Review of Keith Luethke’s “A Zombie Apocalypse”
A Zombie Apocalypse is a pretty simple, straight forward novella written in journal form. Rachel Cormac spends half the story hiding away from the undead and the second half as a zombie, after having injected herself with a “cure” some scientist handed to her before dying from a zombie bite. Instead of curing her, it turns her into a new form of zombie that can still read and write (but can’t speak), looks pale and ghostly, doesn’t rot, but otherwise has the same cravings as the other zombies it surrounds itself with.
The idea of writing a story from the undead perspective is not a new one, though many folks haven’t seen it done too much. Typically because most zombies are brain dead monsters without much to offer as far as insight into their affliction. The author has created a new tactic, a psuedo-intelligent zombie that has the urge to feast on flesh but has some reasoning abilities still remaining, making them both more crafty and also guilt ridden for what they are doing.
As a standard zombie story, this one is entertaining enough, though the editing problems were a distraction. It became clear that the author needed to inspect his work with a human eye and not just spell check due to the replaced words here and there, which were repetitive. While it did distract, I knew what the author was getting at, which allowed me to look past that. The basic story has the main character trying to get back to her sister and her niece in Ohio, both before and after she is bitten, and details her experiences with the people, both living and dead, that she meets along the way. I would have preferred a sharper, more defined “new” zombie with this creation the author made. She is still driven by her hunger, and while she seems a smart hunter, her humanity never seems to get in the way of a good feast, so the deliberation or interesting debate on if she is more human than monster really never takes place in this tale. Still, I see that there is a sequel on the Kindle, and I felt that this was enjoyable enough, and priced right, for me to pick that one up as well. I have to admit, I am curious where the road takes Rachel.
A Zombie Apocalypse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/A-Zombie-Apocalypse-ebook/dp/B003WEA0H4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1298882344&sr=1-1
An excerpt from my story “The Woeful Tale of Dalton McCoy”, appearing in full in The Zombist
Several months ago, one of the anthologies that I was thrilled about being a part of came out. It was crammed full with a ton of stories from many great authors writing in the zombie genre. Given that these stories all are set in the old west, it was even better, as far as I was concerned. I mean, what’s better than cowboys and indians? Undead cowboys and indians, of course!
Well, in an effort to help remind folks that this book is out there, and that you should really check it out if you’re a fan of either the western or zombie genre, I would like to post an excerpt from my story here. Now to get the whole story, you have to click on one of the many pictures of this particular book I have posted on this website. It’s picture appears on my bio page as well as the “about me” page. I will post the cover down below again as well, with the link to Amazon embedded in it.
Now I’m not just going to ask you to read this book. No, I’m going to ask you to read it and then post a review of it over on Amazon so that other folks can see what you think of it. You see, I love posting reviews, and I did so with this book on this very blog way back when it first came out. Alas, it is considered bad form for a contributor to post reviews of anthologies that include their work in them on review sites, so I’m steering clear of doing that on places like Amazon and Goodreads. So again, I would love it if you would post a review and give this fine book the attention it deserves. It is a wonderfully massive tome and I daresay worth more than every penny it will cost you to purchase a copy.
So without further ado, here is an excerpt of my story, The Woeful Tale of Dalton McCoy, which appears on the pages of The Zombist, from The Library of the Living Dead Press.
Shorty wiped the grit off his face and looked back for what seemed like the hundredth time. He was sure the posse was headed west but was still nervous. The paunchy man with the graying beard squinted through the midday sun and scanned the horizon. Still nothing—no dust trails or glimmers reflecting off a rifle in the distance. Relaxing slightly, he gently pulled back on the reigns until his horse slowed to a trot. After a moment, Dalton’s appaloosa followed suit.
“I told you no one was comin’ for us,” Dalton said, a sneer in his voice.
Shorty only grunted in acknowledgement. They hadn’t spoken much since fleeing that bloodbath back in Wichita.
It should have been simple. Henry had stationed Dalton and Shorty outside to watch the doors along with Brett and Everett Dean. The brothers liked bickering more than a couple weasels trapped in a burlap bag but were good with their guns. They were supposed to make sure no one went into the bank after Henry and the others went inside. Things were quiet on the street and it looked like it would be an easy job.
So when the first shot rang out and Brett’s head exploded into a mist of syrupy blood and chunks of brain, needless to say they were caught off guard. Everett recovered first. Even before Brett slipped boneless off his horse, his brother was off and running, screaming like a banshee and firing at anything that moved.
Shorty took a bit longer to figure out what the hell was going on as he sat in the saddle and stared dumbly at Brett’s motionless corpse. In a few seconds it became clear: the fine folks of Wichita hadn’t been surprised by the early morning robbery and were ready to go to war with Henry Jordan’s gang. Though they weren’t well known in these parts, someone must have recognized the outlaws as they rode into town. Shorty could see rifles being raised and people rushing behind whatever barricades they could find. Even so, it took the whine of a bullet whizzing past his head to snap him out of his daze.
Shorty spotted a man on the bank’s rooftop and fired off a shot at him with his rifle. As he did, he saw Henry stumbling out of the bank dragging Frank Greely behind him. They were bloody and limping and let loose with a barrage of bullets back into the bank. At the same time, Dalton was trading shots with a couple of men inside a barbershop across the street.
A few seconds later Shorty heard a piercing shriek and turned in time to see Everett flying off the back of his horse. There was a ragged, bloody hole in his chest. Henry had somehow managed to climb on the back of his palomino but Frank wasn’t so lucky. He had taken a shot in the leg and was crawling towards a water trough for cover.
Henry didn’t look back as he tore off down the street, even as the last three members of the gang came rushing out of the bank, guns blazing. Cursing, Shorty realized it was every man for himself.
Taking one last shot at the man on the roof, he heard the bark of Dalton’s peacemaker nearby. Thankfully, he was just a few feet away, still keeping the men in the barbershop preoccupied. From the look of things, Dalton seemed inclined to follow Everett’s lead and go down in a blaze of glory…at least until he heard Shorty scream his name.
Shorty made a quick gesture when he caught Dalton’s eye. After a split second hesitation, he nodded in response. Shorty fired off a couple more shots into the air to clear out the gawkers but Dalton did a bit more. Things got a bit hazy after that but Shorty later recalled seeing the gunman pick off at least two bystanders who may or may not been armed.
Dalton McCoy was one mean son of a bitch and fast as blazes with that Army Colt of his. When Henry suggested they rob a few banks up in Kansas, Dalton had been all for it…especially if it meant going to Dodge City or Abilene. Every one else voted against that particular idea, since those towns were the residence of two of the most famous lawmen in the west: Wyatt Earp and Bill Hickok. So when Shorty quietly suggested they target Wichita instead, everyone else agreed. Dalton just shrugged, knowing he would get the chance to take out some lawmen where ever they went.
Unfortunately, it appeared that Wichita had grown weary of rowdy cattlemen and even rowdier bank robbers causing problems and were prepared for Henry and his men when they rode into town.
It confounded Shorty that Henry had taken off to the west, in the direction of Dodge. That hadn’t been a part of the plan and now Henry, along with whoever else in the gang was still alive, were not only going to have to outrun a Wichita posse but quite possibly Wyatt Earp himself. It was certain he would be telegraphed about what had just happened to the east of him. Good ol’ Henry was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The original plan had been to head northeast after Wichita, towards Emporia, and that was just what Shorty and Dalton were doing. The gang was supposed to meet up with Slim Jordan and Blake Fulton there and then head north. It made sense before things went to hell and it still made sense now.
As the two men tore out of town, Dalton agreed that they should head to Emporia, meet up with the other boys, and lay low…at least until things cooled down a bit. But as they got further away from Wichita, Dalton’s brow grew furrowed as he gave more consideration to their situation.
“Shorty, I don’t like Kansas all that much,” he announced abruptly, his voice shattering the silent desolation of the prairie surrounding them. “And Kansas don’t like me all that much neither.”
Shorty looked over at his new-found partner, whose stubbly jaw was clenched over a wad of tobacco. The gunman had a face only a mother could love. A few women had found the scar running from his forehead to chin darkly mysterious but most just found it plain repugnant. The thick white line came courtesy of a Comanche blade that nearly blinded him. The iris that was cut turned grey and looked eerie next to its brown counterpart. Looking Dalton McCoy in the eyes for very long was a decidedly uncomfortable experience. Shorty guessed the ugly scar was at least partially to blame for the man’s generally nasty disposition.
Sucking on his lower lip, Shorty took a deep breath. He had to be careful what he said. Back in Texas one of the younger members of Henry’s gang, a kid by the name of Billy Hughes, had claimed he was the fastest draw around and that nobody better mess with him. Well, no one paid much mind to his gum flapping…at least not until poor Billy made the mistake of calling Dalton’s drab old Colt a ‘broken down piece of shit’ right to his face. Before Billy could blink Dalton had ripped one Billy’s guns free of its holster and proceeded to pistol whip the kid with it. When the other members of the gang finally pulled him off the boy, Billy was almost dead. They dumped him at some Doctor’s office in Ft. Worth. No one ever really knew if he survived that beating. And after that, no one ever said another cross word to Dalton. That was why Shorty knew he had to choose his words carefully.
“We can head to Missouri, but probably should stop in Emporia first. I suspect you’re right that no one is followin’ us, but that don’t mean word won’t spread about Wichita.”
“More reason to head straight to Missouri,” Dalton said with an absent nod. He leaned back in the saddle as he paused to consider his surroundings. “I ever tell ya that I was born there, Shorty?”
Shorty shook his head. He had not spent time getting to know Dalton and didn’t want to now, but knew it might be wise to show an interest. “Nope, can’t say I knew that, Dalton.” Shifting in his saddle, he twisted around to give the other man his full attention. “You fight in the war?”
It was a tricky question but Shorty knew he had to ask. A man from Missouri claiming he disliked Kansas was nothing new but didn’t make clear which side he had fought on during the War Between the States. Missouri was a border state and had officially fought for the North but many of its people had sympathies for the South. A decade later plenty of Missourians still held a grudge against anyone Union, and especially anyone from Kansas.
Dalton’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Shorty, who felt a chill run down his spine.
“I ain’t no damn bluecoat, if that’s what you’re askin’,” the gunman said, his hand sliding towards his holster.
Shorty swallowed hard and raised his hands. He carried no sidearm, just the rifle. He was too fat and slow to give anyone reason to draw on him and wasn’t about to give Dalton reason to now.
“Easy, there, Dalton. I ain’t no Billy Yank either. I was just curious.”
Dalton looked at Shorty as if he were seeing him for the first time. The slouchy man wore a stumpy old hat and clothes that had seen better days. His scraggly beard and sun baked features made him look perpetually tired but his eyes were alert, taking in everything in around him. There was nothing about the man that hinted at loyalties to the North or South so Dalton suspected he would have to take him at his word.
He spat in the dust again as his eyes broke away from Shorty. He settled into his saddle and seemed to make up his mind.
Shorty relaxed, letting out a breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. He nodded quickly. “It’s another day’s ride from here, but I know a little town by the name of Cassoday off the trail where we can spend the night.”
When Dalton didn’t mount any further protests, Shorty continued.
“Slim and Blake will meet us in Emporia. When we hook up with them we can figure out where to go next. We could head to Missouri or Nebraska…”
Shorty tried to keep from sounding like he was kissing Dalton’s ass but it was hard not to feel relief that the temperamental man hadn’t shot him down just for the hell of it. It wasn’t as if he weren’t capable of such malice.
Dalton shook his head slowly as he thought on what Shorty had suggested, ignoring the weasily tone in the other man’s voice. “Don’t want to head north of Emporia. I ain’t going anywhere near Lawrence. People might remember my face…” As he spoke, his eyes grew hazy, as if lost in some memory.
As they continued riding, Shorty thought on what Dalton had said. Lawrence wasn’t far north of Emporia and all he knew about the town was something about some massacre happening there during the war. Curiosity was eating at him but asking further questions might make Dalton’s temper flare again. So he kept his mouth shut as they continued up the trail.
The hot sun pounded down as the two men inched closer to Cassoday. Shorty told Dalton he’d never been there but suspected it was no different than any other piss-hole town out west. There would be a saloon and a couple rooms where they could catch some shut eye before heading to Emporia in the morning. That was all that mattered.
Shorty picked up the pace a little later, sensing they were getting close. Mostly what they had seen over the past few hours were herds of cattle heading towards the trains that would take them to slaughterhouses back east. They did spot a few buffalo, though the shaggy beasts were becoming a pretty rare sight.
Minutes later they saw the outline of a few low slung buildings off in the distance. It was a tiny speck of civilization on the flat, barren grassland and drew the eye despite how drab it looked.
As they rode closer, they passed a wooden sign welcoming them to Cassoday. The placard looked like it had seen better days, as did the town. The two men slowed to a trot and gawked as they passed a gleaming white church and the town cemetery sitting next to it.
“Shorty? Is it just me or does that bone yard seem a might big for a town this size?”
Shorty glanced over at the wooden crosses and stone markers spread out across a large grassy plot. It was only a few feet off the road leading into town and took up a huge chunk of land. He shrugged at Dalton’s question and instead focused on the town itself, quickly losing interest in the cemetery.
Dalton kept looking at the graveyard, his eyes gravitating towards an open hole at the back and the pine box sitting next to it. His eyes narrowed as he spied a man standing waist deep in the hole, his hand resting on the handle of what had to be a shovel. Behind him stood an old nag hooked up to a flatbed wagon. As Dalton studied the gravedigger, the man appeared to be staring off into space. As the two outlaws continued riding into town, the strange man’s blank expression never changed.
When Dalton finally turned his attention towards the town, he sniggered quietly.
“Hell, Shorty, this ain’t no town, it’s a flyspeck.”
Shorty nodded, agreeing with the blunt assessment. While there were a few structures spreading away from the main street, most of the buildings were directly ahead. There was a blacksmith’s shop with a small corral next to it, a general store, a doctor’s office, a saloon, and not much else. They saw a schoolhouse in the distance and a few other buildings off the road, but that was about it. They hadn’t seen any ranches or farmhouses on the ride in, but it was certain they were spread out for miles around the tiny burg.
Dalton’s eyes locked onto the saloon almost immediately and he was pointing his horse in its direction when he noticed the Marshal’s office directly across the street.
He snorted. “Well, isn’t that convenient. If anyone gives us any trouble in town, we can call on the local lawman to sort things out.”
When Shorty didn’t laugh at his joke, Dalton just grinned and clicked his tongue, urging his horse over to the murky water trough in front of the saloon.
If Dalton was nervous about there being a Marshal in town, Shorty couldn’t tell. Then again, it was highly unlikely anyone in Wichita would bother sending a telegraph about the failed bank robbery to such an insignificant place.
As they stopped in front of the saloon, Dalton took another look at the town. Cassoday was smack in the middle of the some of the most fertile soil in the country but the town itself looked like it had been plucked straight out of some wind lashed desert. Dry rot had taken a hold of most of the buildings and it seemed no one much cared. Signs were worn down, hard to read, and when the wind blew it made the doors and walls creak and moan as if they were in agony.
But that wasn’t the strangest thing about the place. It was the fact that no one was out on the street. Not a single soul.
Dalton was used to withered little burgs like this where farmers and ranchers spent their days out tending crops and cattle, but usually there were at least a few folks in town who would stare at the strangers riding in…but not in Cassoday.
He banished any further thoughts on the subject as they walked into the saloon. There were a few tables and a bar running along the back wall and a meager stash of bottles on some shelves behind it. A small stage that might fit two dancing girls was next to an upright piano that looked as worn down and washed up as the town. A set of stairs led to the second floor and more than likely rooms for rent.
There was a bald man behind the bar polishing a mug with a grimy cloth and a table filled with poker players, their faces buried behind their cards, but that was it. No one else was in the place and the silence, like out on the street, seemed downright odd.
No one raised an eye at the entrance of the two men, not even the bartender, who apparently was bound and determined to make sure the glass in his hand was spotless. Dalton made his way to the bar with Shorty following in his wake. When his eyes wandered over to the four men playing cards, not one gave him a look, even a nasty one telling him to mind his own business.
The sound of Dalton’s hand slamming down on top of the bar echoed throughout the room and made Shorty jump, but no one else appeared to notice.
“Bartender, give us two whiskeys.”
Shorty had not quite made it to the bar yet but got there just in time to see Dalton snapping his fingers in front of the bartender’s eyes.
“You deaf, boy? I said: give me a shot of whiskey!”
Shorty leaned his rifle against the bar and looked at the bartender, who hadn’t reacted to Dalton’s command yet. His hollow eyes were still focused on the mug he was cleaning as he slowly ran the rag over it one more time.
Dalton, never patient to begin with, gripped the edge of the bar, his jaw clenched tightly as he glared at the oblivious man in front of him.
“Are you trying to irritate me, barkeep?”
The low, growling words had no effect on the man polishing the glass. Dalton’s face turned red as he grew more enraged, his scar looking like a lightning bolt running down his face. Shorty looked down and saw that his partner’s hands were still on the bar top and not near his gun, which was something to be thankful for.
As quickly as his heavy frame would allow, Shorty rushed behind the bar. Grabbing a bottle off the shelf, he set it down, sliding it over to Dalton. Smiling nervously, he shrugged at the gunman. “I guess even the town retard needs a job, huh Dalton?”
Dalton’s eyes finally moved away from the bartender and studied the bottle of whiskey in front him. His expression changed slightly as he reached out and gave a quick tug on the stopper. The bottle went vertical and Dalton took a big swig. Slamming it down on the bar, he let out a hiss of satisfaction and ran the back of his hand across his lips. Sliding the bottle towards Shorty, he let out a sigh.
“I suspect you’re right about that.”
Breathing easier, Shorty relaxed, knowing trouble had been averted. Taking a small drink himself, he took another look at the strange bartender before moving to the other side of the bar. He was still cleaning that mug.
Dalton turned and leaned back against the bar, giving the place the once over.
“Well, this place is as dead as some of those buffalo carcasses we saw rotting out on the trail, Shorty.”
Moving forward, he pushed himself away from the bar and grabbed the whiskey bottle out of Shorty’s hands, taking another long pull from it. Bringing it with him, he moved towards the poker players. The men still appeared oblivious to his existence, even as he set the bottle down in an empty spot at the table and pulled up a chair.
“You boys have room for a fifth?”
Without waiting for a response, he plopped down in his chair, arms crossed as he waited. Leaning in after a moment, still oblivious to the fact that no one at the table was doing or saying anything, Dalton patted his pants pocket.
“I tell ya what, boys. I’ve been on the road for the past few weeks and I got a wad of cash burnin’ a hole in my pocket. Are any of you fine gentlemen up to the task of relieving me of such an earthly burden?”
Shorty stood watching from the bar, his eyes going wide and his jaw slowly inching south as the man he rode into town with talked while the stiff, ragdoll-like figures surrounding him ignored him.
Dalton’s good cheer began to evaporate as he realized the same thing as Shorty. For a moment, he sat quietly, his head moving back and forth as he tried to get a reaction from any of the men sitting around him. As he glanced at the man directly across from him, his eyes went wide with recognition.
“Jeb? Jeb Tyson? Is that you?”
He leaned forward to get a better look at the man he thought was his old friend. Despite Dalton’s excited words, the man in the tan cowboy hat kept his eyes glued to his cards, ignoring him.
“Jeb? I know you recognize me. It’s Dalton McCoy. We rode together for a spell in Colorado back in ’72. Don’t you remember?”
Dalton’s voice was friendly, neighborly even as he leaned forward, trying to catch the eye of the other man. Even as he reached across the table and gave a little tug on Jeb’s cards, his smile didn’t fade.
As the cards sunk towards the table, Jeb’s eyes never shifted from the spot they had been trained on and his expression never changed. It was almost as if he was staring right through the man opposite him.
With a sudden burst of movement, Dalton kicked his chair back and was on his feet, his weapon filling his hand. Shorty blinked, not quite sure what he had seen. Dalton’s movements had been a blur.
Inching backwards, Dalton made his way back to the bar. His eyes were wide and showed an emotion Shorty had never seen on his face before. He thought it might be fear.
“What the hell is going on around here?”
Shorty shrugged slowly, his face a study in confusion.
“I don’t rightly know, Dalton, but it’s probably best you put away that shootin’ iron before someone gets hurt.”
Despite using his most appeasing tone of voice, it quickly became clear that Dalton didn’t take kindly to the request. As the gunslinger turned towards him, Shorty took a hesitant step back.
“It’s okay, Dalton, I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I just think we probably don’t want to be stirring things up, so it might be best not point your gun at any of these fine people.”
“That is an excellent suggestion.”
Shorty and Dalton turned at the sound of the strange voice coming from the entrance of the saloon. Standing in the doorway was a man who certainly was unique, and not just because he was only person they had heard speak since getting to Cassoday.
Dressed in a dark tailored suit and ascot tie, he wore a bowler that rested at jaunty angle on his head. His skin tone hinted at a mixed heritage, but it was hard to tell what mix. His face was handsome, with bright blue eyes that stood out dramatically against a dark complexion. A bright gold pocket watch chain peeked out from beneath his suit jacket, prominently displayed against the backdrop of a red satin vest. A thin, well-manicured mustache completed the image of a man distinctly out of place on the frontier.
As he began walking towards them, it was clear he wasn’t just some city slicker lost in the wilderness. A glint of metal on his lapel told Dalton and Shorty all they needed to know about the man with the strange accent.
Dalton stared at the dandy, sizing him up before carefully sliding his weapon back into its holster. The man wore a badge but no weapon. Still, it was probably best to play nice for the time being. So he gave him his best shit eating grin.
“I’m not looking for any trouble, Marshal,” Dalton said good-naturedly.
The lawman slowly crossed the room towards a table near the piano. Gesturing, he motioned at the two men.
“Please join me for a drink, gentlemen.”
The words rolled off the man’s tongue with a lilt hinting that he might be European, though neither Shorty nor Dalton had much of a clue, given neither had been east of Ohio their entire lives.
The two outlaws looked at one another. Shorty looked puzzled and a bit uncomfortable but Dalton only shrugged, as if to say ‘what have we got to lose?’
They approached the table and took two seats opposite the Marshal. Up close, he looked even more out of place, his exotic features standing out in dramatic contrast to the dull, drab surroundings. There was a scent rising up from him, a smell that spoke of dark and mysterious spices from places far removed from the backwater prairie town.
“Well messieurs, as you have deduced, I am the Marshal here in Cassoday, and I wanted to welcome you to my town.”
Before either Dalton or Shorty could say anything in response, the Marshal was snapping his fingers at the bartender.
“Clyde! A shot of whiskey for our two guests, if you please.”
The outlaws turned and were stunned to see the bartender reaching for a couple of shot glasses beneath the bar. Turning, he grabbed another bottle of rot gut off the shelf.
“I prefer wine myself, but it is difficult to get in these parts.”
Dalton turned back towards the Marshal and squinted at him skeptically. Shorty, entranced by the marionette like movements of Clyde, kept his eyes glued to the bartender as he began pouring their shots.
Dalton put his hands on the table and tried to clear all the strange events of the past hour out of his mind. “Well, Marshal, could you explain to me how some…Frenchman becomes a lawman in Kansas? I’d like to hear how the hell that happened.”
The Marshal’s grin widened, displaying a mouth full of perfect white teeth. He laughed delicately and dipped his hand inside his jacket. Dalton tensed momentarily but realized he was just taking a small snuff box out from some hidden pocket. He slid off the lid and inhaled. Dalton could detect a hint of cinnamon in the air, which lingered even after the Marshal slipped the box back into his pocket.
“I am not from France, Mister…?”
Dalton shifted slightly in his chair. Shorty turned towards the table when he heard the question, his eyes darting back and forth between the Marshal and Dalton. For an instant, the saloon was quiet again, except for the creak of floorboards underneath Clyde’s feet as he made his way towards them with their drinks.
Giving the lawman one last assessing glance, Dalton finally spoke. “McCoy, Dalton McCoy. And this here is my partner, Shorty Shelton. We came up from Texas on a cattle drive and are lookin’ to find gainful employment in these parts.”
Nodding politely at the response, the Marshal waited until Dalton was done before introducing himself.
“My name is Jacques Louiviere.”
The lawman raised his hand to prevent Dalton’s interruption.
“As I have said, I am not from France. My father was Creole and my mother Cajun. I was born in New Orleans. I am an American like you, Mr. McCoy.”
“New Orleans, huh? That might not be ol’ Par-ree, but it’s still a might far from the prairie, Jock,” Dalton said as he lifted his shot glass to toast the Marshal, downing the whiskey in one gulp.
Jacques didn’t seem to mind Dalton’s slaughtering of his name and continued smiling. He also didn’t appear to be fazed by the gunman’s grey eye or scar that had unhinged so many others.
“Be that as it may, I am the Marshal of this town and it is my sworn duty to uphold the law in these parts.”
The words were softly spoken, with no hint of menace behind them, but it seemed clear what they meant.
Shorty, who was once again preoccupied with watching Clyde drift back to the bar, snapped out of his reverie at the sound of the Marshal’s words.
Dalton glared at Jacques, his eyes narrowing slightly, though his hands remained where the lawman could see them.
The Marshal leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table and threading his fingers together, as if he were about to pray. Instead, he rested his chin on his thumbs and looked at the two men, making sure he had their complete attention.
“And I think, Messieurs McCoy and Shelton, that you did indeed come up from Texas, but perhaps you made a stop in Wichita this morning, yes?”
Dalton suddenly felt the ponderous beating of his heart and panic filled him. This lawman—this effete, prissy man with no weapon and barely a town to protect was calling him out. It didn’t matter how he had found out about Wichita, just that he had. And there was a look in the man’s eyes that said he had the two outlaws dead to rights.
His eyes went to the windows at the front of the building. He squinted to see if there was any movement outside: a rifle sliding through an open window or someone climbing on a roof to get a better shot. But nothing had changed.
When his eyes moved back to the Marshal, Dalton’s mouth split into another grin. “Well now, Marshal, it looks like you know a bit more about us than we thought. Seems you have us at a disadvantage,” Dalton said with his voice low and filled with menace as his hand slipped below the table.
Now if you’d like to read the rest of this story, and 28 others that appear in this 450 plus page monster, click on the picture of the cover below and pick up your copy. And don’t forget to drop a review after your done. The publisher and all the authors would be much obliged.
Review of “Into The Dark” on Horrornews.net
Another review of Into The Dark has appeared, this one on Horrornews.net. With the release of Beyond The Dark coming up soon, I am happy to see such positive reactions to the second chapter in the trilogy. It is building toward the final act, and I hope you folks get the chance to check it out soon. For now, give a look at the review here: http://horrornews.net/31084/book-reveiew-into-the-dark-author-patrick-d%E2%80%99orazio/
Review of Ryan Mecum’s “Zombie Haiku”
Zombie Haiku isn’t a book filled with random haiku’s about the undead. Instead, it tells the saga of a man first running from the undead, and then becoming one himself, as he relates his experiences in 5-7-5 syllable sets. I would have enjoyed just some random sentiments about zombies, as I must admit that I have created a few myself (not so great) and seen plenty of others from friends (much better) on a message board I frequent. Comical, dark, and even thought provoking haiku that are fun to read and a challenge to create.
Zombie Haiku is fun as it is, though not all of the verse is created equal. Still, it is a plenty amusing, though short. The book lasted me perhaps 45 minutes at a leisurely clip. I guess if I had a major gripe with this book, it would be that I wish it were longer, though there are some haiku gems in it that had me snickering. The author has apparently tried his hand at vampire and werewolf haiku as well, which certainly might be fun, but as a zombie fan boy, this is the one I had to check out.
An entertaining little read that perhaps doesn’t give you something unique as far as the overall story, but it is told in a different and funny way.
You can check out Zombie Haiku here: http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Haiku-Good-Poetry-Your-Brains/dp/1600610706/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297823961&sr=8-1
Sneak peak of the cover for Beyond The Dark
Next month, the final book in my dark zombie trilogy will be released. The editing is complete and all the book really needs is the introduction, then it is off to be formatted. Naturally, one of the most importance pieces of the puzzle is the cover of the book. All the text and logos haven’t been added as of yet, but the inimitable Philip R. Rogers has done yet another incredible job with the artwork here. In my humble estimation, this is the best cover of the three, though I love them all. Now it is up to me to make sure the words inside the book stack up to the incredible images that Philip has created. Given how wonderful his artwork is, that is a tremendous challenge.
So check it out:
Review of David Dunwoody’s “Unbound and Other Tales”
David Dunwoody has written some fine zombie fiction, and I was curious about this combination novella and short story compendium he’d written, since it steers clear of the rotting folk completely. There isn’t one story about zombies in this book, although the dead do pop up in a couple of different instances. Unbound, which carries the bulk of the pages in this offering, is a story about Emil Sharpe, a man with albino white features dressed entirely in black. He is supposed to be a character in a series of books, but for reasons unknown, he has come to life, and is terrorizing the people who live and drive up and down I-15 out west as he takes his 18 wheeler, the Yankee Rose, and carries cargo for some darkly mysterious people. Several folks are after him, including the author of the novels he appears in, because Sharpe has made their lives nightmares as he has demands that his story, his real story, be told through the author’s pages. The story starts out with a bang, and the intensity doesn’t let up throughout. Emil Sharpe acts like a demon and yet at the same time, there is something distinctly human and vulnerable about him, though he most assuredly is neither. It isn’t until the very end of this tale that we discover the truth, and there will be hell to pay when we do.
The rest of this book is made up of eight short stories, more than one of which ties into Unbound in one form or fashion. They provide the reader with a nice creep factor, with odd characters, dark magic, and other elements of a good, jarring nightmare. I particularly enjoyed “Clowns”, knowing that anyone who has ever been afraid of these painted devils will probably feel at least a tad bit uncomfortable while reading that tale.
It is Unbound that holds sway here, overshadowing the rest of the stories, though I found them enjoyable and certainly devious. It is just that Unbound could be expanded or contracted into a full length novel or be turned short story and would likely leave its taste in your mouth long after you’re done with it. It has the flavor of Peckinpah with just a dash of Lovecraft and larger helpings of Stephen King. There were perhaps echoes of The Dark Half, by Stephen King, in my head as I read this tale, but Dunwoody takes the concept of a character come to life off the pages of a book and molds and shapes it like clay (in more ways than one) to make it his own. Emil Sharpe is just one of those characters that starts out fascinatingly scary and grows on you from there.
Unbound and Other Tales can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/UNBOUND-Other-Tales-David-Dunwoody/dp/1451511582/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297787359&sr=1-1
Dark Stories: Sadie
Well, this is the last of them. At least the last one that I am posting here. The final one takes place deep into the last book, and is quite brief. It will be appearing on the kindle and smashwords version of the trilogy, but I can’t put it out here, because it reveals a bit too much of a book that has yet to be released. So I will leave it with this little back story on Sadie, the little girl in the RV camp from Into The Dark. I realize she has a very minor role in that story, although it increases with the last book. This particular flashback was originally written into the third book, and just gives us a glimpse into the reality of a small child during the zombie apocalypse, or so I hope.
It has been fun posting these, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I will have to figure out some other stuff to start posting soon! Bits and pieces of some of the short stories I have out there in some of the anthologies I’m in, just to give you a taste of them. Well, that’s a topic for another day. I hope you enjoy this tale of Sadie.
Sadie was a good little girl. A little angel. She knew that because her daddy had told her so time and time again. Now, after all this time, she could barely remember much else about him. He was just a shadow in her mind. There were no pictures, no recordings of his voice to refer back to and so she had begun making up new details about him. Little things about his hair and his kind and handsome face. For a time he looked like Ben, though there was a little spot in her brain that remembered that he looked nothing like the big burly bear. She had forgotten so much about her dad that she was starting to replace those lose memories with new ones. She recalled how brave and strong he was, how kind and gentle he had always been …
All she knew for sure anymore was that he had left their little two bedroom apartment one day and never came back. She could remember him and mommy arguing over his decision to leave, but even that was hard to recall clearly. It seemed so long ago to Sadie, even though it had only been a few weeks. When he did not return after a few hours, momma took it pretty badly for a couple of days, barely speaking or doing much of anything. She would still hold Sadie close and let her get what little food they had left in the kitchen to eat when she was hungry. Sadie remembered the first time momma smiled after daddy left. That was when she told her what had happened to him.
Sadie knew her daddy had gone up to heaven to be with grandma and grandpa, who were taken away from them a year before. Momma told her they would see him again real soon and that she should not worry about daddy anymore. She cried as she said it but at the same time, she told Sadie there was no more room for tears. They had to move on because that was what daddy would have wanted them to do.
Momma had already taught Little Sissy, as she called Sadie, how to be real quiet all the time. It was a game they played, to see who could last the longest without speaking or making any noise. Sadie remembered momma telling her about a little girl named Anne Frank who had lived in an attic for years with her entire family without making so much as a single peep. Anne had to be quiet because of the bad people who were outside, just like the ones that were outside now.
Sadie could hear the bad people outside and pretended they were Nazis like the ones who wanted to get the little girl in a faraway land called Amsterdam. She even began to scribble in a notebook that her momma gave her, pretending it was her diary.
After a couple of days pretending to be Anne it got really boring, but momma was so proud of her little girl that Sadie did her best to continue playing the game. The two of them slept a lot and played boards games in the dark with a flashlight. Sadie missed the outside world, she missed her daddy, and she missed the friends she had made in their little apartment complex, but momma told her everyone had left, just like daddy, and were up in heaven now. They only had each other now and that was what was important. Somehow, Sadie understood that it was true. No matter how hard things got she still had momma and that was good enough.
Until they ran out of water.
Sadie knew the water was getting low and had been for several days. Momma had stopped drinking and had insisted that Sadie still drink a full cup of the warm, stale tasting tap water that they had collected in a couple of plastic milk jugs and several glasses. As their supply diminished Sadie had whispered, asking what they would do when it was all gone. Momma gave her a look that scared the curiosity away and then walked to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Sadie couldn’t hear her crying, but as the tears rolled down her own face she imagined it was exactly what momma was doing.
For a day after the last drop of water was drank momma stood by the front door, still as a statue as she listened carefully, for over an hour. The noises had died down a couple of days before, going silent for long stretches. It had been nearly a week since Sadie had heard the last scream and sat shivering in momma’s arms as she cradled her and covered up her ears, rocking her back and forth.
Mandy Wharton had never been quick to make many decisions during her lifetime. It had taken getting pregnant with Sadie before she would finally accept Paul’s proposal of marriage. She had debated getting an elementary education degree up until her little girl was born, which meant she would have to put that off for several years, at least.
Paul had always been the one who made all the decisions for them, for better or for worse. So when he had decided to leave their little apartment, she had pleaded with him to stay, even though the walls had already started to close in. He insisted he would not be gone long. Enough time to either get them some more supplies so they could hunker down for a couple of months, until this entire thing blew over, or to find them a better place to hide out.
When he didn’t return, Mandy was forced to figure out what the hell to do for her and Sadie. Even that decision was put off until the last moment. She knew they could survive for a few more days with no water, but then they would be far too weak to escape. Besides, she had heard nothing outside for a long time. It was probably safe enough to make a break for it.
Mandy knew that her beat up old VW Bug would still be sitting in the parking lot where she’d left it. She had stared at it several times through the closed blinds earlier on, desperately wishing that it was closer to her front door. Their unit faced the parking lot and her old beat up car was on the far side of the lot. The last time she parked it, the lot was full.
Everyone had been home then, glued to their televisions as they watched the world falling apart before their eyes. Soon after that, many of the residents of their little community began taking off, ‘heading for the hills’ as Henry Chu, one of their upstairs neighbors, had put it. Big chunks of the parking lot became barren over night, but several cars still remained. Other folks had made the same decision Paul and Mandy did: to stick it out even with warnings that the National Guard was conducting house to house and apartment to apartment searches for anyone who had been infected. They were also carting off anyone else they came across and tossing them into the closest shelters.
There were enough horror stories about the shelters and the how clogged the highways were for them to decide that they would take their chances in their modest little home, where they would hole up and try to hide out until the military came knocking. But they never did. A couple of days later, Paul decided to head out on his journey, leaving his wife and child behind to fend for themselves. Mandy was still not sure if she was more angry or sad that he had abandoned them, leaving her alone to make all the decisions for her and Sadie.
When Mandy finally broke out of her stupor and decided they had to leave to avoid an agonizingly slow death, she did her best, as she had been doing all along, to make it into a game for Sadie. Something that both of them could play so they could make believe the world was not filled with hungry monsters like the TV had been saying before it had gone on the fritz like everything else. The two of them would be spies, sneaking around outside doing their best not to be seen by anyone.
Mandy knelt down in front of her little girl and told her that she had all the faith in the world that Sadie would do great with this new game. She told her that daddy would be looking down from heaven and expecting her to do her very best. Sadie nodded excitedly at that, ready to prove that she was as good at sneaking as she was at remaining silent.
But when they opened the front door it was clear that it would not matter how good Sadie was at sneaking around. Mandy had her fingers wrapped tightly around the car key that she was prepared to jam into the lock as quickly as possible so she could get Sadie inside. The car had remained dormant for over two weeks, but despite its rusted out and banged up exterior, it had always proven to be a warhorse that started on the first turn of the key. It had been her most trusted ally since she had bought it with some help from her mom and dad five months after her sixteenth birthday. Her dad had nicknamed it ‘The Beast’, but she ignored all the jibes from him and her friends. It was her pride and joy and had carted her all over the place for the past ten years.
So as they passed through the threshold of their apartment out onto the concrete path, Mandy’s eyes were locked on her car, their salvation. That was why she missed the movement off to her left, in the overgrown bushes, as they strode forward. It was only a short term mistake. Mandy had every intention of scanning the area before she had opened the door, but once she did her eyes were drawn to her car like magnets.
She got no more than a couple of steps out the door with Sadie running ahead when the smelly old cat lady who lived two doors down stepped out of the shadows and grabbed Mandy’s arm.
The elderly woman had been behind the bush, where she had stood for several days with the hot sun beating down upon her weathered and befouled body. She hadn’t had a meal since she had caught one of her older, lame cats and devoured the old tom, fur and all. Despite her nearly catatonic state she had reacted quickly to the sound of the opening door and the scent of human sweat.
Sadie turned as she heard her mother cry out in surprise. Seeing what was happening, she started running back, totally prepared to kick the mean old woman right in the shin. The cat lady had always scared her, even when she smiled. Her yellowed teeth, those that remained in her gingivitis infected mouth, and her taunt and leathery skin, made her look like a jack-o-lantern to Sadie.
Sadie was no longer afraid of her, just angry that she was grabbing her mother. She was going to save momma from the horrible witch.
It was then that Mandy looked up and screamed at Sadie as she tried wrestling her arm away from the old crone.
“Don’t get any closer Sadie! Get away from here now!”
Sadie was confused by the command. Her mother had cried out, which was enough of a shock, but now she was yelling for her to run away. It was the first time she had heard her speak above a whisper in a very long time and the raspy croak coming out of her lips did not sound a thing like momma anymore.
Sadie stood stock still, trying to comprehend what was going on. She was mesmerized by the contortions of the two women battling in front of her. It was not until the crusty old biddy leaned over and bit deep into her mother’s arm that Sadie reacted again. She screamed long and loud, louder than the voice her mother had used to reprimand her. She watched as mommy gasped with pain and stumbled backwards, her feet getting tangled with the other woman, whose teeth were still lodged in mommy’s arm.
Sadie started moving forward once again, her mother’s command to leave forgotten. That was when her momma got really angry. Mandy turned and twisted, wrestling desperately until her eyes locked onto Sadie’s one last time.
“GET OUT OF HERE YOUNG LADY BEFORE I SPANK YOUR BUTT!”
Sadie still hesitated and her mother’s words were cut off for a few seconds as she rolled around on the ground with the old bag of maggots on top of her. She wanted to help her mother, protect her from the mean old woman, but the fear of a spanking was like an electric jolt to her senses. Momma almost never spanked her. She had in fact only done so once before. The memory of that whipping was still fresh in Sadie’s mind and had come after she decided to play with a fork near an electrical in her bedroom.
“SADIE, DO AS I SAY! RUN AWAY FROM HERE AND FIND SOME PLACE TO HIDE. DO IT NOW!”
Sadie turned slowly, still hesitating, unsure of what to do. It was then that she noticed some of the other neighbors opening up their doors and stumbling out of their doorways. At first she thought they were coming to help. She opened her mouth to plead with them to get the crazy old lady off momma, but instead she found that she couldn’t speak as she looked closer at each of them.
They all looked funny. Sadie had not gotten that close a look at the old woman, but she could see all these other people quite clearly. A couple of the neighbors looked like they had been bashed over the head with a giant hammer, like the ones they always used in the old cartoons they showed on the Boomerang network. They looked like they should have stars and little birds flying around their heads, but instead they just had a lot of blood all over them. It was like they had all decided to dress up for Halloween and chose the same costume.
That was when the smell hit Sadie’s nostrils. The mean old lady smelled bad, but she had been out in the fresh air for days. The miasma that crawled out of the steamy hot apartments where numerous corpses had been festering for days and weeks was overpowering. To Sadie it reminded her of the smell of manure she had seen piles of at the farm she’d visited with her preschool class. The teacher had called it manure but she knew what it really was. It was like all her neighbors had decided to roll around in a big giant pile of poo.
Sadie noticed one person in particular. Someone who she had always liked. Unlike the others, he was shuffling toward her instead of towards her mother and the old witch. It was Mr. Gonzales, the building superintendent. He had always been nice to her. He always had a quarter or a dime in his pocket and gave her one of the shiny coins every time he saw her. His thick black mustache that drooped down over his upper lip always made her laugh. That and the neat little tricks he could do, like the one where he made it look like his thumb was detachable.
Sadie took a couple of tentative steps towards him, calling out for him to help mommy. He was in charge of all the buildings in the complex and was always there to help them when they had any trouble. She cried out again to him, repeating his name. If anyone could take care of the crazy old cat lady, it was Mr. Gonzales.
But he kept moving towards little Sadie, totally oblivious to her plea. Even when she started screaming at him, he ignored her desperate cries. He was certainly interested in the little girl, but not in anything she had to say. It was not until he was fairly close (in Sadie’s mind, he had been right above her and that was how she remembered things every night when she had nightmares about Mr. Gonzalez) that she realized his shirt was bloody and ripped in several different places. His brown skin beneath looked dipped in blood as well, most of it dried to a tacky consistency.
Mr. Gonzales was the superintendent, but it seemed like no matter what job he had to do, no matter how messy it got, he always had a clean shirt on. That was something Sadie knew for sure. He liked to tell the kids his shirts were magical and dirt was afraid to stick to them. Sadie always giggled at that, especially when he winked at her and gave her his best fuzzy mustache wiggle and great big grin.
Mr. Gonzales always had a smile for Sadie. But not today. His shirt was almost black with blood and though she could see his teeth underneath his thick black mustache, there was no smile there. As he reached out for her, she finally turned and ran; her mother’s screams fading in the distance.
The little girl didn’t look back, no matter how badly she had wanted. Past the little playground and down the hill that ran out back of the small huddle of buildings that made up the Pleasant Pines Apartment Complex. She kept running, making sure she never stumbled. She kept running until she couldn’t run any longer.
Sadie knew that her mommy was dead. Just like her daddy, she was up in heaven now. Because Sadie had screamed. Her mommy had taught her how to stay quiet and Sadie had been good at that, but once they had left the apartment she had screamed and mommy had died because of that.
It was then that she decided she would never scream out loud again. She would keep all her screams on the inside so that the bad people would never find her again.
For two days Sadie hid in an empty drain pipe beneath a road that had been under construction. She heard noises up above sometimes. Ones like she had heard outside their apartment day after day with momma by her side. She remained still and thought about her parents. Wondered what they were doing right at that moment up in heaven with grandma and grandpa.
She dipped her hand in the little trickle of water than ran through the pipe and though her stomach rebelled at the taste of it, she was able to keep the water down and not get sick. It was only when she became too hungry to remain in the dirt encrusted tube any longer that she finally climbed out, desperate to find something, anything to eat so she could crawl back down into the dark confined space that she accepted as her new home.
That was when Ben found her, an hour later, wandering in a small stand of trees, rooting around on the ground for acorns. He had been watching a group of about twenty biters for the past couple of hours when he saw the little girl stumbling around in the trees not a hundred yards from their position. She looked as dirty and pathetic as the ghouls, but it did not take Ben long to figure out that she was still amongst the living. Once he did he immediately swooped in, abandoning his hiding place and snatching her up before she could even react.
He had expected her to scream out and was surprised when she didn’t make a single noise. Instead, she only tried to struggle, beating uselessly against his chest as he carried her away from danger. Even at full strength, nothing she could have done would have bothered him, but she was as weak as a newborn kitten and after ten minutes of urgent, but futile attempts to squirm free of Ben’s iron grasp she was fast asleep in his arms.
He raced her back to the others, handing her over to Lydia before he returned to his scouting mission. From that moment on she became Lydia’s responsibility, joining the two little boys Ben had found only a couple of days before.
Sadie adapted as well as could be expected to her new environment. No matter how scared she got, she never raised her voice or cried out. Over the next few weeks she set an example for the two boys to follow as they moved forward with the group of adults that expanded and contracted as they fought to survive.
Even as the group was attacked everyone was amazed at how little Sadie did not utter a peep. Over time she grew closer and closer to Lydia and Ben; curling herself up around the two adults she trusted the most. But she never forgot her momma and daddy who were up in heaven, or what her momma had taught her.
But there were nightmares of the old cat woman and Mr. Gonzalez that haunted her dreams. Those two ghouls chased Sadie endlessly, night after night, as she raced to get back to her mommy. Sooner or later, they would catch up with her, but so far, she had eluded them.
Review of Into The Dark on Pissed Off Geek!
Hey folks, another review is in on Into The Dark. I think thus far, the majority of folks like this book more than they did Comes The Dark, though I leave that up to anyone who checks them both out, and then checks out the third and final book, Beyond The Dark, next month. Perhaps that one will be the tiebreaker. In all honesty, I feel like the third book is the best part of it all, but again, I leave that to be judged by anyone who reads it. So for now, check out this great review of Into The Dark: http://www.pissedoffgeek.com/wordpress/?p=1020
Doomology: The Dawning of Disasters is live on Amazon!
Another one of the anthologies that I have a story in is now available on Amazon. Doomology: The Dawning of Disasters from the Library of Science Fiction, has a pretty self-explanatory title. Each of the stories in this one are tales of both natural and man-made disasters. My story, “You Only Die Twice” is sort of a spy/adventure story with a twist. So click on the picture below to head on over to Amazon and check it out. This sucker is almost 500 pages of mayhem at the end of the world. Consider it a prep manual for when the world comes to an end in 2012! 😉
Review of Remy Porter’s “Dead Beat”
Johnny Silverman is a policeman in a small town in rural England when the dead begin to rise. The reader is provided with a minor hint as to why this has happened, but for the most part, the plague that has caused the dead to come back to life is a mystery as we watch a few select people turning into zombies before all hell breaks loose across the countryside. Johnny is checking things out in a store when a woman inside attacks him. He narrowly escapes with his life and manages to get back to the police station, where Summer, a support officer, and Lester, the town drunk, barricade themselves inside while things go to hell quickly outdoors. At the same time, Jack Nation, a farmer, and his son Griffin, are coming to grips with this new plague as well. But despite the horrors they face, them seem more than willing to take advantage of the situation and bring many of the survivors together to build a fence around the town to prevent more of the dead from entering the area as they clear out the the undead from the town and surrounding region.
As Johnny and his compatriots start to sort things out in town, Jack and his son begin to thrive in a thuggish new world they have created, which doesn’t need the likes of people like Johnny and the laws he tries to enforce. Given that most of the people in town have fearfully thrown in with Jack, there is little that Johnny can do as the farmer becomes more and more willing to enforce his own laws and rules, ruthlessly if needed, to keep everyone following his orders.
Dead Beat is a fairly accurate title for this book, because Johnny has no beat anymore-the town is no longer his, and since Summer and him are the only remaining law enforcement personnel, they are seen as a threat to the new order. On the few occasions that he attempts to step in and assert himself as an authority, it doesn’t go over too well, and at one point I was shocked at how willing he was to give in to the demands of Jack and his depraved son. The author does a good job of giving Johnny a real human side to him. He doesn’t strike me as much of a hero, just a guy trying to hold things together and survive with both the dead and the living threatening him at every turn. And until things really fall apart for him, he doesn’t make a huge effort to stop Jack in his depraved ways, and by then, it seems clear that it will all end in tears for just about everyone still alive.
The author switches from third to first person, with the sections of the book with Johnny in them being told from his perspective. The story flows well from one perspective to the other and that wasn’t an issue for me. I do pride myself on being able to pick up on British slang for the most part as an American reader, but even so, it was a bit tough in places to know with one hundred percent accuracy what the author was saying. I don’t say that as a deterrent, because the language variations don’t detract from the story at all, they just forced me to pay a bit closer attention. All in all, this was a good zombie story with compelling characters. As is my tendency, I prefer character driven zombie stories, and this one definitely falls into that category. Johnny isn’t a hero by any stretch, and reveals tidbits about himself throughout the story that made it clear that he is most assuredly human and has tremendous weaknesses and even a dark side that reveals itself near the end of the tale. And despite the filthy depraved nature of Griffin and Jack, I can still see where the farmer had probably once been a good man and in his own screwed up mind was doing a good thing for the people of the community by building the fence that keeps the undead out. Lester, the town drunk who ends up sobering up in time, is another character who grew on me and proved that he wasn’t one dimensional as he transformed into someone fighting to discover the cause of the plague.
Overall, an entertaining zombie read that was definitely satisfying. Plenty of gore, plenty of action, and most importantly for me, plenty of characters that kept the story interesting from beginning to end.
Dead Beat can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Beat-Remy-Porter/dp/0956373364/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297226757&sr=1-3
Strange Tales of Horror is now on Amazon!
I just wanted to pass along that the latest anthology that I am a part of has made its way over to Amazon. As I have mentioned before, this one has a great table of contents and I am pleased that my story, VRZ, appears among its pages. This one contains short stories, flash fiction, and even some poetry. And of course, it also has one of the most wicked book covers of anything I have been associated with. I think this one is going to do very well. Click on the picture to head on over to Amazon and place your order for this one. I myself can’t wait to get my hands on it!
Dark Stories: Ben
I am closing in on finishing up with my Dark Stories that I will be posting on the blog. I wish they could go on and on, just because I have enjoyed embellishing on the characters that I created for my trilogy, but I have tapped into most of the characters with these stories, with a few minor exceptions.
One of my favorite characters is Ben, or Big Ben, as he is fondly known as to those who know him. He is sort of an enigma, or at least I tried to make him out to be that for the most part. He doesn’t say much-he is a giant of a man who doesn’t seem interested in much of anything except being left alone to do what he does best, for the most part. At least that is how he starts out, but it becomes more clear where his heart, and intentions lie as Into The Dark moves forward. He plays even a larger, more crucial role in Beyond The Dark, and once again, he is probably one of my favorite characters.
For better or for worse, the little story that appears below pulls the covers back on Ben and makes him less of a mystery. I believe after reading this, you will probably agree that he is the most unique of all the characters in the trilogy. In his own way, he stands out from everyone else more than Michael or even Cindy does.
This story takes place, like many of the others, predominantly in flashback, though it begins and ends after Ben has rescued Jeff and Ray from the deathtrap they were facing in Manchester. As always, there are probably some missed typos, and I ask for your forgiveness for those. I hope they don’t detract from your reading of this brief story about Big Ben.
Ben didn’t bother looking back at Jeff. It was wasted effort and efficiency was the hallmark of everything Ben did out in the open these days. Pausing to make a decision about what to do could be fatal. He knew the path he was running on, so it wasn’t as if he had to make any random choices anyway. The route he had taken was one that would distract and frustrate, then confuse and baffle the simple minded stiffs following him and Jeff. It was a piece of cake.
Once the group had decided that RVs were their best bet for staying alive, it had been Ben’s job to find a place to park them. And once he’d found a home for them at the edge of Manchester, he’d focused on committing the streets, buildings, and neighborhoods of the small town to memory so he would know all the threats and dangers that he would be forced to face in the future.
There would be no accidental dead ends and no second chances needed for his trip back to the RV camp. Even with a hundred and sixty pound kid on his back and a wheezing, out of shape man trudging along behind him, there was nothing in the town of Manchester capable of stopping Big Ben from making his way back to safety.
Before today it had always been quiet in the small town. A few wretched figures tucked away here and there, oblivious to his movements throughout the area. Once they realized one of the living was amongst them, it was always too late for them. Ben didn’t waste arrows or bother pulling his knife out. If he spotted a single ghoul, almost without fail he would move in and drive their head into the pavement before any synapses fired in their messed up brains. One quick, fluid movement. Once you learned how to do it, it was hard to forget. The results of his assaults were generally all the same: they were rarely noticed by the other infected nearby and there was only a limited amount of mess.
Most of the bodies were dry. Blood and other fluids that were a part of the normal human body had often already evaporated or leaked out of the stiffs Ben put out of commission. So when their heads met the pavement, if he did it correctly, there was no splash back, no gory splatter. No muss, no fuss.
Most of the shadow people, as Ben liked calling them, were not restless enough to investigate another decommissioned ghoul after it hit the pavement. They mostly hid in the dark, perhaps to avoid the detrimental effects of the sun on their deteriorating physiques. He had no real idea what the reason was for them hiding, but was appreciative that they didn’t bother investigating the corpses of their own kind after he executed them. Dealing with singles limited his headaches.
If there was more than one, it was best to hide and wait for them to depart. Only a small percentage could sniff the big man out and if Ben did not want to be heard, they simply did not hear him. Of course, when he was discovered, it tended to be over before they knew it.
If it wasn’t so sad, it might be comical in a dark and twisted way: he could swear he saw the surprise on their faces when he crushed their throats. That first little maneuver was so they couldn’t alert their buddies with excited moans that came with their discovery of warm flesh. Sometimes there was enough time to see what might pass for fear on their faces just before he crushed their heads beneath a giant work boot or cracked their skulls with whatever blunt object might be handy. It was almost enough to make him feel sorry for those tormented beings. Almost, but not quite enough to give him pause in his duties. Because if he slipped up he might get bitten, so there was no room in Ben’s heart for sympathy for the already dead.
Spending time out in the wilderness of the world was therapeutic for Ben. A thousand times better than that shrink he had paid to try and unscramble his brain a couple years back. Back then, it had all been about trying to forget; forget the life he had led, in all its lurid glory. It had been hard to do, nearly impossible at times. So it seemed amazing that something as simple as a name change, to Ben, did such wonders for his soul.
None of the people he was with now knew his real name. None of them recognize him, so when he was dubbed “Big Ben” he latched on to the name change like he had been thrown a life preserver. It was not as if anyone would recognize his real name, Shawn Horton, anyway, but Ben just felt right. The world had shifted on its axis once again and so Shawn Horton, who had also been known as Bloodthirsty Rick Roberts, was again changing his name to suit his new existence.
No one in Cincinnati had recognized him when he returned home from Atlanta, outside of his family and friends. Being one of the masked bad guys helped insure that was the case. When he stepped out of the ring and more importantly, out of the spotlight, it was the first step in abolishing all the old and ugly things that permeated his existence for years: the botched marriage to Becky, all the broken bones, and the part where he had sold his soul for a little bit of glory.
The final step, or so it seemed, was becoming Ben: just some big dumb guy who knew how to handle himself in a world where the dead decided to get up and start walking around again.
When Ben thought back on things, he knew it all began and ended with Isaiah. Isaiah Ezekiel Jones, head of IEJ Wrestling Enterprises, promoter extraordinaire and manager of one of the largest stables of professional wrestlers in the United Wrestling Federation. Isaiah was a retired wrestler and was slick and smart enough to have grabbed a share of the profits made with his body back in the sixties and seventies, when he was in his prime. There was not nearly as much money in it back then, but Isaiah was smart enough to invest and stake his claim with a chain of fast food restaurants that had a presence throughout the southeast. Isaiah was the one who discovered Shawn Horton, an ex-marine and wanna-be body builder, and turned him into one of the best paid bad guys in the sport of professional wrestling.
Shawn had been just too damn big for his own good when he had been in the Marine Corps. He had seen some action in Desert Storm and had been dubbed “mountain” by the other jar heads. Not just because of his size, but because he was an immovable rock that was as quiet and immutable as stone. He obeyed orders, was surprisingly light on his feet, but had little interest in showing off his exceptional strength to everyone around him, which left him isolated for most of his tour of duty. So when his four years were up, Shawn was glad to be done with it.
He returned to the states and decided to make a go of things in Atlanta. One of the few guys he had made friends with in the corps told him how great a place it was to live, so he thought he would give it a shot. Not knowing what to really do with himself, he got work in a gym as a personal trainer, bluffing his way into the job mostly. That was where he was discovered by Isaiah.
Shawn cut a pretty impressive figure and despite his shyness, Isaiah saw potential in the big lug. He wasn’t “pretty”, so a mask took care of that. Later would come tattoos, a bald head, and a devilish goatee. Isaiah dazzled Shawn with promises of easy money and a lot of fun along the way. He introduced him to several other wrestlers who did a good job luring him and coaxing him to take a shot at life inside the ring.
Six months later, he was Bloodthirsty Rick Roberts, one of the masked superstars of the UWF. He signed a lifetime contract with Isaiah and was taught the ropes in the business. He dyed his beard pitch black, learned all of the dirty moves he could, and created a few trademark catch phrases for the fans. He was on his way.
Becky was one of Isaiah’s stable of hot girls that were a part of his traveling road show. She got paid to be one of the good guy’s girlfriends and to maybe have the occasional catfight with one of the other girls up in the ring during introductions. It stirred up the crowd and gave the wrestlers ample reason to display what appeared to be real hatred for each other. She was a statuesque platinum blond, and had a surgically enhanced body that could make a Playboy Playmate weep with envy. Ben was a hooked on her before he even realized it, but Becky ignored him for the most part. Being shy, at least outside of the ring, he could barely talk to her unless it was a part of the script, when he was trying to “steal” her away from her onstage boyfriend. It was not until he got to be a popular attraction that she took notice of him. Even then, it took him becoming one of the star attractions facing off against the other big named talent every night before she actually deigned to speak to him.
Perhaps it was how naïve he was, or maybe it was just how opportunistic Becky was that Shawn’s timid efforts to court her turned into a whirlwind affair in no time flat. Three months after their first date they were married. Isaiah, ever the opportunist, turned something he was originally opposed to into something he could promote inside the ring. Becky became a cold deceiver, stabbing her ring good guy boyfriend in the back by becoming Bloodthirsty’s main squeeze.
All Shawn knew was that he was happy and had found the girl he would spend the rest of his life with. Becky was brash and bold, exactly his opposite. The mask gave him enough courage to stand up in front of thousands of fans and growl at them, but Becky gave him confidence to believe in himself outside the ring. Together they grew in popularity on the circuit as one of the elite couples on the wrestling scene. Shawn knew they would be together forever.
Forever lasted exactly one year.
Much later, it was obvious to Ben that the affair had been going on the whole time he and Becky had been together. But at the time he caught her and Isaiah in bed, he it was as if he’d been sucker punched by the deceit. For better or for worse, Shawn had trusted his little lady and her deception had been complete. When he discovered them together, Becky tried to convince him that it was all some sort of big mistake, and when Shawn didn’t buy that, she told him she was sleeping with the boss for the both of them, to help advance their careers.
Shawn, who had become Bloodthirsty Rick but had yet to turn into Big Ben, didn’t listen to a word she said and nearly killed Isaiah that night. The old man had been a pretty good wrestler in his day, and was still in good shape, but he was no match for the massive ex-Marine, who broke five of the promoter’s ribs, three of his fingers, his nose, and his right arm.
When Shawn finally calmed down, the police took him into custody and his face, his real face, was smeared all over the local and regional papers for the next couple of days.
Becky divorced him and Isaiah sued. In the end, Shawn was banned from wrestling for life and lost his three homes and all his other possessions to Becky. Most of his wealth, which Isaiah convinced him to reinvest in the wrestling operation, was gone as well. Shawn paid off his lawyers and washed his hands of it all. He took what little of what remained of his fortune and moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati, where no one had any clue who he had once been.
That had been almost two years ago. There was still a little money left over, and he didn’t have to scrounge for an existence and could even afford a shrink who he went to every week for almost a year, until the doctor told him that he had to do the talking if he wanted to get better.
He bought a small, secluded cabin in Kentucky down on Cave Run Lake, which gave him a chance to learn how to hunt and fish. It was comforting, being down there alone. Bow hunting became Shawn’s favorite new pastime. He split his time between there and Cincinnati, where he took on a job hoisting boxes in a factory. The money was crap, but it kept him busy and physically active. Shawn’s ripped physique was beginning to turn more toward a more pear shape. It was age and the lack of a desire to go to the gym anymore. That was how his father had been, barrel-chested and big armed. Even with his diminished physicality, Shawn still cast an imposing shadow and was still just as light on his feet as ever.
After a while, he got comfortable with this new existence, almost happy.
When Shawn heard the first reports about the contagion sweeping the world that might spell the end of everything, his plan was to make his way down to his cabin, but things got hairy way too quick. So instead he planned on ways of getting away from the city on foot, away from the thick knot of the dead that was growing larger every day.
Military training mixed with his wrestling experience became a pretty useful combination when it was made clear that there were a lot more of the infected than living out on the streets of Cincinnati.
Though Shawn was sure he could do okay on his own, he decided hooking up with some other people might enhanced his chances for long term survival. That was when he met Michael and the small band of people traveling with him. That was when he became Ben, the stoic giant who didn’t ask questions and did just about anything and everything everyone else needed to stay alive.
Ben had no inclination to become a leader, so he and Michael got along just fine. For Michael, it was clear that having this huge ally around was going to come in very handy. For Ben, it was easy to accept his role in this new little society. While he wasn’t sure he wanted to stick around with the group forever, he did like the idea of being needed. The cabin could wait. He would make his way there when he helped the others to find a permanent safe haven and they became self sufficient.
It was rough at first. The factory had been a really bad idea, and not one that Ben had been in favor of, but he let that go because Michael had believed it would work. After they fled from that nightmare, it was easy to see that the volume of infected anywhere near the city was going to overwhelm them no matter where they hid. They needed to migrate further east, toward the countryside.
Ben never made any unsolicited suggestions but the others, including Michael, were beginning to rely on him more and more for almost everything. The combination of his military training and the time he spent learning how to hunt and live off the land down at his cabin was invaluable to the group of city and suburban dwellers. He was the only one in the group not afraid to stalk the wilderness, to forge ahead and find the group new and safe places to go. The world at large was a fairly quiet place now, with no loud wrestling promoters or deceitful wives to mess with him. Just the shadow people. They might not like him, but he always knew where he stood with them.
So when Michael brought up the idea of getting an RV to just drive off in, Ben suggested they get several of them, and that they find a place where they could hide them away from the rest of the world. It would be better than hiding out in some building they had to fortify and barricade to the point where they could never leave. They could circle the RVs up to offer a walled in fortress and then flee in them if needed. Michael was skeptical at first; at least until Ben assured him that he could find the perfect place for them to put the RVs that would give them a chance to live unmolested.
And that is exactly what he did.
It felt good to be appreciated. Ben knew he was being used, just like he had been in the marines and as a wrestler, but this was different. Michael was, for all intents and purposes, his boss, but he didn’t push. The others? Well, they just needed him, and they appeared to be grateful that he was willing to do everything they were unwilling or incapable of doing for themselves. They didn’t beg or wheedle, but smiled and were friendly, despite the small amount of talking he was willing to do with them. Mostly, they were good people. Mostly.
Amongst the adults, Lydia was his favorite. The sweet woman treated him with respect and appreciated everything he did. She didn’t have to thank him for everything, but she did—every chance she got.
The little children she watched out for were angels. Especially Sadie, who Ben adored. Making them little wooden dolls and toy soldiers was one of the few pleasures he could provide them, and the fact that they were ecstatic with the results, despite how amateurish his efforts were, made him feel all the more protective over them.
The two teenage boys were good kids and Ben liked them well enough. They left him alone for the most part and even when they moved into his RV, they understood that he needed his space.
The new people were okay too, despite Michael and his two stooges instant dislike of Jeff. Ben was tempted to actually suggest that Jeff just go with the flow and not push Michael’s buttons so much, but why bother? It was clear that both of them were pigheaded, so nothing he said was likely to make much difference. Instead, it was easier to just sit back and watch what happened. Things would likely settle down within a few days between those two.
At least that was what Ben thought before Michael’s screwed up expedition.
Ben wasn’t afraid of the stiffs. Not on a physical level at least. He was careful to wear a thick coverall when he went out on his little forays, and for the most part the undead were weak and incapable of doing much to threaten him. What strength they had lied in their numbers and boundless determination to devour everyone in sight. He could accept that challenge. Even though he was not fearful of them, he was no fool. He never assumed anything with the shadow people. They were dangerous despite how pathetic they were.
Taking them out had always been easy … at least after he got past the queasy feeling that came with his first execution, which had been one of his neighbors. Ben still felt a vague sense of regret as he was eliminating the undead, but his priorities were always clear. He estimated he had “killed” several hundred ghouls, though he did his best not to keep track of the number. It was just a morbid statistic he had come to accept as a fact of this new life he found himself living.
Ben respected Michael. The man had some good ideas, though perhaps he was weak on his execution of some of them and needed a bit of assistance now and then. He kept everyone organized and focused, and was a natural leader. Ben didn’t feel compelled to follow him, but it was clear that almost everyone still alive needed someone to take charge and assure them that it would all work out in the end. Michael was more than willing to do just that.
Unfortunately, there were some annoying side effects that went along with having the young man as a leader. Michael seemed obsessed with testing those around him; testing their loyalty in particular. It was as if he believed he was destined to build some sort of society that would somehow take back the world from the undead, and he needed faithful subjects willing to do whatever he asked of them to insure his victory.
So when Jeff came along, someone who was a bit too independent minded, Michael felt obligated to put him in his crosshairs. That had to be the reason for the screwy food run. Ben knew there was no other reason for sending everyone out; he could more effectively take care of getting food and other supplies for the camp alone than a whole group of clumsy people following in his wake. Sending them all out was a power trip for Michael, pure and simple.
Ben almost said something about it to Michael, questioning him on the wisdom of his decision, but after seeing the confrontations in the camp before they left, he decided not get in the middle of things.
Now he was dealing with the unfortunate results of that hesitancy.
Ben was angry. Angry he had not spoken up and suggested an alternative to this snafu and angry he had not kept a closer watch on the little expedition as it moved into town. Instead, he had gone deeper into Manchester, surveying the various buildings and streets to convince himself things were as quiet as they had been for the past few weeks.
That was when he realized there was going to be trouble.
The ghouls he saw as he slinked from building to building were agitated, aroused like they hadn’t been since they’d first come to the town, rolling the RVs down the road and pulling them off into the woods. They were bouncing off one another, wandering the streets when before, they had been content to bury themselves in the deepest shadows they could find.
Perhaps it had been the minivan when it had driven into the area the day before, and once again, when it had been driven onto the road earlier, when the group going on the supply run had piled out of it and walked down the street toward town.
After seeing how many were stiffs were wandering the streets of Manchester, Ben knew he needed to get the group out of there before the ghouls could pinpoint their position. But by then it was already too late. He signaled to Michael over the walkie-talkie, but by that time the rest of the group had already left the van and were on their idiotic scavenger hunt.
When he heard the first shots, Ben was already running at top speed, trying to get back to the group before it was too late, though he suspected it had been too late the minute the others had driven out of the camp on this fool’s errand.
Finding Ray and Jeff as they were about to be overwhelmed had only reinforced that belief. He managed to save them, but given Ray’s condition and the shit storm that had been stirred up already, things were ugly and were about to get uglier still.
Ben broke free of the last building and took off at a sprint across the road. He had chosen an alternative path back to the camp; a route he had mapped out a couple of weeks earlier just in case something bad like this happened.
Ray’s dead weight in his arms slowed him down only a little bit. He’d dealt with packs that were just as heavy under equally tense situations. No situation quite as perilous as this one, though. Ray’s lolling head and quiet whimpers as he bounced up and down were far worse to cope with for Ben than the challenge of having to carry the boy’s weight on his shoulder.
Ben could hear heavy breathing behind him. He slowed to a fast trot to allow Jeff to catch up, knowing that if the other man fell behind, he might give away their position. The moaning was far too loud, but was still quite a ways behind them. The dead would continue to seek them out, but if they lost sight of them and couldn’t smell them, they wouldn’t know where to go.
Still, it was risky heading directly back to camp. Finding a place to dig in and cover up for the night probably would have been the best thing to do. Ben had done that on a couple of different occasions, even when he only suspected he’d garnered unwanted attention on one of his journey’s into Manchester. On both occasions, the coast was clear by morning and he never knew for sure if his ploy had been necessary. Still, waiting things out guaranteed the camp would remain safe. So it was tempting to pull off into one the buildings he knew for certain was clear and wait things out with Jeff and the teenager.
But if he did that, Ray would die out here.
The kid was dying. Ben was no fool and had no delusions about getting him back to camp being the way to save him. The teen was getting weaker every second and in a few hours, maybe even sooner, he would stop breathing. Soon after that, perhaps within moments, he would turn into one of the shadow people, and Ben would be forced to smash his skull into the pavement, or at the very least, slip his hunting knife into the back of the boy’s skull. But if it was Ray’s destiny to die, he was going to die amongst friends, not in some dusty abandoned storefront.
Ben had heard the van when it had departed without Ray and Jeff. The others, or at least everyone beside Marcus, had made it out of that mess alive. Ben hadn’t seen that bastard Marcus’s corpse, but could put two and two together. Jeff had been wielding the dumb S.O.B.’s shotgun and as the old saying went, the only way something like that happen was if he had pried it from Marcus cold dead hands. As far as Ben was concerned, Marcus’s death was nothing to be sad about. But that wasn’t how Frank or Michael would see things. They would be out for blood once they knew what had happened … even if the dipshit had gone and gotten himself bitten and the others had been forced to brain him to protect themselves.
Nope, things were about to get very messy back at camp, and not just because an entire town filled with undead were all riled up.
Strange Tales of Horror is now available on Createspace!
NorGus’s first anthology, which I have my story entitled VRZ, is now available via Createspace, and should be on Amazon within the next couple of weeks. A great lineup of authors and a pretty wild table of contents for this sucker. Click on the picture below to go to the link on Createspace!
I get interviewed by Joe McKinney!
I wanted to post a link to an interview I did, along with two other young guns in the zombie genre, with Joe McKinney, author of such books as Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead. It was a real honor getting the chance to answer a few questions Mr. McKinney posed of me. He and Wayne Simmons, author of Drop Dead Gorgeous and Flu, have swapped blogs for the week, and so this interview appears on Wayne’s blog, which is doubly cool, since I really dig both these authors. So check out the Q & A I had with Joe, along with Lincoln Crisler and Lyle Perez, who he also interviewed. I am flattered to be in their company. Check it out here: http://waynesimmons.org/blog/?p=250