Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp VII: The CONFEDERATION Project

What I like about the following excerpt is how it exploits explores the poignancy of watching a loved one die, and then return from the dead to join the tribe of their killers. In my experience it’s a trope handled quickly and tritely or not at all.

The one exception to this rule I’ve seen was in the film Sean of the Dead, when the title character had to cope with dispatching his reanimated mother. That this scene was not played for laughs (in a comedy!) added depth to the narrative and dimension to the character. It also reinforced the important notion that, funny as the zombie apocalypse can be, it’s still a time of mortal threat and grievous loss. 

Here, I also tackle the issue of social class and how certain representatives of the various grades would react to the apocalypse. I’ve been kicking this same idea around in Bleeding Kansas. The hell of it is I think I do it better here than I do in that whole book. 

Looks like I’d better get back to work, then. Let’s run the boilerplate and get on with the show:

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 have been following 
Bleeding Kansas and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the seventh installment I wrote for the Confederation project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse....


Rick watched as Dare strode directly to the Spencer’s site at the bottom of the loop. Two campers from differing sites rushed out to meet him only to be rebuffed by an upraised hand and what Rick presumed was a firm-but-friendly “I’ll be seeing all of you in a minute.”

Had to hand it to the old dog, thought Rick, Dare knew how to pick ‘em. Then again, in the land of the Great Unwashed, those who could wipe their asses without leaving the used toilet tissue to blow among the trees or float away on the stream couldn’t help but stand out. Of course, after two years there was no more toilet paper to be had, but still — one look at the Spencers and how well they kept their camp and you knew.

If New Bethany was at the point of picking and choosing, as Dare had said, it might also be able to offer special deals for real talent. Or desperate enough to lie their asses off for it...Rick had no doubt that Dare was honorable in his way, but he was ultimately no more than a mouthpiece for higher powers.

Rick had talked to Caleb Spencer about leaving for Sparta but Caleb had only shook his head and said he’d have to think about it. Which told Rick he didn’t want to commit either way, but, for the most part, no. Be interesting to know what Dare was offering him. Maybe a house on the far frontier of New Bethany with promises to be left alone, as Dare had done with Rick and Keisha. Who knew, maybe Spencer would take it. Spencer was a believer. He might just fit right in.

Meanwhile, it might do to find out what Dare’s goons were telling the campers. Rick walked over to the first camp where the two men stood speaking with Kerry Jergens.

Kerry wasn’t bad as the people in this camp went. Rick wondered how much of that had to do with his proximity to the ranger’s cabin, but at least he didn’t give much trouble. Judging by the scene at Kerry’s the man had lost his wife Shannon to either the zombies or the dogs. It was hard to tell which. Both liked tearing at their food.

Kerry seemed shaken, and no wonder. Like most survivors, he had survivor’s guilt. In these situations, “survivor’s guilt” meant you got inside the car or truck or camper as your wife, husband, child, etc., got grabbed, and could only watch as your loved ones got ripped apart and eaten alive before your very eyes. There wasn’t a damn thing you could do unless you wanted to be ripped apart and eaten alive yourself but you still couldn’t get past the looks on their faces — especially looking at you — as they went out of your life in the most horrible agony imaginable, one piece at a time.

Of course, in most cases the survivors had hidden their faces (the sensible thing to do was to hide oneself altogether) and the guilt came from not watching what happened to the people you were with, leaving your imagination to supply the visuals that went with the screams. That was most likely what had happened here. It happened in ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the cases. As for that minority who had and did watch, those would be the ones Rick would really be worried about....

“Mr. Jergens, we’ve got to take care of the body. You understand that, right?”

“Y’all said — ‘dispose’ of it,” Kerry choked.

“All right, so that was a poor choice of words. Believe me, the deacon would have us horsewhipped if he’d heard us say that. What I’m sayin’ is — well, you just look, all right?”

Rick stepped up to see the man’s boot on the chest of what used to be a woman. The face was almost completely gone, one eye missing, the skin and most of the underlying muscle gnawed away.

The tendons that worked the jaw seemed to be fine, though. If Shannon had had more teeth in life she might have snapped at them. As she was now, she had no arms. Her remaining leg was so badly chewed it was useless.

Her torso, clawed and scratched, with only a dirty bra left to cover her nearly flat chest, was twitching with hungry energy. Shannon’s back arched up and down in an effort to aim that moving jaw at someone, anyone.

Kerry sobbed.

“Now I’m tellin’ ya again. Someone’s got to put her down. Either you do it, or we do it. You’re next of kin, we give you the choice.”

“Kerry,” Rick said, “you’re not doing her any favors.”

Kerry Jergens’s eyes welled up as he saw the ranger. “They — they just want to burn her, man. Damn it to hell, you know that ain’t right! I thought these people s’posed to be Christians! Why won’t they let me give her a Christian burial!”

“Why don’t you let them put her down,” said Rick. “Or rather, what’s animating her remains; that’s not Shannon, all right? Then we’ll argue about burial versus cremation.”

“They said they was gonna dis-spose of her, man! Just like she was trash!

“She’s infected!” said the New Bethany man standing off to the side. He was clearly happy not to be the one with his foot holding down what was left of Shannon. “You don’t want that infection in the ground!”

“Kerry,” Rick said gently. “You want me to do this?”

Kerry looked down at the thing writhing beneath the New Bethany man’s boot. The thing that used to be his wife had turned its head to the sound of the ranger’s voice and was clicking its jaws at him.

“Yeah,” Kerry said. “You do it, Ranger.”

Rick looked at the man holding down what was left of Kerry’s wife. “May I borrow your sidearm?”

“What’s wrong with yours?” the man said testily.

“Out of ammo. A little Thing this morning.”

“Oh. Yeah.” The man reached into his shoulder holster and pulled out a 9mm.

“Don’t worry, I’ll only need one.” Rick took the handgun from the man and clicked off the safety. Rick put his foot besides the man’s on Shannon’s chest. The man stepped aside, allowing Rick to position his foot square between the filthy pink cups of Shannon’s bra. Rick hopped with his other foot to center himself, wary of the one leg. One never knew, it could come to life and take him down like an alligator with its tail.

Rick looked over at Kerry. “Kerry. Come here.”

Kerry took a few tentative steps forward, glancing warily down at the thing that had been his wife. For all his sentimental attachment, Kerry wasn’t stupid.

“You got anything to say to her?”

“Na...nuh....” Kerry snuffled. “No. That ain’t her no more. They got her. Goddamn dogs got her. Then those stinkin’...goddamn stinkin’...!” Kerry began choking again. “One looked like a yuppie straight outta Charlotte! Half-expected that ugly cocksucker to pull out his cell phone and call his snooty-bitch soccer mom wife and tell her he was — oh God shit!” Kerry wheezed. “Been treated like trash by people like these all our lives! Now —”

“Ranger!” said the man whose gun Rick had borrowed.

“Kerry. We gotta do this.”

“Yes sir, Ranger. Shannon, baby, I’m sorry!”

“Ms. Jergens, we’re all sorry. Go to rest now.”

The woman’s jaw mindlessly gummed the air as they spoke. Then Ranger Richard McCracken of the United States Park Service squeezed the trigger on the borrowed 9mm. He was aiming for the empty eye socket but Shannon moved her head. Her remaining eye vanished with the report of the gun. She fell back to the dirt.

“Okay,” said the first New Bethany man, “I know it’s kind of a solemn moment and all, but we got lots of passers and risers and it’s a big camp. So if you don’t mind....”

“I understand,” said Rick. He clicked on the safety and handed the gun back to the man. “And thanks.”

“Now can we trust this man to burn the remains, or do we have to do it for him?”

Rick turned to Kerry. “I’m sorry, Kerry, but I don’t have time to run up and get my shovel.”

“I don’t care! I’ll dig as far as I can with a stick and pile on rocks if I haveta. I ain’t burnin’ poor Shannon like she was garbage.”

“Just take care of it, all right?”

“I will.”

“I know you will. And Kerry?”


“I’m sorry for your loss. Shannon was good people.”

“Thanks, Ranger.” Kerry’s eyes watered again. “That means a lot to me.”

“Yeah, well it’s true.”

“You know it!”

Rick turned to Deacon Dare’s bully boys. “Let him do what he has to do. Nothing’s getting any more contaminated than it already is. I’ll talk to the deacon if he thinks it’s going to be an issue.”

The first man grunted. “Well, so long’s you’re takin’ responsibility.”

“I accept full responsibility. For Mr. Jergens, anyway. Others, I’m afraid, will not be as trustworthy.”

“I hear you, Ranger.” Dare’s men all but sighed as if a physical load had been removed from their shoulders. The three of them left Kerry Jergens to his grim chore, walking out onto the broken asphalt of the loop.

The one with the gun spoke as they crossed towards the edge of the camp across the road: “I gotta say, the ol’ deacon was right about you. You’re a stand-up man.”

Rick chuckled. “Well, you better listen to your ol’ deacon, then.”

“Oh, we do. Say, you think you can come ‘round with us so you can talk to these people? They seem to listen to you better.”

“I’m sorry, but that was just Mr. Jergens. What I thought I’d do is round up some of my better people and we can all go round working from both ends of the loop and meet in the middle.”

“Huh. Work as well as anything, I guess.”

“Think I can get some ammo from your people back at the trucks?”

“Well, now, if you can get ‘em to call the deacon on the walkie-talkie....” He shrugged. “Anyway, it don’t hurt to ask.”

“I will. Thanks.”

“Thank you, Ranger.”

Rick turned and jogged up towards the trucks by his cabin. He really didn’t need the ammo — he had a dozen or boxes left — but it never hurt to have at least one more.

Nor did it hurt to let the New Bethany people think he was hurting. Whether he got the box or not, this had to be quick. He had to meet with the people who he knew wouldn’t go to New Bethany for love or money (or hot food, to update the cliché). They had to make their plans and make them firm. This day would get away from them before they knew it, and tonight was the last best chance they had.

Oh, shit! It’s as good as already gone!

Copyright © 2008, 2013 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2013 by James Robert Smith