Tuesday, April 02, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp, Part I: 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 first installment I wrote for the project, and my very first foray into writing the living dead. This is some delightfully brutal stuff for a beginner. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse....

Jake Patterson was squatting by his breakfast fire when the thing in the tattered business suit spun him at the shoulder and bit down on his face. On cue with Jake’s scream the dogs charged from the brush, their barking and snapping covering for the other figures crashing in from the treeline.

Jake’s youngest daughter Carly was caught by a hulking gray mass of torn flesh in a dirty t-shirt and jeans. Daryl started towards her but the dogs cut him off. Swinging the poker he’d used to tend his own fire he cracked the skull of one dog as the other backed off. Something in that dog’s eyes made Daryl turn. Daryl swung blindly and caught a large Rottweiler mix across its jaw. He hadn’t swung hard enough. And the dog he’d turned his back on was...

...backing down from the sound of gunfire coming from the direction of Jim Dozark’s campsite. Daryl might have felt grateful for that obnoxious blowhard being good for something but Carly’s shrieking had found a new pitch. Daryl had just enough time to quail at the sight of the thing tearing at the soft meat on her six-year-old shoulder when he was knocked from behind. He regained his feet, thrusting his fire poker into the Rottweiler’s mouth as it charged. The dog bit down on the metal and growled.

Daryl heard someone scream his name—Chloe?—and slipped as he adjusted his hold on the poker. He heard the bark behind him and straightened, forcing the poker into the back of the Rottweiler’s mouth and twisting upwards into its brain. The falling weight of the Rottweiler helped Daryl tear the poker from the dog’s head in time to swing and graze the chest of the other dog as it leapt to take him down from behind.

The screams were all over the campsite now. He heard Nylon hissing over falling, clanking aluminum poles as late sleepers got caught in their tents. The quicker ones started the engines of their vehicles, undead fists thumping at their doors. From the corner of his eye Daryl saw a truck roar past his campsite, the large, yellowish-purple body of a woman clinging to the hood. It slid off and crunched beneath the right-side tires.

Daryl turned away in time to see a man in a torn flannel shirt reaching for him. Mud caked its beard, white dust coated the dried black gore clotted around its lips. He was missing an eye. Daryl froze. A bullet hummed by his ear, driving into the ghoul’s empty eye socket and exploding the back of its skull.

“Woo!” Dozark yelped. “That’s what I call a lucky shot!” Daryl turned to Dozark. “Lucky for both of us you froze up there,” Dozark said, smirking.

Carly’s shrieks were silenced now, but the cries of other children across the long flat ellipse of the campsite rose to pierce Daryl’s heart. Dogs barked. Screams, muffled beneath tent fabric or loud and clear in the open air, competed with the sounds of engines starting and the occasional pop of gunfire.

Daryl looked about for his wife and children. He saw the foliage about the clearing swaying with the approach of more—zombies? It actually sounded a lot less cheesy than “the reanimated,” as the early radio reports had described them.
Good God, how many were still coming in from out there? They were supposed to be safe up here in the campgrounds! 

Dozark had stepped down from his camper trailer towards Daryl. “They’re over there in the car, dumbass,” he said.

Daryl looked towards his minivan. The side windows were smeared by rotting flesh pawing for the living meat within. He could just see twelve-year-old Danielle and ten-year-old Josh through the windshield, waving frantically at him from the middle seats. Chloe was in the front passenger seat. She was deliberately looking away from Daryl, glowering at an imaginary point somewhere across the camp trail.

Lord, thought Daryl, what on earth could she be pissed off about at a time like— 

“Hey!” Dozark had shoved Daryl roughly by the shoulder. “You goin’ over to ‘em or what? You ain’t no good to nobody here with that stupid-ass fire poker.”

Daryl was about indicate the bodies of the dogs he’d taken down when Dozark shoved him again, this time nearly knocking him into the dirt. “Go on, fool. We got another wave comin’. I got shootin’ to do.”

Daryl stumbled away from the burly, bearded good ol’ boy, reflexively raising his poker against being shoved again. Dozark responded by lifting his thirty-ought rifle. Daryl’s eyes widened. Then Dozark shifted his aim just a little to Daryl’s left—then abruptly moved the rifle to his right and squeezed the trigger.

Daryl turned to see the zombie devouring Carly drop his meal and fall backward into the dirt. Carly twitched where she’d landed, then lay still.

Dozark glowered at Daryl. “Well?”

Daryl backed away slowly, then jogged towards his minivan.

The door was locked. Daryl could hear his children screaming as he fumbled for his keys. Daryl saw another zombie coming straight at him through the brush. A dog seemed to be nudging and guiding it along. Then the dog caught sight of Daryl and charged.

Chloe popped the lock. Daryl opened the door and threw himself into the driver’s side. He hit the universal lock and checked to see if all the pins were flush with their frames. The dog was on his door, paws on the sill, barking furiously at Daryl through the glass.

“Thanks, Chlo’,” said Daryl. “Not a moment too soon.”

“You’ll want to talk to your daughter,” his wife said flatly. “She was about to open the side door.”

“Dad, Mommy wasn’t going to let you in.”

Daryl looked at his wife as he said, “Danielle, you could have put everyone in danger. You know how slowly these automatic doors close.”

“But Mommy—!” Danielle looked at her mother as if she were a ghoul herself and couldn’t believe no one else would see it.

“It’s all right,” Daryl told Danielle. “I’m here now.”

“We were beginning to wonder,” Chloe said.

“What, you didn’t see me fighting for my life with the dogs?”

“I thought these things weren’t supposed to come up here,” said Chloe. The accusatory tone in her voice made Daryl wonder if he’d really heard her call his name after all.

“Well, think about it! They’ve always followed the path of least resistance. No one’s ever seen one stumble uphill unless there was...something there they were interested in.” He looked over at Josh, whose eyes were every bit as wide as his sister’s. “We weren’t the only ones who noticed this,” Daryl said, a little more defensively than he would have liked.

“Well, they’re here now.”

“Yes. I see that.”

“So what’re we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s just wonderful, Daryl. Real smart. Way to think ahead.”

Actually, along with a dozen or so others across the camp, Daryl did have a plan. But Chloe couldn’t know. And they had yet to survive this....

The zombie Daryl had seen prodded along by the dog fell heavily on Daryl’s side of the van. It pushed at the window and moaned. The dog was still barking murderously at Daryl. Daryl looked up into the rearview mirror and saw that the racket was drawing other undead to the van.

“Kids,” said Daryl, “get under the quilt.”


Never mind “Who Let the Dogs Out”! Who let these things in?

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2017 by James Robert Smith