#.12 One Girl. One Shot. by Kristen Jett…

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I’M BACK, BABY.

Today’s Soundtrack – Monsters by Hurricane Bells

Hey, babies! I have returned from sunny Morocco, and I come bearing gifts – the twelfth Zombie Project story by the fantastical Kristen Jett! Kristen was actually the first person I spoke to on Twitter, and she’s remained one of my Twitter friends for all of this time. She’s an ace person and an ace writer, and when the Zombie Project was no more than an undead seed I knew she had to be a part of it. She knows things about almost EVERYTHING. If you’re not following her on Twitter, then you have a problem.

Kristen is also co-founder of Pen and Muse, which you should definitely check out if you’re a fellow writer (which, let’s face it, most of you probably are.)


One Girl. One Shot.

by Kristen Jett

Shopping is the best thing about the zombie apocalypse.

It’s a bitch thing to say, but it’s true. If a girl has to be running around lopping off zombie heads like she’s some bad ass movie star, she might as well look good. Lucie Theroux, zombie slayer. Call me Luc. Everyone does.

That practical-yet-chic leather bomber I eyed last season? Perfect to protect me from rogue bites, and pairs well with my current ensemble. And since I was the only living person in Barneys, it was mine. All mine. Not that you can spend all day trying on brand name clothes…which was why I’m in the hunting goods store. I grab another box of rounds from the shelf, tucking as much ammo as I can carry without slowing me down into my bags. A machete swings at my hip, while a dagger hilt protrudes from my pink cowboy boots. Always be prepared. Once a girl scout, always a girl scout.

I should have been more prepared. My own father created this. Caused this. The apartment was practically a bunker, but he couldn’t even explain why. I wonder if Mom is still sitting there, locked away, certain he was going to come back to save the day. Hoards filled the streets, slowly making their way up our posh penthouse buildings, and still she sat waiting patiently.

Screw that.

A noise from the back of the store startles me, and instantly Berta, my pistol, is in my hand. The shotgun does more damage, but is a real bitch to get to quickly. Besides, shotgun ammo is heavy to lug around, even when I do wear that ugly bandoleer under my jacket.

“Don’t shoot!” A deep voice calls out from a corner I thought I’d cleared. This one little mistake could have gotten me killed. Most of the zoms are slow, but a fast one could have taken me out when I’d had my back turned. People are worse. They’ll feed you to a hoard if they think it’ll save their ass. Which it might. Except then they have to live with themselves. And the men? Well, let’s just say it’s been awhile since most of them have seen a girl who breathes. Not reassuring. I keep my gun trained on the corner, ready to blow his head off in an instant.

“Who are you?” My voice doesn’t even tremble. No one at my school would have believed it. Little blonde girly Lucie became Luc, the tough fighter who curses like a sailor. All it took was for the world to go to hell.

A figure steps out of the shadows slowly, carefully. His face slides into the dim light of the room. Seriously? Another hunk? Does it have to be another hunk? Hey Universe, haven’t I had enough to worry about what with the whole zombie apocalypse, and the boy, and having to leave him behind?

“Mason. Mason Hutchings. Who the hell are you?” I see him eying Berta as he talks. I push my jacket to the side to show off the fluorescent grips of the Glock tucked into my waistband. No need for him to get any funny ideas.

“Luc.”

“Like a boy?”

I roll my eyes. “You catch on fast, darling. Pronounced like the boy. You clear?”

He waves a wrist in front of me, and I catch a glimpse of green. Implanted. Makes my life easier. I try to notice anything else about him, like the just tousled enough to be sexy hair. If this was a movie, we’d be falling in love faster than you could say zombie apocalypse. But this isn’t a fucking movie, and the only thing moving fast around here is my killing arm.

“You.”

My wrist raises in the air. “No implant. I’m clean.” I eye him carefully. “In more ways than one. You know there is water in this town that’s not tainted, right?” Is there ever an excuse not to shower?

In a normal conversation, I’d ask where he was from, who he was, what his interests were.  This isn’t a normal conversation. None of us have any of that anymore. We’re just beating hearts trying to survive – not to be confused with the undead hearts trying to survive.

“How do you-” His question cuts off at my sharp stare. There’s no time for any of that.

Instead I toss him a bottle of water. He misses. Catch like a man, why can’t you? I flinch before it happens, knowing exactly what is going to happen.  There’s nothing worse than watching a big effing mistake happen and knowing you can’t do anything about it. It’s almost slow motion. The bottle flies past his head, knocking over metal (and empty) thermoses destroying the store in one noisy round of dominoes.

“Grab the fucking water and let’s go.” I can see the hesitation in his step. “NOW. Haven’t you ever watched a horror movie before? Noise attracts them.”

He doesn’t look as if he believes me, but something flashes in his eyes, and his feet start moving. Mine do too – in the opposite direction. I hadn’t seen a gun on Pretty Boy, and I certainly wasn’t going to give him one of mine. I may have morals, but you’re not separating me from any of my weapons. My mind’s racing – what would be best? “Can you shoot?” I yell across the store, not caring about the consequences. We’ve got maybe two minutes tops to get out of here, and my ass is going to be out that door regardless.

“Um….I’m a little rusty.”

Of course he is. Fucking pretty boys. Next time someone creeps out of the shadows, it better be a man who knows the difference between a .38 Special and .357 Magnum. I shake my head, grabbing a shotgun for him – better chance of getting a hit with a shotgun round than a rifle. My elbow smashes a glass case to grab the Walther. Easy enough to shoot, even easier to find ammo for.

“I only need one.” He’s climbing across the debris to reach me. The only answer he receives is a grueling look from me. To his eyes, I must look paranoid. Berta. The Glock. The pink shotgun. One machete. One dagger.  And he didn’t even know about the Lady Derringers I had tucked into my clothing. Because sometimes one shot’s all you need.

“I have an axe,” he continues. My second mistake of the day? Turning to see why his voice falters as he says that. The proof of my mistake groaned in through the door while my back was turned…with a few of his undead friends, and an undead man in a suit that I’ve been spending months trying to avoid. Since the boy. And we are not talking about what happened then. Or to the boy.

Ever been in an army surplus or a hunting goods store? Typically the owners are serious about protection. Which means there’s usually only one fucking exit. Which means we’re trapped.

It takes 2.7 seconds for me to grab the shotgun on my back and cock it. I timed it once. It looks damn impressive too. Not that the zombies care. My old faithful is in my hands, reassuring me. I’d shot my first zombie with this gun, and if I was going out, I’d take out my last with it. “Get the fuck over here, Mason.”

For once he obeys, and even realizes he’s the sub in this relationship and stands behind me. We back ourselves into a corner, where at least we know nothing can grab us from behind. “You know how to hold your own.” His breath is in my ear.

Of course I did. How the hell did he think I’d made it this far? “My dad taught me.” Couldn’t this boy see I didn’t want to talk? Especially not about that.

“It’s kinda hot.”

Seriously? Seriously? That is what you choose to think about in the middle of a life and death situation? Men.

Boom. One zombie out. “Mr. Carter. You figure out how to control them now?”

Mr. Carter smiles at me. That cruel unbreathing smile. “You look healthy, Lucie. I’m sure your daddy would be happy to hear that.”

That son of a bitch is going to talk about my daddy? I take out the zom to the left of him as my only answer. Mason’s eyes are narrowed. “I’ve seen this guy. Where I came from.” There’s an awful hiss of a pause before he spits out the words, “I think he got my parents killed.”

Well, what do you know? Pretty Boy is smarter than he looks. I don’t have time to be his comfort blanket. “Take out the zoms first. Son of a bitch can control them.”

Know what’s sexier than a man with a gun? A man with a gun who only needs one shot to kill the walking dead. There’s more to this one than what meets the eye.

We take down the next seven in unison, while I mentally try to count rounds. Five guns, but no time to reload.

“Can you fight all day little Lucie? What about the boy…Mason? Doesn’t he want to join his family?” Mr Carter grins, a healthy glow to his cheeks.

The bastard’s playing with us.  The Glock raises to the ceiling, taking out the last lights that still manage to shine. If we’re going to play his games, we need to even the odds.

Now what? We’re backed into a corner, with a dead man who can control zombies in front of us. The room is clean of zoms, but who’s to say he can’t call more in? This situation can’t get any worse.

Until it does.

Even in the dark, I can see the glint of the gun as Mr. Carter points it at me. “Sorry, darling Lucie. I know this is hard to take in. How someone who’s known you all your life could want you dead. But it’s for the country, darling. One girl and one shot…doesn’t mean all that much when you think of the greater good. Your boyfriend here will just be a bonus…much like the last one was.”

Have I mentioned that I hate dead men? Because I fucking hate dead men.

“Shotgun down, Lucie. Slowly.” Mr. Carter’s voice is flat. “That pretty little Glock next. I believe Berta is empty now, so you can keep that.”  Guess I wasn’t the only one counting rounds.

My elbow nudges Mason, urging him to do something.

“I’m out of ammo.” His voice is a whisper in my ear.

“Cleavage.” I hiss the word with annoyance. Of course it would come to this. I slowly put my Old Faithful down, pushing my body further back into Mason to make this easier.

“What?”

“Gun in my cleavage. One shot.”

Sometimes all you get out of life is one shot. Mason’s hand reaches around me in the dark, sliding into my shirt, grazing maybe a little more than he should before settling on the gun. Three seconds to raise it, two seconds to steady his hand, one to pull the trigger.

One shot. Ready. Set. Aim.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by ME! (Yikes!) Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#9. The Light by Jolene Haley…

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Today’s Soundtrack – Miss Missing You by Fall Out Boy

Jolene Haley is one of the nicest people I’ve met during my time on Twitter. She truly is. Finding someone who doesn’t like her would be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. And her story is killer – following directly on from its predecessor, #8. Thinking Big by Julie Hutchings. Jolene will light up your Twitter feed – so follow her. If you want to see more, check out her website, which is coming soon. She likes gritty stories, strong female protagonists and things that go bump in the night.

Less of the preamble; on with the show!


The Light

by Jolene Haley

Goodbye Haley.

I never actually thought I’d make it out of the small, crappy little town of Haley. Most residents were born here, raised here, and died here. Haley was the kind of town where kids have one dream: get out of town and actually make something of themselves.

Dreams.

Dreams were, of course, before the outbreak. Dreams were before things were hopeless. Before I had a glowing chip unwillingly implanted into my wrist to sell me out the second I was infected. Dreams were before the citizens of Haley started to drop like flies.

The warm night weighed on my shoulders and the stars glittered in the sky, like always. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that nothing had changed. But the stars lied. Nothing ever remains the same.

I stood alone in the dark, feet planted firmly in the dirt outside of Blue’s Diner, ready to run if anything unexpected were to leap out at me. I’d never experienced a zombie attack nor had I ever actually seen one in person, but you couldn’t be too careful these days.

Come on Mason. Where are you?

My head jerked in the direction of movement; the sound of shoes on dirt. My heartbeat quickened. I gripped the small axe in my hands.

Soon, the silhouette of Mason Hutchings emerged from the darkness, his bright blue eyes in all their glory. He looked like he normally did: blue jeans, black sneakers, and a dark hoodie. His hands gripped the straps of the backpack strung on his shoulders.

When he saw me he tucked a strand of unruly brown hair behind his ear before giving me a quick wave of his hand.

“Are you ready?” he asked, with a grin.

Boy had things changed. I’d met Mason Hutchings in the 7th grade and every day since that I’d spent my time lusting after him. Of course, he’d never known, but I had hoped one day I’d have a chance to tell him how I felt.

Now, I couldn’t find a time that was right. A crush was stupid and irrelevant to survival.

I flashed a confident smile; one that didn’t reveal the thunderstorm raging inside me.

“Ready.”

I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to leave this town yet. Though I’d spent all of my teens talking to anyone who would listen about how I’d get out one day, fleeing my own imminent death was the last way I imagined my escape. I wasn’t ready to leave my family. I didn’t want to leave the familiarity of home, even though now it was covered with dust and overrun with rats.

“You didn’t tell her did you?” Mason stepped closer and placed his hand on my arm.

Ruth Ann was my sister who ran Blue’s Diner, the main source of food in town.

Most of the town recently started getting really ill. Two of the latest to succumb to the fever were Mason’s parents. I saw Mason at his parent’s funeral and we got to talking. We talked about life, the outbreak, and discovered that we both had the same goal: to get out of this town. Alive. So why not do it together?

I moved my arm out of his grip.

“Of course I didn’t tell her.”

But I almost had. One thousand times.

“It’s for the best, Penny,” Mason assured me with a lazy grin. I used to go weak at the knees for that grin.

He led me to the back door of the restaurant. I unclipped the keychain from my jeans and selected the spare key I’d “borrowed” from Ruth Ann a few hours before.

Mason and I had talked about this a few times. The plan was to sneak into Blue’s, grab a few sealed containers of food and alcohol (since all the uncontaminated water no longer existed), and leave this town forever.

I didn’t really like the idea of stealing this stuff. Believe me. If money still mattered and we even had any, lord knows I would’ve walked to the nearest store (had one still been open) and paid for the few items we planned on taking with us when we left.

I wasn’t about to die a victim. If there was a chance we could make it somewhere else, I was going to take it.

The door groaned when it opened, revealing dark empty halls and peeling paint.

Frankly, I didn’t want to be in front or in back of Mason. What I really wanted was to be living two years in the past. Mason must have sensed my unease, because he grabbed my hand as the shutting door enclosed us in complete darkness inside Blue’s.

I reached in my backpack and pulled out a small flashlight, handing it to Mason. He led us to the kitchen and I couldn’t help but wonder how differently this could have ended if it were a movie.

“Aha!” he said as he found the large walk in freezer.

When he opened the door, nausea hit me as the smell of rot hit my nostrils. Mason’s hand shot to his nose, clamping it shut. He slammed the heavy freezer door as quickly as possible, but it was too late. The hallway now smelled of putrid stink.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Mason said gagging, leaning forward with his hands on his knees.

I didn’t blame him. I’d already swallowed down the bile rising in my throat. To think that I’ve possibly eaten something from inside was too much.

I snaked the flashlight out of his hands and motioned towards a storage room door.

“I’ll check in here.”

The door was heavy as it swung open and —

Holy shit.

A hand reached out from the inside the closet and wrapped around my wrist—hard. In shock, my axe tumbled from my hands.

“Mason! Help!” Shaking my arm I tried to wriggle free but it didn’t help. It only seemed to grip harder on my wrist, pulling me towards its gaping mouth and digging its blackened fingernails into my flesh.

It had a human form but it was no longer human. There was no skin. In place of skin were large red boils seeping clear and green fluids. Its mouth hung open revealing chipped teeth. It managed an eerie shriek from its open mouth that was spilling bloody saliva down its face.

Mason reached me quickly, just as the thing’s jagged teeth clamped down on my wrist. I howled but the screams made no difference. The pain was searing. It wasn’t just biting me, it was grinding its sharp teeth through my flesh.

“Help, Mason! Get it off me!” I managed, in between kicking and punching the thing.

“I’m trying. It’s not fucking letting go!”

Mason rushed over to the axe that  I dropped and came back swinging. I was freed quickly and Mason was already pulling me out the door with our bags slung hastily over his shoulder.

We didn’t stop running until we both couldn’t run anymore, and even then, we ran.

We only slowed our pace when we came to a sign that said, “Welcome to Ackles, Population: 247.”

“Mason,” I started turning to him. “That was—”

“You’re fine.” Mason placed a hand gently on my cheek. “We’re okay.”

I pulled him close and to my surprise he didn’t pull away. I melted into his arms and I was certain that everything would be okay.

I took a deep breath in. Everyone smelled of dirt these days but not Mason. He smelled amazing. He smelled like the forest. Like the air after a rainstorm. Wait, that wasn’t it. Mason smelled amazing like…a steak.

The realization of my thought made me gasp. What did I just think?

We slowly let go of each other and I turned towards the sky that was starting to change colors from the dark night to pinks and purples.

I was just tired. After all, we’d run for miles and miles. Everything was going to be okay.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner.” Mason said softly behind me. “I tried. I want you to know that. You understand.”

I turned around. What the heck was he talking about?

But when I turned back to Mason, my face wasn’t focused on his. It was focused on the axe in his hands that was raised and ready to strike me.

“Mason, what are you doing?” My heart was thundering. I was too young to die. This was ridiculous! I didn’t flee a town just to get killed.

“I saw that zombie bite you, Penny. I saw it. I’m not stupid. It’s just a matter of time.” His eyes were welling up with tears. He kept the axe raised and ready to swing.

“If I was turned, wouldn’t I be after you already?” The axe only lowered for a moment, but he quickly changed his mind and raised it back up again.

The breeze was blowing now, whipping through the hills and carrying a few clouds through the sky.

“Show me your chip, Penny,” Mason commanded.

I didn’t really know how they worked other than red meant you were infected, yellow meant that you were in the process, and green meant that you were okay.

“This is absolutely insane!” I threw up my hands in frustration. I held out my bitten arm to show Mason that he was way out of line.

A faint red light blinked up at me from under my flesh.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the sizzling Louise Gornall! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#6. The Manhattan Marauders by Carey Torgensen

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Today’s soundtrack – Dance, Dance by Fall Out Boy

It’s the next in the line, guys, and it’s gonna be a good one. Don’t forget – comment on any of the Zombie Project short stories and be entered into a prize draw to win a copy of Warm Bodies, an eBook copy of Julie Hutchings’ Running Home and possible other prizes to come!

Carey Torgensen (or ‘The Torg’, as she’s more commonly known) is one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of virtually meeting. I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t like her. She’s like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (if you don’t like Peanut Butter Cups, you can leave right now, devil child.) Nawh, I’m just kidding – this is Carey’s story, and she’s nicer than I am, so you can stay. Just don’t navigate away from this post, capiche?

Carey has a sensible fear of spiders and smarmy men, so I’m sure you can tell she’s an alright gal. You can find her on Twitter, here, and on her blog, here. I – accidentally! – began this short story series at the same time as Carey was running an ace blog series called The Memory Project, so go and check that out on her blog because otherwise I’ll have to buy her flowers or something and Jesus, they’ll probably die on the way from England to her and do you really want that much death on your hands?

Without further ado (yes, it’s ‘ado’, as in ‘much ado’, not ‘adieu’ which would mean ‘further goodbye’ and makes no sense at all, really, does it?) I give you the 6th short in the Zombie Project chain. In Carey’s own words: ‘This story pushed me and challenged me more than ever, and dare I say it, it’s one of my favorites. It’s not a genre I write, but it was extremely fun. I tend to write YA romance and chick lit a la Bridget Jones. (could you tell?)’


The Manhattan Marauders
by Carey Torgesen

“Shit.”
“What?!” Abby shot a fierce look at me.
“I broke a nail.” I examined my purple-hued fingernails and rolled my eyes. “Just before the dance, too. Fucking figures.”
“Please, like THAT is some major issue. I have real issues. Like what do I do about Zack?”
Zack my-dad-owns-a-car-dealership Evans, Mister Popularity himself. Abby’s been going on for weeks about whether or not it breaks some sort of teen protocol to ask him to the dance. It’s not as if five other amazing guys haven’t already asked her. She’s beautiful. Bright auburn curls, cute as a button freckle adorned nose. She’s like Miss Fucking Teen America. And she deserves way better than Zack I’ll-give-you-a-ride-if-you-give-me-a-ride-if-you-know-what-I-mean.
I picked up my backpack, unzipped it and shoved my books back into my locker. “You see, these are problems I don’t have. Because I have James.”
“Well, we can’t all have the perfect relationship like you guys. Some of us have yet to actually meet our Mr. Wonderful, so if you could focus on me just for a minute, I need your advice.”
Closing my locker, I turned around and looked confidently into Abby’s blue eyes. “Look, you want my advice? Here it is. Zack’s a douche. Forget him. But I know that’s not what you want to hear so I’ll give you more advice. If you like him, just go ask him. Worst that’s gonna happen is he says no. Which in my humble opinion, is not that bad. So, go and do it.”
My cell phone vibrated in my jean pocket and I slipped my hand in and grabbed it. James. I smiled. A text. ‘Meet me in front in ten. Love you.’
I quickly texted back ‘See you there, Jimmy Bear.’ When I looked back up, Abby was fixated on something across the quad. I followed her eyes to see what kept her so spellbound. A guy, about six feet tall, with wavy brown hair, and owning a body which could only be described as godlike, stood surrounded by no less than three members of the cheerleading squad. Zack.
I shook my head and rolled my eyes. This was ridiculous. If this was ever going to happen, it was clear it would have to be me to make it so. I linked my arm in Abby’s and forced her hand in mine.
“What are you doing? Where are you taking me?” Abby tried to rebel against my hold.
“Look, we’re just gonna pay someone a little visit.” With purpose, my body moved forward at a speedy clip, pulling and yanking Abby at every slight resistance she gave me. “Look,” I said, still advancing, “there’s no sense in trying to stop me. We both know I’m stronger and faster than you, so just stop fighting me and we’ll get there sooner and look less idiotic.” I gritted my teeth.
The tension between us lightened and I could tell, now that we were walking a bit more gracefully, she’d given in. I shoved my way between the three girls, forcefully pushing them out of the way. Their stares burned into us and I overheard their hushed mumbling.
“Bitch.” One of them said. They walked off, cackling as they gossiped. Fucking cheerleaders.
I stopped in front of Zack, still arm in arm with Abby.
Zack flashed us a smile. “Hey Addy. Abby. If it’s not my two favorite letters of the alphabet.”
I smiled a sickly sweet smile. “Oh, Zachary. That’s more than two letters. But whatever. Look, I was wondering if you have a date yet to tonight’s dance?”
Zack leaned back against a row of lockers and narrowed his eyes. One eyebrow raised as he asked, “Won’t James be a little pissed?”
“Not for me, smart one, for Abby.” I pushed Abby in front of me, and she just smiled, her red cheeks almost matching the shade of her hair.
Zack gave Abby the once over and then looked back at me. “Why isn’t she asking?”
“Same reason you’re talking to me still, because apparently with you two, I have to do all the work. Abby here likes you, and she wants you to go with her tonight. With us. We’ll double. Are you in, or out?”
Zack’s blue eyes ping ponged back and forth from me to Abby. He smiled. “I’d love to go with you, Abby. Pick you up at 7?”
Abby gave him a Cheshire grin. “Really? You’ll go with me? I mean, yeah, of course you can pick me up at 7.” Abby turned toward me and her eyes widened. She shook her head as if trying to tell me something in some sort of hidden language. She leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Do you have paper and something to write with?”
“Yeah, I do. So do you. Look in your damn binder!”
It was as if this whole Zack thing had taken her mind and replaced it with, well, replaced it with nothing. She was like a Zack zombie or something. Weird.
###
“Baby!” James was leaning on the passenger side of his small red Fiat, his arms crossed and his blonde hair gleaming in the Montana sunlight. He looked gorgeous. Just like he always had.
I hopped down the stairs, jumping off the second to last one, landing on one foot then practically skipping to where he stood. I dropped my backpack on the ground, rose on my tippy toes, and threw my arms around his neck. Our eyes locked and our lips touched. Every kiss was like a first kiss with James. The softness of his tongue against mine, the residual taste of Coca Cola in his mouth, the way our lips perfectly conformed to each other’s, it always sent me through the clouds. And this time was no different.
We’d been together nearly three out of the four years we’d spent in high school, and after finishing this year we’d made plans to get a place together. Get out of Podunk, Montana and get to the city. Maybe Chicago. Or Boston. Somewhere not here.
As we pulled away, I wiped some of the wetness from his lips, and winked. “Hey, you.”
“So, have you decided to ditch the school dance tonight and go to a movie or something? I think there’s an old Dawn of the Dead playing at the drive-in.” James wasn’t much for school anything. Not that he didn’t like school. After all, he was the captain of the football team. He loved Manhattan High as much as the next person. What he didn’t love was the moronic population that was most of Manhattan proper. And the drunktards and cowtippers that comprised most of the high school football team. That was one of the things that first drew us together in Mr. Sherman’s AP World History class in sophomore year.
The fact that he would rather just sit and watch an old B-class horror flick than associate with the student body at the Spring Fling dance made me that much happier I was with him. I just knew we would be one of those couples that would be high school sweethearts forever.
“Now, honey. You know I bought a very couture dress to wear for tonight. I simply must go to the ball!”
“Couture? You’ve been watching Project Runway again, haven’t you?”
“Whatever. I want to go. I like to dance. Especially slowly, with you.” I leaned up against him once again, and nuzzled his neck. “Besides, we have to go now. We’re doubling with Zack and Abby.”
James pushed me back and grabbed me by my shoulders. “We what?!”
“What? She’s been dying to ask him but couldn’t get the courage to, so I finally did. I figured it would be fun.” I looked up at him, giving my best sad puppy dog eyes impersonation.
James heaved a sigh. “Oh, all right. So when is this whole dance with destiny going to happen?”
“We’re meeting them here at 7:30 or so. So you need to pick me up at 7. And please dress up. Try and pretend you’re going to have fun with me.”
James slid his arm behind my waist and pulled me close. He whispered into my ear, “I never have to pretend that.” He tenderly nibbled at my neck, which of course sent shivers down my back. He had a way with me like no one ever had. I held him close and breathed in his scent, clean linen and aftershave.
###
As I walked downstairs, my dress, the color of Antigua water, swished against the bannister. My dad waited at the bottom of the stairs for me. It was like a scene out of every teen romance movie ever. It was cute though, how he worried. He always made me carry every emergency phone number possible. He continually supplied me with mace, a Swiss army knife, some minor first aid items, and of course, the small Ruger hidden in a holster under the billowy dress.
I was pretty sure I was the only seventeen-year-old that routinely carried a concealed weapon. That was the deal when you had an army sergeant for a father. Most of the time, he worked from home, as he wasn’t actually on active duty. Mostly he just ran small local operations, sometimes handled minor SWAT type details, and on occasion he’d drive down to the army base at Whitehill.
However, in the recent months, he’d been frequenting the base more often. Doing some sort of top secret training. Working with some pretty high ranking officials. Something about 358. Doing exactly what, he would never tell. Whenever I’d ask, he’d make some offhand comment like “Oh honey, you don’t want to know.” And for the most part, he was right. I just wanted to finish up my senior year and get the hell out of here.
But tonight, he seemed extra worried. His hair, salt and pepper, was disheveled, and his smile was hiding something behind it. Something he was trying hard as hell to not let me see. His eyes looked weary, with dark circles underneath, and the wrinkles around his eyes looked deeper than usual. Ever since Mom’s death last year, it was hard to know whether his appearance was work related or due to his continual standoff with most of his emotions.
“Addison Rigley Taylor. You look stunning. Aqua looks amazing on you.” He offered his hand to me. As I neared the last stair, I placed my hand in his and he walked with me to the living room, twirling me twice on the way.
As I reached the sunken space, I saw James sitting on the sofa, with a Coke in his hand. He looked handsome as usual in a black suit with an aqua tie, the same color as my dress. I had picked it out for him so we’d match. Figured we needed to class up the dance a bit.
James rose up to meet me, and my dad walked me over to him. “Wow. I’m going to have the hottest girl there.” His lips curled up in a smile and his eyes traced the shape of my body from head to toe. I blushed.
From behind me, my father cleared his throat. James shot a look from him to me and grinned. “I mean, um, you look beautiful, Addy.”
“Thanks. You look great too.” I grinned.
“Okay, James, have her home no later than twelve please. Stay in the school gym. Do not go anywhere after or before. Straight to the dance. Straight home. There are things going on around us, and I don’t want you two getting mixed up in any of it. Got it?”

Exchanging glances, we replied in unison, “Got it.”
My dad pulled me aside. “And you remember all the things I’ve told you. In case anything should happen. You know what you need to do.” His gray eyes studied my every move as if trying to monitor my thoughts.
“I know, Dad. First call you. Then strikes to the throat or nose. If it’s a guy, to the groin. Swiss Army knife to the eye. Kick the knee to bust out the knee cap. Punch in the sternum. And if all else fails, shoot. I know. Nothing’s gonna happen. It’s a school dance, not the zombie apocalypse.”
The color in his face suddenly drained. His eyes widened.
“Dad, you okay?”
He shook his head, as if snapping out of a day dream. “I’m fine, kiddo. Just go and have fun. And be careful. Promise?”
“Promise.”
He kissed my cheek, and hugged me tightly. “I already lost your mom, I don’t want to lose you too.” The words were soft and heartfelt.
“You won’t, Daddy. I love you.”
He pulled away and swept some loose tendrils from my up-do out of my face.
“I love you, too.”
###
Manhattan High School: Home of the Marauders. What the hell was a marauder anyway? As we entered the school gym, the music pumped through the large sound system, vibrating through my body, my nerves tickling from the resonance. James held my hand as we walked through throngs of people, gyrating and moving to the beat.
I scanned the room for any sign of Zack and Abby. They had to be here. It was already past eight.
“I’m gonna go get us a drink. What do you want?” James asked.
“I’ll take a Long Island Iced Tea.”
“Cool. You want me to grab some pot and crank while I’m over there?”
“Oh, James, my boy, those things are illegal.” I winked. “I’ll take a Diet Coke.”
“You got it, sweetheart.”
As James went off to hunt us down some beverages, I walked around, skirting the main dance area, my head bouncing to the music. I saw no sign of Abby or Zack. But I did manage to run into a few of Zack’s buddies. Dateless. Of course.
I just observed the budding bromance for a bit before throwing myself into the den of duncehood. But I could only take so much fist pumping, high fiving, ogling of girls, and manly grunting before I decided I needed to get in and get the hell out.
Tapping one of the running backs on the shoulder, I shimmied my way into the group. “Hey, guys, have you seen Zack and Abby?” I yelled to be heard over the music.
“Who?”
“Zack Evans? Abby Baylor? Have you seen them?”
One of the guys, I think they called him Fitz, nodded emphatically. I waited. No response. Obviously these guys needed coaching in more things than football. Like social etiquette for one.
I responded slowly, enunciating each syllable so as not to be confusing. “Where. Are. They?”
“Ohhhh,” he seemed to understand the slow cadence of my question. I shook my head in annoyance. “They went out to the field. I think they were gonna hook up.”
“Oh good God.” I obviously needed to save Abby from herself. Last thing she needed was to get pregnant or some STD from “The Mack Attack” Zack. I needed to find her. Quick.
I gave a thumbs up and ducked out of the huddled guys and went to try and find James. There he was. Standing in the back by the drinking fountains, holding two drinks in his hand. His blond hair falling in his eyes, his legs crossed as he stood lazily against the wall. He mouthed the words to the song that played, It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. He’s so damn adorable.
“Hey. Put down the drinks, we gotta go find Abby.”
James took a swig. “I just got them! Do you know how long I had to wait in that stupid line?”
“I’m sorry, but we gotta go. We need to get Abby. Hell if I’m going to let her become some MTV reality star reject.”
“Whaaa?” James was cute even when he was confused. Plucking each plastic cup from his hands, I put them down on a nearby table and took James’ hand.
We hurried to the field, taking a look at the bleachers, underneath them and in all directions trying to find any trace of them.
“They probably left.”
I placed my hand on James’ chest. “Shhh. Do you hear that?”
“Do I hear what?”
A low rumbling from somewhere in the distance penetrated the silence. And from what I could tell, it was getting closer.
“That?”
A steady thump, thump, thump. Like…helicopters? But what would helicopters be doing in Manhattan, Montana at—I looked at my watch—9:30 pm? The beat of the blades came closer and grew louder.
Then, from the far corner of the field, a high pitched scream pierced the night.
“Abby.”
I knew that voice anywhere. Except I’d never heard her quite like that.
I squinted and saw her face, white as alabaster, as she ran toward us, her arms flailing about. The closer and closer she came, the more I could make out. Her hair was a mess, and her dress had been torn, and there was…blood?
“That fucking bastard.” My face flushed and every muscle tensed. I knew Zack was no good, but I never in a million years thought he was capable of hurting someone like this. Especially Abby. I never would have asked him out for her had I known. She had to know that. Would she ever forgive me?
She ran straight toward me, clutching at my dress. Her hands were cold, and now that I could get a good look, blood was…everywhere. And something else I couldn’t make out.
Her teeth clenched as she sputtered out, “Zzzz..zzzz…zzz..zombies.”
I belted out a laugh. “Are you fucking kidding me? Is this some kind of sick joke? I was worried, Abby! What the hell?”
But she just shook her head violently, clinging to me, her nails digging into my neck now. “Addy, this is not a fucking joke. Zack…he’s…he’s dead. I watched them. They ate him, Addy. They fucking ate him.”
As soon as the words came out of her mouth, a shadow came from under the bleachers just thirty feet from us. Then another. And another.
I shot a terrified look at James. His eyes grew large and I’d never seen him so pale.
“Fuck,” he said. His arm shot out in front of Abby and I, a protective instinct.
We backtracked, one step at a time, slowly, but meaningfully. Our heads snapping right to left, left to right, taking stock of our surroundings as best we could. Still the choppers blades beat on.
Step one, call Dad. I fumbled for my purse, impatiently messing with the zipper, my fingers slipping from a combination of the goop that was all over Abby and the fear manifesting first in a cold sweat. Finally defeating the zipper, I pulled out my phone and dialed.
“Hello? Addison? What’s wrong?”
He knew it immediately. I never called him. I’d never needed to.
I sobbed into the phone. “Daddy. Something’s wrong. Something’s happening. Help me.”
“Where are you?”
Silence was my only response.
“Dammit, Addison, where are you?”
“I…I’m in the football field. Daddy, you won’t believe this when I tell you…Zack’s dead. Abby said…well, she said…”
“Zombies.”
“What?” My mouth gaped.
“The zombies are there, aren’t they?”
“What? You KNEW? You knew and you didn’t tell me?”
“Okay, honey, you’re gonna have to trust me on this. Remember all the protocols? Remember what I taught you?”
“Yeah.”
“Do it. Now.”
I hung up the phone, tossing it on the ground. This was it. This was what he had prepared me for. I shot a look at James. Then at Abby, who was useless, crumpled on the ground.
The shadows were no longer faceless. Sallow skin, yellow corroded teeth, and thin gaunt figures surrounded us. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide.
The nearer they came, the more acrid the stench of the air around us became. I resisted the urge to vomit.
“Okay, assholes. Which one of you wants to die first?” I yelled.
“Uh, love, I hate to be a critic at a time like this, but they’re already dead,” James said.
“Everyone’s a joker, now, huh?” I said.
Considering all my options, I had to figure out my best plan of attack. I didn’t think mace was going to work too well here. And a Swiss Army knife probably wouldn’t do much considering these things were already dead. But they seemed pretty frail. After all, their skin barely hung on, so the muscles and ligaments couldn’t be doing much to hold their bones together. So first, I figured I’d go for the nose or throat tactic.
“Go for the throat. Punch them hard. Or in the nose. As hard as you can!” I called out to James as he began to battle his first of the undead.
A small zombie, probably once a young girl, came for me. I had to shove away any resemblance she bore to a human and remember she was already dead, thus I was putting her out of her undead misery. As hard as I could, I shot out my leg, my heel made contact with her esophagus, and her head just tumbled off. Her body went limp and from her neck oozed a lime green goop.
“I’ll never eat Lime Jell-O again.” I wiped my brow, looked up, and saw another coming for me. This time, a larger male.
Figuring it worked pretty well last time, I tried the same thing. Pushing my heel with all my strength into the zombie, I was shocked when it grabbed my foot, then pulled. I fell to the ground, my nails digging into the dirt as it pulled me toward it. I kicked and screamed. I would not let this thing take me down. Remembering the Ruger, I tugged at my dress, pulling it out from underneath, where the holster had held it against my thigh.
I cocked it and aimed for the middle if its forehead. I pulled the trigger. “You want to eat something? Eat this, you son of a bitch.” The gun fired and my body jerked back from the recoil.
The bullet hit the zombie square in the head, which exploded like an overripe watermelon. Masses of brain splattered all around, liquefying on contact with all surfaces. Once again, I tasted bile as I held back vomit.
I looked up to see another zombie coming for me. I shot two rounds into the head. Again, the sound of a waterfall, followed by the falling of chunks.
“Gross.”
I got up and looked around, noticing that while I’d been so busy killing zombies, I had no idea what was happening to James and Abby.
A few feet away, I recognized a body, but it wasn’t the skin of the zombie. This skin still had the pink of a rose and red tendrils of hair peeked out from shredded flesh.
“Oh no. Abby!” I ran to her figure, no longer the shape of a human. Only the remains of what was once a beautiful girl. My heart sunk. I wanted to cry, but fear and survival had kicked in, and right now all I felt was numb.
Then, a plummeting feeling hit me. “James.” It only occurred to me right now, I’d not heard him for a few minutes.
My eyes searched the grounds. And it was then I heard it. The unmistakable sound of swallowing. And lips smacking. My stomach wretched. I stood up, following the sounds.
Slowly, I made my way to the metal bleachers, a pair of black shoes stuck out from the bottom row. James’ shoes.
I shook my head and screamed, “NO, NO, NO! You mother fucker, NO!”
And there, bent beneath the bleachers, I could barely make out the shape of a zombie, and my former boyfriend’s head, skull clean open, brains cascading from its mouth.
With cold calculation, I got as close as I could, I aimed, and I fired three shots into the zombie’s head.
I looked over the football field, the decimated bodies strewn before me. A tear rolled down my cheek. But I couldn’t let despair in. I’d use it. I swallowed my emotions and clenched my jaw. With my arm, I wiped my face, a mix of blood and gore, and replaced my gun in the holster under my billowing dress.
The chopper’s spotlights beamed over the football field, like some warped Friday Night Lights.
I knew now what I was meant to do. Addison Rigley Taylor. Zombie hunter.
“Fucking zombies.”


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by my cousin (because it runs in the family, dontya know) Ruth Shedwick! Not only that, but ‘Running
Home’, by one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, is being published by Books of the Dead Press soon – get on Goodreads and add that bad boy here.

#1. No Place For Strangers by Bobby Salomons…

The Zombie Project Banner

And so this thing begins! Words cannot describe the excitement. To get you in the mood, let’s make The Walking Dead soundtrack today’s soundtrack. Or the theme from Misfits. I’m too excited to care.

Bobby came highly recommended by the raven haired half of the Undead Duo, one Julie Hutchings. His fear of whales notwithstanding, Bobby’s credentials in the field of all things zombie made him the natural choice to kick this thing off with one hell of a bang. If you don’t love this, there’s a very real chance there’s something wrong with you. I’m sorry.

You can find Bobby on Twitter, here, and at his blog, The Severed Limb Movement, here (and if that blog name doesn’t give you an idea as to how great this story is gonna be, then go back and read it again.)

Without further ado, I give you the beginning of the apocalypse. Strap yourselves in, guys. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


No Place for Strangers
by Bobby Salomons

WHEN people think of America they think of New York, Washington D.C. and L.A. – it’s what they see in movies and on TV. If a monster is hellbent on destroying the country it’ll start in New York, if aliens invade the planet they obliterate D.C. first. Robots and natural disasters seem to prefer L.A. But ask yourself this question – if zombies were to take over, what better place than the very heart of America? A small town in the heartland known as Whitehill Frontier, Montana.

“So nobody here has ze cowboying accent?”
For a moment an awkward silence fell, only the radio crackled and the engine hummed. The three German backpackers shrugged uncomfortably as their reflection stared back at them in his sunglasses.
“I don’t know what you call a cowboy accent…” Sheriff Harwood spoke calmly with the slightest of a Montana accent. Though only in his early forties, he had a typical way of speaking.
“Well… Uhhh… With the movies they are speakings like ze former president Bush, yah?”
“That would be a Texan-accent.” Harwood smiled, mild annoyance registering as two teens raced by on dirt bikes, “You can go to Texas for the accent but if you want to meet real cowboys and not just a football team named after it – Montana’s a better place.” The three backpackers mumbled amongst themselves, pointing at a map and counting money. Just the slightest drop of sweat formed on Harwood’s forehead – while the three tourists were occupying his time the teens were making distance between them. Surely they’d tell their high school pals how they outraced the sheriff, worse they shouldn’t be going this fast on a windy and rainy day.
“Ze train station?”
“I’m sorry?” Harwood said, popping out of his worries.
“Ze train station? For a train to ze Texas?”
“Well, uhhh…the nearest by is about fifteen miles that way.” He pointed just behind the mountains. “I’m sure one of the locals will give you a ride if you ask nicely.”
“Zank you! We zank you for your kindness und hospitality. We are travels all through ze America and would really like to hear this accent, you understand?”
Harwood faked a nice smile,
“Sure… Whitehill Frontier is no place for strangers… You people have a good stay in this country and take care now, alright?”

“Yah! Und you too! Goodbye!” The three backpackers waved and strolled back to town to hitch a ride.
Sheriff Harwood rolled up the window and sighed. By now the teens could be anywhere. As he looked out on the fields, he smiled. Tourists didn’t know what they were missing. The corn that fed America, the beef that they were famous for and the people that worked hard to provide a nation. He popped open the plastic lid of his coffee and sipped from it.
“Sheriff Harwood?” The radio spoke, sound slightly distorted – most likely due to thunderstorms.
“Yes, Laureen?” he answered.
“There’s been accident…” The radio crackled, “One of the Hansen twins called it in.”
His heart skipped a beat.

“Christ, where are they at?”
“Rickerson Ranch, just between the cornfields – Joe’s already on his way.”
“That’s a 10-4, I’m moving. Over and out.”

Harwood turned the car around as fast as he could. Mud sprayed like a fountain as the tires fought to find traction. With a flick of his finger the lights and sirens turned on.
“Ed, it’s Joe…” The radio called in.
“Go ahead, Joe.” Harwood replied, he knew Joe hardly ever called in unless it was real serious.
“Looks like we’ve got a casualty here.” Joe replied.

“Jesus H. Christ! I knew it!” He cursed to himself, punching the steering wheel repeatedly.
“Ed…?” The radio asked confused.
“I hear you, Joe! Just do what you can – I’ll be there soon! Over.” His heart beat in his throat, in his mind he kept seeing the boys race by.

After racing over stretches of dirt roads and the interstate he finally made it there. Joe’s car parked by the side of the road. Lights still on.
Rickerson Ranch wasn’t hard to spot from the road but corn obstructed the view of the accident scene. He pulled over, grabbed his hat and ran out, distant thunder rolling ominously through the sky.
“I’m here!” He barked over his portable radio, “Where’s it at?”
“You coming from the interstate?”
“Yep!”
“Just keep on walking through the corn till you hit a little dirt road – then turn right towards the ranch. Over…”
“Copy! I’ll be there in a minute!” Harwood replied and hurried through the wet cornfield. The thought of what he’d have to tell their parents was building up like a pressure cooker in his head.
The corn leafs made a rushing sound as he ran through, soothing in an odd way. After a few more steps he broke through, his feet sinking into muddy ground. To his right not too far away lay a dirt bike in a ditch, Joe’s brightly colored first aid kit from the car beside it. The flash of neon grabbed him by the throat.
“I see you, Joe! You’re right ahead of me!” He hollered and ran as fast as he could through the soggy soil.

Joe stepped into view shortly, almost nonchalantly and gestured him over before disappearing again, a lit cigarette in his hand.
Finally he made it there and turned to see the horror he had anticipated. But it was nothing like that. Before him stood the two teens, cold and shaky. One with a bandage around his wrist.
“…The fuck?” Ed mumbled as he looked upon a large overturned truck that had rolled off of the road and into the field. Joe strolled around the vehicle and waved from afar.
“Come on over!” He said over the radio and laid his hand against a truck tire. Harwood shook his head.
“You boys alright?” He asked the teens. They nodded. “If you ever race by me again like that I will beat the snot out of you and your momma will give you seconds. Got it?”
He stepped down and hurried over to the vehicle, the squished corn made it a little easier to make it there.

“Truck driver’s dead,” Joe yelled and pointed at the cabin.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Ed.”
“Did you check his pupils?”
“Nope.” Joe replied and took a deep drag from his cigarette.
“You do know you’re not supposed to smoke at an accident scene, right?”
“I know. I’ve been careful.”
“Right. And why didn’t you check his pupils?” Harwood said, agitation breaking through. “We’ve got to make sure he’s not alive.” Joe grinned and a small puff of smoke escaped his mouth.
“If you want to check his pupils and make sure he’s dead you can go pick up his head… It’s right over there.” He pointed to a stretch of ripped apart barbwire and fence posts. Entangled between it was something round and bloody. It was pretty obvious.
“Poor bastard.” Harwood mumbled, Joe shrugged nonchalantly. “Those kids didn’t cause this, did they?”
“Nah. This happened a while ago… Crows ate out one of his eyeballs, can you believe it? The Hansen twins just happened to stumble upon it. The little one fell and broke his wrist. But at least they got to see a dead body, right?”
Above them the thunder gently echoed through the clouds as rain began showering them.
“A little more respect, Joe.” Harwood insisted and walked around the vehicle, noting the pool of fluids behind it. “Did you check the license plates?” He called back.

“I did! They don’t match the vehicle!”
“Yeah, that’s about our luck,” he mumbled. Another siren became apparent and the station’s big 4×4 truck drove up to the scene.
“Mandy’s here!” Joe called out and walked over.
“Tell her to park the truck right next to the vehicle! I want to climb onto it!” Harwood insisted, hoping to see some signs or marking on the side or at least a freight letter on the driver.
“Hey, boss!” Mandy yelled before bringing the pick up closer.
“Did you notice the fluids?” Harwood spoke to Joe.
“I did. Looks like some sort of liquid fertilizer.”
“What?” Mandy yelled from the open window as she parked the truck.
“I said – It looks like liquid fertilizer!” He repeated himself.
“Then why the hell are you smoking, Stanza?” She barked.
“Why won’t you people let me grow some cancer in peace?!” He bit back and strolled off towards the severed head.
“What’s that?” Mandy asked as she watched Joe approach a round object.
“That would be the driver’s head.” Harwood replied. His deputy looked shocked. “It happens.”
“Well, no lunch for Mandy…” She mumbled.
“Help me up.” He said and began climbing the pick up truck and vehicle.

“Careful, boss.” She insisted and walked with him along the length of it. “Anything?”
“Nothing.” He sighed and rubbed his head. On top of the vehicle he had a good oversight. From the ranch up ahead came another car. “Looks like the Rickersons woke up too.”
“Oh, boy.” She sighed as the shaky vehicle came closer.
“What happened? What are you people doing on our property?!”
“A truck overturned on your brother’s farm, Rick.” Harwood said from atop it, walking over to the cabin.
“Well…get it off!” He insisted, getting out of the vehicle with his brother by his side.
“Have you boys been drinking again?” Mandy asked, the two men gave her an angry stare.
“Impatient Ricky Rickerson, right?” Joe said, strolling over with something wrapped in a police jacket. “That’s what the teachers used to call you in school.”
“Stanza, what do you got there?” Rick replied, annoyed.
“Oh, this?” Joe said before stepping closer and opening up the jacket to unveil the severed head.
“Oh, God.” Mandy said, turning away just quick enough. The Rickerson brothers froze.
Rick emptied his stomach spontaneously while his brother gasped and stared at it.
“I would’ve figured that a tough man like you would have a stronger stomach, Rick.” Harwood said, making a face and reaching for the driver’s wallet. Everything was covered in blood.
“Fuck you!” Rick coughed, “Eddie Hardwood – that’s what we used to call you! You remember that? When little Susy gave you a hard on! Everybody saw it!”
“Mature. Well played…” Mandy mumbled.
“Hey, Rick – remember last year’s drunken escape during the harvesting celebrations? And you pissed yourself, slipped in it and broke your own leg? Do you remember that?” Joe growled, “Do you remember that? Cause I’m sure your kids still remember. Wasn’t that why Rebeccah left you and took them with her? Maybe you can do it again during tomorrow’s festivities.”
“You better watch your fucking mouth, Stanza,” Rick growled, grinding his teeth. “I could take you then – I can take you now.”
“Oh, really? How’s your new girlfriend? Cindy, right? Does she still work at truck stops with lonely truckers? Maybe she can give this guy some head too. Get it?” He added and shoved the jacket and head into Rick’s arms. Rick dropped it instantly.
“Enough! Stop!” Harwood yelled as he climbed off of the overturned vehicle. “Are you out of your mind?!” He hissed at Joe who picked up the head again.
“Rick, you two are no longer school bullies, no one’s scared of you. Go take a hike.” He spoke to his youth nemesis, before turning to his brother. “And you, Pete – don’t harvest this field. I don’t know what the hell is in that stuff, but I don’t think you want it in your crops. Got it?”
“Looks like regular liquid fertilizer to me.” Pete Rickerson insisted.
“I don’t care.” Harwood insisted, “Don’t. Fucking. Harvest. It.”
From afar came a buzzing, slowly getting louder. The group looked up at the sky. A small, black helicopter flew overhead. It slowed down near the accident scene and circled around a few times.

“Do you think those guys know what’s going on?” Mandy asked.
“Maybe. Or they’re just curious.” Harwood reasoned, “Joe – can you see any identification on that bird?” Joe grabbed his binoculars and looked up at the sky.
“Nothing I can make out!” He said. “Looks like that little chopper’s used for crop dusting though – they just removed some stuff. There used to be a logo on it but I think it’s peeled off!”
“What is it with unidentifiable vehicles today?” Harwood cursed. The small helicopter flew off again.
“…Well, that was odd.” Mandy mumbled.
“Alright – I’ll make sure the vehicle will be removed as soon as possible.” Harwood spoke to the Rickersons. “It’ll take at least eight or twelve hours. They’ll need a HAZMAT team, alright?”
“What about my corn?!” Pete Rickerson demanded.
“Aren’t you insured?” Harwood replied, “Cause if you’re not – you should be. Ask Mandy, her dad’s the local insurance guy.”
“I could get you a good deal,” she added naively, “Not for this incident, of course, but for the ne-…” The two brothers angrily stepped into their truck and drove off.
“Better luck next time, sweetheart.” Harwood said and patted her on the arm.
“Yep. Better luck next time – hey, you want to bring this to the coroners’ office?” Joe said, holding out the jacket with the head in it to her.
“Screw you, Stanza. Go smoke a whole pack.” She grumbled and stepped into the pick up truck.
“Ohhh – now you want me to have cancer!” He snickered.
“Come on, boys, I’ll get you home…” Harwood said to the shocked teens. “Joe, go take that… ‘part’ to the coroner’s office as soon as the fire department arrives.” He spoke over the radio.
“10-4, I’m on it!”


The night had been long and exhausting. They worked shifts to assist the fire department in getting the accident vehicle removed – slowly. Very slowly.
The body was removed and brought to the morgue. Firemen that came into contact with the fluids from the vehicle complained of strange itching, feeling disoriented and confused. All night the buzzing of a small helicopter somewhere in the distance had been audible. At least, if their minds weren’t playing tricks on them.
And now he just couldn’t catch his sleep, not for a moment. It was already light outside when he stepped into bed, meaning that by now it had to be near dinner time. Festivities for the annual Corn Festival were less than hours away. Suddenly the phone blared.
“Jesus!” Sheriff Harwood yelled out, knocking over a glass of water on his nightstand. “Hello?”
“Ed? It’s Laureen – festivities will start soon. Are you alright, sweetheart?”
“Oh, boy… Yes, I’m fine… Can you ask Mandy to pick me up?”
“Will do, boss. See you soon! Don’t forget to have fun – you earned it!”
“Thanks Laureen.” He sighed, hung up, strolled to the window over the wet carpet and looked outside. The weather had cleared up significantly and cars, parade floats and tractors bringing in truck loads of corn were making way to the small town.
Quickly he shaved, showered and dressed up.

Just shortly after he heard a quick wail of sirens outside. Mandy had arrived. He strolled out to see his deputy dressed in a pink and white checkered country dress, her brown hair braided – and a big smile on her face.

“I guess you slept well?” He said in a raspy voice.
“I guess you didn’t?” She said emphatically.
“You could say that. How’s Joe?”
“He’s a Stanza – do they even sleep at all?”
“Good point. Where’s your gun?”
Mandy grabbed around in the pouch of her dress and pulled out her Colt .45 1911.

“Nice, right?” She said enthusiastically.
“And your cuffs?”
“In my purse. Pepper spray in my wallet. My cellphone’s on two-way radio mode.”
Harwood smiled. “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks, boss.” She started the engine and drove off towards town.

After a short drive they could see people gathering about town for festivities.
“Hey, pull over for a moment,” Harwood said and stepped out. “Well what do you know? What are you folks doing here?”
“We decidings to stay! For ze Cornfest!” The German backpacker explained. “We were invitings and decide to stay one more day for this!”
Harwood snickered. “It’s a small world – enjoy the celebrations.” He stepped back into the vehicle.

“I’m guessing you know these people?” His deputy replied.

“I suppose you could say that.”
“Hmmm.” She smiled. “Do you think the Rickersons will show?”
“After last year’s fiasco? I think even the two of them become embarrassed at some point.”
“We can certainly hope so.” She said and parked the car, music filling the air with heavy bass and the sound of country and folk music.
“That music’s a little loud,” Harwood mumbled.
“Come on, boss. Lighten up!” His deputy insisted, “I’ll buy you some buttered popcorn and give you the first dance in my fancy new dress!”
Harwood laughed, blushing slightly – stepping out into the noise and the crowd.

Attendance was overwhelming, thick crowds around stalls, in front of the stage and speakers, parade floats and long tables filled with beautiful corn fresh from harvest just hours before. Through all the noise and busyness it was hard to spot or notice anyone or anything.

A hand grabbed Harwood by the shoulder.
“Hey, Ed!”
“Jesus, Joe!” Harwood shivered momentarily. His deputy laughed.
“Aren’t you on edge, huh?” Joe’s laugh dissolved into a cough.
“It’s the lack of sleep – how are you, bud? What’s with the coughing?”

“Oh, it’s nothing – I had some amazing looking cob of corn. I guess they put some hot sauce on it or something and I just didn’t read.”
“Always feed an Italian before he gets hungry, right?” Harwood smiled.
“Particularly a Stanza!” Joe said coughing again. A trickle of sweat ran down his face.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Joe?” His friend nodded. “Let me buy you a drink…” Harwood insisted.
“A beer?”
“We’re still in uniform, Joe. Nice try though.” Harwood replied, gesturing for a non-alcoholic root beer. “Here you go…”
Joe took a big gulp from his root beer and sighed.
“Better?” His boss asked.
“Better – thanks, Ed.” Joe wiped his face. “I’m thinking they put a bottle of dang Tabasco through the butter or something…”
“Always read the signs, Joe. Always read the signs.”
“Hey, guys!” Mandy called out and grabbed onto her colleagues, “How’s everything?”
“Well Joe had a piece of corn that’s working against him.” Harwood replied.
“Really? A Stanza that has trouble eating anything? I think that’s a first in the family, Joe!”
“Very funny…” Joe grumbled sipping from his soda.
“So – I still owe you that first dance, boss.” Mandy spoke to Harwood. Her eyes sparkled.
His heart jumped, just slightly. Never before had she given him this look. Quickly he looked over at Joe who gestured him to take the offer.
“Alright. I’m a terrible dancer though.” He said apologetically.
“It’s true – that’s why he’s a sheriff.” Joe coughed again, sitting down on a plastic chair. “Now he can make others dance for him.” Both men laughed.
“Hmmm – well I’ll be the judge of your dancing.” Mandy said and pulled Harwood by the hand.

She dragged him off into a crowd of people dancing. On the stage a band from the area were living up the party with some folk rock. Harwood felt insecure in his uniform, eyes and smiles were focused on him. His deputy moved in closer and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
“It’s okay, boss. I don’t bite!” She insisted and looked up at him. He gulped and lay his arms on her waist, his hellos to on-looking locals sounding almost apologetic.
“Alright, so now I…?” He said as she gently bobbed left and right.
“Now you focus on me.” She stroked the back of his neck. Her voice was low.
To his own surprise his knees turned to rubber. Going through the pockets of a headless corpse the previous day hadn’t had this effect on him. But she did.

“Hello, officer Stanza.” A teen voice said.
“Oh, hi there…” Joe said and turned around – the Hansen twins. And their mother.
“We’d like to apologize.” They said in stereo. Their mom had a firm hold of their shoulders. Joe coughed again and scraped his throat.
“No worries, it’s our job.” He assured. “Boys will be boys, right?” He spoke to the mother.
“Be that as it may – I told them to take it easy on those gosh darned bikes!” She insisted. “It’s already tough enough raising these two while their daddy’s serving overseas – I don’t need them to crash and hurt themselves.”
“Hear what your momma said?” Joe pressed, and the two nodded. Again Joe coughed and broke out in sweats, he felt dizzy and slightly off.
“Are you okay, officer Stanza?” The mother asked. He seemed pale and greenish.
“I’m fine…” He smiled faintly. “Hey, could you two kids do me a favor?”
“Yes, sir.” The two answered, synchronized again.
“Get me another root beer, will you? And make sure it’s got a little bit of alcohol in it.” He smirked and winked at the mom in a boyish way. He reached for his wallet.
“That beer’s on me.” The mother insisted. “Thank you for your service to the community.”
“Thank your husband for his service to the country.” He insisted.

“See? You’re an alright dancer.” Mandy said. Gently she squeezed his shoulders every now and then. By now everyone around had accepted the two dancing, focusing back on themselves.
“You look really great…” Harwood mumbled. She bit her lip and rolled her eyes in a cute way.
“Thanks, boss.” She dug her nails into his uniform. He wished he had danced with her before.
“Ed’s good, too,” He replied.
“Okay – Thanks, Ed.” She said with intention in her voice.
“Why don’t you two get up on the stage here?” A voice blared through the speakers.

Harwood froze and looked up. The lead singer of the band was looking straight at them.
“Oh, God…” He grumbled. The guy reached out his hand.
“Come on now, Sheriff! Let them see how you two can dance, be proud!” He insisted.
Before Harwood could say anything Mandy was already on stage. Cheers broke out everywhere. He sighed and let the singer pull him on, the crowd applauding.

Joe looked on from afar and smiled.
“You smooth motherf-…”

“Here’s your root beer, sir.” One of the twins said, handing him the bottle.
“Thanks, boys.” Joe said and twisted off the bottle cap. The twins looked at the stage.
“Is that the sheriff with one of the deputies dancing?” One asked.
“Yep.”
“She’s looking smokin’ hot today.” The other said. “Why would she want to dance with him? I mean, he’s a cop… No offense.”
Joe swallowed his agitation and gave the boy a friendly smile.
“None taken.” He said, and grinned evilly. “Have you had some corn on a cob, yet?”
“No, sir – not yet.”
“Well you should. I just had some great corn.” He pointed at the table he ate from. “You and your brother should have some.”
“Alright, then that’s what we’ll do. Have a good fest, sir.” The teen replied and walked off.

“Oh, I will!” Joe called after them, snickering. “As soon as I feel better.” He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “Even nonna’s meatloaf doesn’t do this to me.”

“Alright! A big round of applause for the sheriff and his date!” The singer concluded. The crowd cheered loudly.
“She’s my deputy!” Harwood tried to clarify.
“His date is also his deputy!” The musician misunderstood and announced loudly. Harwood groaned.
“You could do worse… Ed.” Many smirked at him. He snickered embarrassed. She wrapped her fingers into his and waved at the crowd as they stepped down.
As he stepped down Harwood could have a good look at the crowd, and it appeared Joe was sleeping. Not too far away were the firemen – also seemingly asleep with their wives and kids trying to wake them up.
“Wow, look at those guys, huh?” Mandy noticed. “Do you think it’s the heavy HAZMAT suits they wore? Tired them out?”
“Maybe.” Harwood mumbled, “Let’s go thank them for their efforts.”
The two walked on over through the crowd. As they walked closer, the mood seemed to change. A small crowd had formed around the sleeping men. Worrisome mumbles came from the onlookers. The wives and kids were beginning to cry.
“What’s going on?” Harwood said and pushed through.
“Sheriff! Sheriff! They won’t wake up!” One of the wives cried, running her hands through her husband’s hair.
“Okay, calm down – ma’am.” He replied. “What did they do? What happened – is there any reason you could think of?”
“I don’t know!” She cried into her husband’s fire department shirt.
“My brother’s been feeling weird since yesterday, sir,” A relative said, trying to push tears back as he attempted to keep his brother upright.
“You don’t think…?” Mandy asked.
“Shhh,” Harwood replied. “Let’s not upset the crowd just yet.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” Mandy sighed. “Want me to go check on Joe?”
“Yes – go! Go!” Harwood said and she ran off. “Alright, everyone calm down. We’re going to fix this. Does anyone know where Dr. Gibson, is?” He addressed the crowd.
“I’ll go get her!” A local yelled and ran off.
“I knew this day was going to be special.” Harwood sighed under his breath and began attending to the men. “Whitehill Frontier is no place for strangers, but strange things all the more…”

“Joe! Joe!” Mandy yelled and shook his shoulder. No response. “Stanza!” She screamed into his ear.

“What?! What?!” He woke up confused.
“Thank God!” She hugged him. He was sweaty and cold.
“What’s wrong? Is Ed okay?”
“He’s fine. There’s something wrong with the firemen from yesterday!”
“The HAZMAT guys?”
“Yes – they’re not feeling well and they’re not waking up, Joe!”
“What? Why do they even wear a suit if it doesn’t work?” He asked, shocked.
“I don’t know but it’s time to get policing – come on!”
“Fine – fine!” He grumbled and raised himself. “You know what’s weird?”
“What?”
“I feel like shit but my muscles feel really strong. Like… like I took something, you know?”
“What the heck are you going on about now?”
“I don’t even know – let’s go!”

“Hello, Ed.” Dr. Gibson spoke.
“Mabel! Thank God, take a look at these guys – they won’t wake up!”
“Alright, let’s see it.” She said and checked their vitals.
“Everybody just back up, please! Give us some space!” Harwood said to the gathering crowd.
“We’re here!” Mandy pressed through with Joe.
“Odd…” Dr. Gibson mumbled while checking the men’s pupils.
“What is?” Harwood insisted.
“It’s like I can’t find anything wrong with them. Heart works good, breathing is fine, their pupil reaction is even very fast… But they’re acting like plants.” She clarified.
“So what do we do?” Mandy asked.
“Good question. If you’ve got the answer, I’d like to hear it.” Dr. Gibson looked at Joe. “Oh my, Joe – are you okay?”
“I’ve been better.” He replied. His face was pale and clammy, huge pupils with baggy eyes.

“How are you feeling?” She persisted.
“Pretty crappy… I keep on being thirsty… Like my mouth is foaming… Damn local root beer.” He grumbled. “You know what’s weird? It feels like my muscles are really strong.”
“Oh?” The doctor asked.
“Oh yeah, it feels like I could lift one of these big fellas right up.”
“Well, why don’t you?” Harwood replied. “I’ll help you – we’ll get them out of this crowd.
“No need, I got this.” Joe replied and picked up one the firefighters as if they were a child. “See?”
The crowd gasped in awe. Harwood, Mandy and the doctor were intrigued.
“How did you do that?” Mandy stared. “He’s got to be at least one-sixty pounds!”
“You tell me! And that’s when I’m feeling sick!” Joe said enthusiastically about his condition. “Where do you want them, Ed?”
“Uhhh… I, uhhh… Let’s bring them to the cruisers,” he stuttered. Joe walked off with the fireman hanging from his shoulder.
“That’s not normal.” Dr. Gibson spoke. “Does he use steroids?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Have you noticed he looks green?” Mandy kicked in. “I know he’s Mediterranean but…”
“I noticed that too.” The doctor worried. “Didn’t you all go to that accident scene yesterday?”
“Sure,” Harwood replied. “So did these firefighters. You think…?”
“Those firefighters probably stood in whatever the truck’s contents were for a long time.” She added.

“But me, Joe and Mandy didn’t…” He continued.
“Oh, God.” Mandy grabbed Harwood by the sleeve, “That corn he ate… Where’s it from?”
“What?” The doctor asked.
“Jesus Christ!” Harwood ran off to find the organizer of the festival.

“Ed!” Joe called out after he dropped one of the firefighters.
“Joe! Joe… Listen to me… What table did you eat that corn from?” Harwood said, holding his friend around the back of the neck in a comradely manner, pressing forehead to forehead.
“What’s wrong?”
“Just answer me! I need to know this, buddy.”
“Uhhh, table sixteen, I think… With the really, nice and big corn on it. Easy to spot.”
“Listen, Joe, I need you to sit down and take it easy. Don’t fall asleep or anything.”
“No worries – I won’t fall asleep. You know something? I keep feeling angry… Like the Hansen twins said something and I just keep wanting to confront them or something, I don’t know…”
“Everybody wants to confront those two. Just take it easy, alright?”

Harwood ran off towards the large podium where the organization was seated.
“Hey! Hey!” He yelled from afar.
“Hello, sheriff. Looks like you’re in a hurry.” One of the commissioners said.
“What table is it with the ‘amazingly fresh’ corn?!” He asked breathlessly.
“…Uhhh? I think table sixteen, why? You want to take it with you? Someone found a bug in it?”
The commissioners chuckled.
“Who?” Harwood sighed. “Who brought it here?”
“The Rickerson brothers…” The man replied. Harwood froze. “I suppose they felt guilty about last year’s incident and wanted to make good by bringing some of their best corn.”
“…Oh, Jesus Christ.” Harwood gasped for air.
“Why, what’s wrong?” The man asked.

“Tell everybody to stop eating and spit out what’s left in their mouth!”
“What? I can’t do that! What are you talking about?!”
“Do it or I’ll have you arrested!” Harwood growled, the commissioners nodded and announced it on the microphone. All around people froze and did as told.
Harwood ran back to where he left Joe but his friend wasn’t there.

A blood curdling scream ripped through the night. As he turned around he could see it – Joe standing sixty feet away from him, frothing from the mouth and panting like a dog. There was a panic stricken expression on his face, yet a strange anger burned in his eyes. His hands were covered in blood. On the ground before him lay a firefighter. In halves.
“Jesus, Joe! What did you do?” Harwood gagged.
“He – he just ripped him in half!” One of the Hansen twins stuttered, only a few feet away from Joe.
“Get back, kid!” Harwood commanded, “Just slowly back up!”
The twin turned to him, looking pale and miserable just like Joe had been. Strangely, Joe seemed to ignore him.
“I don’t feel so good, sir.” The boy said, stumbling this way and that.
“Oh, no.” Harwood whispered. “Let me guess… You ate from the corn on table sixteen.”
The boy nodded before passing out. The crowd screamed, Joe growled with mucus and slime running from his mouth and nose.
“Joe!” Harwood demanded attention, what was still present of his friend turned his way. “If we have to do this… It’s between you and me.” He insisted with heavy heart.
Joe slightly trembled as if suffering from mild seizures. Harwood unholstered his gun. His friend was gone. Something else took his place.
“Jesus, Joe…” He whispered. “Joe… If you’re in there, I don’t want to do this. Get on the ground and remain calm. We can fix you. Somehow.” The crowd was completely silent.

There was a buzzing sound above them. The small, black helicopter had returned, watching them all from above. An eye in the sky that probably knew more than all of them together.

“You little bastard.” Harwood mumbled as he looked at the aircraft. Joe roared and rushed his way. “Oh, Jesus!”
Harwood stepped out of the way and Joe rushed past, colliding with a parked car at a breakneck speed. But he stood up unharmed, breathing heavily.
“Go! Get out of here! Go!” Harwood yelled. The crowd broke up in chaos.
Joe turned around and with incredible force ripped the wheel of a truck clean off. He focused on his friend and stepped forward.
“Joe! Joey, please!” Harwood whimpered and hurried behind a car. “Don’t do this, Joey! You’re my friend! You’re the brother I never had – please! Joey, don’t do this!”
Joe hurled the tire in Harwood’s direction with extraordinary force. It smashed into the vehicle, clean through the windshield – halting in the driver’s seat. Harwood ground his teeth together. He knew the outcome of this.
Joe screeched like an animal and next to him the Hansen twin rose up from the ground, as if awakened by Joe’s screech. It was beyond eerie, it was terrifying in ways that defied reality but were too disturbing even for a nightmare to be.

The two monstrosities began circling him.
“Oh, crap…” Harwood realized he had to keep them busy to create distance between them and the crowd. All around people lay, seemingly in a coma – waiting to rise again.

Harwood jumped up and made a dash for a number of stands, followed closely by his friend and the teen boy. Quickly he checked how many magazines he had, it would count. Close by he could hear the breaking and shattering of stands and products. The two were looking for him.
In the distance he could hear more dull pops, most likely Mandy opening fire in self-defense. It chilled him to the bone.
Suddenly he could hear heavy breathing, before he could turn around a set of hands picked him up. To his surprise it was the teen boy.
“Holy f-…” Harwood exclaimed before being tossed through the air, smashing into another stand. He wailed in pain, a rake sticking through his leg. “O, God!”
The teeth of the rake were poking out through his skin, a sickening sight, the pain beyond belief. He whimpered like a child as he pulled the garden tool out.
“Son of a…!” He growled and grabbed an apron from the ground, quickly ripping it apart and tying around his bleeding leg. “Round two! My turn!”

He raised himself up slowly, his leg pounding like it had a heart of its own. Before him stood the two creatures, staring. Waiting.
“I didn’t want to do this! But you made me!” Harwood yelled. The zombies looked at each other and rushed his way. Two loud bangs.
Joe lay trembling on the ground. The shot had entered his skull and emptied out an eye socket. Part of his nose was gone and a gaping hole where his sinuses were. It was heartbreaking.

The teenage boy lay still on the ground, a large hole in his chest oozing a liquid hardly comparable to blood. Whitish, green and thick slime. It smelled like spoiled vegetables.
“I didn’t want to do this.” Harwood whispered. One last time Joe let go of a wail. And there rose many others, up from the ground as if woken by an alarm clock.
Harwood turned around and ran off as fast as he could. Everywhere people were fleeing, scrambling for their cars, grabbing their children or fighting off people they had known for years. People they had grown up with, been friends with and even married to – now were monstrous creatures with enough strength to snap their beloved like twigs. And hellbent on doing so.

“Back off! Back off!” Mandy growled as another firefighter approached. He coughed up a green slime that bubbled as he roared through it. More of the creatures moved to his side – they were cooperating.
“Do it, Mandy! Just do it!” Dr. Gibson said, shivering from behind her.
“I can’t!” Mandy ground out.
“You listen to me, Mandy McClintock! I helped your momma through forty hours of intense labor before you were born! She said she couldn’t do it – I thought I couldn’t do it but we did it!” the doctor insisted, “And if you don’t I won’t be insured at your daddy’s no more!”
Mandy fired repeatedly. It was more horrid than she had imagined – the bullets ripped through like butter. At this close range she could hear the impact of the rounds. A hollow thud against the chest, the cracking of bone and the ripping of flesh. Then it oozed; a fluid most comparable to a vegetable smoothie.
“Do it again! Do it again!” Dr. Gibson squealed as another few approached.
“Would you stop being so demanding?!” Mandy growled and fired again, another two fell screeching. “Run!”
The doctor and deputy ran to where the police pick-up truck had been parked.
“Mandy! Mandy!” A voice yelled from afar. Mandy turned – Harwood.
“Boss!” She cried out, relieved. He was being chased by at least a dozen of the zombies. He had a rag around his leg, clearly in pain and they were gaining on him.

“Mandy! Don’t you dare!” Dr. Gibson yelled and tried to pull her along. “Please!”
“I have to!” Mandy yanked herself loose. Dr. Gibson fell but waited.
“Boss! Ed! Behind you!” Mandy yelled as she ran towards him.
“I drop! You shoot!” He yelled from afar. Within a moment he dropped straight forward onto the ground.
“Shit!” She opened fire as accurately as she could. Several creatures were struck in the legs, unable to pursue but alive none the less. Another was struck in the throat and spraying like a fountain. The last shots missed target.
Harwood looked back, seeing that his closest pursuers were incapacitated but not all. As quickly as he could the sheriff rolled onto his back and opened fire. Two hits on two targets, both in the central mass and destructive enough to do them in instantly. Then his weapon clicked. Empty.
“God, no.” He mumbled and accepted his fate as the monster rushed in.
A whizzing sound whipped through the air and the zombified woman’s head slammed back. For a moment she walked on as the green goo dribbled from the entry hole in her forehead. With a heavy drop she landed right on top of him, motionless.
“Ed!” Mandy yelled and hurried over.
“Get her off of me! Get it off!” He wailed in disgust. His deputy dragged her away. “Jesus!” He cursed.
“Are you okay?” Mandy asked.
“I think so, looks like I’m clean…” He sighed, relieved. “Nice shot, you!”
“I’ve never reloaded so quickly in my life.”Behind her, something roared.
“Look out!” Harwood yelled and kicked her out of the way. The monster missed and was now looking at him. It was one of the commissioners. Ironic.
Mandy rolled over and looked up – the creature was looming over her boss, her gun just out of reach. Adrenaline rushed through her system. Within a moment she was up and rushing towards the zombie. With all the power she had she jumped it, choking it around the neck.
“Goddamnit, McClintock!” Harwood cried out. For the second time that night he’d accepted his fate and for the second time she disturbed the process. As fast as he could he reloaded his weapon. After a moment Mandy flew by and landed harshly on the ground with a loud thud and pain-filled scream.
The commissioner approached slowly and ominously. He blabbered inaudible things while foam streamed down his neck from his mouth.
“I always thought you were a pompous ass… I think I was right.” Harwood grumbled and fired a shot right into the creature’s chest. The commissioner opened his eyes big as if he realized his heart just stopped working. He took one big breath and dropped. “Fuck, yeah!” Harwood yelled.
“Ed! I hurt myself!” Mandy sniffled, one of her shoulders clearly dislocated.
“I got you! Come on!” Dr. Gibson said and gently pulled her up, “Are you just going to lay around, Ed?”
“I’m doing the best I can already!” Harwood rolled over and followed them quickly. Everywhere around were creatures, chasing those unlucky few unable to hide or get to their car.
“There’s the pick up!” Mandy called out and pointed with her one good arm.
“I got this!” Harwood yelled and ran ahead, opening the door and grabbing the radio. “Laureen? Laureen!”
“…Ed?” The radio replied. “What’s going on out there? Is this some sort of April fool’s joke?”
“I wish. Listen! Get the tape recorder and record what I’m about to say – then play it on all the speakers we have in town and use the automated phone dialer, got it?”
“Yes, boss!” She replied and got away from the radio.
Mandy and Dr. Gibson approached quickly. Everywhere he looked Harwood could see people hiding in their cars. Whole families under blankets, shivering and shaking and waiting for the perfect moment to start the engine and race off. Sometimes one of the zombies would spot a family and grab them through the windows.
“I got it, boss! It’s ready – go ahead!” Laureen said through the radio.
Mandy and Dr. Gibson stepped into the truck. Harwood gave them a look.
“This will make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention… But I have to do this.” He said. His passengers nodded. He started the engine and began circling the parking lot as fast as he could. It was difficult with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the radio. The monsters chased him.

“This is Sheriff Ed Harwood! To all people of Whitehill Frontier! Find shelter inside buildings! Separate anyone that shows signs of change! Do not confront the creatures, and wait for help!” He blared through the police vehicle’s speakers. Dozens, if not more, of the creatures were chasing the pick up.
“I got it, boss!” Laureen radioed back, “I’ll be playing it all day!”
“Thank you, darling. And God bless you! Over and out.” He replied and raced off of the parking lot. A stream of monsters pursued. In the rear view mirror he could see how the people were starting their cars. This was the moment they had been waiting for.
“Where are we going?” Mandy groaned while Dr. Gibson attended to her.
“The goddamn Rickerson’s Ranch…” He growled and kept watching the swarm of creatures in the mirror.

The last few miles he slammed the gas to create some distance and raced onto the Rickersons’ property. He jumped out and walked towards the badly maintained house.
“Sheriff! Sheriff! I’m so glad to see you!” Pete ran out crying, only to be grabbed by the throat by a seething Ed Harwood.
“What did I tell you?” Harwood growled.
“What?!”
“You harvested that corn! You took it to the fucking Corn Fest you son of a-…!”
“I didn’t know!? It looked really good! I figured if anyone got sick they’d let me know before…” Pete went silent as Harwood threw him onto the ground and drew his gun.
“Before what…? …Joe died? …All these people turned into monsters?”
“Stanza is dead?” Pete Rickerson said surprised, “No, I didn’t mean… Monsters?”
“Then what did you mean?” Harwood screamed.
“They’d let me know if it tasted funny… Before the Crispy Country Cornflakes company would pick up the rest of them! They looked really fine, Ed! You got to believe me!”
Harwood nearly dropped his gun.
“You mean to tell me this load of corn was picked up to be made into cornflakes to be spread all over the country? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Ed! I didn’t know! Listen, Ed! My brother’s acting all crazy! He ate some of that corn and now he-…!”
“Yeah… Good luck with that.” Harwood grumbled and stepped back into the truck.
“Well?” Mandy asked.
“It’s worse than we thought.” In the rear view mirror he could see the swarm of creatures coming in.
Pete Rickerson screamed in fear and ran for the house. At the front door stood his brother, foaming from the mouth. Harwood slammed the gas and sped off as Pete was being torn apart by his own brother and the mass of monsters that joined in.
“Where are we going now?” Dr. Gibson piped up.
“Back into town,” Harwood spoke quietly as they drove away.

Somewhere, not too far away from them, hovered a small, black helicopter. But it wasn’t alone. Just behind the mountains was an armada of black helicopters waiting for a signal. Soon, it would be time to move in.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by one Jessie Devine! Not only that, but ‘Running Home’, by one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, is being published by Books of the Dead Press on the 22nd of July – get on Goodreads and add that bad boy here.

The Zombie Project: THE LIST

Here it is.

The moment you’ve all been waiting for.

The List.

These are the most ruthless, skilled and dangerous writers you’ve ever encountered. Their penchant for drawing you in and breaking your heart is unparalleled. The level of gore they will expose you to is lethal. And their ability to make you scream, cry and potentially wet yourself is almost inhuman.

These are the Zombie Slayers, Sympathisers, Killers and Eaters.

Prepare yourself.

THE LIST

Bobby Salomans 30th June

Jessie Devine 7th July

Benjamin Gumbrell 14th July

J.C. Michael 21st July

Bridget Shepherd 28th July

Carey Torg 4th August

Ruth Shedwick 11th August

Julie Hutchings 18th August

Jolene Haley 25th August

Louise Gornall 1st September

Cassandra Page 8th September

Kristen Jett 15th September

Chynna-Blue Scott 22nd September

Jani Grey 29th September

Kat Ellis 6th October

Leah Rhyne 13th October

Lauren Spieller 20th October

Cat Scully 27th October

Be there, or be maimed terribly.

Keep track of it all on Twitter: #TheZombieProject

So, you’ve been wondering about The Zombie Project…

I've got a secret...
I’ve got a secret…

Today’s Sountrack – Roslyn by Bon Iver & St. Vincent

Yoohoo!

(I thought I’d try that out. I don’t think I’m going to do that again.)

So, there’s been a gradually increasing buzz on Twitter. What is this strange new hash tag? What’s #thezombieproject? Are they planning world domination?

The answer, friends, is yes.

Well, kind of. But not really.

The Zombie Project is a brainchild that popped into existence following a Twitter conversation between myself, Julie Hutchings and Kat Ellis, about Rice Krispies and – yes, you guessed it – zombies.

And I thought, Duh! What a great idea for a short story project!

Only this time, I wanted the project to be different. A lot of us have taken part in short story series(es?), and I wanted The Zombie Project to be a project with a difference.

The essential idea is that one single story kicks off a chain. The first story will go live on the 30th June. Each writer involved – there are 18 of us! – has a place on a list. The writer who is scheduled to post their story the week after the first story has to read the first story, then choose an element from that story they’d like to carry over into theirs.

– They could choose to write the backstory of one of the characters.

– They could choose to simply directly continue the story.

– They could choose to use the same setting, only bring in characters who are visiting that same place a week later, or were there before. For example, say a character in the first story kicks a soda can in frustration. The next story could be about the person who dropped that soda can.

It can be anything, as long as it’s linked in some way to the previous story. Then the third person on the list reads the second story, and takes an element from that.

The idea is to create a kind of butterfly effect. The first story is a ripple in the pond, setting off another ripple, which sets off another ripple and so on.

The writers can go back and choose elements from previous stories, i.e. not the story directly preceding theirs, as long as their story does include an element from the story directly before it.

This thing will be running from the 30th of June all the way until the 27th October, and we are All. So. Excited.

If you’d like to keep track of when the stories are going up, just follow the hash tag #thezombieproject on Twitter. Every writer involved will bring something different to the table, and every one is just as amazing as the last.

Hope you’re all excited!!

Also: braiiiinssssss!

Blue