Friday, April 05, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp II: More from the CONFEDERATION Project

In 2008 James Robert Smith and I collaborated on a project we hoped would turn out to be the Winesburg, Ohio of zombie epics, a mosaic tale describing the communities coming together (and squaring off against one another) in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. For various reasons the collaboration fell apart. Bob took his part of the narrative—which included his idea of a border collie manipulating the other abandoned dogs and zombies—and crafted The Living End. I scuffled around for a couple of more years until I came up with The Saga of the Dead Silencer.

For the benefit of those readers who were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the second installment I wrote for the project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse!

Greg Copeland emptied his magazine with just enough time to duck into his car, the German shepherd and the Doberman colliding so hard with his door they nearly took his foot off at the ankle closing it for him.

He blinked away the pain and brought his foot in, the door clicking shut under the weight of the dogs. With the dogs all but shouting into his left ear, a thumping at the passenger side window alerted Greg to a once-young man with leathery, blue-green flesh hammering to get in. Greg slapped at the lock before remembering the universal switch.

Amid the thumping and barking Greg spared a moment to check his ankle. It would bruise and swell but at least the skin wasn’t broken. Greg opened the console and drew out his spare mag. He made sure it was loaded before springing the empty from the Glock. A second deader had already joined the one on the passenger side, canceling his plans to thumb fresh shells into the empty magazine.

Greg looked at the dogs barking and snapping, maddened by their proximity to his living flesh. A third deader shambled up behind them, hungry for the same. Greg rolled down his window.

It was the German shepherd which lunged inside and nearly swallowed the barrel of his Glock before Greg squeezed off his first shot. Stung by flying bone and brain matter the Doberman leaped backwards, tripping the approaching deader. Greg quickly rolled up his window and pulled the handle to open his door. He panicked — Greg could see the deader getting to its feet as he yanked on the door handle— then he remembered locking the door. He popped the lock with his finger and stepped out as the Doberman mix crouched to spring.

He stumbled on his bruised ankle, his wild shot startling the Doberman. It circled away as the zombie it had tripped lurched towards Greg. As it gripped the front of his shirt Greg jammed the Glock under its gaping jaw and pulled the trigger.

“Where’re the deaders?”

Greg felt something brush against his back and turned to shoot the young deader point-blank in the face. It was blown back against its companion, who was so large he was stopped only momentarily before tossing the young deader’s remains aside with his foot and continuing forward.

Greg turned to confront the Doberman. It danced from one side to another, threatening to leap at Greg with each jump.

Greg anticipated the Doberman jumping once more to the right. The dog pounced left. But Greg only had to move his shooting arm in time with the dog to make a neat hole in its side. The Doberman yelped and fell to the dirt.

Greg leaped over its body and turned. He crouched low and aimed up at the deader. He was a big ol’ Bubba in his day and damned sure big enough for what he was now. The blood scabbing black and thick about its mouth testified to its afterlife successes. Greg’s shot went straight up into the soft underside of its jaw — the best, most sure kind of shot, especially for these extra-large monstrosities. It collapsed upon the still-twitching body of the Doberman.

Greg stood and spun around. So far he was in the clear. These woods surrounding the individual campsites could be deceiving, though. He looked up to see Ken Compton holding his own against three dogs, holding nothing but that fire poker Greg might have wanted in that moment he’d emptied his magazine.

Taking another glance around, Greg approached the berm separating Ken’s camp from his own. The dogs leaped and circled about the tall, gaunt survivor from Franklin. Still, Greg did not have to be precise with a dog. He shot to one side of Ken, then the other. Only one dog went down, but that gave Ken the opening he’d needed to close the distance on the Golden Retriever and crease its skull.

But that gave the stocky black-and-white pit bull behind him an opportunity to bite down on the back of Ken’s belt. Ken had no sooner laid the heavy poker across the Golden when he was pulled backwards and off his feet. Ken landed heavily on his rear as the dog lunged in and tore out his throat.

Greg shouted as the pit bull shook its head, causing Ken’s to do likewise as the arterial spray fanned out to either side of the dog’s muzzle. Ken made a gargled cry as the dog’s jaws locked on his windpipe. Greg leaped up the berm, raised his Glock and fired into the dog’s shoulder. The dog was knocked back but remained clamped on Ken’s throat.

Bounding past the spray Greg got behind the dog and took aim at the base of its skull. It released its grip and fell heavily to one side. Ken gasped and reached for his ruined throat. His hands were halfway to it before they fell uselessly into his lap. The spray slackened. Greg thought he could see the slick pink-white tube that was once Ken’s esophagus.

He raised his Glock once more and fired between Ken’s eyes.

“Sometimes it just don’t pay to help somebody.” Greg wheeled around to see Derek Munder grinning at him from the next campsite over.

“You want some of this, asshole?” Greg said, the Glock square on Munder.

“Hey, I’m just sayin’!”

Greg took the collapse of Derek’s smartass grin for an apology and spun around again. One was easily surprised from any one side in these battles.

“Dogs took off,” Derek said. “You just noticin’?”

“I put down nearly a dozen at my camp before killing the last of three more over here,” Greg said, still circling. “Or did you just notice that?”

“Well, sure, they were kinda thick for a while but they’re gone now. I ain’t had any up here on my side for ‘bout ten minutes or so already. Hell, from where I’m standin’ I’ve seen ‘em take off runnin’ from the other camps across the way.”

“On their way downhill, I guess. What’s left of ‘em, anyway. Wudn’t that many of ‘em to begin with.”

“Enough for me,” Greg said, looking down at his camp. “I think I got about seven of them down there. Crap, make that eight, I forgot abut that one....”

“Deaders like fag meat, I guess. Cream-filled an’ all that.”

Greg swung his shooting arm up at Derek but Derek had his shotgun cradled in his arms, pointed right at Greg. His grin was back, too. “Coulda taken you out any time in the last coupla seconds. Whatcha think a that, faggot?”

Greg popped a shot past Derek’s right ear. “First,” he said, over Derek’s squeal, “I’m not a faggot.”

Greg sent another shot past Derek’s left ear. “Second, it’d be none of your goddamned knuckle-dragging white trash business if I was.”

As Derek cringed from the buzz of the second slug Greg leaped over the boundary between Ken’s camp and Derek’s. He ripped the shotgun from Derek’s grasp and threw it to the ground. Greg wedged the Glock beneath Derek’s jaw. It was a well-practiced motion, having done it with so many deaders.

“Third,” said Greg, his other hand knotted in Derek’s greasy black hair, “Far as I was concerned you might as well a been pointing a stick at me. You don’t think I’d a heard you cock that thing?”

Greg tightened his grip. “I don’t like people pointing at me,” he said. “But that’s not number four. You wanna hear what four is?”

“What’s going on here?”

Derek tried to use the distraction to break free but Greg tightened his grip in Derek’s hair and pushed the gun harder into his jaw. “Morning, Ranger,” Greg said to the uniformed man standing on the road at the edge of Derek’s campsite. “I see you made it through no worse for the wear.”

“It was bad enough. We’ve had some fatalities.”

“How many?” Greg said, adjusting his grip in Derek’s hair.

“Three so far. I’m just started making my circuit so I expect to find more.”

“Well, you can add Ken over there to the list,” Greg said, nodding towards his campsite.

“Shit!” The park ranger jogged down the trail towards Ken’s campsite. The trees obscured him for a moment. Derek made a noise like he was having trouble swallowing. Greg jerked Derek’s head by way of shaking the tension from his wrist and adjusted the position of his Glock beneath Derek’s jaw.

The ranger reappeared in the clearing between the campsites. He was standing in front of Ken’s body. Greg could already hear the flies buzzing from where he stood.

“Dogs,” said the ranger.


Derek began making strangled noises. The ranger looked up at him. Greg shook Derek by the hair before releasing him. Derek fell to his knees gasping.

“He—” Derek choked, pointing up at Greg.

The ranger looked at Derek.

Derek drew a rasping breath and got to his feet. “This motherfucker...that man there...Ken! He wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for this son of a bitch!”

“Is this true, Mister Copeland?”

“He was taking on those three dogs with his fire poker. I shot one, he got one. The third brought him down.”

The ranger turned back to Ken. He pondered the corpse for a moment. “Huh.”

“So you gonna do sump’n to ‘im?” Derek said.

The ranger looked again at Derek.

“You said you’d shoot the first one of us got out of line! He does all that, now he’s tryna kill me! I don’t believe this shit, man!”

The ranger began walking up to where Greg and Derek stood. “Mister Copeland, why were you trying to kill Mister Munder?”

“He pointed his shotgun at me.”

The ranger looked around at Munder’s campsite. He saw the shotgun on the ground and picked it up. “Why were you pointing your shotgun at Mister Copeland?” he said, cracking open the gun and inspecting the breech. Greg saw the brassy glint of a shell casing.

“Um, he shot Mister Ken...and....”

“Mister Compton’d had nothing but trouble with you. If anything I’m surprised you didn’t shoot him yourself just for laughs while he and everyone else were fighting for their lives. You could have said it was an accident.”

“Well, I — you know I wouldn’t do that!” Greg could see in his face that the thought had occurred to the greasy little man.

Greg looked at the ranger. The ranger’s face didn’t so much as twitch as Derek burst out, “But you saw that neat little hole in the middle of Compton’s head! Ain’t no way my shotgun coulda done that!”

“From what I can tell the dog ripped Ken Compton’s throat out. Mister Copeland put down the dog, then stepped in and put down Mister Compton so he wouldn’t rise again. What you were doing pointing this weapon at Mister Copeland is the mystery.”

“Well, if’n you saw the way he was limpin’ you’d a thought he was a deader, too!”

“I’m surprised you saw much of anything. I notice you’ve got the only site I’ve seen so far with no bodies in it. No dogs, no deaders. Nothing.”

Derek opened his mouth but the ranger continued: “No,” he said, looking towards Derek’s battered red pickup with the white topper over the flatbed, “I’m willing to bet you were still curled up there in your truck when the attack happened. Dogs may have jumped up around it a couple of times but you weren’t easy meat so they moved on. Which is fine. A smart move on your part and all that. Except for one thing.”


“The one time you decide to step out with your gun you point it at one of the living.”

“You don’t know that! You weren’t here!”

“I’ve been watching you for some time, Derek Munder.  You don’t care for anyone who speaks proper English and bathes more than once a week.” The ranger held up the shotgun. “Anyway,” he said, “I’ll be keeping this.”

“You ain’t got no right to take my gun!”

“It’s not like you ever use it.”

“I shot deer!”

“When there were deer. Never brought one down as far as I know. If anything you scared them off.”

“Well — whut if we get attacked again!”

“Do what you did this morning. Stay under your topper shell until the brave people put things right.”

“Dammit, you ain’t got no right! The Second Amendment of the Yew-nited States Cawnz-stit-tution—”

“Doesn’t amount to much when there’s no United States, now does it?”

A change came over Derek’s face. “Neither does that uniform of yours, either,” he said. “You ever think about that, Ranger Rick?”

“I’ve been reminded of that at least twice a day for the last year or so. It was maybe just once a day six months before that, and once every two weeks for the first six months since The Thing got going. As it stands, I’ve got the gun. And so does your neighbor. Mister Copeland, if this one gives you any trouble, you do what you have to do.” He turned away.

“Yeah, well, let’s see how long you’ll keep it!” Derek shouted after him. “I got friends—!”

A low roar arose over the other side of the camp.

Greg looked at the ranger, who had stopped to look across the middle of the camp. Whoops and hollers overtook the roar, but the effect was no less unsettling.

“Whut the hail is that?” said Derek.

“I’m guessing it’s what scared those dogs off,” said the ranger. He set off across the broken road towards the source of the commotion.

Nothing but trouble in these woods.

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2017 by James Robert Smith