instinctively I swung at the bird and slapped her down to the floor with the bunch of roses, but she came back at me as I stumbled out into the hall. I held up the roses to cover my face and the bird landed on them, flapping wildly and crying, “Kiss! Kiss!” The thorns raked my cheek, and I swung, slamming Jezebel into the wall with the bouquet. I turned and ran.

As I raced through the living room, I heard Jezebel singing the theme to Golden Girls, one of Mom’s favorite shows. She hopped around the corner and cocked an eye at me.

“Thank you for being a friend. Traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true. You’re a pal and a confidant.”

I rounded the counter into the kitchen. Gun! The gun is in the car! Jezebel spread her wings and flew up and over the counter, landing on the faucet over the sink.

“Who’s a pretty bird?” she cried.

Untrue Stories-vol1-cover-2I grabbed the two pound package of hamburger and swung down, knocking her into the sink. I had her trapped beneath the meat and her wings beat wildly in the basin, but I continued to press down. I heard bones cracking, but still she fought back with more strength than I would have imagined. Jamming down harder with both hands, her head moved to the garbage disposal drain and I mashed her into it.

“Where’s the beef?” she cawed from inside the drain. “Son! Help Me! Help me!” she mimicked my mother’s last words, and I flipped the garbage disposal switch and the blades powered to life, grinding the head off the shuddering animal.

I pressed down until Jezebel stopped twitching. When I let go, I left the disposal running, grinding away at nothing. The bird’s legs still stuck out of the drain at impossible angles, splayed by the package of hamburger.

Quarantine or not, I’m out of here! Once in the car, I pulled the pistol from the glove compartment and turned the safety off. I had enough gas to get me out town and maybe to Oklahoma. Maybe things are better there. I made it as far as the city limits, behind miles of other cars also trying to leave.

When the officer came around to my car and told me to turn around and go home, he saw the scratch on my face and pulled his gun. “Infected!” he shouted, and two other police ran over with guns drawn.

“Out of the car. Out of the car!”

I complied and they shoved me to the ground and bound my arms, taking the gun.

“How long ago did you get those injuries on your face?”

“These? They are from roses. Just scratches. Two hours ago, maybe?”

Hoisting me up to my feet, they shoved me to a fenced-in area with a bunch of other people, also bound or handcuffed.

“It’s just scratches from thorns! That’s all. That’s all.” My voice trailed off as they locked the gate and walked away.

“Thorns on roses! Just thorns!” I shouted anew, but they weren’t listening. Before nightfall, the pen was full of people they deemed ‘infected’ and they started executing the infected methodically by firing squad. I’m in the next group.

I love you, Mom, and damned that bird to hell.

 

~~~~~

Short Story – Necromancer

This story appeared in Unquiet Earth anthology by Static Movement in 2010, and again in Death Zone and Other Stories, by Pantoum Press in 2011.  It is the seed for The Risen series -the first being, Undertaking Hartford.  If you like it, please share.

Necromancer
by Mitch Lavender

 

I never knew my mother. My biological mother, I mean. I don’t even know much about her, but I’ve been told she was pretty and she died giving birth to me.

They told me she wandered into Hartford, an outsider, lost. She was very sick and very pregnant. Douglas knew she was infected, but she was also in labor. They didn’t kill her because they thought they could save the baby. The story goes that she died just as I took my first lungful of air. Just as I began breathing, she stopped. When I ask if they shot her in the head, the answer is always that they made sure she stayed dead. But I know they did. What else could they do?

Douglas and Emily took care of me and raised me. Having just lost a daughter, I guess I was their surrogate child. I would see the sadness in Emily’s eyes sometimes. There is a certain look she got and I knew she is thinking of her daughter. I don’t know how the girl died, but it was just before I was born. Still in mourning, they took me as their own.

Back then, no one knew what a child born from an infected womb would be like. Would the child also be infected? I didn’t become a zombie but still, I was different, and I knew it. I never fit in with the other children in Hartford.

That’s how it goes. Life is a game of poker. Douglas said it is a game of chess, but I like poker. You get a good hand or you get crap. Whatever you get, you play the hand you are dealt or you fold. It’s not dependent on strategizing. It just happens, and you make the best of the cards you are dealt. Just like life, it’s random.

Fighting is like chess, though, and the zombies are pawns, advancing slowly and methodically. The strength was in their numbers. Their strategy was simple and effective: overwhelm the living with their sheer numbers. In a battle, men can be routed. They can be scared by a few well-placed grenades in their ranks, injuring, killing, or sending them fleeing, disoriented. Not The Infected, they will march on. And unlike men, when Infected get injured, they keep fighting. Only damaging the brain will stop them.

I was fourteen when Douglas took a stray bullet in the leg and was wounded so badly, it had to be amputated. He became a burden on the town and was consumed. As was The Law, anyone who could not provide was to be eaten, and in this way, they lived on by providing nourishment for the strong. I didn’t question it, but I observed. My father was killed, skinned and cooked.

ZOMBIE-HandsThis has always been the way of things in Hartford. My father and mother never ate any of Gracious Stew, lumpy with human flesh, and neither did I. Instead, we would hunt. Deer, rabbit and wild boar were all common and there for the taking. Most of it went to The Hartford Council, but we were allowed to keep enough for ourselves.

Cannibals. The first time I had heard the word was when my adopted mother, Emily used it. That’s what she called them. I assumed it meant ‘heartless bastards’ or something similar. And, as was The Law, she was also beheaded and eaten. You do not blaspheme The Council. I watched, and when I allowed myself to cry, I made sure that it was away from the others and I was alone.

Two moons after this, I realized I could walk among The Infected and not be attacked. I was hunting and came across a group of them. They didn’t attack me. I even felt some kinship with the undead. Perhaps this was a parting gift of my doomed, biological mother. The Infected weren’t malicious and cruel; they simply did what they did, like any feral animal. I had seen true evil, and this wasn’t it. They weren’t like the cannibals in town.

As I looked down on the gates to Hartford, The Infected shifted restlessly behind me. The stench of decay and rot is overpowering but invigorating. I raised the megaphone and shouted, “At nightfall, we charge. My army is over five-thousand in number and they obey only me. Hartford will fall. You will die, and true to your own law, you will be eaten.”

I lowered the megaphone and added, “Remember Douglas an Emily.”

 

~~~~~

Short Story: Smart Zombies

I originally wrote this story for The Infection Anthology, but it didn’t make the deadline.  It appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One in 2012.  It’s a very short piece and I hope you dig it.  If you do, please share.

 Smart Zombies
by Mitch Lavender

Smart Zombies, I hate them.

Mind you, “smart” is only in reference to common, everyday zombies. Smart Zombies can open doors and figure simple problems out. The average zombie can’t even get out of a car if the door is closed. It will try to chew its way out, though, breaking teeth and bones in the process and it won’t stop; broken fingers and no teeth, it will keep trying.

Smart Zombies will call others; a raspy, horrible screech. They will organize mass assaults on locked doors or barricades, and stand in the back ordering the hordes of others on to attack; zombie generals of the War on Humanity.

Undead Ed -cropped- editedThe siege has been going on for three days now and we have retreated to floor eight of the Madison Heights apartment building. We lost ground, floor after floor, as they kept coming, defending the stairwells until we couldn’t anymore. Then we would abandon and move up, but the undead were like water flooding a sinking ship and we were fleeing up and up until there was nowhere else to go. With only eight floors in the building, we were making a last stand before retreating to the roof, and if we did that, I’d jump to my death before becoming one of those things. I swear I would.

As we nailed them down the stairwell, the bodies piled on top of each other in the confined space. This gave us a few minutes of relief while the zombies behind cleared them away to try a new assault. They didn’t rest, so neither did we, for forty-two hours straight. My vision is blurry and sometimes I pass out on my feet, to be awoken to the horror we faced and to pull the trigger again and again and again. Only head-shots would put one down. We had ammo, and for that, I was grateful.

A hand on my shoulder pulled me back. “Relief, Corporal!”

Major Jensen took my place at the top of the stairwell and I staggered back, spent. He had been moving the civilians up each floor as we lost ground and had no more sleep than the rest of us. Still, I would take the relief. Just for five minutes. Then I would be back at it. I closed my eyes.

When I awoke, it was daylight, punctuated by staccato gunshots. While asleep, I had heard the same sounds, but I guess I was too tired to notice. It was daylight and we had held them off through the night. Why had I been allowed to sleep so long?

“Back ‘em up!” came the yell from the Sergeant Major and the urgency stirred me to full alertness. This meant we’d lost the floor and only had the roof left. Since I was the one non-civilian not engaged in combat, I hurried the frightened residents up the final flight of stairs. I pushed a boy who couldn’t have been ten-years old, “Hurry!”

He walked a few steps and said, “Why don’t you shoot a car? The alarm would distract them, wouldn’t it?”

Zombies hated loud noises like alarms, and when one went off, they attacked the source with horrible vengeance. It was a good idea, and might distract them from the smart zombie’s orders.

“Move, son!” I shoved him towards the stairs and stepped to a window inside one of the apartments. The streets were filled with undead; packed with stinking, animated corpses that were intent on attacking our building. The zombie general was out of sight but calling them on with his scream. I aimed my M-16 and shot out the windshield of a PT Cruiser; nothing. I focused on an Infiniti G-37 and fired. The alarm blared into life and the zombies around it turned, refocused on this new target that was making so much noise.

I shot out the windshield of a Ford Explorer and its alarm also erupted into life. I did the same with a Mazda RX-7 and a Chevy Tahoe, each one blaring and attracting more attackers. This was working.

Then I saw their general emerge from the building cattycorner to ours. He wore a blood-stained lab coat, but the way he walked with purpose drew my attention, despite the thousands of other zombies shambling around the crowded the street below. He jumped up on a car and screamed again, pointing at our building – a siren to call the others to attack his target. I’ve heard that scream for the last three days and knew it well. He’s the guy.

The boy brought me a gun and said, “Here, stop it here. Stop it now.”

I looked at the gun he held – a sniper rifle, equipped with a scope. Checking that it was loaded, I pulled it up and drew a bead on the general zombie’s forehead, using the windowsill to steady my aim. I fired. His screech silenced and he fell backwards. The hordes turned their focus on the alarms and began attacking the cars.

“They are retreating!” said the Sergeant Major, shocked. Then he fell back and laughed out loud for a moment before passing out from exhaustion.

The waters receded and we took back the top four floors that day. Outside, the streets still swim with the undead, but we live… for now.

 

~~~~~

Book Review: The Zombie Autopsies by Stephen C. Schlozman

There are literally thousands of zombie books in circulation. There are zombie comic books. There are zombie movies and zombie TV shows. With such a proliferation of the dead rising to eat us alive – so many times, so many ways, so many mediums – what could possibly be done that hasn’t been done before?

How about an entire book, dedicated to dissecting zombies?

WP_000340The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Stephen C. Shlozman (2011, Bantam Press – $11.90 on Amazon) is just that. Narrowing the genre of zombie fiction to the science and forensics of zombie biology.

Literally, this is a descriptive, illustrated book about cutting open the living dead and analyzing their biology in an attempt to understand why this corporeal impossibility could exist. While all zombie stories offer an explanation of how zombies start, (i.e., a virus, alien life form, voodoo, etc.) they don’t go into detail in quite the way The Zombie Autopsies does.

The premise is a journal kept by Dr. Stanley Blum – a neuroscientist investigating the medical causes of zombiism. Dr. Blum is already infected (as is two-thirds of humankind) with the virus that makes flesh-eating zombies. He retreats to an island overseen by the U.N. – to vivisect captive zombies in the hope of isolating the pathogen before he succumbs to it.

Stephen C. Schlozman makes the experience both accessible and plausible, and the story unfolds through the journal entries, as Blum proceeds with his experiments.  Schlozman is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a child psychologist (!!!), and this background lends legitimacy to the subject matter.

Of course, this does not make for comfortable reading. As a zombie fiction author and reader of the genre, I found it fascinating. The detail and the sketched illustrations are the sort to make you want to look away, but it’s absorbing in its gruesomeness. It’s like a car accident that has fatalities, you have to look.

I picked this up at Half Price Books, and admittedly, it was the callouts on the back cover from George Romero, Jonathan Mayberry, Max Brooks and Chuck Palahniuk that convinced me to give it a go.  Well – it was Chuck’s quote that was persuasive to me, anyway.

WP_000342

I dig this stuff, not because it is gross, but is spite of it. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this is for die-hard fans of the zombie genre only. Others need not apply.

Recommended, with the caveats mentioned above.

Check out:

Book teaser for The Zombie Autopsies

The official Zombie Autopsies website.

Stephen C. Schlozman’s blog

My Favorite Zombie Movies

I’ve watched most zombie movies that have been made. I’m not proud of that achievement, and truth be told, I never finished some because they are so bad. From my experience, I’ve developed a list of the best of the genre. I’ll try to explain why these movies rank in my top 10, and I’ll add that I do not get wrapped up in the semantics of what a zombie is or is not. 

If I have left your favorite biter flick off the list, comment and let me know about it. Note that Walking Dead is a TV show and not on this list, but if it were, it would be #1.

10. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

nightofthelivingdead

(Original – not the 1990 remake) This is not a great movie. It had a tiny budget. The acting is sub-par, but excellent for what they had to work with. The story moves slowly, it is filmed in black and white and frankly, the zombies move almost as slowly as the plot.

So why is it on my list?

It was a survival movie first, and the threat just happened to be zombies. The zombies, though shambling and slow, were relentless. They never stopped. They never rested or slept. That’s creepy as hell, and it has been used to epitomize everything from racial bias to the downside of technological advancement in first-world society. I’ve got give props to George A. Romero for creating the zombie genre as we know it, and most of the movies on this list would not have been made were it not for this movie.

9. Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012)

Abelincolnvszombies

No one was more surprised than I was to see that this low-budget, direct to video movie didn’t suck. The zombies are hardly convincing or threatening, but the story has so much fun adding characters from US history, and Bill Oberst Jr. is so convincing as Abraham Lincoln, that I actually enjoyed this movie and watched it a second time.

Admittedly, one time really was enough.

8. Evil Dead: Army of Darkness (1992)

armyofdarkness

In this sequel in the Evil Dead franchise, a man is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., where he must battle an army of the dead and retrieve the Necronomicon so he can return home.

Bruce Campbell is absolute gold in this movie, and he delivers campy lines with bravado and style. The movie is a fun send-up of the genre, and has some lowbrow, laugh out loud moments. Hail to the king, baby.

7. Pet Semetary (1989)

petsemetary

Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, an old cemetery is discovered where, if you bury your dead pet, it comes back. When a young boy is unexpectedly run over, he is buried in the cemetery and things get really wonky.

This is a movie that doesn’t get gross or graphic and doesn’t move very fast, but just oozes creepy.

6. Warm Bodies (2013)

warmbodies

R is a young, introspective zombie. Much of the movie is narrated with his voice over, providing insight into the day to day of being a zombie, but after meeting a girl, a strange, odd relationship forms and he starts to change.

I didn’t expect to like this movie. I thought it would be a sort of zombie-Twilight thing, and was pleasantly surprised to see it is a smart, rather sweet story. So many zombie flicks end on downer notes, it is worth pointing out that this one does not.

5. 28 Days Later (2002)

28dayslater

While the spin on the zombie is unique, it’s still well placed in the genre, I think. The virus doesn’t make the dead rise, but infects the living to become mindlessly violent and voracious. That’s far more believable, if you are the sort who watches zombie movies for realism.

Apart from that, it’s well paced and acted, and has some striking scenes of a world barren of uninfected humans.

4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

shaunofthedead

Shaun’s girlfriend dumped him, his dead-end job isn’t going well, his roommates are bigger losers than he is, and the zombie apocalypse has begun. By most standards, that is a pretty bad day for anyone. Unless you can turn that frown upside down, nancy-boy, and Shaun has a goal – save his ex and get to the pub at all costs.

This is such a fun movie. If you haven’t seen this one, even if you don’t care for zombie stuff, you’ll probably get a kick out of it.

3. Zombieland (2009)

zombieland

Zombieland is a comedy that focuses on an unlikely group of survivors in a world overrun by zombies who each have their own goals, however petty they may seem to everyone else.

Like Shaun of the Dead, this is a fun movie. It’s got scary moments, but it’s also loaded with great character dialogue and the rules, narrated by Columbus, keep cadence throughout the movie. After it was over, I somehow felt like I just watched Wonder Years with zombies.

2. Resident Evil (2002)

resevil

(The first movie – not any of the sequels) A virus has escaped in a secret facility called "The Hive," turning the staff into hungry zombies. The complex computer shuts down the base to prevent infection and the parent corporation sends in an elite military unit to investigate, where they meet survivor Alice, suffering from amnesia.

Based on a popular 90’s video game, this movie broke the mold and restaged the cause as a fast spreading virus. The action, scenes and acting are solid, but some of the dialogue comes across like a movie based on a 90’s video game.

1. World War Z (2013)

WorldWarZ

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane; a retired investigator of some sort for the United Nations. As the zombie outbreak worsens, Gerry is coerced back into service to try and identify an origin of the virus and a way to neutralize it.

While the plot is nothing like the book, Pitt delivers a solid performance, believable in the role of family man and seasoned investigator, Gerry Lane. The tension builds and the story delivers a satisfying conclusion. The movie could have gone deep into gross-out gore, and didn’t. This lent a sense of class lacking from the zombie genre, which typically wallows in blood and violence.  Even the soundtrack was good.

See my movie review of World War Z.

That’s my list.  Your mileage may vary.

Movie Review: World War Z

I finally saw the movie, World War Z. The trailers had my interest piqued and I enjoyed the book, written by Max Brooks, so I was primed for a solid zombie flick.  WWZ delivered.

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane; a retired investigator of some sort for the United Nations. As the zombie outbreak worsens, Gerry is coerced back into service to try and identify an origin of the virus and a way to neutralize it. The beginning of the movie is very by-the-numbers, but has some great scenes that kept me interested.

I don’t like movies that use “screen scares” to make the audience flinch. You know – the coast is clear. Come on! And then something jumps out of the darkness and attacks. It’s a cheesy tactic that was used up in the 80’s slasher movies, and it worked in those flicks because they didn’t really have a plot. In a movie that has compelling characters and even a slim story, it’s annoying and distracting.

Despite that peeve, I found the production values top-notch and the action scenes were over the top but cool. Having read the book by Max Brooks, I was interested to see how they would adapt it to a movie. The book is essentially short stories – interviews with various characters, and I did not see how this would translate to film. The short answer is: It didn’t. The story in the movie is nothing at all like the book, except for zombies.

That’s not a bad thing, though. The story in WWZ is as good as I’ve seen in a zombie movie. Nods to Romero for his contributions to the genre, and acknowledgement of the first Resident Evil movie, WWZ is the smartest of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong – the story is thin, but what is there is well done.

Pitt delivers a solid performance,  believable in the role of family man and seasoned investigator, Gerry Lane. The tension builds and the story delivers a satisfying conclusion. The movie could have gone deep into gross-out gore, and didn’t. This lent a sense of class lacking from the zombie genre, which typically wallows in blood and violence.  Even the soundtrack was good.

If you like the genre at all, this one is worth a shot.

Fiction: Send In The Clowns

The Infection cover-SmashwordsSend in the Clowns is story of a a father and daughter, trying to survive the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.  The story originally appeared in The Infection Anthology – 2011, Pantoum Press, and the stipulation of the stories was that a very small percentage of the infected would not change into a zombie, but would evolve, gaining some special abilities.

I liked this angle on the zombie genre, and am proud to have two stories in The Infection Anthology, featured along with other fine authors: Andrew Shortall, Bernark ORourke, Vincent Hughes, Gerard Gogardy, Marion Clarke and Twana Biram.

The story also appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One – 2012, Pantoum Press, which is a collection of my previously published short stories.

Now, I’m reprinting it here, for the third time.  I hope you enjoy it and if you do, please share.

 

 

Send In the Clowns

Karina killed another clown in her room today. Her aim is improving.

“I did good, Daddy?”

“Yes, Pumpkin. You hit him right in the chest. Kablamo!” I bent down and kissed her forehead, looking into her innocent, seven year old eyes. “Get ready for bed. It will be dark soon. Oh, and don’t forget to reload the gun.”

She grabbed two 22 caliber shells from the box on her Little Mermaid dresser as I dragged the colorfully clad body out of her room and into the yard, stacking it as best I could with the rest: Dead Killer Clowns, Boogey-Men, Closet Creatures and a couple of Giant Under-The-Bed Crabs. These have become my yard decorations.

The cars on my street were abandoned and the houses boarded up, their yards overgrown and neglected. No signs of life. I looked down at the freshly killed clown. His grotesque smile was a gaping maw of dagger-sharp teeth over three inches long. His hands ended in talon-like claws. It’s getting worse, I thought.

At first, the clowns were just annoying, harmless Bozo sorts that might throw a cream pie but not much more. I hated the clown-laugh. That insane, never-ending chortle. And he wouldn’t leave, no matter how I asked or threatened. But then Karina saw a picture in an old horror movie magazine from a movie called Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Just a scary clown with sharp teeth, holding a bloody chainsaw. But it was enough, because the clowns changed after that.
The sound of gunfire startled me from my thoughts and sent me running back into the house. It was a Boogey-Man. She’d shot him right in the head, down with one bullet.

“Nice shot, Pumpkin! Reload the gun again, just in case.”

“It was a boogedy-man who got Mommy. I hate Boogedy-men!”

“We don’t talk about that, Karina. Remember, you must focus. Think about good things.” I said this for myself as much as for her. I buried my wife in a shallow grave in the back yard. At least, I buried what was left of her.

Boogey-Men smelled bad or I would have left the body here until morning. I grabbed the hobnailed boots and dragged it to the front yard. A nice breeze picked up and the sun began to sink on the horizon. It was beautiful, but I needed to go back and get the pieces of the Boogey-man’s head.

Inside, Karina ran up to me, arms outstretched. I picked her up and she wrapped her arms around my neck. I hadn’t stopped thinking about burying my wife. My wife, who was killed by some abomination that a child imagined into existence.

“Do you ‘member the SpongeBob parade, Daddy?”

She smiled. I remembered the SpongeBob Parade and everything else. The memory of how this started was seared into my brain. Karina had been bitten at school by a rabid kid. At the time, we thought it was just a kid out of control. “Not enough Ritalin,” we thought. We didn’t know any better. Karina got sick, but the news reports said: Stay indoors. Don’t go out, especially near hospitals. The National Guard were on the streets and there was rioting and gunfire. We thought she might die, but two days later, she was fine. Then the changes began. First, a dozen kittens miraculously appeared in her room. Then Dora the Explorer ran around the house, two-dimensional and trying to teach us Spanish. Then things got really weird.

The ‘SpongeBob Parade’, as she called it, probably saved our lives. Twenty SpongeBobs appeared carrying fiery spatulas. They attacked the living dead that had taken over our neighborhood. While we all defended our homes and attacked with whatever we had, the SpongeBobs slapped each of the zombies into crabby-patties and cooked them up on a grill. Like I said, really weird.

After this, even more grotesque things started appearing. Spiders the size of my head jumped out of cabinets. Bad dogs or wolves ripped up her dolls. Huge crabs appeared from under the beds, trying to snap toes off. I found snakes in the toilet and hairy monsters in the closets. And always, those damned clowns.

The T-Rex visited almost every night, stomping around outside the house and biting at the metal bars I had installed on the windows. How I regretted letting her watch ‘The Land of Lost’ on DVD.

We settled into our nightly routine, and after telling Karina a story about people being nice to each other and eating candy together and laughing, I put her to bed and picked up the shotgun. I sat in a wooden kitchen chair and waited. Nights sucked. There was no telling what she would dream about. How she managed to sleep was a mystery to me.

First the wolves came. I heard their howling and chewing at the door frame. Then the boogey-men showed up, screaming and rattling the bars on the windows. I heard heavy footsteps on the roof and wasn’t sure what was going on.

“Ho, ho, ho!” I heard the laugh come down the chimney. Really, Santa Claus?

From the sound of it, the wolves attacked Santa and the boogey-men molested him relentlessly. His ‘ho, ho hos’ changed to screams and whimpers and then mercifully, silence. The reindeer didn’t fare any better.

I stared at the TV, dark and unsettling in the room, lit by a single candle. Electricity had been off for months, but still I watched the TV. I held on to an expectation that the dead screen might come to life and provide some news, some hope that Karina and I were not the only ones left and that maybe things were turning around. I clung to a hope that maybe it would get back to normal.

The wolves and boogey-men disappeared after the dinosaur showed up. A song always played when the dinosaur came around.

Marshall, Will, and Holly, on a routine expedition…

I could tell it was going to be another long night. Karina slept, and eventually, so did I when exhaustion took over.

The next day brought sunshine and crispness in the air. October had always been one of my favorite months. The oppressively hot Texas summer finally gave way to cooler temperatures. The dinosaur was gone and I dared to hope this was going to be a good day.

We went out in the truck to look for supplies. I didn’t like taking Karina out, but I feared more for her safety if I left her at the house alone. As we started down the street, a pack of wolves appeared from behind the house and chased us. Damn you, Animal Channel, I cursed to myself.

After about a half-mile, the wolves gave up. Keeping to the back roads as much as I could, the drive was quiet except for the static on the radio as it scanned for a signal. About eight miles from home, it stopped on 104.3 FM. The display on the radio said KULT. This station wasn’t on when I checked yesterday. The signal was weak, but I could hear a man talking. Even through the poor reception, I listened to the fatigued voice:

“Go North. The undead move slower in colder climates and will freeze completely if the temperature stays below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Canada has quarantined everyone in the US but they can’t stop the masses seeking refuge and rushing the border. Reports indicate they are using flash-bang grenades and tear gas, so gas masks and heavy clothing are recommended. Alaska is also seeing an influx of refugees.

 

Reports from Hawaii indicate the main island is completely infected. Unconfirmed, but indications are that the UN has approved the US to use low-yield nuclear weapons to cleanse the island. God forgive us.”

The announcer continued on with reports of the situation in Dallas and Fort Worth. It’s worse than I thought, but at least the government and UN were still around. Karina looked absently out the window as we drove, seemingly unaffected. I pulled into the parking lot of Wal-Mart and stopped some distance from the other cars. They looked abandoned. Some were burned-out and had broken windows or flat tires. I left the engine running so I could listen to more of the broadcast.

“Recently, I was out roaming the desolation of our beautiful city and I went to Ridgmar Mall to do some shopping. Stay away from malls. Stay away from population centers, and do not set your car alarms. I cannot emphasize how aggressive The Infected become when they hear a siren or car alarm. They will come running for blocks and violently attack the source of the noise.”

That’s enough news. I turned the engine off and surveyed the area around the front of the store. Broken windows and trash covered the ground everywhere. It’d been badly looted but there may still be something of value inside: food, ammunition or batteries. When I didn’t see any people or Infected, just some cats, we grabbed the guns and flashlights. I had the Remington shotgun and Karina carried her Ruger Mark III 22 caliber pistol. Remembering the warning on the radio, I left the truck’s alarm off. We headed into the store.

Inside, it was quiet. The ravaged shelves made ominous corridors into the huge, unlit building. Karina clicked the safety off, carrying the pistol like I’d showed her; both hands on the grip and finger up on the side, not on the trigger unless she was ready to fire. She surveyed the front of the building and once satisfied that nothing was there, affixed her headlamp and turned it on. I clicked my light on as well and we moved slowly past the untouched racks of greeting cards and down the cosmetics aisle.

We worked our way to the sporting goods at the back of the store. They didn’t have guns, but it did sell ammunition and camping supplies. I hoped there might be something left. In the Camping department, Karina found some dehydrated food, lasagna and beef stroganoff in sealed packages. They didn’t look like real food and the previous looters must have overlooked them. These were meals ready to eat, just add hot water. This was a good find. She shoved all 11 of them into my backpack.

“I hate beef stroganoff, Daddy.”

“I’ll eat those. You can have the lasagna. Let’s check for ammo.”

We looked but there was nothing. Shelves, once loaded with ammunition, were bare. I checked behind the service desk in the Sporting Goods Department but found nothing there either. I checked the looted cash register and broken glass cabinet, but all the knives it had contained were now long gone. No different than the other stores we had visited over the last few months.

We made a quick pass through the grocery aisles but they were bare of anything edible. The frozen food section reeked of rotting meat. As we walked past the decomposing food, swarms of flies buzzed up in agitation. We were used to it and didn’t give it much notice. We encountered three Infected, but caught them off guard and I dispatched them quickly. Three shotgun blasts at point blank range took their heads right off. I could see they were pretty far gone, anyway. One had lost his arms to decay and the others barely seemed able to stand. Karina took the smiley-face button off one of the decapitated Infected’s blue vest and pinned it to her shirt while I reloaded and we made our way to the front of the store.

“What about there, Daddy?” Karina pointed to a sign on a door that read ‘Employees only’.

We might as well check. I turned the doorknob and pushed it open. No movement or noise inside, but the sick-sweet smell of decay hit me hard and I gagged and covered my mouth. The stench was much stronger than in the refrigerated foods department, concentrated by the close quarters. We entered the room which had some chairs and tables, a couple of vending machines and a wall of lockers. There were two dead bodies on the floor near the door. They didn’t move – always a good sign when you find dead bodies these days.

The vending machine seemed untouched and had packages of chips, candy bars and other junk food on its racks behind the glass, which I smashed unceremoniously.

“Oh cool! Paydays!” Karina dropped her gun and began shoving the food into her Hello Kitty backpack.

I went to the lockers and opened them. The first one had a two-finger bag of weed in it, hidden beneath a high school science book. The next few were empty. I kept checking and in one I found a new box of 12 gauge shotgun shells, tagged with a return receipt indicating it should be re-shelved. Jackpot! I grabbed the shells and flashed them to Karina who was gleefully loading up the candy bars.

I didn’t find anything of use in the other lockers and focused on the soft drink machine. I have no idea how to break into this thing but before I could try, I heard talking outside the room. Karina’s headlight turned on me and I raised my finger to my lips. I clicked my light off and so did she, and we huddled together in the back of the room. The complete darkness seemed to make it harder to tolerate the horrible smell of rot. Although it was hard to breathe, we didn’t move.

Listening, I could tell it was other survivors, maybe four of them. They were ransacking the store as we had, looking for supplies. I shhhh’ed Karina when she started to say something. Just because they were people didn’t mean they weren’t a threat. She remained quiet, eating something, probably a Payday.

The people rummaged around the store for about an hour and then it went quiet. We waited another hour and I clicked on my light. I was startled to see a statuesque blond woman, over seven feet tall and naked, standing in front of us. Karina gasped and I fired my shotgun almost instinctively, knocking the woman down. She didn’t move. My God, what have I done!

Checking the body, I realized it was plastic, a hole blown in its midsection from my shot. It was just a mannequin. No, it’s a giant Barbie doll with no clothes. We’d passed the toy aisles and I remember seeing Karina pick up a doll briefly. Shit.

I listened to see if the gunfire attracted any attention, but didn’t hear anything. Holding Karina’s hand, we left the fetid employee break room and moved towards the front of the store. I looked around and didn’t see anyone. I also didn’t see our truck. The other looters must have hotwired it. I cursed under my breath, but I couldn’t blame them; they didn’t even know we were here, not that it would have mattered.

I surveyed the other cars in the parking lot. None of them looked drivable. We were too far from home to walk. There were other buildings nearby, but there was no telling what lurked in them. Our best bet on making it through the night was to go back in the store.

We moved through the darkness to the very back, through the big double-doors next to Customer Service and into a storage area. Karina needed a bathroom, and I found a mop bucket she could use.

The storage area was pillaged as well, but we looked through the boxes anyway. We found toilet paper and paper towels. There was an unopened box of pine-scented cleaner and another of air freshener. I grabbed a gallon bottle of distilled water and took a drink before giving it to Karina. I was parched.

“Daddy, where does the ladder go?”

I shone my light over to join hers and scanned the metal ladder leading up to a hatch in the roof some twenty feet up.

“Nice find, Pumpkin. The roof may be a safe place.”

“I don’t like ladders.”

Just to be sure, I scanned the storage room again for any Infected. Then I took off my backpack and told Karina to wait for me by the ladder while I climbed up to check things out. The hatch at the top had a handle on the inside but it wasn’t locked. There could be someone up there.

Karina’s headlight was on me the whole way and I motioned for her to wait where she was.

“OK. Shoot for the head, Daddy.”

I pushed up on the hatch and it moved, but only a little. Something heavy was on it. I climbed up another step so I could get my shoulder under it and push with my legs. I strained and it opened a crack, enough so that I could see part of the roof. It looked clear. Then a hand came down in front of my face and I dropped the lid with a loud clang! I almost fell off the ladder but managed to keep my grip.

Above, I heard movement and groans. Infected. From the sound of it, there were two or more. The noise from dropping the hatch would have alerted any of them close by to our presence. I hurried down the ladder but before I got to the bottom, the hatch swung open and a silhouette of a man lurched into the hole. Karina fired and the body fell over, dangling down and stretching towards me. I was far enough away that he couldn’t reach me. I hung on with one hand and pointed my shotgun up and fired, taking the top of his head off. The force of the blast blew me off the ladder and I fell to the ground, winded and gasping for breath. Seconds later, blood, skull fragments and bits of brain splattered down. One landed in my mouth. It was sinewy and tasted of copper. It might have been my imagination, but it seemed to be moving. I gagged and spat it out. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“Get up, Daddy! There’s more.” Karina came over to help me up. I leaned on the shotgun and managed to get to my feet, still spitting. I reloaded the shotgun and snapped it closed just as a body crashed to the floor, landing with a wet slap. It quickly reached out for Karina, but before I could react, a boogey-man jumped out of the darkness and grabbed its head, twisting it backwards. The undead writhed around, struggling with its attacker. This is new. I fired, once at the boogey-man and once at the Infected. Both fell silent.

I grabbed the water jug and took a big gulp, trying to get the taste of the zombie flesh out of my mouth. I spat the water on the ground and checked the open hatch but I didn’t see any movement. I took Karina aside.

“Honey, what were you thinking when the zombie jumped out of the hatch?”

”I don’t know.”

“Think. It’s important. He fell out of the hatch and hit the ground. He was in the light and was reaching for you. What did you think at that moment?”

“I thought he looked like a boogedy-man. He had a black hood.”

It’s true, the zombie did have a black hoodie. This is exactly how the boogey-men dressed as well. Interesting.

“See that jug of water we were drinking?”

Karina nodded.

“Think about that. Think about it really hard.”

Her face grew pensive and she drew in a breath and held it, clenching her eyes shut. After about twenty seconds, she exhaled and said, “It just doesn’t work like that.”

“It’s all right, honey.”

We’d tried this before. The control she had over her powers was involuntary. I smiled at her and went back up the ladder to survey the roof. I didn’t see any movement, but there was a large air-conditioning unit on the roof and I couldn’t see what was on the other side. I motioned for Karina to follow me up and I carefully walked around the roof unit, leaving as much room as I could.

On the other side, I saw three dome tents and some folding chairs. As I moved closer, a large, black dog rushed out of a tent and charged me. The dog reached the end of her rope and jerked abruptly to a stop before I could get my gun up to fire. She looked like a German Shepherd mix of some kind, about sixty pounds. Her brown eyes fixed on me, wagging her tail, not barking or growling.

I moved toward her. She continued to wag her tail. When I bent down to scratch her behind the ears, she gave me a friendly sniff and licked my face. I checked the tags and she had had all her shots. The name on the tag read MUNCH. Her tail stopped wagging and she broodingly pulled away from me as I looked around the roof-camp. It had a stove and several boxes of canned food and bottled water, some opened and some not. I scanned the roof’s boundaries and noticed two rifles near the edge. It looked like there were at least three boxes of ammunition there as well. Someone had made a last stand here. They lost.

Karina climbed out of the hatch and peered around. I waved her over and then moved in to take a closer look at the tents. I found the body of a woman inside one. It looked like she had been dead for about a week. She didn’t move. A brown stain on the back of the tent made me look back at the body. Then I noticed the top of her head had been blown off. I took the .45 caliber pistol from her clenched hand. The other two tents were clear except for sleeping bags, clothing, and some other supplies.

Karina fawned over the dog, petting her and nuzzling her fur as Munch licked Karina’s face. I hadn’t seen my little girl this happy in months.

After getting our packs and dropping the bodies off the roof, we settled in to have a meal. When the power went out at the house, I had been cooking on the propane grill in the back yard, so cooking on the two-burner camp stove was nothing new. We heated up some pork and beans and opened a package of saltine crackers. Karina fed the dog. As night set in, I closed the hatch and put some empty cans on top of it so that if it were to open, it would make noise and alert us.

Karina and Munch were inseparable. They adored each other. I was grateful. Munch would be a good protector. As I moved around the camp, Munch always watched me, always at Karina’s side, always suspicious.

As I put Karina to bed in one of the tents, I wondered what the night would bring. What would she dream of? Munch slept at the entry to the tent, always watching. Her eyes never left me. I went to my sleeping bag on the hatch to get out of sight from the dog. I was tired, my head hurt and I fell into a restless sleep. I dreamt of my wife, crawling out of her grave and shuffling into the house to make dinner.

I awoke to barking and leapt from the sleeping bag, clicking off the shotgun’s safety. A killer clown closed in on the tents and Munch circled him, head low, her throat rumbling with a fierce growl. The clown approached the tents and I fired. The buckshot ripped out his throat. The clown fell and gurgled as blood gushed from his neck. I walked over and smashed its head with the butt of my gun. No need to waste ammo.

Munch gave the body a sniff and walked back to Karina’s tent. She settled at the tent’s flap, and watched me with cautious interest. I grabbed the body by the feet, clawed toes sticking out of oversized red shoes and dragged it to the edge of the roof, dropping it over the side. I looked into the darkness beyond. From the elevated vantage point, I saw only one light. A fire in the distance, maybe three blocks away. The blaze came from a residential street and I suspected it burned at a house. I wondered if the looters that took my truck celebrated by setting it on fire.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. That morning, we opened a tin of peaches and had some crackers. I made coffee and it tasted good. Karina fed Munch more of the dried dog food. I wondered how long ago the roof-campers took refuge here. The large amount of supplies they had amassed would indicate it was before the power went out and the looting began, before everything turned to complete shit.

Thinking back, the early reports of Human Rabies were sketchy. That’s what they called it at first, Human Rabies. I guess because the people who caught it would bite others, spreading the disease. Some believed it to be spread my mosquitoes as well. Stores immediately sold out of insect repellent. People dressed in heavy pants and long sleeve shirts, stinking of Deet. Imagine, the middle of the sizzling hot summer in Texas, yet everyone wore heavy coats and parkas to keep from getting bitten by a mosquito.

Then the reports on TV got paranoid and crazy: Stay indoors! Stay away from hospitals and schools! Schools closed. Most companies suspended operations, so no one went to work. There were reports of huge crowds of rabid people rioting in the streets and being shot down indiscriminately by the police and National Guard. This was all on the local news. It pre-empted regular shows and became the only programming on TV.

The national news was no different. They called it The Infection and reported a vaccine in development. Though only in the early stages, the tests sounded promising. Then, the TV stations went off the air. When the electricity and gas went out, the rabid people weren’t the only ones rioting in the streets. Everyone was looting, trying to get supplies to dig in or move on. The police disappeared and the National Guard moved to the city perimeters and then elsewhere. Neighbors packed up their cars and left. They didn’t know where they were going, they were just going. We stayed.

That was then. This is now.

Later that evening, I had a revelation. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner. We had been fighting off the random monsters as they appeared throughout the day, and Karina was in bed and asleep. A boogey man caught me by surprise. As I crawled into a tent with my gun at my side, he attacked me. He was right there, in my face and I didn’t have time to react. All I could do was close my eyes as he raised his claw-like hands to my throat. Then… nothing. Oh, I heard him screeching and I smelled his stench, like locker room sweat and burning tires, but I didn’t feel him. I didn’t feel his claws close on my throat. I didn’t feel my windpipe crushed and ripped out. I opened my eyes, and he was still there, flailing viciously at me but not causing any harm.

When I backed out of the tent, he followed, scratching and snarling at me the whole way. Bemused, I raised my gun and smashed him in the face with the butt. His head snapped back and he stopped snarling as he staggered backwards. I closed the gap and smashed him again in the head. He fell to the ground and I brought the gun butt down one more time and crushed his skull. He fell silent and stopped moving. It took me a moment to realize I was laughing.

I recalled playing a first-person-shooter video game. It had a cheat code that allowed the player to be in ‘god mode’. In ‘god mode’, the player could not be hurt. Bullets and explosions would hit him, but he couldn’t be damaged, yet he could kill everything around him. This confrontation with the boogey man felt just like the game’s ‘god-mode’.

Karina dreamt these things up, but they were not solid. The monsters weren’t real. They were more than hallucinations to be sure; you can’t smell or touch a hallucination. They seemed real in every way, but they couldn’t affect me. They couldn’t hurt me, yet I could affect them. It was all in the mind.

Something was nagging at the back of my mind. If these things were just projected figments of Karina’s imagination, then how had they killed my wife? The answer was almost instantaneous. They hadn’t. They couldn’t. How did she die then?

I forced myself to think about that day. Karina had run to me, crying. She still held the shotgun. We went into the kitchen where her mother lay on the ground, a dead boogey man on top of her. Karina had shot the boogey man twice at close range as he attacked her mother. The recoil of the gun knocked her to the ground and she ached for days. I realized with a dawning horror and sadness that when Karina shot the boogey man, who didn’t really exist, and she actually hit her mother. Karina had killed her mother with the shotgun. I accepted this unfortunate reality with a different kind of grief and a new knowledge of Karina’s powers.

I gasped and my mind raced, thinking about my wife’s mutilated body and the way I buried her. I understood then, a shotgun blast at close range completely decimates a person. I sobbed at this realization.

I stayed in the tent the rest of the night. When the T-Rex came stomping around the roof, I ignored it and drifted off to sleep, listening to the Land of the Lost theme song. I slept better than I had in months, but I still dreamed of my wife, crawling out of the grave. She would get in bed with me, bloody, emaciated and stinking of decay, and made love to me. I grieved even in my sleep.

Karina woke me the next morning and asked, “Can we go for a walk, Daddy?”

I gestured to the flat surface around us. “You have the whole roof to explore.”

“Shouldn’t we go home?”

I thought about this. I didn’t like being in the middle of the city. We didn’t see many infected in the neighborhood we lived in since it was a small subdivision on the outskirts of Fort Worth. Our small town of Justin didn’t have a lot of stores and businesses. Our current location meant we could attract mobs of Infected. We’d be trapped. The roof could be defended if there were enough people, with enough ammunition and supplies. I also knew the weather would turn colder soon, and the sleeping bags and tents weren’t enough to keep us warm. Staying here would be a mistake.

Looking at the fire escape that went down the back of the building, I said to Karina, “I think a walk is an excellent idea.”

I didn’t feel good; I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t eat. But Karina had no problem eating her breakfast. When she had finished, we went to check out the fire escape. It was one of those types that stopped twelve feet from the ground so it couldn’t be reached by anyone that was down, but would drop automatically if there was enough weight on the platform. We gathered up our guns and ammo. I thought about putting some of the boxes of canned food on the platform to keep it from going back up, but decided we could just come back up through the hatch from the inside again, if needed.

I lead the way, Munch and Karina close behind. Walking past a burned-out big rig, we rounded the corner and came to the store’s garden center. Someone had broken the lock on the gate and it stood open. The potted plants within had all wilted from lack of water. The lined up lawn mowers looked untouched; no surprise that the looters had left them. A couple of bicycles and a green, two-seater go-cart sat next to the lawn mowers. Karina ran straight to the go-cart.

“Cool!” she exclaimed as she climbed into the seat and grabbed the steering wheel, twisting it back and forth like she was navigating some twisty road. Munch settled into the seat next to her.

I looked it over and it seemed to be in good shape. It had a roll bar but was set pretty low to the ground and probably wouldn’t overturn. The small, 2 cycle engine at full throttle on level ground could probably go around twenty miles an hour. The tag on it read $698. Today, the special price is free.

We siphoned gas from one of the derelict cars in the parking lot and filled the small tank. It held about a gallon. I attached a plastic storage container to the back and dropped our packs in it. The shotgun fitted nicely between the seats, pointed forward and held in place in the groove next to the steering column. “It’s time for a test drive,” I told my daughter.

Karina climbed in the driver’s seat and I pulled the starter. The engine turned over on the first try. The go-cart idled roughly at first but, as it warmed up, the engine stopped skipping. I hadn’t realized how loud a small two-cycle engine sounded.

“Give it a little gas. Just a little!” I yelled over the sound of the small engine.

The cart lurched forward and stopped as Karina shifted from the gas to the brake petal. Munch looked at her and whimpered. Then she pulled out and did two small laps in the parking lot, the dog chasing her. She took the second lap pretty fast, and I saw I had gauged the speed wrong, she was getting close to thirty mph. She pulled up next to me, laughing. I showed her how to kill the throttle and the engine stopped. She was still laughing gleefully.

The dog growled and then I heard the distant moans coming across the parking lot from a mob of undead. I counted eight, moving at a fast, stumbling walk. I suppose they heard the go-cart. In the distance, I saw more of them closing in on us. A lot more.

I evaluated the situation. We didn’t have time to get around to the front of the store and make it up to the roof. We could face off with the zombies, but there were just too many of them. I could jam myself into the go kart with Karina, but it would be a tight fit. Evaluation complete. I pulled the starter and fired the engine up again.

“OK,” I instructed Katrina, “Remember, zombies don’t dodge, so avoid them if you can, but if you have to hit one, hit him fast and straight on. If we get separated, meet me by the burned-out big rig we saw out back. Got it?”

“Daddy, get in!” Karina motioned to the cramped seat next to her. Time was burning, so I climbed in to the seat and left my legs sticking out over the front of the go-cart. Karina gunned it before I was situated, but that meant we avoided the first of the Infected closing in. Munch chased after us, barking wildly as if saying, “Go! Go! Go!”

I put my finger on the trigger of the shotgun, still lodged in-between the seats and pointing forward. I blew a hole in an Infected as he ran straight at us and then the cart plowed into him, knocking him off his feet and spinning him over us as we sped by.

I instructed Karina to drive out of the parking lot and down the street where I had seen the fire the previous night. We cruised past burned out cars and homes with neglected yards, overgrown with weeds. Looking behind, I saw the mob of Infected had filled the street, pursuing us in a stumbling run. Karina was intent on the road ahead. Andy Granatelli personified. The other Infected trailed in behind and I saw there were over a hundred, all chasing us.

We blew through intersections, vacant of traffic. As we entered the third block, I saw a wooden tower. At the top, a man waved us to the right. Karina followed his direction and pulled into the driveway of an abandoned-looking home and through a huge, wooden gate that opened for us. I glimpsed a massive, chain-fed gun, sitting on a tripod outside the gate. We pulled into the back yard and stopped. We had nowhere else to go. Some thirty or so people watched us, most carrying guns, rifles or clubs of various design.

“Incoming! Arm the gates!” someone shouted.

I climbed out of the uncomfortable go-cart and Karina killed the engine. A large man with a beard and an AR10 rifle grabbed my arm, pulling me up. “It’s killin’ time! Get to the roof where it’s safer.” Men were all moving to the perimeter, standing on boxes to fire over the fence. Munch ran in, tail wagging as the gate closed.

As Karina and I climbed up the ladder on the back of the house, I heard the automatic gunfire outside. From the vantage point I had on the roof, I saw the man at the chain gun, firing into the mob of Infected as they closed in. The huge bullets blew holes in the Infected. Arms and legs blew off, knocking down the attackers at the front of the tightly formed crowd. The bullets passed through the first wave and hit the zombies behind, taking down one after the other. The chain-gun dealt out devastating damage, but these were zombies. A hole the size of a grapefruit in the chest of a zombie wasn’t enough to stop it, it just slowed it down.

When the mob advanced into the driveway, the men sporting AR10’s with scopes started sniping heads, the rotten skulls popped like gory piñatas spilling blood, bone and brain, putting the creatures down for good. I watched their economy of motion and ammunition as men behind the shooters methodically loaded a gun, handed it to a man on the fence, then took the spent gun to reload it. It was like clockwork, and they made short work of the Infected.

Then the T-Rex showed up, accompanied by its theme song.

Marshall, Will and Holly, on a routine expedition…

“What the hell?!” There were gasps from all the men as the dinosaur stomped up the street and the remaining undead turned and charged it.

As the men changed their aim to the T-Rex, I yelled, “Don’t shoot the dinosaur! It’s not real. Trust me.” Puzzled faces turned to me and then back to the behemoth that now snapped at the undead who clamored around it.

The T-Rex had distracted the undead. The men opened fire again, sniping the Infected. The dinosaur snapped ineffectively at them and I watched as the last of the Infected fell in a heap, its head blown off by a well-placed shot. The T-Rex turned its attention to the chain-gun and roared.

“It’s not real!” I repeated. The behemoth stomped up and brought its massive jaws down on the man arming the gun. He fired, unloading over 50 bullets into the T-rex at short range and the creature buckled over backwards and collapsed, dead. Waste of ammo, I thought.

I tried to explain to the women and children on the roof that the dinosaur was an imaginary manifestation. I appealed to the men on the ground, and when a man walked up and kicked the bloody head of the dead creature, it thumped. “Feels real to me,” he said.

“It’s not. Dinosaurs don’t exist anymore,” I said.

“Yeah? Zombies aren’t supposed to exist, either. World’s gone crazy, man.”

“Wait till you see the Killer Clowns,” I mumbled as I climbed down the ladder.

A burly, bearded man stood forward from the rest of the men. “You brought hell and high water to our doorstep, stranger.” He squinted at me, looking me up and down. “You look pretty fit, though. You must have some fight in you or you wouldn’t still be here.” He said, extending his hand. “I’m Lee.”

“Michael. My name is Michael,” I stammered, taking his hand and shaking it. “The girl is my daughter, Karina.”

“Look at the dog! The dog don’t like him,” yelled one of the men. He then leveled his gun at me.

Karina came down the ladder and ran over to Munch, petting her back and scratching behind her ears. Two little boys joined her, and Munch savored the attention and petting, but she didn’t stop staring at me.

“Dog likes the girl. Dog likes my boys. Why don’t the dog like you, Michael?”

“He’s bit!” A woman yelled from the roof.

“I’m not bit!” I protested.

“Dogs can tell when someone’s got the virus. If you ain’t bit, then prove it. Strip.” Several more guns lowered to point in my direction.

“Take the girl inside. Get her something to eat. We’re going to inspect Michael,” Lee said.

“It’s all right, Honey. Go in the house. I’ll be fine,” I assured Karina, trying to keep the waver out of my voice.

After Karina, the kids and women went into the house, I pulled the pistol out of my pants with two fingers and dropped it on the ground. I took off my shirt, shoes and pants.

“Socks. Get ‘em off.”

I complied, now standing in my less-than-clean underwear in front of sixteen men, all eyeing me curiously. I went through the process of raising my arms and turning around slowly twice so everyone could see.

“No bites,” Lee said. “But the dog don’t like you, and that’s for sure. Why is that?”

I thought about the zombie brain fragment that fell in my mouth, squirming. I thought about the coppery, rancid taste that stayed with me, even now. I thought about how my dreams had changed right after the encounter with the rooftop Infected and the pounding headaches that had begun to come and go.

“I don’t know. Just not a dog person, I guess.” I’ve always had a good poker face and I hope it held up now. The stakes had never been higher.

“Get Ed! Get Undead Ed! That will show us for sure!”

They brought out Ed, a zombie who had his arms blown off. They kept him in check with three ropes tied around his neck, men pulling them tight at diametric angles to keep him from moving too close to anyone. Lee shoved me toward Undead Ed and I looked into his bloody eyes, dripping yellow pus. Lee jammed his hand behind my neck and pushed me closer to the stinking undead. Ed didn’t move. He just looked at me, then at Lee behind me. The zombie licked his cracked lips with a blackened tongue and lunged past me to get at Lee. The ropes pulled taunt and yanked him back.

“Looks like you and Ed are friends. Not good company to be in, Michael. Not good at all,” Lee remarked to the murmurs of assent around us.

I looked at Lee, imploring for sympathy. I couldn’t find any words.

“Come over here. Sit down.” Lee pointed to a picnic table. The others kept a distance but I could tell they were watching me. I sat down and noticed a red dot dance across my arm and settle on my chest. Someone had a laser sight.

“Did you know you had the bug?” Lee asked. He was calm, even sad.

“I thought maybe it didn’t affect me. Or maybe I would survive it, like Karina. She was bit, but still made it. It gave her… powers.”

“You mean the dinosaur?” Lee asked.“

That’s some power,” someone else whispered.

“It’s more than the dinosaur. But it’s all imaginary stuff. They aren’t real and can’t hurt you.”

“So you said. Quite a distraction though.” Lee laughed.

We talked for about an hour. I told him about Katrina’s abilities and how we managed the hardships as the economy collapsed and the military withdrew. The first winter, it was tough when the gas and electricity went out. I told him how my wife died. I cried.

Lee had a sympathetic ear and didn’t rush me. He had his stories to tell, too. He was a long-haul truck driver who came down from Michigan to get his sister and their family living in this house. The whole neighborhood had banded together and they’d been holding out, but their supplies had dwindled to a critical low. They had begun stocking up since Lee arrived: food, clothing, gasoline. They were almost ready, Lee said. It was all interesting; just talking and listening to another adult seemed incredible, but my mind grew fuzzy and I found it hard to concentrate. My head pounded as I tried to take it all in.

Lee said, “So here’s how it will go. You are going to say goodbye to your little girl. You are going to go out to get supplies, you will say. Then you leave and never come back. Or, I can shoot you in the head and save you the horror of becoming like Undead Ed. It’s your choice.”

Some choice, I thought. I knew I was infected and would change soon; I had come to terms with this. What Lee said made sense, even to my confused mind. But above everything else, I had to know something.

“What about Karina?” I croaked.

“We’ll take care of her and the dog, too. We’ve got a good tribe here. We’re preparing trucks and buses and will be leaving soon, going north; Canada, where it’s cold. It’s safer from the Infected there. But you, there’s not much I can do to help you. I can spare the little girl seeing her daddy turn into a monster. I can do that for her, and for you.” The sympathy in Lee’s eyes was evident. “I’m a father too, Michael. I can tell you are a good man who loves his daughter. I know I wouldn’t want my kids to see me like one of those things. What about you?”

I nodded. “But why would you help us?”

“Karina is one more survivor. We need all the numbers we can get, and based on what you’ve told me, she might even be the key to turning this whole thing around. I don’t know how yet, but it seems possible.”

Once I composed myself, I followed Lee into the house where Karina was sitting on the floor playing Chutes and Ladders with the two boys. She was happy. She didn’t come to me, so I went over and picked her up. She hugged me but kept looking down at the game.

“This is Jim and this is Cody. They are my friends! And that is Cody’s mommy. Her name is Linda. Can we stay here? I like it better than our house.”

“If you want to stay here, you can. But you have to promise me that you’ll be good. Remember the things I taught you. Listen to the adults, ok?”

“I will. It’s my turn! Put me down, Daddy.”

I held her just a little longer but finally lowered her to the floor. I crouched down next to her and said, “I’m going out. I love you, always and forever.” I kissed her head.

“I love you always and forever, too! Shoot for the head, Daddy.” She didn’t look up from the game.

I stood and my head pounded. Lee put his hand on my shoulder. “Good man.”

We walked out the front door together. As it closed behind us, I said, “Do it.”

Lee led me behind the house across the street. There were several graves there, some freshly dug. I looked straight ahead and Lee walked behind me, speaking. His voice strained.

“You don’t know me, but I am trying to do the right thing. I’m trying to do what’s right for everybody. I respect you and will take care of Karina. She’s got a chance with us, a real chance.”

Tears ran down my cheeks, dripping yellow pus onto my shirt. “What will you tell her?”

There was no pause before Lee responded. “I’ll tell her that her father fought valiantly against overwhelming odds. After an incredible fight, he succumbed to forces no man could withstand. I will tell her that you died bravely. And when I tell her this, I will be telling the truth.” He paused and let out a ragged sigh. “Do you believe in heaven, Michael?”

I shook my head, “No.”

“I think you are wrong and if you are, I’m sure you are going there. Your wife would be there, too. You would be together again. You fought hard. It’s time to rest.”

I liked this thought and smiled. Then I heard a click and everything went white and faded to stars.

I rested.

~~~~~

I hope you enjoyed the story.  If you did, please share.

ML

 

Book Review: Dead Inside, Do Not Enter: Notes From the Zombie Apocalypse

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter: Notes from the Zombie Apocalypse, Lost Zombies, Chronicle books, $19.95

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This isn’t your typical book of zombie fiction. It’s not even fiction in the traditional sense. From scrawled notes, text messages, signs and photos, stories unfold of ordinary people turned survivors of a zombie apocalypse. It’s a scrapbook that is touching, frightening and sometimes funny. The contents were contributed by a San Francisco Bay Area-based group of zombie fans, Lost Zombies, and the voices are authentic and haunting, from the simple sign, “I was bit. Do not enter.” To the crayon scrawl on an envelope, “Mommy where are you?” They are images that stick with you, even when you might not want to think about them.

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Dead Inside is a fresh take on the genre. If you are into zombies, check this one out. Note that it is available as an e-book, but reviews indicated that the photographs were not easy to read in the e-book format. Spring for the paperback version.

And sleep tight.

Book Trailer–Dead Inside: Do Not Enter

Review: Zombieland Amazon Original Series–pilot

Zombieland is based on the hit movie of the same name, and follows four survivors outwitting zombies and searching for a place to call home.

The Zombieland pilot comes from the film’s original creative team, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and producer Gavin Polone, so you would expect it to have the same quirky, smarmy humor, and it does. Mostly.

Photofunia Zombie#pjPT3KAhshPWlWW2hA7AngThe show picks up with the same characters from the movie – Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock – played by different actors. This works alright for me, but Zombieland fans – the ones that would French-kiss the movie if they could – may be a bit put off by this. Admittedly, nobody could follow Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee from the movie. It’s was unfair to put Kirk Ward in those very large shoes, but he manages it. He’s just no Woody.

I liked the addition of Detroit – the ex-OnStar lady that directs them to wherever they are trying to go.

The show is funny in the same distasteful, juvenile way as the movie. It’s also smart and witty, but keeps putting a toe over the line of good taste. Mind you, I laughed, and this is a zombie show, after all. If you’re going to have zombies eating bloody guts, why not load up on F-words and vagina jokes (complete with on screen counter), too?

Still, the show doesn’t quite capture the feeling of the movie.  It takes time for a new series to start clicking, so I’m holding out judgment on Zombieland until I see more, and if there is more, I will watch.

Oh yes. I will watch.  I have to see the Zombie Kill of the Week, don’t I?

 

Zombieland Amazon Original–Trailer

 

You can watch it here for FREE, on AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO.

At this time, only the 28-minute long pilot is available to watch, but it’s free. Since this is an “Amazon original Series”, you will have to watch it on Amazon Instant Streaming (computer or phone with an Amazon app). I watched it using the Amazon instant video app on Xbox Live, and it looked great in HD.