This page is dedicated to previews of entries in the upcoming Zombies? Zombies! anthology, due out this summer.
The following is an excerpt from the novella Paynetown by Lowell R Torres
This generation now experience zombies through TV and videos online, or at the freaking zoo. Most preteens have gone their whole lives without seeing one, outbreaks are so contained; most preteens in the West, that is. Some third world countries are still a mess; there are chunks of China, Russia and India that are like scenes straight out of hell, and much of Africa is a vast ruin. The world isn’t all peachy, like you’re told to believe. There is madness, so much madness that it’s hard not to give in to it if you think about it too long.
But most of you know all this. I’m just giving a retread. Anyone with an internet connection has knowledge and more of what I’ve said. Anyone can gain knowledge, but without experience knowledge is just words in your head. Most people haven’t experienced the true horror of an outbreak. I have. I was part of the first major outbreak.
I was in Bloomington on July 18, 2007. I was part of “America’s Zombie Wake-Up Call,” as the media dubbed it, when a category F-4 tornado bounced through the city, leaving a bobbing path of destruction and killing twelve hundred people as they slept. About eight hundred of those would rise up as murderous, rampaging zombies. Over fifteen thousand people eventually wound up dead. Nearly a fifth of the population of a small city wiped out in a nine hour span.
I was there through most of it and my part in the “heroics” of that day were limited, but the media and government needed a hero to throw at the public. And, well, I’m just good looking and smart enough to qualify for the part, and I came with a ready-made pedigree pronouncing me Hero with a capital H. But I’ll get to that later.
First came the storm.
First came the storm, and I slept through it. I’d been suffering from a severe case of not-giving-a-shit-itis, and was in the process of drinking myself into a stupor. Then, in the midst of said stupor, I shot up a load of heroin big enough to kill a donkey. I can look back now and see that the goal of this was to kill myself. I’d had just about enough of my pointless, going-nowhere life. I had nothing worth living for, or so I believed at the time. I know better now, but then I was a miserable shit.
It may come as a surprise to you, learning that the “Hero of Paynetown” was a suicidal junkie before zombies changed the world. But it’s true. I’m sure my agent isn’t going to like my revealing this fact, and the publisher may very well have their editor omit this part. It takes away from my credibility, from my status symbol as clean cut American hero. But I was told to write about what happened that night, and what happened that night is I took a ride on the China White Express. I’m not going to stray away from the truth, even if it means I don’t get invited back on Oprah.
I’d been a smack head since my tour of duty in the Middle East was cut short by a roadside bomb that killed three of my squad members, but only tore off a large chunk of my ass. All things considered, the “Hero of Paynetown” sounds a lot better than the “Man with No Ass.”
In the hospital I was introduced to morphine, lots of it. And I liked. I liked it a lot. We became fast friends, morphine and I, and the VA Hospital did a shit-tastic job of making sure I was off the stuff before sending me home with my Honorable Discharge. It only took a day after running out of my prescription for the withdrawal to hit me hard, and it only took a few hours of sitting through that withdrawal – almost as painful as the injury that caused me to be on the stuff in the first place – to make me go seek out a few acquaintances who could introduce me to morphine’s cousin, Sweet Lady H. The Lady and I became lovers for the next six years. Six long years of a drug-induced haze. I remember bits and pieces of that time, but I couldn’t give you a direct timeline of those years for the life of me.
My last shot of heroin was that night, when I should have overdosed and died. The pictures and videos of me being rescued, looking like the survivor of a concentration camp make a little more sense now, don’t they? It was because I was a survivor of a concentration camp, in a way. Mine was run by addiction, but it was just as deadly. I weighed a little over one hundred pounds after being rescued, a full eighty pounds lighter than what I’d weighed in high school. My liver and kidneys are so damaged doctors say it’s likely I’ll die before I hit fifty. I’m willing to accept that, and will get on the bus when it’s my time. I did it to myself after all, and not surprisingly I emerged from the events of the night in question with a newfound love of life. I’ll enjoy what’s left of it, whether its fifty years or fifty minutes.
So anyway, there I was, in the crappy little apartment my veteran’s pension paid for, high out of my mind. I passed out, as is prone to happen when high on heroin. The storm raged for four hours before the twister came and devastated my town. Wind blew, thunder clashed, lightning flashed and a mix of rain and hail pounded everything for miles. Then the sky shat out a funnel the size of two city blocks, like God’s broom sweeping part of his creation clean. The tornado was on the ground less than two minutes from touchdown to takeoff, but that was enough. Experts deduced that the funnel cloud must have been traveling about three hundred miles per hour at its height, and I can believe that. Parts of the town simply disappeared. Whole blocks of houses or businesses were just gone without a trace. Trees were uprooted and cars were tossed about like a child’s playthings. A tanker of gasoline was thrown into the strip of buildings downtown and started a fire that lit up the town for hours afterward. The bridge going south on Interstate 39 was mangled beyond recognition, turned into a twisted mess of metal and concrete dipping into the Illinois River.
My point is, everything was fucked and I should be dead.
My apartment building was a victim of one of those strange occurrences that happen during a tornado. I’m sure you’ve heard the various stories. A piece of hay or grass being driven with such force it stuck into a tree like a nail; a chicken found inside a soda bottle; a cow being picked up and dropped down miles away without a scratch on it; the entire contents of someone’s bedroom being sucked out the window while the man or woman sleeps peacefully through it all. Stuff like that. I thought they were just myths until my apartment building was torn apart. All of it leveled except for the room I slept in. The roof was gone, but the four walls remained. The five other apartments in the building were gone. My living room, bathroom, and guest room became so many splinters in the wind, but my bedroom didn’t even have a bottle of Milwaukee’s Best knocked over. Besides the ones dropped or knocked over in my drunken stupor, that is.
If it wasn’t for the light sprinkle of rain falling from the sky and onto me, I don’t think I would have woken up at all. A zombie could have gotten into the room and eaten me, or help could have come before I woke. As it was, I was drenched from the light rain by the time I did wake. Now that I think about it, that rain may be responsible for my coming out of a heroin coma. I could have overdosed, and the shock of the cold rain in the midst of the hot summer air might have given my body what it needed to wake me up. Or the bag of stuff I bought from John Flattery was even cut weaker than normal and there was no overdose.
Either way it was quite a surprise to wake up soaking wet and still toasted near out of my mind. Really beyond comprehension, as in I didn’t comprehend what was going on at all. I thought at first I was having the most lifelike dream I’d ever had. Soon enough I realized I was actually awake, and I still didn’t grasp what was happening.
I’ve woken up in the midst of highs to some weird shit before, but nothing like this. I once woke up in a dumpster, naked, with my dick in a watermelon. Swear to Christ. No memory of how I got there, where my clothes were, and why the hell my dick was in a watermelon. Or how that watermelon would eventually give me crabs.
I once woke up chained to the toilet in my grandmother’s bathroom. I could tell it was Nana’s bathroom because of the massive amount of decorative poodles. I’d stumbled into her house so fucked up and acting so crazy the old woman and her Bridge group subdued me like a rabid dog they couldn’t bear to put down. Nana still hasn’t let me forget that, and even if I don’t remember being manhandled by a group of elderly women, I won’t forget it happened. It should come as no surprise, though. Those old broads were and are tough as nails. Not a single one of them was killed the night I woke up and saw the sky above my bed.
My walls were still there. I’d chosen it for my bedroom because there were no windows; no way for the damned sunlight to come in during the inevitable hangovers. My posters of beer models in bikinis and classic rock bands still plastered the walls. The Pink Floyd tapestry of the album covers airbrushed onto the backs of naked women had a corner hanging down but everything else was right as rain. My dresser was there, the clothes were still scattered all over the floor. Everything was exactly as it had been when I passed out, except now my ceiling was gone and I was being rained on. Also, a lawn gnome was sitting in front of the door to the closet.
I sat up, and vomited what felt like a keg full of warm Milwaukee’s Best. I was thinking about pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep, I could feel a killer hangover brewing, but that was when I heard the first call of a zombie. I didn’t know what it was at the time, of course, but I still placed it as exceedingly weird, more than a little creepy and definitely out of place. There’s no real way to explain the sound a zombie makes; no verb that completely describes it. It’s like groan and a gurgle at the same time, only not. It’s like a moan and panting at the same time. Only not. You’ve heard it, if not in person then on the Net or TV. But there’s nothing quite like hearing the sound in person, without knowing what it is. It sounded like some kind of monster, which really isn’t that far from the truth.
When I heard that sound right behind the door I still thought was my closet, I pissed myself. It would be the first of many times my bladder would give out on me that night. I had drunk a lot of beer, and it seemed like there was an unending reserve of urine because of it. Those later times I pissed myself would be due to something horrific I saw or felt, sort of understandable. The first time was because I thought there was a monster in my closet. Unlike cheesy horror flicks, there was no way in hell I was going to investigate that sound. I didn’t even stop to put on a fresh pair of pants; I got up and ran as fast I could into my living room, only to trip over a pile of rubble two feet tall.
My living room was gone, as I already explained, but I didn’t realize that at first. I thought I was so stoned I went into what people who have been incredibly drunk and high know as ‘slow-mo’. It sounds exactly like it is. I didn’t see the rubble; I just thought my body decided I was walking through mud.
Then the zombie spotted me, and howled. I didn’t want to look, not at first. I kept pitifully trying to climb the pile of rubble and failing, thinking that the monster wasn’t really in my closet but in my living room. My brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. All I could think about was how I must have made a hell of a mess during this bender. Even while I was trying to pick myself up and climb over the pile of bricks, wood and other assorted pieces of building or living accessories my mind was focusing on how much it was gonna suck to clean all this crap up in the morning. And also that I didn’t know I owned a brown leather Ottoman.
I’d already forgotten the horrifying sounds that had emanated from my closet and then behind me. My mind had dismissed them as parts of a very bad trip that included waking up with no roof above my head and a pile of rubbish the size of Mount St. Helens outside my bedroom door. When the ghoul howled a second time and I turned to look, well, there was no dismissing that.
At first I didn’t quite understand what I was seeing. There was old Mrs. Bonner laying just half a dozen feet away from me, buried up to her chest in my mountain of living room rubble. Mrs. Bonner was looking at me, but she didn’t look like Mrs. Bonner anymore. For starters, she was obviously dead. Her eyes were glazed over with a milky-white sheen. Her skin had turned a pallid gray-blue. I’d seen corpses before, plenty of them during my stint in the Middle East. I’d seen enough corpses and more for one lifetime, so I knew when I was looking at a dead person and Mrs. Bonner was quite emphatically dead.
The following is an excerpt from the novel Shattered World by Lowell R Torres. It takes place shortly after the fire alarm goes off inside the protagonists’ school and they are gathering outside. It is from the POV of Lucas, a deaf-mute, and deals with the initial “outbreak.”
“You think it’s a real fire?” Jay Landon was asking as Luc walked up.
“We can only hope and pray,” Tom Konnington joked as he clasped his hands in front of him and mimicked a prayer, which earned him a punch in the shoulder from his girlfriend.
The sprinklers came on, Luc signed to Kaz, who nodded and gestured to his wet t-shirt. Kaz still had that troubled expression, something Luc hadn’t been able to ask him about as they didn’t have a class together until sixth hour. If anything, Kaz looked more worried than earlier.
Luc knew that his friend was different now. Kaz was so much more serious and morose since he left the mental hospital. Something about that place had changed him, and not for the better. He brooded more, and was always worried. The one time he ever answered one of Luc’s questions about it had been to give a vague statement that didn’t make any sense.
Luc decided he would ask Kaz, and went to pull him aside, but Kaz didn’t budge. Luc looked at his friend, but Kaz’s attention was on the sky. Luc followed his gaze and for the first time noticed that it was getting darker out. There were no clouds in the sky, but the sun was being blotted out nonetheless. He turned back to Kaz in time to see him mouth the words “solar eclipse” as he squinted up at the phenomenon.
Astronomy was a favorite subject of Luc’s, and he knew that the next solar eclipse wasn’t due for seven months. It was too soon, but sure enough, it was happening. Maybe the experts had been wrong? But if that was so, why did a feeling of dread suddenly tighten his chest? It wasn’t right, wasn’t normal. The feeling came suddenly and he believed it one hundred percent.
Everyone in the courtyard was watching the sky in fascination, their hands held above their foreheads to shield the blinding light from their eyes. The fire alarm was completely forgotten. Luc noticed movement at one of the doors and saw Mr. Reinhold and Mr. Riesling inside. Mr. Reinhold was fumbling with his keys to open the door, which must have locked – those automatic locks coming in handy – while Mr. Riesling held someone firmly by the arm, his face red with anger. Luc thought it was a curious sight, but the eclipse hammered at his attention. It was nearing its peak now, and it was getting very dark out.
The earth trembled.
It was a small tremor, barely noticeable, but Luc noticed it. They were in Indiana; Indiana wasn’t really known for its earthquakes. Then the small tremor became a full force shockwave of movement. The ground pushed him up, and for a moment he was airborne. He came down and lost his balance, falling to his knees. All over the courtyard people were falling. There was a tremendous shaking and thrashing, and then the air was pushed out of him as someone landed on his back. He collapsed with a whoosh of air leaving his lungs and things went blank for a minute as he struggled to breathe.
For some reason he thought about the motel he had stayed at the year before on vacation with Kaz’s family. It had one of those beds that vibrated when you put a quarter in the slot on the side. The ground felt like that now, only so much worse because the ground was hard. Luc tried to get to his hands and knees, but the shaking made him clumsy and he went back down onto his chest. Then it stopped. The ground felt different now, as if the shaking had changed it, altered its fabric, but Luc could see it was the same old grass under him. It felt like the same old grass.
Whoever had fallen on him rolled off, and this time he was able to get to his knees and look around him. The first thing Luc noticed was the people. There were so many more people crowding the courtyard than had been there mere moments before. As if that wasn’t strange enough, more were appearing out of thin air. Literally.
One moment a space would be empty, the next it would be occupied. Some seemed to drop from the sky, appearing inches or feet off the ground and then colliding with the earth as gravity took hold of them. He tried to wrap his mind around what he was seeing, but his brain refused to accept the fact that people were just popping into existence out of nowhere.
Something fell right in front of him, and his heart skipped a beat. It was a person, or at least part of a person. What lay in front of him was a head connected to shoulders and a left arm, but nothing else. Where the rest of the man’s body should have started right below his nipples was empty except for a few inches of spine. The wound was ragged, like someone had hacked the man’s body to pieces. The meaty flesh surrounding the cut was old and decaying, the exposed meat black and putrid. The man’s skin was an ugly grayish-blue, and marked with more signs that someone had been at the person with a sharp weapon. Luc couldn’t help but stare at the dead man, unable to comprehend what he was seeing.
It was strange; Luc knew he should be scared out of his wits at seeing what was in front of him. It was a horrific sight that made nothing resembling sense as he knew it, but Luc could only stare at it in curiosity. The world around him was temporarily forgotten; the fire alarm, eclipse, earthquake, and magically appearing people seemed far away. Only the two of them mattered at that moment. Luc wondered who the man had been, and how he came to such a grisly end. His face looked normal enough, he could have even been considered handsome when alive, with his strong features and flowing hair.
The man’s eyes opened, and Luc screamed.
Or rather, he would have screamed if he was capable of screaming. Instead what came out of his mouth was a strangled gurgle. His heart was quite suddenly in his throat, and darkness wavered at the edge of his vision in spots. The dead man’s eyes were filmed over and sunken in, yet they searched, blindly at first. After a moment they trained on Luc, stared him right in the eyes, and a look of desperate hunger came over the pallid, rotten face. The left arm reached out in a lunge and missed Luc’s nose by less than an inch. He saw the fingernails pass before his eyes, sharp and dangerous and filthy, able to tear trenches down his face or dislodge an eyeball with no effort. But he couldn’t move.
He was frozen, fear had turned every pound of weight in his body into a ton; he couldn’t move if he wanted to. The hand swiped at him again and still he couldn’t bring himself to move, he didn’t even blink as he felt the wind from the hand that wanted to rip his face off. The thing reached out again, this time it grabbed a handful of grass and started pulling itself towards Luc, that look of famished insanity threatening to destroy his mind.
A black booted foot entered his field of vision and connected squarely with the dead man’s head, sending it flying a few feet out of reach. Rough hands reached down and pulled Luc to his feet, but his legs couldn’t hold him. He collapsed to his knees and took in a scene of chaos and terror.
Mr. Reinhold had fallen down the steps and was looking around with blood running down his face. Someone stepped up to offer a hand to help the principal to his feet. As Luc watched in confusion that quickly turned to shock, and then horror and revulsion, the person sunk their fingers into Mr. Reinhold’s eye sockets and fell onto the principal, teeth ripping at the bloody forehead.
The new arrivals were all over the courtyard, and all over the courtyard children and teachers were dying. People were trying to run but the courtyard was so packed there wasn’t much room to run anywhere. The new people, they were all dead. Some looked more brutal and decayed and desecrated than others, but it was obvious that every single one of them was a corpse. Yet they moved. They were standing and walking, and some were even running in a shambling kind of jog. All were going after the helpless students and teachers, tearing at their flesh with teeth and fingernails.
Somehow, in the midst of the insanity, Luc noticed how oddly most of them were dressed. They looked like extras in a medieval film, wearing a collection of rags that ranged from some type of animal fur, to untreated leather, to basic cloth pants and shirts. Some were more richly dressed, in fine silks and velvets, though dirtied and torn from misuse. Others wore armor, real armor made of metal. Some of them weren’t wearing clothes at all.
Many, if not most were all quite plainly dead. Their skin was gray and decrepit, blotted with open wounds that didn’t bleed. The stink of rotting flesh filled the air, smelling like days old road kill that had been roasting in the sun, and he fought off an urge to vomit.
In a matter of seconds people were dying all around him, being torn apart by the undead things that had suddenly just appeared out of thin air. His mind tried to comprehend what was happening, but it refused to. It threatened to shut down on him if he made it try to understand any of what it saw. Everything was moving too fast to make an attempt as it was.
Someone grabbed his arm and his first thought was to strike out at whoever, or whatever it could be. He saw that it was Kaz, and his fist unclenched. Kaz pulled him to his feet all the while screaming at him.
“We need to get out of here! We need to get the fuck out of here!”
Luc nodded, and knew his face probably mirrored the fear and shock on Kaz’s own. A tightening around his chest revealed itself to be Michelle, holding onto him for dear life. They were huddled in a small group around the cherry tree, but as Luc looked around he could see no way out. The things were everywhere. There was no escaping, and a feeling of impending doom tried to crush him. Fear attempted to overwhelm him and send him to his knees a whimpering wreck, but at the moment the shock still outweighed everything, even fear.
Then Kaz was leading him somewhere, still shouting. His eyes followed the path Kaz was going and relief flooded in him so hard that he cried out. Nothing came out but the high-pitched hoot that was his only form of vocalization, but at this point he didn’t care. They were saved. Barry was standing at the open door, calling out and waving his arms in an attempt to get everyone, anyone’s attention. Kaz led their group, still amazingly whole, towards the doors. Luc noticed that most of the things – zombies, he thought in disbelief, they’re fucking zombies – were single-minded in their need to eat. They were able to run past groups of them, and the zombies paid them no heed as they tore at flesh and shoved their mouths full. There were still a lot of them left unoccupied, but there were so many people running around in panic that it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
He saw Jamie Larter come running after them, the mascara he’d watch her apply just hours earlier running down her face in a trail of tears. One of the zombies sideswiped her, its hand reaching out and grabbing a handful of hair. A look of terrible surprise crossed her face as she was pulled violently backwards, and then she was gone under its bulk as it tore into her throat.
He saw Susan Jeffrey fall down almost in front of him, shrieking the most godawful sound he’d ever heard. A zombie in a chain-mail shirt and no legs had tripped her up and was ripping into her calf with its teeth. Jared Hart, a short timid senior who Luc had never seen speak a word in public that wasn’t forced, appeared as if from nowhere, grabbing the zombie and hurling it away in a feat of surprising strength for someone of such small stature. He reached down to help Susan up when another zombie came up from behind him and before he could react had sunk its teeth into the back of his neck. He collapsed onto Susan as two more zombies pounced on her now helpless form.
Just keep running, just keep running, he repeated, over and over again, running past atrocity after atrocity. The doors seemed to only grow further away, though in truth he knew they were less than a hundred yards from the cherry tree. Just keep running, we’re safe, we’re safe.
They were nearly there when one of those things appeared out of thin air and landed on Erik Patterson. Erik’s mouth opened in wide O, his eyes bulging so wide Luc thought they might fall out of the sockets. The thing was on top of Erik in an instant, its head close to Erik’s own like it was whispering a secret into his ear. Luc noticed Erik’s expression change from one of terror to one of pain as the zombie yanked its head back and gulped down Erik’s ear.
Without thinking Luc kicked the thing as he came upon it, hitting it square in the temple. It collapsed to the ground, and Luc grabbed Erik’s arm and hefted him up. Erik was in a complete state of shock, screaming continuously and trying to back away from the zombie. Luc pushed him forward and then, thankfully, they were inside the school.
Luc turned back towards the door to see Barry and Kaz at the opening, ushering people in, screaming for others to get to safety. Most of the people outside didn’t hear, or didn’t care, or couldn’t. They just ran in a blind panic. He saw a few disappearing into yards or houses across the street as residents of University Avenue came out to see what the ruckus was all about, only to witness unimaginable horrors.
Some were coming towards the entrance, though. Running straight toward it or trying to run around the undead that were on the ground blocking their path. There were an incredible amount of dead bodies littering the courtyard already, but Luc’s mind once again refused to believe what his eyes were seeing.
A few more people streamed in the doors, and Luc noticed some of the zombies starting to head towards it as well. Kevin Patterson, Erik’s older brother, noticed the same thing. Without a word he ran to the door, pushed Barry and Kaz out of the way, and slammed it shut. Kaz turned to Kevin, anger painting his features, but Kevin only backed away from the door and then went and attended to his brother. Luc read, “…the hell are you doing?” as Kaz yelled at Kevin’s back.
Two people reached the door and frantically tried to open it, but the lock had automatically clicked in to place. Kaz turned to Barry and asked for the keys, where are the goddamned keys, but Barry only looked at him helplessly. His eyes widened and he turned to those outside, the number had grown to five now, and tried pointing towards the corpse of Mr. Reinhold, who still clutched them in his hand. It was too late.
Luc turned away as the zombies came upon those by the door. He was breathing heavily, and his hands were shaking. His whole body was shaking. There was a group of people clustered against the wall, crying and screaming. Erik was lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. Kevin ripped his shirt off and stuck it to where his brother’s ear used to be, ignoring everything around them. Kaz pushed past Luc and pulled Kevin up and then shoved him. Kaz’s back was to him, so Luc couldn’t see what he was saying, but he was pretty sure he knew already.
“You bastard, you killed them!” Luc knew Kaz was saying, that or something like it. Kevin ignored him and squatted back to tend to his brother, who had passed out, eyes rolling in the back of his head.
Kaz turned around and this time Luc could see the words forming on his lips.
“Oh shit. Shit. Oh shit!” Kaz kept mumbling those words over and over again. He was in mid-sentence when he suddenly jumped and looked past Luc at the doors. Luc noticed a lot of other people jump too. He didn’t want to but his body turned and he looked at the doors to see a group of zombies gathered there, pounding on the glass, trying to get to the buffet they saw waiting inside.
Shatterproof, its shatterproof glass, he thought, but that didn’t make him feel any safer. His mind frantically scrambled for a solution. A barricade was what they needed. They had desks, tables, chairs; all sorts of them all over the school. They needed to barricade the doors. Barricade the windows. And then get upstairs and close the gates behind them. They couldn’t let those things inside.
He moved in front of Kaz and signed this to him, but Kaz only started blankly ahead at nothing. Luc signed it again, but Kaz wasn’t there. A spark of anger lit in him, shoving the fear and shock aside for a moment, and he slapped Kaz hard across the face. His friend turned hurt, accusing eyes at him, but Luc ignored that and started signing again.
“We need to block up the doors. We need to barricade this place.”
Kaz understood. He nodded, and seemed to get control of himself. He would take charge; Kaz was a born leader under stressful circumstances. He would get them to do what needed done.
© Lowell R Torres. All rights reserved.