/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

The Living Dead 2

John Adams

Two years ago, readers eagerly devoured The Living Dead. Publishers Weekly named it one of the Best Books of the Year, and Barnes Noble.com called it "The best collection of zombie fiction ever." Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is back for another bite at the apple – the Adam's apple, that is – with 44 more of the best, most chilling, most thrilling zombie stories anywhere, including virtuoso performances by zombie fiction legends Max Brooks (World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), and David Wellington (Monster Island ). From Left 4 Dead to Zombieland to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, ghoulishness has never been more exciting and relevant. Within these pages samurai warriors face off against the legions of hell, necrotic dinosaurs haunt a mysterious lost world, and eerily clever zombies organize their mindless brethren into a terrifying army. You'll even witness nightmare scenarios in which humanity is utterly wiped away beneath a relentless tide of fetid flesh. The Living Dead 2 has more of what zombie fans hunger for – more scares, more action, more… brains. Experience the indispensable series that defines the very best in zombie literature.

John Joseph Adams, Robert Kirkman, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Paula R. Stiles, Adam-Troy Castro, Karina Sumner-Smith, Matt London, Marc Paoletti, Molly Brown, Seth Lindberg, Walter Greatshell, Jamie Lackey, David J. Schow, David Wellington, Brian Keene, Amelia Beamer, Steven Popkes, Barr Kirtley, Brenna Yovanoff, Max Brooks, Charles Coleman Finlay, Mira Grant, Gary A. Braunbeck, Cherie Priest, Mark McLaughlin, Kyra M. Schon, S. G. Browne, Bret Hammond, Bob Fingerman, Kelly Link, Scott Edelman, David Moody, Rory Harper, Simon R. Green, Kelley Armstrong, Paul McAuley, Joe McKinney, Carrie Ryan, Kim Paffenroth, R. J. Sevin, Julia Sevin, Catherine MacLeod, Steven Gould, Catherynne M. Valente, Jonathan Maberry, Genevieve Valentine, John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow, Sarah Langan

The Living Dead 2

© 2010

Introduction by John Joseph Adams

Turns out, zombies really don’t want to die.

When Night Shade Books and I put the first The Living Dead anthology together a couple years ago (which I will refer to hereafter as Volume One), we had the sense that zombies would be big, but I don’t think any of us realized just how big they would become.

When the book actually came out in September of 2008, it seemed like the timing was perfect, that we would be hitting right at the crest of the zombie’s popularity. But now it looks like they’ve only become more popular in the intervening period, spreading throughout an unsuspecting population like zombiism itself.

In the last couple years there have been a slew of new zombie entertainments released, across all media. There have been new movies (Quarantine, REC2, Deadgirl, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead, Dead Snow, Zombie Strippers, Zombieland); video games (Plants vs. Zombies, Dead Rising 2, Dead Space, Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2); and a veritable horde of books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its sequel, books from several of the contributors to this anthology, and even a Star Wars zombie novel called Death Troopers). Plus, a film adaptation is in the works for Max Brooks’s World War Z, and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead is being made into a television series.

And all of that’s just off the top of my head-if I wanted to make an extensive list, I’m sure it could be ten times longer. If you were inclined to have zombies in all of your entertainment, I expect you’d have very little trouble finding things to watch, play, or read, all of them chock-full of zombie mayhem.

But since zombies have continued to dominate the popular consciousness-and Volume One was so popular with readers and critics-it was an easy decision to do a second volume of zombie stories; after all, even at 230,000 words, I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to into the first book!

And while it’s obvious that the public can’t get enough of zombies, well, I guess it’s just as obvious neither can I.

Let’s talk a bit about this anthology in particular, and how it is similar to and different from Volume One.

Volume One was comprised entirely of reprints (except for one original story, by John Langan), but this volume is mostly original with a mix of selected reprints. Twenty-five of the forty-four stories appear for the first time in this anthology.

With the popularity of zombies infecting the pop culture like it has, more writers than ever have been itching to try their hand at a zombie story, so it was not difficult to find writers eager to participate in the book. I asked some of the top names in zombie fiction-Max Brooks (World War Z), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), David Wellington (Monster Island), Brian Keene (The Rising), and others-along with some bestsellers and rising stars of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields-to write me original stories. And boy did they deliver.

For Volume One, I chose stories that I felt represented the best of the best and together showcased the range of what zombie fiction was capable of. This time around, because my intent was to include the best new stories, I focused on finding the best material that had never previously appeared in a zombie anthology before. So while nineteen of the stories are reprints, there’s a good chance that-even if you’re a hardcore zombie fan-they’ll be entirely new to you.

To bring this introduction to a close, let’s bring it back to where it started: Why are zombies so appealing?

Since Volume One came out, that’s one of my most frequently asked questions. (It’s kind of a curious question, as if there’s some reason zombies shouldn’t be popular. Do people ask NFL football players why football is so popular?)

I can’t claim to know exactly why it is that people love zombies so much, but there are a number of common theories about their popularity.

Zombies are:

• an enemy that used to be us, that we can become at any time;

• a canvas writers can use to comment on almost anything;

• a morality-free way to fulfill a world-destruction fantasy;

• a monster that remains scary and cannot be easily romanticized.

I’m sure that’s all part of it, and we could continue to speculate ad nauseam-I’m sure there are dissertations being written on the subject as we speak. But one thing is clear: Zombies aren’t going to be dying off any time soon, and we’d better learn how to live with them.

Alone, Together by Robert Kirkman

Robert Kirkman is best-known for his work in the comics field as the writer and creator of the critically acclaimed, bestselling zombie comic The Walking Dead-which is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the greatest comics series of all-time. Other comics he’s written for include Invincible, Haunt, and The Astounding Wolf-Man. He has also worked on many Marvel titles, such as Marvel Zombies, Captain America, Ultimate X-Men, The Irredeemable Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four. Despite all of these writing credentials, this is his first piece of published prose fiction.

In The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman set out to tell a different sort of zombie tale. Most such stories focus on a brief period of intense danger-a single night, as in the original Night of the Living Dead-or perhaps a few days or weeks, and concern the characters eluding predators and obtaining the immediate exigencies of survival-food, shelter, weapons.

The Walking Dead follows the characters for month after month after month in their grueling quest to stay alive and, more importantly, to stay sane. The stories present searing portraits of disaster psychology-survivor’s guilt, depression, and hopelessness, as well as the grim humor and small acts of kindness that allow people to carry on. The zombies in this world are an ever-present threat, but for long stretches of the story they fade into the background and the emotional landscapes of the characters take center stage as they feud, break down, fall in love, lose heart, and ultimately endure…or not-for this a gritty, realistic world where no one is safe. The characters learn the hard way that other survivors can be more dangerous than zombies, and that the most dangerous foe of all is your own heart.

Our first story shares this focus on human psychology. This is a zombie story and a love story, the story of an ordinary man in a terrible situation, and of the woman who just might be his only hope to make it out alive.


She was dressed like a private detective from a low-budget TV show-a pair of slacks, modest high heels, and the most ridiculous trench coat I’d ever seen, one of the shorter ones, that hung just above the knees. I couldn’t help but laugh, and it was obvious my reaction annoyed her, but she did her best to hide her feelings as she pressed a finger to my lips, quieting me, and gently nudged me back inside my apartment.

We’d been dating for nearly three months. The next day was our anniversary, and we were supposed to do something together. I can’t remember what now, but she had some sort of last minute work obligation crop up. She called to tell me she wanted to see me that night. I had hung up the phone maybe five minutes before she arrived. She must have called me on the way. She had nothing in her hands. No present. I was suspicious.

As she closed the door she flashed a naughty grin and opened the trench coat. It’s not an overstatement to say that that moment changed my life. Her slacks stopped shortly above where the coat ended. She’d cut the legs off of a pair of her pants and attached them to a garter belt.

She wore nothing else under the coat.

To say this looked slightly ridiculous wouldn’t be a lie but in that moment I couldn’t care less about how silly she looked. She was gorgeous, full-figured in all the right ways, dark hair, bright eyes. I instantly fell in love with her, head over heels, hopelessly smitten, and all that. I already knew she was smart, funny, kind, and all that other good stuff, but to see this work of genius- these pant legs, concocted to better sell the old naked-under-the-trench-coat gag, knowing how much thought and preparation went into something so completely and utterly silly-I instantly knew that this was the woman for me.

I proposed to her in that very moment. She thought I was joking, of course, but when I did it again two weeks later, properly and with a ring, she accepted. We were married six months later.

We were married four wonderful years before the world around us fell apart. The world as we knew it quickly disappeared, leaving us and everyone else lost without any hope of regaining the lives we’d grown accustomed to. Diane died two weeks after we abandoned our home.

My name is Timothy Stinnot, and if it’s Christmas I’m twenty-eight. Yes, it’s as horrible as you would imagine, growing up with a birthday on Christmas. An entire childhood of receiving exactly one more present on Christmas day than my little brother, only to watch him celebrate essentially a second Christmas a few months later. It’s not easy for a kid to overcome that kind of jealousy. Justin is probably dead by now; I have no way of knowing for sure. Some days, I’m jealous of him for that, too.

My father-who I must also assume is now dead-had this saying when we were growing up: “If not today, when?” It was usually just to get me to clean my room or some other chore I’d been avoiding. He didn’t really give me much advice that didn’t have a direct correlation to something he wanted me to do at the time. It’s really just another way to say: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” But his way was a little catchier. Of course, these days I’ve altered the saying to better reflect the times. Now it’s, “If not right now, when?”

These days, tomorrow is much less of a guarantee.

I should be sleeping. Instead, I’m sitting next to the window looking down at the grocery store across the street, listening to Alicia breathe as she sleeps on the floor next to me. I saw the store on our way in earlier tonight. Dad’s motto be damned, it was much too dark to try anything then so I didn’t even mention it to Alicia. Maybe I wanted to surprise her; maybe I just didn’t want to let her down. But I can’t stop fantasizing about what we might find in that worn-down, abandoned building.


So, I should be sleeping, but instead I sit here, in this empty apartment, surrounded by trash and belongings that weren’t quite worth taking when the owners left. I alternate between staring at the store, and watching the quiet rise and fall of Alicia’s chest as she sleeps.

She’s not the most beautiful woman in the world, or at least she wouldn’t have been-before. Now she very well might be. Blonde and bone-skinny with a boyish figure, she’s pretty much the exact opposite of Diane and not at all the type of girl I would have dated in my previous life.

Have you ever heard of Smurfette Syndrome? Smurfette was the lone female Smurf on the children’s cartoon of the same name. The syndrome dictates that when a group of men have only one female, the men in that group will grow to find her attractive, no matter how much they may otherwise not be attracted to her if there where other females present. The male desire to procreate takes over your brain and forces you to suddenly consider the only female available to be extremely desirable.

I desire Alicia extremely.

When Diane was still alive I used to think that I could never be with someone else if something ever happened to her. I know it’s something people do all the time but I just couldn’t imagine doing it myself. It seemed like such a betrayal. That was, of course, before Diane died. I never considered what complete and utter loneliness felt like-how tormenting it was, and just how much that torment could make you desire to connect with someone.

We started out as a group of six-five guys plus Alicia. I met up with them about six months ago, almost a month after I’d lost Diane. Alicia and I have been alone for two. Guess what happened to everyone else.

There was David Never-Got-His-Last-Name. He lasted all of ten days: rounded a corner as we were leaving town when the walkers got him. He distracted them long enough for the rest of us to get away.

I never really walked out front much after that. I do more now that it’s just Alicia and I, but even still, not very often. One of the things I love about her is how strong she is, and brave. Things I’d never even say I was, she is. Sometimes I feel like I’m the one protecting her, but really we’re protecting each other. I sometimes wonder what she’d say on the matter.

The Carson twins lasted a little longer than David. We were at a used car lot, trying to siphon enough gas out of the cars and trucks to fill the tank of a passenger van we’d commandeered. There were just four of us by that point and we really should have tried to get something with better gas mileage, but I think we wanted a vehicle we could all sleep in.

Carson One-that’s what I called him when I had to call him by a name-got his leg mangled up by a walker that had been hiding under an old Ford Taurus. I don’t know if it had done that on purpose or if it had ended up there by chance. Either way, Carson One’s leg got mangled all to hell and we knew right away that he was done for, soon to be one of them-we all know what the bite does.

Carson Two-I think it was Two… Come to think of it, I could have them reversed in this story. (That happened a lot.) Anyway, Carson Two saw his brother mangled up, bleeding all over the asphalt, crying and carrying on-and he just loses it. Maybe it was a twin thing, where he was feeling the pain of his brother, but he wailed on that thing like a man possessed, which isn’t something you should ever do-cutting your fists up and rubbing open wounds on one of them is about the same as getting bit. Alicia, James, and I all yelled for him to stop, trying to get him to see what was coming for him. All his screaming and carrying on had drawn a lot of attention-the kind that gets you killed.

The three of us ran away as Carson Two got torn to bits. James and Alicia hadn’t seen as much of that kind of thing as I had. They didn’t talk very much for the next few days.

James was Alicia’s fiancé. They were both very young, about the same age Diane and I were when we got married. Before the whole damn world went to shit, they were in love.

I’m getting upset just thinking about it-the three of us, alone…them hugging and holding each other all the time. The way they slept in a tangled mess, stealing each other’s breath throughout the night. Me off to the side, the worst third-wheel situation in the history of the world. I was still in agony over the loss of my wife and now here I was, trapped with two honest-to-god lovebirds. I wouldn’t have thought that this hell on Earth could be made any worse, but seeing those two so in love with each other somehow did.

The day he died, James and I had been looking for medicine for Alicia. She had been sick for almost a week. We’d been out all day, and it was starting to get dark when we headed home. I was lost in thought, agonizing over all the time I was likely to spend over the next few weeks watching James and Alicia together. Seeing him watching over her, tending to her every need, reminding me of how alone I was, how much I missed Diane.

In a split second it was over. When the walkers moved in and swarmed around him, I watched, unable to save him as they tore him apart. Just like that, he was gone.

I might’ve said that my prayers had been answered but then I’d have to stop and consider who it was that had answered them.

“They got him,” was all I could say to her when I returned to camp. She recovered from her illness in a few days, even without the medicine; she didn’t stop crying until much later.

Over time, the spells between tears got longer and longer and we began to talk about the things we had each lived through. I couldn’t talk about what happened to James without crying, something about being so close to it. I saw Diane slaughtered in front of me, all the others, and now James. It was all too much. Both our hearts had been broken. We were two people, alone, sharing in each other’s agony over what we’d lost. All we had now was each other.

After James was gone, I started to notice things about Alicia that I hadn’t noticed before: the point of her nose and how it was slightly off center; the dent in the middle of her bottom lip; the way her voice would crack ever so slightly when she got excited about something. There was no TV, and no movies, so my main-no, my only-pastime had become obsessing over Alicia.

Alone together, we talked. For hours, day in, day out, about nothing in particular. I told her all about Diane and all that she had meant to me. She talked about meeting James on their college campus. I told her about my mother’s horrible childhood, relaying the stories I’d hear as a child when complaining about absolutely anything at all. She told me about her sister’s heart condition, about the long trips to the hospital, how she occupied herself in the waiting room. No story too mundane, no detail too personal. We had nothing but time and so we talked.

As I look at her now, sleeping on the floor beside me, I realize I’ve never known anyone so intimately. Even Diane had her secrets. But when the world is falling apart around you, secrets become just another luxury that you have to give up…or risk dying for them.

It is a strange thing for me, to feel like I am falling in love all over again. My grief over the loss of Diane has transformed into what feels like real affection for Alicia. But is it real? Do I really love her as much as I loved Diane? Or do I just feel the need for companionship so badly that I would find a way to love anyone?

Is this, in fact, just Smurfette Syndrome?

If it is, I don’t care. My every waking thought for the last two months has been of Alicia. Is she okay? Is she happy? Is she scared? Is she tired?

As I sit here watching her chest rise and fall as she breathes, every so often letting out the faintest hint of a snore, I find my thoughts of the grocery store below shifting away from What will I find for myself? to What might I find for Alicia? What she might like to eat? What things left behind by other survivors might she find some value in?

If there is anything left in that grocery store at all, of course.

But I can’t dwell on that. I have to stay positive. I have to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll go to the store and find out what is left.

When we arrived here, it had been getting dark, and we had only had enough time to make sure this apartment was secure. In the hustle of preparing for nightfall she didn’t even notice that the window overlooks the grocery store. She’s unaware of the possibilities tomorrow could hold-which is why she fell asleep right away, and I’m still up, obsessing over what we might find.

Maybe they’ll have saltine crackers. I know she loves them, and they’d still be relatively edible, if a little stale-those things last forever. Tomorrow we’ll know.


“Did you see it?”

The question wakes me. Alicia is standing near the window, looking down. I should have closed the curtains. Maybe her opening them would have woken me up and given me enough time to see the surprised pleasure in her smile. Too late now; the news has been broken. Still, the look on her face is full of hope and anticipation. I love how excited she gets about little things, even surrounded by all this death and misery.

“I was going to surprise you,” I tell her.

“Oh, that’s so sweet.”

The look on her face fades instantly as she begins to rush me out of our makeshift bed. Somehow I find even her impatience adorable.

“Now get ready, I’m dying to see what’s inside,” she says as she pulls the tattered blanket out from under me.

Clothing is not something that is hard to find-clothes that fit perfectly, sure, but there’s a wealth of clothes a little too loose or a little too tight. We can’t really wash them, so we change clothes every other day or so, rotating through found clothes, trying to stay as clean as we can.

Alicia brushes her hair constantly, not so much for appearance but to keep it from turning into a tangled mess. We have a small bottle of shampoo, but only use it once a week. I made that rule because she blew through the last one so quickly.

I can’t fault her for wanting to stay clean. She still uses way too much toothpaste, though. The tube is already almost empty and we’ve only had it for a month. I cover maybe a quarter the length of my toothbrush with toothpaste when I brush. She uses the full-length, as if you could go down to the corner and buy a new tube when you run out. I’ll need to make a point to look for toothpaste once we get into the grocery store. And soap. And definitely shampoo.

I tighten my belt to hold up my two-sizes-too-big jeans, which I have to admit, I have been wearing for almost three weeks. They still look remarkably close to clean for as much walking as we’ve been doing. The only other pants I’ve found are a bit tight. I wore them for a day and it was miserable. I’m searching this apartment for pants before we go. T-shirts I have plenty of. I usually discard a few before ever wearing them in favor of newly discovered ones. I favor the ugliest ones I can find because they always get a smile out of Alicia. I have a hot pink “Don’t Worry Be Happy” t-shirt that I just can’t get rid of, no matter how many times I’ve worn it.

“Just let me tie my shoes and I’ll be ready,” I tell her.

She impatiently hovers over me and feigns annoyance. Alicia always sleeps in her shoes, just in case we ever have to leave in a hurry. It’s a practice she has often tried to talk me into, but I just can’t sleep with shoes on my feet. She watches me roll my eyes and then offers me a fruit bar.

“Have you eaten anything?” she asks as I tie my other shoe.

“I kind of wanted to wait until we checked the place out before I ate anything. Wouldn’t want to spoil my appetite.”

Alicia shakes her head at me. “You know that’s never a good idea.”

She’s right. I’m sure many people have rushed into such places looking for something to eat, only to get eaten themselves. We could find anything down there, including a large group of walkers. It’s never a good idea to do anything dangerous on an empty stomach.

I eat a blueberry fruit bar. It’s stale and hard to chew, but it’s the best we’ve got. After I choke it down, we make our way to the grocery store.

We very rarely find doors.

I don’t know why, but for whatever reason there aren’t a lot of doors left that haven’t been torn off their hinges. Nearly every door I’ve seen since all of this started has had at least one busted hinge. Especially places like gas stations and grocery stores.

A fair bit of looting took place early on, before people really started thinning out. Sometimes I feel like you’ve almost got better luck finding a large supply of food in an abandoned residence than you do in a grocery store. They’ve all been…ransacked? I think that’s the word I’m looking for. Most places known for having food have already been ransacked. I suppose during that period a shitload of doors got torn off their hinges.

So as a result, the insides of most places are dangerous as all hell. The walkers can just come and go as they please. Seems like a lot of them like to be inside. They seem to be drawn indoors, perhaps because that’s where they mostly stayed before. I don’t really know why, and I don’t much care; all I do know is that when looking around in a grocery store like the one Alicia and I are about to enter, you need to be careful.

The Carson twins had carried guns. I don’t know if they had them before or just found them along the way. Whatever kind of guns they were, I never noticed. Didn’t matter anyway-when the twins died, they took those guns with them.

I’ve never fired a gun. I never really felt qualified to handle one. I think if I had a gun, I’d probably just shoot myself in the foot, or worse. It’s not like a toy; the triggers actually require quite a bit of pressure, or so I’ve heard.

The mechanics of the whole thing seem beyond me. Point, stay steady, shoot… It seems so simple; maybe I’m overthinking it. But don’t you have to cock most guns? And aren’t they supposed to be cleaned regularly or else they jam up? I’ve watched movies where people take guns apart to clean them and there’s all kinds of little springs and shit inside. That baffles me. I’m supposed to somehow figure out how to take a gun apart and put it back together? No fucking way.

Then there’s the sound, which is the number one thing that will draw walkers to you. Firing a gun is like ringing the dinner bell. You may think to yourself: Well, how do you attack them, then? You don’t. Or I don’t, anyway. I run. Anyone who’s smart runs. You see one, you go the other way. If it hasn’t seen you, just keep walking-even at a leisurely pace-and you’ll be just fine. Shoot it and the next thing you know you’re surrounded, and then you’ll be dead.

Guns just aren’t practical.

So if you find yourself in the middle of a large group of walkers-gun or no gun-you’re dead. That’s all there is to it. Only reason you’d want a gun in that situation is so you can turn it on yourself before they tear into you.

That’s another reason I don’t carry one: I know I might be tempted to do just that, and I was always told growing up that suicide was a one-way ticket straight to hell. Not that I necessarily buy into all that, but I’m hedging my bets, or rather, I had been. I don’t know if that should be a concern of mine anymore.

So I carry a knife. You’d be surprised how easy it is to push a knife into one of their faces. If they get too close, or you don’t see them until they’re practically right on top of you, which has happened to me exactly once, you stab them in the face. Didn’t kill it right away the time I did it. More like made a handle on the thing’s head for me to push it away with. They’re not very strong. I knocked it over and wiggled the blade around until it messed its brain up enough that it stopped moving.

Alicia is what you would call petite, so you wouldn’t think a bat would be much use to her, but that’s her weapon of choice. Thing is, you don’t really have to bash a walker’s brains in. The idea is to knock them off balance, and Alicia’s a pro at that. She knocks them in the head with that bat, next thing you know they’re down on their side trying to figure out which way is up, and by then we’re long gone.

Alicia is walking out front. She turns to me just before stepping into the store, shushing me, as if I don’t already know to be quiet. The windows in this place have all been smashed out and there’s broken glass all over the ground, so being quiet is going to be pretty much impossible. If there’s something in there, we’re going to know it right away. And vice versa.

The grocery store is dimly lit from the daylight outside. The front area of the store is in clear view, but anything past that fades into black quickly, especially with our eyes adjusting from the brightness of the midday sun. I’ve never understood why these types of places don’t have windows anywhere but in the front.

The store is small, not a big-time grocery. It’s old, dated, like it’s from the late seventies-the kind of place that just never updated its look. I would have hated shopping here before. It would have reminded me of my childhood, depressed me. This is the kind of place Diane liked. Nostalgic, she would have called it.

“Get your flashlight out,” Alicia whispers.

Looks like I’ll be going into the back. That’s fine, I certainly don’t want Alicia taking the big risks. I can run faster than her. That’s the one thing I’m sure I’m better at.

In places like this, turning the flashlight on causes me no end of anxiety. I’m standing next to a wall of blackness, fiddling around in my backpack for the flashlight. When I finally get it out, there are those few seconds that tick by between turning it on and pointing it at what you’re going to see.

I dread those seconds.

There’s no telling what the flashlight is going to show. There could be a dozen walkers, standing there, patiently waiting to inform me that there will be no treasures to be found here and that I will soon be dead.

Empty shelves, for the most part.

That’s what I see. It’s at once a relief and a huge disappointment. This place has been picked clean.

Alicia is calling me over; she’s found some beef jerky. Usually that’s one of the first things people grab, but this box fell behind one of the check-out counters. I find a can of opened Pringles near a pile of other cans that have been stepped on. I’d eat them, stale and all, but there are bound to be bugs-or worse yet, mice-inside.

In the back of the store I struggle to spend the proper amount of time examining the shelves. The meat section is in the back. As you go down the aisles, the putrid smell intensifies. With each step I think, This is as bad as it’s going to get…until I take another.

Nobody ever took the meat at any of the places we’d been to. The lack of refrigeration makes storing processed meats pretty much impossible. I doubt anyone ever took so much as one package. They just sit in the dark and rot. Even the animals know better than to eat it after a while; they just tear the packages to shit, treating us to the smell.

It stinks in here almost worse than the walkers. You’d think after a while you would become accustomed to all the smells of today’s world. No running water, the stench of death hanging in the air at every turn. Really, though, they aren’t the kind of smells you get used to. You spend so much time in the open air that you have no chance to build up a tolerance. The good part about that is that half the time you smell the walkers before you ever see them.

Of course, if you’re standing near a months-old meat cooler in the back of a dark grocery store, one of them could practically be standing right beside you and you wouldn’t even know it.

And I don’t.

It lumbers forward, reaching for me with that blind grab they all do. I step back, quickly, but careful not to back myself into a corner-I’d done that far too many times to let it happen again.

The walker comes at me, turning the corner, coming at me from the end of the cereal aisle, and all I can think of is Alicia.

“You okay up there?” I yell to her.

“Oh, my God, Timothy!”

She’s rushing down one of the aisles behind the thing, coming toward us. I can’t see her, but I can hear her footsteps as she rushes to my rescue.

“I’m okay! Stay where you are! Don’t-”

Her scream keeps me from finishing my sentence. Another walker has gotten to her.

I continue to struggle with the walker, keeping its gnashing teeth at bay, then manage to jam the knife into its neck. I’d been aiming for its face but there was no time to try for a kill shot now. Pushing it aside I make a break toward the sound of Alicia’s voice. I’m still not quite sure exactly where she is. I blaze across the aisles looking for her, but she’s farther away than I had thought.

I round the corner and see only a mass of dark movement. Is Alicia beneath? On top? Is she even here at all?

I only hear the grunts of a struggle. I can’t immediately tell that they’re hers, but then…yes, it’s her. As I near the struggling mass, I tuck my head down, knowing what I’m going to do. With my arms stretched out at either side, I tackle the beast. I knock it free from Alicia and the thing and I roll off of her in an instant. I swear I hear the sound of bone breaking from the impact, as if I’m demolishing the thing. I fear that’s only my imagination. As I roll on top of it Alicia’s safety is still my only concern, and I never once consider that I’m wrestling a walker, with no clue as to where its mouth is or how in danger of being bit I might be.

I can feel its fingers clawing at my thigh, and my only instinct is to get away, but by then it’s got me-its fingers locked in a death grip around my thigh and my arm. I’m hitting it, kicking at it with my free arm and leg with all my might and I don’t even know what I’m hitting. Suddenly I realize I have my eyes tightly shut, and so I open them-just in time to see Alicia, bathed in light, bringing the baseball bat down on the walker’s head.

She bashes its skull in with a single blow. My arm and thigh now released-Alicia has saved me. She stands over me with the bat, watching the walker-dead for real now-collapse into a heap.

Alicia collapses shortly after.


She offers no response. I can barely stand.

“Were you bitten?” I crawl over to her. She’s concealed in darkness; I can’t see any blood. I don’t know if she’s hurt or if her malnourished body couldn’t take the strain of all this exertion. Whatever the case, I have to get her out where I can see her, to the road where it’s safe and well-lit. I begin dragging her frantically toward the light; no time to lift her up-there could be more of them.

I get halfway to the exit before I remember the broken glass in the front of the store. So I drop to my knees and gather her onto my lap, nearly toppling a nearby shelf as I use it to support me as I force myself to stand. I think I hear rustling as I lumber out of the store; a figment of my imagination and not more of them, I hope.

Out in the street I gently lower her down to the pavement. I examine her face. No blood. Her shirt. No blood. Her pants, the same-but there are rips and tears in her clothing, and it’s possible she received a scratch or a minor bite not yielding much blood. The shoes pop off with little effort, having not been untied and retied in more than a day’s time. Getting her pants over her hips is another matter. She’s always insisted on wearing snug-fitting jeans, or at least as snug-fitting as she could find. She claims she doesn’t want to risk having her clothing get caught on something during an escape, but I think that fashion is the last part of civilization she’s willing to let go of. As I start to pull her shirt off she wakes up, helping me the rest of the way.

There’s not a scrape on her; must have been exhaustion from the struggle. She smiles up at me, and the emotion of the moment shifts. We’re starting to feel safe now.

“How do I look?” she asks.

It sounds cheesy, but I say the first thing that comes to mind: “Perfect.”

Nearly naked, completely vulnerable, in the middle of the road, directly in front of the grocery store, out in the midday sun, she sits up and pushes me onto my backside.

Checking me for wounds is just a formality. I’ve heard of at least two different cases where the adrenaline rush and the shock of the attack kept a person from realizing they had been bitten for several hours. Never witnessed this first hand but I never like to risk anything. Laughing to herself as she struggles to pull off my shoes, she begins to undress me. The urgency in the moment is gone; she takes her time. By the time Alicia begins unbuttoning my pants, I have my own shirt off. I smile at her.

“Nothing to see here,” I tell her.

And so we survived. Again. Our third such close-call together.

We seem to be good luck to each other.

I look into her eyes and she smiles back at me in relief. There’s no feeling more exhilarating than the feeling of being in no danger, immediately after escaping mortal danger.

I try to stand up, wanting to get dressed and go back inside and find my knife, but Alicia pulls me to her and kisses me, and whatever danger I just put myself in for her, this is worth it. If I had a large gash on my ankle in the shape of a bloody bite mark that meant I only had a matter of hours to keep living, this would still be worth it. She’s kissing me, I’m kissing her, and despite my instincts screaming for me to stop, we continue on, kissing faster and more passionately.

I can’t help but question her actions.

“Right here?” I ask.

She tells me to shut up.

Funny, that’s what I wanted to say to myself.

There are any number of things that could come up this road in one way or another. Once we were watching a gas station surrounded by walkers trying to figure out the safest way to get inside when a band of marauders arrived in a large truck. I remember a mean-looking woman with a sword who nearly single-handedly staved off the walkers while other members of her group broke in to clean out the place. I hate to think about what could have happened had they found us inside. They certainly didn’t look like the kind of people we’d want to get to know. That’s how things are now, running into another group of survivors is just as dangerous as finding a group of walkers. You never know how people are going to act. At least the walkers are predictable.

I don’t want to think about what would happen if anyone were to come walking up the street right now, so I don’t. Alicia and I lose ourselves in each other. I don’t know what brought this on-maybe it was her waking up to me stripping her down, seeing me labor and stress over her well-being, or the general excitement of the whole ordeal, but whatever it is, I don’t care.

It is only the second time we’ve made love.

Diane, please forgive me.

You may find yourself thinking about how uncomfortable it would be to have sex in the middle of an open road, next to a ransacked grocery store littered with shards of broken glass. Don’t dwell on it. This rural road already has large patches of weeds growing up through the cracked asphalt, soft little patches of lawn in the middle of harsh pavement. Between that and our discarded clothing, we do just fine.

When it’s over my mind is racing. The one thing we’ve never talked about is how she really feels about me. We spend every waking moment together, but we do that because we have to. If there was anyone else to talk to, maybe she would favor them instead. Maybe I would, too, but I doubt it.

No, this is real. The look in her eyes when she looks at me: that’s love. I may not know much, but I know what that looks like. She may not feel it for me as strongly as I do for her… but it’s there.

I can tell.

Alicia loves me.

She loves me! I think to myself, at first excited, and then burdened with the guilt of officially having a new relationship after losing Diane less than a year ago. My mind races as I return to the grocery store to retrieve my knife. That’s not something I can just leave behind.

I’d reconciled myself to never loving again after I lost Diane. I’ve learned to live with it. I remember her, and it makes me sad. That was my burden, the pain I carry inside me. Alicia, I thought, liked me and was with me because I was all that was available. She found comfort in my arms. I was fine with leaving it at that.

This is something else entirely. This makes the relationship real. She’s getting over James, I’m getting over Diane, and we have mutual feelings for each other. This isn’t something I can take lightly. This is something I have to treat with respect. That’s what Alicia deserves.

She deserves to know the truth.

There were a few houses in the area and a lot of daylight left. We decided to explore them, and see if we could find more supplies. Over the course of the day we found clothes, another bottle of shampoo, some soap, toothpaste, and a whole mess of food: canned soup, crackers, and various things that were either completely unspoiled or edible, but only if you were really hungry.

There were a few walkers milling about, in or around the houses but we saw them early and easily avoided them. This was a small miracle, as distracted as I was. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had to tell Alicia, what I was going to say to her tonight. By the time we returned to the apartment across the street from the grocery store, darkness had already come.

The thing that kept running through my head all day-the thing I had to tell Alicia-was how James really died.

The day James died, it had just been the three of us-James, Alicia, and I-for weeks. I missed Diane so much. My grief over losing her was still fresh in my mind. I like to think I wasn’t myself. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were before, and knowing that that would never be possible made me more angry than I’d ever been in my life.

They say people are capable of doing things when they’re grieving that they would never consider otherwise.

Seeing Diane die right in front of me scarred me. Watching those things tear into her, unable to do anything about it. Seeing the terror in her eyes as she screamed for help, only to see her life fade away moments later. There are things that we’re now forced to deal with on a daily basis that I don’t think we should have ever had to deal with.

I loved Diane. Alicia loved James. I didn’t want to see her go through that much pain. I didn’t want to kill James.

But I thought about it.

He and I were alone that day, all day. I knew that if he were to die, maybe I wouldn’t get Diane back, but at the very least, I wouldn’t have to see the two of them together anymore. I wouldn’t have to see, in them, exactly what I wanted for myself.

I had opportunities. My knife in hand, his back to me. I wouldn’t have even had to see his face. In the end, I couldn’t do it. It was too much, I could never go that far. I couldn’t kill him myself.

Luckily, it was a dangerous world we were living in.

The day was nearly over. We were talking, deciding whether or not to search one last house for medicine before starting our journey back.

I saw them coming.

He didn’t.

There was a moment, just after he saw them-too late!-that he looked at me, screaming for help. In that moment I could have stepped in and helped him fight them off. Instead, I stepped back. Everything I’d been thinking about that day affected that split-second decision.

Immediately, I realized what I’d done, and I suddenly wanted to help him but by then it was too late, there were too many of them.

James was dead.

It was only a second-a brief moment where the pain of seeing them together had reached a crescendo within me and made me do that awful thing.

People were dying every second of every day. Most everyone I’d ever known was probably dead. What’s one more? I thought. What’s one more if it means I’ll be happier?

What’s one more if she never has to know what I’ve done?

But now Alicia loves me, and I can’t keep this from her any longer.

Maybe we were meant to be together. Maybe Diane and James were meant to die. Maybe that was necessary to bring Alicia and me together to ensure our survival.

Standing in the apartment, moonlight filling the room from the open window, I embrace Alicia and tell her I love her. She responds in kind, like I knew she would. I take one final look at her, and take a mental snapshot of the Alicia who is unaware of the evil I have done.

Then I tell her everything.

I tell her because I love her. I tell her because I respect her. I tell her because I hope she’ll forgive me.

When I’m done, the look on her face surprises me. She looks at me not with anger, but with sorrow. She looks at me as if I told her I’d killed myself, and maybe that’s what I just did. The man she’d fallen in love with was a lie. She starts crying, and before long is sobbing heavily.

I didn’t expect the screaming.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

She begins pounding on my chest with her fists, hitting me repeatedly, but it’s all I can say: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

I weather the storm; it’s what I deserve. Before long her anger fades and she collapses. I embrace her and we cry together for a while.

All we have to lean on is each other. Neither of us can get through this alone.

She has forgiven me, I think, as we lie together in the darkness. I’m all she has. She can’t stay mad at me forever. The fact that I told her has to count for something, doesn’t it? She has to know this is something I regret, that it will haunt me for as long as I live.

I think it will be a long time before things will be back to normal between us. But we’ll get there and when we do our bond will be that much stronger now that there are no secrets between us.

We’re going to have to make the best of this world around us if we’re going to survive. Everything is going to be okay. That’s what I think as I drift off to sleep, Alicia sobbing in my arms.

The sun of a new morning shines through the open window, waking me. The bedding beside me is colder than it should be. I reach for Alicia but she’s not there. My eyes open, I look around.


She’s gone. And she’s taken all our food, all our supplies, and all of our weapons.

Whether she’s meant to or not, she has killed me.

I won’t last more than five days alone.

Truth be told-without her, I don’t want to.

Danger Word by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due

Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due are frequent collaborators; in fiction, they’ve produced film scripts, this story, and three Tennyson Hardwick detective novels, the latest of which is From Cape Town with Love (written with actor Blair Underwood). In life, they’re married.

Barnes is the bestselling author of many novels, such as Lion’s Blood, Zulu Heart, Great Sky Woman, and Shadow Valley. He’s also worked on television shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Andromeda, and Stargate. Due is a two-time finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, and her novels include the My Soul to Keep series, The Between, The Good House, and Joplin’s Ghost.

Barnes’s short work has appeared in Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction, while Due’s has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Dark Delicacies II, and Voices from the Other Side. Stories by both have been included in the anthologies Dark Dreams (where this story first appeared), Dark Matter, and Mojo: Conjure Stories.

It’s a universal human urge to leave the world a better place than you found it, and to pass on to your children a world where they can have a happier, more prosperous life than you had. This has mostly been the case throughout human history, as ever-expanding infrastructure and knowledge have generally made life more secure and comfortable generation after generation, through innovations such as fertilizers, vaccines, antibiotics, indoor plumbing, and electronics. But now adults are facing the despairing sense that today’s youth will experience significantly more hardship than the previous generation, as today’s young people confront a world of economic ruin and environmental catastrophe that they had no hand in creating.

Recent works have grappled with this generational guilt in different ways. One of the best-known examples is Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, a post-apocalyptic story in which a father attempts to guide his young son through a devastated landscape, all the while knowing that their situation is hopeless. The notion of enduring anything to protect your children is a primal one, and one of the worst things that most people can imagine is being helpless to aid their children. Our next story deals with this theme in a powerful way.

For a generation facing the prospect of bequeathing to their children a shattered world, one fear stands out even more than being helpless to protect your child: that you yourself might be the architect of your child’s undoing.


When Kendrick opened his eyes, Grandpa Joe was standing over his bed, a tall dark bulk dividing the morning light. Grandpa Joe’s beard covered his dark chin like a coat of snow. Mom used to say that guardian angels watched over you while you slept, and Grandpa Joe looked like he might have been guarding him all night with his shotgun. Kendrick didn’t believe in guardian angels anymore, but he was glad he could believe in Grandpa Joe.

Most mornings, Kendrick opened his eyes to only strangeness: dark, heavy curtains, wooden planks for walls, a brownish-gray stuffed owl mounted near the window, with glassy black eyes that twitched as the sun set-or seemed to. A rough pine bed. And that smell everywhere, like the smell in Mom and Dad’s closet. Cedar, Grandpa Joe told him. Grandpa Joe’s big, hard hands had made the whole cabin of it, one board and beam at a time.

For the last six months, this had been his room, but it still wasn’t, really. His Spider-Man bed sheets weren’t here. His G.I. Joes, Tonka trucks, and Matchbox racetracks weren’t here. His posters of Blade and Shaq weren’t on the walls. This was his bed, but it wasn’t his room.

“Up and at ’em, Little Soldier,” Grandpa Joe said, using the nickname Mom had never liked. Grandpa was dressed in his hickory shirt and blue jeans, the same clothes he wore every day. He leaned on his rifle like a cane, so his left knee must be hurting him like it always did in the mornings. He’d hurt it long ago, in Vietnam.

“I’m going trading down to Mike’s. You can come if you want, or I can leave you with the Dog-Girl. Up to you.” Grandpa’s voice was morning-rough. “Either way, it’s time to get out of bed, sleepyhead.”

Dog-Girl, the woman who lived in a house on a hill by herself fifteen minutes’ walk west, was their closest neighbor. Once upon a time she’d had six pit bulls that paraded up and down her fence. In the last month that number had dropped to three. Grandpa Joe said meat was getting scarce. Hard to keep six dogs fed, even if you needed them. The dogs wagged their tails when Kendrick came up to the fence, because Dog-Girl had introduced him to them, but Grandpa Joe said those dogs could tear a man’s arms off.

“Don’t you ever stick your hand in there,” Grandpa Joe always said. “Just because a dog looks friendly don’t mean he is. Especially when he’s hungry.”

“Can I have a Coke?” Kendrick said, surprised to hear his own voice again, so much smaller than Grandpa Joe’s, almost a little girl’s. Kendrick hadn’t planned to say anything today, but he wanted the Coke so bad he could almost taste the fizz; it would taste like a treat from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

“If Mike’s got one, you’ll get one. For damn sure.” Grandpa Joe’s grin widened until Kendrick could see the hole where his tooth used to be: his straw-hole, Grandpa Joe called it. He mussed Kendrick’s hair with his big palm. “Good boy, Kendrick. You keep it up. I knew your tongue was in there somewhere. You better start using it, or you’ll forget how. Hear me? You start talking again, and I’ll whip you up a lumberjack breakfast, like before.”

It would be good to eat one of Grandpa Joe’s famous lumberjack breakfasts again, piled nearly to the ceiling: a bowl of fluffy eggs, a stack of pancakes, a plate full of bacon and sausage, and homemade biscuits to boot. Grandpa Joe had learned to cook in the Army.

But whenever Kendrick thought about talking, his stomach filled up like a balloon and he thought he would puke. Some things couldn’t be said out loud, and some things shouldn’t. There was more to talking than most people thought. A whole lot more.

Kendrick’s eye went to the bandage on Grandpa Joe’s left arm, just below his elbow, where the tip peeked out at the edge of his shirtsleeve. Grandpa Joe had said he’d hurt himself chopping wood yesterday, and Kendrick’s skin had hardened when he’d seen a spot of blood on the bandage. He hadn’t seen blood in a long time. He couldn’t see any blood now, but Kendrick still felt worried. Mom said Grandpa Joe didn’t heal as fast as other people, because of his diabetes. What if something happened to him? He was old. Something could.

“That six-point we brought down will bring a good haul at Mike’s. We’ll trade jerky for gas. Don’t like to be low on gas,” Grandpa said. His foot slid a little on the braided rug as he turned to leave the room, and Kendrick thought he heard him hiss with pain under his breath. “And we’ll get that Coke for you. Whaddya say, Little Soldier?”

Kendrick couldn’t make any words come out of this mouth this time, but at least he was smiling, and smiling felt good. They had something to smile about, for once.

Three days ago a buck had come to drink from the creek.

Through the kitchen window, Kendrick had seen something move-antlers, it turned out-and Grandpa Joe grabbed his rifle when Kendrick motioned. Before the shot exploded, Kendrick had seen the buck look up, and Kendrick thought, It knows. The buck’s black eyes reminded him of Dad’s eyes when he had listened to the news on the radio in the basement, hunched over his desk with a headset. Kendrick had guessed it was bad news from the trapped look in his father’s eyes.

Dad would be surprised at how good Kendrick was with a rifle now. He could blow away an empty Chef Boyardee ravioli can from twenty yards. He’d learned how to aim on Max Payne and Medal of Honor, but Grandpa Joe had taught him how to shoot for real, a little every day. Grandpa Joe had a roomful of guns and ammunition-the back shed, which he kept locked-so they never ran low on bullets.

Kendrick supposed he would have to shoot a deer one day soon. Or an elk. Or something else. The time would come, Grandpa Joe said, when he would have to make a kill whether he wanted to or not. “You may have to kill to survive, Kendrick,” he said. “I know you’re only nine, but you need to be sure you can do it.”

Before everything changed, Grandpa Joe used to ask Mom and Dad if he could teach Kendrick how to hunt during summer vacation, and they’d said no. Dad didn’t like Grandpa much, maybe because Grandpa Joe always said what he thought, and he was Mom’s father, not Dad’s. And Mom didn’t go much easier on him, always telling Grandpa Joe no, no matter what he asked. No, you can’t keep him longer than a couple weeks in the summer. No, you can’t teach him shooting. No, you can’t take him hunting.

Now there was no one to say no. No one except Grandpa Joe, unless Mom and Dad came back. Grandpa Joe had said they might, and they knew where to find him. They might.

Kendrick put on the red down jacket he’d been wearing the day Grandpa Joe found him. He’d sat in this for never-ending hours in the safe room at home, the storage space under the stairs with a reinforced door, a chemical toilet, and enough food and water for a month. Mom had sobbed, “Bolt the door tight. Stay here, Kendrick, and don’t open the door until you hear Grandpa’s danger word-NO MATTER WHAT.”

She made him swear to Jesus, and she’d never made him swear to Jesus before. He’d been afraid to move or breathe. He’d heard other footsteps in the house, the awful sound of crashing and breaking. A single terrible scream. It could have been his mother, or father, or neither-he just didn’t know.

Followed by silence, for one hour, two, three. Then the hardest part. The worst part.

“Show me your math homework, Kendrick.”

The danger word was the special word he and Grandpa Joe had picked because Grandpa Joe had insisted on it. Grandpa Joe had made a special trip in his truck to tell them something bad could happen to them, and he had a list of reasons how and why. Dad didn’t like Grandpa Joe’s yelling much, but he’d listened. So Kendrick and Grandpa Joe had made up a danger word nobody else in the world knew, not even Mom and Dad.

And he had to wait to hear the danger word, Mom said.

No matter what.

By the time Kendrick dressed, Grandpa was already outside loading the truck, a beat-up navy blue Chevy. Kendrick heard a thud as he dropped a large sack of wrapped jerky in the bed.

Grandpa Joe had taught him how to mix up the secret jerky recipe he hadn’t even given Mom: soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, fresh garlic cloves, dried pepper, onion powder. He’d made sure Kendrick was paying attention while strips of deer meat soaked in that tangy mess for two days and then spent twelve hours in the slow-cook oven. Grandpa Joe had also made him watch as he cut the deer open and its guts flopped to the ground, all gray and glistening. “Watch, boy. Don’t turn away. Don’t be scared to look at something for what it is.”

Grandpa Joe’s deer jerky was almost as good as the lumberjack breakfast, and Kendrick’s mouth used to water for it. Not anymore.

His jerky loaded, Grandpa Joe leaned against the truck, lighting a brown cigarette. Kendrick thought he shouldn’t be smoking.


Kendrick nodded. His hands shook a little every time he got in the truck, so he hid his hands in his jacket pockets. Some wadded-up toilet paper from the safe room in Longview was still in there, a souvenir. Kendrick clung to the wad, squeezing his hand into a fist.

“We do this right, we’ll be back in less than an hour,” Grandpa Joe said. He spit, as if the cigarette had come apart in his mouth. “Forty-five minutes.”

Forty-five minutes. That wasn’t bad. Forty-five minutes, then they’d be back.

Kendrick stared at the cabin in the rearview mirror until the trees hid it from his sight.

The road was empty, as usual. Grandpa Joe’s rutted dirt road spilled onto the highway after a half-mile, and they jounced past darkened, abandoned houses. Kendrick saw three stray dogs trot out of the open door of a pink two-story house on the corner. He’d never seen that door open before, and he wondered whose dogs they were. He wondered what they’d been eating.

Suddenly, Kendrick wished he’d stayed back at Dog-Girl’s. She was from England and he couldn’t always understand her, but he liked being behind her fence. He liked Popeye and Ranger and Lady Di, her dogs. He tried not to think about the ones that were gone now. Maybe she’d given them away.

They passed tree farms, with all the trees growing the same size, identical, and Kendrick enjoyed watching their trunks pass in a blur. He was glad to be away from the empty houses.

“Get me a station,” Grandpa Joe said.

The radio was Kendrick’s job. Unlike Dad, Grandpa Joe never kept the radio a secret.

The radio hissed and squealed up and down the FM dial, so Kendrick tried AM next. Grandpa Joe’s truck radio wasn’t good for anything. The shortwave at the cabin was better.

A man’s voice came right away, a shout so loud it was like screaming.

“…and in those days shall men seek death and shall not find it…and shall desire to die and death shall flee from them…”

“Turn that bullshit off,” Grandpa Joe snapped. Kendrick hurried to turn the knob, and the voice was gone. “Don’t you believe a word of that, you hear me? That’s B-U-double-L bullshit. Things are bad now, but they’ll get better once we get a fix on this thing. Anything can be beat, believe you me. I ain’t givin’ up, and neither should you. That’s givin’-up talk.”

The next voices were a man and a woman who sounded so peaceful that Kendrick wondered where they were. What calm places were left? “…mobilization at the Vancouver Armory. That’s from the commander of the Washington National Guard. So you see,” the man said, “there are orchestrated efforts. There has been progress in the effort to reclaim Portland, and even more in points north. The Armory is secure, and running survivors to the islands twice a week. Look at Rainier. Look at Devil’s Wake. As long as you stay away from the large urban centers, there are dozens of pockets where people are safe and life is going on.”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said. “Of course there are.”

“There’s a learning curve. That’s what people don’t understand.”

“Absolutely.” The woman sounded absurdly cheerful.

“Everybody keeps harping on Longview…” The man said “Longview” as if it were a normal, everyday place. Kendrick’s stomach tightened when he heard it. “…but that’s become another encouraging story. Contrary to rumors, there is a National Guard presence. There are limited food supplies. There’s a gated community in the hills housing over four hundred. Remember, safety in numbers. Any man, woman, or teenager who’s willing to enlist is guaranteed safe lodging. Fences are going up, roads barricaded. We’re getting this under control. That’s a far cry from what we were hearing even five, six weeks ago.”

“Night and day,” the cheerful woman said. Her voice trembled with happiness.

Grandpa Joe reached over to rub Kendrick’s head. “See there?” he said.

Kendrick nodded, but he wasn’t happy to imagine that a stranger might be in his bed. Maybe it was another family with a little boy. Or twins.

But probably not. Dog-Girl said the National Guard was long gone and nobody knew where to find them. “Bunch of useless bloody shit-heads,” she’d said-the first time he’d heard the little round woman cuss. Her accent made cussing sound exotic. If she was right, dogs might be roaming through his house, too, looking for something to eat.

“…There’s talk that a Bay Area power plant is up again. It’s still an unconfirmed rumor, and I’m not trying to wave some magic wand here, but I’m just making the point-and I’ve tried to make it before-that life probably felt a lot like this in Hiroshima.”

“Yes,” the woman said. From her voice, Hiroshima was somewhere very important.

“Call it apples and oranges, but put yourself in the place of a villager in Rwanda. Or an Auschwitz survivor. There had to be some days that felt exactly the way we feel when we hear these stories from Seattle and Portland, and when we’ve talked to the survivors…”

Just ahead, along the middle of the road, a man was walking.

Kendrick sat straight up when he saw him, balling up the tissue wad in his pocket so tightly that he felt his fingernails bite into his skin. The walking man was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing a brick-red backpack. He lurched along unsteadily. From the way he bent forward, as if bracing into a gale, Kendrick guessed the backpack was heavy.

He hadn’t ever seen anyone walking on this road.

“Don’t you worry,” Grandpa Joe said. Kendrick’s neck snapped back as Grandpa Joe speeded up his truck. “We ain’t stoppin’.”

The man let out a mournful cry as they passed, waving a cardboard sign. He had a long, bushy beard, and as they passed, his eyes looked wide and wild. Kendrick craned his head to read the sign, which the man held high in the air: STILL HERE, the sign read.

“He’ll be all right,” Grandpa Joe said, but Kendrick didn’t think so. No one was supposed to go on the roads alone, especially without a car. Maybe the man had a gun, and maybe they would need another man with a gun. Maybe the man had been trying to warn them something bad was waiting for them ahead.

But the way he walked…

“No matter what,” Mom had said.

Kendrick kept watching while the man retreated behind them. He had to stop watching when he felt nausea pitch in his stomach. He’d been holding his breath without knowing it. His face was cold and sweating, both at once.

“Was that one?” Kendrick whispered.

He hadn’t known he was going to say that either, just like when he’d asked for a Coke. Instead, he’d been thinking about the man’s sign. STILL HERE.

“Don’t know,” Grandpa Joe said. “It’s hard to tell. That’s why you never stop.”

They listened to the radio, neither of them speaking again for the rest of the ride.

Time was, Joseph Earl Davis III never would have driven past anyone on the road without giving them a chance to hop into the bed and ride out a few miles closer to wherever they were going. Hell, he’d picked up a group of six college-age kids and driven them to the Centralia compound back in April.

But Joe hadn’t liked the look of that hitcher. Something about his walk. Or, maybe times were just different. If Kendrick hadn’t been in the car, Jesus as his witness, Joe might have run that poor wanderer down where he walked. An ounce of prevention. That was what it had come to in Joe Davis’s mind. Drastic measures. You just never knew; that was the thing.

EREH LLITS, the man’s sign said in the mirror, receding into a tiny, unreadable blur.

Yeah, I’m still here, too, Joe thought. And not picking up hitchhikers was one way he intended to stay here, thanks a bunch for asking.

Freaks clustered in the cities, but there were plenty of them wandering through the countryside nowadays, actual packs. Thousands, maybe. Joe had seen his first six months ago, coming into Longview to rescue his grandson. His first, his fifth, and his tenth. He’d done what he had to do to save the boy, then shut the memories away where they couldn’t sneak into his dreams. Then drank enough to make the dreams blurry.

A week later, he’d seen one closer to home, not three miles beyond the gated road, not five miles from the cabin. Its face was bloated blue-gray, and flies buzzed around the open sores clotted with that dark red scabby shit that grew under their skin. The thing could barely walk, but it had smelled him, swiveling in his direction like a scarecrow on a pivot.

Joe still dreamed about that one every night. That one had chosen him.

Joe left the freaks alone unless one came at him-that was safest if you were by yourself. He’d seen a poor guy shoot one down in a field, and then a swarm came from over a hill. Some of those fuckers could walk pretty fast, could run, and they weren’t stupid, by God.

But Joe had killed that one, the pivoting one that had chosen him. He’d kill it a dozen times again if he had the chance; it was a favor to both of them. That shambling mess had been somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, somebody’s father. People said freaks weren’t really dead-they didn’t climb out of graves like movie monsters-but they were as close to walking dead as Joe ever wanted to see. Something was eating them from the inside out, and if they bit you, the freak shit would start eating you, too. You fell asleep, and you woke up different.

The movies had that part right, anyway.

As for the rest, nobody knew much. People who met freaks up close and personal didn’t live long enough to write reports about them. Whatever they were, freaks weren’t just a city problem anymore. They were everybody’s problem.

“Can you hold on, Dad? My neighbor’s knocking on the window.”

That’s what Cass had said the last time they’d spoken, then he hadn’t heard any more from his daughter for ten agonizing minutes. The next time he’d heard her voice, he’d barely recognized it, so calm it could be nothing but a mask over mortal terror. “DADDY? Don’t talk-just listen. I’m so sorry. For everything. No time to say it all. They’re here. You need to come and get Kendrick. Use the danger word. Do you hear me, Daddy? And…bring guns. Shoot anyone suspicious. I mean anyone, Daddy.”

“Daddy,” she’d called him. She hadn’t called him that in years.

That day he’d woken up with alarm twisting his gut for no particular reason. That was why he’d raised Cassidy on the shortwave two hours earlier than he usually did, and she’d sounded irritated that he’d called before she was up. “My neighbor’s knocking on the window.”

Joe had prayed he wouldn’t find what he knew would be waiting in Longview. He’d known what might happen to Cass, Devon, and Kendrick the moment he’d found them letting neighbors use the shortwave and drink their water like they’d been elected the Rescue Committee. They couldn’t even name one of the women in their house. That was Cass and Devon for you. Acting like naive fools, and he’d told them as much.

Still, even though he’d tried to make himself expect the worst, he couldn’t, really. If he ever dwelled on that day, he might lose his mind…and then what would happen to Kendrick?

Anytime Joe brought up that day, the kid’s eyes whiffed out like a dead pilot light. It had taken Kendrick hours to finally open that reinforced door and let him in, even though Joe had used the danger word again and again. And Kendrick had spoken hardly a word since.

Little Soldier was doing all right today. Good. He’d need to be tougher, fast. The kid had regressed from nine to five or six, just when Joe needed him to be as old as he could get.

As Joe drove beyond the old tree farms, the countryside opened up on either side; fields on his left, a range of hills on his right. There’d been a cattle farm out here once, but the cattle were gone. Wasn’t much else out here, and there never had been.

Except for Mike’s. Nowadays, Mike’s was the only thing left anyone recognized.

Mike’s was a gas station off exit 46 with porta-potties out back and a few shelves inside crammed with things people wanted: flour, canned foods, cereal, powdered milk, lanterns, flashlights, batteries, first aid supplies, and bottled water. And gas, of course. How he kept getting this shit, Joe had no idea. “If I told you that, I’d be out of business, bro,” Mike had told him when Joe asked, barking a laugh at him.

Last time he’d driven out here, Joe had asked Mike why he’d stayed behind when so many others were gone. Why not move somewhere less isolated? Even then, almost a full month ago, folks had been clumping up in Longview, barricading the school, jail, and hospital. Had to be safer, if you could buy your way in. Being white helped, too. They said it didn’t, but Joe Davis knew it did. Always had, always would. Things like that just went underground for a time, that’s all. Times like these the ugly stuff festered and exploded back topside.

Mike wasn’t quite as old as Joe-sixty-three to Joe’s more cumbersome seventy-one-but Joe thought he was foolhardy to keep the place open. Sure, all the stockpiling and bartering had made Mike a rich man, but was gasoline and Rice-A-Roni worth the risk? “I don’t run, Joe. Guess I’m hardheaded.” That was all he’d said.

Joe had known Mike since he first built his cedar cabin in 1989, after retiring from his berth as supply sergeant at Fort McArthur. Mike had just moved down from Alberta, and they’d talked movies, then jazz. They’d discovered a mutual love of Duke Ellington and old sitcoms. Mike had always been one of his few friends around here. Now he was the only one.

Joe didn’t know whether to hope his friend would still be there or to pray he was gone. Better for him to be gone, Joe thought. One day he and the kid would have to move on, too, plain and simple. That day was coming soon. That day had probably come and gone twice over.

Joe saw a glint of the aluminum fencing posted around Mike’s as he came around the bend, the end of the S in the road. Although it looked more like a prison camp, Mike’s was an oasis, a tiny squat store and a row of gas pumps surrounded by a wire fence a man and a half tall. The fence was electrified at night: Joe had seen at least one barbecued body to prove it, and everyone had walked around the corpse as if it weren’t there. With gas getting scarcer, Mike tended to trust the razor wire more, using the generator less these days.

Mike’s three boys, who’d never proved to be much good at anything else, had come in handy for keeping order. They’d had two or three gunfights there, Mike had said, because strangers with guns thought they could go anywhere they pleased and take anything they wanted.

Today, the gate was hanging open. He’d never come to Mike’s when there wasn’t someone standing at the gate. All three of Mike’s boys were usually there, with their greasy hair and their pale fleshy bellies bulging through their too-tight T-shirts. No one today.

Something was wrong.

“Shit,” Joe said aloud before he remembered he didn’t want to scare the kid. He pinched Kendrick’s chin between his forefinger and thumb, and his grandson peered up at him, resigned, the expression he always wore these days. “Let’s just sit here a minute, okay?”

Little Soldier nodded. He was a good kid.

Joe coasted the truck to a stop outside the gate. While it idled, he tried to see what he could. The pumps stood silent and still on their concrete islands, like two men with their hands in their pockets. There was a light on inside, a super-white fluorescent glow through the picture windows painted with the words GAS, FOOD in red. He could make out a few shelves from where he was parked, but he didn’t see anyone inside. The air pulsed with the steady burr of Mike’s generator, still working.

At least it didn’t look like anyone had rammed or cut the gate. The chain looked intact, so it had been unlocked. If there’d been trouble here, it had come with an invitation. Nothing would have made those boys open that gate otherwise. Maybe Mike and his boys had believed all that happy-talk on the radio, ditched their place, and moved to Longview. The idea made Joe feel so relieved that he forgot the ache in his knee.

And leave the generator on? Bullshit.

Tire tracks drew patterns in hardened mud. Mike’s was a busy place. Damn greedy fool.

Beside him, Joe felt the kid fidgeting in his seat, and Joe didn’t blame him. He had more than half a mind to turn around and start driving back toward home. The jerky would keep. He had enough gas to last him. He’d come back when things looked right again.

But he’d promised the kid a Coke. That was the only thing. And it would help erase a slew of memories if he could bring a grin to the kid’s face today. Little Soldier’s grins were a miracle. His little chipmunk cheeks were the spitting image of Cass’s at his age.

“Daddy,” she’d called him on the radio. “Daddy.”

Don’t think about that don’t think don’t-

Joe leaned on his horn. He let it blow five seconds before he laid off.

After a few seconds, the door to the store opened, and Mike stood there leaning against the doorjamb, a big, ruddy white-haired Canuck with linebacker shoulders and a pigskin-sized bulge above his belt. He was wearing an apron like he always did, as if he ran a butcher shop instead of a gas station. Mike peered out at them and waved. “Come on in!” he called out.

Joe leaned out of the window. “Where the boys at?” he called back.

“They’re fine!” Mike said. Over the years, Joe had tried a dozen times to convince Mike he couldn’t hear worth shit. No sense asking after the boys again until he got closer.

The wind skittered a few leaves along the ground between the truck and the door, and Joe watched their silent dance for a few seconds, considering. “I’m gonna go do this real quick, Kendrick,” Joe finally said. “Stay in the truck.”

The kid didn’t say anything, but Joe saw the terror freeze his face. The kid’s eyes went dead just like they did when he asked what had happened at the house in Longview.

Joe cracked open his door. “I’ll only be a minute,” he said, trying to sound casual.

“D-don’t leave me. Please, Grandpa Joe? Let me c-come.”

Well, I’ll be damned, Joe thought. This kid was talking up a storm today.

Joe sighed, mulling it over. Pros and cons either way, he supposed. He reached under the seat and pulled out his Glock 9mm. He’d never liked automatics until maybe the mid-80s, when somebody figured out how to keep them from jamming so damned often. He had a Mossberg shotgun in a rack behind the seat, but that might seem a little too hostile. He’d give Kendrick the Remington 28-gauge. It had some kick, but the Little Soldier was used to it. He could trust Little Soldier not to fire into the ceiling. Or his back. Joe had seen to that.

“How many shots?” Joe asked him, handing over the little birder. Kendrick held up four stubby fingers, like a toddler. So much for talking.

“If you’re coming with me, I damn well better know you can talk if there’s a reason to.” Joe sounded angrier than he’d intended. “Now…how many shots?”

“Four!” That time, he’d nearly shouted it.

“Come on in,” Mike called from the doorway. “I’ve got hot dogs today!”

That was a first. Joe hadn’t seen a hot dog in nearly a year and his mouth watered. Joe started to ask him again what the boys were up to, but Mike turned around and went inside.

“Stick close to me,” Joe told Kendrick. “You’re my other pair of eyes. Anything looks funny, you point and speak up loud and clear. Anybody makes a move in your direction you don’t like, shoot. Hear?”

Kendrick nodded.

“That means anybody. I don’t care if it’s Mike or his boys or Santa Claus or anybody else. You understand me?”

Kendrick nodded again, although he lowered his eyes sadly. “Like Mom said.”

“Damn right. Exactly like your mom said,” Joe told Kendrick, squeezing the kid’s shoulder. For an instant, his chest burned so hot with grief that he knew a heart attack couldn’t feel any worse. The kid might have watched what happened to Cass. Cass might have turned into one of them before his eyes.

Joe thought of the pivoting, bloated freak he’d killed, the one that had smelled him, and his stomach clamped tight. “Let’s go. Remember what I told you,” Joe said.

“Yes, sir.”

He’d leave the jerky alone, for now. He’d go inside and look around for himself first.

Joe’s knee flared as his boot sank into soft mud just inside the gate. Shit. He was a useless fucking old man, and he had a bouncing Betty fifty klicks south of the DMZ to blame for it. In those happy days of Vietnam, none of them had known that the real war was still forty years off-but coming fast-and he was going to need both knees for the real war, you dig? And he could use a real soldier at his side for this war, not just a little one.

“Closer,” Joe said, and Kendrick pulled up behind him, his shadow.

When Joe pushed the glass door open, the salmon-shaped door chimes jangled merrily, like old times. Mike had vanished quick, because he wasn’t behind the counter. A small television set on the counter erupted with laughter-old, canned laughter from people who were either dead or no longer saw much to laugh about. “EEEEEEEdith,” Archie Bunker’s voice crowed. On the screen, old Archie was so mad he was nearly jumping up and down. It was the episode with Sammy Davis Jr., where Sammy gives Archie a wet one on the cheek. Joe remembered watching that episode with Cass once upon a time. Mike was playing his VCR.

“Mike? Where’d you go?” Joe’s finger massaged his shotgun trigger as he peered behind the counter.

Suddenly, there was a loud laugh from the back of the store, matching a new fit of laughter from the TV. He’d know that laugh blindfolded.

Mike was behind a broom, one of those school custodian brooms with a wide brush, sweeping up and back, and Joe heard large shards of glass clinking as he swept. Mike was laughing so hard, his face and crown had turned pink.

Joe saw what he was sweeping: The glass had been broken out of one of the refrigerated cases in back, which were now dark and empty. The others were still intact, plastered with Budweiser and Red Bull stickers, but the last door had broken clean off except for a few jagged pieces still standing upright, like a mountain range, close to the floor.

“Ya’ll had some trouble?” Joe asked.

“Nope,” Mike said, still laughing. He sounded congested, but otherwise all right. Mike kept a cold six months out of the year.

“Who broke your glass?”

“Tom broke it. The boys are fine.” Suddenly, Mike laughed loudly again. “That Archie Bunker!” he said, and shook his head.

Kendrick, too, was staring at the television set, mesmerized. From the look on his face, he could be witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. The kid must miss TV, all right.

“Got any Cokes, Mike?” Joe said.

Mike could hardly swallow back his laughter long enough to answer. He squatted down, sweeping the glass onto an orange dustpan. “We’ve got hot dogs! They’re-” Suddenly, Mike’s face changed. He dropped his broom, and it clattered to the floor as he cradled one of his hands close to his chest. “Ow! SHIT ON A STICK!”

“Careful there, old-timer,” Joe said. “Cut yourself?”

“Goddamn shit on a stick, shit on a stick, goddamn shit on a stick.”

Sounded like it might be bad, Joe realized. He hoped this fool hadn’t messed around and cut himself somewhere he shouldn’t have. Mike sank from a squat to a sitting position, still cradling his hand. Joe couldn’t see any blood yet, but he hurried toward him. “Well, don’t sit there whining over it.”

“Shit on a stick, goddamn shit on a stick.”

When Mike’s wife, Kimmy, died a decade ago, Mike had gone down hard and come up a Christian. Joe hadn’t heard a blasphemy pass his old friend’s lips in years.

As Joe began to kneel down, Mike’s shoulder heaved upward into Joe’s midsection, stanching his breath and lifting him to his toes. For a moment Joe was too startled to react-the what-the-hell reaction, stronger than reflex, which had nearly cost him his life more than once. He was frozen by the sheer surprise of it, the impossibility that he’d been talking to Mike one second and-

Joe snatched clumsily at the Glock in his belt and fired at Mike’s throat. Missed. Shit.

The second shot hit Mike in the shoulder, but not before Joe had lost what was left of his balance and gone crashing backward into the broken refrigerator door. Three things happened at once: His arm snapped against the case doorway as he fell backward, knocking the gun out of his hand before he could feel it fall. A knife of broken glass carved him from below as he fell, slicing into the back of his thigh with such a sudden wave of pain that he screamed. And Mike had hiked up Joe’s pant leg and taken hold of his calf in his teeth, gnawing at him like a dog with a beef rib.

“Fucking son of a bitch.”

Joe kicked away at Mike’s head with the only leg that was still responding to his body’s commands. Still Mike hung on. Somehow, even inside the fog of pain from his lower-body injury, Joe felt a chunk of his calf tearing, more hot pain.

He was bitten, that was certain. He was bitten. Every alarm in his head and heart rang.

Oh, God, holy horseshit, he was bitten. He’d walked right up to him. They could make sounds-everybody said that-but this one had been talking, putting words together, acting like…acting like…

With a cry of agony, Joe pulled himself forward to leverage more of his weight, and kicked at Mike’s head again. This time, he felt Mike’s teeth withdraw. Another kick, and Joe’s hiking boot sank squarely into Mike’s face. Mike fell backward into the shelf of flashlights behind him.

“Kendrick!” Joe screamed.

The shelves blocked his sight of the spot where his grandson had been standing.

Pain from the torn calf muscle rippled through Joe, clouding thought. The pain from his calf shot up to his neck, liquid fire. Did the bastards have venom? Was that it?

Mike didn’t lurch like the one on the road. Mike scrambled up again, untroubled by the blood spattering from his broken nose and teeth. “I have hot dogs,” Mike said, whining it almost.

Joe reached back for the Glock, his injured thigh flaming, while Mike’s face came at him, mouth gaping, teeth glittering crimson. Joe’s fingers brushed the automatic, but it skittered away from him, and now Mike would bite, and bite, and then go after the Little Soldier-

Mike’s nose and mouth exploded in a mist of pink tissue. The sound registered a moment later, deafening in the confined space, an explosion that sent Mike’s useless body toppling to the floor. Then Joe saw Kendrick just behind him, his little birding gun smoking, face pinched, hands shaking.

Holy Jesus, Kendrick had done it. The kid had hit his mark.

Sucking wind, Grandpa Joe took the opportunity to dig among the old soapboxes for his Glock, and when he had a firm grip on it, he tried to pull himself up. Dizziness rocked him, and he tumbled back down.

“Grandpa Joe!” Kendrick said, and rushed to him. The boy’s grip was surprisingly strong, and Joe hugged him for support, straining to peer down at his leg. He could be wrong about the bite. He could be wrong.

“Let me look at this,” Joe said, trying to keep his voice calm. He peeled back his pant leg, grimacing at the blood hugging the fabric to flesh.

There it was, facing him in a semicircle of oozing slits: a bite, and a deep one. He was bleeding badly. Maybe Mike had hit an artery, and whatever shit they had was shooting all through him. Damn, damn, damn.

Night seemed to come early, because for an instant Joe Davis’s fear blotted the room’s light. He was bitten. And where were Mike’s three boys? Wouldn’t they all come running now, like the swarm over the hill he’d seen in the field?

“We’ve gotta get out of here, Little Soldier,” Joe said, and levered himself up to standing. Pain coiled and writhed inside him. “I mean now. Let’s go.”

His leg was leaking. The pain was terrible, a throb with every heartbeat. He found himself wishing he’d faint, and his terror at the thought snapped him to more alertness than he’d felt before.

He had to get Little Soldier to the truck. He had to keep Little Soldier safe.

Joe cried out with each step on his left leg, where the back of his thigh felt ravaged. He was leaning so hard on Little Soldier, the kid could hardly manage the door. Joe heard the tinkling above him, and then, impossibly, they were back outside. Joe saw the truck waiting just beyond the gate.

His eyes swept the perimeter. No movement. No one. Where were those boys?

“Let’s go,” Joe panted. He patted his pocket, and the keys were there. “Faster.”

Joe nearly fell three times, but each time he found the kid’s weight beneath him, keeping him on his feet. Joe’s heartbeat was in his ears, an ocean’s roar.

“Jump in. Hurry,” Joe said after the driver’s door was open, and Little Soldier scooted into the car like a monkey. The hard leather made Joe whimper as his thigh slid across the seat, but suddenly, it all felt easy. Slam and lock the door. Get his hand to stop shaking enough to get the key in the ignition. Fire her up.

Joe lurched the truck in reverse for thirty yards before he finally turned around. His right leg was numb up to his knee-from that bite, oh, sweet Jesus-but he was still flooring the pedal somehow, keeping the truck on the road instead of in a ditch.

Joe looked in his rearview mirror. At first he couldn’t see for the dust, but there they were: Mike’s boys had come running in a ragged line, all of them straining as if they were in a race. Fast. They were too far back to catch up, but their fervor sent a bottomless fear through Joe’s stomach.

Mike’s boys looked like starving animals hunting for a meal.

Kendrick couldn’t breathe. The air in the truck felt the way it might in outer space, if you were floating in the universe, a speck too far in the sky to see.

“Grandpa Joe?” Kendrick whispered. Grandpa Joe’s black face shone with sweat, and he was chewing at his lip hard enough to draw blood.

Grandpa Joe’s fingers gripped at the wheel, and the corners of his mouth turned upward in an imitation of a smile. It’s gonna be all right,” he said, but it seemed to Kendrick that he was talking to himself more than to him. “It’ll be fine.”

Kendrick stared at him, assessing: He seemed all right. He was sweating and bleeding, but he must be all right if he was driving the truck. You couldn’t drive if you were one of them, could you? Grandpa Joe was fine. He said he was.

Mom and Dad hadn’t been fine after a while, but they had warned him. They had told him they were getting sleepy, and they all knew getting sleepy right away meant you might not wake up. Or if you did, you’d be changed. They’d made him promise not to open the door to the safe room, even for them.

No matter what. Not until you hear the danger word.

Kendrick felt warm liquid on the seat beneath him, and he gasped, thinking Grandpa Joe might be bleeding all over the seat. Instead, when he looked down, Kendrick saw a clear puddle between his legs. His jeans were dark and wet, almost black. It wasn’t blood. He’d peed on himself, like a baby.

“Are you sleepy?” Kendrick said.

Grandpa Joe shook his head, but Kendrick thought he’d hesitated first, just a little. Grandpa Joe’s eyes were on the road half the time, on the rearview mirror the rest. “How long before your mom and dad got sleepy?”

Kendrick remembered Dad’s voice outside of the door, announcing the time: “It’s nine o’clock, Cass.” Worried it was getting late. Worried they should get far away from Kendrick and send for Grandpa Joe to come get him. Kendrick heard them talking outside the door plain as day; for once, they hadn’t tried to keep him from hearing.

“A few minutes,” Kendrick said softly. “Five. Or ten.”

Grandpa Joe went back to chewing his lip. “What happened?”

Kendrick didn’t know what happened. He’d been in bed when he heard Mom say their neighbor Mrs. Shane was knocking at the window. All he knew was that Dad came into his room, shouting and cradling his arm. Blood oozed from between Dad’s fingers. Dad pulled him out of bed, yanking Kendrick’s arm so hard that it popped, pulling him to his feet. In the living room, he’d seen Mom crouching far away, by the fireplace, sobbing with a red face. Mom’s shirt was bloody, too.

At first, Kendrick had thought Dad had hurt Mom, and now Dad was mad at him, too. Dad was punishing him by putting him in the safe room.

“They’re in the house, Kendrick. We’re bitten, both of us.”

After the door to the safe room was closed, for the first time Kendrick had heard somebody else’s footsteps. Then, that scream.

“They stayed for ten minutes, maybe. Not long. Then they said they had to leave. They were getting sleepy, and they were scared to come near me. Then they went away for a long time. For hours,” Kendrick told Grandpa Joe. “All of a sudden I heard Mom again. She was knocking on the door. She asked me where my math homework was. She said, ‘You were supposed to do your math homework.’”

Kendrick had never said the words before. Tears hurt his eyes.

“That was how you knew?” Grandpa Joe said.

Kendrick nodded. Snot dripped from his nose to the front of his jacket, but he didn’t move to wipe it away. Mom had said not to open the door until Grandpa Joe came and said the danger word. No matter what.

“Good boy, Kendrick,” Grandpa Joe said, his voice wavering. “Good boy.”

All this time, Joe had thought it was his imagination.

A gaggle of the freaks had been there in Cass’s front yard waiting for him, so he’d plowed most of them down with the truck so he could get to the door. That was the easy part. As soon as he got out, the ones still standing had surged. There’d been ten of them at least; an old man, a couple of teenage boys, the rest of them women, moving quick. He’d been squeezing off rounds at anything that moved.


Had he heard her voice before he’d fired? In the time since, he’d decided the voice was his imagination, because how could she have talked to him, said his name? He’d decided God had created her voice in his mind, a last chance to hear it to make up for the horror of the hole his Glock had just put in her forehead. “Daddy?”

It had been Cass, but it hadn’t been. Her blouse and mouth had been a bloody, dripping mess, and he’d seen stringy bits of flesh caught in her teeth, just like the other freaks. It hadn’t been Cass. Hadn’t been.

People said freaks could make noises. They walked and looked like us. The newer ones didn’t have the red shit showing beneath their skin, and they didn’t start to lose their motor skills for a couple of days-so they could run fast, the new ones. He’d known that. Everybody knew that.

But if freaks could talk, could recognize you…

Then we can’t win.

The thought was quiet in Joe’s mind, from a place that was already accepting it.

Ten minutes, Little Soldier had said. Maybe five.

Joe tried to bear down harder on the gas, and his leg felt like a wooden stump. Still, the speedometer climbed before it began shaking at ninety. He had to get Little Soldier as far as he could from Mike’s boys. Those boys might run all day and all night, from the way they’d looked. He had to get Little Soldier away…

Joe’s mouth was so dry it ached.

“We’re in trouble, Little Soldier,” Joe said.

Joe couldn’t bring himself to look at Kendrick, even though he wanted to so much he was nearly blinded by tears. “You know we’re in trouble, don’t you?” Joe said.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“We have to come up with a plan. Just like we did at your house that time.”

“A danger word?” Kendrick said.

Joe sighed. “A danger word won’t work this time.”

Again, Kendrick was silent.

“Don’t go back to the cabin,” Joe said, deciding that part. “It’s not safe.”

“But Mom and Dad might…”

This time Joe did gaze over at Kendrick. Unless it was imagination, the boy was already sitting as far from him as he could, against the door.

“That was a story I told you,” Joe said, cursing himself for the lie. “You know they’re not coming, Kendrick. You said yourself she wasn’t right. You could hear it. That means they got your father, too. She was out in the front yard, before I got inside. I had to shoot her, Little Soldier. I shot her in the head.”

Kendrick gazed at him wide-eyed, rage knotting his little face.

That’s it, Little Soldier. Get mad.

“I couldn’t tell you before. But I’m telling you now for a reason…”

Just that quick, the road ahead of Joe fogged, doubled. He snapped his head up, aware that he had just lost a moment of time, that his consciousness had flagged.

But he was still himself. Still himself, and that made the difference, right? He was still himself, and just maybe he would stay himself, and beat this damned thing.

If you could stay awake…

Then you might stay alive for another-what? Ten days? He’d heard about someone staying awake that long, maybe longer. Right now he didn’t know if he’d last the ten minutes. His eyes fought to close so hard that they trembled. There’ll be rest enough in the grave. Wasn’t that what Benjamin Franklin had said?

“Don’t you close your eyes, Daddy.” Cass’s voice. He snapped his head around, wondering where the voice had come from. He was seeing things: Cassie sat beside him with her pink lips and ringlets of tight brown hair. For a moment he couldn’t see Little Soldier, so solid she seemed. “You always talked tough this and tough that. Da Nang and Hanoi and a dozen places I couldn’t pronounce. And now the one damned time in your life that it matters, you’re going to sleep?” The accusation in her voice was crippling. “We trusted you, and you walked right into that store and got bitten because you were laughing at Archie Bunker? I trusted you, Daddy.”

Silence. Then: “I still trust you, Daddy.”

Suddenly, Joe felt wide awake again for the last time in his life.

“Listen to me. I can’t give you the truck,” Joe said. “I know we practiced driving, but you might make a mistake and hurt yourself. You’re better off on foot.”

Rage melted from Kendrick’s face, replaced by bewilderment and the terror of an infant left naked in a snowdrift. Kendrick’s lips quivered violently.

“No, Grandpa Joe. You can stay awake,” he whispered.

“Grab that backpack behind your seat-it’s got a compass, bottled water, jerky, and a flashlight. It’s heavy, but you’ll need it. And take your Remington. There’s more ammo for it under your seat. Put the ammo in the backpack. Do it now.”

Kendrick sobbed, reaching out to squeeze Joe’s arm. “P-please, Grandpa Joe…”

“Stop that goddamned crying!” Joe roared, and the shock of his voice silenced the boy. Kendrick yanked his hand away, sliding back toward his door again. The poor kid must think he’d crossed over.

Joe took a deep breath. Another wave of dizziness came, and his chin rocked downward. The car swerved slightly before he could pull his head back up. Joe’s pain was easing, and he felt stoned, as if he were on acid. He hadn’t driven far enough yet. They were still too close to Mike’s boys. So much to say…

Joe kept his voice as even as he could. “There were only two people who could put up a better fight than me, and that was your mom and dad. They couldn’t do it, not even for you. That tells me I can’t, either. Understand?”

His tears miraculously stanched, Kendrick nodded.

READ REVELATIONS, a billboard fifty yards ahead advised in red letters. Beside the billboard, the road forked into another highway. Thank Jesus.

The words flew from his mouth, nearly breathless. “I’ll pull off when we get to that sign, at the crossroads. When the truck stops, run. Hear me? Fast as you can. No matter what you hear…don’t turn around. Don’t stop. It’s twenty miles to Centralia, straight south. There’s National Guard there, and caravans. Tell them you want to go to Devil’s Wake. That’s where I’d go. When you’re running, stay near the roads, but keep out of sight. If anyone comes before you get to Centralia, hide. If they see you, tell ’em you’ll shoot, and then do it. And don’t go to sleep, Kendrick. Don’t let anybody surprise you.”

“Yes, sir,” Kendrick said in a sad voice, yet still eager to be commanded.

The truck took control of itself, no longer confined to its lane or the road, and it bumped wildly as it drove down the embankment. Joe’s leg was too numb to keep pressing the accelerator, so the truck gradually lost speed, rocking to a stop, nose down, its headlights lost in weeds. Feeling in his arms was nearly gone now, too.

“I love you, Grandpa Joe,” he heard his grandson say. Or thought he did.

“Love you, too, Little Soldier.”

Still here. Still here.

“Now, go. Go.”

Joe heard Kendrick’s car door open and slam before he could finish.

He turned his head to watch Kendrick, to make sure he was doing as he’d been told. Kendrick had the backpack and his gun as he stumbled away from the truck, running down in the embankment that ran beside the road. The boy glanced back over his shoulder, saw Joe wave him on, and then disappeared into the roadside brush.

With trembling fingers, Joe opened the glove compartment, digging out his snub-nose.38, his favorite gun. He rested the cold metal between his lips, past his teeth. He was breathing hard, sucking at the air, and he didn’t know if it was the toxin or his nerves working him. He looked for Kendrick again, but he couldn’t see him at this angle.

Now. Do it now.

It seemed that he heard his own voice whispering in his ear.

I can win. I can win. I saved my whole fucking squad. I can beat this thing…

Joe sat in the truck feeling alternating waves of heat and cold washing through him. As long as he could stay awake…

He heard the voice of old Mrs. Reed, his sixth-grade English teacher; saw the faces of Little Bob and Eddie Kevner, who’d been standing beside him when the bouncing Betty blew. Then he saw Cassie in her wedding dress, giving him a secret gaze, as if to ask if it was all right before she pledged her final vows at the altar.

Then in the midst of the images, some he didn’t recognize.

Something red, drifting through a trackless cosmos. Alive, yet not alive. Intelligent but unaware. He’d been with them all along, those drifting spore-strands gravitating toward a blue-green planet with water and soil…filtering through the atmosphere…rest…home…grow…

A crow’s mournful caw awakened Joe, but not as much of him as had slipped into sleep. His vision was tinged red. His world, his heart, was tinged red. What remained of Joe knew that it was in him, awakening, using his own mind against him, dazzling him with its visions while it took control of his motor nerves.

He wanted to tear, to rend. Not killing. Not eating. Not yet. There was something more urgent, a new voice he had never heard before. Must bite.

Panicked, he gave his hand an urgent command: Pull the trigger.

But he couldn’t. He’d come this close and couldn’t. Too many parts of him no longer wanted to die. The new parts of him only wanted to live. To grow. To spread.

Still Joe struggled against himself, even as he knew struggle was doomed. Little Soldier. Must protect Little Soldier. Must…


Must find boy.

Kendrick had been running for nearly ten minutes, never far from stumbling, before pure instinct left him and his mind woke up again. Suddenly, his stomach hurt from a deep sob. He had to slow down because he couldn’t see for his tears.

Grandpa Joe had been hunched over the steering wheel, eyes open so wide that the effort had changed the way his face looked. Kendrick thought he’d never seen such a hopeless, helpless look on anyone’s face. If he had been able to see Mom and Dad from the safe room, that was how they would have looked, too.

He’d been stupid to think Grandpa Joe could keep him safe. He was an old man who lived in the woods.

Kendrick ran, his legs burning and throat scalding. He could see the road above him, but he ran in the embankment like Grandpa Joe had told him, out of sight.

For an endless hour Kendrick ran, despite burning legs and scalded throat, struggling to stay true to the directions Grandpa Joe had given him. South. Stay south.

Centralia. National Guard. Devil’s Wake. Safe.

By the time exhaustion claimed Kendrick, rain clouds had darkened the sky, and he was so tired he had lost any certainty of placing his feet without disaster. The trees, once an explosion of green, had been bleached gray and black. They were a place of trackless, unknowable danger. Every sound and shadow seemed to call to him.

Trembling so badly he could hardly move, Kendrick crawled past a wall of ferns into a culvert, clutching the little Remington to his chest.

Once he sat, his sadness felt worse, like a blanket over him. He sobbed so hard he could no longer sit up straight, curling himself in a ball on the soft soil. Small leaves and debris pasted themselves to the tears and mucous that covered his face. One sob sounded more like a wail, so loud it startled him.

Grandpa Joe had lied. Mom had been dead all along. He’d shot her in the head. He’d said it like it hardly mattered to him.

Kendrick heard snapping twigs, and the back of his neck turned ice-cold.

Footsteps. Running fast.

Kendrick’s sobs vanished, as if they’d never been. He sat straight up, propping his shotgun across his bent knee, aiming, finger ready on the trigger. He saw a small black spider crawling on his trigger wrist-one with a bloated egg sack, about to give birth to a hundred babies like in Charlotte’s Web-but he made no move to bat the spider away. Kendrick sat primed, trying to silence his clotted nose by breathing through his mouth. Waiting.

Maybe it was that hitchhiker with the sign, he thought.

But it didn’t matter who it was. Hide. That was what Grandpa Joe said.

The footsteps slowed, although they were so close that Kendrick guessed the intruder couldn’t be more than a few feet away. He was no longer running, as if he knew where Kendrick was. As if he’d been close behind him all along, and now that he’d found him, he wasn’t in a hurry anymore.

“I have a gun! I’ll shoot!” Kendrick called out, and this voice was very different from the one he’d used to ask Grandpa Joe for a Coke. Not a little girl’s voice this time, or even a boy’s. It was a voice that meant what it said.

Silence. The movement had stopped.

That was when Grandpa Joe said the danger word.

Kendrick’s finger loosened against the trigger. His limbs gave way, and his body began to shake. The woods melted away, and he remembered wearing this same jacket in the safe room, waiting. Waiting for Grandpa Joe.

There had never been a gunshot from Grandpa Joe’s truck. Kendrick had expected to hear the gunshot as soon as he ran off, dreading it. Grandpa Joe always did what needed to be done. Kendrick should have heard a gunshot.

“Go back!” Kendrick said. Although his voice was not so sure this time, he cocked the Remington’s hammer, just as he’d been taught.

Kendrick waited. He tried not to hope-and then hoped fervently-that his scare had worked. The instant Kendrick’s hope reached its peak, a shadow moved against the ferns above him, closer.

“Breakfast,” Grandpa Joe’s watery voice said again.

Zombieville by Paula R. Stiles

Paula R. Stiles is the author of more than two dozen stories. Her work has appeared in Nature, Albedo One, the zombie anthology History Is Dead, Shine, Writers of the Future XXIV, Jim Baen’s Universe, Space and Time, and in many other venues, such as the South African magazine Something Wicked, where this story first appeared. She is also the editor of Innsmouth Free Press. From 1991 to 1994, Stiles served as an Aquaculture Extension Agent with the Peace Corps in Cameroon, West Africa.

Resident Evil, a 1996 video game set in a haunted mansion, combined polygonal characters with pre-rendered backgrounds, and was one of the first games in the “survival horror” genre, following the model of Alone in the Dark. The game has spun off numerous sequels, as well as three feature films starring Milla Jovovich and written by Paul W. S. Anderson, most recently the Mad Max-inspired Resident Evil: Extinction. The most recent video game in the franchise, Resident Evil 5, is set in Africa, which has provoked some criticism of the game’s handling of racial imagery.

The author of our next tale says, “I kept hearing they wanted to do a Resident Evil movie set in Africa, and I groaned a little, thinking about how many boring clichés they’d come up with for that. Then I thought, ‘Well, self, why not do your own take on an African Zombocalypse?’”

Stiles made the protagonists of the story Peace Corps volunteers because she used to be one. “AIDS was already at epidemic proportions in Cameroon by the time I left in ’94, and that’s a pretty scary atmosphere to be in for two years,” she says. “So when I was hearing people talk about the zombocalypse as if it would be this catastrophic event, I kinda laughed and thought, ‘You know, I should just write a zombocalypse tale that’s a metaphor for AIDS in Africa.’ It’s not actually the first AIDS-in-Africa metaphor tale I’ve written. Probably won’t be my last, either.”


The gendarme had wandered out into the middle of the road. His already well-fleshed form had swelled to bursting, and his skin, once the color of the stash of dark chocolate we’d traded for in Yaoundé, looked almost as green as his stained army uniform. He looked like he’d been from the Bulu, a tribe down in the South Region near the port of Douala, down the railroad line from Yaoundé. He stood there, waving his arms in a parody of his old contrôle-point routine of stopping bush-taxis and other traffic to check their papers, hunt up the odd bribe.

Our taxi, a gray Peugeot, stuffed with ten live passengers and driver, cleared the hill and slammed down on all four wheels into a nasty pothole. We hit the gendarme about dead center five meters later to the tune of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” which the Hausa Muslim driver had been blasting on the Peugeot’s tape deck. The gendarme flew up over the roof, landing hard-and in pieces-on the paved road behind the car. The driver didn’t so much as ease off the gas. Just as well. We’d all sooner stop for a cobra than a zombie.

“That was pretty spectacular,” Josie said. She was a reasonably good-looking blonde and my housemate, crammed half onto my lap and half up onto the armrest of the right rear door. That might sound like a good thing, but only if you’ve never been stuck in a Peugeot with ten other people for three hours on a tropical afternoon. Our only break was the half-hour we’d spent on the side of the road to allow the six Muslims in the car to pray and the rest of us to pee.

“Yeah, pretty spectacular…if you like blood and guts splattering all over the road,” I said. “Bet he’d have stopped if the guy had been Muslim.”

“Since he was obviously a gendarme, he couldn’t have been Muslim, so I’m sure the driver thought it was perfectly reasonable to run him down,” Josie said.

Cameroon’s president just before everything had gone to zombie hell had been from the South. His predecessor had been a Fulani Muslim from the Extreme North. There’d been bad blood between the Muslims and the Government ever since. Considering this was a country where a Muslim friend had once told me that his Christian neighbors were “cannibals” because they ate cats and a good host always popped the top off your beer in front of you to prove he or she hadn’t poisoned it, it was a wonder the driver hadn’t turned around and run over the gendarme twice.

Josie and I were the only nassaras (foreign whites) in the car. Technically, I was Chinese-American, not white, but Cameroonians didn’t make those distinctions with Americans-except when they expected me to do kung fu like Bruce Lee. Didn’t help that my name really was Bruce, or that I’d clear six feet easily in my bare feet. They got a lot of martial arts flicks over here-used to, anyway. Before.

Running over the gendarme may not have been such a hot idea. His guts had gotten snarled on the roof of the car and now dangled through the driver’s-side window like a sausage brand of fuzzy dice and bumped against the driver’s shoulder. They smelled-literally-like shit. The driver ignored them. He’d probably smelled worse.

We rolled across the bridge over a river of sand and into Maroua, provincial capital of the Extreme North Region of Cameroon. If you had to get stranded someplace during a zombie epidemic, you could have done worse than Maroua. The place looked like a city out of Arabian Nights. The local Hausa and Fulani Muslims were friendly, rich and regionally well-organized. They lived in large, walled compounds along tree-lined streets, the walls whitewashed or cement-crépissagé mud-brick, with wells inside and fruit trees. Some of those civic features had helped save most of the city’s population, that and the usually dry climate-mixed savannah and desert. During the initial outbreak, we’d all just shut ourselves up and waited. We’d only gone out, heavily armed, for food and other necessary supplies. Many nights I’d lain in bed, listening to the zombies claw and bang on the tolle gates. In the morning, we’d venture out to club and burn any walking dead in sight. Nobody took them on at night, even now.

The taxi bumped past the main taxi park, an open, flat place of beaten red dirt near one of the round hills that just popped up out of the landscape this far north. The taxi park was surrounded by dusty green trees with low-spreading limbs. We were only a day’s journey south of Lake Chad, not all that far from the Sahara.

As we passed the park, I spotted two men torching a zombie dog. They had it staked down with a spear and were burning it in sections, from the tail up. I could see its dry ribs shining in the afternoon sun all the way from the taxi. The dog snapped at its tormentors as they danced around it. I loved animals, and I pitied what that dog had been, but there was no way I would have tried to save it now.

The driver dropped us off at our compound in the “safe” part of town. Josie and I peeled ourselves out of the taxi along with the rest of the passengers. After stretching the kinks out of our backs, we snagged our equipment from the overstuffed-and-strapped-down trunk. The passengers stood by looking over their shoulders as the driver handed out the machetes, matches, and canned goods we’d looted during our “shopping” trip down south. Even with the curiosity that anything we nassaras did generated, our equipment post-outbreak was too ordinary to mark.

Josie banged on the gate. No one answered, but that wasn’t uncommon. She got the tin gate open while I hauled out our bags. The driver took off as soon as he’d cinched things back up with strips of black rubber inner tube called caoutchouc. Josie and I liked to joke that the entire country was held together with it. Keeping an eye out, we tossed the bags in through the gate quickly and slammed the door behind us.

The virus had raged during the rainy season the previous year and had gotten into the water supply. The traditional clearing of the savannah brush by fire in December at the beginning of the Dry Season had helped considerably with suppressing the initial epidemic. Christmas had passed fairly uneventfully. With the end of January and the reheating of the weather, though, some isolated outbreaks were starting up again. Josie and I had come back from Yaoundé, the country capital not far north of Douala, just in time.

The compound’s dogs, Cujo I and II, came bounding up to us for a head-rub as soon as we came in. Like most Cameroonian dogs, they barely came up to Josie’s knees. They reminded me with a twinge of the zombified dog I’d seen in the taxi park. A tawny cat from our small colony lazed on a chair on the porch. We’d had some feline mortality initially, but they’d learned fast to avoid zombie rats and the like. They mostly stayed inside the compound now. The day guard, Adamou, woke up in his chair near the cat and came down off the porch, scratching his head and yawning.

“Bonsoir, Adamou,” I said. He nodded and waved distractedly, then went back to his nap. He wasn’t big on helping out with heavy lifting.

“We’re here!” Josie shouted toward the house. It was a cement, ranch-style structure with a tolle roof, barred windows and an open front porch. Nothing you’d ever see in Out of Africa. Buckets and panniers were lined up under all the eaves from the last rainy season. We had a well, and running water still ran in the pipes sporadically, but less and less often since the beginning of the outbreak. We kept the water in big containers and we always boiled it before we drank it or bathed in it. That cut a bit into our supply of propane tanks, and the rate of indirect infection from the virus, in strict epidemiological terms, was pretty low, but nobody wanted to end up like that gendarme from brushing their teeth in the morning.

Two of our group came out onto the porch. There were still nine non-missionary foreigners that we knew of in the region-five volunteers from the Peace Corps (three of us here in town), two Italian aid workers and a couple of young tourists who’d just been passing through when everything had gone to a hot place in a hand conveyance back home. Cyndi and Roger had decided to stay in their village up near Waza National Park. The rest of us had wanted everybody to stick together. We’d heard rumors that poachers had spread the virus to some of the animals in Waza. Facing off with a zombie elephant? No thanks. But Roger and Cyndi felt differently.

Personally, I thought Roger was just being his usual antisocial asshole self and that Cyndi stuck with him out of loyalty. She was still dating him, after all. But it wasn’t my decision, or anybody else’s but Cyndi’s and Roger’s. With everything we’d lost, we weren’t about to curtail each other’s freedom on top of it.

“How was Zombieville?” Alicia, one of the Italians, asked. She meant Yaoundé, after Brazzaville in the Congo. But it could have applied to any large city, even Maroua, just eight months ago. She was a tall, thin brunette who smoked a lot, more now than before the outbreak.

Josie and I looked at each other. We didn’t much want to talk about our trip, especially considering we’d barely made the last train to Ngaounderé that was liable to leave Yaoundé for a while. But our buddies needed a report.

“Messy, as usual,” I replied. “Whole sections of the city are overrun at this point. Everybody who’s still got a pulse has gone back en brousse, as far as we could tell, though the Muslims are still running a closed marché and the like. The Peace Corps Admin office is picked pretty clean, but we found some meds-Chloroquine and Mefloquine-and some antibiotics that we don’t think are too spoiled.”

“How’s the situation back home?” That was Silas, our third volunteer. He was a big black guy in his forties who looked like he’d been born in the Marines. He’d have gone with us if he hadn’t broken his leg in a motorcycle accident a few months back. He’d left family back in the States-hadn’t we all-but he’d probably been the least homesick of us until the outbreak. Now, he spent a lot of his time working a two-way short-wave radio he’d found in the marché while laid up, burning through car battery after car battery, hoping to get an answer. Sometimes he did from the oddest places, like Siberia or Bosnia or Cape Cod, but most of the time he just got static. Nobody told him to give it up. We were all hoping along with him. I hadn’t heard from either my mom or my sister in San Francisco since before the outbreak. Didn’t expect to, either, but you know, you like to hope.

Josie shook her head to Silas’ question. “It’s total radio silence. The last anybody heard, things were getting pretty ugly, nothing your contact on the Cape hasn’t already told you about zombies hating salt water. That was before the Rainy Season began…end of February or March, maybe. Who knows what it’s like now?”

“Now” was January. If we hadn’t heard from anybody else in the U.S. by now, that meant we probably never would; the country was gone. And Italy. And the rest of Europe and the Americas. And Asia. And Australia. All gone, at least as far as civilization was concerned. Drowned in an apocalyptic flood of mostly dead carrion beasts with the shelf-life of rotting hamburger.

And here we were in Cameroon, West Africa, cut loose like the rest of the expats, scrambling to make a living, to make a permanent life and put down roots in a country where we’d expected only to have a passing adventure for two or three years. Needless to say, it had been a shock all round that we were stuck here for the duration. Not even a year had helped us get used to it.

Cameroon is a radically different culture from any in the West. You think you’ll be fine and then you get here and…well, you’re not always fine. Psychovacs hadn’t been all that uncommon among volunteers before the outbreak. They were no longer an option.

The rest of the world had succumbed so fast. But not Africa. Africa, cradle of humanity and civilization, had simply shrugged and collectively said to this latest pandemic, “You want a piece of Homo sapiens? Get in line.” And someday-maybe not so soon, but someday-we’d spread out once again and repopulate the world, pushing aside another hominid species, this time Homo mortuus. It was only a matter of time.

But now it was January, and the yellow Harmattan wind was rolling in off the Sahara, pushing the rains south and drying everything out, including the zombies. A good time for a little zombicide.

Alicia said, “We have some bad news of our own.”

Josie looked down and started scuffing the red dirt, probably not too keen to face whatever Alicia had to say. I decided to face it straight on; maybe it would hurt less. I looked back and forth between Alicia and Silas. “What?”

Silas took the plunge. “We haven’t heard from Roger and Cyndi since before you guys left.”

“I’m sorry, Bruce,” Alicia said. “I know you three have been worrying about them.”

“Uh, that was over two weeks ago,” I said, feeling my stomach clench up into some serious heartburn. I felt a sudden need for a shot of Gordon’s gin. They didn’t answer, just looked grim.

“No bush-taxi notes?” Josie asked, finally looking up. “Nothing?”

“I wanted to go out and pick them up,” Silas said, shaking his head, “but the others argued that we’d better wait for you guys, what with my bum leg. You’re the ones with the connections and experience and we only really started to worry a few days ago.”

“Shit,” I said. Josie didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to. We’d had a little business going for a couple of months now, cleaning out centers of zombie infection. It kept the money coming in, so nobody complained. Silas was right. We were the logical ones to go find out what had happened to Roger and Cyndi, just like we’d been the logical ones to go down to Zombieville and reconnoiter.

“Well, we can’t go right now,” Josie said with her usual practicality. “It’s only two hours to sunset and way too hot. We’ll go tomorrow at sunrise.”

Sunrise wasn’t until six a.m., but she was right. You couldn’t get much done in the Cameroon heat after nine in the morning, especially in the north, and evenings weren’t a good time to be outside. The bandits who had infested the roads of the region for many years had been some of the first to get zombified. Like that gendarme on the road, their rotten minds kept them at their old habits. Sure, being half-dead slowed them down, but Cameroonian nights were dark. In a noisy taxi, we’d get no warning of an attack.

Josie and I only got some sleep that night because we were so tired. We tried a little fooling around, but dropped off in the middle of it. Right before dawn, in Le Grande Matin, we set off in a bush-taxi, not long after the first call to prayer for the day wailed out to the Muslims from mosques all over town. Bush-taxis looked like milk trucks with holes cut out for windows, but they were sturdier than car taxis when it came to zombie attacks. Along the way, we saw a zombie giraffe come out of the trees and stagger along the roadside in a parody of a live giraffe’s stately walk, trying to outpace us, no doubt. Most of its mottled hide had worn off in patches or was hanging in strips around its long legs. Its tendons looked so brittle it was a wonder it could keep its feet. Even so, a pride of very-much-alive lions on the other side of the road just lounged on large tree branches, wistfully observing it from a distance. They knew better than to try that kind of meat. I wondered if the virus might even end up saving the wildlife. They sure were venturing out of Waza with increasing boldness. All the more reason to persuade Roger and Cyndi to come back with us, even if it turned out they were fine.

We got hit up for a job as soon as we rolled into town around eight. The sousprefet himself met us at the little taxi park. Sousprefets were federal government officials in charge of the arrondisement around a township. A big city like Maroua had a prefet, instead, in addition to at least one local mayor and a chef for each tribe.

This guy was an Anglophone from the Northwest Region above Yaoundé, which meant he was probably even more industrious than the Muslims. The super-efficient inhabitants of the two Anglophone regions and the neighboring Francophone West Region had a mutual hostility with the other seven Francophone regions, which sometimes got Anglophone officials lynched in the south during times of unrest (like national elections). It wasn’t so bad up here, where the Anglophones and the Muslims shared a work ethic and a common cause against our now-defunct federal government. Probably why the locals hadn’t replaced this guy with a Muslim. A long-running joke was that the country would never elect an Anglophone because he’d make everybody work, and nobody wanted that.

The sousprefet seemed happy to see a couple of Western nassaras and chatted for a little while with us in English. Then he told us he needed our services even before we mentioned our own mission.

The job would pay our rent for the next couple of months-40,000 CFA or its equivalent in supplies to burn out a house of zombies. You’d think people wouldn’t use paper money or coins anymore. But you can’t carry that much in supplies everywhere you go and there was no way in hell anybody would take credit the payer probably wouldn’t honor. So, money still got passed around, increasingly tattered and with different countries on it, but still useful. A bit like the bottles people still brought to bars in exchange for beer and soda because some enterprising souls were still making both. The sousprefet and his gendarmes could have done the job themselves, but this was in the compound of a local traditional chef. Nassaras were good for the more delicate zombicide jobs. Being from a foreign tribe, we weren’t supposed to have a stake in the local politics, so we had a rep for being impartial.

Josie and I discussed it. We wanted to get over to see Roger and Cyndi right away, but we already knew from experience that whatever condition they were in, they’d probably been in it for two weeks already. Besides, we could really use the money and the sousprefet’s goodwill if things had gone sideways with them. We agreed to do it.

We stocked up on kerosene in the marché, buying it in old, plastic palm-oil bottles. There was red sediment at the bottom of each one. Any petroleum product was strained through a cloth to get out the dust, but that wasn’t 100 percent successful. That would matter for a car, but not for our purposes. Zombies would burn just as well with dirty kerosene.

They’d shut up all the infected, living and dead, inside a large hut in a compound. Nobody had been out for seven days. That made the job a simple one of torching and watching it burn, slicing and incinerating the zombies who tried to escape. The only glitch came when a woman burst out of the burning hut, clutching a baby. We nearly hacked her before she screamed and the baby started howling.

Zombies don’t talk. They can make a weird sort of grunt, with air coming out through the vocal cords, but they can’t talk. Or scream.

We doused both woman and child with gin (my own way of dealing with the outbreak, so I always had some on me) to disinfect them as best we could. Then we pronounced mother and child “clean.” This practice didn’t usually thrill the local Muslims, but they were fine with the logic of cleaning off zombie virus as long as the booze didn’t make the person drunk. Judged living again by the nassara zombie-hunters, both survivors were taken away gently to be fed and given a real bath.

And that was the job. We’d insisted on the 40,000 CFA up front. That would have been not quite a hundred bucks American if the U.S. still existed. Normally, we’d have pocketed it and gone back to Maroua in high spirits.

But we weren’t here on business, or fun. We were here to check up on two of our own.

The sousprefet grabbed two gendarmes and led us there himself. He seemed to know what we were in for, but, our friends being nassaras, he’d probably been hesitant to go in.

“If you find anything, we’ll pay the usual rate,” he said. This seemed awfully generous until he took off down the road with the two gendarmes without paying us first. Figured we wouldn’t get any backup, though I could see the hold-off on payment. Roger and Cyndi might be okay. And if they weren’t, he might want the house after we burned it out. The cement walls wouldn’t be damaged, nor the tolle roof.

The compound was ominously silent as we let ourselves in through the gate with a little machete-prying. We went in machetes-first. Once we established that the coast was apparently clear, we brought in our bottles of kerosene. We laid them out along a line on the dirt path up to the cement porch, dropping small matchboxes as we went. We’d long since learned how to play zombie-hunting like a video game. You wanted to lay down ammunition coming in along the routes where you’d be most likely to come hell-for-leather back out, screaming and scrambling to avoid those clutching hands and snapping teeth. Zombies weren’t too fast and they weren’t too bright. They didn’t last all that long, either, maybe six months. But once they got fixated on you, they’d keep coming and they’d run you down if you didn’t burn them, pin them or find sanctuary.

The house was probably bigger than would be comfortable, or safe, for a single volunteer or even two. Peace Corps Admin had made some weird decisions in the past about security on that score, not that it mattered now. I’d learned fast during training to take care of my own safety as much as possible; in fact, Josie and I had bonded then over our cynicism about some Peace Corps policies. We’d been in Community Development before the outbreak, if you can believe it.

We busted into the house fast, machetes and matches out. We thought we were ready for what we’d find.

We weren’t.

The house had an open plan to allow for the February heat in the middle of the dry season. It had three bedrooms coming off a huge, airy living room that shaded off into a back porch with big clay pots, round and red.

In the middle of the living room, near a wooden couch that had been turned over and smashed, lay a zombie. It had been staked down with a metal spike through the ribs. Impressive. Whoever had done it must have used a sledgehammer. The zombie kept trying to get itself free, but couldn’t do so without ripping itself in half. Even so, it was still trying, scrabbling feebly at the cement floor.

It took me at least a minute to recognize Roger. His face had bloated up and slid sideways in the heat. His guts had burst out onto the floor. He had to have been dead for most of the past two weeks. The soiled t-shirt gave him away. We’d been in training together and he was still wearing the shirt our group had designed, along with the usual Peace Corps uniform of jeans and hiking boots that we were wearing for the job. A lot of volunteers eventually went native in their clothing styles, switching to cooler tailored cotton pajamas and flip-flops. Not Roger.

“Sweet Mary Mother of God,” Josie said, recognizing him at the same moment. She looked ready to puke. I wasn’t surprised. She and Roger had dated for about a week in training before she found out he was an asshole. Training relationships usually burned fast and furious, then guttered out just as fast.

“That’s one way to put it.” I could see her having a few issues walking in on a zombified person she’d once fooled around with.

As our voices echoed, I realized that the house seemed awfully quiet, as if someone was hiding further in, holding his or her breath. If Cyndi had been zombified, why would she be hiding from us? Why not attack? Where the hell was she?

I sidled up to Josie. Sound really carried off gloss-painted walls and polished floors. I leaned close and whispered, “I think Cyndi’s still in here.”

She nodded and whispered back, “You think we should check before we clear the house and start burning?” Cyndi had never liked Josie, being a tad jealous about the training fling, but Josie was a pro. She wasn’t going to let that stop her from finishing the job.

“Well…yeah.” At the very least, we’d need to make sure we’d located every zombie in the place or we might not get paid. Somebody had staked Roger to the living room floor, somebody who seriously didn’t want to die or get zombified. It was probably Cyndi, but that didn’t mean she was still human.

We catfooted down the hallway toward the bedrooms, covering each other. Machetes can be pretty effective, especially considering how much practice we’d gotten in with them. But they were close-up weapons, which meant we could get infected by body fluids or a bite if we didn’t watch it. No way in hell did I want to get infected and end up like Roger. Or that gendarme on the road from Ngaounderé.

Josie came behind me, watching my back. One of the fun parts of being a guy was getting to be on point. As I snuck down the hallway, I thought I heard a noise. I stopped dead, Josie ramming into my back.

“What the hell is that?” I whispered. Josie was practically clinging to my shoulders. Then I heard it again. It was a whimper. It came from down the hall.

We edged into the room. The noise was coming from the closet. Somebody was hiding in there.

We eased up to either side, machetes raised high. Then, at a signal from Josie, I yanked open the door.

Good thing we didn’t stand right in front of it. Whoever it was came right out of the closet, flailing around with a big spear. We almost hacked her to pieces right there, even as I recognized Cyndi. But then she started screaming at us. Actual words, mostly curses.

“Hey!” I yelled, backing up fast from the spear. “Hey, Cyndi! Calm down! It’s Bruce and Josie!”

Cyndi didn’t seem to notice. Josie and I had to dodge and hop around the room until I managed to hack the spear in half with my machete. Josie clomped Cyndi over the head with the butt of hers. That dazed Cyndi long enough that we were able to get her down and tie her up. I guess she finally realized then that we weren’t zombies-they don’t tie you up, just eat you raw. She started to cry, so we stopped trying to tie her up. We chivvied her out of there, checking the backyard to make sure it was clear and burning everything flammable as we went. We managed to save a photo album and some letters, though we weren’t sure if they belonged to Cyndi or Roger.

Last, we torched Roger. Or I did, that is. On the front porch, Josie sat on top of Cyndi to squash her ongoing hysterics and to keep her from watching while I went back into the living room to take care of the thing that used to be her boyfriend.

“Sorry about this, Roger,” I said. Just because he’d been an asshole when he was alive didn’t mean he deserved this. Nobody did. I doused him with kerosene, coughing at the smoke oozing through the house while he grunted and snapped at my hands. Then I lit a match. It took five or six, but he went up. The grunting didn’t get any more intense as the flames took him. If anything, it died down. He moved aimlessly around while he burned. Finally, something popped or broiled or I-don’t-know-what inside what was left of his brain and he settled down on the floor to smolder, mostly in silence, aside from the odd pop and crackle. And that was the end of Roger. The second end. The final one, I hoped. I backed away with a shudder and went out onto the porch, leaving the doors open to get better circulation for the fire. That sure as hell wasn’t how I wanted to close out my Peace Corps service.

We took Cyndi back to the taxi park after an alcohol bath, got our money from the sousprefet and caught a car taxi back with no other passengers. It cost a little extra to get the whole car, but it was worth it. We were covered with dried sweat already, the heat of late morning wringing out more, and Cyndi was acting pretty claustrophobic. About halfway home, Cyndi started to get semi-coherent and more than thankful. That was actually worse because then she had to tell us all about how Roger had been bitten by a zombie rat out of nowhere and turned a few days later. How she’d survived the past two weeks being chased around the house by her zombie boyfriend, afraid to go out in case she was attacked by more zombies. Damn. That was almost as bad as ending up like Roger.

On the way back, the driver took a detour to pick something up from his house, so we ended up coming in on the same road we’d taken the day before from the train station in Ngaounderé. The remains of the dead gendarme our taxi had hit lay all over the road. The limbs still moved feebly.

Suddenly, I needed a really stiff drink, but we’d used up all my gin for disinfectant purposes. I’d have to go dry until we got back to the house.

“Arrêtez!” I shouted to the driver. “Stop! Stop the car!”

The driver thought I was nuts, but he pulled over. We hadn’t paid him the full fare yet. He wouldn’t leave.

“What’re you doing?” Josie said, getting out with me. Cyndi just huddled in the back seat of taxi.

“I’m not leaving that poor bastard in the road.” I started getting the kerosene and matches out.

“Ahhh,” she said, following my line of sight to the twitching arms and legs.

We didn’t even bother to gather the body parts together, too much risk of infection. We just went up and down the road in the noon heat, pouring kerosene on the pieces and setting them on fire. I hoped that somehow it gave that gendarme some peace. I hoped I’d never have to do the same thing to Josie. And I hoped that if I got unlucky, too, someone would give me the same mercy.

The Anteroom by Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro’s work has been nominated for several awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Stoker. His novels include Emissaries from the Dead and The Third Claw of God, and two collaborations with artist Johnny Atomic: Z Is for Zombie, and V Is for Vampire, which comes out in October. Castro’s short fiction has appeared in such magazines as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Science Fiction Age, Analog, Cemetery Dance, and in a number of anthologies. I previously included his work in The Living Dead and in Lightspeed Magazine. His story collections include A Desperate, Decaying Darkness and Tangled Strings.

People throughout history have had many different conceptions of what an afterlife might look like. The Greeks imagined the sunny fields of Elysium and the unending drudgery of Hades. The Vikings imagined that great warriors would go to an endless kegger in Valhalla. Dante imagined Hell as a massive multi-tiered pit. (The image of the underworld as a place of fire may have been inspired by the volcanic island of Crete, and the word Gehenna, associated with Hell, is named after a fiery garbage pit outside Jerusalem.) But what sort of an afterlife might await those who have been transformed into zombies?

“The most bone-chilling horror of the zombie sub-genre has always been that the plague turns us into things we don’t want to be, things capable of committing depraved acts that would have appalled the people we used to be,” Castro says. “We laugh when the hero of a zombie story blows away the shambling rotter in his path…but we tend to forget that the rotter used to be a person, and might have even been a human paragon. Stephen King wrote about his rabid St. Bernard Cujo, from the novel of the same name. You can’t hate the dog. The dog always tried to be a good dog. But something got into him, something that eliminated free will from the equation. How would Cujo feel if somebody returned to him the capacity to understand what he’d done? How would a human being?”


Your mercy killer, who knew you well in life and weeps for you even as he does what he must, presses the rifle barrel against your forehead with a gentleness that renders the gesture more a goodbye kiss than a murder. He even apologizes to you, calling you by name and telling you how sorry he is. You do not understand the apology or recognize your name or even appreciate that you are being put out of your misery. You only know that you have been prevented from shuffling forward, the atavistic impulses that drive your rotting limbs still urging you toward the very man who is about to end you. You don’t attempt to evade the bullet, because that kind of problem-solving is beyond you. You simply moan in protest. And then he pulls the trigger and the world fills with fire and your head comes apart in an explosion of bone and blood and brains. The wall behind you drips with everything good you were in life and everything obscene you became in death.

Your best friend will tell himself that you’re in a better place now. And here we leave him, wishing him well, whether he manages to survive or at least dies without becoming infected. Because his story is unremarkable. There have been many thousands just like it, in the world plagued by the living dead.

But your own story is not yet done.

In fact, your story might never be done. And this is why.

You wake an infinite distance away, blinking on your back beneath a sky that is neither dark nor light, but rather a shade of gray that reminds you of sheets that have gone unwashed. You are naked, to the kind of air that raises goose bumps on your skin and assures you that you’re once again alive. You are hungry, but it is not the hunger that you have been feeling in the days since the contagion turned you into a thing neither alive nor dead; it is the hunger a human being feels, the hunger of skipped meals, the hunger of a body beginning to tremble from need but not yet forced to desperation. It is not pleasant, but it is better than what you felt as a corpse: a gnawing, painful emptiness powerful enough to drive ambulatory meat.

It’s cold. The air has the kind of chill only possible in caves. The dirt against your back feels dry, and so solid that it might as well be concrete, but there is no warmth in it, no sense that it has ever known sun or sprouted so much as a weed.

But that’s not the force that makes your face contort in pain. A flood of unwanted memories has reminded you of the man you were, in the world before everything turned to shit, and taken you through every shambling step of the journey you began when you rose as one of the living dead. You recall facing people you’d once known, and seeing only meat; hearing the screams of somebody who had been wounded and left behind, and feeling only hunger; digging with your bare hands through the steaming belly wound of a victim who begged you to finish her off, and knowing only the compulsion to shovel more of her sweetmeats into your idiot maw. You remember exactly the long minutes she lasted, and you remember failing to see her as a living thing, even when she called you Daddy. You remember losing interest in her after her heart stopped, staying near her only out of indecision, walking away after she sat up a thing hollowed out both body and soul, noticing but not caring that she tried to follow you but fell behind with every step.

As a mindless walking corpse, preying on the warm, you were spared these memories. As whatever you are now, something capable of knowing what they mean, you will never be able to escape them. You will never be able to forget what it had been like, before, to watch that bulge in your wife’s belly grow until it became a great big promise of imminent life; to hold the squirming little miracle in your hands, unprepared for the sheer intensity of the love that seized you as you looked into the baby’s indignant face; to feel that wonderment again the first time she smiled at you; to live for the moments when she laughed; to watch her run around you in circles, her laughter like music; to hold her in your arms as the world turned to shit and the skies filled with soot and everything you saw became an atrocity, clutching for you both. You will never be able to forget the way she’d fallen into a lasting silence well into the plague after your wife died from a simple fever, one that killed without forcing her to rise. You will never be able to forget watching your daughter’s exhausted sleep while foul things moaned on the other side of a flimsy wall. You will never be able to forget telling her, without waking her, that you would never let the bad things get her, that you would never become one of them, that you would never let her become one of them either. You will never be able to forget the long weeks of bitter struggle that followed. You will never be able to forget the moment when your own chances ran out, or the way she regained her powers of speech and called you Daddy just before you put an end to her.

You weep until you have to stop from sheer emotional exhaustion.

Only when you fall silent, for a moment, do you register the many other wails in the wind.

Standing hurts. The ground is covered with a thin layer of concentrated grit that irritates your skin where it adheres to the soles of your feet. You wipe the particles away with a brush of your hand, but more accrues with your next step, which makes a nasty crunch as you sink a millimeter or so into the surface. Your body’s going to have a hard time generating enough warmth to replace what the dirt leeches from your flesh; and while you should be better off standing than you were lying flat on your back, the air is no real improvement. It’s thin, frigid, and tasteless. Your lungs derive no nourishment from it.

The surrounding landscape is just as barren. The gray plain extends to a gray horizon that feels farther away than any you would have found in any desert on Earth; there seems no obvious dividing line between dirt and sky, no border drawn that mitigates this emptiness by establishing any kind of limit. There are no distant hills, no sense that any one direction is preferable than any other. If you had to guess you would say that there might, might, be a dull glow somewhere off to what you arbitrarily decide to be east. But that might be imaginary, too. It might just be your eyes, imposing detail on a landscape that otherwise offers none.

This is not the same thing as calling this flat purgatory uninhabited. Because it happens to imprison many thousands of other people, crouching or sitting or lying down, as far as your eyes can see. Wherever they come from-and you can only assume that it must be the same place you have come from-they have been plopped down at equal distances, hundreds of paces apart, and they all remain alone, unwilling to expend the energy it would cost to get up and form groups. There are many weeping and many screaming, but most are just stewing in their own silence, finding enough torment within the confines of their own skulls.

Another memory comes to you: a man who had been shot in the knee. The round had turned his leg to a broken twig, trailing along at a sickening angle as he used a rifle butt to lever himself across a city street strewn with corpses and garbage and broken glass. For some reason you had been the only one of your kind still ambulatory, and this promised great things for you as you shambled toward him, announcing your approach and your intent with a low moan that made the doomed figure try to crawl faster. By the time you were within twenty paces of catching up with him, he was looking back over his shoulder once for every yard he managed to crawl. By the time you’d halved that distance he was shouting empty obscenities, calling you a stinking bastard. When you halved the distance again he was swinging his ruined rifle like a club, offering a threat that deterred you not at all. Once you came within reach of him he clubbed you in the belly, knocking you on your back; and he cried out with the savage glee of a Neanderthal who had just managed to spear the attacking tiger.

He spent the time it took you to get up dragging himself another five yards, but then collapsed, gasping. Another sweep from that rifle put you down a second time, but this time he only managed to retreat half the distance before you were on him again. Too late he decided to do what he should have done the first time, which was club you in the skull and hope he could do enough damage to your brain to smash the terrible miracle that kept you moving. But by now his strength was fading. He only succeeded in flattening your nose, adding your own clotted blood to the gore already painting your lips. You fell down again and got up again. This time he had only crawled a foot. He swung the rifle again and this time did not knock you down, but only drove you back a step or two, which was not far enough at all.

No longer able to summon voice, he whispered one last defiant “Fuck You,” before giving up on the rifle he could no longer lift and trying to fend you off with his bare hands.

That slowed you down for longer than you can now believe: maybe an hour, as the magnificent doomed bastard continued to refuse to submit. The best you can say about him is that there was a little less left of you by the time he was done. The worst is that it didn’t help him, and that he really should have saved a bullet for himself.

Afterward, you took your time, starting with his face while he made the few sounds he still could.

Reliving that now, just one returning horror out of many-and wishing for something solid in your stomach, so you could vomit something other than air-you finally understand why none of the other people you see would stir themselves to approach any of the others. All of these people are haunted by the people they killed, the flesh that they ate, and the loved ones who lived to see them become something reeking of the grave that wanted to drag them into the same bottomless darkness.

Who would want to see another human face, with that on their conscience?

Like them, you want to just sit alone and stew in your misery.

But then something drives you forward anyway. You select one of your closest fellow prisoners, a pale fat mound sitting on the ground about a hundred paces away. She looks up long enough to see you coming, but then turns her attention back to the dirt and doesn’t move at all as you cross the gulf between you. As you draw near, you see that her skin is just as colorless as the sky, except for the places where particles of grit now cling, like parasites. She’s not obese, not really, but she has enough excess flesh to form a donut around her waist. There is a tattoo on her arm, but it’s an old one and has become a faded purple smudge that no longer conveys whatever it had once been meant to signify.

When you stop before her, she glances at you, her weariness heavy enough to fill up a world. “What do you want?”

“What is this place?”

She barks a bitter laugh. “Did you just arrive?”

“Is it Hell?”

She shifts her weight just enough to set the excess flesh jiggling, a sad little dance that gives the impression of life for all of two seconds before inertia reasserts herself and the rolls of flesh once again take on the character of stacked corpses. For long minutes you imagine her intent on waiting you out, but there’s little point in that, not here in this place where every direction is exactly like every other. And then she murmurs, “I was a nurse.”


“I was a ward nurse at an old age home, the floor where they kept all the patients with dementia. It was the last stop. They’d already been through the forgetful stage, the confused stage, even the dangerous stage most people don’t know about, when their frustration with a world they no longer understood turned them unreasonable and violent. They didn’t come to me until they’d forgotten who they were, and what they’d lost. Most of them were bedridden, and some were so weak with age that they didn’t have enough energy to move much…but always, always, there were some who’d gotten it in their sixties, or fifties, when they were still ambulatory, with energy to burn. I even had some in their forties, from time to time: one a college professor with a beautiful little wife twenty years younger than him, an ex-student who had to watch as her robust middle-aged husband suddenly started turning into an old man only two years into their marriage. He could run a marathon every day, that one. And we let him walk up the hallway and back, up the hallway and back, up the hallway and back, nodding a kind hello to us on every pass, never remembering that he’d ever seen us before. Understand: we knew that he was in a terrible situation. We knew that he didn’t deserve what had happened to him. But, for a long time, it was almost pleasant, getting that smile from him every few minutes. He wasn’t unhappy, not at all. He didn’t know it was a care facility. He just thought it was a hotel, and figured that he’d be able to return to his life if he could just…if he could just find his room. He just needed to find his room. I always thought, if I ever come down with it, let me be like him. It wouldn’t be too bad, if all I cared about was…finding my room.”

You don’t understand why she’s telling you this. It seems random, not the answer to your question at all. As she winds down, you come within a breath of interrupting. But then she continues.

“After a while, he got worse. The smile went away. He forgot everything else but the shuffling walk up and down the corridor, and the skin of his face went slack, like a blanket draped on a chair. He was no longer looking for anything. There was nothing behind his eyes but the next step, and the step after that. He was transferred to another facility, so I never found out what happened to him. But when the dead rose…when they started coming after us…the look on their faces was nothing new to me. They looked like everybody in my ward. Some of the people I ended up with called them names like ‘those things,’ and ‘those sons of bitches,’ but I always remembered the old people on the ward, the ones who’d also forgotten everything, and had also never asked to become what they were. I never forgot that it wasn’t their fault, that they were just looking for something they couldn’t have anymore.” Her tired gaze, long fixed on the dirt, manages to move upward, long enough to meet yours. “Some of us may have been evil bastards before. But what we did after the infection took us was just the infection. It wasn’t our fault. Unless God’s a total maniac…it wouldn’t condemn us to Hell. And it hasn’t. I believed in Hell. I still believe in Hell. It may have taken me a long time to figure out, but this place isn’t even remotely terrible enough to be Hell.”

“Then…I’m sorry. I don’t get it.”

She stabs the dirt with her thumb, and draws an angry circle, one that fails to connect back to itself as the curve comes around to its starting point. She rubs it out and draws it again, once again breaking the curve at the point where it should become perfect. You get the impression that she has spent much of her time here, however long that’s been, trying and failing to make this one simple shape. And then she says, “After what we’ve done…why would anybody already in Heaven want us there?”

The size of it almost knocks you over. You spin in place, taking in hundreds, thousands of immobile figures with all that horror behind them and nothing that offers comfort in front of them. There must be millions, all told, maybe hundreds of millions or even billions: the poor, abused world getting pretty damn unpopulated by attrition by the time your own life was ripped out. You might be looking at much of the Earth’s population, but for those lucky few fortunate enough to suffer so much damage when they died that the terrible phenomenon was unable to affect them: the lucky few who had not been tainted.

You say, “But that’s so fucking unfair.”

She nods without sympathy before returning to her hopeless drawing. “The whole thing’s unfair. Isn’t it?”

You stumble away, so blinded by despair and horror that you don’t even thank her for the information. You are still stumbling as you pass the next hopeless figure, and the next figure after that; the ones who look up at you and the ones who don’t, the ones who seem half-mad and the ones who act that way because it’s the only rational response to an irrational eternity. You want to scream at them, raise an army of them, and march together toward that light in the east, the one you now know to be the Eden that will never let you in. You know that you will never get another to stand with you, let alone walk with you. They all know they carry the taint. They all know that while they’re not quite damned they’re as close to damned as human beings can be without actual consignment to the pit.

And then the rage rises out of nowhere and you throw your head back and you howl at the empty sky. You know exactly who you’re yelling at, but you don’t care. You only know that what happened wasn’t anybody’s fault. Or even if it was somebody’s, if the plague was some exotic bug escaped from a government lab or something, nobody who caught it had ever been given a choice. You were no more responsible than loving family dogs gone rabid, or sane men turned violent by tumors in their brains. You don’t deserve this emptiness, this punishment that amounts to no more than the stubborn refusal to judge you.

You scream until you run out of breath and stand there panting as you wait for an answer. But nobody answers. Nobody answers. You scream again and this time you face the gray sky and try to bring forth a pattern in the miniscule differences in shade between one patch of emptiness and another: the face of a kind and benevolent, or even stern and maniacal creator, looking down on you, taking note of what you say, and either changing his mind or smiting you for your temerity in daring to criticize him. But again, though you scream for a timeless time, maybe longer than you existed as one of the living dead, maybe longer than you existed as one of the warm, no face emerges. You are alone.

And again you wind down and sink to your knees and face the prospect of doing what all these other lost people have done, which is sit your ass on some forsaken patch of dirt and let the years, the centuries, the millennia accrue like dust.

You want to. That’s the terrible thing. You want to.

But the Bastard has left you with one thing worth doing.

And so you lurch back to your feet and begin to trudge forward, stopping in front of every immobile before moving on to the next, aware that there may be millions or even billions left to go, but not caring at all, because you have nothing but time.

She was just a little girl. Your little girl.

It may take about as much time as it takes some mountain ranges to crumble to dust…but sooner or later, you’ll find her.

When the Zombies Win by Karina Sumner-Smith

Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of several stories, including “An End to All Things,” which was a finalist for the Nebula Award. Her work has appeared in the magazines Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Flytrap, Challenging Destiny, Fantasy Magazine, and Strange Horizons. Anthology appearances include Children of Magic, Mythspring, Jabberwocky 3, Summoned to Destiny, Ages of Wonder, and Why I Hate Aliens. Sumner-Smith is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop and works part-time as a bookseller at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto’s science fiction and fantasy bookstore. She says she is currently battling a novel.

The ending of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is pessimistic about human nature but seems optimistic about the chances of human survival in the face of a zombie pandemic. After all, come morning, we see squads of militiamen rounding up zombies and consigning them to bonfires. However, in the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, we are presented with the reality that the zombie plague cannot be contained and will continue to expand exponentially and irreversibly, and by the time Day of the Dead rolls around the world is completely dominated by zombies and only a few clusters of survivors remain.

The final outcome seems inevitable. Sumner-Smith writes, “In a discussion about the apocalypse, I joked that someone should write a story set after everyone has been eaten or turned into zombies. What would the zombies eat? What would they do when there’s no one left to infect? Once I’d considered the consequences, a total zombie apocalypse seemed not horrific, nor comedic, but tragic. It’s not just that everyone has died, but that we have died and yet continue to stumble through the ruins of our world with no way to understand or acknowledge what’s happened, or mourn the loss of everything we once were.”


When the zombies win, they will be slow to realize their success. Word travels slowly on shambling feet.

It will take years to be sure that there aren’t still humans hiding in high mountain camps or deep within labyrinthine caverns; that the desert bunkers are empty, the forest retreats fallen; that the ships still afloat bear no breathing passengers.

And then: victory. Yet the zombies will not call out to each other, or cry in relief, or raise their rotting hands in triumph. They will walk unseeing beneath telephone wires and over cell phones, computers, radios. They will pass smoldering rubble without thinking of smoke signals, trip on tattered bed sheets and not consider making flags.

They are zombies; they will only walk and walk and walk, the word spreading step by step across continents and oceans and islands, year by year. And the word, to them, will feel like hunger.

When the zombies win, their quest to eat and infect human flesh will continue unabated. They will have known only gorging, only feasting; they will not understand the world as anything other than a screaming buffet on the run.

Yet there will be only silence and vacant rooms where once there was food, and the zombies, in their slow and stumbling way, will be surprised. Stomachs once perpetually distended will feel empty and curve inward towards their spines, the strength of even animated corpses beginning to fail without fuel. They will look about, cloudy eyes staring, and they will groan, unbreathing lungs wheezing as they try to push out enough air to ask slowly, hungrily, “Brains?”

But there will be no one left to find. Only each other.

Zombies, they will learn, do not taste good.

When the zombies win, they will become restless. There is little to do when one is dead.

Their old pastimes-their favorite pastimes-will hold no satisfaction. They will shamble down streets, arms outstretched as they groan and wail, yet inspire no fear. Together they will pound on doors, beat on windows with decaying hands until the glass shatters, hide in rivers and lakes, stumble after cars on the highway. But the cars will all be stopped, forever in park; the breaking glass will elicit no screams; and no swimmer’s hands or feet will break the water’s surface to be grabbed. When the doors burst open there will be no one cowering behind.

There will be no people to stalk, no food to eat, no homes to build, no deaths to die. Lost and aimless they will turn as if seeking a leader’s guidance, and find none. With zombies, the only leader is the one who happens to be walking first.

So they will walk alone, all of them alone, with no destinations, only the need to keep putting one unsteady foot in front of the other, over and over without end. The world is a big place to wander, even when inhabited only by the dead.

When the zombies win, they will not think of the future. There will be no next generation of zombies, no newborn zombie children held in rotting arms. The zombies will not find comfort in each other, will not rediscover concepts like friendship or companionship, will not remember sympathy or empathy or kindness. They will not learn or dream, or even know that they cannot.

They will build no buildings, fix no cars, write no histories, sing no songs. They will not fall in love. For zombies, there is only an endless today-this moment, this place, this step, this need, this hunger, this hunger unrelenting.

And the streets will begin to crumble, and windows break, and buildings fall. Cities will burn and flood, towns will be reclaimed by grassland and forest, desert and ocean.

The human world will go to pieces, decaying to nothing as empty eyes stare.

When the zombies win, they will not fear. They will not laugh or rejoice, they will not regret, they will not mourn. And the world will turn and turn, seasons burning and freezing across the landscape, the sun flashing through the sky, and they will continue.

When they zombies win, they will not stop. They will still moan and cry and whisper, on and on until the lips rot from their faces, their vocal cords slide away. They will never truly think again, never know the meaning of the words they try to utter, only flutter endlessly on the edge of remembering. Still they will try to speak, bone scraping on bone as their ruined jaws move, and they will not know why.

One by one they will fall. In the streets they will fall, legs no longer working, arms too broken to drag them forward. Inside buildings they will fall, tumbling down stairs and collapsing in hallways, slipping behind beds and in closets, curling into the gap between toilet and wall, not knowing, not seeing, not understanding these trappings of the places they once called home. They will sink to the bottoms of rivers and oceans, and lie down in fields, and tumble from mountainsides, and fall apart on the gravel edges of highways.

One by one they will stop moving, flesh and bone and brain too broken to do anything more. And in that silence and stillness they will struggle-trapped and ruined, they will still yearn, still hunger, always reaching for that which was taken from them. That which they granted to so many of us, in such great numbers.

To stop. To sleep. To rest, just rest, and let the darkness come.

Mouja by Matt London

Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, and a columnist for Tor.com. This story is his first piece of published fiction. He has no less than three escape plans should the zombies take Manhattan.

The samurai were a warrior caste in feudal Japan who wore distinctive armor and often fought with a sword in either hand, one long (a katana or tachi) and one short (a wakizashi or tantō). Though they were feared because they had the authority to execute any commoner who displeased them, they were bound by a strict code of honor-Bushido-which demanded they commit seppuku-ritual suicide-should they dishonor themselves.

Samurai have had a massive impact on popular culture, everything from westerns (The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars are remakes of Akira Kurosawa samurai movies) to Star Wars (the film is heavily influenced by the Kurosawa film Hidden Fortress, and Darth Vader’s helmet is modeled after a samurai helmet).

Our next story explores what happens when these highly trained soldiers face off against their first horde of zombies. The author says, “Lore would have us believe that samurai were almost superhuman in their devotion, but of course people are people. I wanted to create a character who is a slave to what he is, much as the zombies are slaves to what they are. I studied film at NYU, where I had a passionate interest in Kurosawa and horror cinema. Seven Samurai essentially has the same plot as most zombie movies: protagonists improve the defenses of a location, deal with social problems among the survivors, and then fight off the horde.”

London’s primary resource in writing the story was the Hagakure by Tsunetomo Yamamoto, a samurai how-to pamphlet written in the eighteenth century. Its opening line is: “I have found the essence of Bushido: to die! In other words, when you have a choice between life and death, then always choose death.” Which somehow seems appropriate as a lead-in to a zombie story.


From the window of his guard hut, Takashi Shimada watched the trees. Three of the mouja lurked at the edge of the forest on the far side of the rice paddies. Takashi could just make out their shapes through the thick misty rain that made the flooded paddies seem to boil. Two of the figures at the edge of the forest were men in muddy tunics, caked with blood; the third was a woman, her kimono shamelessly open. Takashi watched, waiting, as the shadowy figures shambled toward the village. It did not matter if they traveled one mile per day or a hundred. The dead were coming, and they carried with them a hunger for human flesh.

A loud twang pierced the silence, like the string of a shamisen harshly plucked; an arrow whizzed through the air, cutting through raindrops as they fell to the earth. It struck one of the men in the forehead, splitting his rotting skull like a ripe kabocha. Undeterred, the other mouja lumbered forward as the man’s body fell to the ground in a heap.

In the next hut over, Seiji stood motionless, unwavering since letting the arrow fly, his falcon eyes peering into the distance. Takashi wondered if Seiji was admiring his precise shot, or if his mind was elsewhere, asking himself why he had come to this inconsequential farming village to fight these monsters. All of the samurai had doubted their mission since arriving at the village, though none of them shared their concern with the others-such behavior was unbefitting of a samurai. Seiji finally lowered his bow, then knelt on the ground. After a moment of silent meditation, he drew an arrow from his rabbit-hide quiver, nocked it, and rose to his feet once more.

When the mouja first arrived, it was discovered they only fell when struck directly in the head by an arrow, sword, or spear. Takashi recalled the samurai’s confusion as they watched the creatures approach the village looking like blowfish, their bodies riddled with arrows. Seiji’s technique was so precise he never wasted an arrow. When only a few wandering mouja appeared at a time, the other samurai left it to him to eliminate the threat.

Watching the fluid elegance of Seiji’s ritual put Takashi at peace. Seiji raised the bow so that the horizontal shaft of the arrow was level with his eyes. He extended his hands, his movement loose and calm. His knuckles were curved, as if he held two tiny teacups in his fingers.

Had Takashi been the one holding Seiji’s bow, he would have found it difficult to fire at a woman. He might have needed Seiji to place a nimble hand on his shoulder and remind him that it was not a woman anymore.

Seiji’s drawing hand opened like the wing of a bird, and with remarkable grace he let the arrow fly.

It was a perfect shot. The arrowhead pierced the woman’s eye, erupted out the back of her skull, and passed through the remaining man’s eye socket as well. The arrow continued on, finally coming to rest in the soggy bark of a lilac tree.

Takashi looked away, feeling the vomit crawl up his throat. He wondered whose grandmother, dead and buried years before, that had been. He wondered whose father, too slow to escape the mouja, had just been defiled.

In this new world, Bushido was just a specter lurking in the dark caves of samurai minds. Takashi knew a curse had fallen over the five islands, that none could die without rising as a perverse rotting thing, mindless and hungry for flesh. To obey the honor laws was to set a place for Death at one’s own table.

Edo, Kyoto-for all Takashi knew all of the major cities had already fallen. This little village would have been defenseless. But the farmers had known that the mouja were on their way, so they had sought out a champion.

They had found Takashi at a trading post and begged him to take up their cause. It was a hopeless task. They needed an army to stand a chance. But hell was coming, and honor dictated it is better to go down fighting, protecting those who could not protect themselves. Bushido or no, doing anything was better than sitting around and drinking sake, awaiting the inevitable. So Takashi had agreed, and recruited a few other ronin to join him in protecting the town.

“Look alive,” Seiji called from his window. The words were a suggestion as much as a greeting. “I am going to retrieve my arrows. You never know when we may need more than we have. Shout if you see anything that needs killing.”

Seiji bounded from the hut and splashed across the rice paddies, the rain beating down on his gray cloak. When he reached the three mouja corpses, Seiji checked to make sure they were truly dead by prodding them with his katana. Takashi marveled. He had not even seen Seiji draw his sword. Other samurai had been recruited to defend the village, but Takashi would have traded any two of them for another Seiji. He was more dangerous with a fish knife than the others were with swords.

Days earlier, Isao, the youngest among the samurai protecting the village, had been watching Seiji’s unmatched accuracy at work. “Your aim is perfect every time,” he had said. “What is the trick?”

“The trick,” Seiji had said, “is not caring if you hit the target.”

The rain stopped. As the sound of roaring water faded, Takashi came out of his reverie. On the edge of the forest, Seiji was examining his arrows. One shaft had broken two inches below the fletching, so Seiji snapped off the arrowhead and kept it. The other arrow-the one that had killed two mouja with one shot-was fine once the gore was stripped off.

After sliding the arrow into his quiver, Seiji started back across the paddy field, but then suddenly froze. His ears pricked up, and he looked like a thirsty buck at a stream. From his expression the cause of his concern was clear: he was being hunted.

With the slightest motion of his head, Seiji turned. Takashi followed his gaze. Through the trees he could see a chubby, bearded man wearing a leather armor breastplate and deerskin chaps, with a brown bandana around his head. His face was ashen, his eyes the color of bird droppings. The man’s left arm and his teeth were missing, and a ropy line of blood and saliva dribbled from his mouth.

If not for the beloved hatchet slung across the man’s back, Takashi never would have believed it was Minoru. Poor Minoru, the first of the samurai to fall, had now vacated the funeral mound where the others had buried him. He stood leaning against a tree, staring at Seiji with a hungry mouth and those swirling eyes. All of his good humor was gone. Only the hunger remained.

Seiji raised his sword into a medium stance and looked at Takashi as if to ask “Should I?” Takashi had to tell himself that this creature was no more Minoru than a palace raided by bandits was still a king’s home. Minoru’s mind had new tenants. Takashi nodded to Seiji, then looked away. He shut his eyes as he heard the heavy thud of Minoru’s severed head hitting the ground.

As Seiji returned to Takashi’s hut, the young samurai Isao came running up to the rear window. “Masters! Masters! Come quickly!” he shouted. “The villagers-there was something they didn’t tell us about the outlying homesteads. We just found out, there’s a hunting lodge about an hour’s walk from the center of town. Long walls, strong wooden building. Apparently, an old woodsman used to live there, but he died a few years ago. Master Takashi, Master Seiji, the farmers say there are rifles hidden in the lodge. Master Toshiro wants to go get the rifles. Do you think the rifles will fend off the mouja?”

Takashi and Seiji ordered two farmers to take their posts and followed Isao to the town square. On the way, they passed the fields where old men and women not fit for sentry duty were up to their elbows in murky water. They harvested the rice impassively. These farmers were a simple people, simple and simple-minded. They had no music, no art, no higher purpose. All they cared for was the harvest, and they would defend the harvest at any cost. Their only drive was to feed their families.

Daisuke, Toshiro, and the mayor were waiting for the other samurai by the old well in the center of town. The situation was as Isao had described. Toshiro was shouting at the mayor, furious that he had not told the samurai about the rifles.

But of course the farmers had kept it secret. In tough times, samurai could be just as greedy as the mouja, consume just as much. Ronin were known to burn villages, rape daughters, steal property, and even kill men for no reason.

Daisuke was in favor of retrieving the rifles, but not so close to dark. Toshiro and Isao wanted to fetch them right away-Toshiro for the adventure, Isao out of fear. The young one did not think they would last the night without stronger arms.

Takashi agreed with Daisuke. At least three samurai would have to go to the hunter’s lodge, and leaving the village’s defenses so thin at night would be suicide.

Toshiro slapped the ground with both hands. “Don’t you see? You fool! With those rifles, we could fight them from a safe distance. We lost Minoru because he was forced to get close to the mouja and draw his sword. Rifles can be fired from a safer distance than bows. We must retrieve these weapons now. The boy is right. The sun sinks quickly; the darkness calls those foul things like a hungry dog to supper. We need the guns.”

In the hope that Seiji could sort out this mess, Takashi turned to receive the skilled warrior’s advice, but when he looked, the samurai was gone. This argument was not his concern. Slaying the foul creatures and protecting the villagers were all that mattered to him. So Takashi was the deciding vote. He was the leader, after all. They would wait until morning, and at dawn’s first light, he, Daisuke, and Isao would set out for the hunter’s lodge to retrieve the guns.

Day turned to dusk, and the sun splattered the western ridge with fire. Takashi squinted at the horizon. The silhouettes of the monsters looked like scarecrows, jutting up from the crest of the hill overlooking the village.

“Master Takashi! Master Takashi!” Isao again. He ran up to Takashi, breathless. “It is Toshiro, master. He told me he was going off to the hunter’s lodge alone. He is going for the guns.”

Takashi felt his stomach tighten into a thick knot. They could not spare a man. Without assistance, Toshiro would be lost, and with him the village. Takashi ordered Isao to take his bow and join Daisuke at the barricade. He posted most of the townspeople at the river, where the water would slow the creatures enough for the farmers to pierce them with their spears.

Takashi then ran to Seiji’s post to tell him what had happened, and together, their swords glinting in the light of the setting sun, they made for the hunter’s lodge.

Regret crept into Takashi’s mind. To leave the village when so many mouja were on the move, when so few villagers were primed to defend…the desertion shamed him. His fear, unbecoming of a samurai, fogged his mind all the way through the woods.

On occasion, Seiji halted their progress and drew his sword just long enough to finish off the mouja that lay tangled in ferns along the path. “It is fortunate we have encountered so few on this journey,” Seiji said as he wiped his blade clean. “If our luck holds up, Toshiro may still be alive when we find him.”

As they walked, Takashi noticed groves of flowers lined the hillsides. The trees had white, pink, and yellow blossoms, each dripping gemstones of rain. The samurai’s thoughts wandered back to the village. Hopefully the farmers had picked up the patrols Seiji and he were missing. The farmers’ vigilance would be integral to their survival. If they kept the watch, they might just make it through the night. Apprehension coiled around Takashi’s throat like a serpent. He should have left Seiji in charge of the village’s defense, and taken Daisuke with him to the lodge.

But the truth was Takashi feared what hid in the ever-darkening woodland. His concern for his own life and the knowledge that Seiji was at his side kept him feeling safe, so he chanced to leave the village with weakened defenses and tried to stay optimistic. Perhaps they would retrieve Toshiro and the rifles, return safely, and defend the village with great success. His gamble still might pay off.

They stepped through a small grove of trees and saw the hunter’s lodge in the distance. The building was the same width as the farmers’ cottages, but three times as long, about the size of a small barn. Seiji stepped cautiously toward the building.

“I smell blood,” Takashi said, but Seiji ignored the warning and entered the lodge. Takashi sniffed the air, scanning the trees.

Inside, the floor was sprinkled with dry hay. Tanned animal skins hung from the walls. A dusty bedroll took up one corner of the room. A hunched figure, bathed in shadow, crept around the far side of the lodge. A large clay pot smashed to the floor as the figure tore open a storage crate. He pulled out a long stiff bundle wrapped in blankets and began to unravel it.

“Toshiro?” Takashi called out.

The rugged samurai turned to face them. The barrels of three muskets were visible in his arms. He grinned, his teeth flashing in the darkness, and laughed a monkey’s laugh. “You see this?” He spat on the floor. “With these we can take out those filthy mouja for sure. And you were going to let them just sit here and collect dust. Ha!”

Takashi was about to reprimand the stubborn fool when Seiji said, “We must go at once.” He made for the door.

The instant Seiji opened the door he slammed it shut again. He took a pitchfork from a rack of tools on the wall and slid it through the door handles, barring the entrance. “They are upon us,” Seiji said. “At least twenty. Load those muskets. We must fight!”

A cacophony sounded outside the lodge. Rotting fists banged on the walls, the windows, the door, even the ceiling. Takashi could hear unbearable suffering in their groans. The creatures were starving.

The samurai each grabbed a rifle. Seiji swiped Toshiro’s weapon away from him. “We do not have the time or ammunition to teach you how to aim.” Carrying a gun in each hand, Seiji ran to the window and fired the first rifle, then took the other and slew a second mouja.

Takashi aimed out the window on the opposite side of the lodge and fired into the crowd assembled there. The lead ball struck one of the mouja in the throat. The creature gurgled and kept moving forward. Takashi gritted his teeth and stabbed the wounded mouja in the head, using the barrel of the musket as a spear. It collapsed outside the window, dropping from view.

Seiji tossed the two muskets to Toshiro. “Reload,” he demanded, drawing his sword. A flash of glinting steel left three of the dead in pieces outside Seiji’s window.

Takashi released his second round, incapacitating another mouja so only an infinite number remained. Behind him, he heard Toshiro fumble with the ramrod, trying to pack the gunpowder into place. As soon as he finished, Seiji snatched the muskets, then aimed them out the window and fired off two quick shots.

“I would also like to fight. I am not your student!” Toshiro barked as Takashi hurried to the center of the room to load another round.

Seiji grabbed Takashi’s rifle and threw it to the ground. He kicked the muskets from Toshiro’s hands, sending them skittering across the floor. “Forget it,” Seiji said. “It is no use. Takashi, Toshiro, draw your swords for the last time. Better we go down fighting with steel in our hands.”

But the despair of Seiji’s words only seemed to energize their blades. Takashi rushed to the window and began to jab and thrust, piercing the brains of any mouja close enough to strike. Toshiro and Seiji matched Takashi’s tactic. They struck down dozens in this way, and the bodies piled up in front of the windows, obstructing the approach of the others.

“Ha ha!” Toshiro whooped. “We’re making our own barricade of flesh. Perverse, but effective!”

Time moved fast in the thick of battle. Bodies accumulated in three mounds outside the windows of the lodge. Before long, the windows were covered completely.

With the windows blocked, the chamber darkened and the foul noises dampened, but the smell…the smell penetrated them. It saturated their clothes and skin, even their topknots. The samurai retched at the overwhelming reek of death. Even Seiji was not immune.

Takashi covered his nose. “Perhaps the smell will fool them into moving on. If we wait, they might pass by, leaving us behind, so we may escape.”

Toshiro appeared hopeful, but Seiji gave them a skeptical look. “I am sorry, my friends. But the only way we are leaving here is mindless and hungry.”

A noise broke the silence, louder than before, but it was something different, not the groaning of the creatures. Takashi looked up and wiped his blade. It was coming from the ceiling. The wooden-slatted roof creaked and shifted under the weight of something.

“Is that the wind?” Toshiro asked.

“No,” Seiji said. “Them.”

The roof collapsed in a hail of splinters and bodies. The samurai screamed, squinting against the flurry, and flailed their weapons. They hacked at the waterfall of ghouls that rained down on them from above. Black blood spattered the walls-the hunting lodge became a butcher shop.

As the bodies continued to fall to the floor, quick strikes from the samurai’s blades destroyed them. Takashi leaped into the air, attacking the mouja before they could drop down into the lodge. He stabbed the head of one of them, and the body brought his weapon to the floor as it dropped. As he struggled to remove his sword from the skull of one of the fallen, he chanced a look up, and saw a mouja dangling above him, about to fall. Seiji cried out Takashi’s name and pushed his comrade out of the way. He grappled with the mouja as it fell upon him.

Toshiro hurried to the rescue. He stood over them, following the mouja’s head with the tip of his blade. The thing was a young man, no older than nineteen. Toshiro pushed his blade straight through the young man’s ear…but it wasn’t really a young man anymore. It was a dead thing.

Seiji sat up, clutching his bloody hands. The creature had bitten off the third and fourth fingers of his left hand. He glanced at Takashi expectantly. Toshiro backed away, waiting for Takashi to make a move.

Takashi had always viewed Seiji with a certain invincibility, and seeing him in that state, unable to shoot, barely able to wield a katana, it set Takashi’s heart on the edge of a blade.

Seiji howled. His body snapped rigid and flailed about on the floor. His muscles hardened, his skin turned to the color of the ocean depths, and his eyes clouded like dirty cubes of ice. He emitted one last sound, a sound like steel against a rough stone. Beneath the grating noise, Takashi discerned a single word-kaishakunin.

Seiji retained none of his masterful dexterity in the afterlife. His stiff legs fought to propel him forward, limping and forcing every jerky step. His arms dangled. His fingers could not flex. His sword forgotten, Seiji’s mouth and shredded fingers dripped dark blood as they reached for Takashi.

Was Seiji’s final word a request? Kaishakunin. When a samurai committed seppuku, the kaishakunin served as the principal’s second; once the samurai had disemboweled himself, the kaishakunin decapitated the principal to alleviate the immense pain. It was a difficult job, physically and emotionally. Was this what Seiji asked of Takashi? It sickened him to think of destroying a great warrior such as this. To kill a friend.

Seiji lunged at Takashi with a growl. Takashi’s blade flashed.

For all of Seiji’s proficiencies, his neck was no thicker than any other man’s. His head rolled into a dark corner of the room.

The silence that followed unnerved the remaining samurai. Takashi opened the door and inspected the area surrounding the lodge. There were bodies all around, but the rest of the mouja appeared to have vanished.

Toshiro wrapped the muskets in the belt and blanket the way he had found them and strapped the parcel over his shoulder. “They may still be useful,” Toshiro said as he joined Takashi outside the lodge, “from a distance.”

Takashi was too stunned to lead the way, so Toshiro guided him back to the village. The forest was dark. Without a torch, Takashi had no idea where they were going. He was amazed that Toshiro was able to find the right direction, weaving between trees, dodging exposed roots, and not once did they come across what they both feared-more of the mouja. Takashi’s thoughts were of Seiji, the elegant work of art that he had been forced to destroy. No. That he had chosen to destroy. There must have been a way Takashi could have saved Seiji, or at least preserved him in his undead state long enough to find a cure for this illness. The wound was superficial. With skill such as his, a few short digits would not have slowed Seiji for long.

A pain twisted in Takashi’s stomach again, a dull rotting pain, tying his guts into knots. It was tragic, really, what happened to Seiji. “Is there no honor left in this world?” Takashi shouted over the noise. There was a grumbling roar in the distance, growing louder. “A man such as Seiji deserved better. I should not have cut him down, Toshiro. I have dishonored myself. I must face consequences for that.”

But no, Takashi thought. Seppuku was not the way. He had a mission. He had sworn an oath. It was his duty to protect these helpless farmers.

Toshiro was not listening. They had reached the ridge overlooking the town. Down in the pit, the town served one final purpose. It would act as a signal fire to warn neighboring villages that the swarm was on its way. The houses were all aflame, the air was polluted with acrid black smoke, and countless mouja prowled the streets. Takashi couldn’t see any people. They must have been in the streets, among the mouja, driven only to feed on their families. Isao and Daisuke were nowhere to be found.

Looking down at the village, Takashi’s heart sank. He fell to his knees and drew his tantō. Slowly and carefully, Takashi untied the sash of his kimono and pulled it open. He tucked the sleeves beneath his knees. He wanted to be sure to fall forward. “I swore to protect these people, Toshiro, and I have failed. This is my fault.”

“This is no one’s fault,” Toshiro said.

“It was my decision to leave the village, and this is the result. Toshiro, you will have to be my kaishakunin. Once I make the cut, be very quick and careful. I do not want to return as one of those things. When I am gone, hurry to the next village. You are fast in the dark. Perhaps you can warn them before those creatures arrive.”

Toshiro sneered. He grabbed Takashi by the collar. “No. I will not allow you to do this. Better we go down fighting with steel in our hands. Besides, two samurai with katanas are more powerful than the tallest tsunami. We will take many of them with us. We may even find survivors.

Takashi’s eyes met Toshiro’s intense gaze. Where Seiji had skill, Toshiro had spirit. Takashi held out his hand; Toshiro grasped his arm and pulled him to his feet. They drew their swords, walking with deliberate steps down the ridge. Their eyes glowed with fire. They navigated around the fallen bodies, cutting down mouja whenever one came near. Takashi whispered, “These poor farmers. They never stood a chance.”

Toshiro spat. “It is their lot to suffer.”

At the center of town, a crowd of mouja had congregated. Their shadows danced on the sandy ground like demons in the firelight. One thousand cloudy eyes found the samurai at once. The mouja charged. Takashi and Toshiro swung hard.

Blood and fire glinted on their blades.

Category Five by Marc Paoletti

Marc Paoletti is the coauthor (with Patricia Rosemoor) of the novels The Last Vampire and The Vampire Agent. He is also the author of Scorch, a thriller that draws upon his experiences as a Hollywood pyrotechnician. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Young Blood, Book of Voices, Horror Library Vol. 2, The Best Underground Fiction, The Blackest Death Vol. 2, Cold Flesh, and Thou Shalt Not. Earlier this year, he had a story published in First Thrills, edited by Lee Child.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Almost 2,000 people died, both in the storm itself and in the severe flooding that followed. And bad as the storm was, the real horror was the human element-the engineers’ failure to maintain the levees, the incompetence of the federal response, and the disorder that ensued. People attempting to flee the storm-ravaged city of New Orleans were turned back at gunpoint by locals who feared looters. FEMA director Michael Brown, a political appointee whose most relevant prior experience had been managing horse shows, became a laughingstock after the president absurdly praised him for doing a “heck of a job.”

Most of us never imagined we’d see corpses lying unattended on the streets of an American city. The author of our next story writes, “I watched Hurricane Katrina decimate New Orleans live on CNN. Talk about horror. I was shocked by the devastation, and appalled that the most disadvantaged people were bearing the brunt of the disaster. I finished the first draft of this story in one sitting. Funny what happens when you’re fueled by outrage. Also my childhood home in Sacramento was almost flooded a few years back. I was in Los Angeles at the time. Believe me, it’s grim to get a call from your folks in the middle of the night and hear the fear in their voices as they tell you the levee-which is less than a mile away from them-is about to break.”


Remy listened to the wind beat the walls, listened to the rain whip the windows. Since the power was out and it was after sundown, he’d lit candles in the bedroom and rest of the house. He might have considered the thrashing beat a hip tempo if not for what he’d heard over the battery-powered radio crackling on the dresser.

Category five.

This hurricane was supposed to be the worst in a generation, like nothing they’d seen, yet the mayor had done little to get folks like him and Marta out. They were late seventies. Too poor to afford a car. Too old to venture far on their own. They were black. They didn’t matter.

Their home was ramshackle, single story, built long ago in a crumbling ward that sat below sea level and lacked the comfort of close neighbors. On the radio, he’d heard that the 17th Street Canal levee was under assault by storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain. If the levee failed, the ward didn’t stand a chance. Their home didn’t stand a chance.

He sat next to Marta who lay under thick covers, eyes closed, breathing fitfully. He placed a wrinkled palm on the wrinkled forehead of his love, her sweaty skin the color of coffee and sooty with age, but still beautiful to him after fifty years of marriage.

Remy touched her as he listened to the radio’s thick crackles, to the broken bits of news, to the random chatter. Other wards had been flooded, he’d made out that much. The water had carried away cars and trucks, had swept houses from their foundations, and had caved in crypts and mortuaries freeing the bodies within.

That’s where things got strange.

He thought he’d heard reports that said disinterred bodies were coming back to life. Witnesses on the radio had sworn it was true. Supposedly, dead bodies had writhed and flailed as floodwaters swept them along and when they’d washed against higher ground, they’d clambered to their feet and walked. Walked. He shook his head. Here people were spinning foolish tales about the walking dead when Marta couldn’t walk at all.

“We’ll get through this, you ’n’ me,” Remy whispered, taking his wife’s hand. “Like we got through so much else.”

She moaned softly. Marta had been sick for a long, long time. So long, in fact, that he’d nearly forgotten what their life had been like before the disease. Ovarian cancer. It didn’t make sense to him since she was far past childbearing age-not that they’d had children-but her ovaries had become polluted just the same, and the cancer had spread to her stomach and then her spine.

“We’ll get through this, hon,” he repeated, but didn’t know how to make good on the promise if the levee broke. How could he when most of the city had run off? When the police and fire fighters had run off as well?

Lightning flashed, casting the room bright white, and then thunder growled as fiercely as the apocalypse.

Taking the radio, Remy shuffled down a dark hallway into a kitchen lit by candles. He fetched more matches from a cupboard, and then counted cans. They had enough food for a week, which would have been fine if the morphine he’d dripped so carefully onto Marta’s tongue with a baby’s eyedropper hadn’t run out that very morning. He couldn’t call the hospital for more, either, because the landline was dead and he’d never been able to afford a cell phone. Of course that was assuming the hospital staff hadn’t left town, which they probably had.

Without morphine, Marta had nowhere to hide from the pain; already it was becoming too much for her. One moment she’d be lying there peacefully, and the next she’d be mewling and balling her fists and crushing her eyes closed with such force that he’d feel her agony like it was his own.

Mewling… that was the only sound she could make now.

Remy looked into the living room at his trumpet, which hung on the wall in a glass case above the fireplace. He’d put it away over a year ago when Marta got so sick she couldn’t sing along with him any more.

At times he’d fooled himself into believing that folks had come to the Bourbon Street clubs they booked to hear his sharp-noted riffs, but deep down, he’d always known they’d come for her. Achingly hourglass in form-fitting blue, Marta would take the stage as quietly as an afterthought, press her full lips to the mic, and then float her voice sweetly, robustly, through a room’s smoky air in time with his trumpet’s plaintive moan. Jazz, blues, gospel, rock-she could sing them all. Transform them all. Her soulful, smooth-rasping lullabies never failed to transfix, to shake free what was hidden, to soothe like promises of hope the damaged spirits of those who listened. None more than his. None more.

No more.

Marta’s voice had been siphoned by the cancer. What he would do to give Marta her voice back. To stop her constant suffering.

The radio crackled. Remy placed it on the kitchen counter and fussed with the dial.

“…broken…” he heard the broadcaster say. “…17th Street Canal levee…mercy on our souls…”

Remy went cold with fear. So it had happened. He had to get Marta outside and up onto the roof, but how could he when he lacked the strength to move her fast enough to beat the coming floodwater?

Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He dashed to the utility closet, whipped out his raingear: an opaque-plastic poncho to cover his tweed jacket, shabby white shirt, and gray slacks, and galoshes to cover his cracked Oxfords. And then, as he grabbed a shovel, he heard it.

A deep and distant roar that swelled like the charging thrum of a thousand battle tanks-a sound he’d last heard as a young man in the killing fields of Korea-until it shook the floor, the walls, the house. The glass case surrounding his trumpet shuddered then cracked down the middle as plaster dust fell in streaks from the ceiling. The roar-nature’s own terrible riff-grew so thick that he thought he might feel it slide against his fingers, and then came a cracking, trembling boom followed by a mad-static hiss.

The house groaned and held. But for how long?

Lightning flashed, giving him a glimpse of the flood through the living room window. A dark wave tumbled past, followed by another and another. Grimy water flowed underneath the front door, soaking fast across the carpet, as the flood level surged against the sill.

And then he saw something else.

At first he thought it was debris held in place by opposing currents, but then he realized it was the naked corpse of a man-one washed from a cemetery and long dead, judging by the decay. The flesh was shriveled and fish-belly white, the eyes were worm-eaten, and the jaw, a skinless mandible, opened and closed like the corpse was trying to describe the destruction it had witnessed. Open and closed. Open and closed. The jaw opened and closed so much it made him think for a moment that stories of the dead coming back to life might be true.

Remy chided himself for entertaining the silly idea when the corpse lashed out and grabbed the window frame. He could only stare in disbelief as the thing pulled itself toward him through the roaring deluge, and then slammed its rotted face into the glass. The window shattered and let in a thick rush of black, foul-smelling floodwater.

Remy threw up his arms to protect his face from the glass as the thing clutched both sides of the window frame and stepped a twisted, rotted foot onto the flooding carpet.

He continued to stare in shock, not wanting to believe what he saw but unable to deny the truth before him. Alive! Alive! The radio was right!

When the thing brought its other leg through the window and then reached for him, Remy snapped out of his fugue and swung the shovel. The flat of the blade struck the thing’s chest with a wet-sack slap, pushing it back. But then it kept coming, growl bubbling in its throat, like it hadn’t felt any pain at all.

He swung again, striking the thing’s face this time, and the rotted skull imploded in a gush of pink. The headless body took a final step before it collapsed splashing into the water, which was high enough now to soak Remy’s pants above the galoshes.

Still clutching the shovel, Remy bolted from the flooding living room. It wouldn’t be long before the water flowed down the hall and reached the bedroom.

That thing was alive!

Mind still reeling, he slammed the bedroom door closed and then wedged clothes underneath it. That would hold back the floodwater for only a minute or two, but it was something, at least.

Holding the shovel under one arm, he dragged the dresser to the middle of the floor then clambered on top of it and stood as straight as he could without hitting the low ceiling.

“I’ll be right back, hon,” Remy said, trying to keep the panic from his voice. “Just wait there as best you can.” Marta mewled, gripped the blankets. The morphine was wearing off, and he felt her growing agony in his chest, in his heart.

Age had taken a toll on him, but he knew it had taken more of a toll on the cracked, off-grade ceiling. He jabbed the shovel up again and again, shattering thin plaster, rending pink insulation, splintering worm-eaten beams. Finally, he broke through brittle shingles and saw the night sky. Raindrops pelted his face as he wormed up through the ragged hole and then stood on the roof near a small brick chimney, wind whipping his poncho.

By light of the moon, he saw that the water had taken the entire neighborhood, uprooting trees, rolling cars, flooding houses, creating a trash-strewn sea in every direction. He and Marta could expect to be stranded for a long time. Too long. And then he noticed flailing silhouettes flowing among the houses when lightning revealed what the moon hadn’t-dozens of animated dead, like the one that had broken through his window, caught in the rushing floodwater. Rotted bodies, broken bodies, bodies with limbs missing, bodies stripped of flesh. Some floated and thrashed while others strode through the chest-deep water, straining to escape the vicious current. Over the din of rushing water came a flat, plaintive sound. Moaning, he realized. A wailing chorus from the dead that rose up with a life of its own.

Remy closed his eyes and considered his only choice.

God willing, he’d have the strength to hoist Marta through the hole and onto the roof, and then he’d do his best to cover her with his poncho to keep her dry and hide her from the dead things that surrounded them. But they’d still be stranded. And Marta would still be without her morphine.

Below, Marta cried out in agony. Desperation shot through him. What else could he do?

He scrambled around the roof, looking for a safe way off, but the water was everywhere, rushing past in black, white-capped fury. He scanned the surface for debris, for a bobbing chunk big enough to use as a raft, but again there was only black water. Black water and the thrashing, floating bodies of the animated dead.

Marta cried out again, voice tinged with such pain, such agony, that Remy moaned in frustration and blind emptiness as rage blossomed along with his fear. He beat the chimney until his knuckles were bloody, crying out himself, his own anguish mingling with Marta’s cries and the moans rising up from the dark water around him.

And then he felt a sudden calm come over him. There was another way out of this. Another way. For a moment he felt a flicker of doubt, but another cry from Marta decided the issue.

The animated dead moved with ease and felt no pain. That much had been clear from the thing in his living room. As unbelievable as it seemed, he could not doubt what he had witnessed or question the opportunity that had been placed before him.

He wondered about Marta’s voice as he lowered himself back through the hole in the roof and onto the dresser. Would it return when her pain disappeared? He listened to the moans coming through the wall as clear as a back-up chorus. Maybe the dead could do more than moan. Was that so hard to believe in the face of all this? Maybe the dead outside chose to moan their woe, chose to moan in eulogy for the living who no longer grieved for them.

But such would not be the case with Marta and him. They would choose to do otherwise. They had each other. They’d always have each other.

Remy clambered down from the dresser, rushed to Marta’s side, and leaned over to kiss her forehead. She opened her pain-stricken eyes.

“Do you trust me?” he whispered.

She blinked her eyes once slowly in reply. Always.

Nodding, he turned and opened the bedroom door.

The floodwater rushed in to soak the tops of his galoshes, then chilled his calves, then his knees. The cold water kept rising as he sloshed back to the bed, sat by Marta’s side, and stroked her forehead.

It had to be something in the water that brought the dead back. It had to be.

“Close your eyes, hon,” he said.

But she didn’t close her eyes. He knew she could sense his doubt. His fear. In fifty years, he could never keep a secret from her.

She might have known what was about to happen, too, because she reached out, gently pulled his face to hers, pressed her lips to his ear. And began to sing. For the first time in so, so long.

Her raspy, pain-etched voice scraped only the bottom of the notes she used to reach, but it soothed his spirit just the same, long enough and completely enough until the floodwater delivered them into their new beginning.

Living With The Dead by Molly Brown

British Science Fiction Award-winner Molly Brown is the author of the novels Invitation to a Funeral and Virus. Her short fiction has appeared many times in Interzone, and in the Mammoth Book anthologies: Jules Verne Adventures, New Comic Fantasy, and Future Cops. Other anthology appearances include Steampunk, Time Machines, Celebration, Villains! and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Many of these stories have been gathered in her collection Bad Timing and Other Stories. In addition to writing prose fiction, Brown has written and appeared in a several short zombie films, and some of her stories have been optioned for film and/or television.

One of the challenges of assembling an anthology of zombie fiction is deciding exactly what constitutes a “zombie” story. The term originated in the Caribbean and originally referred to recently deceased individuals who had been brought back to life through magic to serve as slave workers. After the word zombie was used in connection with the marketing of George Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, the term has mostly been associated with masses of mindless, hungry undead who kill and convert the living. In recent years, the film 28 Days Later and the video game Left 4 Dead have depicted zombies as belligerent infected who aren’t actually undead. However, they are otherwise so similar to Romero zombies that everyone calls them that, and they can really be classified no other way.

But where do you draw the line? In this anthology series we’ve chosen to take an inclusive view and expose readers to the broadest possible spectrum of zombie fiction. Which brings us to our next story. One thing that’s been interesting to watch is how the term “zombie” has fallen into colloquial usage-i.e., we often refer to people as zombies when they’re performing mindless tasks, or planted in front of the television, or in a state of emotional detachment, even if they’re not trying to kill anyone. On this view, the defining feature of zombies is that they’re animate but not present. Our next story is a quiet tale of suburban life that explores this side of zombiehood.


I went to the park today, and for the first time in five years, Alice looked at me as if she knew me.

Alice used to be my best friend. We were in the same class at school. We used to do each other’s hair and borrow each other’s clothes until one night when we were both sixteen, and everything changed.

The details don’t matter now. All you need to know is we were at a party in a basement, and we both snorted something that we thought was cocaine, but it wasn’t.

The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital with everyone telling me it was a miracle I was alive because the other girl was dead.

There’d been a story in the local paper a couple of months earlier about a guy who’d collapsed in the park. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital and was taken to the hospital mortuary. A few hours later, he woke up.

No one thought much about it at the time, everyone just assumed he’d been mistakenly declared dead when he was actually in a coma. These things happen. Not often-and never before in the kind of place where nobody dies without the whole town knowing about it-but they happen.

The man hadn’t spoken once since waking; they said he just stared into space.

I remember they interviewed some expert on the news who used a lot of big words just to say sometimes it’s like that when you wake up from a coma.

Alice had been dead a little over twenty-four hours when she opened her eyes. Like the guy before her, she never spoke or reacted to anyone or anything; she just seemed to stare into the distance as if she was looking at something no one else could see.

A few weeks later they sent her home, saying there was nothing they could do.

I wasn’t that well myself-as everyone kept reminding me, I was lucky to be alive-but I went to visit Alice every day. We would sit in her room with me talking and her staring straight ahead as if I wasn’t there. And every day as I left, her mother would beg me to come back again tomorrow: “You’re her best friend. Keep talking to her; maybe you can bring her back.”

When a forty-nine-year-old man named Sam Jenkins woke up the morning after he’d died of a heart attack, people finally began to suspect that something strange was going on. This man was definitely dead, the doctors insisted. They were being especially careful about who they declared dead these days; Sam Jenkins had been repeatedly checked-and double-checked-for any signs of life, and his body had been cold when they finally allowed it to be taken to the mortuary.

Like the previous two people to wake in the hospital mortuary, Sam Jenkins never spoke. Unlike the other two, Sam Jenkins had risen naked from his mortuary slab, walked home without being noticed (it was four a.m. and the streets were empty), and got into bed beside his wife.

By the time Rosemary Harold died of cancer, they’d decided the problem must be something to do with the mortuary, so they kept her body upstairs. This didn’t make any difference; Rosemary was awake the next day.

Then everyone thought maybe it was something to do with dying in the hospital, so-as much as possible-people started dying at home. Once again, no difference. They all opened their eyes within twenty-four hours.

People eventually came to the conclusion that the problem was the town-as far as anyone knew, this wasn’t happening anywhere else-so the next time someone died, the body was immediately shipped to another state. But the guy still woke up. The other state wouldn’t allow him to stay-they said it was not their taxpayers’ responsibility to support another state’s walking dead-so he was brought back here.

Soon the dead fell into a routine of spending their afternoons in the park. You’d see them there from one o’clock every day, sometimes sitting on benches with their faces tilted up to the sun, other times just standing in a kind of loose formation. And every day at dusk they would go their separate ways, returning to the homes they’d known in life.

Some, like Alice, were obviously cared for by the living. Alice’s mother always made sure that her clothes were clean and her hair was combed.

But others were not so comfortable with their dead. On finding her husband in bed with her, Sam Jenkins’ widow had at first moved into the spare room, but having a dead man in the house soon became too much for her and she changed the locks, with the result that her dead husband spent his nights standing on the front lawn. It was around this time that I first heard the word “zombie” being used.

The first thing that happens when the dead start waking is not that they go on a rampage like you see in the movies, it’s that you find out all your insurance policies are worthless. Sam Jenkins had a life insurance policy with his wife as the beneficiary, but the insurance company refused to pay out because they said Sam didn’t meet their definition of dead.

Then Alice’s mother got a huge bill from the hospital because her daughter-being officially deceased-was no longer covered by her health insurance.

The second thing that happens is property values plummet. Sam Jenkins’ widow, unable to pay the mortgage, tried putting the house up for sale. But nobody wants to buy a house with a dead man standing on the lawn. Even if-like Sam’s widow-you try to make the dead man a selling point by explaining he deters burglars.

The third thing that happens is church attendances rise. The fourth thing is they fall again as everyone comes to the conclusion there’s no point in worrying about the afterlife if you’re only going to spend it hanging around the park.

The fifth thing is all the jobs go, as businesses tend to prefer locations where the dead stay dead.

The next thing that happens is the town itself begins to die as everyone who can get away gets as far away as possible, until the only people left are the dead and those few who refuse to abandon them.

Sometimes I go to the park and watch the dead together. Despite being all different ages and backgrounds, they seem at ease in each other’s company.

The silence of the dead when faced with the living can seem awkward, but when the dead are together, their silence is a comfortable one, their blank faces not so much vacant as serene.

And though their faces are far from expressive, I was there one day as a newly deceased came to join them for the first time, and I am sure I saw recognition in their eyes.

Five years ago, there were more than three thousand people in this town. Now there are less than three hundred. As the town’s living population continues to move away, more of the dead are being left to fend for themselves.

With no one to dress them or comb their hair, some of them were getting into quite a state until a woman named Hilary Frentzen stepped in. The first thing Hilary did was to get a shelter built so the dead would have somewhere to get out of the rain. Then she set up a charitable foundation to collect donations of food and clothing, which she distributes in the park.

The dead do eat, just not a lot. Every day Hilary hands out slices of day-old bread donated by supermarkets, and watches as the dead take one or two bites and then scatter the rest on the ground for the pigeons. Of course the pigeons-being dead themselves since the town council poisoned them all a couple of years ago-are no more interested in the bread than they are. Not even the insects are that interested since the park was sprayed, so every day before she leaves, Hilary picks up the leftovers.

She’s tried giving them vegetables, but the dead won’t touch them. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that no matter how hard she tries, she cannot get the dead to eat broccoli.

Once, as an experiment, Hilary bought a dozen chocolate cakes and took them to the park. The dead didn’t leave a single crumb behind. She told me she can’t afford to do that every day, but now once every month or so, she’ll buy them some chocolate cakes as a special treat. (Even dead wasps perk up at the smell of chocolate, which is another reason she doesn’t bring it too often.)

Hilary used to get very annoyed when tourists turned up with portable sound systems playing Thriller at full blast, or shouting: “They don’t want bread, they want brainzzz!” but that kind of thing has been happening less and less since the state barricaded the highway and put up all of those “Quarantine” signs.

And there’s hardly been a single crime since the day a guy who was stripping the lead off a dead person’s roof slipped and fell, breaking his neck. He’s been in the park ever since, walking sideways with his head twisted over one shoulder.

I don’t think the dead feel any pain. When I used to visit Alice in her room, I’d always ask her: “Do you feel any pain? Do you feel anything?”

But she’d never answer.

Then one day as we sat with me talking and her staring into space, I picked up a pin and jabbed it, hard, into her arm.

She moved her head slightly, just enough to look down at the pin.

“You felt that, didn’t you?” I said. “Does it hurt?”

She went back to staring into space.

When she stood up to leave for the park, the pin was still protruding from her arm.

I reached up and pulled it out; she didn’t notice.

The dead don’t seem to age, either. Eating only a few bites of bread a day-plus one piece of chocolate cake a month-they’ve all lost a bit of weight, but otherwise they haven’t changed.

I’d kind of expected their hair to keep growing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Which is probably just as well because the dead’s hair is invariably a mess. Someone living always has to comb it for them because for some reason they will not do it themselves.

The one exception to this is Rosemary Harold, who died without a single hair on her body-not even an eyelash-because she’d been in the middle of chemotherapy.

Alice is one of the few dead people in the park who hasn’t been reduced to wearing hand-me-downs thanks to her mother, who still buys her new clothes when she needs them.

The first couple of years, she used to take her to the mall, which wasn’t easy since the sales people didn’t like serving the dead and wouldn’t let her try anything on, and there was one guard who’d obviously seen Dawn of the Dead on television and would always follow them around, scowling, from the minute they arrived. But Alice’s mother persevered because she said it was the one time Alice actually seemed to know where she was and why she was there. She even claimed Alice would invariably head straight for the most expensive thing in the shop, just like she did when she was alive.

Not that it matters now the mall is shut.

At one time this town had five churches, four cafes, six bars, two auto dealerships, three banks, two primary schools, a high school, a motel, a funeral parlour, and a meat-packing plant (which closed the day after a calf’s head on a shelf in the freezer room was seen blinking). All of them are boarded up now. So are most of the houses.

The streets are full of abandoned dogs and cats. It’s the live ones you’ve got to watch out for, because they’re nervous.

My next door neighbour adopted a dead dog. When I asked her why, she said, “Why not? He’s no trouble and he doesn’t bark.”

Five years ago, they said it was a miracle I was still alive. Three weeks ago they told me the miracle was coming to an end; my organs were shutting down one by one. All because of one stupid thing I did one night when I was sixteen.

People told me my only hope was to get out of this town before I died. They told me it only happens here; if I die somewhere else, I won’t wake up. I won’t end up with those zombies in the park.

I’m sure all those people were right, but I knew something they didn’t know.

I’ve been going to the same doctor since I was a kid-he’s the only doctor in town these days-and the last time I saw him, he said he was going to tell me a secret.

Remember I told you about when it all first started, and how they shipped a man’s body to another state to see if he would wake up, and he did?

It turns out my doctor was sent along to accompany the body. He was there when the man woke up, and he’d asked him: “What was it like being dead? Do you remember any of it?”

And to his amazement, the man had answered him.

“He spoke?” I said.

My doctor nodded. “Only that one time, and never again. Considering what he said, I thought it was best to keep quiet about it.”

“Why? What did he say?”

“All you need to know is: there are a lot worse places a person could end up,” my doctor said as I left his office that last time, “than in the park.”

I went to the park today and saw a dead man sitting on a bench with Hilary Frentzen combing his hair.

What is it about the dead that they refuse to comb their own hair? For five years I had been telling myself that I would be the exception. I would be the one who speaks, who dresses herself, who eats vegetables, who continues to do simple things like comb her own hair… but with every moment that passed, these things seemed less and less important.

The next thing I knew, I was standing face to face with Alice. And for the first time in five years, she looked at me as if she knew me.

Twenty-Three Snapshots of San Francisco by Seth Lindberg

Seth Lindberg’s short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Phantom, Denying Death, The Darker Side, Brainbox, Brainbox II, Haunting the Dead, Jack Haringa Must Die!, Jigsaw Nation, and in the magazines Not One of Us, Twilight Showcase, Gothic.net, and Chiaroscuro. He is also a former editor of Gothic.net and currently works as a sysadmin in San Francisco, where, as the title implies, this story takes place.

In nineteenth-century photographs, nobody is smiling. The subjects sit rigid and stare out at you with cold, serious expressions. You might think humor hadn’t been invented yet, but actually cameras in those days had such long exposure times that no one wanted to hold a smile for that long. People, at least, can be instructed not to move; photographing animals proved more challenging. One early photographer decided that the only way to get a pair of stray dogs to sit still long enough for him to take their picture was to shoot them with bullets, stuff them, and position their stiff, lifeless bodies in front of his camera. In the resulting photographs, of course, the dogs appear to be alive.

This brings us to our next story, which also features photos of things that seem to be alive but aren’t. Photographs connect us to the past, fading only a little over time, especially compared with our memories, which quickly become vague and distorted. Since the dawn of photography people have obsessively compiled photo albums, keeping important memories locked safely in place. With the advent of digital cameras, it’s not unusual for a person’s personal collection to run to hundreds or even thousands of images. But what if all of that disappeared? What if a handful of photos were all that remained to remind you of an entire world, now lost?

Our next story is about just such a collection, and, as in nineteenth-century photographs, in most of these photos, nobody is smiling.


My ex-girlfriend May used to accuse me of starting every story or joke straight in the middle. Like she had to ask a thousand questions just to figure out what the hell I was talking about. I’d just babble on and she’d have to route me back to all the concrete facts about the case at hand. I can’t help it! I’m bad with beginnings: I’m suspicious of them as they are. Life doesn’t begin, not really.

Well, life begins in the physical sense, but as far as your memories go, it’s not like that. It’s not like one day you remember things, the day before you didn’t. These memories kind of fade out back, little moments, like a vision of your dad’s face, the way the back porch smelled. The rest you got to fill in, you suppose all together. A lot like pictures, really. People all frozen in these expressions they never really have because you caught them in mid-motion or something, you have to fill in who it is and what they’re about based on that one moment.

So I was talking about them the other night, but here they are for real. Twenty-three snapshots of San Francisco; the last roll of shots I ever took, the last roll I ever got developed. The end of my brilliant amateur photography career.

I guess the roll had twenty-four exposures, so I’m not sure why I only got twenty-three. Maybe it got underexposed or overexposed, maybe there was some kind of error when it got developed. I’ll never know. I lost the negatives, so these prints are all I have.


Freeze frame of me, awkwardly leaning into a picture with May and her Japanese pen pal, Kyoko. May’s got an expression from the tail end of a laugh, Kyoko has this half smile while flashing a peace sign at the camera for some reason. I’m standing there, looking like an idiot. Forgot to brush my hair, my hands are shoved tightly in my pockets. I made the mistake of putting my arm around May while Kyoko was around before all this, and May got all weird on me. So I’m just standing there.

If you look hard enough, you can sort of see Alcatraz in the distance, sitting in the waters of the San Francisco Bay. Behind that, faded by haze, is the Marin Headlands.

Yes, this was before everything happened. Maybe you think so because we were smiling in that picture. But I think people smile for pictures out of habit, really.


Picture of the famous “Painted Ladies”: Victorian houses in old San Francisco, in a park in the middle of the Western Addition. You can see a few people sunbathing in the grass just before it to the left. I’ve never lived in houses like that, but I bet it’s nice. Admittedly, they look better in the post cards, but they’re still quite pretty.

Behind the Painted Ladies lies the whole San Francisco skyline, including the Transamerica Pyramid. To the right you can see a pillar of smoke rising from the southern part of the city.


Just May and Kyoko, hugging each other and grinning. Close up zoom on their faces, so close you can see Kyoko’s acne scars. That old gray 7 Seconds tee shirt that May’s wearing, that’s mine.

In the background people walk past and stuff. I think this one was taken in the Japantown Peace Plaza, but I don’t remember.


Picture of my neighbor, Mr. Sumpter. He’s standing in the hallway, wearing an old polyester button-up shirt, leaning to one side and putting his weight on one foot. He has his head tilted and eyes open, mouth closed. One fist is clenched.

Mr. Sumpter’s eyes didn’t glow red when I took the picture, it just looks that way now. I think it was the flash from the camera. I didn’t know then what I know now.

The hallway frames Mr. Sumpter. You can’t see where he’s looking at, but he’s looking at a blank wall. I was walking down the hallway and saw him like that. I called out to him but he didn’t say anything, so I took a picture.


Face of my roommate, Bradley. He’s grinning and the color of the photograph is bleached out by the flash. His eyes are red, too. You can see that blond stubble of a goatee that he has, and the blur in the corner is his hand holding a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft. This is important because it was the only alcohol he ever drank. He wouldn’t even drink Miller Lite or Miller High Life. Just MGD.

Bradley was always a little bit weird. I took this picture at a party we had in our apartment. It got shut down a little after this because of noise complaints from my neighbors.


Picture of May, caught in a half-laugh. May hated this picture the most, though I personally think she looks really cute. That thing in her hand is a bottle of beer, I think, but I don’t remember what brand she drank. Behind are the windows of the apartment Bradley and I shared. You can’t really see the view of the west side of the city that we got, though.

Yeah, the smudges and rip on one side is from my fingers handling the sides once or twice too many.


Group shot. I don’t remember a lot of these faces anymore. The couple to one side, those were May’s friends. The two guys in faded computer tee shirts, those were my coworkers. Of course, May, Kyoko, and Bradley are easy to spot. I’m not in the picture because I was behind the camera. You can’t tell where this was taken, but I’m pretty sure it was in my apartment at the party.


Blurred picture of Kyoko. She’s standing in the living room with one hand raised with half of her coat off. She has her head tilted and her mouth is open, but you can’t quite see that. She just got stuck that way putting on her coat. Kind of an odd time for it to hit. The blurry black cloud-looking thing is the couch that Bradley and I bought with our tax returns. It doesn’t look like a lot in the picture but it was really comfortable.

I think the picture got blurred because May was moving past me and bumped my shoulder. This was just before we took Kyoko to the hospital.


Those big brick buildings are San Francisco General Hospital. You can see all the cars in the parking lot and the crowd to one side. I took this from across the street, on Potrero Avenue.


Picture of inside the emergency room waiting area. You can see it was really packed. In the corner, the guy dressed in blue, that’s a security guard who got angry at me soon after this. May you can see over by the side standing over something that doesn’t look like Kyoko but is her sleeping, I think maybe just her shoulder and maybe a leg is all that’s in the picture, but she fell right asleep in the middle of the waiting area.

Over at the corner you can see a television set, note the four people watching it and one of them is just staring off into space. You can tell his head is angled just a bit differently than the others, but you have to hold the photograph up close to your face.

I think that was the last time I saw Kyoko. Nice girl. Odd sense of humor. I can’t describe how. I guess some people who learn English but don’t speak it natively, they get caught up with one word or two that just sounds interesting to them. With Kyoko it was words like “susurrus.” She’d fit it into any conversation she could. I don’t think she even half-understood what it meant. She was just fooling around.


This is Bradley and May at the Jack in the Box which was down by Bernal Heights, which is pretty far south in the city without being South San Francisco. There are a lot of warehouses and stuff there. You can’t see what May’s looking out the window at but it’s just the road, I think. There might have been a McDonald’s or something across the street, I’m not sure. But it was a pretty busy road.

Behind Bradley you can sort of see a figure that looks like someone standing in that awkward position again. But I don’t remember anyone like that when we were there so the picture probably just caught someone mid-stride.


Picture of the four-car pileup outside our apartment building. I’d seen a few car crashes before, but nothing like this one. Usually you’d see a car crash and it’d be two cars, one dented, and a bunch of people arguing. Not here, though, obviously. The building to the left is ours, the shattered window is the coffee house where I used to always get double mocha lattes with extra whipped cream in them. Those mochas ended up somehow tasting like some perfect mix of hot chocolate and coffee. It’s one of the things I miss the most these days.

You can only see three of the four cars, because the smoke from the first two is obscuring the last one. That’s Bradley standing to one side with a stupid grin on his face, near him are two cops. If you look closely you can see one of them has a gun in his hand; something I never noticed or even vaguely remember from the real event. But there it is, pictures don’t lie.

The big car that’s spun out and on the other side from the two other cars you can see, by the shattered window, that’s a Pontiac Bonneville of a make and model that’s nearly exactly like the old Bonneville I used to drive around when I lived back in the Midwest.


Picture of our neighbor’s door. Note the scratch marks: I think the doors were made of metal so whoever put their shoulder into this one had to have messed himself up.

Although there are Christmas decorations on the door, it says less about the time of the year that all those awful events happened and more about just how odd my neighbors were. I never knew their names. I saw them once or twice. Seemed like nice people. But the fact that they put up the Christmas decorations in December and then never bothered to take them down… well, it seemed a bit curious.


Picture of Bradley and Mr. Sumpter. Thankfully, most of the blood here is Mr. Sumpter’s, but the bastard nearly took both of us down. He was hiding in the trash bin and leapt out, clawing at my face. We’d been alerted by this awful odor and were all keyed up what with all the blackouts and weird events in the city the two days before. Or we were just damned lucky.

Anyways, Bradley has poor Mr. Sumpter propped up here and is crouching next to him. He looks a lot more exuberant than we were, the camera sort of caught him in this smile so he looks more wide-eyed and mad than he was. Even in death, Mr. Sumpter’s muscles have a certain rigidity, like they all do. Just look at his neck. It’s crazy.


Some National Guardsmen, smoking cigarettes on the Fillmore bridge over Geary Street Across the street and over the bridge you can see some buildings and some graffiti up there, and that little blues club. I think the Guardsmen were there to keep us from looting too much, which, now that I think of it, would have been a pretty good idea. None of us thought of it, though.

You can just barely read the headline on the newspaper in the rack, it reads “CHAOS!” Depending on what you read or which radio station you hear, the cause is all sorts of things. You know, a virus or some kind of biological warfare gone wrong, or God’s vengeance or a comet or…I don’t know. Everything. They’ve got all sorts of excuses for this mess.

May was with me. We were heading down the street to find a good corner store and to see if the ATMs were working again: sometimes we had service, other times we didn’t. We would have gone to the supermarket just a block back but the Guard had camped out in the parking lot. There was another one a few blocks away on Eddy Street but I’d never been there, and besides, I heard that the projects had gotten hit really hard and figured it’d be better to stick to routes I knew.


Bradley and me with our makeshift weapons. At that point I spent a lot of time wishing I was a gun nut like my cousin back in Ohio. Of course, ten to one he got turned into one of those monsters and is using his prize semiautomatic AR-15 “that the Government will never take away” as a sturdy club.

Bradley’s weapon you can see is brightly colored-I think he had this weird idea that they were attracted to bright colors, like bulls or something. The whole idea being since they’re essentially ex-humans, creatures who have abandoned their intelligence for some razor sense of cunning, that they’d be somehow animalistic. In practice it never worked too well. Confused the hell out of one for a moment, though, which was just enough time for me to bash its head in.

Mine was my Louisville Slugger. You see, when I came to San Francisco, I had this idea I’d meet all these young, active people and every Saturday we’d hit the park and toss around a few balls or something and enjoy being in the California sun. It never happened. Too foggy, and everyone was always too damned stressed out about work.

Guess I found a use for the bat after all.


Kind of hard to tell what’s going on here. I took this picture while running. To one side, those bright yellow blobs right there? I think that’s the flash from guns. The blur on the left side is someone else running away as well.

The Guard dragged us out of our homes and there was a ton of us milling about in the middle of the street. That’s when a bunch of the creatures attacked-and quickly, too. Like cheetahs jumping into a herd of gazelle. I saw two of them literally rip a woman in half before the Guard started opening up on them.

The Guardsmen were firing into the crowd. They didn’t even care.


This one’s blurry. The picture is tan, there’s some sort of large dark object in the center.

I don’t know how this one ended up here. I think I took the picture by accident. But I keep it anyways.


Group shot of refugees in a truck. That’s May there, frowning and looking directly at the camera. May was pissed that I wasn’t going with her, but there wasn’t a lot of room on the truck anyways. She’d stolen my favorite tee shirt of my collection and was wearing it on the truck. I’m not sure if it was extortion to try to get me to go, or if she wore it out of spite, knowing I’d probably want to stay.

Word was, that the Presidio camps were only temporary. The Government already set up bigger, more permanent facilities in the old internment camps they put all the Japanese-Americans in during the Second World War. I heard about the slaughters in those camps, but every once in a while I can imagine her up by Mt. Shasta or someplace like that, working in a field. Maybe doing laundry, I dunno.


Shot of Bradley. Like the first shot of him, the flash has sort of bleached out a lot of the color here. Look at the beginnings of a beard he has. Sometimes I look at this picture and picture #5 right next to each other. It’s hard to think that only a few weeks have passed between the two shots, because he looks so much older in this one. It’s set in his face, a kind of constant panic.

And, yeah, his neck muscles are taut here. And his emotionless grin, too: I’m pretty sure that’s the muscles in his face constricting. When I woke up, he was stuck that way.

I slashed his throat a few minutes after taking this picture. It seemed to take forever. I cut into his neck, and nothing happened at first, and this dark blood began to flow, and I remember flinching back, like this was the first time or something. Then…then he started screaming like he woke up and the panic hit me like a flurry of fists. I shut my eyes and stabbed over and over again until the screaming stopped.

I’d killed before, mostly with Bradley, but we had to. When they come for you, faster than anything, eyes so desperate, you learn to think on that level. You get in their mindset, and it’s okay. Before I killed Bradley, I’d killed or helped kill four of those beasts, but when I did it I was a beast myself. Bradley was the first one I had to murder as a person.

No one should have to do that.


Shot of my “family” I ran with for a few months down south by the Castro. After Bradley died, I thought I was dead. No way I could hope to stand off against one of those things face-to-face, not even with my bat. It was pure luck that got me in with some looters over by the Haight, then I wandered down into the Castro after half of those guys died in an ambush.

The old guy with the rifle, that’s Jamal. Peter and his boyfriend Graham are in the center. Terence is the one saluting, his wife Alicia’s the one laughing and raising up the bottle of champagne. They used to be both into computers or something before this whole mess. The small one is Karen. Always had a soft spot for her, really.


Picture of San Francisco from the hills in South S.F. You probably recognize the Transamerica building. There are other buildings here, but I can’t name them. The center bit of rubble there used to have a bunch of those buildings. Some people say the military bombed that area but I’m pretty sure it was just a gas explosion of some kind.

Up on the hills to the left of the city you can see the lovely Sutro Tower as the fog rolls in like a white blanket to cover the city. We were on our way out, hearing about some army forming up on the Peninsula. It seemed like a good idea to me. After Karen died, I just…I knew I had to leave. I’d had enough.

They say there’s less of them out in the country, but they’re more dangerous. One’s likely to stalk you for miles without you knowing, I hear. It’ll follow you like it has nothing better to do in the world, dog you down until you’re tired and afraid and used up any ammo or reserves you might have. But I didn’t care. I was willing to take that risk.

Recently, I’ve started to think about May again, to tell you the truth. It’s like every once in a while I remember her, just something little, like the way her hair smelled or how confused she got by sitcoms. Never the important things. Just, you know, dumb stuff.

I wonder what it would have been like if I had gotten on that truck. I don’t know why I didn’t go. I think I was still in the pre-disaster mindset. Things weren’t working really well there, towards the end. It was a lot of little things, you know? The day those attacks started happening, the day our civilization was brought to its knees, all the rules changed with it. All that petty bullshit, it was nothing, but we had no perspective to see that. Until the end, but out of habit, I pushed her away anyways.

I guess I still have pictures of her, though.


No, it’s not one of the beasts attacking me. But it sure looks like one, doesn’t it? This is actually a picture of the guy who developed my film for me. I traded him my camera because I can’t find film for it anyways. He and I sort of set up this shot because we thought it’d be funny. He could mimic one of the monsters really well, just sort of huff up and get all tense and bug-eyed.

Smart guy, too. Haven’t found anyone that knew how to develop pictures until him. He even had the chemicals. Some of them came out sort of weird, but what can you do? No matter what happens now, even if I twitch out and become one of them, I have my pictures, I have my memories.

Even if they are fragments, I don’t care. I can’t make a story out of my life, it’s never worked out that way. I just remember things as a collection of moments, you have to fill in the rest. That’s maybe why I got so upset the other night. The way people tell stories, it’s dishonest. They stretch those moments together, they put a framework that’s not there.

These pictures are my life, at least at that time. Like memories, only fragments. Impressions, really.

Like memories, incomplete. Twenty-three snapshots from a roll of twenty-four. Like the rest of my life, those pictures came out odd.

Some nights, when I feel the cold breezes come off the Pacific, I stare up at the sky and the thousands of stars I never knew existed, wondering how I’ll document these memories of mine: the sunsets over the sea, the valleys of redwoods that feel like sacred groves. The trees that are starting to grow through suburban homes. The people I’ve met, both good and bad. The scars on their faces, the calluses on their hands. Is it right to live life knowing every detail will die?

I’ve never been good at endings either, to tell you the truth. I mess them up all over the place. May could tell you that. She used to tell me that my stories were all jokes without punch lines. I never did figure out what she meant by that. I bet Kyoko’d say I was bad at endings, too. And Bradley, and Karen in her own way. So you might have to help me:

Breathe in, keep breathing. Shut your eyes, then open them again. Take a good look around you, then back at me. Try to remember every little detail, no matter how unimportant. Freeze this split second in time.

It’s important, this moment. Every stupid detail about it. It’s you and me, unwilling to forget we’re alive.

The Mexican Bus by Walter Greatshell

Walter Greatshell is the author of the novels Xombies: Apocalypse Blues and Xombies: Apocalypticon. A non-zombie novel, Mad Skillz, is forthcoming. On his website, waltergreatshell.com, Greatshell says that the last real job he had was as a graveyard-shift nuclear-submarine technician, and before that he was the general manager of the Avon Cinema, a Providence, Rhode Island, landmark. In addition to writing, he currently dabbles in freelance illustration, numerous examples of which are available on his website.

In 1957 Jack Kerouac published On the Road, a lightly fictionalized memoir of his road trips crisscrossing the U.S. and Mexico. The novel was written single-spaced and without paragraph breaks on a 120-foot long roll of tracing paper that Kerouac called “the scroll.” (It originally used the real names of Kerouac’s friends and acquaintances, including the free-spirited ex-con Neal Cassady and the poet Allen Ginsberg, but their names were changed in the published manuscript, at the publisher’s insistence, to Dean Moriarty and Carlo Marx.) The book has been massively popular, influencing artists from Bob Dylan to Jim Morrison to Hunter S. Thompson, most obviously in the latter’s 1972 road novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

On the Road also seems to have exerted an influence on our next author, who writes, “This story is an offshoot of my Xombies storyline. It’s about a young guy, a college dropout, who is bumming around Mexico and has the extreme misfortune of being caught in the middle of a zombie-type epidemic-what I call the Sadie Hawkins Day Massacre. Almost every woman in the world simultaneously turns blue and goes berserk.” He adds, “I actually was a college dropout, because once I discovered hitchhiking I was done with school. I have all these notebooks of stuff I wrote while on the road, hundreds of pages of obsessive beatnik musings that I hoped might come in handy someday. Who knew it would be for a zombie story?”


Tres Estrellas de Oro. Three gold stars on a green medallion, possibly signifying the Holy Trinity-or perhaps nothing at all. It didn’t matter; what was important was that his two years of high school Spanish were not completely wasted. He was not just a college dropout with little money, no prospects, and all his remaining possessions stuffed into a rain-soaked dufflebag, but a romantic figure: a bohemian man of the world. What did he need with Aristotle and Copernicus?

Tres Estrellas de Oro-beautiful.

This wasn’t the bus he had started out on. That one had been red and white, with the words Norte de Sonora on the side. But heavy rains had washed out the road, and the bus had been forced to turn back. All that headway south, hours of travel, just to return to the border and start over! But it was okay; he had nothing but time, and no place he would rather spend New Year’s Eve than on a Mexican bus going anywhere. He had learned what was possible if you had a map…and time…and a little money. Just follow the dotted line.

It was near midnight when the second bus stopped.

The young man awoke from his doze and realized he had been drooling. His neck hurt and his face was sore from being pressed against the vibrating window, but he didn’t dare move lest he disturb the beautiful Canadian girl who was using his left shoulder as a pillow. An elderly man across the aisle winked at him. There was nothing to see outside but flat black-the windows might as well have been painted over. Inside the bus it was dim and cozy, with cigarette smoke drifting across the overhead reading lights. Muted Spanish conversation simmered in the cabin, and it wasn’t necessary to understand the words to know what they were saying: What now?

Gears clanked and the bus moved forward, weaving around a line of cars. Another highway accident, that’s all-they had passed enough of those. The passengers relaxed as the bus swerved clear and gathered speed. Things were looking good, but a moment later it abruptly stopped again with a hiss.

They waited. Perhaps there was still a chance this was only a short delay. The sense of collective yearning was palpable, forty people hanging on the edge of their seats. Then the driver turned off the engine and all hope collapsed. Without a word, he opened the door and got out.

Abandoned, the passengers gave in to resignation. Actually there was a certain sense of relief, as if everyone could now relax and be themselves. No one was particularly angry or upset. This was why he loved Mexico.

The Canadian girl came half awake, taking her fragrant head off his shoulder. “What’s going on?” she groaned.

“Nothing. We’ve just stopped. It’s probably a car accident or something.”

“Where are we?”

“I don’t know. Nowhere.”

The Mexicans were making a party of it. Cigarettes were lit, snacks brought out, and the volume of conversation increased. A radio was turned on, playing a live New Year’s Eve countdown from Mexico City. Some folks got up to stretch their legs, and the young man decided to do the same. He would scope out the situation and bring the girl a full report-show her he had everything under control. As if a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone through the backlands of Mexico needed reassurance from him.

Outside it was quite a scene. The bus was part of a long line of stopped traffic in the middle of the desert-a festive-looking chain of lights spanning the void. Many people had gotten out of their vehicles and some were wandering down the road trying to find out what was going on. There was a lit Pemex sign ahead, but the gas station itself was hidden by a dip in the fathomless landscape.

The young man wanted to walk down there and see, but he was reluctant to venture too far from the bus. What if the traffic started moving, or the bus turned around and went back? Last thing he needed was to be stranded out here. But he figured he was all right as long he kept the driver in sight, so when that officious old character and some other men started down the hill, he tagged along behind.

It was nice to be outside in the fresh air. He had been a prisoner for hours, afraid to budge. And it was so stupid: as if he had any chance with this incredible girl. Confidence with the opposite sex was not his strong suit; his record with women was a catalogue of rejection-it was a rejection, in fact, that led to his dropping out of college and impulsively heading for Mexico. He tended to rush things, that was his problem. Unrequited love was a bitch.

But…he couldn’t help feeling that this situation was different. For one thing, this was Mexico-a whole different universe. For another, he and the gorgeous Canadian were the only gringos on the bus. Initially they had been in separate seats, but jolly Mexican ladies had insisted they sit together, playing matchmaker for the clueless estudiantes. Embarrassed, he had been all too ready to decline-no, no, gracias-but to his amazement the girl came over and sat by him. And from that moment on, he was in love.

Yet…he didn’t want everything to depend on a girl. Not again. Not here. As he walked, he tried to fully immerse himself in the moment, in the extraordinary fact that he was alive, here, now, on this beautiful Godforsaken highway somewhere in Mexico. The gravel crunching under his feet, the rolling horizon like a black cardboard cutout under dimly luminous clouds, the tiny flecks of rain in the breeze-it was all marvelous.

Below the highway embankment he could see an army of tall, pale figures with arms upraised-saguaro cacti. For a second he had a wild impulse to run down there: a hike out into the desert would put things in their true perspective. But he knew he wouldn’t really do it.

The Pemex station came into view, an island of sickly fluorescent light. It looked as desolate as a base on the Moon. Now he could see the trouble: there was another bus down there, a sleek white charter bus, straddling both lanes of the road. It didn’t look damaged, but there must have been an accident of some kind because a lot of people were laying on the ground, with a bunch of nurses giving them CPR. Not nurses-nuns. A busload of nuns. Other people were running around frantically yelling for help.

Was he crazy or were some of the nuns chasing them?

The bus driver and his party ran to offer assistance, other men joining them along the way until the group snowballed to twenty or thirty people. They passed at least as many running in the opposite direction, who frantically tried to warn them off, shouting ¡Monjas locas! ¡Locas! but they kept going. Meanwhile, police and military vehicles began arriving from the south, pouring on their sirens as they sped along the shoulder of the road.

Having fallen behind the driver, the young man was about halfway down the hill when he realized he was walking into something very wrong-and he stopped.

An olive-drab truck full of soldiers pulled into the gas station first. Before it could even begin unloading, a group of people-including several nuns-rushed the truck’s bed and leaped in among the surprised troops. The canvas cover bounced cartoonishly from the violence within. A police Bronco stormed onto the scene and four smartly uniformed federal officers charged out, shouting orders. Nuns rushed them and they disappeared from view. Was it the fluorescent light, or did those nuns’ faces look weirdly blue?

At the same time, the bus driver’s posse was nearing the outer realm of glare from the gas station. The men’s elongated black shadows stretched behind them as though reluctant to get any closer, but the determined hombres did not waver. From their vantage it was likely they could not properly see what was happening to the police and soldiers. Weirdly manic female silhouettes rushed to meet them, and in a second the two groups collided.

It was a massacre: the thirty volunteers suddenly found themselves senselessly, viciously assaulted. Tackled in flying leaps, half of them were pinned to the ground before they knew what hit them, their faces crushed under the searching mouths of their attackers. Stranger still, some of these attackers were the “accident victims” who had themselves been receiving CPR only moments ago. And more were jumping to life every second.

Frozen in place, the young man watched all this with increasing disbelief, unsure of how to react, but at the sound of gunfire he realized he was in over his head. The bus driver obviously had the same thought: As the rest of his party got caught up in the fighting, he had an abrupt change of heart and ran for his life. It was a close thing. He was a heavy smoker, and not young either, but he could move when he had to.

“Come on, man, come on!” shouted the American. It had occurred to him that he wasn’t going anywhere without that bus driver.

The driver was faltering, wheezing badly. He had already run quite a distance, and now the running was all uphill. In desperation, the young man sprinted down to him and took the driver’s leathery arm around his neck, half-carrying him up the road. The older man smelled of sweat and Old Spice-it reminded him of his grandfather.

As they retreated alongside the line of traffic, they passed the bizarre spectacle of what appeared to be people making out in some of the cars: mismatched couples locked in furious sexual combat…though the men were clearly not the aggressors. In fact the women seemed to be sucking the very life from their reluctant male prey. Like spiders, the American thought wildly. Black widow spiders.

A man’s flailing leg kicked through a windshield, spraying them with glass as they hurried by. A car pulled out of line and drove down the steep embankment, plowing into the ditch at the bottom. Truck horns brayed, and they could hear small children screaming. Over it all was a shrill, rising din-the hyena laughter of the insane.

Now the young man was tiring. Almost there…almost there. They had crested the hill, and he could see the bus-Tres Estrellas de Oro-but all around them things were getting sketchier by the second. People were bursting from cars and fleeing in all directions with blue-faced monstrosities hot on their heels. Any second one of those things would notice them and it would all be over. The number of scary maniacs was doubling as the victims revived and joined their ranks-very soon there wouldn’t be anyone sane left. From the direction of the gas station, they could hear a demonic host approaching. It was hopeless.

But nothing noticed them-or perhaps they were beneath notice, this shambling, silent pair, so ploddingly steadfast amid the general panic-because suddenly they were there, miraculously at the bus, on the bus, clambering up the steps and slamming the door behind them.

It was empty.

“¡Lupe! ¡Lupita!” the driver called, searching frantically, but the bus was completely deserted. It was also a ransacked mess, the aisle littered with women’s shoes and spilled luggage, as well as teeth and tufts of ripped hair. And blood-blood everywhere-flung in drabs and spatters and hectic smears, as by the hand of a mad impressionist. It was just as well that the two men couldn’t see much of this in the dark. The only sound was a high-pitched whine coming from the radio.

Bad things had happened here, as everywhere else, but for now the bus was empty; it was dark; it was safe. It was life. For a brief moment, the terror outside was muffled and remote. The two exhausted men fell into seats, crying and gasping for breath. “Se viene abajo…se viene abajo,” the driver sobbed.

“What the fuck is this, man?” the younger man babbled. “What the fuck is going on out there? What’s happening to everyone?”

“La ley ya no está en vigor…”

“It must be some kind of chemical weapon! A gas attack or some kind of mind control thing…but then why don’t we have it? It doesn’t make any sense!”

“Sea lo que sea, no lo puedo creer.”

They continued like this for a few minutes, purging the raw adrenaline from their systems. Catching his breath a bit, the driver reached into the overhead rack and turned off the radio. He then pulled down two plastic bottles of milky liquid. Handing one to the American, he said, “Pulque,” and took a deep drink.

“Don’t you understand? I’m fucking losing it, man! I’m losing it!”

“A otro perro con ese hueso.”

“I don’t understand a word you’re saying! I don’t understand anything! No entiendo-you get it?”

Shaking his head, the younger man swigged from the bottle and nearly choked at the soapy, medicinal taste-he had been expecting lemonade. But the alcohol in it helped his shakes and he forced down another gulp.

Reaching a decision of some kind, the driver sighed and got up. “Me he hartado de esto,” he said gravely.

Alarmed, the American caught his arm. “No, what are you doing? Sit down, man, they’ll see us.”

The driver patted his shoulder, saying gently, “Hombre de muchos oficios, pobre seguro.” He walked forward and climbed behind the wheel, belting himself in. Then he smoothed his hair back and started the engine.

“Dude, what do you think you’re doing? We can’t go anywhere-we’re blocked in, bumper to bumper! We should just wait here for help to come!”

“No siempre es fácil salir de un apuro.”

“I don’t speak Spanish!”

“Seet down and shut up.”

At the sound of the diesel, things started happening again. The naked, blurred creatures outside suddenly froze into sharp focus, gaping mouths and black eyes all trained on the bus. There were hundreds of them now: men, women, and children. They came fast. Bodies slammed against the sides, leaping for handholds, while others swarmed the door and front windshield. Hard objects starred the glass, quickly knocking out holes through which blue arms lunged like snakes. The young man couldn’t stand to look, but worse than the sight was the sound of them: “¡No hay cuidaaado!” they screamed. “¡No hay cuidaaado!”

The bus lurched forward, smashing a dozen creatures against the rear of a trailer truck and shaking off the rest like fleas. The impact destroyed what was left of the windshield, but succeeded at ramming the truck a few feet ahead so that it rear-ended another vehicle. Then the driver shifted gears, jumping the bus into reverse and slamming into the traffic immediately behind, plowing a wide space in which to maneuver. At once the American realized what he was trying to do: a U-turn! It made a certain amount of sense because the northbound lane of traffic was clear, but the narrow highway didn’t look nearly wide enough to swing this huge bus around-certainly not before those maniacs out there got inside. With the windshield gone the bus was open to all comers. But surely the driver himself must know better than anyone what was or wasn’t possible; he was a professional. Flinching at each crash, the American hung on tight and surrendered to hope.

A loud drumming of feet could be heard on the roof. Hideous blue faces were gibbering upside-down through crazed windows. It was now or never: the bus driver cranked the wheel to its limit and backed over the near edge of the roadway, his rear tires settling deep into the soft bank. Then he rolled the steering wheel hard to the left and gunned forward into the massing loonies. With a lurch, the vehicle came back onto the pavement, turning in as tight a radius as was physically possible…and it was almost tight enough. But no-now the front of the bus was dangling over the opposite shoulder! One more correction was necessary, one more reverse…

Too late. As soon as the bus stopped again, those blue horrors were inside. They came like locusts, heedless of injury as they leaped and scrambled over the sill. The driver produced an old machete from under his seat, hacking furiously, but it didn’t slow them down one bit: multitudes of hands pinned him down while a terrifying madwoman straddled him and crushed his resisting mouth under hers. Was it worse because he recognized her? Would it have been better if it was a stranger? For the inhuman beast stealing the breath from Don Diego’s lungs was someone he dearly loved, who often kept him company on these long road trips since his wife had passed away: his virtuous eldest daughter, Lupe. They were inseparable. As her mouth turned inside-out, filling him like a sack of live eels, he convulsed as though electrocuted…then went limp.

Watching the others come, the American suddenly realized that they were familiar to him as well, if only of brief acquaintance-they were his fellow bus passengers! Women, for the most part, though such a word hardly seemed to describe them now. Hags. Furies. Banshees. Blue-skinned ghouls, storming the bus as though it belonged to them, and why not?-they had paid the fare. They came piling in like grubs, brazenly naked or wearing only scraps of clothing, their black eyes fixed on him with implacable, cold lust. Old or young, male or female, they craved him.

Backing down the aisle he felt like an object; a piece of meat. It was a new sensation, being wanted, and not as pleasant as he might formerly have imagined. Leading the pack was the Canadian girl, her pale, perfect beauty now transformed into something washed up on the beach: all jaws and cartilage and kelp-like red hair. That hair obscured her eyes, but it seemed to him that they were messed up-empty holes crying black tears.

She came fast and there was no place left to go but the restroom. Ugh. No time to think about it-he fell inside and turned the latch. As violent blows started falling on the flimsy door, he pressed his back against it, bracing his legs against the opposite wall.

They didn’t give up. They weren’t going to give up. Ever. Looking at himself in the mirror, he thought, This is it, man: now you’re stuck like this. Trapped for eternity in a Mexican toilet, with women clamoring for his body-it had to be a joke. The thought wrung a ragged, involuntary laugh out of him, or was it a scream? He clamped his hands over his mouth to silence it. Please God let it be a joke.

The pounding became more frenzied, jarring his spine. The whole bus shook with it. As the door deformed in its frame, blue fingers wormed in at the weak spots, clamping tight and pulling with inhuman strength-any second they were going to rip the thing right off its hinges. The man closed his eyes, whimpering through gritted teeth…when all at once the hammering stopped.

As if by magic, the monsters disappeared.

Then he realized why. The bus was moving.

The cause was simple: the driver hadn’t set the brake, they were on an incline, so the bus was rolling backwards. It glanced off another vehicle, then tipped sickeningly over the edge of the roadway and down the high bank. Veering sharply right from the angle of its tires, it toppled over onto its side, hitting the desert floor like a great carcass.

The young man emerged. He climbed out of the vehicle and dropped to the sand, vomiting his guts out. He was dyed blue from head to foot, soaked with raw sewage and the disinfectant liquid from the exploded toilet. Defenseless, half-blind, he expected to be attacked any second. When no maniacs came for him, he realized their fevered attention was being drawn elsewhere-to a caravan of new arrivals. He could hear the screams. It was a hellish fly trap up there, with more flies arriving by the minute. Down here, in the dark, he was already forgotten.

Hugging his aching ribs, he dragged himself as far from the road as he could, a mile or more, huddling under a bush amid stands of tall cacti. At one time he would have been worried about snakes or scorpions, but now he didn’t care about much of anything. He would wait here until morning-wait for help to come. Then, as if a switch was thrown, he was out.

White. He came to in a world of muffled whiteness, with surreal ranks of cacti looming above him like sentinels. It was fog-dense morning fog. His body hurt all over, and he was cold, curled up in a ball with his jacket collar around his ears. It took him a second to remember where he was and why-much longer to believe it. How long had it been? Five or six hours at least. Everything was dead quiet. Maybe it was over.

Stiffly climbing to his feet, he hobbled back in the general direction of the highway. Just to see. He was a little disoriented, but it didn’t matter if he went back the exact same way he had come, as long as he found the road. And a drink. Definitely a drink.

It was a long hike, much longer than he remembered. The terrain became very rocky. He didn’t dare consider that he might be lost. When the fog clears, I’ll see exactly where I am, he thought, but when the fog cleared there was nothing-just more rocks and a barren vista of brown hills. Topping each rise, he kept praying to see something hopeful, preferably a mercado with a cooler full of ice-cold sodas…and was forever disappointed, falling deeper and deeper into despair until by the time he finally did sight the road he had practically given up. But there it was.

“Oh thank God,” he croaked.

It was the highway all right, however a different, more level stretch than the one he had left behind. There was no traffic-jam here, no Pemex station-the lanes were clear in both directions. Hiking down to it, he fell on the pavement with the gratitude of a shipwreck survivor. But was he north or south of the pile-up? Rather than heading into trouble, he decided to stay where he was and wait for help to come to him. Which was just as well-he couldn’t move another inch. His blisters had blisters. But the thirst was getting out of control; if someone didn’t come along soon…well, someone had to come along.

He got as comfortable as possible and waited. As he sat there, a couple of large black birds landed nearby. It took him a minute to realize they must be vultures. That was interesting, sitting under the hot white sky and watching turkey vultures waddle along the opposite side of the road like fat little undertakers-it was the corniest thing ever. Real vultures! Back and forth, back and forth, exactly as if they were pacing. Which they were, of course. It was too stupid.

An hour passed. Then two. Dozing under the makeshift cowl of his jacket, he heard the truck before he saw it. It was a big one-some kind of heavy construction vehicle. It came rumbling around the bend of a hill, and at the sight of it the American let out a hoarse cheer: it was a huge red dump-truck bristling with armed men. His body had stiffened from sitting so long; it took a painful effort to get to his feet. By that time the truck was much closer, coming on fast. Its wheels were taller than he was, and there was a railed walkway around the high cab on which several men were standing. They were pointing at him and calling to the driver.

Tears streaking his face, the American waved his arms and shouted as best he could, “¡Por favor! ¡Por favor!”

The truck slowed, its passengers shading their eyes to see him better against the late-day sun. He could see them well enough: a harsh-faced bunch in dirty coveralls, bearing picks and shovels-a prison road crew escaped from their keepers. He didn’t care; to him they looked like angels of mercy. But at the last minute the truck swerved wide and throttled up.

Crying, “No, no!” the young man ran to intercept it, to block the road if he had to. “I’m not crazy!” he shouted. “¡No estoy loco!”

The truck grew bigger and bigger; the truck took over the landscape, expanding like the Big Bang until its right wheel alone was bigger than the entire world-the whole universe. A black rubber sky studded with shiny pebbles, turning over on him.

The last thing he saw was stars.

The Other Side by Jamie Lackey

Jamie Lackey’s short fiction has appeared in Atomjack Magazine, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Drabblecast, and in the anthology It Was a Dark and Stormy Halloween. She is also a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine and an assistant editor for the Triangulation annual anthology series. She hails from Pittsburgh, where George Romero filmed Night of the Living Dead.

For most of history, human beings have been throwing up walls. Walls seem to offer protection from a hostile world, and give us a sense of control, of keeping people where we think they ought to be. But walls definitely have a spotty history when it comes to their actual usefulness. The magnificent Great Wall of China never really did keep the barbarians out, nor did the walls of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The Berlin Wall ultimately failed to keep Germany divided, and the strenuous efforts by the Israelis to put up walls between them and the Palestinians haven’t really proven effective.

Can we have much confidence that walls would do any better against zombies? And of course with any wall there’s the question not just of what are you keeping out, but also what are you holding in. Our next story is about fences, about boundaries, and being on the wrong side of them, and, of course, about zombies. The author says, “This story is about high school students almost twenty years after a zombie apocalypse. And unrequited love. I started thinking how the world would be different if there were zombies, but they’d been driven back decades ago. The zombies might still be a threat, biding their time, waiting to strike again, or they could have all rotted away without anyone noticing. The emotions in the story are what make it personal to me-the need to fit in, the fear, and in the end, the sorrow and regret.”


No one has seen a zombie in my lifetime. The twelve-foot-high electrified chain-link fence that protects us from the dead land passes behind my house, and I used to stare into the woods for hours on end, looking for zombies. I saw a raccoon once, peeking out through a broken window in a half-burned townhouse. It might have been undead. But it might not have been.

There used to be regular armed patrols on the dirt road inside the fence, back when I was little, but eventually the manpower was diverted to other projects. Federal troops still come around once a year in a tanker truck and burn back the vegetation in the buffer zone with napalm.

We have about fifty feet of scorched earth so that if they do come out of the woods, we can see them before they get to the fence. It keeps them from using trees to climb out, too. But like I said, no one has seen a zombie for well over a decade. Some of the kids in my school want to take the fence down and see what’s beyond it, see if there are any people up in Canada anymore. But anybody who was alive during the apocalypse is set against ever taking the fence down. Just in case, they always say. Just in case. Let them keep the dead land.

There was a group of guys in my high school who wanted the fence down. They were idiots, but they were cool, and I wanted desperately for them to like me. They threw Katie over the fence because they could, and because they wanted to prove that the zombies were gone.

Katie and I were best friends. Best friends outside of school, anyway. She’d always been kind of a dork, and she didn’t even drink or party anymore, not since the previous Fourth of July. Something had happened while I was away at a family picnic, and no one would tell me about it. Anyway, Katie wasn’t someone to hang out with in public, since I wanted to be cool.

I was an asshole to her. But she put up with it. I didn’t figure out why till too late. She had thick glasses and curly hair and average everything else. But none of this would have happened if she hadn’t been so smart.

But she was brilliant and didn’t bother to hide it from anyone, so they picked her to hurl over the fence. They were jerks, but they weren’t murderers, so I didn’t think they’d do it till her body actually hit the ground on the other side.

They used the volunteer fire truck. They put up that ladder meant to save people and stranded kittens and tossed my best friend into the dead land. She landed in the fresh ashes, and for a second everyone was silent.

Then I started screaming at them, which pretty much killed my hopes of high school popularity. They laughed and opened some beers and settled in to see if the zombies would show up. I cried and screamed for them to get her out until they punched me, then I got my cell phone and called the police.

They left in a hurry after that.

All through it, Katie sat on the ground and stared at the fence. She didn’t look toward the woods once. She didn’t look at me either.

The police were no help. They wouldn’t get her out. She was outside the fence. She counted as infected. It didn’t matter that I’d been watching the whole time and that she didn’t have a mark on her. They couldn’t let her in. She might be a zombie.

They dragged me home and took my statement and I didn’t see the guys again who tossed Katie over. I heard that they were taken away in the night and executed.

She was still there the next day, sitting and staring.

“Katie?” I called through the fence. “Are you okay?”

She looked at me, and her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not going to get out of here, am I?”

“I’ll figure something out.”

Katie just shook her head and went back to staring. Her tears made trails through the ash that had settled on her skin. I’d never touched the fence before. I knew some people who had, but I never did, till that day. I was watching Katie’s tears, and I reached out and grabbed onto the fence.

When I woke up, my head felt like it had exploded and I couldn’t move my arms.

Katie was standing on the other side of the fence, one finger reaching through the chain links. “Are you okay?”

When I woke up again, she was still there. “Thing really packs a punch,” I said.

“It was made to put a zombie down long enough for a clean headshot.”

At least she wasn’t crying anymore. But it was getting dark. I got up slowly, flexing my fingers to make sure they still worked. “I have to go home.”

“I know,” she whispered.

I touched her fingertip, staying carefully away from the fence. Her skin was cold and dry. I wanted to hug her. “I’ll get you out.”

I tossed her a bottle of water and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That night, I called every government agency I could find a number for, but they all repeated the same thing. She’s outside the fence, she could be infected. No one wanted to risk another outbreak. I called the volunteer fire chief, and he said the same thing.

So did Katie’s parents.

I heard it enough times I started to half believe it. After all, I hadn’t been watching her the whole time. She could have been bitten. I wouldn’t know.

I skipped school and went straight out to see her. “Are you infected?” I asked. She looked the same as always. But sometimes, they looked the same. Sometimes, they could even still talk.

“Of course I’m not,” she said.

I wanted to believe them so I could give up on her and mourn. “You’d say that if you were.”

That pissed her off. “You think I’m bitten? You think I’d be horrible enough to want out of here if I was? Do you think I want to be the cause of another outbreak?” She pulled off her shirt, then her pants, and unhooked her bra, all faster than I could think of a response. “See? No bites.”

She kept her underwear on. She’d whipped off her bra, but left those on. “What about on your hips?” I said.

Her face turned red, as if she suddenly realized that she was standing in front of me almost naked. “How could a zombie bite me through my underwear and not leave any marks on them?”

“Maybe it happened when you were going to the bathroom or something,” I said. I stared at her, searching for signs of the change.

“I didn’t get bit there.” She sounded close to tears.

“Prove it!”

She didn’t move.

I took a step back. She was lost. Dead. No, worse than dead-a monster. I started to walk away.

“Wait!” she shouted. “I swear, I didn’t get bitten.”

“Then prove it.”

“I was drunk.” Her voice shook. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I’ve been saving up to get it removed.”

“What are you talking about?”

She took off her panties very slowly, then turned for my inspection.

There was no bite, but she had a tattoo that I hadn’t known about, just below the crest of her pelvis.

My name.

She was crying. Sobs this time, with painful gasping breaths between them. “I’m not infected.” Her voice was different when she was crying. I’d never heard it like that before. “I’m not!”

I didn’t know what to say to her. How could I? She was in love with me, and some tattoo artist somewhere knew it-half the school probably knew it-and I hadn’t? She was my best friend.

“Is this what happened on the Fourth of July?”

She nodded and wiped her eyes, but she refused to look at me.

“You should have told me,” I finally managed.

“What good would it have done?”

I couldn’t answer her. I just didn’t feel the same way about her and we both knew it. “I’m still looking for a way to get you out of there.”

“I love you,” she said. Her voice still sounded different.

I wanted to cry. I ran home.

The next day, she wasn’t there.

There was a dark spot in the shadows of the woods. It might have been blood. But it might not have been.

Where the Heart Was by David J. Schow

David J. Schow’s most recent novels are Gun Work and Internecine. He is also the author of the novels The Kill Riff, The Shaft, Bullets of Rain, and Rock Breaks Scissors Cut. One of the early innovators of zombie fiction, he is the author of the notorious story “Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy,” which, along with several other zombie tales, appears in the collection Zombie Jam. Schow has done a lot of work in television and film, including co-writing (with John Shirley) the screenplay for The Crow and writing teleplays for Showtime’s Masters of Horror. Schow is also generally considered to be the originator of the term “splatterpunk.”

Our lives are full of things that we wish would just go away: worries, fears, doubts. Also bills, advertisements, and enemies. And also, of course, rotting corpses. Them most of all. Alas, in the case of zombies, these things we never wanted to see again have returned, and while they may run amuck in our streets, cause our civilization to collapse, and bite and convert our neighbors and friends, at least we can be consoled by the knowledge that they can be stopped by a bullet through the brain, and that this time-dammit-they’re staying down.

It’s troubling when something you’re trying to get rid of comes back once when all the laws of reason and common sense say it can’t, but how much worse is it when that same unwanted thing keeps coming back over and over again? As children, many of us were given nightmares by a Warner Bros. cartoon in which a family goes to ever more elaborate lengths to abandon its incredibly annoying dog, only to have the dog show up at the front door again and again and again. If the cartoonists thought this sort of thing was amusing, they were wrong-it’s terrifying, a fact Stephen King well understood when he wrote his story “The Monkey,” about a cursed toy that simply cannot be disposed of. Our next story combines these two ideas. It’s bad enough when a rotting corpse comes crawling home. But what if it turns into a habit?


Victor Jacks ambled through the back door to ruin their lives on Thurs-day. Which was a pain, since Victor had been pronounced dead the pre-vious Saturday.

“Stubborn sumbitch.” Renny reached under the bed for the ballbat. He was on hands and knees, forced to paw around until it finally came out with dustballs and hair kitties chasing it. Renny, who was allergic to animal dander, sneezed ear-poppingly. This trebled his rage.

Renny’s life was one that Victor’s back-from-the-dead encore was designed to ruin. Barb’s was the other. Just now she was backed into a corner, shrieking like an ingenue in a fifty-year-old horror film. Unlike those World War II heroines, she was naked. Renny still had his socks on. Apart from his Timex, he was garbless, but for the baseball bat. This, he refused to yield in the name of mere modesty.

Victor looked a bit shaggy, having been deceased for the better part of the work week. His shoulder blades, butt and legs down to the heels were blue-black with dependent lividity. His eyes were so crusty that one was welded shut. His hair was lank and wild, the most alive thing about him; his skin tone hung somewhere between catgut and bottled pig’s knuckle.

He crackled as he moved. That would be rigor.

He had obviously been walking for some time. At each of his joints the dry flesh had split into gummy wounds with chafed and elevated flaps. The distance from the morgue to Barb’s bedroom was about twelve pedestrian miles.

Provided, that is, Victor had come here directly, after sitting up on his slab and deciding to ruin their lives, Renny thought. And that pissed him off even more.

Renny’s next explosive sneeze spoiled his aim. He wiped his nose with his forearm. Barb kept screaming, totally out of character for her, and Renny wished in a mean flash that she would either faint or die.


At the crack point it was the batting that mattered, not the invec-tive. The bulb end of the bat smashed Victor’s dead left ear deep into the dead left hemisphere of his dead brain. Victor wobbled and missed his zombie grab for Renny. He didn’t have a chance.

Renny was foaming and lunatic, swinging and connecting, swinging and connecting, making pulp. It was what he had ached to do to Victor all along. What he had fantasized about doing to Victor just last week, when Victor was still alive. His yelling finally drowned out Barb, who was still shrunken fetally into her corner, her eyes seeking the deep retreat of trauma.

Renny’s eyes were pink with rage. Flecks of froth dotted the corners of his mouth. He kept bashing away with the bat, pausing only to sneeze and wipe. Victor put up as good a fight as a dead person could, which is to say, not much.

While the Renny on the outside was cussing and bludgeoning, the Renny on the inside was smirking about several things. Number one-zombie movies. In the movies, reanimated corpses boogied back from the dead with all kinds of strength and powers. What a bagload. Cadav-ers had all the tensile strength of twice-cooked pasta. Even in the mov-ies, you could put them down with a headshot. What threat, where?

Deeper down, Renny was enjoying himself. He thought Barb watched too much cable. When he had first proposed murdering Victor-just as a hoot, mind you, nothing serious-she burdened him with probable cause and airtight alibis and where-were-you-on-the-night-of. Ridiculous, in a world where people simply dropped off the planet on a daily basis, never again a peep. You break his neck, you dump him in the first available manhole, the sewer is a disposal system, end of story.

Barb had wanted to play faithful and loving right up to the climax of the drama. Loving, hah. Faithful, not since she’d met Renny.

In the end it hadn’t come down to murder, but right now Barb sure was reaping some drama.

Things were so lively right now that Renny had busted a workout sweat and Barb’s vocal cords were rawing. He finally turned around and told her to shut up while what was left of Victor Jacks twitched in a pile on the floor. The business end of the bat was a real mess.

“Is he dead?” said Barb, cowering.

“I don’t think he’s gonna move no more right now.” Renny would have wiped his be-gored hands on his pants; his pants had been off since just after dinnertime. He let his hands hang in the air as he looked around, uselessly. He said sheeeit, slow and weary. It didn’t help.

“How? How did he? He…we…I don’t…it just.” Barb was still having a bit of trouble being coherent.

“Victor was always a stubborn sumbitch, you know that one, babe.”

Barb stood up and risked moving a little closer to what was left of Victor. “Maybe he, you know, didn’t really die. Went into a coma or some-thing.”

“Barb, Victor was dead. He was dead last week and he was still dead when he walked in on us. He is the deadest thing I ever saw.”

“You knocked his head off,” she said, dully.

“Stopped him, didn’t it?”

“What’re we gonna do, Renny? He’s all…ehh.”

“Shush. What we’re gonna do is call the morgue and tell them some pervert snatched the body and mutilated it, and dumped it here as a joke. Some old boyfriend of yours. You can make up a description. Nobody’ll bug us.”

“What makes you so smart?”

Renny had to stop a moment to ponder a good answer to that one.

“I mean, you think they’ll buy it?” There she went again. Barb was one of those people who strolled through life obliviously, thinking a call to the police would sling her free of any sort of trouble. Now she was just as convinced that the Authorities-capital A-would swoop down at any moment to point j’accuse.

“Babe, just dream up a good description. Say he was a Mexican in a green windbreaker.”

“But Renny, I’d never go out with no Mexican, and how come I have to say he’s my old boyfriend? I mean-”

Renny sighed, held her by the shoulders, met her eyes. “We’ll deal. Trust me. Please.” He forced a smile for her. It was like jamming a finger down his throat to chuck up an emotion. He needed to divert her, to say something that would get her mind off police procedure, so he said, “Uh-got any towels?”

Renny mopped off. Barb brought a big Hefty bag. Renny stuck the bat back under the bed. Touching it again made him re-experience the sheer satisfaction of pounding ole Victor right back into death, and this gifted him with a healthy and urgent erection.

Barb glimpsed what was coming up, and managed to finish him off before the police came knocking. Once again she told Renny that she’d never done that with Victor, and Renny smiled and stroked her head, keeping to himself the private notion that Barb could probably suck the stitches off a hardball through a flexi-straw. Victor Jacks would never have hung with a china doll. Renny would never have been tempted by one, either.

Then the Authorities arrived, and Renny and Barb set about making up stories.

Funerals never were much of a hoot. Neither Barb nor Renny had RSVPed many in their combined forty-odd years, but this time they dutifully duded up in basic black, and held hands, and dabbed at crocodile tears as the rearranged remains of Victor Jacks were boxed up and de-livered six feet closer to Hell.

Half an hour after the services, both of them were naked and neither of them was very depressed.

Most annoying of Barb’s bed-play habits was her wont of lighting off to the toilet as soon as…well, right after. Renny had once joked about it: “I make all that effort to give you something, babe, and you just go piss it away.” Barb had made a face. Crude, her face told him. Not funny. Then hi-de-ho, off to the can again.

Fine. Renny grunted manfully and rolled to his right side, his fa-vored side for dozing. Swell.

In the bathroom, Barb watched herself in the mirror for a long time, not quite sure what her surveillance was in quest of. Victor had hit her in this bathroom. He’d also done it to her, same day, in the tub, which was too small for love. Victor’s tendency to boil over all at once was fright-ening, a pit bull on a very iffy leash, thought Barb. Whether it got hos-tile, life-threatening, might depend on a dozen factors. When it last ate. Whether it was pissed off. Whether it liked you. Whether it liked your smell. Victor Jacks had been like that.

But when Victor got to the part where he put his big hands all over her, large, powerful, warm hands, unbuttoning and unzipping her, mak-ing her naked and telling her she was wanted, touching her in places only she touched-curve of ass, inside of thigh, underside of breast, smooth-shaven armpit-oh, my. He made her moist, filled her up; she would practically hallucinate and she had always slept gorgeously af-terward. The sex was never violent between them; only the occasional backhand was.

Barb knew she would never get around to enjoying the way men apologized, every time, after they smacked her.

When she had met Victor Jacks, she was a waitress-newly-turned-exotic-dancer. Petite-chested, with good hips and sturdy, if not long, legs, she figured it was virtually the same aggravation for better tips and weirder hours; she fancied she needed more weird in her life. She got Victor. All he lacked was a puff of smoke to appear in.

When Victor had met Barb, he was comfortably into pharmaceutical dexedrine pops and on the cusp of crystal meth. He made do with the odd frame-weld for RUBs-Rich Urban Bikers-and bashed big-blocks for muscle-car meatheads with too much leisure cash. He paid Barb to table-dance and made her sit, just sit, while he looked at her. Manage-ment did not approve. Victor did not make a scene. He merely smiled and showed Barb’s bosses more money. To Barb, whose concept of fore-play was someone bigger than her saying shut up and lay down, this was romance with a big R indeed. After a week of this bizarre courtship, she went out with him…and he stayed in with her.

When Renny Boone had met Barb, he was so chemical-free you could almost see his halo. To Barb, by this time shell shocked by two years of biker-speed tantrums and eight-ball insomnia, Renny’s well-cut bod and addictionless turn smelled like that myth come true, the Better Life.

“You look like you could use a rest,” Renny had told her, and so tell-ing her, he took her straight away to bed.

Five days later the two of them were still trying to dope out some rationalization that might convince, say, a jury that she, Barb, and he, Renny, were Meant To Be. But Barb lacked the heart to dump someone as spontaneous and romantic as Victor Jacks.

Truth was, Renny preferred Barb as a rental. And that Victor wasn’t such a bad dude. He’d even nailed the chronic carburetor wheeze suf-fered by Butch, Renny’s black ’66 Impala.

Truth was, Barb preferred Victor’s flash-fire spats to shaking her ass for the beery swine who bellied up to the runway at Nasty Tramps.

So Truth held sway, and Victor stayed ignorant, dangerous and sexy. Barb had Renny for the topics she could never broach to Victor. And Renny had Barb, the way cowboys have spittoons. And they all lived happily ever after for about two more weeks, until Victor came back to the house, unannounced, to fetch his set of Allen wrenches, and…

…well, you can imagine.

The “tool excuse” had been Victor’s cover story. That afternoon, un-beknownst to Renny and Barb, Victor had fallen in love again-this time, with a smokable amphetamine called ice. He was pretty saturated, on top of his morning fistful of vitamins, and when he walked through his front door and caught Renny and Barb doing the bone dance on his sofa bed, the speed made his anger instantaneous; his reaction time, zero.

Victor had snarled. Literally snarled, lip curling. He came for his betrayers, his face bright crimson, the sclera of his eyes pinking. Two steps closer he stopped, stiffened, pawed at his left arm, and fell stone dead of the most concussive goddamned heart attack his mesomorphic build could contain. Victor’s fulsome, romantic-if-crazy heart shut down like a phone sex line with no callers, and all that remained was for the coroner to scribble death by chemical misadventure into the appropriate box…while Victor himself was trucked away to fill up another appropri-ate box.

Which brings us back to Barb, in the bathroom.

She flushed the toilet. Flushed, then blushed, in a match-head flare of anger as she remembered Renny’s idiotic joke about her having to urinate after sex. She would never forget it. Crude, Renny could be so crude. Maybe dumb, too-dumb enough never to have heard of Honeymooner’s Cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder that was easy to get when you had too much foreign juice rammed up your tubes. And perhaps uncaring, as well-maybe Renny didn’t give a big manly damn what havoc forty-five minutes of the missionary position could wreak on even a healthy girl’s poor need to pee.

In her mirror, by nightlight, she spotted a hickey on her neck. Crude.

But she loved the way Renny liked to chew on her, just nibble and bite and suck all the right places, as though he was desperately hungry for her, physically starving. She always orgasmed first, even when she tried to outlast him, and once she was coitally zoned, she really did want him to leave marks. Little ones she’d see in the morning, when she felt the delicious residual ache of their workout.

She liked to tease Renny about all the women he must have learned his bag of tricks from. If she had a headache or a rotten mood, Renny could bang it right out of her. Victor would never even touch her at her time of the month; Renny did not have that particular cultural problem. He made her feel more desirable on her doggiest days, and feeling desir-able made Barb feel womanly indeed. Renny even understood about her having to go back to work at Nasty Tramps, now that Victor was no longer winning the bread. In fact, Renny had suggested Barb rejoin the working world. What a guy.

Crude, dumb, uncaring, and boy-howdy opportunistic. Yeah, Renny was a prize, for sure. Prize catch of the day.

Except that this day, somehow, Victor had found time out from his busy schedule to come back from the dead. This did not shock or be-fuddle Barb overtly. Maybe she’d seen too many monster movies, and lacked the emotional capacity for astonishment. She stared down her reflection eye-to-eye and reminded herself that Victor had done a lot of uppers in his thirty-odd years on the planet. Hell, he was probably spin-ning in his new grave right now-at 78 rpm.

The bathroom light was harsh. It made her feel lonely. She was for-tunate to know that it was a loneliness she could drive away. She wanted Renny on her, inside of her, the fastest way she knew not to feel lonely anymore.

She found him semiconscious and semi-erect. Renny functioned best with a five-minute nap between rounds. Barb woke him up with her mouth. She didn’t say a word, but he awoke anyway. They made a great deal of noise over the next half-hour. Renny always lasted longer once he’d “primed his pump”; his words.

They were both on their backs, kicking away sheets to let their own sweat cool them off, when Barb said, “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Little scritchy noise. Like a mouse.”

“Probably that stupid cat of yours.”

“No, he doesn’t make noises like that.”

“Then it probably is a mouse. This house is-”

“No, listen.”

Renny listened. If the thing making the noise was a mouse, it was dragging off a dog for a bit of fun.

Barb pounded his shoulder. “It’s under the bed!”

“Jesus Christ.” Renny stayed calm and leaned overboard for a look-see.

From beneath the dust ruffle, the baseball bat shot out like a piston, hitting Renny foursquare in the chin and making him see night sky. It still had clots of Victor drying on it. Then something whip-snaked tight coils around Renny’s throat and dragged him down to tussle.

Renny made a gargling noise in the dark as he was reeled in. Discombobulated, he thought he was being engulfed by a giant wiggle-worm with a whole lot of little worms attached. He dug his heels into the rug and fought to breathe. Barb was already making those screamy gasps that truly bugged him, deep down.

It was a hand on his throat. He peeled it off. As he did, another ap-pendage trapped his hand.

Renny pulled back and dragged his rubber-limbed assailant out from under the bed-the preferred place of concealment for seasoned, traditional boogeymen.

It was Victor again.

Moreover, it was Victor as he had been buried that afternoon. Bones all smashed. No head.

Renny was instantly mummified in a barbwire-tangle of leathery muscles and nonliving rubber flesh; it was like trying to wrassle a waterbed. What used to be Victor’s arms and legs-now freed from bones and framework-coiled and constricted into tentacles that were much quicker than Renny’s fist. They slithered snug around his windpipe, his chest, his stomach, and Renny could feel it coming-the big squeeze that would make the life jump right out of him.

Now Renny was making those screamy noises.

He was clawing at his own face when Barb, no longer wailing, charged back from the kitchen, brandishing the biggest meat cleaver Renny had ever seen.

Victor had threatened her with the cleaver once; that was how she’d known where to find it.

And Barb had, in fact, seen too many monster movies. Especially the ones about psychos and kitchen implements; you could get every-damned-thing on cable nowadays. She hacked and chopped and slashed and hollered and only nailed Renny by accident once.

The grabby Victor-thing began falling to pieces faster than a clay vase run through on the wheel with a cutoff needle. Tearing a suffocat-ing creeper of skin free from his mouth, Renny flailed to a sitting posi-tion and sucked air.

“Barb-you cut me open, goddammit!”

“I missed, honey, I’m sorry, okay? That thing was all over the place!”

She helped him stand. He was wobbly, unused to needing help, to being nearly beaten. Their feet buried in the desiccated meat on the floor, she felt him shake. He hugged her tight and genuinely.

“I know. I know, babe…but that thing is ole you-know-who again.”

“Can’t be. No way.” She pressed her face into his neck, not looking. He lifted a scrap of now-inanimate flesh and turned it to the faint light, so Barb could see the tattoo. A cherubic, comic book devil-child looked back at her from a corona of flame.

“Aww, shit-it’s Hot Stuff, Renny!”

“Yep.” Jesus, wasn’t there anyone whose life hadn’t been touched by Harvey Comics?

Victor Jacks had gotten his ink at a Sunset Boulevard parlor called Skin Illos, at the behest of Nikki, who had been his girlfriend of record prior to Barb. Barb had heard you could bleach tattoos by using a laser. She hadn’t been able to work up the spit to suggest this to Victor prior to his very timely demise.

“Renny…hon…I don’t want to make you mad or nothin, but-”


“What if Victor…you know, keeps coming back every time we, you and I…you know.”

“Victor ain’t coming back again.”

“What’re we gonna do?”

“What I wanted to do originally. Dump him in the sewer. What’s left of him. Let the rats chow down.”

“Guess we’re gonna need another Hefty bag, huh?”

Barb grimaced at the sliced-and-diced assemblage of tissue on the floor. It relaxed and settled, shifting softly. Renny stared at it, too, pant-ing, with shiny eyes, the sweat leaving his chin in droplets.

“But first, babe-hand me that meat cleaver.”

The manhole cover weighed ninety-five pounds, give or take. Renny had the advantages of a pry bar and good upper torso strength. Thus were the headless, autopsied, dismembered, broken-boned earthly rem-nants of Victor Jacks consigned to LA County waste disposal network.

Hacking Victor into itty-bitty bite-sized morsels had given Renny a peculiar thrill-the same excitement that had granted him a full-on chubby while bludgeoning Vic-baby the first time.

Sucker just wouldn’t give it up. Renny had to admire that, begrudg-ingly.

And if Vic-baby somehow managed to make a third curtain call, why, that’d be the tits, too. Because Renny was starting to enjoy the new, fun things he could do with his hands.

Like what he might do if Barb lost her marbles and started that gawdawful shrieking again…

Nahh. Just a vagrant thought. No problem, there.

Renny yanked his fingers clean and the lid seated with an iron clank. An old pal of his had once broken three fingers by not letting go soon enough, after chasing a frisbee into the sewer. That made Renny think again of Barb. Maybe it was getting time to let her go. True, she’d come to his rescue and handled herself well enough tonight, but what if Victor was some kind of curse or something, specific to her?

You don’t pull back your hand in time, you lose. And it wasn’t his fingers that Renny had been parking inside of Barb, most of the recent past.

Just now, in fact, he was up for another bout. His body urged him to hurry home to her. She would be fresh out of her bath, tasty and scented, and Renny wanted to ride her until she screamed for real.

“Do you hear something? A noise, or-”

“Oh for Christ sake, Barb!”

“I’m serious. Stop it.”

Feeling like a wiener, Renny backed out and listened to the double-time of his own heart, backdraft from his urgent need to climax, soon-sorta-like-immediately. Barb listened intently-she resembled a grade-schooler trying too hard to concentrate-not for sounds from the heart, but telltales of nearing monsters. She was still head down, ass up after coyly asking Renny to do her that way, and she clung to the mattress as though it could render her some psychic truth.

“I don’t hear anything, babe, except maybe your own paranoia bounc-ing back at us from the walls.” Fed up, he grabbed his smokes off the nightstand. Pretty glib, he thought, for a guy who was strangling on a rope of living dead ligaments about an hour ago.

“I thought I heard the seat fall down in the bathroom.”

“My fault. I left it up.” When Renny strove to impress, he could be the most courteous, thoughtful man on earth. Then, as he procured what he wanted, he let the courtesies slide. Like tonight: He’d left the seat up on purpose, a territorial assertion he knew she’d notice, yet tolerate. The brilliant trick of Renny’s life was that he made sure people always noticed him when he was being a swell guy, so there was less risk of him being singled out when he was being a turd of ethics. Voila-he was known far and wide for being fair, wise and trusty. No way he’d ever sleep with another man’s partner, or murder someone, or even think of doing the deed.

Even to someone already dead.

Renny could take blame artfully, too-whamming it back the way a tennis pro returns a smartass serve. Like the toilet seat thing.

“I admit I left the seat up, babe. Your house, your rules. But that fuzzy cover on the tank makes it fall down again, and-”


He smoked in silence, having scored his point. Barb took the ciga-rette from between his lips, stole two quick puffs, and replaced it as though afraid of being caught tampering with the evidence at a murder scene.

Renny gave up and went to use the bathroom. He left the seat up.

“Barb, there’s water all over the bathroom floor. I think maybe your pipes are backing up. Roots, maybe.”

“Oh, no! Is it all-you know, messy?”

“Just water. Like a big splash, all over.”


That brought him back quick enough. What a man.

As he skidded in barefoot, he caught Barb shrinking and pointing. Something had just moved near the juncture of wall and ceiling above her cosmetic table. Renny squinted. The something was low-slung, slid along lizard-fashion, and was now watching them both coldly from seven feet up.

“What the hell is it?” said Renny. “A rat?”

“You ever see a white rat with no hair, with eyes that big? Jeeezus, Renny!” Barb could see pretty well in the dark after all. “Where’s the bat?”

Renny almost chuckled. “I’ll get the damned thing. Whatever it is.”

She stopped him, open palm to naked chest. “No you won’t, either, Renny. Now, I’ve been doin some thinking, and you’re a nice guy and a good man and a good male protector and all that, and I haven’t been holding up my end on this deal, and like you said, this is my house…so let me do this. It’s my turn.”

When Barb let loose with stuff like that it stopped Renny deaf and dumb; how could he even consider dumping a woman this good?

She watched his cigarette glow near the bathroom door. “You just stay right there and hit the overhead lights when I tell you, okay?”



The hundred-watter Barb kept in the ceiling fixture blinded them. The thing on the wall recoiled and dropped behind the mirror. Renny and Barb heard it hit the floor and scrabble into the shadows.

“See it?”

“I see it,” Barb lied. She shielded her eyes and groped around until she found the bat.

“I don’t see it.”

Renny could see the tail of Barb’s cat, poking from beneath the dresser. It was a miserable calico Renny felt was responsible for every one of his sneezes since he and Barb had linked up. When it wasn’t skulking around the kitchen trying to eat everything in sight, it was shedding pounds of hair and clawing the furniture to ribbons. It had some kind of inane cat name Renny could not retain. It didn’t listen when Barb told it no. It never had.

It had probably knocked the toilet seat over, numb little fart.

The tail twitched in that spastic way that announced the cat was revving up for the old chase-and-disembowel routine. Barb told the cat no, loudly. It didn’t listen.

She tried to block it with her foot, but the cat executed a tight dodge and zipped under the dresser, way ahead of her. There followed an un-seen, brief and violent encounter that sounded pretty awful, though nei-ther Barb nor Renny could see any of it.

The cat’s tail whapped Barb in the chest. The cat was no longer con-nected to it. Tufts of calico fur followed, held together mostly by blood.

Barb began making cave-person noises and wedged herself into the combat zone, dealing short, blind strokes with the bat. The bureau be-gan to scoot with each hit, bunching the area rug.

The intruder darted out from the far side. It looked like a hand.

“Barb, it’s a hand.”

“What!” Barb backed off, frantic and hollow-eyed. “What! What! A hand? I don’t care! It hurt my cat!”

“Barb, it ran under the bed.” Renny stepped back from the edge, just in case Barb started swinging again.

Hot for combat, Barb spun. “It hurt Rumplecatskin!” The kill light was in her eyes.

She swept aside the dust ruffle. Two eyes returned her gaze from about a foot in. Then it charged, before she could bring the bat into play, and got a tight grip on her throat.

It was Victor’s hand, all right. He’d grabbed her throat enough times for her to make a lightning ID. Whatever else had befallen Victor’s mor-tal parts, his right hand was still strong and mean as ever. Barb’s wind was cut and in seconds she’d see the purple spots. Victor knew exactly how to throttle her.

She collapsed into a heavy, spread-legged sit-down as Renny dived across the bed, not as fast as he could have been. He didn’t really want to touch it. The severed wrist terminated in a reddish-white bag of muscle, like the fat, nontapered tail of a Gila monster. Renny grabbed that end and tried to yank it off.

Goddamn it, but this was getting to be much more trouble than any-thing was worth.

Barb’s face had shaded to mauve. Renny crawled in tighter, bent back the clutching index finger, and heard it pop as he broke it at the base joint.

Shouldn’t he just let it polish Barb off? Would this all be over then?

Nope, he thought as he levered the middle finger out of the flesh of her neck. No way he was going to be beaten and humiliated by disorganized body parts. He cocked the finger away savagely and smiled when he heard it snap.

There were eyeballs on the back of the hand, and they swivelled a full one-eighty to glare at Renny. The pupils dilated. Barb was sucking wind in big horsey gasps, her face flushing crimson.

Renny remembered the first time he had ever shaken this hand. Howyadoo. Victor Jacks was the sort of guy whose very existence dared you to be better than him, and promised to humiliate you if you tried.

The thumb and ring finger could not hang on alone; apparently Barb had smashed the pinky, a lucky hit with the bat; it jutted crookedly, alienated from the choking operation. Renny pried the hand free and chucked it across the room as Barb fell down. The hand bounced from the wall to the floor, leaving red impact smears. Clumsily, it tried to locomote.

Barb stumbled over and started stomping on it. She got gook all over her heel, slipped and nearly fell again. This enraged her enough to bash the hand with the bat until it didn’t move anymore.

Both of them squatted down at a safe distance and got their first really clear look at it.

Apart from the killer hand and about four inches of forearm, there were Victor’s eyes. Eyes that had always been the color of pastel blue enamel, opaque eyes that did not deal in emotional shades, with the hair-trigger flecks of silver buried deep like vague rumors of madness. The eyes were seated across the first three knuckles on the back of the hand, and looked roped down by strings of muscle and threads of optic nerve. One eyeball had just been imploded by Barb’s death-dance. At last, Renny could recognize the bulbous bag that hung off the far end of the wrist.

“That’s his heart.”

The whole assemblage reminded Renny of something that Victor might jerry-rig on his auto workbench. He was known to be miraculous when it came to solving your vehicular woes with a bent coat hanger, spit and a soldering iron.

“His heart.” This was not the sort of news Barb was eager to hear. “His heart, oh godddd…how could it be his heart, they took it out, you beat him to pieces, didn’t you break his hand? Last time?”

Renny honestly could not recall.

“I mean…he didn’t have no head, Renny! What’d the eyeballs do, roll here by themselves-?”

As they watched, the heart-end caved in, voiding blood in a final death-spurt. It made a large, wet, wide stain on the finished wood of the now-exposed floor.

It appeared to Renny as though it had farted. It was kind of funny. “Wow. You really broke his heart.”

She began slapping him. The blows were openhanded and basically harmless. “Renny, goddammit, that’s not funny! That’s his fucking hand! It’s been around my throat plenty of times, and for a minute there I could actually see him, like he’d come back whole to beat me up again, and it’s not funny!”

Barb was a pace and a half from an asylum. Her tirade petered out and left her sobbing. Renny did the right thing and tried to hold her. She let him. If he had given her a Kleenex, she would have dislocated his jaw.

“Okay, okay. Sorry I’m such a jerk.”

Pangs of selfishness could occasionally make Renny feel guilt, or some-thing like guilt. More important right this minute was the abrupt de-duction he’d made while keeping an untrusting eye on the no-longer-moving hand thing.

Victor had been slabbed and gutted…and had come walking back. He’d had all his bones busted and he’d come blobbing back. And Renny had dumped Victor in the sewer and Victor had come back again, from the sewer. Up through the toilet, just like those urban legends about scuba-diving rats, and snakes, and crocodiles, all of which the eyeball-hand resembled.

“Look, babe-I know what this thing needs. I’ll make sure there ain’t nothin left this time.”

“And how do you plan on doing that?” Barb had regained enough of her equilibrium to peek at herself in the bureau mirror to ensure she didn’t look too messed up.

Renny lifted the interloper by its broken pinky. He could feel himself piling up jungle smarts by the minute.

“You got any charcoal starter out back?”

It stank. Truly. It sizzled when it burned, a roundly unappetizing spectacle that Barb forced herself to witness. They both watched it cook down and Renny periodically batted the chunks apart with barbecue tongs until it was reduced to black goo and bone ash.

Barb plodded back inside to take her third shower in twenty-four hours. There was just no washing Victor off her life.

Renny watched the goo smolder and bubble on the coals. Kind of like pork, the smell.

He rubbed the smoke from his reddened eyes and finished up, not really wanting to enter the house again. He no longer wanted to play bed games with Barb. He just wanted to get some sleep.

By the time Barb towelled off, she discovered Renny deep in slumberland. Igg, she’d have to change the sheets despite her shower. A job for tomorrow. She sat on what was, de facto, “her” side of her own bed, successfully not waking her partner in crime.

Renny was different, she knew. Their relationship had turned. Flow-ers decay. Banquets spoil. Water evaporates. And their sneaky victory had soured. At first it had been a delicious, shared secret; now it had become a horrid quickmire that bonded them like a pair of panicked dogs struggling to uncouple.

She felt, well, dead inside, to hammer a phrase. Blown out, wasted, spent, scorching at the edges. She did not want to feel anything so much as she wanted to feel nothing.

Renny was sleeping with his mouth unhinged, as usual, just begin-ning to snore. That snore would tell her that she was far, far away from his thoughts. She gently grabbed his nose and tilted his head so he no longer faced her. The incipient snore died with a gurgle.

She felt unusually sensitized, to the point where the dust on the sheets and comforter bothered her. Grit was in her eyes and she fancied more dust layered upon her soul, like wet snow. The thought that it might be the powder of dead bones made her start crying, and she never stopped.

Caught up in her own grief, she missed seeing the tenacious little gob of charred protoplasm as it wormed past Renny’s slack lips, to slide easily down his esophageal tract. Soon it would renew its work deep inside of him, where the heart was.

Good People by David Wellington

David Wellington is the author of the zombie novels Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet, and the vampire novels 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins, Vampire Zero, and 23 Hours. A werewolf novel, Frostbite, came out last October. Another zombie novel, Plague Zone, was serialized on his website, davidwellington.net, but is not yet in print. Wellington’s short fiction has appeared in the zombie anthologies The Undead, The Undead 2: Skin and Bones, and The New Dead, and he also has a story in my vampire anthology By Blood We Live. He recently made his comic book writing debut with Marvel Zombies Return.

George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead established our modern image of zombies-mindless corpses with pale flesh, wild hair, and dark-ringed eyes who stumble clumsily about, hungering after the flesh of the living. Since then we’ve seen a vast proliferation of zombie stories and a corresponding increase in their variety. We’ve seen zombies who aren’t technically dead (28 Days Later), zombies who sprint after their victims (Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), zombie dogs (Resident Evil), zombie Nazis (Dead Snow), zombie superheroes (Marvel Zombies), even zombie strippers (Zombie Strippers). We’ve also seen zombie comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland), zombie romance (Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead), and even zombies invading classic nineteenth-century literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). And of course we’ve seen David Wellington’s gonzo Monster trilogy, which features smart zombies, superpowers, mummies, and an epic battle for the future of humanity.

But sometimes all you’re in the mood for are some good old-fashioned moaning, shambling zombies, which our next story delivers-in spades. Here David Wellington takes the zombie story back to its roots-a bunch of regular folks just trying to survive, figuring out what they’re willing to do to make it, and the horrible things they have to do after the end of the world. After all the variations, parodies, and mashups, the classic Romero-style zombie is still alive and well (so to speak) and still, after all these years, coming to get you.


The sun was coming down over the desert, painting the red rocks a hundred different shades of purple, silver, and ocher and making spiky silhouettes out of the few creosote bushes that eked a living out of the barren land. I watched the hot pink clouds scud by overhead for a while before turning my attention back to the fence.

Then my heart stopped beating.

The dead man was only a couple feet away from Candy when I saw him. He was on the wrong side of the chain-link fence but he was leaning on it, hard, and it was starting to sway. His clothes were bleached white by the sun and his skin was gray. His lips had rotted away, like most of his face, and his teeth were huge and yellow and broken until they looked very sharp.

Candy was three years old. She didn’t even look up. There’d never been a time in her life when the dead people weren’t around, weren’t reaching for her, gnashing their teeth at her. There’d never been a time when Mommy wasn’t right there to save her.

I wasn’t going to let her learn different. Not until she was old enough to hold a weapon.

So I didn’t shout at her, didn’t scream for the dead guy to back off. I brought up my bow and nocked an arrow. Drew back, nice and steady, and took my time to aim. My bow string twanged but my arrow didn’t make a sound as it went right through the chain link, and right through his skull. The point came out the other side.

He fell down in a heap. Silently.

Thank you, Girl Scouts of America, I thought.

I went over to Candy then, to get her away from the corpse. They don’t smell so bad anymore-the sun down here dries them out-but you can still get sick just by being near them. And sometimes they aren’t as dead as they look.

Candy was squatting down on the ground by the pump house that used to fill up the swimming pool. She had a bunch of credit cards and she had laid them out on the yellow grass, sorting them by color. The plastic had gone white around the edges over time and the silver ink had rubbed off the numbers, but the holograms still flashed back and forth in the sun as I reached down to pick her up.

“Look at the bird,” Candy said, pointing at one of them. “It flies if you close one eye, then the other.”

“Sure does, pumpkin,” I said, and kissed the side of her head.

It’s been a year and a half since I saw a bird. I don’t know when she ever had, but she knew, birds fly. Birds fly away. People have to stay on the ground, right where they are.

Bruce and Finster came out of the shade of the motel complex wearing gloves and bandanas across their faces. I covered them with my bow while they dragged the corpse into the empty pool and set it on fire. The bottom of the pool used to be painted blue but the paint had chipped away months ago and now the bare concrete showed through. There were black scorch marks like flat craters all over the concrete.

The guys couldn’t just drag the body out into the desert to rot away. That would just draw more of the dead-they don’t eat their own kind, but once you destroy the brain, all bets are off. Anything that could hurt us, anything that would draw attention to us, was dragged down into the pool and burned until there was nothing left but ashes and bones.

I didn’t stick around to watch. I took Candy back to our room instead, to let her play inside where the air might be stuffy but she couldn’t just wander away. Then I went into the dark bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror for a while.

I did that every time I killed somebody. I was looking for any sign of fear, or weakness. If I found my lips were shaking I made them stop. If my eyes looked too wide I forced myself to squint. If I had gone white as a sheet I held my breath until my color came back.

I could have been an actress. You know, Before. I was a dancer in Vegas-yes, that kind of dancer-but I was saving my money to go to LA. Then it got overrun and everybody there died. Guess it was a good thing I never got my big break.

This time, when I stared in the mirror, I didn’t see anything looking back. My face was there, my cheekbones more hollow than they used to be, lines around my eyes a little deeper. Blond hair bleached by the sun. I looked even skinnier than I used to when I was dancing. But there was nothing there in my face, no expression at all.

I wondered if that was a bad thing. If that was worse than finding signs of weakness there.

Then I decided that was a stupid thing to worry about. Times like these, you learned pretty fast what was important and what was bullshit, and you let the bullshit go.

The rules were that when you even see a dead guy, you had to tell Vance. I headed out, leaving Candy alone where I knew she was safe, and walked down the row of motel rooms toward the reception office, the place he was most likely to be. As I stepped in through the glass doors I found about half of the survivors there. It was the stuffiest part of the motel, and there were no curtains on the windows so the desert light came glaring in, but ever since the dead came back people tend to want to congregate in central places where they can see each other, so reception is always crowded. There were old folks logging in cans of food from the last foraging expedition, and young guys bristling with weapons, just standing guard. Good people, all of them. I’ve known plenty of the other kind, but we left all of them behind.

Of course Simon was there, tinkering. Just like always. Simon was the only one of us who couldn’t walk, because he’d lost both his legs. Whether that happened Before or After, nobody knew, because he didn’t like to talk about it, and if you pushed Simon on something he didn’t like to talk about he usually started screaming.

He claimed he had Asperger syndrome. When we first met him most of us just thought he was crazy. A lot of us still thought he was a drain on our resources, which is one thing we don’t normally forgive. But Vance had refused to leave him behind when we headed south from Scottsdale. Said he would come in useful, eventually.

Lucky guesses like that were what made Vance our leader. Simon, it turned out, had a way with machines. He could take them apart in his head and figure out why they didn’t work, and how to fix them. He’d put a truck back together from spare parts back at Scottsdale and that was the only way we got out of that hell alive. The truck had brought us all the way here before it ran out of gas and we couldn’t find anymore. When Vance found the motel, with the little creek running behind it, it was Simon who figured out how we could pump water up from the creek and survive in the desert.

Just looking at Simon, you would never believe it. He was maybe fifteen years old. He had a mop of black hair that hung down over his eyes. He was overweight, even after a year and a half of eating no more than I had. His fingers were pudgy and short and the nails were always cut down so far his fingertips bled.

With a couple dozen yards of PVC pipe, though, and some parts from the empty swimming pool’s pumps, he gave us running water. He gave us water for cooking, and washing, and even cleaning our clothes. He gave us water to drink in a place where you could die in four hours without it.

When I walked into reception he was fiddling with an old clock radio from one of the rooms, picking at a circuit board with those non-existent nails of his. “I wanna build a radio transponder,” he said. “So’s the Army can find us. I wanna build a computer so we can get back onna innernet.” In many ways Simon still lived in the Before-or maybe he just took the extremely long view, and assumed that this wasn’t the end of the world, just a momentary pause in civilization. “I wanna check my website, check my traffic. Traffic-traffic, we can get the traffic lights back on.”

Vance stepped out from the back office and nearly tousled the kid’s hair. He stopped himself before he actually touched him-Simon does not like to be touched. “Don’t worry,” Vance said. “You and me, buddy, we’re going to rebuild the entire world together.”

Simon looked up with an idiotic smile on his face. “I like to build things.”

Vance smiled back. “Darcy,” he said, turning to look at me. “You have something to report?”

He probably already knew what had happened out at the fence. Bruce and Finster had probably already let him know. But he wanted to hear it again, from me. Vance is not a big guy but you can see in his eyes that he’s always thinking. He’s always two steps ahead, which is how he keeps us alive. Nobody ever voted for him to be leader, and he didn’t have to fight anybody for the right. He led us because he was always on top of things when the rest of us were just trying to survive. “One dead guy, out by the southwest fence. I got him with an arrow.”

Vance nodded. “And did you retrieve the arrow?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He nodded and reached over to touch my arm. Most guys I’ve known, they would have grabbed me around the waist, or maybe patted me on the shoulder if they were trying to be PC. Vance squeezed my bicep. “I hear he was going for Candy.”

I shrugged. “Not anymore.”

He gave me another squeeze, on the strongest part of me. Like he knew. Just somehow he knew what was inside of me, and he approved.

A guy like Vance, back in Before? I wouldn’t have bothered giving him a second look. Now I’d move into his room if he just asked.

“Three this month,” Simon said, his face curling up. He looked like he might start screaming. “Three: one, two, three.”

Vance frowned. “That’s right,” he said. “More than we’re used to.”

I shrugged. “Some months we don’t see any. Sometimes we get a few. We can handle it.”

Vance nodded, but his brow was furrowed and I knew he was thinking of something. He went over to the drinking fountain that Simon had rigged up to be our main water supply. An inch-wide pipe stuck up out of the top of the box, and there was a crank on the side that pulled the water up from the creek. Vance started turning the crank but you could see on his face he was still thinking. “Simon,” he said, “is there any way to make that fence stronger?”

The boy started bouncing up and down in his chair. “Yeah, lots of ways! I wanna sink the posts in concrete, and double up on the chain link, and uh, and uh, we could ’lectrify it if we had some solar panels, and there’s barbed wire-”

He stopped suddenly, which wasn’t strange for Simon. Sometimes he just stopped talking and that was it. He would be silent for the rest of the day. Sometimes it was just a pause while he worked something out in his head.

This time he started screaming.

Vance was still winding the crank. You had to pull hard to get water out of the little trickle of the creek, and sometimes pebbles got in the pipe and you had to crank even harder. This time Vance was really working it, his arm flashing around and around. He’d been too preoccupied to notice why he had to work so hard. Something was in the pipe, something bigger than a pebble.

When he heard Simon scream, he stopped cranking-and then everybody saw what set Simon off. A human finger was sticking out of the top of the pipe, gray and mottled and topped with a broken yellow nail.

“Don’t throw up. Don’t do it,” I said, rubbing Finster’s back. When your entire food supply is comprised of tin cans you scavenge out of abandoned dollar stores, you can’t afford to waste a meal. Finster was looking green and starting to double over. Slowly he straightened up and started breathing deeply.

“Thanks. I just-ulp.” He closed his eyes and turned away.

Simon kept screaming. Sometimes when he got that way he wouldn’t stop for hours. This was a kid who used to freak out when his father couldn’t find the right brand of chicken tenders for his dinner. The new world was full of triggers, and not a lot of comfort.

Vance grabbed the finger out of the pipe and shoved it in his pocket so nobody would have to see it. “Mike, Joe, I want this system taken apart and all the parts boiled until it’s sterile,” he said. The two men he’d named rushed over to the water fountain to start disassembling it. They were good people and they didn’t wait until things had calmed down to get to work.

“You okay now?” I asked Finster. He’d gotten some of his color back.

“Yeah. But-”

“What?” I asked.

“That thing. That-finger. It means-”

Bruce shook his head. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The creek out back flows all the way from Tucson,” he insisted. “Some dead guy just lost his finger off the side of a bridge, that’s all.”

“-or it could mean there’s a horde of them downstream, splashing around in our water supply,” Finster said.

Everyone looked at Vance. Even Simon stopped screaming long enough to hear what our intrepid leader would say.

He glanced around the room, making eye contact with each of us. Then he shrugged. “We can’t afford not to know for sure. So we check it out.”

One of Vance’s rules was that nobody ever went outside alone. When he decided to form a search party to go check out the stream, he took almost everybody with him. There were miles of canyons and gullies to check out, washes that could hide hundreds of the dead from view that had to be explored. In the end he left only a handful of us behind. Finster and myself, to stand watch and to coordinate the search via radio. Simon, whose wheelchair couldn’t make the trip. And, of course, Candy. Candy never left my side.

The morning they left he had me do a radio check for him. Simon had rigged up a solar charger for a set of walkie-talkies we found in an overrun police station, and the radios had gotten us out of some pretty tight spots. We depended on them, but we didn’t trust them-you couldn’t really trust any technology from Before that relied on electricity. So Vance went up to the top of a hill about a quarter-mile from the hotel, while I went behind the motel’s detached laundry building and waited for him to call.

“Are you getting this?” he asked, and I confirmed. “How about now? Good. So we should be back in three days. If it takes longer, I’ll let you know.”

“I’ll be listening,” I told him.

“I don’t think we’re going to find anything. If that’s the case, it’s still a good excuse to do some foraging, turn up some more cans of food. You sound worried.”

“Do I?” I asked. I was surprised. I’d been keeping my voice very carefully casual. “I guess I’m always going to be concerned, when we split up like this.” That was one of the first things I’d learned, when this all began: Stay together. Let other people watch your back-you’re going to be busy enough watching your front. People who could work together, good people who cared about each other, stayed alive. People who couldn’t get along or who wanted to go it alone got weeded out pretty fast.

“Don’t be. We’ll take the guns, and there’ll be enough of us to take care of just about anything. You know I wouldn’t put any of us at risk unnecessarily.”

“I know.”

“I have to say I’m glad you’ll be back here, safe. Though, listen-Finster has said some things, when you weren’t around. Well, a lot of the guys have. But when you’re alone with him, he might try to take advantage of that fact.”

“I’m not following,” I said.

“I know you can take care of yourself, but… he might… offer his services, if you catch my drift.”

I laughed out loud. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed. “Well,” I said, “in the absence of a better offer, maybe I’ll take him up on that.”

Vance laughed then, too. “Okay. Just make sure one of you is always watching the fence.”

The conversation ended there because we didn’t want to drain the radio batteries.

An hour later, the search party left, heading out through the big gate in the fence while Finster and I waved from the roof of the reception building, both of us covering their exit. Vance and his group took all of our guns, but I had my bow. I watched them go for hours, winding in single file down the road that ran alongside the creek, Vance marching along tirelessly at their fore.

“When are they coming back, Mommy?” Candy asked. I had her in a makeshift papoose on my back.

“Real soon.”

“We caught a couple of them today, working their way up the creek,” Vance said over the radio. “They were eating weeds and cactus, anything they could find.” He sounded tired. He’d been gone for only a day but already he’d covered ten square miles. He was pushing himself and his people hard, which made me nervous. “Honestly, Darcy, I didn’t expect to see even one out here. But I’m worried these might just be stragglers from a larger group.”

“How so?” I asked. I spooned cold baked beans onto a plate for Candy, the walkie-talkie cradled between my ear and my shoulder.

“One of them was wearing a business suit. One sleeve was torn off but his tie was still knotted around his neck. He didn’t look like a rancher or a tourist. He looked like somebody who belonged in a big city. I’m worried that we’re seeing people from Tucson.”

I stopped what I was doing and put down the spoon, careful not to spill any food. “That-would be bad,” I said.

When it happened, when the dead came back to life, most people in this part of the country lived in the big cities. There were millions of them packed into small geographical areas. That just meant that when the end of the world came, there was more food for the dead. They rarely ventured out into the desert, which is why we had made our home there. But we had always considered the possibility that the city dead would eventually exhaust their food supply and start wandering out into the country looking for more. The dead are always hungry, and they don’t sleep.

“It’s too soon to start panicking,” Vance told me. “How are things back on the home front?”

“Fine,” I said, steeling myself. He was right, there was no need to get worried-yet. “Finster’s been a perfect gentleman. Simon took apart the cash register and now it’s in pieces all over your office. He says he wants to build an electric water heater so we can have hot showers.”

“It would be nice,” he sighed. “All right. I’ll check in eight hours from now.”

“I’ll be listening.”

Candy picked up a finger full of beans and put it in her mouth. I watched her face, curled up in concentration. She was still learning such basic things-like how to feed herself. I smiled and she smiled back, then ate some more.

I stood the next watch, during which nothing happened. Candy played quietly while I walked back and forth on the roof of the motel, making long circuits from the rooms back to the reception building to the poolhouse, keeping my eyes open, keeping moving so I didn’t fall asleep. The red rocks beyond the fence never changed, and nothing moved. A breeze picked up for a while, which was kind of nice.

When my watch ended, I sank down in a folding chair and sucked some water out of a bottle. Finster climbed up behind me and just stood there for a while, not saying anything, just looking out at the horizon. I wondered if he was looking for Vance, the way I had been for hours.

Then he put his hands on my shoulders and started to rub. “You’re tense,” he said. “Worried about them?”

“Yeah.” I reached up to push his hands away. Then I stopped myself. If something happened, if Finster made a pass, would that be so bad? It would help pass the time. And it had been a very long time since anyone touched me like that. There had been a time when I’d gotten too much male attention, when it had been a drag. But that was Before.

It wasn’t like Vance was responding to my veiled hints, after all.

I started leaning my head back, eyes closed, letting things happen. The tension of eighteen months started draining out of me.

Which, as we all know by now, is exactly when the bad things happen. This time, it was the radio squawking. I sat up straight and grabbed for the walkie-talkie.

“We’re coming back fast,” Vance said. There was a lot of static and he was barely whispering, but my heart raced as I made out his words. “Get everything you can into the backpacks. We’re going to have to bug out.”

“What did you find?” I asked, whispering myself. Behind me Finster crouched down to try to hear better.

“About fifty of them, all coming up the same canyon. They’re spread out pretty loose, and I think I haven’t seen them all. There’s probably more. Probably a lot more. This is Tucson. Go, now. Get things ready-we won’t have time to pack when I get back.”

“Understood,” I said, and signed off. I turned to face Finster. His face was as white as-well, as white as a dead guy’s. “Let’s move,” I told him.

We cracked open one of the motel rooms we used as cold storage and found the back packs waiting for us on an unmade bed. Ten of them, still half-full of stuff we never bothered to unpack. Bottles of purified water, bags of beef jerky and boxes of hard crackers. Canned food is heavy and if you’re carrying your supply on your back it slows you down. Into each pack we put survival gear, camp stoves, thermal blankets, first aid kits. Knives, lots of knives and other basic weapons. As much water as we could shove into the packs. If we were going to walk across the desert until we found another safe place we would need a gallon per day per person. There was no way we could carry enough, but the supply we had would just have to do.

Finster and I didn’t talk while we worked. Candy was slung on my back, fast asleep. She learned how to do that very early on. When Mommy’s busy, you just go to sleep-that’s a survival strategy. Good girl.

I didn’t feel bad about having to abandon the motel. It had been a good place, a shelter in a dangerous world, and I had no idea where we would find anything like it again. But the rules of this world are very clear: When you have to move on, you go and you don’t look back.

The search party had taken all our guns, which wasn’t saying much-they had two revolvers and a.22 pistol between them, and enough ammo to reload once. I had my bow and my quiver and Finster had a slingshot, a high-tech geek toy that could put a ball bearing through a dead guy’s skull at twenty yards. We geared ourselves up and hauled the packs out to the motel’s courtyard so the search party could just grab and go.

It was only when all that was done that I realized neither of us had been watching Simon. Nobody would expect the boy genius to help us get ready, so I guess we just ignored him until it was time to get him prepared for the move. Vance and Joe, the two strongest men in our group, had a kind of stretcher they had built so they could carry Simon around. It even had a little canopy to keep the sun off of him. Simon hated the thing, though, and we never brought it out until it was absolutely necessary. Just seeing it would be enough to trigger one of Simon’s screaming fits.

“He’s probably in reception playing with the cable box, wondering why he can’t tune in The Brady Bunch or something,” Finster said, when I asked where Simon was.

“You check there. I’ll look in his room,” I told him.

But he wasn’t in his room. Finster shouted to say he wasn’t in the office, either. I jogged back and forth across the parking lot, calling him, but got no response. He didn’t seem to be anywhere inside the fence.

Then I spotted him, and I nearly yelped in horror.

He was outside the fence.

Lord knows how he made it all that way, crawling around on his arms. He had the gate open and had crossed both lanes of the highway beyond. There was a stoplight out there that hadn’t worked since Before, with a big electrical junction box at the base of its pole. Simon had the box open and was pulling wires out, making neat piles around him sorted by color. I called his name but he didn’t even look up.

“Damn it,” I said, exasperated. This wasn’t the first time Simon had put us in danger, and I doubted it would be the last. I ran over to him, my heart pounding the second I was outside the fence, even though there was no sign of the dead in either direction. I tried to grab his arm and lift him up but Simon just went limp and his arm slithered through my hands. “Simon, come on, we have to go.”

“Busy. Busy building,” Simon said. “Vance says I can build. Vance says you have to leave me alone while I’m building.”

“Sure,” I tried, “but right now we need you to build something inside the fence.”

“I’ll do that later,” Simon said.

There was nothing for it. I just didn’t have the upper body strength to pick him up and carry him, not when he was going to fight me. I needed to get Finster to help. So I hurried back toward the gate, shouting for Finster to come help.

I don’t know if he heard me or not. He was pretty busy just then.

Tucson had come for us.

Hundreds of them. Maybe a thousand.

I hadn’t seen anything like it since the last days of Vegas.

Their clothes hung on them in tatters, and their flesh had shriveled on their bones. They must have run out of food in Tucson a while back and desperate hunger had driven them this far. Their eyes were cloudy with sun damage and their skin was covered in sores. Many of them were missing limbs, or at least fingers, but they all had their legs intact. When I saw them I understood what had happened. The fifty Vance had found in the canyons were the slow ones, the ones that didn’t keep up.

This was the crowd that could still move at a good clip. The ones that were still mostly healthy, who had gotten ahead of the rest.

You always expect them to be an unruly mob, shoving at each other and snarling at the ones who would rob them of their food. It wasn’t like that, though. They were barely aware of each other, but all of them wanted the same thing. They knew Finster and I were inside that fence. They moved in concert, pushing forward all at once. Never making the slightest sound. It was easy for the dead to take us by surprise, because they were as silent as the grave.

They hit the fence like a human tsunami. That side of the fence had been the strongest part-we had reinforced an existing fence there that had been made to keep out coyotes. The dead had no trouble with it at all. It came jangling down and they climbed over what was left.

Finster was working overtime with his slingshot, firing his giant-sized BBs one after the other, grabbing them out of a sack on his belt. He was a crack shot with that thing and he didn’t hesitate, but he didn’t waste shots either, making sure every round he fired was a clean head shot that took down his target.

I could have run up and joined him, and fired every single one of my arrows into that crowd in the time we had. Even healthy dead people move slow. I could see right away it was pointless, though. Neither of us had anything like enough ammunition. “Finster,” I shouted, “stop-you can’t get them all!”

“You have a better idea?” he asked me. His eyes looked crazed and I thought he might be hyperventilating.

“Yes! Come on, this way.” I grabbed at his arm and he followed.

“Come on. The reception office has the thickest walls, and we can get a couple of doors between us and them,” I told him, dashing around the side of the pool’s pump house. The dead were hot on our heels but we had no problem outrunning them. I rushed out onto the pool deck with my bow in my hand, an arrow already half-nocked. Good thing, too, because a dead woman in a pantsuit was already there waiting for me. She came stumbling toward me with her arms out, like she wanted to give me a big hug. I put my arrow right through her eye and jumped over her as she collapsed.

“But what then?” Finster demanded. “We just wait for them to go away?”

“No! We wait for Vance and the others to come rescue us,” I told him. Why couldn’t he see what we needed to do? I saw a dead man wearing a police uniform come stumbling through the weak part of the fence and shot an arrow through his forehead. “Just stick with me, Finster. We’ll be okay if-”

Finster screamed. The dead woman I’d put down was still moving. She had grabbed at the leg of his pants as he stepped over her.

He kicked at her furiously, even as her teeth came closer and closer to his flesh. One bite and it was all over-nobody ever survived a bite. I nocked another arrow, but couldn’t be sure of hitting her the way Finster was jumping around.

“It’s okay, I’m okay,” he shouted, as he stumbled away from her. “She didn’t get me.” She was still crawling toward him so I put another arrow in her ear. That stopped her. “I made it,” he said, gasping for breath. “I-”

He wasn’t looking where he was going. So happy that he’d escaped a fate worse than death, he didn’t watch his step, and he fell into the pool.

I rushed over to the edge of the pool and looked down. He’d fallen into the deep end and he was crying in pain. One of his legs was bent the wrong way.

“Finster, come on, get up!” I shouted at him, and he waved one hand at me to indicate he just needed a minute, that he would get up any time now.

We didn’t have a minute. The dead were streaming around the sides of the pump house, coming straight for us. I felt Candy stir against my back as she woke up. Why couldn’t she just have slept through this?

I should have left Finster there, of course. That’s how it was supposed to work. If you couldn’t walk, you couldn’t survive. But then, Simon couldn’t walk, either. Vance had changed some of the rules. He’d changed who we were. He’d made us into good people again. Given us something to live for.

“Take my hand,” I shouted at Finster, thrusting my arm down into the pool. “Take my goddamned hand!”

He blinked away his tears and struggled to get up. When he tried moving his broken leg he screamed in agony.

I looked away to check on the dead. They were very close now. Before I could look back at Finster, he reached up and snagged my arm. I hauled him upwards, pulling so hard I thought my arm might come out of its socket. He got his free hand over the lip of the pool, though, and helped me pull him up.

“Stand up. Lean on me. We have to run, now,” I said, once he was out of the pool. “Think of it like a three-legged race, okay?”

He didn’t say anything. His face was a mask of pain. But he hopped on his good foot, his arm clutched tight around my shoulders. We were still faster than the dead.

Inside the reception lobby it was dark and cool once I closed all the window shutters. The dead hammered on the steel core door from the outside, their fists banging away at the wood veneer. It was holding, for the moment. I locked it, though I doubted any of them were smart enough to try to turn the knob. Then I headed into the back office, where I’d left Finster and Candy.

I barricaded the door of the reception office as best I could, shoving furniture up against it in a way that might slow the dead down for a minute or two. Candy had fully woken up by that point and wanted to know what was going on.

“Nothing, honey, we’re safe,” I told her. And she believed me. It’s amazing how trusting a three-year-old can be.

I had Finster laid out on the desk, his leg propped up on a pile of old file folders. There was blood on his jeans. That could mean one of two things. Either when he’d fallen his leg had suffered a compound fracture-which was very bad-or that he’d lied when he said the dead woman hadn’t bitten him.

Which would be a lot worse.

The only way to find out was to take his pants off, which I didn’t have the time or the steady nerves to do just then. I shoved my back up against the wall farthest from the door and sank down to sit on the floor. I just needed to calm down. I just needed to breathe carefully. This didn’t have to be the end for us. We could survive this.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream and bang on the walls with my fists, and shout for the dead to go away, and tear my hair out, and curl up in a ball, and throw up in horror. I didn’t do any of those things, because Candy was watching me very closely.

I could have been a good actress. I could have won an Oscar.

“Darcy,” Finster said, his breath coming in ragged spurts, “I want you to know something. I want you to know how I feel, since I may not get another chance, and-”

“Save it,” I told him. Which was maybe a little cruel. But I couldn’t afford to hear what he was going to say.

I pulled the walkie-talkie off my belt and checked the battery. Still about twenty minutes of talk time left. “Vance,” I said. “Vance, if you can hear me, come in.” There was no response, so I waited a minute and tried again. After that I waited five minutes before I tried a third time.

Meanwhile I could hear the dead in the lobby. They’d gotten through the door somehow. They didn’t make any noise but I could hear it when they knocked over furniture or crashed into the walls. How long did we have?

Not very long.

“Vance, come in, please,” I said.

“Darcy? What’s going on?”

I closed my eyes and thought about how much I loved that man. This was the man who was going to save Candy. And me. And Finster. “Vance, we have a couple hundred of them here. We’re locked in the reception office and can’t get out. You have to come save us.”

“I can see them,” Vance said. “I’m about a mile away.”

“Oh, thank God,” I said. “Oh, thank you Jesus.”

“Stay with me, Darcy,” Vance told me. “Is everyone okay?”

“Candy and I are fine. Finster broke his leg, and it’s bleeding.” I didn’t want to say what I suspected, that he might already be dying of a bite wound.

“Understood. How’s Simon holding up?”

“Simon?” I asked. As if I didn’t know who he was talking about.

“If he’s screaming too much, just let him play with his electronics.” Vance was quiet for a second. “Why don’t I hear him screaming?”

“He’s not in here with us,” I admitted. “The last time I saw him, he was outside of the fence. Opposite the gate.”

Vance didn’t respond for a while.

“Vance, come in,” I shouted.

“I’m still here, Darcy. Just trying to save my breath. We’re moving fast. You say Simon is outside of the fence. Okay. That’s good.”

“It is?”

Vance sounded determined. Steadfast. “All of the dead are inside the fence. Maybe they didn’t see him there. Maybe they just think you’re the better meal, since there’s three of you.” He took his mouth away from the microphone, but I could hear him giving orders. “Joe, Bruce, Phil, get down there and get that gate closed-that’ll give us a second or two. Arnold, do you see Simon down there? Take Mary and just pick him up. Don’t stop if he fights you, just hold him still and pick him up. Yes, damn it. That’s exactly what I’m saying. No, we are not leaving him behind. We need him if we’re going to rebuild anything. If we’re going to have a future.”

“Vance,” I called. “Vance, what should we do? I don’t think we can get out of here without help. Tell me your plan.”

“Hold on, Darcy,” he said, and went back to issuing orders.

Outside, the dead started pounding on the office door. The furniture barricade jumped every time they struck. It was loud, very loud in the tiny office, and the air in there started to feel very stale.

“Vance, please. Tell me how you’re going to get us out of here,” I said.

The radio was silent.

“Vance. Please. Vance, you son of a-”

“We’re not, Darcy.”

I opened my eyes. Finster was staring down at me. The barricade started to fall apart.

“We can’t. We don’t have the numbers. If I tried, I would just get all of us killed. I’m sorry. We got Simon to safety, if it’s any consolation. He’s going to be a big help. He’s going to teach us how to build things.”

“That’s-no consolation at all! Listen, you stupid motherfucker, my baby is in here! My little baby. She’s scared, and alone, and-”

“Darcy, it has to be this way. We’re going to run away, and hope the dead don’t follow us. I think they’ll be too busy trying to get at you to notice. Thank you for that. Your sacrifice is going to let other people live.”

“My baby, Vance. My baby is in here.”

“Call me names. Tell me what an asshole I am. If it helps,” Vance told me. “I promise, I won’t turn my radio off until I know it’s over. But I’m sorry. That’s all I can do for you.”

“What is he saying?” Finster demanded. “I can’t hear him!”

“Mommy?” Candy asked. Three-year-old trust only goes so far, I guess.

I swore and screamed at Vance, then, used every nasty, obscene insult I could think of. Called him a prick. Called him impotent. Called him a traitor and a baby-killer. Thought up some new names just for him.

But I knew. Even as the barricade collapsed and the dead poured into the room-even then, I knew, he wasn’t a bad man.

He was good people.

But these are evil times.

Lost Canyon of the Dead by Brian Keene

Two-time Stoker Award-winner Brian Keene is the author of more than a dozen novels, including zombie novels The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea, the latter of which shares the same milieu as this story. Other novels include The Conqueror Worms, Castaways, Ghost Walk, Ghoul, Terminal, Dark Hollow, Urban Gothic, and his latest, Darkness on the Edge of Town and A Gathering of Crows. Other recent work includes his new, ongoing comic book series The Last Zombie from Antarctic Press. Keene’s short fiction-which has been collected in Unhappy Endings and Fear of Gravity-has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including the zombie anthologies The New Dead and The Dead That Walk.

All that remains today of the dinosaurs are their fossilized bones, towering assemblages of which adorn museums around the world. As children, many of us gazed up at these skeletal monsters and imagined what it would be like if all these spines and ribs and skulls and teeth suddenly came to life and tried to devour us.

Brian Keene was likely one of those children. He says, “This story is about cowboys, dinosaurs, and zombies-the three things all little boys love. I wrote this story after finishing a long, serious novel. I usually write something pulpy and fun after finishing something serious-sort of like a palate cleanser.”

Science has learned a lot about dinosaurs, who were once thought to be slow, lumbering reptiles unable to cope with a changing climate. We now know that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and agile, that they were nearly wiped out by a devastating meteor strike, and that the survivors evolved into modern-day birds (a fact attested to by beautiful transitional fossils such as Archaeopteryx).

One mystery that remains largely unsolved is what color dinosaurs were. Scientists had long assumed that dinosaurs were green like lizards, or maybe gray like elephants. But in recent years scientists have speculated that dinosaurs may have had more varied, colorful patterns, like certain kinds of snakes. Recent analysis of fossil melanosomes may provide some insight.

The dinosaur skin in our next story, however, could probably best be described as green…and mottled…and rotting.


The desert smelled like dead folks.

The sun hung over our heads, fat and swollen like that Polish whore back in Red Creek. It made me sweat, just like she had. It felt like we were breathing soup. The heat made the stench worse. Our dirty handkerchiefs, crusted with sand and blood, were useless. They stank almost as bad as the desert. Course, it wasn’t the desert that stank. It was the things chasing us.

We’d been fleeing through the desert for days. None of us had a clue where we were. Leppo knew the terrain and had acted as our guide, but he died of heatstroke on the second day, and we shot him in the head before he got back up again. We weren’t sure if the disease affected folks who’d died of natural causes, but we figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Since then, we’d been following the sun, searching the horizons for something other than sand or dead things. Our canteens were empty. So were our bellies. We baked during daylight and froze at night.

All things considered, I’d have rather been in Santa Fe. I knew folks there. Had friends. A girl. From what we’d heard, the disease hadn’t made it that far yet.

Riding behind me and Deke, Jorge muttered something in Spanish. I’ve never been able to get the hang of that language, so I’m not sure what he said. Sounded like “There’s goats in the pool” but it probably wasn’t.

I slumped forward in the saddle while my horse plodded along. My tongue felt like sandpaper. My lips were cracked and swollen. I kept trying to lick them, but couldn’t work up any spit.

“They still back there?” I was too tired to turn around and check for myself.

“Still there, Hogan,” Deke grunted. “Reckon they don’t need to rest. Don’t need water. Slower we go, the closer they get.”

I wiped sweat from my eyes. “We push these horses any harder and they’re gonna drop right out from under us. Then we’ll be fucked.”

Behind us, Janelle gasped at my language. I didn’t care. According to the Reverend, it was the end of the world. I figured rough language was the least of her worries.

“The good Lord will deliver us,” the Reverend said. “Even you, Mr. Hogan.”

“Appreciate that, Reverend. Give Him my thanks the next time you two talk.”

Deke rolled his eyes. I grinned, even though it hurt my lips.

We were an odd bunch, to be sure. Deke and I had come to Red Creek just a month ago. We’d bought ourselves a stand of timber there, and were intent on clearing it. Jorge had worked at the livery. The Reverend was just that-had himself a tent on the edge of town and gave services every Sunday. Terry was just a kid. Couldn’t have been a day over fourteen. No hair on his chin yet. But he shot like a man, and I was pretty sure that he was sweet on Janelle. It was easy to see why. Women like her were hard to find in the west. Janelle was from Philadelphia. Come to Red Creek after marrying a dandy twice her age. Don’t know if she really loved him or not, but she’d certainly carried on when those corpses tore the old boy apart in front of the apothecary like a pack of starved coyotes.

Red Creek wasn’t a big town, but it was large enough that none of us had known each other until we fled together. Except for me and Deke, we were strangers, thrown together by circumstance. That made for an uneasy ride.

The first any of us heard of the disease was when a man stumbled into town one night, feverish and moaning. There was a nasty bite on his arm, and a chunk of flesh missing from his thigh. The doc took care of him as best he could, but the poor bastard died just the same. Before he did, he told the doc and his helpers about Hamelin’s Revenge. That’s what folks back east were calling it, on account of some story about a piper and some rats. The disease started with rats. They overran an Indian reservation back east, which wasn’t a surprise, as far as I was concerned. I’d seen the conditions on those reservations, and figured those people would be better off sleeping at the bottom of an outhouse. It was a terrible way to live. The thing is, these weren’t no ordinary rats. They were dead. Guts hanging out. Maggots clinging to their bodies. But they still moved. And bit. And whatever they bit got sick and died. Mostly, they bit the Indians. The Indians took ill and died off, and the government didn’t seem to care-until the Indians came back and started eating white folks. By then, it was too late.

The man told the doc about this, and then died. Doc got some of the town bigwigs together, and while they were having a meeting about it, the dead fella got back up and ate the doc’s helpers. Then they came back and started eating folks, too.

Hamelin’s Revenge spread fast, hopping from person to person. Other species, too. Before we hightailed it out of Red Creek, I saw dead horses, dogs, and coyotes attacking townspeople in the streets. And lots of dead people, of course. By then, there were more corpses stumbling around than there were live folks. Lucky for us, the dead moved slowly. Otherwise, we’d have never escaped. Even then, it wasn’t easy. They swarmed, trapping us inside the saloon. We had to fight our way out. Burned most of Red Creek down in the process.

How do you kill something that’s already dead? Shooting them in the head seems to work. So does smacking them in the head with a hammer or a pick-axe or a length of kindling. You can fire six shots into their chest and they’ll keep on coming. You can chop off their arms and legs and they’ll keep wriggling like a worm on a hook. But get them in the head, and they drop like a sack of grain.

I glanced up at the sky, squinting. The sun hadn’t moved. It felt like we hadn’t, either. Our horses shuffled through the sand, wobbling unsteadily. Janelle coughed. I turned around to see if she was okay. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. When she saw me looking at her, she frowned.

“They’re getting closer, Mr. Hogan, judging by the stench.”

“I know.”

“What do you intend to do about it?”

I looked past her, studying the horizon. There were hundreds of black dots-dead things. The population of Red Creek, and then some. Every infected animal had joined in the pursuit, too. I’ll give the dead one thing-they’re determined sons of bitches.

“I intend to keep moving,” I told her. “Stay ahead of them. We don’t have enough bullets to kill them all, and even if we did, I reckon they’re out of range. Ain’t none of us gunslingers. Even if we were, nobody’s that good of a shot-not even your boyfriend there.”

I nodded in Terry’s direction. The boy blushed.

Scowling, Janelle stuck her nose into the air. I turned around again, trying to hide my grin. Deke chuckled beside me.

“She’s taken a shine to you,” he whispered.

I shrugged. It took a lot of effort to do so. I was trying to work up enough energy to respond, when something ahead of us caught my eye. The flat landscape was broken by a smattering of low hills. It looked like God had just dropped them right there in the middle of the desert. Jorge must have seen it too, because he jabbered and pointed.

“Look there.” Deke patted his horse’s flank. “We could hole up atop one of them hills. Make a stand. Shoot them as they climb up.”

“Until we run out of bullets,” I reminded him. “Then we’d be surrounded.”

“We could drop boulders on them.”

“Don’t know about that, but I reckon we’ll make for those hills, anyway. Maybe if those things lose sight of us, they’ll give up. Or maybe there’s something on the other side.”

“Water?” Terry’s tone was hopeful.

Before I could answer him, the sky got dark. We glanced upward. Janelle screamed. Jorge made a kind of choking sound. Deke and Terry gasped. The Reverend muttered a prayer. I just stared in shock.

The sky was full of dead birds. They moved like they were still alive, circling and careening as one, but slow. Parts of them kept falling off. They stank. The flock headed right for us, dropping down like hail.

“Ride!” I dug my heels into my horse’s sides, hoping she had more energy than I did. Apparently she had some reserves, because she took off like lightning, stirring up clouds of dust beneath her hooves. Deke’s mare did the same, keeping pace with us. The others rumbled along behind us. I looked around for some cover, but there wasn’t any.

“Head for them hills,” I shouted. “Might be some trees or a cave.”

I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that Jorge understood the plan, and what I saw stopped me cold. Janelle sat motionless, face upturned, gaping at the flock of dead birds. Her horse danced nervously beneath her. Terry held onto her horse’s reins and kept his own mount in check. He was urging Janelle to flee, but if she heard him, she gave no sign.

As I rode up to them, Terry fumbled with his shotgun. His hands were shaking and he was having one hell of a time freeing it. I grabbed his arm. He looked up at me and I saw the fear in his eyes. It echoed my own.

“Don’t bother,” I said. “All you’ll do is waste ammunition. Skin on out of here.”

He glanced at Janelle. “But Miss Perkins-”

“I’ve got her. You go on and ride.”

He stared at me, clearly reluctant to leave Janelle’s side. I reckon he had visions of coming to her rescue and then she’d repay him by sharing his bedroll if we ever found a safe place to make camp, but I went ahead and crushed those dreams. We didn’t have time for nonsense.

“Go on, now.” I slapped his horse on its rear. “Get!”

It took off after the others, and I turned to Janelle. I seized her horse’s bridle and gave it a tug. The mare whinnied, baring her teeth. Janelle did the same thing. I hollered at them both as the birds drew closer. I don’t reckon Janelle heard me over the terrible racket the birds were making.

Frustrated, I turned my horse around and kept a grip on Janelle’s mount, too. My other hand clutched my Colt. I knew it was pointless as a defense against the birds, but having it in my hand made me feel better. I squeezed my mount with my legs and prodded her on, hoping Janelle’s mare would keep up with us.

She did-for about the first two hundred yards. Then fatigue, heat, and thirst took their toll. She stumbled, snorted, and then sagged to the ground. She didn’t fall. If she had, that might have been it for Janelle and me both. Instead, the horse sort of eased down. I snatched Janelle from the saddle and plopped her down behind me. She slapped my shoulders, pulled my hair, and insisted we go back for her horse. I ignored her. Gritting my teeth, I spurred my mount on even harder.

I only looked back once. What I saw made me glad and sad at the same time. Screeching and squawking, the birds fed on Janelle’s horse, covering it from head to toe, pecking at its eyes and flesh. But they weren’t chasing us anymore, now that they had easier pickings.

Deke and the others waited for us. I shouted at them to go on. Wasn’t any sense in wasting our momentary advantage. The birds would strip that carcass soon enough. Then they-and whatever was left of Janelle’s horse-would be back after us again, along with all those other dead things loping along behind us.

We caught up with them and I found myself in the lead again. Deke and Jorge flanked me. Terry and the Reverend rode along behind. I kept my eyes on the foothills and said nothing, but I noticed the wounded, hurt look that Terry gave Janelle and me.

The day grew hotter. I wished it would rain.

We lost Jorge’s horse before we reached the hills. The rest of our mounts were stumbling badly, the last of their strength spent. Jorge wept as he took a hatchet to the poor animal. I wondered how he managed the tears. I was so dry, I couldn’t spit, let alone cry. We all dismounted, leading our horses the rest of the way. I didn’t much cotton to the idea, but it was either that or let them keep dropping out from underneath us. Janelle complained about having to walk, but none of us paid her any mind, except for Terry, who offered to carry her. He blushed, withering under her scornful glare while the rest of us chuckled at the image of Janelle riding piggyback on his shoulders across the desert.

The terrain changed, becoming rockier. Soon enough, we reached the foothills. Deke stopped us, shading his eyes with his hands.

“Y’all see what I see?”

We looked where he was pointing, and I whistled.

“I’ll be damned.”

There was a narrow canyon entrance wedged between two of the hills. The landscape seemed to arch over it, and for a moment, it almost looked like a door. Then I wiped the sweat from my eyes and looked again. Nope. No door. Just sloping canyon walls, shadowed and probably a lot cooler than where we were standing.

“Let’s make for that,” I said. “At the very least, it’ll get us out of the sun for a spell, and give us a place to hide. Might even be a stream or a pool.”

The others seemed to brighten at this. They picked up their pace. Even the horses seemed to sense that our luck was changing. They trudged forward with renewed strength. I looked back the way we’d come. There were a few birds circling in the haze. From that distance, I couldn’t tell if they were dead or not, but they weren’t heading in our direction. There were, however, three small objects limping across the desert. Judging by their size and movements, I figured them for dead dogs or coyotes. They were too far away to be any real danger, but I figured we should put some distance between them and us.

We made our way into the canyon mouth, and again, I was reminded of a door. We went single file-Deke and me in the lead, and Jorge and Terry bringing up the rear. A cool breeze dried the sweat on my forehead. I smiled. Despite everything we’d been through, I suddenly felt better than I had in days. Underneath those sloping cliff walls, the sun couldn’t touch us. With luck, the dead wouldn’t either.

The passage narrowed. There was a slight but noticeable downward descent. It went on like that for a while. Then the walls pressed closer. I was just starting to doubt that we’d be able to squeeze the horses through it when the canyon rounded a corner and opened wide.

I stood there gaping, half-convinced that what I was seeing was a mirage, until Deke cleared his throat behind me.

“Get a move on, Hogan. What’s the hold up?”

“See for yourself.”

I moved my mount aside so that they could come through. One by one, they walked out of the narrow fissure and stopped, sharing my reaction.

“This sure ain’t on no map I’ve seen,” Deke whispered.

“No,” I agreed. “I don’t reckon it is.”

Spread out before us, from one horizon to the other, was the biggest damned valley I’ve ever seen. It was filled with all kinds of trees and plants-things that had no business growing in the desert. The lush, green foliage was quite a shock after the barren wasteland we’d just crossed. A broad, clear stream ran through the center of the valley-not quite a river, but too big to be a creek. The air in the valley was different. It smelled just like the aftermath of a thunderstorm, and it was more humid, but not as hot as the desert had been. Although we couldn’t see any, the trees and bushes echoed with the sounds of wildlife-deep-throated rumblings and shrill bird-calls like nothing I’d ever heard before. Understand, this wasn’t just some desert oasis. This was an entire hidden valley, nestled between the surrounding canyon hills. The terrain was unlike the rest of the desert. I couldn’t figure out how such a thing could be.

The Reverend must have been thinking the same thing, because he said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was back home.”

“Why’s that?” Terry asked.

“Because it reminds me of the forests back in Virginia.”

“It’s an oasis,” Deke said.

“Too big for that,” I told him. “It’s a whole valley.”

Janelle stared at the treetops, swaying in the breeze. “How is this possible? Wouldn’t someone in Red Creek have known about this?”

“Does it matter?” Deke shrugged. “Whether they knew about it or not, we’re here now. I reckon the Reverend ought to thank God for us, cause as far as I’m concerned, our prayers have been answered. We’ve got shelter, shade, food, and water. These trees will hide us from those dead birds.”

We led the horses down to the stream. The thick undergrowth slapped our legs and brushed against our faces. Clouds of mosquitoes and gnats buzzed around our eyes and ears, but we didn’t pay them any mind. Unlike the dead, the bugs only ate a little bit.

The horses drank eagerly. We did the same, laughing and splashing. The water was cold and clear, which struck me as odd. There’d been no snow atop the hills. Running in from the desert, the stream shouldn’t have been so frigid. Drinking it made my teeth hurt, but I didn’t care. I gulped it down until my stomach cramped. Then I threw up and drank some more, splashing water across my face.

Whooping, Deke plunged into the stream and waded out until the water was up to his waist. Terry, Jorge, and I stripped off our gear and followed him. I turned back to Janelle and the Reverend, who were watching us from the bank.

“Come on in,” I said through chattering teeth. “The water’s fine.”

“I doubt that.” Janelle smiled. “Your skin is turning blue.”

“Hell,” Deke laughed. “My damn balls are shriveling up.”

We all chuckled at that, even Janelle. Terry and Jorge splashed each other. Deke ducked below the surface and came up sputtering. I motioned to Janelle and the Reverend.

“Seriously, y’all should come in.”

“I’m fine here,” Janelle said. “It wouldn’t be ladylike.”

The Reverend shook his head. “I’m afraid that I can’t swim, Mr. Hogan.”

“It ain’t that deep,” Deke told him.

Before the Reverend could respond, Jorge interrupted.

“What’s he saying?” Deke asked.

Jorge put one finger to his lips and cupped his ear with his other hand.

“I don’t hear nothing,” Terry said.

The bushes along the stream bank rustled. The horses whinnied and glanced around, stomping their feet. I reached for my pistol, realizing too late that I’d left it on the shore with the rest of my gear. Then the undergrowth parted and Janelle and the Reverend both screamed.

I was expecting another dead thing-maybe a horse or a person-but what charged out of the bushes was no corpse. It was the biggest damn lizard I’d ever seen. It stood on its hind legs, towering over the horses, about fifteen feet long from head to tail and probably weighing a ton. Despite its size, the thing moved fast. Arms outstretched, it ran on two legs towards Janelle and the Reverend. Each hand had three fingers. The middle fingers were equipped with claws the size and shape of a grain sickle. It had a big head and an even bigger mouth full of arrowhead-sized teeth. Its tongue flicked the air as it made a hissing, throaty sort of roar.

Shrieking, Janelle dove into the stream. The Reverend ran after her. I noticed that he’d pissed his pants. He paused, glancing back and forth from the water to the lizard, as if trying to decide which one he feared the most.

The creature slashed the throat of Terry’s mount. The poor beast took two faltering steps and then fell over. The other horses scattered. As they did, three more giant lizards emerged from the bushes and attacked them. The cries the horses made as they were slaughtered was one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard.

We hurried to the far side of the stream while the lizards busied themselves with their kills, tearing and ripping, sticking their snouts into the horses’ abdomens and rooting around. I glanced back and noticed that the Reverend had waded into the water up to his knees. He stood there trembling, watching in horror as the lizards feasted.

“Come on,” I shouted. “While they’re distracted!”

He shook his head.

“Somebody has to help him,” Janelle said. “One of you get back over there.”

“The hell with that,” Deke said, wading onto the shore. “I ain’t even going back for my gear. You think I’d go back for him?”

Janelle gasped. “He is a man of God.”

“Then I reckon God will keep him safe,” Deke replied. “Either that, or he’ll meet God real soon.”

“I’ll get him.” Terry splashed into the stream.

Cursing, I jumped in after him.

“Hogan,” Deke yelled. “Where the hell are you going? Get back here!”

“Our guns are over there,” I told him. “We’re going to need them.”

That was my excuse, anyway. Deep down inside, I wondered if I was doing it for Janelle, instead. I waded after Terry. We made it about halfway across the stream before pausing. The lizards were still eating. So far, they’d ignored the Reverend. He stood there, glancing back and forth between them and us. His chin quivered and his legs shook.

“Come on, Reverend.” I waved at him, trying to keep my voice low. The movement attracted the attention of one of the lizards. It raised its bloody snout and snorted, cocking its head sideways and studying Terry and me. I’d been charged by a bull once, while crossing a pasture. The lizard had the same look in its eyes as the bull right before it charged.

“Terry,” I whispered, “don’t move. Just stay still.”

He nodded. The color drained from his face.

“Reverend,” I said, keeping my voice calm and steady. “You need to get in this creek right now. It don’t matter if you can’t swim. Terry and I will carry you. But get your ass over here.”

Nodding, he inched forward. The water rippled around his knees. His lips moved in silent prayer. His eyes were closed.

“That’s it,” I whispered. “Easy now. Nice and slow.”

I glanced at the lizards. All four of them watched us now. They stood stiff and tense, ready to spring. One of them was missing an eye. The left side of its face was a mass of scar tissue left over from some long-ago fight.

“Giants in the Earth,” the Reverend muttered. “Leviathan.”

It was hard to hear him over the churning water. “What?”

“It’s a Bible verse, Mr. Hogan. There were giants in the Earth in those days.”

“Only verse I know is ‘Jesus saves’. Reckon I’ll take your word for it.”

He stopped, gasping as the water reached his crotch. One of the lizards crept towards the stream.

“C-cold,” the Reverend stammered. “It’s so cold.”

“That’s okay. We’ve got you. Terry, give him a hand.”

“Hogan,” Deke called.

“Little busy right now,” I said.

The lizard on the bank lowered its head and sniffed the spot where the Reverend had been standing. The other three turned away from us and stared into the forest. I followed their gaze and saw why. The three dead coyotes I’d noticed earlier had followed us into the canyon. Now they stood under the tree line, watching us with blank, lifeless eyes. One of them was missing an ear. Another’s broken ribs were sticking through its fur. They didn’t pant. Didn’t growl. They just stared. Flies hovered around them in clouds.

“Oh hell,” Terry said.

The Reverend’s eyes grew wider. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

He started to turn around, but I stopped him.

“Never you mind. Just give Terry your hand. Let’s get out of here before they decide to have us for dessert.”

As Terry reached for the Reverend’s trembling hand, the lizard on the bank leaped into the stream, splashing water over our heads. At the same time, the dead coyotes lumbered into the clearing. The other three lizards went for them. The one with the missing eye seized a coyote in its massive jaws and shook the corpse back and forth.

The Reverend and Terry both slipped, sinking below the surface. They came up sputtering and flailing. The Reverend clung to Terry’s shoulders, almost dragging him back down again. The lizard surged forward, squealing. I splashed water at it in an attempt to scare it off, but all I did was make it swim faster.

“Let go,” Terry choked. “Can’t breathe…”

Sobbing, the Reverend clutched him tighter. They both went down again, and then the lizard was on them, close enough that I could feel its breath on my face. It smelled like rotten meat. Its jaws closed around Terry’s head and lifted him out of the water. His legs and arms jittered, and I could hear him screaming inside its mouth. The creature gutted him from groin to neck with one of those sickle-shaped claws, while holding the Reverend beneath the surface with its hind legs.

On the far shore, Janelle, Deke, and Jorge screamed. I backpedaled, unable to take my eyes off the slaughter. The lizard was busy with Terry and the Reverend, and paid me no mind. Neither did the other three. They feasted on the horses and coyotes.

I stumbled out of the stream and shouted at the others to run. Without looking back, we plunged into the forest, panicked and terrified. Soon, the greenery swallowed us.

We made camp inside a hollowed out tree. I’d never seen anything like it before, though I’d heard tell of some big trees out in California, and reckoned this might be like them. It was large enough for the four of us to sit inside comfortably. The top had snapped off at some point, but the trunk was still standing. We were able to fashion a crude roof using leaves and branches. There were bugs inside-beetles and ants and such-bigger than any I’d ever seen, but harmless. Janelle was afraid of them, but she was more afraid of what might be outside.

All we had was what had been in our pockets-a bit of paper and a pencil, Deke’s compass, a pouch of chewing tobacco, Janelle’s frilly lace handkerchief, some money, and other odds and ends.

It got cold after the sun went down. We had no matches or flint. We huddled together for warmth. Janelle fell asleep with her cheek resting on my shoulder. When she breathed, her breasts rubbed against my arm, soft and warm. That made everything we’d been through almost worth it.

A few lizards passed by, close enough for us to see them. None of them were like the ones from the creek. One was the size of a cow, with a long neck and even longer tail. It sniffed around the base of the tree, but was more interested in eating leaves than it was in us. Another one, a baby judging by its size, had a bill like a duck. One of the creatures shook the ground as it lumbered by. Trees snapped, crashing to the earth. We saw its legs and hind end, but not the rest of it. Some of the lizards had feathers. Most didn’t. Right before sundown, the forest got real dark as something flew overhead. I poked my head out and looked up. Through the branches, I caught a glimpse of a flying creature with a fifteen-foot wingspan. It reminded me more of a bat than a bird.

We stayed there all night. We didn’t talk much. When we did, it was in short, hushed whispers so we wouldn’t attract attention. Janelle and Deke slept. Jorge shut his eyes, but opened them every time there was a noise from the forest. Deke cried in his sleep, but I didn’t mention it to him. After all, I cried, too. Only difference was my eyes were open.

“What are they?” Janelle asked the next morning.

“Big damn lizards,” Deke told her.

“I know that. But where did they come from?”

“I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Y’all know about these big bones in the rocks that folks dig up out of the ground, right?”

“Sure,” Deke replied. “There’s rich people who collect them.”

Janelle nodded. “They’re called fossils-all that remains of the dinosaurs.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s the word. I reckon these lizards are living versions of those fossils. They’re dinosaurs.”

“The Reverend might have disagreed with you on that,” Deke said. “He seemed to think they were something out of the Bible. I don’t remember any dinosaurs in the good book.”

“Well, the Reverend’s dead. I don’t reckon he’ll be any more help.”

Janelle frowned. “You should be more respectful of the dead, Mr. Hogan.”

“I usually am. But our recent experiences with the dead have soured me a bit. It’s hard to be respectful of something when it’s trying to eat you.”

“But the Reverend wasn’t like those dead.”

“No, he wasn’t. I reckon he was one of the lucky ones.”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Deke said. “I thought dinosaurs were supposed to be extinct.”

“Somebody forgot to tell them that.”

Jorge glanced at each of us as we talked, clearly trying to follow the conversation. His expression was desperate. I smiled at him. He smiled back and then pointed outside.

“I’m with him,” Deke said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We need to find our way back to the desert,” I agreed.

“But the dead are still out there,” Janelle said.

“They’re here in the valley, too,” I reminded her. “But there aren’t any dinosaurs in the desert. Given a choice, I’d rather take my chances with just the dead, rather than worrying about them both.”

Deke rubbed the whiskers on his chin. “You remember how to get back to the canyon entrance?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I got all turned around when we ran. I was hoping one of you knew the way.”

Neither Deke nor Janelle remembered, and when we tried asking Jorge, he just stared at us in confusion and pointed outside again.

“Try your compass,” I told Deke. “Let’s get a bearing on where we are, and which direction we’ll need to go.”

He pulled it out, wiped condensation from the lens, and then stared at it.

“What’s wrong?” Janelle asked.

“Damned thing ain’t working,” Deke muttered. “It’s just spinning round and round, like it can’t find north.”

“Let me see.” I tried it for myself. Sure enough, the needle just kept spinning in a circle. I handed it back to him. “How much did you pay for that?”

“Five cents.”

“That was five cents too much.”

“It worked in the desert.”

“Well, it ain’t working now.”

Jorge pointed outside again.

“We can’t just go stumbling around through this valley,” Deke said. “We’ll get eaten.”

“That might be so,” I agreed, “but we can’t stay here, either.”

“Then what do you propose, Hogan?”

“I say we head for high ground. The valley is ringed by those hills. I say we get to the top of one of them, and then work our way back down to the desert. Should be easy without the horses.”

“That’s another problem,” Deke said. “With no mounts, how do we stay ahead of the dead once we make it out of here?”

I shrugged. “They’re slow. And judging by the shape those coyotes were in yesterday, I’d say the desert has been harder on them than it was on us. Long as we keep moving, we should be able to outpace them. With any luck, they’ll fall apart before too much longer.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Janelle asked.

I didn’t have an answer for her. None of us did.

Soon as it was light, we crept outside and held our breath. When nothing charged out of the undergrowth, we relaxed. I shimmied up a tree and got a fix on our location. The hills were there on the horizon, ringing the valley. Pale clouds floated above them, almost touching their tips. I saw a few dinosaurs-long-necked, soft-eyed things with square, blunt teeth, chewing on the treetops. They reminded me of cows. I shuddered, watching them warily. Big as they were, they could have reached me in no time. Luckily, they paid me no attention.

We set off on our trek through the valley. I took the lead, followed by Deke and Janelle. Jorge brought up the rear. We went slowly, communicating with each other through hand gestures. The forest was full of animal noises, but they weren’t sounds that I recognized. There were croaking, raspy grunts and long hisses and chirps that sounded almost, but not quite, like birdsongs.

The first sound we recognized was a tree snapping-a loud crack, like a schoolmarm’s paddle smacking someone’s behind. We couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. Then we heard it crash to the ground. The forest floor vibrated with the impact. Another tree snapped. We caught a glimpse of the thing-a tail as long as a stagecoach and hind legs taller than a barn. It was walking away from us. We hurried straight ahead, not wanting to attract its attention. We moved so fast that we didn’t see the dead dinosaur until it lurched out of the undergrowth.

Janelle’s shriek echoed through the valley. Deke and I dove to the side. Jorge stood there gaping as it towered over him, staring down at him with one good eye. I recognized the lizard right away. It was the same one we’d encountered the day before. The missing eye and the scars on its face were unmistakable. When we’d last seen it, the dinosaur was still alive. Apparently, the dead coyote it had eaten hadn’t agreed with it, because now it was dead-infected with Hamelin’s Revenge. It already stank. A swarm of flies hovered around it. Its movements were sluggish, but it was still quick enough to catch Jorge. He tried to run, but it swiped at his back, plunging its talons into his skin and lifting him off the ground. Jorge jerked and jittered like a drunk at a square dance. He opened his mouth to scream and vomited blood instead. The lizard’s claws burst through his chest. Then the dinosaur ripped him in half.

I grabbed Janelle’s hand and forced her to run with me. Deke was at my side, breathing heavily. His cheeks were flushed. I wanted to ask him if he was all right, but couldn’t spare the breath. We plunged through the greenery, heedless of where we were going or what was around us. One-Eye lumbered after us. We couldn’t see him, but his steady, thudding footfalls kept pace.

The ground started to slope upward. The trees tilted forward, then thinned out. Janelle stumbled and fell, but I scooped her up in my arms and continued on. Deke’s face turned beet red. He was drenched with sweat.

“Not much farther,” I panted. “Just keep climbing.”

They nodded. Janelle tapped my shoulder, indicating that she wanted down. She was wobbly when she first tried to stand, but soon regained her footing. We scrabbled upward. The vegetation thinned to scrub, and the soil turned rocky. Huge boulders thrust from the earth. I glanced back down into the forest and saw treetops swaying back and forth as One-Eye passed beneath them. Then he lurched into sight. Without pausing, he started up the hill.

“It’s no use,” Deke sobbed, mopping his brow with his shirttail. “That thing’s dead. It won’t tire. It’ll just keep coming until we tucker out, and then get us.”

“I ain’t gonna let that happen,” I said.

“Well, how do you reckon you can stop it?” Deke glanced back down at the dinosaur, creeping closer but still a long way off. “We ain’t got any weapons.”

“Sure we do.” I smiled, patting the boulder next to me.

“Hogan, you’ve lost your damned mind.” Deke stumbled to his feet. “What are you gonna do? Spit at it?”

“No. When it gets closer, I’m gonna drop this rock on its head. That was your idea yesterday, remember?”

“Will that work?” Janelle asked.

I shrugged. “Depends on whether I hit him or not.”

We waited for it to get closer. Janelle got nervous, but I calmed her down, assuring her that my plan would work. And it did. When the dinosaur was right below us, close enough that we could smell it again and hear the insects buzzing around its corpse, Deke and I rolled the boulder out over the ledge and dropped it right on the lizard’s head. There was a loud crack, like the sounds the snapping tree trunks had made. One-Eye sank to the ground. The boulder tumbled down the hillside. After a moment, the twice-dead dinosaur did the same.

Cheering, Janelle and Deke both hugged me. Then, before I even realized what was happening, Janelle kissed me. Her lips were blistered and cracked from the sun, but I didn’t mind. I pulled her to me and kissed her back. We didn’t stop until Deke cleared his throat.

“We ought to get going,” he said. “I reckon there will be more like him coming along shortly.”

“You’re probably right,” I agreed. “Let’s go. I’ll race you both to the top.”

We scrabbled to the summit, laughing and talking about our good fortune. It occurred to me that we should feel bad about Jorge and the others, and I did, of course. But at that moment, I was just happy to be alive, and even happier about that kiss. I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time.


That sensation crumbled when we reached the summit. We stood there, unable to speak. Janelle began to cry. Instead of desert, spread out before us was more forest-an endless sea of green treetops swaying as things passed beneath them.

“No,” Deke whispered. “This can’t be right. This ain’t on any of the maps.”

I put my arm around Janelle. “I don’t think we’re on the maps anymore, Deke.”

Deep in the valley below, something roared. I glanced over my shoulder. Another dinosaur emerged from the forest. Its head was as big as a full-grown buffalo and its teeth were the size of tent pegs. It was obviously dead. It might have escaped extinction, but it couldn’t escape Hamelin’s Revenge. Death is funny that way. In the end, it gets us all.

As we ran, I wondered if, one day, folks would dig our bones out of the ground like they had the dinosaurs, and if so, which kind of dead we’d be.

Pirates vs. Zombies by Amelia Beamer

Amelia Beamer works as an editor and reviewer for Locus Magazine. She has won several literary awards and has published fiction and poetry in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Interfictions 2, Red Cedar Review, and other venues. As an independent scholar, she has published papers in Foundation and The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Michigan State University, and attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in 2004. Her first novel-a zombie tale called The Loving Dead, which she describes as “a darkly humorous story of sex, relationships, and zombies”-was published this summer. Our next story is set in the same milieu.

Many people dream of owning a yacht. Who wouldn’t revel in the freedom to sail the seas while enjoying all the amenities? Problem is, yachts are kind of expensive-the world’s largest yacht, the 525-foot Project Platinum, owned by the Crown Prince of Dubai, is estimated to cost upwards of $300 million. In 2004, a former child actor named Skylar Deleon (who once starred on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) took a yacht out for a test drive, then tied the yacht’s owners to the anchor and threw them overboard. That’s one way to get a yacht-at least until you get arrested and sentenced to death.

If people are willing to do stuff like that to get their hands on a yacht now, just imagine what they’ll be doing when boats become the only way to put some distance between you and the zombie-infested mainland. This strategy may not always work out, of course-just take a look at the ending of Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, in which the survivors forsake the safety of a shopping mall for the freedom of the open seas, with unfortunate results.

As the title implies, our next story is a tale of piracy (and zombies) on the high seas, a warning about how, in a disaster, empathy is often the first casualty, and a reminder that though a plague of zombies may sweep away the world you knew, the person you are and the problems you face often stay depressingly the same.


The noise a zombie makes when it’s eating someone is a lot like the sound of drunk people having sloppy sex-grunting and moaning and wet smacking.

Kelly was in a rowboat below, eating people. You couldn’t help but hear it, over the sound of water against the ship.

We hadn’t known there was a rowboat down there. We hadn’t known he’d turn into a zombie. What were we supposed to do? When your friend turns into a zombie, you have to do something. We’d grabbed him by his hands and feet and swung him like you swing a little kid. And then we flung him into the water. Only he didn’t splash. He thudded. We looked down over the side of the ship and swore. The person he’d landed on was smashed so badly, we couldn’t tell if it had been a man or a woman. The other person in the rowboat had fainted.

“Sorry!” we’d called.

Both of the people in the rowboat woke up before they died. They screamed. We screamed. And then we vomited off the side of the ship, until our stomachs heaved dry and our noses ran and our eyes watered.

“Did you bring water?” we asked one another. “Where is the water? Who has Kleenex?”

“When was I supposed to get water?” we asked. “Before or after the customers started rioting? When we were running to the car, or running to the pier?”

We took stock of the ship. Ten paces from front to back. No cabin, no facilities, no supplies. No water. It was the only ship left. A replica of the Niña, Columbus’s ship. The sign had said so, when we’d stolen it.

Our phones didn’t have service. No one knew we were out here. We wiped our faces on our sleeves and spat. One of us had a box cutter. We supposed we could use it to open our wrists, if we had to. We sat down to wait for help. The sun was setting, and it was going to be a cold night.

It takes a while to eat a person. This would be the last thing that Kelly taught us. At Trader Joe’s, he’d trained us, and introduced us around, and let us know who was friendly and who wasn’t. He’d brought us to the bay, too, after people had started turning into zombies in the coffee aisle. Maybe zombies could swim, he’d said, but it would be a lot easier to defend your territory on a boat.

Now there were three zombies in the rowboat. They were quiet but for a soft moan now and again, like the sounds we all made when hung over. The whole bay was foggy with screaming. Boats of all sizes littered the water, motoring or drifting. There were screams from the Emeryville shore, and the Berkeley shore, and from Oakland further south and inland, and we thought we could hear them from the Bay Bridge, and Treasure Island, and across the water from San Francisco. The world was over, and it wasn’t even 2012 yet.

We were thirsty. We looked over the side, at the rowboat. It was starting to drift away. There were gallons of water in it. Safe, plastic gallons. Plus backpacks that surely had clothes and first aid gear and food. Bedrolls. Oars. Those people were far better prepared than we were, and see what it got them. We looked at one another, but the decision had already been made. Help wasn’t coming. If we were going to survive, we had to lower our standards.

We lowered a length of rope, cooing and beckoning to the zombies. Kelly grabbed onto it, and started climbing up. He’d lost his glasses, but maybe zombies weren’t nearsighted. We swung the rope away from the boat and let it go, dropping him into the water.

Turns out zombies can’t swim. So we did the same thing to the other zombies. They sank. That was the one thing the ship had: rope. We took turns climbing down a rope and taking the water and gear from the little boat, like the Grinch stealing Christmas. And it felt like Christmas, after; we had enough supplies to last a few days. Plus we didn’t drop each other.

We cleaned up, and then we did something secret. We gave ourselves pirate names. Juicy Liu, Highwater Mark, and Justin Case. It seemed fitting. We’d stolen a boat. We’d killed Kelly. (Twice.) That made us pirates.

We were no longer the kind of people we thought we were, so we had to give up something.

Juicy volunteered to take the first watch. She wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, she said. But then she kept me and Highwater up, singing, “A three-hour tour” over and over. She didn’t know any of the other words, so she kept singing those. When she got bored of that, she sang, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Voices from neighboring boats joined in. For the first few minutes, it made me believe that humanity could survive.

I dozed but came awake when she nudged me with her foot. The singing was over. Juicy snuggled into my bedroll. I paced the deck, understanding why someone would sing. It’s like making noise when hiking, to warn the rattlesnakes. If you were singing, you were too crazy to be bothered.

So I started singing. Christmas carols, because I couldn’t remember any other songs. Then James Taylor, the Beatles, Dylan. I found that I knew all of the lyrics to “In da Club” by 50 Cent, so I shouted those a few times. I thought I heard Kelly rapping with me. That was impossible, but I looked for him anyway. The water was calm and unbroken.

I woke Highwater as the sky started turning a friendly blue. I hadn’t seen dawn in ten years or more, not since early morning marching band practice in high school. I watched the sky warm while I lay in Highwater’s bedroll, and I remembered how everyone, even cute girls, looked lumpy in band uniforms. Girls with their hair up in the uniform hats, like librarians. Librarians with chin straps. Marching in formation with books in their mouths instead of clarinets.

“No way Columbus sailed the ocean blue on this thing,” Juicy said. “I don’t even know anyone who can sail a square sail. It’s got to have an outboard motor.”

I squinted against the light. Juicy was beautiful. It’s funny, I had no recollection of her previous name, and no desire to remember. Whatever it was had never suited her.

“But where are we going to go?” Highwater was sunburned and he smelled like the kitchen of a Long John Silver’s at the end of the night.

I could still see the empty dock, far off the port bow. Unless it was the starboard bow. I wondered which way it worked. If it was like stage directions.

“Avast!” a voice called. Down below, in the water, there was a little man in a little motorboat. He pointed a little handgun at us.

We put our hands up, trained by cop dramas.

“Put your hands down. D’ya think I’d have bothered you if I thought you had weapons?” he said. He had a smile like a fighting dog. “Just toss your supplies over, water and food, blankets, first aid, whatever you got. Sunscreen, especially.” He wore sunglasses, the bastard, but his bald head was a deep, painful pink. “I mean it,” he said. “I don’t want to waste my ammo.”

“Okay, okay, give us a minute,” Highwater said. Always the fast thinker. “What do we do?” he whispered.

I found that I was very thirsty. “We’re pirates,” I said.

“So…what?” Juicy whispered. “We parlay?”

I squirmed out of the bedroll, came to the edge of the boat. “Let’s join forces, man,” I called. “We’re resourceful folks, the kind you want on your side. We stole all of this stuff ourselves, and dispatched three of… You know. Those things!” Nobody had said the Z word yet, and I didn’t want to be the first.

The little man shot his little gun. The three of us on the Niña hit the deck-was that where the phrase came from?-and waited. My ears rang.

“I mean it,” the little man shouted.

“Okay, you win,” I called.

So we lost our supplies, and the little man motored off.

“This can’t be a full-size ship,” Juicy said. It’s maybe ten-twelve paces from bow to stern.”

“Maybe it’s a scale model,” I guessed.

We were going to die of thirst. Unless one of us turned into a zombie out of nowhere, the way Kelly had, and then we’d die of being zombies. Maybe dying of thirst wasn’t the worst way to go. The worst way to go, I thought, was being lashed head-to-head with a decomposing skeleton, and left to starve. Some king did that to his enemies, back in the day when people could do things like that and not get put on trial for being a terrorist. Although probably you’d still just die of thirst.

We searched the place, now that we had daylight. We didn’t find any water, but we found a whip, lashed to the wall below deck. (Whether it was a full-sized whip, or just to scale, I don’t know.) It was big. I went to show off and hit myself in the ear. It didn’t even snap.

Back when phones and the Internet still worked, people on Twitter had said that you could use whips to control the zombies. That, and how zombieism was an STD, incubating before it turned its victims. Those people had to be zombies by now, due to their total lack of bullshit detectors. But we were thirsty enough to try anything. Juicy took the whip from me. She switched it without hitting herself. It popped like when Indiana Jones does it. She called for Kelly.

A few minutes later, Kelly bobbed up out of the water. So maybe zombies could swim. Maybe they were just lazy. They needed external motivation. Juicy talked to him, using the whip for punctuation. She said his name. He still responded to it, which didn’t bother any of us, though maybe it should have. He knew our names at one point. Someone did.

Kelly climbed up the rope we dangled down for him. He stood, dripping onto the deck, eyeing us as if we were a hundred dewy virgins. He looked that way at all of us, which probably upset Juicy. He didn’t seem to remember that they’d been together. But it was nice to have him back. I told him so, but he didn’t say much.

“We need you to attack them,” Juicy said, pointing. She’d picked out a nice little motorboat, the kind that has a cabin with refrigerators and beds and a big-ass water tank. Kelly made a noise like the Incredible Hulk, and wiggled his hips like Elvis. I think he still loved Juicy.

She told him to go wait in the water, and act like he was drowning. With luck, he wouldn’t look dead that way. He smiled at Juicy, and he went.

It was like bioterrorism, what we were doing. It was like giving smallpox-infected blankets to the Native Americans. It was like taking someone else’s towel off the hook on the locker room wall when they’re in the shower because yours got wet-it was just plain mean.

We waved to the motorboat. We pointed to Kelly. We pointed at the rigging. Or the spar. Or the mizzenmast. Whatever the sail was attached to. There was no wind.

The elderly couple understood, and they motored over to where Kelly bobbed and waved. They seemed like such nice people, helping out a stranger like that. We reminded ourselves that it was us or them.

The couple threw out a rope. They pulled Kelly out of the black water, and by the time they dropped the rope and backed away, he was wiggling onto their deck. And then it was like an L. L. Bean catalog gone terribly wrong: flannel tearing and sensible shoes flying.

While Kelly ate, we argued about whether we should have done something differently.

We called our new home the SuperBall. It’d had a different name before, but the paint got messed up when Juicy pulled the boat up next to the Niña. She’s never been good at parallel parking. But you should have seen her, boldly swimming over to get the boat, with the whip in her teeth, her clothes all wet and clingy. It was all Highwater and me could do not to jump on her, once we got aboard the boat. I saw the way he looked at her, and he saw the way I looked at her. We were both ashamed of ourselves, going after Kelly’s girl. Although it wasn’t like he was taking care of her anymore. And he’d always been flirting with other girls. Rumor had it he’d been screwing around.

We let the old couple stay. They obeyed the whip, like Kelly, and it was their boat, after all. We started calling them Homer and Marge, which are terribly old-fashioned names when you think about it. Their hair was thin and fine and pale, and both of them were balding. They wandered around on the deck, moaning. They were always together. Groping each other, even. Kelly followed them around, but they ignored him.

Us pirates stayed inside the cabin. That way, all of the other boats that went past would think that we were already a ghost ship. We would be safe.

Back on shore, it would be like every zombie movie you’ve ever seen. Here it was peaceful. We played with the Ouija board we found, but we couldn’t contact any ghosts. You’d think with this many dead people around we could find a ghost willing to talk. We checked the radio, but no one would talk to us on that either. Or maybe the batteries were dead. I taught Juicy some hymnals that I remembered from O Brother, Where Art Thou? Also the chorus of a screamer by this band Lordi called “The Night of the Loving Dead.” I couldn’t remember any of the words except for the title, but I sang it and she smiled.

Even then I knew. She’d already chosen Highwater. They hadn’t even kissed yet, not in front of me, but I knew. It shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did.

Juicy asked me to go outside. The look she gave me when she closed the door told me she knew how I felt. Her eyes were wet with desire. Or maybe grief. Or need. She couldn’t stop herself; she was trying to tell me.

I paced, waiting for her to open the door. I wanted to call out her name-her real name-but the only one I could remember was Kelly’s. I opened my mouth to say it, just in case. Then I heard grunting and moaning and wet smacking.

The Crocodiles by Steven Popkes

Steven Popkes is the author of two novels: Caliban Landing and Slow Lightning. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Twilight Zone Magazine, Science Fiction Age, Realms of Fantasy, SCI FICTION, and in the annuals the Year’s Best Science Fiction, The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction, and Year’s Best Fantasy. His story “The Color Winter” was a finalist for the Nebula Award. He is currently working on a novel about flying witches.

When it comes to horror, Nazis and zombies are like peanut butter and chocolate-very evil peanut butter and chocolate, that is. Dr. Mengele’s gruesome experiments on living subjects, German technological prowess-as demonstrated by the V2 rockets-and Hitler’s obsession with supermen and the occult make it all too easy to imagine fiendish Nazi experiments reanimating dead soldiers. A well-known example is the video game Wolfenstein, in which you play a lone American agent who must penetrate secret Nazi labs crawling will all manner of grotesque monstrosities. The recent horror movie Dead Snow-which features a memorable scene in which one of the heroes chainsaws off his own arm after it is bitten by a zombie-is about a group of tourists who inadvertently awaken a colony of frozen Nazi zombies left over from World War II. It must be said that these examples, and several others we could name, are pretty campy, with Nazis used as a convenient shorthand for faceless evil.

Our next tale is a completely different sort of story. This is a tale told from the point of view of a World War II-era German scientist, a man who loves his wife and child, which makes his inhuman detachment about his work all the more chilling. This is Nazi zombies as high art, a tale so full of plausible-sounding scientific and historical detail that you’ll start to wonder if maybe these sorts of experiments were real after all.


I could not make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. But I went over the data again to see if I could find a tiny tatter of bright thread in the otherwise disappointing results. There had to be a better use of a well-educated chemical engineer than cannon fodder. Willem, my wife’s uncle, called me.

“Max,” he said, a happy disembodied voice over the phone. “Very sorry about your work and all that. How was it going?”

It didn’t surprise me he already knew. “We didn’t get the results we’d hoped for,” I said. “But there are other areas in the war effort where fuel filtration research would be entirely applicable. Aircraft engines, for instance-”

“No doubt,” he said, chuckling. “However, by an astonishing coincidence I was planning to call you anyway. I have a good use for your skills.”

“Oh, really?” I said with a sinking feeling. I had no desire to work for the Gestapo. Uncomfortable work at the very least.

“Yes. There’s a Doctor Otto Weber doing some very interesting biological work in Buchenwald. He can use your help.”

“What sort of work?”

“I’m sure I’d be the wrong person to discuss it with you, not being a scientist or an engineer. I’ll work out the details of the transfer and send round the papers and tickets.”

“I really ought to find out how I can be of service-”

“There’s always the regular army. I’m sure a man of your caliber-”

“I’ll be looking for your messenger.”

“Fine. Oh, and Max?”


“Weekly reports. On everything and everybody. All right?”

“Of course,” I said.

You don’t argue with the Gestapo. Even my Elsa’s uncle.

Otto Weber was a thin, elderly gentleman. Once he had been quite tall. He was now stooped with age. His eyes were washed out and watery, like blue glass underwater. But his hands were steady as he first lit my cigarette, then his own.

Weber called them tote Männer. Once he showed me their decomposing condition and single-minded hunger, I thought the term apt.

Weber was brought the first host in 1938 and had to keep the disease alive with new hosts from the Gestapo-which they were always willing to supply, though in small lots so he never had more than a few laboratory subjects at a time. He was never told where that first host came from but he surmised South America. Later, in 1940 when the laboratory was at Buchenwald, the Gestapo supplied him with a slow but steady trickle of Gypsies.

What he had discovered when I joined the project in 1941 was that infection was only successful by fluid transport from the infected host, infection was in two phases, and there were at least two components to the disease.

In one experiment, Weber took fluid from a toter Mann and filtered three samples, one through a 100 micron filter, one through a 50 micron filter, and one through a Chamberland filter. The 100 micron wash caused full infection. The 50 micron also caused a partial infection involving quick and sudden pain, followed by an inevitably fatal stroke. He called this partial infection type I-A. The Chamberland wash caused a particularly quick and virulent form of rabies-Weber referred to that as type I-B. Hence, Weber’s hypothesis of two components for a full infection, one large and the other the rabies virus. He had isolated a worm as the possible large component in that, when collected and washed of any contaminants, it seemed to cause an I-A infection similar to the infection caused by the 50 micron wash. When the Chamberland wash was recombined with the worm, full infection ensued.

Weber had even characterized the partial infections and the stages of the full infection. I found it interesting that the partial infections were both dismal, painful affairs, while the full infection showed up first as euphoria, followed by sleepiness and coma. The subject awoke in a few days as a toter Mann.

Even so, I was surprised that there hadn’t been more discovered in four years. After all, Weber had the tote Männer themselves and their inherent ability to infect others. The Gestapo was willing to provide a constant, if limited, supply of hosts. But Weber’s horror of contagion was so strong that every step had to be examined minutely until he had determined to his satisfaction that he could properly protect himself and his staff. Dissection was a long and tedious process; vivisection was almost impossible. I suppose I could not blame him. Even a partial infection would be fatal and full infection always resulted in another toter Mann. No one wanted to risk that.

Thus, my first task was the design and construction of a dissection and histology laboratory where Weber could disassemble the subjects in safety. It was not a difficult task. I came to Buchenwald in July. By the end of the month I had the design and began construction. Weber dissected his first wriggling subject by the first of September.

My fuel work had been much more interesting. It was exacting, exciting work with great applications. Here, I was barely more than a foreman. The war in Russia seemed to be going well and I wondered if I should have protested more to Willem.

But Elsa and our son Helmut loved Weimar. The city was pretty in a storybook way. It didn’t hurt that the bombers left Weimar largely undisturbed, instead striking in Germany proper. It lent the city a relative calm. Several young couples had taken over the empty housing. This was early in the war and food and petrol, though rationed, were still plentiful.

I didn’t work weekends and the three of us spent many summer days in the Park on the Ilm. It occurred to me, during those pleasant hours watching Helmut playing in front of Goethe’s House, that this was, perhaps, a better use of my time than the factory or the lab.

Within a week of opening the new facilities, Weber made some astonishing discoveries. Histological examination of the brain tissue of the tote Männer showed how the worms nested deep in the higher functioning brain-clearly explaining why there were only tote Männer and not tote rats and tote cats. He speculated that there could be tote gorillas and tote chimpanzees and went so far as to request animals from the Berlin Zoo. The Zoo was not cooperative. Weber reconsidered his New World origin of the disease and attributed it to Africa or Indonesia where the great apes lived. It stood to reason that a complex disease found suddenly in humans would require a similar host in which to evolve prior to human infection.

However, the worms were only one half of the disease. The virus followed the nervous system through the body, enabling worm entry into the brain but also enabling the growth of strong cords throughout the body. This was further proof of the two-component infection model Weber had developed. In the case of partial infections of the worm or the virus, the process only went so far. Forced by the absence of the virus to remain within the body’s major cavities, the worm caused fevers and paralysis, blocking blood vessels mechanically, causing a heart attack or stroke. The virus enabled the worm to penetrate directly into the brain, leaving the heart and circulatory system intact-at least for a while. Without the worm, the virus merely crippled the nervous system, causing fevers, seizures, and great pain. The cords only appeared when both were present. Weber was convinced by the pathology of the disease that the tote Männer virus was a variant of rabies, but the biological history of the virus, the worm, and the virus-worm combination was mysteriously speculative.

I dutifully reported this to Willem, along with descriptions of Weber, his assistant, Brung, and his mistress, Josephine, whom we had met at dinner in Weimar earlier in the summer. Unsure whether Willem’s desire for detail extended to the subjects, I included the names of the last couple of Gypsy hosts left from the Buchenwald experiments and the newer Jews we had appropriated from the main population of the camp. Weber was curiously reluctant to use the handicapped and mentally deficient and he hated using Poles. Perhaps this stemmed from some event in his past of which I was unaware.

Willem paid his niece a Christmas visit, visiting our laboratory only coincidentally. He was impressed with our progress. “With the tote Männer we will crush Russia,” he said over drinks that evening.

Weber paled. “There will be problems using the tote Männer in winter,” he said obliquely.

“Eh?” Willem looked at me. “Speak plainly.”

“The tote Männer cannot thermoregulate. This doesn’t show up in laboratory conditions but below ten degrees Celsius the worms do not function properly. By freezing they die and the host dies with them.”

Willem considered that. “We can clothe them.”

Weber grew excited. “They do not generate enough heat. Humans maintain temperature. Cats maintain temperature. Crocodiles do not. They do not eat-the hunger for brains is no more than the desire of the disease to perpetuate the infection-the way horsehair worms cause crickets to drown themselves. They do not consume what they put in their mouths. Metabolism keeps the body temperature above ambient somewhat like large lizards. Clothing lizards would have no more effect than clothing tote Männer.”

“I see,” Willem said. He patted down his vest until he located his cigarettes and lighter. “I’m going out on the porch for a smoke. Max, will you join me?”

Weber looked as if he’d swallowed a lemon. He rose as if to join us but Willem waved him back. “Don’t bother. This gives Max and me a chance to exchange a little gossip.”

Outside, we lit our cigarettes and watched the snow fall.

“It’s true what Weber said? We can’t use them as soldiers?”

I thought for a moment before answering. “Comparing them to crocodiles is apt. You can’t make a soldier out of an animal. And it’s too cold for them in the east.”

“Then what good are they? Is this all for nothing?”

“I did not say they could not be a weapon.”

“Tell me.”

“The crocodile simile is better than you know. They are very fast and very strong. There is so little to their metabolism that they are hard to kill. And they are terrifying-you’ve seen them. You know. We must be able to make some use of them.” I shook my head. “I don’t know enough yet. I need to perform some experiments. Weber has discovered the basic science. Now it is time to apply some German engineering.”

Willem nodded. “I’ll do what I can.” He grimaced. “Two weeks ago the Japanese attacked the Americans. The Americans declared war on Japan. We declared war on each other. They allied themselves with the British, which brings them into the war in Europe.”

“The Americans are too far away. They don’t have the strength of mind to make much difference.”

“So we thought in the last war. The point is I may not have much time to give.”

The goal was to deploy tote Männer to a suitable front and have them wreak havoc on the enemy while leaving our own troops alone. The tote Männer would terrify and demoralize the enemy. Our troops would march in behind them, clearing the area of enemy soldiers and tote Männer alike. Simple.

Only, we did not have a means by which we could create a large number of tote Männer simultaneously or a means by which we could be sure they would discriminate between our soldiers and the enemy.

Weber attacked the discrimination problem while I considered issues of scale.

Buchenwald was too small and low volume to be useful to us. Auschwitz was more appropriate to our needs. However, Auschwitz was already overwhelmed with the volume of its operation.

In October, the Birkenau expansion of Auschwitz had begun. It was scheduled to be complete in the spring. Willem had shown me copies of the plans. It was clear that only minor modifications to the Birkenau plans would accommodate our needs much more easily than building an addition to Buchenwald or moving to Auschwitz proper.

In January of 1942 I kissed Elsa and Helmut goodbye and boarded the train to Krakow. From there, I took a car west. It was beautiful country, full of gently rising mountains over flat valleys. Curiously unspoiled either by industry or by the war.

Auschwitz was a complex, not a single camp like Buchenwald. There were several smaller camps near the headquarters. Birkenau was further west. Here, construction was going on apace in spite of the winter weather.

The foundations for gas chambers and crematoria had already been laid. But that didn’t matter as far as I was concerned. The addition of some larger chambers and holding areas was an insignificant change to a well-managed engineering project. I went over the modifications in detail with the chief engineer, a man named Tilly. Willem had sent me with a certificate of authority. That gave me the full support of Tilly and the chief of the camps, Rudolf Hoess, even though they did not know the reason for the modifications. I finished working out the details in two weeks.

I spent a few days in Krakow. I planned to move Elsa and Helmut into an apartment in Krakow and then travel to work by automobile. It was not far and the roads were good. If that proved impractical in a hard winter-something difficult for me to predict as the weather was now mild-I could just stay in the camp for a few days or come home on weekends.

When I returned, I found I had been gone just long enough for both Elsa and Helmut to miss me terribly. It made for a sweet homecoming.

Weber was reluctant to plan the move but saw my logic. He was preoccupied with the discrimination problem. Since the tote Männer were attracted to normal humans as hosts, he had reasoned that it was easier to attract them to a particular prey rather than repel them from a particular prey. He had performed several experiments with different hosts to see if there was any preference for differing types, such as racial subtype, diet, or other variables he could control.

I looked over the data and noticed that there was a marked difference in attack percentages not according to his typing but to the time the subjects arrived at the camp. Those subjects that were at the camp the longest were the most attractive to the tote Männer. I showed my figures to Weber. He instantly grasped the significance in ways I could not. The older inmates at Buchenwald were considerably thinner than the newer inmates since the rations were short. Fat utilization caused excretory products to be exuded by the skin and from the lungs. Weber reasoned these were what attracted the tote Männer.

Immediately, he called Willem for a mass spectrometer and a technician to run it.

We were all very tired but elated at this new direction. We decided to take a few days off. Elsa, Helmut, and I went for a trip into the mountains.

Birkenau opened in March of 1942. Weber and I stopped work on the subjects, except to keep an incubating strain alive, and took the month to pack up the laboratory for the move. In May, we moved the equipment, materials, and tote Männer to Birkenau. Once the planning for the move was complete, Weber supervised the staff and aides Willem had supplied. Elsa and Helmut traveled down to Krakow by train and took up residence in the apartment I had leased for them. As for myself, I left Buchenwald and returned to Berlin for meetings with representatives of Daimler-Benz and I. G. Farben. The delivery mechanism for the tote Männer still had to be devised.

The mood in Berlin that spring was jubilant. The army was driving towards Rostov and trying for Stalingrad. Sevastopol was about to fall to Germany. The use of the tote Männer could only be necessary as a last resort. A doomsday scenario. The Reich would never need it.

Personally, I felt the same. Still, I had no wish to help in cancelling the project unless I could find better work. So I met with the Daimler-Benz mechanical engineers and utilized the I. G. Farben labs. I had brought with me a pair of tote Männer for testing purposes.

Not being a mechanical engineer, the problem of deployment was more difficult than I had initially imagined. Tote Männer were a curious mixture of toughness and fragility. You could shoot a toter Mann until he was merely chopped meat and he might continue to advance. Blowing apart his brain would kill the worms and stop him. But the tote Männer were so resilient and resistant to anoxia that they could still advance with their hearts shattered and their sluggish black blood pooled beneath their feet.

However, their flesh was soft enough and loosely enough attached to their bones that heavy acceleration, such as dropping them with parachutes, would cause them to come apart. Clearly, they had to be preserved long enough to reach their target.

The Daimler-Benz engineers were the best. On a chalk board, they drew up several ways of conveying them to enemy lines. The simplest idea was a cushioned cage dropped with a parachute. An impact charge would blow the doors off the cage and the tote Männer would be free. The engineers didn’t like the idea. They said it lacked elegance and style.

I pointed out the tote Männer could tolerate significant time without ambient oxygen, operating as they did largely on a lactic acid metabolism. They tossed the cage idea with abandon and attacked the problem again, coming up with a sphere containing carefully restrained tote Männer. A compressed-air charge would open the doors and break loose the restraints. This had the advantage of being quiet.

I only donated a little knowledge here and there as needed, letting their minds fly unfettered. It is a grand thing to watch engineers create works of imagination with only the germ of a requirement, a bit of chalk, and some board to write on. When they found I had brought a couple of tote Männer for experiments, they were overjoyed. I tried to explain the danger but they did not listen until one of their own number, Hans Braun, was bitten. He and his friends laughed but stilled when I came over. Wearing surgical gloves and a mask I carefully examined the wound but I already knew what I would find.

“You are an idiot,” I said as I sat back.

“It is a small bite-”

“It is a fatal wound.” I gave him a pack of cigarettes. “You have been killed by that thing out there.”


“Shut up.” I couldn’t look at him: tall, healthy, brown hair and a face in the habit of smiling. “You have been infected. By tomorrow, you will feel wonderful. You will want to kiss and fondle your friends out of love for them. Then, after a few days, you will-still enormously happy-feel an overpowering urge to sleep. Sleep will turn to coma. Then, after three days, you will be one of those things out there.”

His hands trembled. “I didn’t realize-”


Hans steadied himself. “There is no hope?”


He nodded and for a moment he stood straighter. Stronger. I was proud of him.

“Do you have a gun?”

“I do. Is there a furnace where we can dispose of the body?”

He nodded, shakily. “Will you accompany me?”

“I would be honored.” And I was.

After the funeral, realizing the power and speed of the tote Männer and the infection they harbored, the Daimler-Benz engineers were more careful.

In a couple of weeks, my part was done and I took the train to Krakow to have a long weekend reunion with my Elsa and Helmut. The following Monday, I drove to Birkenau to address the problem of tote Männer production.

Elsa had mixed feelings about the rental. While she liked the apartment itself and the proximity of Park Jordana, she found the leftover debris and detritus disturbing. These were obviously Jewish artifacts and Elsa’s excitement might have come from a mixture of womanly wariness of another female’s territory combined with an aversion to having anything Jewish in the house. I assured her that the original owners would not be returning and she relaxed somewhat.

Helmut had no reservations about his new environment. Finding small objects of indeterminate origin covered with unfamiliar characters fastened in unexpected places gave mystery to the place. No doubt he observed I was more inclined to answer questions about this or that artifact than I was about the American bombers or air raid drills or what Father did at work. I protected my family as best I could from such things.

For the next several months we were collecting the breath and sweat of subjects into vials, injecting the vial contents into the mass spectrometer, and determining what was there. Then we concentrated the effluvia and tried it on the tote Männer themselves. Immediately, we found that the tote Männer were not attracted to merely any object smeared with the test substances, only when those attractants were applied to a possible host. Weber thought this quite exciting. It suggested that the tote Männer had a means of detecting a host other than smell.

In October of 1942, we hit on a combination of aldehydes and ketones the tote Männer found especially attractive. I synthesized it in the growing chemistry laboratory we had been using and applied it to a collection of test subjects. Control subjects who had no application of the test attractant were also present in the experiment and were ignored until the test subjects had been thoroughly mauled. At that point, the controls were attacked. We made careful note of this as it would strongly influence how troops would recover an infected area after the enemy succumbed.

We had proved our attractant in the laboratory by the end of October of 1942. But the war appeared to us to be going so well, our little military experiment would never be needed. We would win the Battle of Stalingrad in a month and concentrate on the western front.

That changed in November.

The Battle of Stalingrad evolved into what I had feared: a siege over a Russian winter. The Red Army began their counter-offensive along with the winter. Like Napoleon, the German army was stuck.

The Germans lost ground in other places. Willem suggested if I could hurry up the program, I should.

We were in part saved by problems encountered by the Daimler-Benz engineering team. Developing a deployment methodology had been proved harder than the engineers had foreseen. They had broken the problem into three parts. The first, and most easily solved, was how to restrain and cushion the tote Männer until they could be released. The remaining two issues revolved around deploying on an advance and deploying on a retreat. In both cases, they resolved into two kinds of scenarios: how to deploy the first time and how to deploy after the first time. If secrecy was kept (and Willem assured us the enemy did not know what we were working on), then the first deployment would be relatively easy. Deploying on a retreat could be as simple as leaving sealed containers transported by trucks to the target zone to be opened pyrotechnically by remote control. Similar containers, with additional cushioning, could be released by parachute.

But once the secret was out and the Allies were looking for tote Männer delivery devices, we would need a means to overcome their resistance. This had stalled the Daimler-Benz engineers. I saw presentations of stealth night drops, blitzkrieg raids with tanks carrying large transport carts-one enterprising young man demonstrated a quarter-scale model trebuchet that could catapult a scale model container holding six tote Männer as much as three kilometers behind enemy lines. Not to be outdone, his work partner showed how bracing a toter Mann could enable it to be fired from a cannon like a circus performer.

These issues so dwarfed our own minor problems that we were given, for the moment, no close scrutiny and I had the opportunity to address shortcomings in our own production.

In February 1943, Russia won the Battle of Stalingrad. Willem warned us that we would have to expect to send tote Männer against Russian troops before long. I argued against it. It would be foolish to waste surprise in an attack that could not work. At least, it would not work until summer.

I went home and spent a week with Elsa and Helmut. Each morning I sat down and drew up production schedules, scrapped them, smoked cigarettes, and tried again. In the afternoon, I played with my son. It was cold in Krakow and with the war not going very well, heating fuel was hard to come by. I was able to requisition what we needed due to my position but even I couldn’t get coal for the theater or the restaurants. Often, we spent intimate evenings together with just ourselves for company. I didn’t mind. Elsa and Helmut were company enough.

All that spring Willem told us of defeat after defeat-I don’t think we were supposed to know what he told us. I think we served as people in whom he could confide as his world crumbled. Germany retreated in Africa. The Warsaw Uprising. The Russian advance.

I buried myself in my work. I resolved that if there were to be a failure in the program, it would not be where I had control. Production was, in my opinion, our weak point. Weber’s approach to creating tote Männer was haphazard and labor intensive. I wanted something more robust and reliable. Something more industrial.

I came to the conclusion that our production schedule had to revolve around the progression of the disease. For three days there was a strong euphoria. Often, the new hosts tried to kiss anyone who came near them, presaging the biting activity of the fully infected toter Mann. Sometime on the third day, the host fell into a sleep that progressed rapidly into coma. Breathing decreased to almost nothing. The heartbeat reduced to a slow fraction of the uninfected. Body temperature dropped to nearly ambient though the infected were able to keep some warmth above room temperature.

The coma period lasted as long as five days, though we saw it end as soon as three. Arousal was sudden, so often precipitated by a nearby possible victim that I came to the conclusion that after three days, the toter Mann was ready to strike and merely waiting for the opportunity.

After that, a toter Mann was mobile for as much as ten weeks, though during the last weeks of infection the toter Mann showed significant deterioration.

Therefore, we required an incubation period of six days, minimum. Effectiveness could not be counted upon after eight weeks. This gave us a target window. If we wanted, for example, to deploy on June first we had to have infected our tote Männer no later than May twenty-fifth. This was the time domain of our military supply chain.

The first order of business was to synchronize the incubation period. I performed a series of experiments that showed that, as I suspected, once the coma period had been entered the toter Mann was ready to be used. However, there was unacceptable variation in the time between exposure and coma. We couldn’t reliably produce tote Männer in six days.

The new Chief Medical Officer, Mengele, delivered the necessary insight. Zyklon B was the answer. Though the standard Zyklon B dose would kill the subject quickly, a reduced dose weakened the subject sufficiently to allow infection almost instantly. Commander Hoess was able to supply me with enough experimental data that I could proceed with my own tests. We introduced the gas, waited for ten minutes, then sprayed the subjects with an infecting agent. The remaining three days were sufficient for subjects to recover from the gas just in time to provide healthy hosts for the organisms. This method had the added bonus that the same production chambers could serve two purposes.

By November, when the march up Italy by the Allies had begun and Germany seemed to be losing on all fronts, we could incubate as many as a thousand at a time, six days after exposure. The trains supplying the rest of the camp came in full and left empty so by using the empty trains for transport, we could send tote Männer anywhere in Germany or Poland. Delivery to the deployment launch point would have to be by truck. We were ready. Now, it was up to the Daimler-Benz engineers to deliver our tote Männer the last kilometer to the enemy.

Christmas 1943 was uneventful. Weber and I worked on various refinements to an already prepared system without damaging it too badly. My teachers back in Berlin had taught me the idea of schlimmbesserung: an improvement that makes things worse. At that point, the natural tendency of idle minds and hands to improve a working system into uselessness was our only real enemy.

Given that, we resolutely turned our attention away from the weapons system we had devised to a different problem we had discussed a year before: Why deliver tote Männer at all? The worm and virus were perfectly able to create tote Männer for us. Why did we have to supply the raw material?

Delivering a disease substance was perilously close to delivering a poison gas-something forbidden us from the previous war. However, we had already made some excursions into the territory with the production and delivery of tote Männer attractant-a colloid I had developed that would evaporate into the proper aldehyde and ketone mix the tote Männer found so irresistible. We had also attempted to deliver an infecting gas along with the Zyklon B but the attempt had failed. The worm succumbed to the Zyklon B before the subjects.

Creating an inhalant that carried both the worm and virus proved to be an interesting problem. The virus was stable when dry and the worm could be induced to encyst itself. However, it took time for the worm to de-cyst and by the time it did, the subject was fully infected with an undirected virus. Rabid humans made a poor host.

We went back to the colloid I devised for the attractant. Colloids are neither liquid nor solid but partake of the traits of both. Gelatin is a colloid. By adding nutrients to the colloid so that the worm could stay alive and not encyst, the virus could be delivered along with the worm when both were at their most infective stage. It was interesting work for a couple of months. Weber was quite elated with it. He called it the Todesluft.

In May of 1944, Willem paid us another visit. This time, he took both Weber and myself aside and spoke to us privately.

“It is clear the Allies are preparing a counter-invasion. The likely location is somewhere across from England on the coast of France.” He held the cigarette to his lips thoughtfully.

“We’re ready,” I said boldly. “We’ve been ready for months. What do the Daimler-Benz engineers say?”

Willem breathed out smoke. “They have made several methods available to us. Since this is to be the first deployment, we have chosen the retreat scenario. We will place the tote Männer in a bunker in the path of the Allies and detonate it when they come.”

“Are we expecting to be overrun?”

Willem shook his head. “Of course not. The tote Männer are a backup plan only. We will deploy them behind our own lines and only release them if we are forced past them. If the front line holds, we will not release them at all.”

I nodded. “How many?”

“We estimate six thousand.”

I thought quickly. “It takes six days for each group. Six thousand will take us thirty-six days.”

Willem smiled at me. “Did you know of the expansions of Birkenau commissioned early last year?”

“Of course,” said Weber. “They were a dreadful nuisance.”

“They are about to pay for themselves,” retorted Willem. “I developed Max’s original plans for Birkenau beyond his conception. The new facilities can serve as incubator.”

“How many?”

“At least forty thousand at once. Six thousand should not be a problem.” He pulled from his briefcase a set of plans.

I looked them over. I was impressed with the innovations I saw. “This is better than I had hoped.”

“I’m glad you are pleased. When can the first squad be ready?”

I looked over the plans again and did some figuring on a piece of paper. “May 12, if Daimler-Benz can provide the bunkers and the transportation.”

“I’ve been assured this will not be a problem.”

“Then we will be ready to deploy.”

Willem pulled a map from his briefcase. “Our sources say we will be struck here.” He pointed to the map. “Pas-de-Calais. That is where our defenses are located and just three kilometers behind them, our tote Männer. The Allies will not know what hit them.”

This was by far the largest group of tote Männer we had ever attempted to create. Weber took a fatherly approach to them. When the hosts entered the euphoric stage and called to him with affection, he responded, calling them his “children” and other endearments. I found this unnerving. When the tote Männer were finally ready and installed into their transportation containers I was glad to see them go. Weber watched them leave with a tear in his eye. I went home to my wife and son.

But, of course, the Allies did not strike at Pas-de-Calais but at Normandy, over three hundred kilometers to the southwest. The tote Männer were in their bunkers. The Daimler-Benz engineers had packed them like munitions. There was no way to extract them without releasing them.

It was terrible timing. All of the available tote Männer were in Calais and the next squad would not be ready for deployment until June 9: three days!

Willem conferred with his staff and said that if we could drop enough bunkers in the Cerisy Forest and fill them with tote Männer, we would let the Allies overrun the forest and open the bunker.

At this point the new squad was just entering the coma stage. We’d found the tote Männer were vulnerable to jostling during this period and had always transported them towards the end of the coma. But desperate times require desperate measures. Willem and I led the crew that took the newly comatose tote Männer, eight thousand strong, and trucked them to the forest. Meanwhile, three large prefabricated bunkers were erected on the sites. I barely had time to phone Elsa to say I would not be home that night. Weber, affectionate to the tote Männer as before, elected to stay and incubate the next squad. I was just as glad not to have him along.

The bunkers were not particularly explosive-proof but would stop bullets. They looked more like officers’ quarters than anything else. We locked them and moved away to nearby Trevieres. This was June 8th. By the afternoon of June 9th, the tote Männer would be alert. When fired, the bunker would first explode a smoke bomb containing the colloid and attractant we had devised to mask the area. A few minutes later, small explosives would release the tote Männer and break the outside walls. The tote Männer would have to do the rest. We hoped the smell of nearby prey would waken them to fury as we had observed in the lab.

The time passed slowly, punctuated with small arms fire and a few large weapons. The wind moved back and forth, sometimes bringing us the firecracker smell of the battlefield and then replacing it with the pine smell of the forests.

The afternoon came. An odd aircraft I’d never seen before, called a Storch, was made available to us. The pilot, Willem, and I boarded the airplane along with the radio equipment. The heavily laden craft took off in an impressively short distance and in a few moments we were high enough to see the bunkers and, worse, the advancing Allies. Willem pressed the button.

Smoke poured out of the three buildings. I could not hear the reports as the internal explosives ignited but there was motion-furious motion-through the smoke. Seconds later the advancing Allies were running down the hill away from the smoke. Directly behind them were the tote Männer.

The tote Männer were much faster than the humans they pursued and more clever than ever I would have guessed. One toter Mann leapt from human to human, biting and clawing, not even pausing to enjoy the “meal.” Eight thousand tote Männer poured over the Allies. Guns didn’t stop them. They were in and among the soldiers so quickly none of the supporting artillery or machine guns could fire. The smoke switched over them and we could no longer observe.

“Fly over them,” Willem ordered, “so we can look down.”

“Sir, we will be shot.”

“Fly over them, I say,” Willem shouted and brought out his pistol. “Or I will shoot you myself.”

We flew over the churning mass of tote Männer and humans. They took no notice of us. All of their attention was focused on the horrifying apparitions among them.

“Good,” said Willem grimly. “Return.”

It was a safe bet that each of the tote Männer had likely managed to bite at least three soldiers. Assuming an overlap of twenty percent, that meant better than thirteen thousand Allied tote Männer would be awakening in a week. This was a conservative estimate, assuming the infected soldiers would not infect others during the euphoric period.

We landed, and General Marcks himself joined us. Willem told him of the adventure and the anti-tote Männer equipment-mostly flame throwers and protective jackets-waiting in trucks not ten kilometers distant. The Allied invasion would not succeed.

And it did not.

The Allies, so demoralized by the Reich’s new weapon, were unable to advance. German bombers were able to sink support craft in the channel. The war stalled in western France all that summer.

When I returned to Krakow in July to see my wife I still smelled of burning diesel and gunpowder. She made me bathe before I could kiss her.

The Daimler-Benz flying barges were deployed. These, I had not known about. They were gliders filled with forty or fifty tote Männer, towed overnight by bombers and released near the front to land where they would. The crashes released most of the tote Männer but mechanical relays released the remainder. Willem informed us that there were now highly localized tote Männer infections in Britain, where wounded men had been returned before they had turned completely and before the Allies had realized what they were dealing with.

But the Russians continued to advance. They were no less ruthless than the tote Männer and had devised a simple but effective defense. Any group of tote Männer they found they slaughtered without regard to coincident casualties. We estimated they were killing as much as 10 percent of their own men with this technique. But it was effective. It was only a matter of time before they reached Germany.

The Allied advance had not been routed as we’d hoped but only stalled as they tried to cope with their own problems. Had Germany remained the fighting force it had been at the beginning of the war, this would have been enough. However, now the Allies had a foothold in France and would not give it up. Antiaircraft batteries were brought over the channel and the bombers could no longer eliminate the shipping. Soon, the Allies would figure out a method of containing the infection just as the Russians had done. A stalemate in this war would inevitably lead to an Allied victory.

Willem created the todeskommandos. These were the last paratroopers still left in the Luftwaffe. They were infected without their knowing and dropped far behind enemy lines. Their mission was to spy on the enemy and return in two weeks’ time. Of course, they transformed in less than half that time and infected the Russians.

I refused to participate in this activity. I would not be a party to infecting unwitting German soldiers. Willem did not press me at that point though I knew a day of reckoning was coming. Knowing this, I persuaded Willem to loan me one of the Daimler-Benz engineers-preferably Joseph Bremer, a friend of Hans Braun and the engineer who had later proposed the trebuchet. I liked the way his mind worked. Willem sent him to me with the warning that something needed to be done about the Russians.

Bremer, being a mechanical rather than a chemical engineer, immediately saw solutions to the issues we had not solved. We had to maintain the environment of the worm and virus for the duration of delivery and then spray it out into the surrounding area without shredding either. Weber and I had already determined that inhaling the inoculum would not infect the host unless some portion was swallowed. The worm needed to actually enter the digestive tract to enter the blood stream. The only result from a purely pulmonary inoculation would be a sterile partial infection.

It was Bremer who devised an irritant to be added to the mixture. The irritant would not be poisonous in any way but would cause a mucous flow from the nose. The subjects would be forced to swallow. It worked in Birkenau experiments with great success.

By this time, Hitler had been sending V1’s against Britain for a few weeks. My purpose was to be able to replace the explosive in the V1 with a Todesluft canister and infect the Allies in their home territories.

Once we had the Todesluft device perfected, we approached Willem with it. Willem at once saw the possibilities but denied us the chance to try it out in a V1. Instead, he told us of a new rocket, vastly more powerful and accurate. It was to be called the V2.

The bombers over Berlin never stopped during that summer. Up until we released the tote Männer, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and the other camps had been spared for some reason. By July, we had a version of the Todesluft device ready for the V2 and after the first few reached their targets, the Allies, realizing where our production facilities must be located, started bombing the camps. I had to drag Weber from our burning laboratories. He wanted to save his “children.” I triggered the containment-failure devices and incinerated the last remaining tote Männer squads but saved inoculum samples and the Todesluft devices to operate elsewhere. It was curious: the incubation pens and the holding areas were completely destroyed but the gas chambers survived the bombing.

I had thought to travel immediately to Krakow to be with Elsa. But before I could, Elsa showed up at the camp. Weber, Elsa, Helmut, and I were able to find safety in the basement of the headquarters building. I managed to locate an intact phone and called Willem to tell him where we were.

The bombing ceased in a day or so. The inmates were taken care of and we had food and water. Power was restored the following day.

Weber liked to be near us. Something profound had come undone in him. He mourned the death of his squad over and over. On the third day he accosted me out in the street as I cleaned up the front of the building.

“Could it have been the Jews?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The failure of our tote Männer.”

I sighed. “The tote Männer did not fail.”

“How can you say that? Germany is still losing the war!”

I considered responding to this. How could any single weapon ever win a war on its own? It was our failure, not any failure of the tote Männer. But that would only have encouraged him. “We haven’t lost yet.”

He ignored that. “We made tote Männer out of the Jews. Perhaps there was a judengeist that impaired them.”

“What would you have done instead? Made them out of Germans as Willem did?”

“I should not have been so reluctant to use Poles,” Weber said and sat on the bench, sunk in apathy.

I continued shoveling broken concrete and shards of wood out of the street.

Willem showed up that night. He was half-drunk and I was surprised he’d managed to drive all the way from Berlin. Morose and untalkative, he refused to speak until after dinner when Elsa had taken Helmut and herself to bed.

“The Americans are smarter than we are.”

“Beg pardon?” I said, ready to defend German intelligence.

“It had to be the Americans. The British would not have considered it.”

“Considered what?”

Willem stared at me. “Of course. How could you know? They have been raining tote Männer on Berlin. All over Germany.”

“That’s impossible. Did they drop them out of the bombers? Did they think we would be intimidated by smashed body parts?”

Willem shook his head. “Nothing so complex. All they did was harness them to a big parachute and then tie them together with a bow knot so they would not escape during transport. Then they shoved them out the back of a bomber on a strip line. It undid the bow knot and released the parachute. Some of them were killed, of course. But so what? Between ours and the ones generated from their own ranks, they have enough.”

“How were they released from the parachutes?”

“We found a wind-up spring clip. When the spring wound down, the clip opened and they were released. Diabolical simplicity.”

I drank some wine. “There are tote Männer in Berlin.” I tried to frame it as a logical proposition. I could imagine them lurching through the city.

“There are tote Männer all over Germany. There are tote Männer in London from the V2 Todesluft attack. Von Braun even managed to extend the range of the V2 with a V1 attachment. There are tote Männer in Moscow. Tell me, Weber. How many tote Männer must there be to become self-sustaining?”

Weber peered at him owlishly. “They cannot be self-sustaining. Eventually all of the raw material would be used up.”

“You are so comforting,” Willem said dryly.

I stared at the wine bottle. “When will they reach here?”

“They were behind me when I crossed the border. One day? Two days? They move slowly but steadily and they will be brought here by our scent.”

We had all underestimated them. They were in the camp by morning.

They had broken through the barbed wire holding the inmates easily. The inmates were bitten and mauled by the hundreds. The guards died when they insisted on firing on the tote Männer and the tote Männer, of course, did not fall.

The scent of the inmates was so strong that it overpowered our own smells. The tote Männer did not know we were there. We took care to remain hidden in the headquarters building. With so many possible hosts around, the tote Männer ignored the buildings. Each time a few seemed to take interest, there was another inmate to attack.

Elsa refused to let Helmut near the windows. During a lull in the fighting she sat next to me as I watched through the window.

“What are those things?” Elsa said quietly. Her face was milk white but her voice was calm. “Max? Uncle? What are those things?”

“We call them tote Männer,” I said.

“Is that what you were building in the camps? Is that your weapon?”


She shook her head. “Did they escape from another camp?”

“No.” Willem laughed dryly. “The Allies were kind enough to return these to us.”

“Helmut must not see them.”

“Yes,” I said. “More importantly, they must not see us.”

She nodded.

Eventually, the inmates were all infected. We had discovered in experiments that infected hosts were ignored by tote Männer. But there were still so many of them our own scent remained undiscovered. The tote Männer wandered off in small groups, heading east toward Krakow.

The remaining freed inmates, now euphorically infected hosts, were not so ignorant as the tote Männer. They tried to enter the headquarters building. Willem and I defended the place as best we could. Hoess and Mengele tried to gain entrance by sweet reasonableness and grumbled when we shot at them. They wandered off arm in arm.

By the end of the third day after the attack, we saw hosts finding small places to sleep. That evening the camp was entirely still.

“We have to leave,” Willem insisted. This was Monday morning. By Wednesday night we would be fighting for our lives.

“I’m ready,” Elsa said. “Those things will not hurt Helmut. I will kill him first.”

I nodded. It pleased me that Elsa understood the situation. “Where shall we go? Our tote Männer are to the west and south. Their tote Männer are to the north and east. We have no petrol-the depot was blown up in the bombing.”

“What shall we do, then?” demanded Willem.

“They are not very intelligent-as I said a long time ago, think of them as crocodiles. They can use their eyes but largely they depend upon scent. Therefore, we can block ourselves up in one of the gas chambers. They are air tight.”

“We will smother,” said Elsa.

“No.” I shook my head. “We have three days. I can devise air circulation. It will be slow and diffuse up through the chimneys. But I do not think it will be sufficient to cause the tote Männer to attack the chamber. We can hold out for help.”

It took most of those three days to set ourselves up. We had to change the locks on the doors so we could get ourselves out and convert the exhaust fans to give us a little air. We stockpiled as much food and water as we could carry. I even built a periscope through which I could observe the courtyard in front of the chamber and the areas around.

We were carrying one of the last loads into the chamber when a toter Mann leapt on Willem from the roof. Willem grabbed his pistol as he hurled the toter Mann to one side. Weber cried out and wrestled with Willem. The toter Mann attacked both of them. Finally, Willem threw down Weber and emptied the clip of his pistol into the toter Mann’s head. He turned to club Weber but Weber climbed the wall and was gone. Willem turned his attention back to the toter Mann, which had ceased moving as its head had ceased to have any shape. The worms wriggled out like thin spaghetti.

Willem looked at me and held up his arm. His fingers and wrist were bitten. “Do I have any chance at all?”

I shook my head.

“Well, then.” He replaced the clip in the pistol. “Perhaps I have time enough to kill Weber for this.”

“Don’t wait too long,” I advised. “Once you start to feel the euphoria you won’t want to kill him at all.”

“I won’t.”

He nodded at me and I saluted him. Then I went inside the chamber and sealed the door.

Which brings me to the present.

It has been ten weeks since we sealed the door of the chamber. No one has come to help us. Sure enough, the tote Männer have not detected us though they often walk around the building sensing something. Our scent is diffuse enough not to trigger an attack.

But they do not wander off as the previous tote Männer did. They have remained. Worse, instead of degrading in ten weeks as our experiments suggested, they remain whole. I am now forced to admit that the deterioration we observed in our experiments was more likely the result of captivity than any natural process.

I watch them. Sometimes a group of them will disappear into the surrounding forest and then return with a deer or the corpse of a man or child. Then they eat. We never took an opportunity to observe their lifecycle. It seems that once the initial infection period is over, they can, after their own fashion, hunt and eat.

We ran out of water two days ago. We ran out of food nearly a week before that. Helmut cries continuously. The sounds do not appear to penetrate the walls of the chamber-at least, the tote Männer do not respond.

I had planned to hold out longer-perhaps attempt an escape or brave the tote Männer and try to bring back supplies. It is now September. Surely, the impending winter would stop them. Then, when they were dormant, we could leave. But in these last days I have witnessed disturbing changes in their behavior. I saw one toter Mann walking around the camp wrapped in a rug found in one of the camp buildings. A small group of five or six gathered around a trash barrel in which smoldered a low fire. At first, I thought the disease might have managed to retrieve the host memories or that the hosts were recovering-both indicated disaster for us. We would be discovered.

But this is different. The tote Männer stand near the fires until they smolder and only then move away. They drape blankets and clothes completely over their heads but leave their feet unshod. Whatever is motivating them, it is not some surfacing human being but the dark wisdom of the disease itself.

They are still tote Männer and will infect us if they can. There is no hope of escape or holding out.

Always the engineer, I prepared for this. I kept back a bottle of water. In it, I dissolved some Demerol powder. Elsa and Helmut were so thirsty they did not notice the odd taste. They fell asleep in minutes.

I am a coward in some ways. The idea of me, my wife and my child living on only as a host for worms and microbes horrifies me. Death is preferable. Nor do I trust drugs. The faint possibility they might come upon us in our sleep fills me with dread. I have my pistol and enough bullets for Elsa and Helmut and myself. If they find us we will be of no use to them.

I believe that you, Germany, will triumph over these creatures, though that victory will no doubt be a hard one. The Third Reich will not live forever as we had hoped but will, no doubt, fall to the tote Männer. But good German strength must eventually prevail.

For my own part, I regret my inability to foresee my own inadequacies and I regret that I must die here, without being able to help. I regret that Elsa and Helmut will never again see the sun and that they will die by my hand.

But you, who read this, take heart. We did not yield. We did not surrender here but only died when there was no other way to deny ourselves to the enemy. You will defeat and destroy them and raise your hand over a grateful Earth.

It is there waiting for you.

The Skull-Faced City by David Barr Kirtley

David Barr Kirtley has been described as “one of the newest and freshest voices in sf.” His work frequently appears in Realms of Fantasy, and he has also sold fiction to the magazines Weird Tales and Intergalactic Medicine Show, the podcasts Escape Pod and Pseudopod, and the anthologies New Voices in Science Fiction, The Dragon Done It, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year. I’ve previously published him in the first The Living Dead anthology and in my online science fiction magazine Lightspeed. He also has a story forthcoming in my anthology The Way of the Wizard that’s due out in November. Kirtley is also the co-host (with me) of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

This story is a sequel to one that appeared in the first The Living Dead anthology. In “The Skull-Faced Boy,” Dustin and Jack, two recent college grads, die in a car accident and rise as intelligent zombies. Dustin-called “the skull-faced boy” due to his injuries-organizes hordes of mindless zombies into an army and declares war against the living, while Jack becomes his reluctant accomplice. Their rivalry over a girl named Ashley eventually leads Dustin to carve off her face as well.

When “The Skull-Faced Boy” appeared on the Pseudopod horror podcast, it was very well received, and several listeners requested more material set in the same universe. So it was in the back of Kirtley’s mind for a while to possibly expand the story into something longer. When I told him I was editing The Living Dead 2, I encouraged him to submit a sequel story.

“This is the first sequel I’ve written, and it’s hard,” Kirtley says. “For a long time I was stuck, since by the end of ‘The Skull-Faced Boy’ the conflicts and agendas of the characters are all pretty much on the table. My big break came when I considered creating a new main character, Park. And so as not to repeat myself, I made him completely different from my original protagonist, Jack. Jack is an ordinary young man, sensitive, kind of a doormat type, whereas Park is a very, very dangerous soldier.”


Park watched from his car as a pickup screeched to a halt in front of the supermarket. He’d known they would come. The armies of the living were on the march, and the living needed food.

The pickup’s doors flew open and two figures leapt out-a black man and a blond woman. The man, who was older, maybe forty, carried a shotgun. He sprinted toward the store and the woman ran close behind him, her hands wrapped tight around a large silver pistol. The man threw open the entrance doors and vanished into the darkness while the woman waited outside, keeping watch. Smart. But it would not save them.

Park slipped from his car, his scoped rifle clutched to his chest. He crept forward, using abandoned cars as cover. Finally he lay down on the asphalt and leveled his rifle at the pickup.

A dead man in a green apron wandered around the side of the building. He spotted the woman, groaned exultantly, and stumbled toward her, his arms outstretched. The woman took aim at his forehead.

Park pulled the trigger at the same moment she did. The report of her pistol drowned out the soft pinging that his round made as it drilled a neat hole through her pickup’s gas tank. The dead man’s skull smacked against the pavement, and the woman lowered her gun. She didn’t notice the gas pooling beneath her truck.

Park sneaked back to his car and got in. He waited, watching as the woman took down several more of the moaning dead who strayed too close. Later her companion emerged, pushing a loaded shopping cart. The woman hurriedly tossed its contents into the bed of her truck while the man dashed to the store again. This was repeated several times. The commotion attracted an ever-growing audience of moaners, which the woman eyed nervously.

Finally the man and woman leapt into their vehicle and peeled out. The pickup careened across the parking lot, and the dead men who staggered into its path were hurled aside or crushed beneath its tires.

Park donned his black ski mask, pulled his goggles down over his eyes, and started his car. He tailed the pickup along the highway, keeping his distance. When the truck rolled to a stop, he pulled over too and got out.

The man and woman fled from their vehicle and into a nearby field, which was crawling with the dead. Park followed them through the grass and into the woods. He watched through his scope as the pair expended the last of their ammo and tossed away their guns, and then they stood back to back and drew machetes against the clusters of moaners who continued to stumble from the trees all around.

Park approached, using his rifle to pick off the nearby dead men. One shot to each head, cleanly destroying each brain-what was left of them.

He pointed his rifle at the living man and shouted, “Drop it.”

The man shouted back, “Who are you? What do you want?”

Park shifted his aim to the woman and said, “Now. I only need one of you alive.”

“Wait!” the man said. “Damn it.” He tossed his machete into the brush. “There. Okay?”

“And you,” Park told the woman. She hesitated, then flung her weapon away as well.

Park said, “Turn around. Kneel. Hands on your heads.”

They complied. Park strode forward and handcuffed them both. “Up,” he said. “Move.”

The pair stood, and marched. The woman glanced back at Park.

“Eyes front,” he ordered.

She gasped. “Oh my god.” To the man she hissed frantically, “He’s one of them! The ones that can talk.”

The man turned to stare too, his face full of terror.

“Eyes front!” Park shouted.

The man and woman looked away. After a minute, the woman said quietly, “Are you going to eat us?”

“I don’t intend to,” Park said.

“So why do you want us?” she asked.

“It’s not me that wants you,” Park answered.

“Who does then?” the man demanded.

For a long moment Park said nothing. Then he removed his goggles, exposing dark sockets and two huge eyeballs threaded with veins. He yanked off his ski mask, revealing a gaping nose cavity, bone-white forehead and cheeks-a horrific skull-visage.

“You’ll see,” he said.

As dusk fell Park drove down a long straight road that passed between rows of corn. In the fields, dead men with skull faces wielded scythes against the stalks.

“Crops,” said the man in the back seat. “Those are crops.”

Beside him the woman said, “What do the dead need with food?”

“To feed the living,” Park answered.

For the first time her voice held a trace of hope. “So we’ll be kept alive?”

“Some are, it would seem,” Park said.

And Mei? he wondered. He just didn’t know.

In front of his car loomed the necropolis, its walls clumsy constructions of stone, twenty feet high. Crews of skull-faced men listlessly piled on more rocks.

The woman watched this, her jaw slack. She murmured, “What happened to your faces?”

Park glanced at her in the rearview mirror. The car bounced over a pothole, and the mirror trembled as he answered, “Faces are vanity. The dead are beyond such things.”

He pulled to a stop before a gap in the stone wall. The dirty yellow side of a school bus blocked his way. He rolled down his window.

From the shadows emerged one of the dead, a guard. This one did have a face-nose and cheeks and forehead-though the flesh was green and mottled. A rifle hung from his shoulder. He shined a flashlight at Park, then at the captives.

“For the Commander,” Park said.

The guard waved at someone in the bus, the vehicle rumbled forward out of the way, and Park drove on through.

The woman said, “That one had a face.”

“That one is weak,” Park snapped. “Still enamored with the trappings of life. And so here he is, far from the Commander’s favor.”

Park drove down a narrow causeway bordered on both sides by chain-link fences. Every few minutes he passed a tall steel pole upon which was mounted a loudspeaker. Beyond the fences, scores of moaners wandered aimlessly in the light of the setting sun. The man and woman lapsed again into silence. Plainly they could see that this army of corpses presented a formidable obstacle to either escape or rescue.

Park remembered the first time he’d come here, almost three months ago, pursuing a trail of clues. Upon beholding the necropolis his first thought had been: The city that never sleeps.

He passed through another gate and into a large courtyard. “End of the line,” he said as he opened the door and got out.

A group of uniformed dead men with rifles and skull-faces ambled toward him. Their sergeant said, “You again. Park, isn’t it? What’ve you got?”

“Two,” Park replied. “Man and woman.”

The sergeant nodded to his soldiers, who yanked open the car doors and seized the prisoners. As the pair was led away, the sergeant said to Park, “All right. Come on.”

Park was escorted across the yard. From a loudspeaker mounted on a nearby pole came the recorded voice of the Commander:

“Once you were lost,” said the voice, “but now you’ve found peace. Once you were afflicted by the ills of the flesh. The hot sun made you sweat, and the icy wind made you shiver. You sickened and fell and were buried in muck. You were slaves to the most vile lusts, and you gorged yourselves on sugar and grease. But now, now you are strong, and the only hunger you feel is the hunger for victory, the hunger to destroy our enemies, to bend them to the true path by the power of your righteous hands and teeth. Once you were vain, preoccupied by the shape of your nose, the shape of your cheeks. You gazed into the mirror and felt shame. Shame is for the living. Let them keep their shame. We are beyond them, above them. Your face is a symbol of bondage to a fallen world, a reminder of all that you once were and now rightfully despise. Take up your knife now and carve away your face. Embrace the future. Embrace death.”

Park was taken to a nearby building and led to a room piled high with ammo clips and small arms-the currency of the dead. He filled a duffel. As he made his way back to his car, another skull-faced man came hurrying over and called out, “Hey. Hey you.”

Park looked up.

The man gestured for him to follow and announced, “The Commander wants to meet you.”

This is what Park had been waiting for. He dumped the duffel in the trunk of his car, then followed the man to an armored truck. They drove together toward the palace. The building had been a prison once, but now hordes of dead laborers had transformed it into a crude and sinister fortress.

The truck arrived at the palace, then stopped in a dim alley. Park got out and was led inside. He surrendered his handcuffs to an armed guard, walked through a metal detector, then retrieved them.

He was shown to a large chamber. Against the far wall stood two throne-like wooden chairs, in one of which sat a slender skull-faced young man who held an automatic rifle across his lap. Beside him sat a skull-faced girl with long auburn hair. She wore an elegant white gown, and Park imagined that she must have been very beautiful once. The man in the chair wore a military uniform, as did the row of a dozen skull-faced men who stood flanking him.

Park stepped into the center of the room.

“Welcome,” said the man in the chair. “I am the Commander. This is my wife.” He gestured to the girl beside him. “And my generals.” He waved at the assembled dead. “And you are Park.”

“Sir,” Park said.

“You’re quickly becoming our favorite supplier.”

Park was silent.

The Commander leaned forward and regarded him. “Tell me, Park. How did you die?”

Park hesitated a moment, then said, “Friendly fire. When my base was overrun.”

And he’d been damn lucky in that. Those who died after being bitten by the dead always came back as moaners, as the rest of his company had.

The Commander said, “You were a soldier?”

“Scout sniper, sir.”

The Commander nodded. “Good.” He added wryly, “I like the look of you, Park. You remind me of myself.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“But tell me,” the Commander went on. “Why do you keep bringing us the living? I’m grateful, but you can’t still need the reward. You must have plenty of guns by now.”

“I want to do more,” Park said. “Help you. Convert the living. End the war.”

The Commander settled back in his chair. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “Perhaps you can help us. We’ll discuss it after dinner.”

Dinner. The word filled Park with dread. Fortunately he had no face to give him away.

She reminded him of his grandmother. A woman in her seventies, naked, gagged, and tied to a steel platter. When she was placed on the table, and saw a dozen skull-faces with all their eyeballs staring down at her, she began to bray into her gag and thrash against her bonds.

The Commander, who now wore his rifle strapped to his shoulder, said to Park, “Guests first.”

Park leaned over the woman, who whimpered and tried to squirm away. He wanted to tell her: I’m sorry. I have no choice.

He bit into her arm, tore. The woman screamed. Park straightened and began to chew. No flavor at all. The dead couldn’t taste, though he did feel a diminishment of the perpetual hunger that the dead bore for the living.

The Commander turned to the skull-faced girl and said, “Now you, my dear.” She began to feed. Soon the others joined in.

When it was over, Park looked up and noticed that the living man and woman he’d just brought in were now present. They stood in the corner, naked and trembling, held up by dead men who clutched them by the arms.

What now? Park wondered.

The old woman was moving again, moaning. The Commander ordered her released. He murmured, “We eat of this flesh, and proclaim death.” To the woman he added, “Rise now in glory. Go.”

There wasn’t much left of her, really. A crimson skeleton festooned with gobbets. The thing that had once been a woman dragged itself off the table and lurched as best it could toward the exit.

“Now,” the Commander said. “We have a bit of after-dinner entertainment. Some fresh material.” He waved at Park. “Thanks to our friend here.”

Park followed as the captives were dragged out the door, down a long corridor, and into another chamber. This room was smaller, with chairs lined up along one wall, all of them facing a king-sized bed. The man and woman were brought to the bed and dumped upon it, where they sat dazed. The seats filled with spectators. The skull-faced girl sat beside the Commander, who assumed the centermost chair.

The Commander pointed at the living man and said, “You. Take her. Now.” The generals watched, silent but rapt.

The man stood, made a fist. “Fuck you, freak.” Behind him the woman sat pale and stricken.

The Commander shrugged. “Maybe you’re not in the mood. We have something for that.” He turned to the door and called, “The aphrodisiac, please.”

For almost a minute nothing happened. Then from the corridor came a terrible groaning. The sound grew louder, closer. The woman on the bed wrinkled her nose and whispered, “No.” A dark form appeared in the doorway.

It was one of the ones who had been buried in the ground before coming back. They always returned as moaners too, and had always rotted terribly.

The man and woman scrambled away, onto the floor.

Around its neck the moaner wore a steel collar, which was attached to a chain held by a skull-faced guard. The moaner shrieked, and slavered, and swiped at the air with clawlike fingers. It lunged at the living, and its handler, just barely able to keep it under control, was half-dragged along behind it. With each charge, the creature came closer to the man and woman, who cowered on the floor in the corner, the man kicking feebly in the direction of the monster.

When the thing was just a few feet away the man shrieked, “All right! All right! Get it off me!”

The Commander lifted a hand, and the moaner was hauled back.

The man and woman trooped grimly to the bed. The woman was young, maybe twenty. Mei’s age, Park thought. Had Mei gone through this? No. Don’t think about it.

The woman lay down on the bed and the man climbed awkwardly on top of her. The Commander stared. He reached over, took the hand of the skull-faced girl, and held it. For a long time the living man nuzzled the woman, pawed her, rubbed against her, but he was too frightened, and couldn’t become aroused.

Finally the Commander called out, “Enough!”

The figures on the bed froze.

The Commander stood. “This grows tedious. Another night, perhaps?” The pair on the bed pulled away from each other and watched anxiously. The Commander said to them, “Don’t worry. There’ll be other chances. Next time will be better.” To the generals he instructed, “Take them away. Put them with the rest.”

The rest? Park thought.

“Park,” said the Commander. “Walk with me.”

Park followed him through several doorways, then up a few flights of stairs. They emerged onto what must have once been simply a rooftop, but which had been augmented through the exertions of the dead with a sort of parapet.

The Commander said, “So how did you enjoy that?”

“I… it was… ”

The Commander said sharply, “Don’t dissemble. I don’t like that.” All of a sudden there was real anger in his voice, and Park was afraid, but just as suddenly the man’s eerie calm returned. He went on, “You were uneasy.”

Park thought fast. “I just… you always say lust of the flesh is-”

“For the masses,” the Commander cut in. “Black and white. Right and wrong. But men like you and I must take a more nuanced view. Besides, it’s for a greater purpose. You’ll see.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”

“And don’t apologize,” the Commander said. “Now… there’s something you want to discuss?”

“Yes.” Park collected his thoughts. Then: “In what way does one become an officer in your army?”

“I am the way,” the Commander said. “Tell me why you want to join.”

“I hate the living,” Park said. “Always have. Even when I was one of them. Especially then. But I never saw any alternative. Until now.”

“I understand,” the Commander told him. “You seem a useful sort, Park, and I’m always damned short of good men. I think I’m going to be glad I met you.”

The Commander turned away and gazed out over the battlements to admire his city, his domain. There in the darkness, with the man’s back turned and no one else around, Park allowed himself one fleeting instant to glare at the Commander with pure hatred.

No, Park thought. You won’t be glad. Not at all.

So Park was designated a “lieutenant,” and given a room in a far corner of the palace, and often he was called on to perform routine tasks, mostly drilling the other officers in marksmanship. The Commander’s voice was a constant presence, as the loudspeakers blared forth an endless mix of propaganda and instructions for the maintenance of the city. Sometimes pairs of living prisoners were brought out to perform for the Commander and his wife, but Mei was never among them.

Most information was still restricted from Park, and most areas of the palace were still off-limits. A few times he heard men refer to the top floor of the east wing as the “petting zoo.” Was that where the living were kept? The palace was severely undermanned, but even so trying to slip in where he wasn’t wanted would be chancy at best. Patience, he told himself. Wait, and watch. This is who you are. This is what you do. And when you strike, you strike hard, and they never see it coming.

One day Park returned to his room to find someone waiting in the hall. It was Greavey, a heavyset man with a scattering of red hairs whose jowls hung slack below his skeletal face.

Park nodded to him. “General.”

“Park,” said Greavey. “Can I ask you a favor? A private lesson?”

“Of course,” Park said.

He retrieved a pair of rifles from his car, then took Greavey to a muddy yard nearby, where Park lined up empty cans upon a wooden table. The two of them positioned themselves at the far end of the field.

Greavey took aim and fired. His shot went wide. He growled, and said, “I was a soldier too, in life. Like you. Never was a terrific shot though.”

Park fired and knocked over the first can. “It’s easier now. Your body is more still.”

Greavey raised his rifle again. As he sighted, he said casually, “You may have fooled him, but you don’t fool me.” He fired. A can went flying.

Park didn’t answer. He took another shot, took down another can.

Greavey’s voice was gruff. “You don’t buy all his bullshit. His little cult. And neither do I.” He fired again. Missed. “Damn.”

Park had been expecting something like this. He took aim again. “And what if I don’t?” He fired. Another hit.

“Listen,” Greavey told him. “You’re new around here. You don’t know what he’s like. We’re losing this war, losing bad, because of him. We don’t have enough officers, and every time one of us shows a little promise… well, he doesn’t like rivals much. So watch yourself. It’s only a matter of time before he turns on you too.”

“So what’s the alternative?” Park said. “The moaners are loyal to him. They’ve been listening to his voice every day and night now for how long? What’s going to happen if he’s gone? You think they’ll obey you? You think you can control them?”

“Man, they’ll listen to anyone-” Greavey waved at a loudspeaker- “who gets on that PA.”

Park raised his rifle to his shoulder and sighted downrange. “It’s too much of a risk.”

“That’s not what you’ll be saying when the living storm in here and blow our brains out.”

Park fired. Another can. “Who then? If not him?”

Greavey said, “You know he never did shit before all this? He likes to play soldier-all of them do-but he’s just some college kid. Now, he’s smart, I’ll give him that, but not as smart as he thinks he is. We need someone in charge who knows this army and who’s got real military training.”

“You then?” Park said.

Greavey shrugged. “Seems sensible.”

“I’ve got training,” Park said. Another shot. Another can.

“Look,” Greavey said. “You shoot real good, but come on. You just got here. Back me and I promise I’ll-”


Greavey was silent a while. He raised his rifle, hesitated, lowered it. Finally: “What do you want?”

“Half,” Park said.

“Half what?”

“Half everything. The guns, trucks, troops-”

“No way.”

Park raised his rifle again. “Maybe I should see what he thinks about all this.”

Greavey stared as Park took down another can, then said, “Fine. If that’s the way it’s got to be. You and me. Full partners. All right?”

“All right.” Park glanced toward the palace. “Except… no one but him’s allowed to bring weapons in there. He’s always armed, obviously he never sleeps-”

“He comes out sometimes,” Greavey said. “To supervise things personally, or lead his army in the field. And like I said, you shoot real good.”

At this, Park nodded slowly. “I see,” he said, as he took down the final can.

Later, as Park strode through the palace, he thought: A good try. Convincing. Much of it likely true. Greavey plotting assassination? A lie. But the Commander too reliant on his legion of moaners? Eliminating clever officers who might become rivals? Probably yes. Also true: The Commander not as smart as he thinks he is.

Park turned a corner toward the Commander’s private suite. Two skull-faced men stood guard.

“I have to see the Commander,” Park said.

The men eyed him. One of them said, “Wait here,” and disappeared around a corner. A short time later he returned and said, “All right. Come on.”

They walked down the hall to an office, where the Commander sat behind a desk, his rifle leaning against a nearby wall. He held a combat knife, which he fiddled with absently as he said, “Talk.”

Park said, “Sir, Greavey is plotting against you.”

The Commander leaned back in his chair. “Give me details. Everything.”

So Park relayed the conversation, leaving out nothing.

Afterward, the Commander stood and began to pace. “This is good to know.”

Park said, “Sir, let me handle Greavey. I’ll-”

“Greavey’s fine.”


The Commander pointed his knife at Park and said, “Listen to me carefully. Nothing happens in this city without my knowledge, without my order. Do you understand?”

Park feigned bafflement. “You mean it was… a test?”

“An exercise,” the Commander said. “I apologize, but it’s necessary. I’ve been betrayed before. I have to make sure.”

A few weeks later, just after dawn, Park heard a rumble from outside, as of distant thunder. He hurried to the window of his chamber and looked out. A giant plume of black smoke was rising from the southern end of the city.

A short time later the Commander’s recorded speech cut out abruptly. Then the Commander came on and announced, “The city is under attack. The south wall has been breached. Muster at the south wall. I repeat, the south wall.” The message continued in this vein, until the moaners got the idea and began to march to the city’s defense.

Park lay low, hoping to be missed in the confusion. He waited until he saw a column of trucks go speeding away to the south. Eight trucks-enough to carry most of the officers who lurked about the palace. Park knew he might never get a better chance to scout out the “petting zoo.”

He raced through the halls, but saw no one. The east wing seemed deserted. If anyone caught him-

No. They would not catch him. He’d make sure of that.

One time he heard footfalls approaching. He slipped into a shadowed alcove, and a guard passed by, heedless. Another time, as Park climbed a staircase, he imagined he heard wailing, but when he stopped to listen there was nothing.

He reached the top floor and moved quickly down a long hallway lined with windows. To his right was a door, open just a crack. He crept up to it and peeked inside.

On a nearby couch sat a woman with auburn hair, who was bent over something in her lap. She was murmuring, “Hey. Hey, it’s okay. Mommy’s here.”

Park shifted slightly and scanned the room. The walls were painted yellow. He saw cribs, toys…


Living children, six of them, none more than a year old.

The petting zoo. It was a goddamn… nursery. But… why?

No, he told himself. Ponder later. Get out now. Mei’s not here.

The woman on the couch raised her head, and Park caught just a glimpse of her skeletal profile as he eased away from the door.

He heard voices then, back the way he’d come. He hurried in the other direction. He slipped through a door and onto a balcony. At its far end was another door.

The wall to his left was crenellated, and as he hurried along he could see down into the yard below, where a few dead men wandered, moaning, “The south wall…” Apparently they were attempting to join the battle but were too witless to find their way there.

A voice at his side said, “Oh. Hey.”

Park leapt back, almost stumbling.

A decapitated human head was impaled on an iron spike between two battlements. The head was that of a young man, blond, who even in this grisly state retained a look of gentle innocence. “Sorry,” said the head. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s all right,” Park said, turning away.

“Wait,” the head called. “Who are you? I’ve never seen you before. I’m Jack.”

Damn it. Park said, “Look, I really have to-”

The head narrowed its eyes. “You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”

Shit. Park eyed the head. It could report him to the others. Should he destroy it?

“Don’t,” the head warned, anticipating him. “He’ll know something’s up. Listen, you can trust me. I’m not on his side. I mean, he’s the one who put me here.”

Park was at a loss.

“I can help you,” the head added. “I know things. What are you doing here?”

Park hesitated. Did he dare trust it? But what choice did he have? He said, “I’m looking for my sister. She was captured. I don’t-”

“How old is she?” said the head.


“Good.” The head gave him an encouraging look. “Then she was probably kept alive to breed. The prisoners are in the south wing, down in the basement. But you’ll need keys to the cells. Dustin’s got a set, and Greavey’s got the other.”

“Dustin?” said Park.

“The Commander,” the head explained. It added, “I knew him before all this. We were friends.”

Park whispered, “Why did he do this to you?”

The head gave a sad, wry smile. “I tried to free the prisoners,” it said.

Park slipped from the east wing without being noticed. Hours later one of the trucks returned. Park lurked in the corridor and watched as the Commander and Greavey strode back into the palace. The two men conferred, then the Commander headed off in the direction of his suite. Park tailed Greavey down a hallway.

After a minute, Greavey turned. “Oh, it’s you.”

Park sidled up. “What’s the situation?”

Greavey was grim. “The living are inside the walls. They’ll be here by nightfall. Tough bastards. Militia types, called the Sons of Perdition.”

Park knew of them. They had a ghastly reputation.

Greavey said, “The Commander’s gone to issue new orders. Where the hell have you been?”

Park nodded at some metal piping that ran up the wall from floor to ceiling, and said, “Over there.” Greavey turned to look.

Park grabbed the man and ran him into the pipes. Greavey’s skull-face rebounded with a crack, and he went down. Park straddled him, seized the man’s left wrist and cuffed it, then slipped the cuffs around the pipes and bound Greavey’s right wrist too.

Park dug through the man’s pockets. A keyring. Park hoped the head on the wall-Jack-had been telling the truth.

As Park made his way to the south wing, the Commander’s voice came over the loudspeakers: “Fall back to the palace. Defend the palace at all costs. I repeat, defend the palace.”

Park spent maddening minutes navigating the unfamiliar corridors. Finally he clambered down a set of metal steps and emerged into a dim, grimy hallway lined with cells. He donned his mask and goggles, then moved from door to door. “Mei?” he called out. “Mei? Are you here?” Vague figures huddled in the darkness.

Then, from a cell he’d just passed, a weak voice: “Hello?”

She was there, her tiny fingers wrapped around the bars. He ran to her. “I’m getting you out,” he said, as he tried a key in the lock. It didn’t fit.

“Park?” she said, unbelieving. “I thought-”

She stiffened then, as she watched him. In a near-whisper she said, “Take off your mask.”

He tried another key.

“Park,” she said, insistent.

He stopped. For a moment he just stood there. Then he carefully removed his mask and goggles, revealing his terrible skull-face for all to see.

Mei recoiled. “But… you’re one of them, one of his-”

“It was the only way,” Park said. He tried another key.

Beside her in the cell, a skinny white man with curly black hair said, “I know you. You’re the one who captured me, who brought me here.”

Mei said, “Is that… true?”

“Yes,” Park said. He couldn’t meet her gaze. He tried another key, which turned with a click, and he slid the door open.

The skinny man tried to rush out, but Park stiff-armed him back and said, “Only her.”

“No,” Mei said. “We can’t-”

“Mei, come here,” he told her.

She shook her head, withdrawing. Park looked down and saw that she was pregnant. She asked, “What’s happened to you? You’re-”

“I’m what I have to be!” he shouted. “To save you. Now come on!”

For a moment he thought he had her. She took a tentative step forward.

Then he heard clanging footsteps on the stairs behind him, and knew it was over.

The Commander strode into the hall, his rifle raised. Behind him came the skull-faced girl and Greavey. The handcuffs dangled from Greavey’s right wrist, and half his left hand was gone-he’d chewed it off to get free.

The Commander stared at Park with baleful eyes. There was a long silence. Then the Commander barked, “Get away from there!”

Park took a few steps back.

“Keep going! Move!” The Commander advanced. When he was even with the cell, he glanced at its occupants. “You brought us so many,” he said slowly, to himself. “Why a change of heart?”

Park glared back, said nothing.

“No,” the Commander declared then, with sudden triumph. “You’re not the compassionate sort. You only care about… one.” He swung his rifle around so that it menaced the skinny man in the cell, and demanded, “Who’s he here for?”

The man shrank back, holding up his hands defensively. “Her! The girl! Please.”

Park inched forward, but instantly the gun was back on him. The Commander said to Greavey, “Get her.”

Greavey strode into the cell and with his good hand snatched Mei by her long dark hair and dragged her stumbling into the corridor. He stood her there in the middle of the hall, then stepped aside. She trembled.

Behind the Commander, the skull-faced girl said softly, “Dustin, she’s pregnant.”

“Not for long.” He leveled his rifle at Mei’s belly.

Park stared at Mei, his sister, as she stood there right in front of him after so long, and he knew there was nothing he could do to save her.

Then the skull-faced girl shoved the Commander as hard as she could.

His rifle discharged, spraying rounds into the cement as he sprawled. The gun flew from his grasp and skittered across the floor, coming to rest at Mei’s feet. She spun and kicked it to Park, but not hard enough. The rifle slid to a stop near Greavey, who fell to his knees, grasping for it.

Park leapt forward and tackled him, and they went down together, grappling. Park wrapped both arms around Greavey’s meaty right bicep, pinning it. The man’s mutilated left hand brushed over the rifle’s stock, but couldn’t get a grip on it. The Commander scrambled to his feet.

Park pushed against the floor with his heels, pivoting him and Greavey. Park kept hold of Greavey’s bicep with one arm while with the other he reached out and snatched the rifle. He shoved the muzzle up under Greavey’s chin and held down the trigger. Chunks of the man’s fleshy jowls spattered across the floor, and his body went limp.

Park rolled off him and came up in a crouch with the rifle aimed at the Commander, who slid to a halt just a few feet away. “Back!” Park said, and the Commander slowly retreated, holding up his hands.

Park said, “Mei! Come here.”

She staggered toward him. “Park… we can’t-”

He held out the keys to her and said, “Get these goddamn cells open. Now.”

The skull-faced girl approached him. The prisoners watched her with a mix of unease and wonder. She said quietly, “And the children. Please.”

Park considered this. “All right,” he told her. “And the children.”

An hour later Park returned to the cell block with a duffel slung over his shoulder. The prisoners were free now, around twenty of them, and were armed with weapons from the trunk of his car. The skull-faced girl had fetched the children, each of whom was being carried by an adult. The guards had fled, and Park had taken care of the Commander.

Park said to the crowd, “You know the city’s under attack by an army of the living. They’re called the Sons of Perdition. You all know who they are?”

The crowd was somber.

“Anyone want to join them?” Park said. “Now’s your chance.”

No one moved.

“All right,” he said. “Then let’s get the hell out of here.”

They formed a convoy of vehicles and set out north, away from the fighting. Park drove his car, and the others followed. On the seat beside him rested the duffel, and in the back seat sat Mei and the skull-faced girl, each of them holding a child. At first Park was forced to barrel through clusters of moaners, but once he got away from the palace the streets were mostly deserted.

The skull-faced girl stared out the window. One time she spoke faintly, “I said I wanted children. I was just… I didn’t think… He wanted to-when they got older-make them like us. He-”

“It’s okay,” Park said. “It’s over.”

The girl fell silent.

“What’s your name?” Mei asked her.

“Ashley,” she said.

The convoy passed through the north gate without encountering any of the invaders. Park was faintly hopeful about slipping away unnoticed, but as he followed a two-lane road toward a cluster of wooded hills, a small fleet of pickups came racing out of the west, throwing up great clouds of dust.

“Shit,” Park said. He hoped he could at least make it to the treeline before being overtaken.

He did. Barely.

“Get out,” he told Mei and Ashley then. “Move to another vehicle.” He passed the duffel to Ashley and said, “Take this. It’s Jack. Look after him.”

“I will,” she promised.

Mei lingered. “How will we meet up after-?”

“Go, Mei,” he said.

She insisted, “I don’t want-”

“I said go!” he screamed.

She gave him one last worried look, then fled.

Park backed up his car so that it blocked the road, then he got out, fetched his scoped rifle, put on his mask and goggles, and crouched in the shadow of his car. Behind him, the rest of the convoy sped away.

The pursuers drew near, seven trucks. Park lay his rifle across the hood of his car, then put a round through the windshield of the lead vehicle. The truck slid to a halt, and the others pulled up alongside it. Men with rifles poured out, taking cover behind the doors of their vehicles. Thirty guns, maybe more.

The driver of the lead vehicle, a giant man with a blond beard who was dressed all in black leather, shouted, “You shot my truck.”

Park didn’t respond.

The man yelled, “You have any idea who you’re fucking with?”

Again, Park said nothing.

“Listen,” the man called. “This is real simple. We saw you all coming out. We know you’ve got women. We need them, your guns, and your vehicles. And you’re all drafted.”

They didn’t seem to realize that Park was one of the dead. Good. He shouted back, “We don’t want anything to do with your army.”

“Drafted means you got no choice,” said the man.

Park crept into the underbrush and took up a position behind a tree.

“Hey,” the man called. “What’s your plan, huh? Just how do you think this is going to end?”

For you? Park thought. Like this.

He fired. The man’s body toppled against the truck, then slumped to the pavement.

Park crawled away as the other men started shooting, their bullets shredding the foliage all around him.

By dusk Park was down to his last bullet. It didn’t matter. He’d won. Thirty men had come charging up the hill after him, and he’d kept ahead of them, taking them out one by one. He’d dropped nine already, and there were moaners in these woods too who’d surprised and overwhelmed maybe two or three more. Mei and Ashley and the others were well away.

Park had been hit twice in the chest, and many more times in the arms and legs, but those scarcely troubled him. By now his pursuers must know that he was one of the dead, and they would be going only for headshots.

One of the men emerged from behind a boulder and crept closer, scanning the bushes. Make the last shot count, Park thought, as he eased his rifle into place and peered through the scope.

He was shocked. My face, he thought. My old face.

No, he decided then, studying the man. But close. We could be brothers.

Park’s finger twitched, tapping the trigger. He could easily put a bullet through that face, but he hesitated. It had been such a long time since he’d looked in a mirror. Since he’d recognized himself.

Any moment now he’d be spotted. Take the shot, his mind urged. Do it. But what difference did it make? Mei was safe. Park continued to stare. He didn’t want to see that face destroyed.

No. Not that face.

He imagined the eyes of all the people he’d delivered into the horrors of the necropolis. He imagined the old woman screaming as his teeth tore into her. He heard Mei’s voice crying, “What’s happened to you?” and his own replying, “I’m what I have to be. To save you.”

Slowly he reached up and grasped a handful of fabric.

There. The man had seen him, was taking aim. For an instant the two of them stared at each other through their scopes.

Park removed his mask.

Dustin watched from the wall of his palace as an army of the living battled through the city toward him, but he was powerless to do anything.

In the yard below, one of his followers came into view.

“Hey!” Dustin shouted. “You! Up here!”

The man stopped and looked at him.

“Listen to me very carefully,” Dustin said. “This is your Commander speaking. You are to walk around this palace to the main entrance. Once inside, turn right and keep going until you reach the stairs. Take them to the top floor and continue on the way you were. You’ll come to a door leading out onto this balcony. Then remove me from this fucking spike! Do you understand?”

The man stared back with vacant eyes. “Walk around the palace…” it moaned.

“Yes,” Dustin said. “And the rest of it. Turn right-”

“Walk around the palace… ” The creature took a step toward him, then away. “Walk around the palace… ” it repeated, as it wandered, back and forth.

Obedience by Brenna Yovanoff

Brenna Yovanoff’s first novel, a contemporary young adult fantasy called The Replacement, should be out from Razorbill around the same time as this anthology. Her short fiction has appeared in Chiaroscuro and Strange Horizons. On her LiveJournal (brennayovanoff.livejournal.com), she claims to be good at soccer, violent video games, and making very flaky pie pastry, but bad at dancing, making decisions, and inspiring confidence as an authority figure.

One of the most wrenching aspects of a zombie plague that makes it completely different from, say, an invasion of alien arachnids is the knowledge that these hordes of enemies were once our friends and neighbors, were once decent, loving people. As we perforate their faces with a.50 caliber machinegun, or hack at their clutching hands with a machete, axe, or chainsaw, it’s impossible not to wonder whether these moaning ghouls retain any trace of their former personality. Are the people they once were still trapped in there somewhere, aware of what’s happening around them? Might they ever be cured, the way a mentally ill patient can be, with the right treatment?

Books and films are filled with incidents in which survivors try to show mercy to zombies-as with the barn full of zombies in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead-or will even fight to protect them, as with the zombified newborn in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park suggests that it’s impossible to safely keep dinosaurs in captivity, and much the same thing seems to be true of zombies. The temptation is always there, though-what if it were just one zombie? Just one little girl, surely we could handle that?

But if zombie stories have taught us anything, it’s that keeping zombies around, whether out of mercy or as research subjects, seems to have a way of ending up badly for everyone involved-and by “badly” we mean with teeth, blood, and screams.


When the first drinking glass hit the floor and broke, Private Grace pressed her back against the wall and steadied the sidearm with both hands. The window above her was single-paned, the weather-stripping rotten. To her left, a freestanding radiator was rusting gently. The house was a summer cabin, cramped, and redolent with the smell of mice. They’d spent the better part of an hour nailing the windows shut, then gathering glassware-pitchers, vases, dinner plates, a souvenir ashtray with a cartoon walrus painted in the bottom-and arranging the dishes in rows along the sills.

Now, they hunkered down, waiting. There had been food at least, canned, coated in dust. They ate quickly, passing the open cans back and forth as evening fell. The sound the glass made when it landed was explosive, a mortar going off.

“What do we show these giddy bastards?” Whitaker called from the adjoining room, sounding clipped and perfunctory.

The answer came from a dozen positions, followed by the metallic sound of carbines, magazines and bolt assemblies clattering into place. “No mercy, sir.”

They had begun as an infantry platoon of forty-seven, mostly up from New Mexico and Texas. Now, they were thirteen. Ten privates, one combat medic, and Denton the Marine, all serving under Whitaker.

Of the privates, only Grace and a trooper named Knotts were from Whitaker’s original squad. The other eight and Jacobs, the medic, had come off a company that had gotten pinned down at the Air Force base and, for the most part, died there.

The base had been a short-term El Dorado, but when they arrived, their grand welcome was absent, save for a few survivors holed up in the bunkers. Some of the medical technicians had made a last-ditch effort to seal themselves in the sleep chambers. It was difficult to say whether the massacre had happened with the techs scrambling for safety or already in stasis, but one thing was certain. The flyboys had been dead for weeks.

Where Denton originated from remained somewhat of a mystery. It was theorized that he was a deserter, but in truth, Grace did not much care. Denton had the best guns.

“Smirkers,” someone shouted in the front hall, immediately followed by a crash as the door splintered. Fire came in three-round bursts, rattling through the tiny house.

Grace crouched lower, sinking into her nanovest, bracing her shoulder against the radiator. She checked the cuffs of her jacket, tucked them deep into the tops of her gloves. Outside, pale hands seemed to float, palms flat against the windows. They were laughing, a storm of high-pitched giggles.

They smiled. No training in the world prepared you for that. They smiled as they slashed and bit, tearing flesh off their victims in chunks. They smiled as they ran, a merciless full-out sprint, headlong, ravenous. They smiled right before you leveled the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Sometimes, if the shot was high enough, the caliber small enough, even when they fell back-smoke rising from a neat round hole in the forehead-they were still smiling.

Jacobs said it was neurological, an involuntary tic. He talked about them a lot, his language precise, his hands sketching neural pathways. It had been his idea to come up here, strike for the research complex near Rosewood. They were close now, a couple miles off, but the slopes were crawling with smirkers and everything had started to seem wildly impossible.

A window broke somewhere and the house was suddenly awash with a new influx. They poured into the little common room. One was wearing a Christmas sweater, red, sprinkled intermittently with green trees, white reindeer.

Against the other wall, Denton was cutting swaths through the mob-systematic, businesslike. His arms were massive, the muscles displayed in sharp relief as he swung the carbine up. The smirker in the Christmas sweater was closing. It moved fast, turning on him with hands outstretched.

“Semper Fi,” Denton said, but it sounded flat and ironic. He jammed the muzzle in the smirker’s face.

In the front hall, Private Sutter was shouting something. He was always shouting, hooting, whooping. Sutter, with the God-awful tattoo on his neck, upwards arrow pointing to the base of his skull. Corsican script said, in an incongruously graceful hand, Eat Me.

Smirkers did not, in actuality, express much preference for the brain over other organs. They seemed content to take any piece they could get, but the celluloid lore of old movies was hard to shake.

In the last few weeks, some of the privates had taken to painting targets on their helmets. Aim here in case of infection. Whitaker didn’t like it, but allowed the targets in the same indulgent way he allowed Sutter’s tattoo. Harmless, letting off steam. Grace thought it was morbid.

The window above her fell in with a glittering crash, and she rose and popped the first smirker in the face. It slumped forward and she turned to meet the two that came after, dropping them on the carpet. After that, the process became automatic. Her territory extended outward for two yards and ran the distance of the wall. Every other inch of the house was someone else’s problem.

Something moved behind her and she swung around, already reaching for her combat knife. It had been a boy, sixteen, maybe seventeen. The face still bore the faint interruptions of acne. He grinned and his teeth were coated in a thin veneer of blood.

The carbines were light, easy to maneuver, and the sidearm was more versatile still, but for such close quarters, Grace favored the knife. She slipped it from the sheath and brought the blade up. The throat first, and directly after that, the right eye.

Preferred it controlled, preferred it close. Some of the others couldn’t stand to let the smirkers get near. Instead, they ran themselves out, not keeping count. A dull, shocked look when the handgun clicked empty. They thought about themselves before they thought about the job. That was the secret; if you thought about the job before you thought about anything else, if you just did your job, you got out. She drew her hand back, let the boy drop, and stepped over him. She wiped the blade on her fatigues and then peeled the gloves off. They were soaked.

The shooting had stopped. Grace stood, contemplating the room. Her heart beat hard and fast in her ears, and she could not precisely reckon how much time had passed. Smirkers lay everywhere, sprawled out, tangled together on the floor. After a cursory check to make sure that none were still moving, she started for the doorway.

In the front hall, she found Emery, standing with his back to her. His rifle hung at his side and he was breathing in long, whining gasps.

He was one of the ones with a target, a concentric bull’s-eye painted in red on the front of his helmet. But when he turned toward her with a mystified expression, the bite on his shoulder already weeping yellow, she aimed for the eye socket. He whimpered and begged a little, but in her head, she had squeezed the trigger a thousand times, and it was no great effort to do it now, in the cramped cabin, with the daylight dropping away and the smell of bodies heavy in the air. The report was very loud in the narrow hall. At her feet, he lay still. After a moment, the blood began to pool out from under him.

Her progress through the house was slow. The floor was littered with debris, spent ammunition. Bodies lay with their limbs jutting at odd angles-smirkers and soldiers. They were mostly accounted for. She didn’t recognize Denton at first, except by his size. Someone had shot him in the face. There were bite marks all over his arms. His skin oozed with the thick, pestilential yellow of infection.

In the kitchen, she found Sergeant Whitaker. He was propped in a corner, shoulders wedged in the join between two cabinets.

He looked up at her-a hard, dignified look that stopped her in the doorway. The side of his neck had been torn away, leaving shreds of muscle, exposed tendons. His voice was hoarse and liquid. “Are they dead?”

She did not know if he was referring to their makeshift squad or to the recent barrage of smirkers. “Yes, sir.”

“What do you think those Washington fucks are doing right now?”

Dead, of course, all dead. Except the ones still shambling around smiling to themselves. Giggling their high-pitched giggles.

“They don’t pay me to think, sir.”

Whitaker laughed at that, a wet, clotted sound. “No one’s paid us to do a damn thing in months. Maybe you could take up thinking as a sideline. It wouldn’t have to be on the clock.”

He laughed again, viscous, close to choking. The stripes on his sleeve were the brightest thing in the room. The gold looked almost white in the failing light. The blood was seeping out of him, leaving his face gray. Infection imminent.

“You should’ve made corporal,” he said, and it sounded watery. “I’m sorry for that.”

“Don’t worry yourself, sir. I don’t imagine I would have cared for it.”

“You never know. Look at you now-you’re the one who’s going to walk out of here tonight.”

Blood and foul yellow seepage were running down the side of his throat, soaking into his shirt.

“Do you want me to take care of it?” she said, jerking her head in the direction of his sidearm.

He smiled at her, a slow, complicated smile. “No, I got this.”

She did not disbelieve Whitaker, even at the last. He was a good man, dependable. Already holding the 9mm to his temple. But she stood in the doorway to make sure. The report made her flinch. When he slumped forward and his hand let go, she turned and started back through the house.

A wooden pull-down ladder stood spindly and erect in the hall. It was fixed to the ceiling by a hinge, and led up to an open skylight. The angle of the ladder was stark, surprising. In the past weeks, the world had taken on an increasingly surreal cast and the ladder did not seem disconcerting now, but only natural and right.

“I’m coming up,” Grace said, to no one in particular-to whomever might be at the top, waiting to put a bullet in the first person to stick their head through the opening.

On the roof, Jacobs the medic was sitting with his legs drawn up and his elbows resting on his knees.

“How do they always know?” he said, staring off over the hillside, the dark trees. The sky was deep purple, already speckled with stars. “We go along, covering our tracks, moving in the daytime. And still, they always know.”

Grace nodded, because his assessment was true. Not a thing you argued with, but how it was. They would always find you. It was what they did.

“There aren’t any bugs up here,” Jacobs said.

“No,” said Grace, taking a pack of cigarettes from her pocket. “No, I haven’t seen any.”

“It’s the air. It’s thin.”

She wondered if he was cracking up. He didn’t seem the type, but still, with these smart ones, it was hard to say. Sometimes they fell apart, just from thinking too much.

“They’re not hunting people,” he said.

“What do you call it then-what they’re doing?”

“I mean, they’re not hunting people exclusively. They’re not strictly cannibals. We saw eviscerated deer when we were coming up-and rabbits-but they’re not picked clean. They never eat the dead.”

Grace pulled a cigarette out of the pack with her teeth, lit it. Her hands were steady, but felt light and disconnected.

When she breathed out, Jacobs coughed and fanned at the air. “How does something like this just happen?”

Grace observed Jacobs, his raised head, his profile, hard against the velvety sky. She assumed he must be talking in some broad, abstract sense, because the how-and-why of it was far from mysterious.

The methodology was simple. Escalating reports of a blood-borne pathogen carried by insects, high fatality rate, drug-resistant. The government had been frightened of pandemic. They had pushed immunization, pushed it hard, and in the end, they got their pandemic, all right. A vector that began at vaccination and exploded outward, extravagant. Uncontainable.

It had begun on the West Coast, vaccination facilities popping up in grocery stores and shopping centers. And everyone lined up. It had taken approximately six hours to ascertain that something was wrong, but in that time, the event had affected nearly half a million people. And it spread like fire. In a way, it was good the infection came on fast. Otherwise, they might have all had the shot, every last one of them, offering their arms to the needle without the slightest indication that anything was amiss.

“What if it’s a signature,” Jacobs said, turning to her.

“I don’t follow.”

“A carbon dioxide signature. Blood-seekers-they know to come after you. They follow a trail of chemicals, a stamp. Mosquitoes can sense living blood from almost forty meters.”

Grace nodded as he spoke, not comprehending his train of thought exactly, but not needing to. The words sounded round, fat, reassuring.

“We could verify it,” he said. “All we’d need is a controlled environment, some preliminary tests. We could keep going, get to Rosewood. They’ll have everything we need. It would only take a few trials. I mean, then we’d know. And Rosewood’s only four miles out. If we run-”

“If there’s any still in the woods, they’ll be on us in two seconds, sir. I don’t see much chance.”

Jacobs stood up, brushing impatiently at his fatigues. “There’s a way, though. There’s always a way.”

He started down the ladder, his boots clattering on the wooden rungs. There was a smear of blood on the back of his shirt. Grace squashed the cigarette under her toe and wondered again if they were only prolonging something inevitable.

It didn’t matter. With a purpose, a mission, the blackness of recent days did not seem so close. They would go to Rosewood and test his theory. Jacobs was not Whitaker, but he was capable. He knew things. And a short-term itinerary was better than none at all. They would go to Rosewood and find a brilliant solution. After a minute, Grace rose and followed Jacobs down.

In the bathroom, she found him standing over the body of Knotts, legs splayed to avoid the mess. He had opened the medicine cabinet and was rummaging along the shelves.

“What are you after?”

“DEET,” he said, flinging bottles and tubes from cabinet haphazardly. “Why don’t these rednecks have any fucking DEET?”

“You said it before, sir. There’s no bugs up here.”

The floor at his feet was littered with adhesive bandages, aspirin, a topical antibiotic.

“Knotts was up from Florida,” she said.

Jacobs gave her a distracted look, then turned back to the cabinet.

“They got bugs in Florida like you wouldn’t believe. I bet he carries it in with his personal effects. A thing like that, it just gets to be a habit.”

“Check him then, check his things if you think he’s got it.” Another bottle hit the floor. The cap flew off and a cascade of white pills rattled across the linoleum, washed up against the motionless form of Knotts, got stuck in the congealing blood.

“And you think we could keep them off us? With mosquito repellent, sir?”

“It doesn’t repel, it interferes. It corrupts receptors.”

The logic was mysterious. Grace was not much in the way of parsing scientific theories, but he seemed to be missing a vital link, some key component. A person is not a mosquito, she thought of saying, but in the end, she knelt over Knotts’s body and began to pick through his satchel. The bottle of bug spray was very small.

“Give it to me,” Jacobs said, peeling his shirt over his head.

“Is this enough?”

“It’ll have to be, won’t it? It doesn’t last more than an hour, hour and a half, anyway. We just need to get beyond them.” He was already smearing the stuff down his arms. “Take off your vest.”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Take it off. And your shirt. We need it thick, all over. Put it in your hair.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“Does it matter, then? We’re dead anyway. Everyone’s dead eventually.”

And that was logic she couldn’t argue with.

They reached the Rosewood complex shortly after midnight. The moon was pale and heavy in the sky, fat as a dogtick. Their progress went undetected, although Grace had no position as to whether it was due at all to the DEET.

They crossed the perimeter of the complex. The west entrance already stood open, a dark gaping maw. Jacobs lit his xenon lamp, holding it to the doorway. Somewhere beyond the halo of light, a shape was moving.

Grace loosened her gun in its holster. “Something’s there.”

“Good,” Jacobs said. “We just need one. I want one alone in the lab for fifteen minutes.”

Grace nodded and didn’t answer. There was never just one.

From far away, a shrill giggle rose. It echoed back and forth in the corridor, trickling down the walls. Another came from somewhere in the northern sector.

At the reception station, they paused to examine the attendant signs of disuse. The control panel was coated in dust.

Jacobs indicated a bank of monitors. “See if you can bring the lights up while I find the medical bay. I need to get some supplies together.”

Grace nodded again. Her skin was prickling with adrenaline, but this was not the time to go jumpy. There would be warning. There always was.

When she accessed the backup system, the lights came up sluggishly on the generator, hazy and dim, like being underwater.

She stood in the reception area and waited. The time that passed was deep and faceless and full of sound.

When an unwieldy figure came toward her down the hall, she raised her pistol, but it was only Jacobs. He wore a biohazard suit, fitted with a portable respirator and a curved Plexiglas face-mask. With one gloved hand, he gestured her to follow.

He led her through a maze of corridors to the medical wing and ushered her into a glass-fronted observation room. Grace maneuvered between counter tops and stasis chambers to peer through the long window into an adjacent exam room.

The girl was in bad shape, skin discolored, covered in welts and scratches. She was smiling the smile, gleeful, manic. Grace watched her make a circuit of the room. Eight or nine years old. Must have belonged to one of the technicians, maybe a project manager. The girl had been someone’s daughter.

Jacobs turned from a cooler at the far end of the room. Cupped in his hands was a white rat.

“Is it dead?” Grace asked.

Jacobs shook his head. He had to spit out the mouthpiece before speaking. “They’ve got hundreds in there, in stasis. I’d say we’ve got five, maybe ten minutes before it revives. I need to see what she does.”

Grace touched the rat’s side. Its fur felt cold and matted.

Jacobs secured the face-mask again, then motioned her away from the exam room door and entered, carrying the rat.

The girl reacted with no particular venom to Jacob’s presence.

When he offered his gloved hand, she took it without looking up. He lifted her and set her on the edge of a gurney. He left the rat resting beside her.

Back in the observation room, he took off the headpiece and set it on the counter.

“Now watch,” he said, leaning towards the glass.

The girl sat where he’d left her, swinging her feet, smiling the deranged smile. Beside her, the rat lay peaceful and motionless.

“Right now, its body’s still retaining carbon dioxide, but as it comes up, the emissions will be transiently high. It’s going to be a little CO2 bomb in a minute.”

The rat twitched violently.

When the girl moved, it was with unexpected ferocity, snatching up the rat and sinking her teeth into its side. Blood ran copiously, soaking into the front of her dress.

As Grace watched through the glass, the girl’s eyes turned up to meet her gaze. She was holding the animal to her mouth with both hands and then she let it fall. Blood was dripping from her chin and the rat lay motionless and red on the cement floor.

Jacobs had pillaged a battery-powered tablet from somewhere and was making rapid marks with the stylus, murmuring to himself.

There was a low, industrial whirring as the fans came on. Grace flinched as the ventilation system roared to life. Jacobs only stood with his head bent, tapping at the little screen.

On the other side of the glass, the girl began to pace frantically, scraping at the walls with her fingers.

“What’s she doing?”

Jacobs glanced up. Above them, ducts ran along the ceiling, their shining planes punctuated by vents.

“She’s just got a whiff of us,” he said. “The air’s circulating again.”

In the other room, the girl was scrabbling at the floor vents and then at the edges of a broad grate in the wall. It occurred to Grace that if the DEET worked like Jacobs said it did, then the girl wasn’t responding to it. That she must be smelling something else. Or maybe the DEET didn’t work after all, but was only a placebo. She did not know whether Jacobs had intended the fallacy to comfort her or himself.

“Are they really mindless?” she said, with her palms against the glass.

Jacobs looked at her strangely. “You mean, did they experience brain injury? If we could mitigate the reaction to incidental levels of CO2, we’d be certain. But no, I don’t think they’re stupid.”

The lights failed then, and the room lapsed into blackness except for the flicker of the tablet. Without ceremony, Jacobs lit the xenon lamp and continued his notations. Grace reached for her sidearm.

Out in the corridor, footsteps echoed. Multiple people-eight, nine maybe-and coming closer, but they were unattended by the manic sounds of laughter. Grace moved so that her back was to the wall.

Jacobs still scribbled on his tablet, letters slanting down in a frantic scrawl before the CPU converted them to type. He was talking to himself under his breath, alive suddenly, animated. His intensity had become frantic, bordering on possession, and it frightened her.

The door swung open and the strangers came in slowly, with wary looks and raised guns.

“Who are you?” said a tall, craggy man at the head of the group. He stepped into the light. “What are you doing here?”

He wore no uniform. Someone had sewn stripes onto the sleeves of his jacket, but the stitches were sloppy, inexpert. A scar ran across the bridge of his nose and then jagged abruptly down one cheek. Behind him, a contingent of men held firearms. Mostly hunting rifles and shotguns.

Grace moved forward, standing at attention. “Private Maureen Grace and Sergeant Rabe Jacobs, 68W.”

The man nodded. “Trask,” he said.

He gave no rank and did not need to. His manner conveyed the brutal authority of a general, although the unit behind him was motley. Probably local militia. He was looking past her to the bare desk and the glassed-in examination room. “And what are you doing here, Private Maureen Grace?”

She glanced at Jacobs, who sat limply, watching the newcomers with the air of someone drugged. “We’re investigating a possible course of action. The sergeant’s developing a theory and has acquired a research subject.”

“This research subject here?” Trask said, raising his pistol to the glass. “This raggedy little bitch right here?”

At the desk, Jacobs set the tablet down. “What are you doing? She’s not a threat, you moron. She’s just a little girl.”

The look Trask gave him was long, calculating. “And she’d have your throat out in two seconds.”

“I had her calm. I had her sedate, even when I was in the room. We have all the preliminary evidence necessary to pursue this. Are you listening? We could alleviate their aggression. We could fix them!”

“And lead them around like pets? Keep them until they’ve had enough one night, and kill us in our beds?”

Jacobs scrambled up from the desk. “It is our duty to cure them.”

“There is no cure,” Trask said, coming down hard on each word. “No cure but to rout them, and pick them off one at a time until it’s over. There’s no way to play nice and then go home.”

Around him, the other men nodded, their gestures tied to his orbit like moons or planets. Grace watched them. Trask embodied all the qualities vital in a leader. His voice was low and commanding. His face was honest. It promised suffering to anyone who got in his way.

Above them, the ductwork clattered. In the eerie glow of Jacobs’s lantern, the men started, raising their weapons to the ceiling.

Grace crossed to the observation window and pressed her face to the glass. “She’s gone, sir.”

When the ventilation duct dropped down into the observation room, the sound was very loud. The whole apparatus seemed to peel away from the ceiling-a long, shining arc that hung for an instant at its apex, then crashed to the floor with a deafening clang.

Grace watched as a dim figure scrambled out on hands and knees, slashing and clawing at everything in reach. Lank, dirty hair, tattered dress, dark splatters down the front. Then nothing but the smile. The handgun was light, not powerful, but efficient, up out of the holster and in her hand. She put the girl down from eight yards.

Beside the desk, Jacobs lay under the remains of the duct. The aluminum had torn jaggedly, like a mouthful of teeth. Her ears still rung with the sound of metal striking cement and on another plane, laid over the metallic clatter, the shot echoed again and again.

She did not recall crossing the room, but there she was beside him. His cheek had been raked open and he gasped for breath, looking up at her. A dull, shocked look, like he was offended by the treachery of the world. The wound in his side was long. Not a puncture, but a ragged gash, first through the material of the biohazard suit and then through his skin and after that, the subcutaneous fat. The blood was bright, arterial red.

Grace knelt over him and pressed her hands to the wound.

Somewhere in the ducts, a sharp, high-pitched giggle broke loose, echoing down on them like spilled nails.

“Welcome to the zoo,” Trask said behind her.

“You know I’m right,” Jacobs whispered. “Don’t you know I’m right?”

But Grace knew nothing about chemistry or pathology. The mysteries of science were Jacobs’s domain, and the brilliance of his vision eluded her.

He was coughing now, bloody saliva collecting at the corners of his mouth. On the other side of an examination table, the dead girl grinned and grinned.

Trask moved closer. He was wearing work-boots and the soles squeaked on the linoleum. “Look at his face. He’s infected anyway. You know it, I know it. Just end it-for him and for us. We need to be strong if we’re going to restore the nation.”

All through the compound came the sounds of scrabbling, shuffling laughing. Grace had a strange, unbidden thought. There is no nation; only people.

Under her palms, Jacobs coughed again. The skin around his eyes had taken on a bluish hue.

Trask had nothing on his side but grim conviction and force of will. A man who was simply not afraid could persuade the masses to follow him anywhere. He might not be a war hero, but he could marshal the survivors.

Above them, the metallic clamor was much louder. Grace lifted her hands.

She raised the gun, held the muzzle to Jacobs’s cheek. His eyes were pained and cloudy. She felt for the trigger and did not think, because it was easier not to.

Steve and Fred by Max Brooks

Max Brooks is one of the kings of contemporary zombie fiction. He is the author of World War Z-which is currently in the process of being adapted into a feature film-and The Zombie Survival Guide, both of which were huge international bestsellers. Brooks has also published a graphic novel, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, and he’s had short stories in the anthologies The New Dead and Dark Delicacies II. Prior to becoming the world’s foremost expert on zombies, he worked for two years as a writer for Saturday Night Live.

There comes a point in life when you must look in the mirror and ask yourself certain basic questions: Who am I? What am I doing with my life? And most importantly: How will I fare when the zombies come? As you survey the vast landscape of zombie fiction, you must appraise each character and ask: Would that be me?

Maybe you’ll be the coward who locks himself in the basement and refuses to help fortify the house, and refuses to let any strangers into your domain, all the while ignoring obvious signs that your child will soon be among the undead. No? Then maybe you’ll be the strong leader of your enclave of survivors who goes mad with power and turns into a sadistic monster more horrifying than any zombie.

Don’t think so? Of course, you know exactly who you’ll be: The hero, the one who perseveres when all others have succumbed. You’ll have the weapons, the car, the steely determination, the girl. You’ll ride into town like a white knight and sort the local zombie problem right out, and ride off into the sunset as the weak gather in the dusk and wave and wonder about your name. That’s the way you’ve always imagined it, right? Well then, our next story should be right up your alley.

Think you know exactly who you’ll be when the zombies come? Well, so do we. You’ll be exactly like the main character in our next tale.


“There’s too many of them!” Naomi shrieked, the sound perfectly matching the skidding of the motorcycle’s tires.

They came to rest just short of the treeline, the Buell’s engine purring between their legs. Steve’s eyes narrowed as he scanned the outer wall. It wasn’t the zombies that bothered him. The lab’s main gate was blocked. A Humvee had collided with the burned-out hulk of what looked like a semi’s tractor. The trailer must have continued forward, turning over as it slammed into the two vehicles. Bright, icelike pools shone where fire had melted parts of the aluminum walks. Can’t get in that way. Steve glanced over his shoulder at Naomi. “Time to use the service entrance.”

The neuroscientist actually cocked her head. “There is one?”

Steve couldn’t help but chuckle. For someone so smart, Naomi sure could be dumb. Steve licked his finger and placed it dramatically in the wind. “Let’s find out.”

The lab was completely surrounded. He’d expected that. There had to be, what, a few hundred shuffling and groping at each side of the hexagonal perimeter.

“I can’t see another gate!” Naomi shouted over the bike’s roar.

“We’re not looking f