#14. Manic Missions by Jani Grey


Today’s Soundtrack – F For You by Disclosure (I JUST EARWORMED YOU.)

Evening, ladies and gentlemen! Tonight I bring you the next instalment in the infamous Zombie Project, by Jani Grey. Jani gives us a fun, quirky tale with all the flavour of zombie but with the flair of sheer entertainment. I chose today’s soundtrack specifically for Jani’s story, to reflect that.

Jani has been a Twitter friend of mine from the start, but this project is one of the first times I have really seen her writing – and believe me, I was impressed. You can find her on Twitter and over on her blog. Her fears include falling out of a moving car and failing, but guys, she actually likes being scared – she thinks it’s a rush. All I’m saying is, don’t run into her in a dark alley.

Manic Missions
by Jani Grey

“The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to retrieve the keys from Dr Gerard Reid’s pocket,” Mike said in his best spy boss voice. “He’s a recently infected researcher, an important one, and we need to get into his office.”
The three of us – cousin Mike, my overly cautious sister Sienna and I – lay flat on our stomachs atop the roof of a small town’s rec hall. The town had recently been cleared, walls had been erected around it to keep the infected out, and it was a month away from being re-inhabited. You’d never smelled clean and fresh until you’d been in a place like this, the air so crisp it burned your lungs when you inhaled. Then again, the burn might be from the chemicals used to purge the place.
We pressed our chins to the brick edge as we scanned the grass-covered courtyard, waiting for the reason we were here. Pitch black night buffered us against everything, and when I glanced back I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the city’s lights. The only sounds filling the warm night came from the rustling leaves and the flap of a flag I could only guess the location of.
I lifted a hand and pulled my long brown hair over one shoulder.
“That’s not so bad,” I mused.
“Taria, I think that might be why I like you the best. Everything’s ‘not so bad’ with you. No offence, Sienna.”
My sister snorted and pulled a flashlight out of her back pocket. “From you, I will never take anything that way.” She flicked it on and ran it over the plush grass. “Hey guys, what’s that?”
Mike and I switched on as well and followed Sienna’s direction.
“The Z kids creep me the fuck out,” he said with a grimace. “How the hell did he get in here? Everything’s locked up tight to keep them out.”
“Did you remember to close the barrier when we came in?”
He grimaced at her. “Of course I did. I think. Yeah. Uhm… Maybe? Look at it this way, at least now we have an excuse to send in a cleaning crew to re-sterilize the place after we’re done.”
The child, he couldn’t have been older than seven, ran across the yard, oblivious to us even with the light. He must be fresh to the turn, he certainly moved like it.
I caught a glimpse of his filthy face, arms, and shirt, and noticed the mouse printed on the front of his top. What a sad thing to see, this gore-covered child carrying his lost innocence with him so obviously.
“I vote we let him go,” I said. “No matter what he is, I don’t take out kids, and I know you don’t either.” They nodded and switched off their lights.
“As I was saying,” Mike continued. “Get the keys from Reid’s pocket and I’ll get you that Xbox you want so badly. Word has it they’ve turned into quite the collector’s item.”
“Piece of cake,” I said. “I think you’re losing your touch, Mike.”
“You assume too quickly, my pet. There are conditions. Mike Conditions.”
“I shudder at the thought,” I said.
Sienna elbowed me in the side. “Can we get this over with? If they catch us here we’ll get into trouble.”
“Fine. Fine,” he said. “Mike Conditions are as follows: You are not allowed to kill Dr Reid to get at the keys, we need him intact. You are not allowed to dismember Dr Reid, knock him out, or damage him.”
“You’re basically making it impossible for me to win. I suspect what you’ll get out of this if I fail will be either ridiculously big or involve backbreaking labour,” I muttered and searched the dark. “Is that all?”
“Nope,” Mike said. That cocky tone of his hammered home how much I wouldn’t be getting that Xbox. “Sienna has to help. Call it a sisterly team effort.”
“You can forget about it,” Sienna said and made to get up. “I choose life.”
I yanked her back down. “We’ll do it,” I said and turned to her. “You owe me. I always take your night patrols when we’re not in the city and I do overtime for that stupid extra luxury you insist you have to have. Real fruit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Excuse me? You like the night patrols and that ‘stupid extra luxury’ just as much as I do. That organic crap they sell-”
“Ladies, please. I need an answer.”
“Fine. But I have a condition as well,” Sienna interjected.
“Wait, what? You’re sick? How are you feeling? Is it contagious?” I tried touching her forehead but she batted my hand away with an annoyed huff.
“If we don’t get the keys, the consequences are Taria’s and hers alone.”
“Best sister ever! Thank you.” I rolled on top of her and kissed her face until she started laughing and heaved me off her. “I’ll take it. It’s happening tonight? That’s why we’re here?”
“Yes,” Mike said. His digital watch cast an eerie light over his face, throwing shadows along his cheeks that made him look skeletal and devious at the same time. “They should be here soon. Don’t you want to hear what you’ll be doing when you don’t succeed?”
“Lay it on me, cuz.”
Mike scratched his chin. “I want to take a road trip to two places. Jerusalem’s Peak and Whitehill. You’ll have to come with.”
“Acceptable. The city’s been feeling small lately. Though I have to admit, I thought my punishment would involve a lot more… uhm… punishing.”
“You thought correctly. I bought a house in one of the cleared towns.”
“Congrats! Let me guess, you want me to help you move.”
“Nothing as mundane as that, my pet. I want to dig a moat around it and you have to help me, start to finish.”
“Ha! I predicted backbreaking labour. I would refuse, but since I won’t lose, sure, I can dig a moat.”
“Great. I was thinking about getting piranhas for when it’s done.”
“Why not a croc or two?” I suggested.
“I’ll be in a town, Taria. Be logical please. I can’t spend half my time chasing wandering crocs. The piranhas I can control to a certain extent.”
“Makes sense, though I don’t know why you’re getting so excited about it. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment,” I said. “Failure is not an option for me. I’m jonesing bad for that console. I haven’t played anything in years, and I know they’re not making new ones. Stupid rules postponing my luxuries. The Zs making an appearance screwed up my life. I miss wasting my good years holed up in my room killing and shooting at things that aren’t supposed to exist.”
“You sound way too much like a guy. No wonder you’re still single. At least you get to do the shooting and hacking in real life now. And they screwed us all over, but we’ve made progress in the years since. We’re taking back the land one square meter at a time, one suburb, one town,” Mike said.
He perked up at the same time Sienna and I did. Pinpricks of light flickered into view, followed by the familiar hum of the dune buggies belonging to friends of ours. “Time to get ready. Prepare to wallow in your failure. After all of this is done, your righteous anger will give you the extra strength you’ll need for the digging.”
“You’re the best kind of family there is,” Sienna said to him and stood. She held out a hand to Mike and me, and pulled us to our feet. “The kind that gets her out of my hair.”
Mike smirked. “You wouldn’t want me any other way.”


When you spent so much time around crazy people, the disease sort of rubbed off on you. Not Sienna though. She mostly just made disgusted noises and checked that we ate regularly.
Mike had switched on his high-powered flashlight again and flicked it on and off in the direction of the buggies before starting a spastic version of what he called ‘The Classic Cha Cha Slide’. I was a second away from joining him when Sienna snatched the light from his hands and left the roof in a whirl of wavy brown hair and displeasure.
“Good thing we’re used to her being the disapproving mother, eh?” Mike said and elbowed in the ribs.
“Yeah. The townhouse will be quiet when she moves in with Nico next month.”
Mike’s brows drew together. “You should have told me. I could have moved in or you could have moved in with me. Too late now, I’ll have a new roommate two weeks from now.”
“Textbook example of bad timing. That’s what I am.”
“Don’t be sad, Taria. There will be loads to keep us busy. I haven’t told you yet, but another town’s been scheduled for clearing in a few weeks’ time. I signed us up, along with the twins and a few of the others. They only need a small group to take the infected out, clean it up, and erect barriers for the restoration crew move in. We’ll be about ten in all.”
“That’s good. We haven’t gone clearing in a while. I like being part of the crews that take back the land, you know? It’s like I have purpose.”
“I know what you mean. This is it for us,” he said.
“It is. And thanks, I appreciate the thought and work.” I cleared my throat, straightened my shoulders, and nodded to the buggies. “We should go. Don’t want to push Sienna further than we already have.”
Mike gave me an all-too-knowing nod. When we exited the building, we walked to where my sister leaned against a low wall.
“Anything else we need to know before we risk life and limb for something that will no doubt rot my sister’s brain faster than the infection would?”
“Well, Dr Reid’s fresh to the turn. A few hours at most,” Mike said. “Not really sure what happened, but my dad sent me a message this morning with the address of where he was last seen. The twins tracked him and found him wandering around just outside the city walls.”
“Why are the keys so important?” I asked.
“They’re for a lab.”
“This might be a stupid question, but why not just… uhm… you know… break it open?”
“You don’t watch enough sci-fi movies. It’s the kind of lab where they do infection testing. If the barriers or doors are breached, everything inside will be neutralized to prevent what they have in there from getting out. I’m not exactly sure what kind of neutralization will take place, but I know I don’t want to be close when that happens. So keys it is.”
I frowned then lifted an eyebrow. “Seriously though, keys? Aren’t there fingerprint scanners or something more hi-tech? I could chop off his hand. What kind of low-budget operation are they running?”
“How would I know? We’re just the grunts doing the dirty work, remember?”
One of the buggies sped toward us and Haydn swerved sideways a foot or so away from where we stood. Sienna shouted at him as we dodged dislodged grass and earth.
“Ladies. Mike,” he greeted and grinned, all teeth and impish eyes. “Ready to get started?” The sharp lights attached to the top of the buggy blinded me, and I lifted a hand to block it. He switched them to dim and turned the vehicle to the side.
“How’d you get him here?”
I asked because the second buggy drove into view, Haydn’s brother standing on the back with only one hand keeping him in place. Both had hair almost as black as the night and followed Mike in attitude. He had a light of his own in one hand, aimed at the good doctor, and a jar of some sort shoved in underneath his arm. In the driver’s seat I spotted Haydn’s girlfriend whose disapproving rants could be heard even from that distance. Surprise, surprise. She and Sienna got along famously.
“I had a bit of a tussle with Kyle just before we left home, and we ended up going through a window. I’m fine, but he cut his arm. Bled like a stuck pig, he did. So we caught some of it in a jar before having him stitched up. Good timing, right?”
When Dr Reid neared, I gave him a quick once-over, assessing how much trouble he would be and if getting my hands on that Xbox was worth the effort.
A short man with a mop of light brown hair, I guessed him to be in his late thirties, although with the glasses and dirty face it could have been either more or less. The red-stained white coat he wore hung to mid-thigh and had a multitude of pockets. I curled my lip at Mike who just grinned and handed me a baseball bat. “You get one weapon.”
“I’ll take that, thank you very much,” Sienna said and snatched the bat from my hands.
“What am I supposed to use?”
“Your sharp mind and lightning-fast feet,” Haydn suggested. “Look, we’re not completely heartless. Kyle’s busy setting a bear trap for you.”
“Doesn’t that go against the condition Mike set, the one about no damage?” I said.
“Well, sort of. But if you want to spend half the night being chased by the doctor, we won’t stop you.”
“No. No. Please. Trap away.”
He fetched two jackets made out of some kind of industrial-strength fabric and tossed them at Sienna and me. I slipped mine on, zipped it up, and I rolled my shoulders, my neck, and swung my arms back and forth. After that I tied up my hair, the ends still brushing the middle of my back.
Mike and Haydn got back into the buggy and drove to where Kyle was busy luring Dr Reid toward the bear trap. As I loosened up I watched him park the ride directly across from his brother’s and switch on the floodlights, illuminating the playing field.
Sienna cringed when we heard a sharp snap and crunch followed by the twins whooping and a slap of palms. Sometimes I thought all of us really were like a bunch of wild animals.
“You ready?”
“No,” she said. “This is stupid.”
“I know. Isn’t it great? We’ve done this a hundred times before. You know the drill.”
“Taria, stealing Mike’s food when he’s hungry is not the same as trying to get something from a fresh Z intent on swallowing you one bite at a time.”
“Of course it is. What are you complaining about anyway? You’re the one with the bat.”
Sienna just sniffed and walked to the playing area. She needed to loosen up. I’d have to have a word with Nico after this. He’d know how to get her to have some fun.


Turned out that wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe she had as many screws loose as the rest of us and just hid it better.
The more she laughed at how much fun she was having, the more irate I became. Everybody cheering her on didn’t help either.
Dr Reid proved more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. When I’d asked Kyle if the blood on the good doctor was his, he’d asked me for a better idea to get him here. Kyle was just catering to Reid’s needs, as it were. Apparently he hadn’t had a thing to eat since he turned.
For a second I almost sagged to the ground with the sad bizarreness of the situation, but if we wanted what he had without killing him, this was the only way. Tranqs didn’t really work when your blood couldn’t move it to the right places, and with a Z this fresh, they didn’t have enough rigor to slow them down.
Sienna stepped forward and swung the bat. It connected with Dr Reid’s upper arm with just enough force to get his attention.
I shot out of my crouch and darted at him from behind, aiming for his back pocket. This had been our tactic for the past fifteen minutes. Sienna would take a swing at him, not enough to do any serious damage as per Mike’s condition, and I would use the seconds to target a pocket. So far I’d come up empty.
The Z lurched forward and guttural sounds that once would have been intelligible tumbled out of his mouth. Both he and his nonsensical sounds lurched to a halt as the bear trap kept him in place. He stopped and took a moment to stare down at his bloody-black and mangled foot, and jerk-jerk-jerked his leg. Sienna went at him again and jabbed him in the back. He forgot about his leg and lunged for her. I sprinted forward and touched his left pocket. A hard lump and clinging metal greeted me. Triumph!
But Dr Reid turned too soon for me to retrieve it and swung back. I didn’t retreat fast enough.
He swung his arm at my head, hands clawed and tipped with black and blue discoloured nails. By some unholy misfortune, just as I turned sideways, his fingers tangled and caught in the middle of my ponytail, automatically clenching around the strands.
I yelped as first my head jerked back, followed by the rest of me. My girly screams were more from surprise than fear. Naturally. Really. Really.
“Shit,” I shouted and jerked at my head. My neck burned at the strain as I kept on yanking, and my eyes filled with tears. “Sienna, seriously. Some help?”
She ran to my side and hopped from side to side. “I’m going to grab the top of your ponytail and give it a few yanks, ok?”
“NO! What are you doing? Get the damn keys. Get the keys!” I shouted.
“What? Are you crazy?”
“I want my Xbox.” Dr Reid grunted something and started pulling my head from side to side. “Hurry. I swear, if he pulls out all my hair, I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re batshit crazy, you know that?”
“Keys. They’re in the left-side hip pocket.”
She left my sight, and for the longest minutes ever, all I heard was Dr Reid’s attempt at communication and the heavy beat of chopper blades in the distance.
I turned my head and watched Mike approach with a machete in one had. I met his eyes and waved him away. He hesitated only a second before retreating.
Sienna shouted her success. Dr Reid didn’t even care. He was too busy trying to pull me closer to his snapping, gunk-covered teeth.
She returned and dangled the keys in the air. “I think I’m in an excellent position to negotiate.”
“Argh. I swear, if you don’t get me loose I’m going to make your last days at home pure hell.”
“Fine. Fine. Give me a minute.” She disappeared and returned within seconds. “I don’t think I need to negotiate. Maybe this will teach you a lesson.”
She gave me the most evil of grins and brandished Mike’s machete in my face. “You can’t chop off the doctor’s hands,” I grunted and fell to the ground hard enough to bruise. My entire scalp burned and pounded, and I knew I couldn’t hold out much longer.
“It’s not for his hand,” she said and raised her arm.
For a second I really thought she would kill me. Even after all these years she still managed to surprise me at least once a month.
She dropped the razor-sharp blade, severing my hair from Dr Reid’s hands. I wasn’t prepared for it. My head hit the grass with a dull thud.
I opened my eyes only to see his face rush toward mine. Somebody grabbed my legs and hauled me out of the way seconds before the Z toppled onto the grass where I’d lain.
“Man, that was way too fucking close,” Mike breathed. He pulled me away another few inches just for safety’s sake.
“Next time rethink your missions, ok?” I said. I moved to tighten my hair and froze. My sister took a step away from me when I turned murderous eyes to her. “You. Cut. Off. My. Hair. I’m going to kill you!”
“I want my Xbox,” Sienna mimicked me and tossed the keys at Mike. “You owe her.”
“Yes I do.”
“What are we supposed to do with him now?”She pointed to where Reid sat on the grass stained black and green, uselessly tapping at the trap that kept him in place. He’d finally figured out what kept him from his meal.
The guy must have been extra hungry because he bent forward and latched onto where the most tainted blood spilled out.
“I’ll send my dad a message telling him where to find him and he’ll get his guys to come contain him. They want to keep him for when they find a cure of something.”
“Think they will?” I said.
“Who knows,” he muttered while typing away at his phone.
The helicopters that had been nothing but background noise the past few minutes thundered over us to hover at the outskirts of town.
The rest of the group joined us as we stared up at the black choppers. The pilots switched on spotlights and co-pilots aimed them at the ground. I hated the black helicopters. They always brought bad things with them.
“What are they doing here?” Haydn said. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“What do they usually do in the middle of the night?” I switched on a flashlight, searching for the flag I’d heard earlier. When I found it, I smacked Mike on the shoulder. “Culling. Dammit Mike, you led us to a culling zone? What the hell were you thinking?”
He swore something fierce as all of us sprinted to the two buggies.
“I forgot to check,” he yelled. “Sorry. There hasn’t been zombie culling in weeks.”
My pulse quickened and my heart beat like a hammer against my chest. Sienna had started crying, and as much as I wanted to join her, I pushed the fear aside and grabbed onto the best thing to beat it with.
“Mike, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get us out of town without being eaten by a horde of zombies or any of the humans finding out we’re here.”
“The stakes?” he said and managed to blink away his own fear for a few seconds.
“Life, cousin. Life or death.”

If you liked this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the spooktacular Kat Ellis! 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.

#13. Jerusalem’s Peak by Chynna-Blue Scott


Today’s Soundtrack – Death Valley by Fall Out Boy (I’ve linked that because I DEMAND YOU LISTEN TO THIS SONG.)

So today it’s my turn to be crucified – I mean, it’s my turn to post. I’m obviously not going to sit and talk myself up because, please, you already know I’m about as cool as a baked potato. Also, I literally just realised that my story is number 13, and I’m a little overexcited about that.

I will tell you what I’m scared of, which is pretty much everything. Pitch darkness (I like the nighttime…as long as I have a lamp), heights, spiders, small spaces, tendons (or more specifically, of someone cutting my tendons. Don’t ask why), bugs in my food, wasps, ghosts (I can’t sit down at night unless I have my back to a wall/am in a room full of people), being awake but paralysed during surgery, that when we die we’ll just remain trapped in our bodies, or worse, float in a black void of nothingness, the world ending (I make contingency plans in my head, one of which is featured in this story.) I could go on, but I won’t. I like to think being so nervy only contributes to my imagination, making me a better writer…. (right?)

Jerusalem’s Peak

by Chynna-Blue Scott


They’d been at the bottom of the wall for days now, scurrying like beetles. Like rats.

I had three good reasons for standing at the lip of our doom. One – today marked the 716th day since the creation of Jerusalem’s Peak (or Trash Mountain, or Mordor, or whatever the fuck you wanted to call it.) 716 days since a small slice of humanity had stopped running around like pigs in the slaughterhouse and decided to Take Some Definitive Action. And so we took the remains of a town, beat the shit out of everything until it all fell down, and built ourselves a town sixty feet higher than the last one and with a damn sight less structural integrity.

I still had one of the old signs over my door for the sake of nostalgia, nostalgia for a town I only came across when it was no more than a bareboned corpse. Blue’s Diner, it read. I never spared a thought for who Blue had been as I nailed it over my doorway, or how they’d bit the dust. It took a while to lose that every man for ‘emselves outlook. But Jerusalem’s Peak sure as shit tried to knock that out of you. I don’t know who went and elected the religious folks in charge, but suddenly there’s a Church on Trash Mountain and no one to say nothing against it. And there’s my second reason for standing on the lip – it’s Sunday morning, though screw me sideways if I know how anyone’s keeping track of days in these times, and there ain’t no way I’m sitting through a service. I prefer to pay my religious respects overlooking the Lord’s own handiwork. I spat on one of the dumbass zoms scrabbling in the dirt below.

Is this your swan song, God? Your homage to the Black Death? A final plague to punish us all for our naughty, small-town deeds? Didn’t give to the collection plate, that’s an arm loss for you, Mrs Jones. But turning your own creations into vessels of the apocalypse, well, that takes guts. I guess the priests weren’t lying after all. My Lord is an Avenging Lord, and all that. The only prayer I needed was the one I’d thought every day since the black choppers stopped flying over: better here than pushin’ up daisies in Whitehill Frontier.


I turned. Callie, her dark hair stuck through with a pencil she’d found God knows where and her waistband stuck through with her gun, was appraising me, her lips set in a hard line. They’d been set in that same hard line the day I found her, surrounded by ten gallons of blood and green shit that took that ‘frog in a blender’ joke to a whole new level. I never asked her what happened down in Montana, and she never told. My third reason for standing on the lip – avoiding Callie.

I shoved my hands down in my pockets, rocking back on my heels. The sun seemed to revolve in the air, sending out shimmering ripples that distorted the horizon. “Why, do I look like someone else?”

She raised an eyebrow, shades of the twelve year old she’d been when this shit started. She was sixteen now, but the ghosts behind her eyes and the sureness of her aim painted her older. Too old for my liking. There was a hell of a lot more men than women on the Peak, and I had a feeling I’d be breaking a few heads before the year was out. Callie could grow up all she wanted, but in my mind she was still the little girl too stubborn to admit she was scared but who held my hand anyway.

“Don’t be a dick. Janie was asking after you.” Callie strode over to the lip, echoing my earlier action and spitting on the zoms below. I held back a grin.

Now, if only there were a shortage of Janie’s. “Was she now? Sorry I missed her.” The back of my neck was itching; I rubbed at it irritably.

Callie grinned at my obvious distaste, her eyes dancing. “Slim pickings on the Peak, Michael. You have the sorry task of being the best of a bad bunch.”

I grunted. “If that girl knows what’s good for her, she’ll stay away from me.” Janie Prescott, barely twenty one years old and with more conquests than brains. It’s no riddle why she was after me. Girl like that wants one thing in times like these, and that’s protection. She looked at me and saw the epitome of a hunter, nothing more, and somewhere her female hormones started squealing and bumping into each other. She homemaker, me hunter gatherer, or some shit. I touched the ring I still wore on my left hand. Yeah, she’d better keep her distance.



Michael had gone back to staring over the lip, and I knew I wouldn’t get a word out of him after that.

“I’ll see you back at home,” I called over my shoulder. He only grunted, squinting off into the distance, searching for God only knew what.

I could kind of see what Janie saw in him – sandy blonde hair, stubble, leather jacket and a gun belt. Still, he was Michael. He could probably be her father, allowing for a teenage pregnancy. I shuddered at the thought.

He’d burst into The Lodge like an avenging angel, axe in one hand and a pistol in the other, taken one look at me and spoke the first word I ever heard him utter. “Fuck.”

For a while there had just been us, until we happened across others and the idea for Jerusalem’s Peak was born. The break from nomadic living was welcome. The close quarters after so long living on the road were not.

The paths that wound through our little shanty town were mostly dirt and crushed rock, but they were uneven and sloped like crazy at times, meaning everyone walked around watching their feet. Just a few weeks ago the supply run had hit on Russian Vodka and one guy had gotten so drunk he slid right over the lip and down to the zoms below. I’ve never seen blood fountain so high in the air – Eric Pindle swore it topped ten feet.

I took a detour on the way back, knowing it would take me past Kenny’s, my heart already thudding unevenly as I laced my way through the slim backstreets. There was one sick advantage to seeing Kenny – as an orphan, he always had a free house.

I didn’t bother knocking, gently pushing the door open and half-whispering, half-calling, “Kenny?”

Arms encircled me from behind, a hand clamping over my mouth as I sucked in air to scream.


“You fucker!” I fought my way free, glaring at him. He was laughing, blue eyes shining like I was the funniest thing he’d seen in weeks. Hey, no TV – maybe I was.

“Hey, now, what would Michael think if he heard you use a word like that?” Kenny smiled crookedly, pulling me back against him. The sizzle-pop smell of meat hung in the air and my stomach growled, making him chuckle as he nuzzled my neck. My own skin began to sizzle with tiny electrical pulses and I sighed, letting my head loll back.

“He’d probably be proud of me. If I were you,” I pushed a finger into his chest, “I’d be more worried about what Michael would think if he knew I was here with you. You know how overprotective he is.” I was a little breathless, a fact intensified by Kenny’s thumbs rubbing slow circles against my back. I pushed a hand through his dirty blonde curls, meaning only to feel them, pull them through my fingers, but then I was pulling his head down to mine, and for a moment we kissed, for a moment I could forget the blood and twitching body parts and death and feel life instead, in the fast beating of my heart and his breath on my lips and his hands pulling me closer, squeezing my hips…I pulled away, lips throbbing in that sweetly uncomfortable way, like fresh blood behind a new bruise. Kenny’s own lips were parted as he pressed his forehead against mine.

“There was a new priest in Church today,” he said casually, twisting a strand of my hair around his finger.

“Oh?” This was actually bigger news than it seemed – we didn’t get many new people on the Peak. Sometimes you’d get travellers who’d seen the high structure in the distance and come in for a closer look, but the zoms who hung out round the bottom of our trash mountain usually got them.

“Yeah,” he was nuzzling my ear, making it hard to think, “his name was Carver, or something like that. Carter.”

“Well, did Carver-Carter have anything interesting to say?”

He rolled his eyes at me. “What do you think?

“Why do you bother going if you don’t take it seriously?” I raised my eyebrows at him, only half curious. We all did things for the same reason nowadays – because the living did, and the dead don’t. We go to Church because we can. Because we’re alive to do it. Because there’s nothing fucking else to do except take your chances with the zoms at the bottom of Trash Mountain.  

He shrugged, echoing my thoughts. “What else is there to do?”

I grinned and slipped a finger under his waistband, deciding to take things in a lighter, more interesting direction. A ‘forget everything except me, baby’, direction. “I’m sure I could think of a few things…”



For the millionth fucking time I sat at my shitty little table on my shitty little chair and stared out of the window. I mean, seriously, would it have killed someone to figure out how to get a satellite dish working? I couldn’t even remember how long it’d been since the last time I’d seen America’s Next Top Model. Too fucking long.

Kenny Chambers had tried to explain it to me. ‘They’re not broadcasting anymore, Janie. There’s nothing to see.’ Ugh. I flicked a bottle top I’d pulled off of a wall outside around on the table, trying to spin it like a top the way my daddy used to.

I couldn’t even lie to myself about the real reason I was so pissed off. Without TV, there was nothing to distract me from the inside of my own head. And my own head, despite its crappy effort in school, wouldn’t stop doing the same sum over and over again.

Two weeks late. I was two weeks late. The world ended but my cycle didn’t, and now I was two weeks late in the middle of a goddamn apocalypse.

I knew whose it was  – Ricky the Prick had his lucky night the day Eric Pindle and the boys struck liquid gold in the form of vodka. Ricky was dumber than a blunt tack and just as useful. I also knew whose it had to be if me and the little bodysnatcher had a chance of surviving. There was only one man worth his shit in Jerusalem’s Peak, and that was Michael Scott.

I smiled to myself, spinning the bottle top between my fingers. If there was one thing I was good at, it was leading men by the nose and straight into the bedroom – or whatever passed for a bedroom nowadays. Real beds were a shortage up on the Peak – the only big pieces of wood the boys would carry up were for building – and I’d settled for an upside down horse trough before now. He’d been avoiding me, and we both knew why that was. If I got him up close and all alone, he wouldn’t be able to resist even if he wanted to, despite that life raft of a wedding ring he still wore. Well, I didn’t see a wife anywhere. All it’d take was one night, and Michael would do the honourable thing. Jesus, all it’d taken was for him to run into Callie all alone and he’d as good as adopted her. His own child? Please. We’d be married before the day was out.

I was betting on it.



I was sitting in what passed for a boozer on the Peak – a shack just as shitty as the rest of them, if not a little bigger, that served whatever Pindle’s boys had managed to scrape up – when I first saw him. Of course I spotted him straight away, even through the fug of cigarette smoke that revolved around the bar like the last wheezing breath of a dying smoke machine. If I hadn’t have noticed the suit, I’d’ve noticed the face. A stranger.

The chair squealed loudly against the floor as I stood and made my way over with slow, measured steps. The man broke off mid-conversation – he’d been chatting with Kenny Chambers’s cousin Albert, if I wasn’t mistaken – and looked at me with a strange gleam in his eyes, his head tilted back slightly as if to take me in all at once.

“Hi there.” I held out my chip hand, the standard greeting since handshakes became less a formality and more a means of checking the person you just met wouldn’t zom out without warning. He seemed to hesitate for a second, so briefly I almost didn’t notice, and when he held out his hand I saw why. The dot on his wrist glowed bright red, like the worst fucking skeeter bite you ever saw.

I’d yanked him to me and shoved my pistol under his chin before he could blink. His face was expressionless, though there was a small, steady tick under his jaw that said he was grinding his teeth.

“Whoa, chill the fuck out, Michael,” Albert tugged on my arm, eyes wide. “Carter’s cool.”

I curled my lip at him. “Did you even bother to check his chip before you let him saunter on up here, or are all of you dolts jonesing to be zombie bait?”

“You can’t exactly ‘saunter’ up the Peak…” One of Albert’s dumbass friends piped up. I silenced him with a look.

Albert was shaking his head at me. “Does he look like a zom to you, Michael? ‘Cause he definitely doesn’t to me.”

“The kid is right, Michael,” Carter drawled. He wasn’t even breathless. He sounded almost bored, as though he were discussing chess over tea, not hanging by his throat in the middle of a makeshift refugee camp. “Do I look like a zom to you?”

I jabbed the pistol against his jaw and he looked away, grimacing. “I’d show a little more respect if I were you, seeing as I’m the one with a finger on the big red button of your life right now. I’ve got a hand around your wrist, Mr. Carter, and I ain’t feeling no fucking pulse. Want to explain to me how that could be?

“You may not look like a zom,” I fixed him with a cold stare, leaning in until my nose was centimetres from his, “But you sure feel like one.” I drew out the words, wanting to make him sweat, but he just smiled, a sickly grin that showed too many teeth.

“If you’d just let go of me, I’m sure we could get this all smoothed out,” his voice was calm, as though he were talking to a child who’d grabbed a pair of scissors and started jabbing them at people, not a forty year old man with firepower and a healthy fear of red chips. My eyes slid to my wedding band and I blinked, hard.

“Uh huh, sure. And why don’t I just lay down right here while you take a bite out of me.”

I heard the bar door swing open, followed a second later by a small gasp. “Oh!”

My teeth snapped together. Janie fucking Prescott.

Carter was watching me, his eyes narrow, scrutinising my face. He glanced over my shoulder at Janie and I shook him roughly. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”

Janie gasped again, but it was muffled, as though stifled behind her hand. I felt the itch on the back of my neck start up again.

“You can see for yourself I’m no zom. I’m lucid – we’re having a semi-intelligent conversation right now – and I haven’t tried to take a bite out of anyone since I got here this morning. I also haven’t dropped down in a dead faint. You heard of the living dead, Michael? Well, you’re looking at him.” Carter hadn’t stopped smiling as he gave his little speech, but now his smile dropped away, leaving his face a cold, slack mask, like something out of a waxworks. “Kill me? Well, that’d practically be murder.”

The temperature in the room seemed to plummet a few degrees as we stared at one another. In the back corner, Eric Pindle cleared his throat loudly. “Maybe you should let go of him, Michael. The guy’s a priest, for chrissakes.”

I swung my gaze to him. “Or so he says. You honestly believe this son-of-a-bitch is safe to be around us – around our families?” My thoughts went to Callie. I didn’t want this slimy motherfucker anywhere near her. Carter smiled wetly, as though he could hear what I was thinking. No one answered, and I let go of him in disgust, shoving him back so he almost skidded to the ground, managing to right himself at the last second.

I couldn’t stay in the bar a second longer. My skin was crawling like a swarm of beetles were running over it, and I knew it was from touching whatever that thing Mr. Carter was. He wasn’t human, and he wasn’t in Jerusalem’s Peak for any good reason. You could count on that.

There was a sour taste in my mouth as I looked around the bar, taking in one dumbass patron after another. Eric Pindle and his brother Micky nursing dirty glasses of stale beer, Louise and Lauren Keller dolled up with melted, waxy make-up as they tried to catch the eyes of the Pindle brothers, Albert Chambers picking right back up in his conversation with a deadman, Janie Prescott batting her glassy eyes at me – all slack-jawed and slow witted, too stupid to feel the blackness rolling off the thing in their midst. To hell with them all. I shoved out of the bar and into the cold air beyond, sucking in breaths as I stalked my way toward the lip, jamming my balled up fists in my pockets. It would be just too fucking bad if that thing zommed out and killed them all. Too fucking bad.

Just needed to get calm, and then I’d go home to Callie. It wasn’t safe for her to be alone, though she’d probably be with Kenny Chambers, a thing I knew she thought I didn’t know about. The girl underestimated me sometimes.

I stopped right at the very edge of the lip, toying with the pretend idea that I might just walk the hell off the edge. Some of the zoms were braver tonight – instead of scrabbling around the bottom, it looked like a few of them were actually trying to climb. I frowned. I’d have to make sure Pindle furthered the range of their next scavenging mission. We might need a few rifles if we were going to be picking off zoms from on the side of the mount.


So, so similar to the way I’d been called for this morning, and so not the fucking person I wanted to hear from.

“Go away, Janie.”

She huffed, but then, seeming to collect herself, slipped slowly closer, hands behind her back as though a student approaching a teacher. I stiffened as she sidled up to me, her arm just brushing mine. The moon was like a penny on a string, almost sagging in the sky, dragging the backdrop down with it until the blue folded into black.

“Why do you pretend like that, Michael?” Her voice was carefully honed to be sugar on top of cream on top of sugar, and it seared my ears with its sickly sweetness.

I didn’t look at her, focusing on the shapes of other far off, abandoned towns in the distance, like cardboard cut-outs on long-lonely movie sets. I almost thought I could see the silhouettes of people, but no doubt they were zoms, the seemingly human-like gait a trick of the light. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

She moved closer, and I could feel the outline of her breast pressing against my arm. “I think you do. I think you got some crazy idea that you and I would be wrong, Michael, like you’d be betraying your wife or something.” She bit her lip, making the pink flush a darker, cherry red. “But it’d only be one night. Wouldn’t she want you to be happy, just for one little night?” She caught my hand in hers, tracing my wedding band. I seized her wrist in my other hand and she gasped, eyelids lowering.

“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t mention my wife again.” My voice was razor sharp, but she only smiled lazily when I released her hand, lifting it to pop the first two buttons on her shirt. Deftly she flicked the edge of the cotton so that the two sides fell apart, revealing the curves of her breasts. She gazed down at herself as she traced along the smooth curves with her finger, and when she looked back at me her gaze was heated, hungry – but with a hint of something else she was trying too hard to hide. What was that – desperation?

She slid her arms about my neck, pressing her chest against mine so that her breasts swelled. “Just give in, Michael. It’ll be good, I’ll make it good for you, baby…” Her breath was too warm against my cheek, her arms too smooth on my neck, body too hot and ready against mine, like a ten dollar slut trained to get hot on command. I looked away, disgusted, and shoved her back, and for a moment the entire world teetered on the brink as Janie’s eyes widened, her arms wheeling frantically as she fought for grip that wasn’t there, her cherry lips opening in a soundless scream that was more terrible than any sound she could’ve made as she tumbled down over the lip, pale as the moon that watched her fall.

I stared, slack-mouthed, seeing nothing. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t bring myself to lean and see what I knew was happening even as I stuck my head in the safety of Trash Mountain and refused to hear the deafening snaps drifting up from below, the snuffling and gleeful grunts, cutting me like axe blows.

“My, my, Michael,” the snake-like drawl slithered across my skin. “That poor, poor girl.”

My muscles locked. That fucker had followed me. “I didn’t…I couldn’t…” I couldn’t force words past the revulsion, both at what I’d done and at the thing now standing before me with his hands clasped behind his back. Carter leaned to take a look over the edge, his face twisting in distaste. The wet, tearing sounds had started and my stomach roiled. I clamped a hand to my mouth, swallowing back bile.

“But you did.” He grinned, and for a moment his eyes seemed black. “I could always use one like you, Michael. Mule-headed, stubborn as a horse, but strong. A grunt worker.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” My mouth was suddenly dry, palms prickling with sweat.

He only smiled again. “I wonder how poor little Callie will go on without you?”

I snarled, lunging for him, catching him by the throat. “You stay the goddamn fuck away from her, or so help me God…”

Carter’s expression was serious again as he leaned to whisper in my ear. “God isn’t here anymore, Mr. Scott. This is my world now.” As he leaned away, the moon caught his eyes in a way that made them glow red as the chip in his arm. “Eric! Albert! You need to fucking come see this! I think Michael’s gone crazy!”

If you liked this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the ace Jani Grey! 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…



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 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.


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.

#8. Thinking Big by Julie Hutchings


Today’s Soundtrack – Highway to Hell by ACDC

Introducing this awesome piece of writer ass is making me feel redundant. Julie Hutchings is so hot on the writing scene she sets off smoke alarms. Her book, Running Home, has just been published, and is available on Amazon. One half of The Undead Duo, Jules is like the tipsy fairy godmother you never had – and if you’re not following her on Twitter, then Jesus, there must be something wrong with you. I hear people actually pay real cash money for tweets from her.

Yeah. It’s like that.

Oh, and you can find her here, too, on one of the best blogs you’ll ever read. (Did I mention she’s awesome?)

Thinking Big

by Julie Hutchings

Thinking small was something the town of Haley did well. Even before the Reds came, there were only three hundred and forty townies, every one of them up in the business of their closest neighbor, who wasn’t even in shooting distance. A small place like Haley made for small people, without much to say or do. There was the Mayor, of course. But we’d all but lost him when the Reds came. He never came out of his big house by the woods anymore, and could be one of them for all we knew. There was Amber Wright, voted Miss Haley six years in a row, even after she became a Mrs. Haley, and had four kids. It didn’t matter to our town, she was still the prettiest girl at the Haley Day Parade. The town of Haley did love a parade, and they loved a familiar face.

So, when The Man walked into Blue’s Diner, it raised some interest.

I’d worked at Blue’s, the only diner in town, for almost twelve years. It was mostly regulars, but the truckers who pulled off the highway to grab a bite always tipped well, as did the supply truck gentlemen that brought us our frozen food. Not to mention, one of those supply truck drivers was just about the handsomest man anyone in Haley had ever laid eyes on. So the ladies from Haley were always trying to take my job, for the tips, and maybe for the chance to hitch a ride with a handsome trucker who could take them somewhere bigger. There was nothing big about Haley, and there was no getting out. That was even more true now that the Reds had taken over anywhere nearby. Now, no truckers came through, and I didn’t have enough to feed them anyhow. The rats had seen to that, coming and eating anything that wasn’t already spoiled or moldy. What was close to edible was rationed out to the town whenever folks had the nerve to leave their houses. It was dark, sad, and we were poor. Nothing was ever new, and nothing was ever interesting anymore.

So when The Man walked in, dressed in some fancy suit, looking healthy and like he was on some vacation, heads went up.

He strolled right up to the counter, staring at me the whole time behind these nice, black sunglasses. He smiled at me. Nobody smiled in Haley, not anymore.

He sat down right in the middle, picked up a menu that hadn’t been touched in months, and said something outrageous.

“I’d like a cup of coffee, please.”

I raised my eyebrows, and smiled at how ballsy he was. “You want  a cup of coffee?”

He grinned, teeth sparkling white. I hadn’t seen teeth that white my whole life. When you lived in a town like Haley, nobody cared about your teeth, or even noticed them, until after you went Red, and they turned black, or fell out, or both.

“Yes, Ruth Ann, I would love one,” he said, looking at my nametag and smiling still. And damnit if he wasn’t a little handsome.  There weren’t no handsome men anymore.

“Coming right up, sugar.” I winked, and rolled my hips a little slower than usual when I walked to the coffee pot. I poured some of the black muck into a mug, and threw it in the microwave. You never knew when you walked in what was going to work better, the coffee machine or the microwave. That day, it was the microwave. Every day I was surprised that we had power at all.

Bobby and JC were sitting in their usual booth, both staring at The Man as the mug clunked down on the counter. Even they hadn’t been brave enough to drink the coffee anymore, and they’d been good for three or four cups a day. The thing with the coffee was, we knew exactly how old it was, knew the water it was made with was full of dead Red, and that the rat droppings were impossible to see in the grounds.

“It’s gotta be black, darlin’, but I bet you knew that,” I said, leaning on the counter enough to let my cleavage do its job. He smirked at me, and took a good, long sip of that coffee.

That’s when I knew that he was scarier than any zombie could be.

He stared at me from behind those black glasses the whole time, and when he put the cup down, he licked his lips with a pink tongue. None of our tongues were that shade of pink now. None of us was that healthy.

“That was delicious, Ruth Ann.”

“He drank it,” Bobby said from the booth. I knew The Man heard, but neither of us looked away from the other. I was scared to.

“You see many visitors this way, Ruth Ann?” he asked.

“Not anymore, just the regulars. You drank the coffee.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Sharp looking man like you must know where that coffee’s been. Ain’t safe to drink, you must know that.”

“Then why do you serve it still?”

I laughed, I couldn’t help myself. “Ain’t nothing safe anymore anyway. And at least I can put it on the table and things could feel like they used to for a while.”

“Well, that’s a lovely sentiment,” he said kindly.

He drank the rest of the coffee without even wincing. Bobby and JC were getting suspicious of him, and for some reason, I wanted them to just shut up and leave The Man alone. I knew they probably wouldn’t, but I wanted them to.

“Would you like another cup, Mr.—“

He took his glasses off and showed me movie star blue eyes that went with his rosy cheeks and suntanned skin. I gasped, I couldn’t help it. We were all so dirty now, even when we were clean.

“Carter. Mr. Carter.”

“You got a first name, Mr. Carter?” I said with my best come hither smile.

“I suspect we all do, Ruth Ann, but mine isn’t important.” He smiled back, and he was right. I didn’t care.

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the food here, Ruth Ann?”

“All right, I’ve had enough of this,” Bobby said, standing and coming towards us. “You leave Ruth Ann alone.”

“Bobby, we was just talkin’, now leave us alone.”

“Man like this ain’t got no business in Haley.”

The Man stood slowly, straightening his suit jacket. Not a drop of sweat was on him and it was at least ninety degrees in Blue’s. He was half Bobby’s size, but when he looked up at Bobby, he backed away. I’d never seen that happen before.

“Come on, JC, time to go,” Bobby said. JC got up as he was told, the way he always did. He walked around Mr. Carter as far as he could, and when they got to the door, Bobby turned around.

“I’d be getting’ on my way real soon if I were you, mister,” Bobby said.

Mr. Carter smiled at him, showing off those pearly whites again. “How do you know I can’t do you some good here, sir?” he said. But I think we all knew he wasn’t there to do us any good.

The door slammed behind the men, and Mr. Carter turned back to me. I wasn’t afraid to be alone with him, that’s what shotguns were good for.

“Alone at last,” he said. “Let me ask you, Ruth Ann, about the quality of your food here.”

I sat on the one stool without a ripped seat, and tried to size him up, but I had no idea what I was looking at. No idea where he could have come from.

“What do you want to know?”

“it seems to me that this is one of the only places in town still up and running. I imagine you do a fairly good business.”

“Sure, for one that doesn’t need money anymore.”

He sat next to me, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t smell good. Like the cologne samples you used to see in magazines.

He unbuttoned his blazer and took it off, and when he did…. When he did, there it was.

The chip in his wrist. It was red.

I screamed and ran behind the counter for the shotgun, but he didn’t come after me, just sat down again slowly and watched. Well, that made me feel right stupid, and if he’d wanted to eat me before, he could have. So I slowed down.

“How are you red and not dead? You look better than anyone I’ve seen in—well, my whole life, maybe.” I was shaking, and I’d be a terrible shot at this rate.

He shrugged, and grinned. “I work for the government.”

That was even scarier than seeing the red chip in his wrist. I glanced at my own yellow one, and wished he’d never walked into Blue’s.

The Reds may kill whenever they could, but we all knew the government was killing us town by town, all at once. We’d seen the planes flying overhead, and prayed they didn’t poison Haley. Genocide, the Mayor said it was. The best way to contain the outbreak. The government could save us by killing the right people.

I wondered as I looked at Mr. Carter, if I was one of the right people.

“Are you telling me,” I whispered, “that the people of Haley are going to die?”

“Without a doubt, Ruth Ann.” He put his elbows on the counter, showing off that bright red chip. “But you can help make it all easier.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You want me to—you want me to—“

“Kill people. Yes.”

I got dizzy real fast, and had to put my head down on the counter. I didn’t pick it up when I heard him move, I was too afraid to see what he might do. But I heard the front door screen door slam shut. No car starting up. A few seconds, and it slammed shut again.

“For you,” he said. I sat up, the room spinning slower, and saw an ice cold bottle of spring water on the counter, dripping fresh, clean droplets on the counter.

“Holy mother of Jesus,” I said, still staring, afraid it would disappear if I touched it. “Where did you get that?”

“The government.”

How could they have such good things and let us all suffer this way? Tears stung my eyes as I pictured men in fancy suits, watching  big televisions, eating hot meals. I went home at night to a dark husk of a house, thirsty, wondering how long the rations at Blue’s would last. Nothing to keep me company but the constant worry that a Red was waiting in a closet for me, or that my chip would suddenly glow red.

“You’ve got a big personality, Ruth Ann,” he said, snapping me out of it. “And you could handle a big job.”

I felt like a monster, but I was becoming a monster more every day by living like this.

He kept going. I’d shown I was weakening. “The zombie population will take over this town shortly, they are closing in as we speak.” I sobbed, and he patted my back. “We need to find a new way to confine the contagion, Ruth Ann. You are a bright woman, so I’ll tell you straight. The toxins that the government has been blanketing communities with are not having the desired effect.”

“What are you asking me to do?” I sounded like a robo

He slid the water to me, and I drank.

His voice was softer, as he patted my back, like a regular person would. “We need to find a kinder, gentler method of exterminating the community before the undead move in. We think we have.”

“There really is no way out, is there?” I asked. I knew the answer, he didn’t have to say it.

“It’s a matter of when. And who will be left standing.”

Those last words hung in the air like the stench of rotting food and rat feces.

“What do I get in return?”

“We’ll keep you safe. Fresh food, water. Clean clothing. And when it’s over, you come to our compound.”

“You mean when everyone in Haley is dead?”


I must have been quiet a long time because Mr. Carter said, “I believe you can do this. Let me tell you how.”

I watched a tumbleweed blow by outside, and rats scuttle behind it. Who knew how many of the rats were Reds themselves? Who knew how many were turning in town right then? Or who was getting a nasty surprise in their shower to attack them? Who knew how long I had, out here in public view, seeing the most of the town once or more a week?

“Show me.”

He brought me outside, something that was always nervewracking as hell these days. His car was as dark and looked as nice as he did. I couldn’t see in the windows, they were too dark.

But then the car rocked.

“What the hell is in there?”

“Don’t be afraid. You’re not in danger.”

He opened the back door, and a Red was stretched across a tarp on the back seat, hogtied and gagged. I could barely focus on it because of the God awful stench of the thing.

“Jesus Christ! You had a Red in the car with you?!”

“I assure you, he is quite secure. And I’ll show you how to make him secure as well. There is a certain drug that makes them more docile. If you can get your hands on them.”

The zombie stared at us with lidless eyes, chest heaving as it wriggled back and forth. I almost threw up, but I managed to stay calm. This was my only chance.

“Why me?”

“Why you? You are in the perfect position to administer the toxin that will exterminate the community.”

“I am? What is it?” I was so confused, I couldn’t piece together what he was saying.

But instead of answering me, Mr. Carter quickly reached in and pulled the zombie out of the car, It’s tattered flannel shirt ripping more as he was handled, the rest of its naked body covered in pus and wounds that seemed to be moving on their own. God knows what was living in there. Mr. Carter pushed the thing forward into Blue’s, straight to the kitchen.

He turned to me after locking the zombie in the broom closet.

“Ruth Ann, I will explain this once, so please listen carefully.” I felt like I was back in the seventh grade. “The people of Haley come here to eat. It is likely the only place in town that can consistently serve semi-edible items due to your stores, small population, and electricity. We will administer the toxin to the townspeople through their food.”

I was no genius, but it was coming together fast. The Red in the closet, tied up, meant to keep. Me, in the perfect position to serve my neighbors food.

“Holy shit.”

“Indeed. Ground flesh from the Red, fingernails, hair, fluids, especially fluids, in every meal you serve. It will act as a slow poison, ultimately attacking the nervous system and resulting in death.”

The kitchen went fuzzy, and spun. I saw a blur of Mr. Carter reaching for me, but I fell backwards and hit the floor just hard enough to actually wake me back up.

“More water.”

He ran to the front to get the bottle of water, and I was dying for it. The door of the broom closet rattled twice, then stopped.

Mr. Carter came back, still looking every bit as put together as he had before he wrestled a zombie into a broom closet. He held the water to my lips, his movie star eyes looking into mine, trying to get me to focus. When that water went down my throat, I didn’t think of anything except getting more of it. I would do anything to make sure I had it.

“Sit down,” I told him.

He sat without question next to me on the floor.

“I have to—cut—pieces off of it?”

“Unless they fall off first. Or you can always use a syringe to extract fluid. I will supply you with those to dope it anyway, to keep it under control.”

“And my neighbors will die?”

“They will. But you will not.”

I looked once more at the red chip in Mr. Carter’s wrist. I looked at his nice pants, nicer than any material I’d ever had. He smelled good. I wanted to smell good. And what the hell had Haley ever done for me except get me good trucker tips?

I drank the last of the water and held out my hand.

“It looks like this small town girl has got herself a big job.”

If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the wonderful Jolene Haley! And if you really loved it, don’t forget Julie’s book, ‘Running Home’, has just been published and is available on Amazon! Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#6. The Manhattan Marauders by Carey Torgensen


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

“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?”
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.
“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.
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.
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…”
“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?”
“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.
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…

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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?”
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.


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


(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!