Thursday, May 30, 2013

BLOWBACK OF THE DEAD 2: The Demon-Driven Are Anything But Lazy

I often thought of the bolded part of George Orwell’s quote below while I was thrashing through the last chapters of Bleeding Kansas. As fictional sage Roseanne Roseanna Danna was fond of saying “I thought I was a-gonna die!” Still, the context of Orwell’s observation is worth putting out there. The following is from the final paragraph of Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Why I Write,” probably the most candid and honest essay ever composed on the subject:

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.

I take issue with the “lazy” part. Vain and selfish I will own, and I was lazy for the longest time. But I define “lazy” as coming up with one Great Concept after another, writing what I thought would be exquisite examples of said Concept—and then letting them all sit. Which is what I did. Which is what a lot of wannabe writers do.

Lazy people finish nothing. Two years ago I thought I’d get clever and write endings to all the novels and non-fiction books I wanted to write. I’d write the endings, then connect the beginnings to the endings. Genius! 

So I wrote one ending for one novel. That novel still sits on the back-burner. Although the ending I wrote was the ending I’d had in mind for decades for the story (I started it in 1982) I realize it’s not going to survive intact once I get going with  it again. And even if it does, it doesn’t matter because as of right now the book still isn’t finished.

When people learn I’m writing a book, I’ll hear cracks along the lines of, “So do you sleep on a couch next to the thing some nights like I’ve heard some do?” (I’ve done this maybe twice over the years. I prefer my bed.) “So do you obsess over your story all the time, even if you’re doing something else?” (Yes. The deal with any kind of creative person worth his or her salt is the Current Project is always on their mind. Always. They wouldn’t finish otherwise.) (NOTE: This is why we’re not taking on your pet project, even though you’re convinced your Great Idea will make us both money, if we’ll only commit to writing it. If you think so highly of your Great Idea, then you’ll do it.) Most people have a general understanding of what it takes to finish writing a book, any book. But when it comes to actually making it happen, they can’t imagine themselves putting themselves through any sort of inconvenience whatsoever to do it.

Now that I’ve started refitting my prototype novel The Resilient (UPDATE: this became Grace Among the Dead) for inclusion in The Saga of the Dead Silencer, trilogy, I’m trying to find ways of completing my projects that don’t involve putting such untenable strain on my physical and mental health. Although the idea of keeping a strict schedule is anathema to my very being, I need to work out a general plan that involves regular exercise and better sleeping habits.

I figure I’ll be a couple of books in before I find a groove. And it will take work to find that groove. Indeed, and I will find that groove only when I fully commit to doing thus.

All I’ve done is written two novels in the zombie apocalypse genre. Nothing epic, and certainly not classic. But I put what I’d had at the time into them. One of them, the first one I wrote, still needs to be reworked. (Hence my current project.) But I’ve done them. And I will do more. How about you? What’s in your portfolio, oh Great White Hope of Modern Literature? 

Wait, wait, let me guess: Disaffected young scion of upper middle class/professional class family goes to his family reunion. Upper middle class family drama ensues. Because nobody feels pain like disaffected upper middle class people in conflict with their own. Sure, it’s been done. But your story is special because, well, it just is. 

The hell of it is you’ll probably get published, because only upper middle class kids get professional class jobs in big publishing houses, and they’ll relate. Check out the Books section of any given Sunday paper on any given week, and you’ll likely see a favorable review of just such a book because only upper middle class/professional class kids get jobs writing for newspapers (which is a big reason why they’re dying and I don’t mourn their passing). There’s one coming out every week. But the bigger hell of it is, you still have to finish your book! Sorry about that, Snowflake. No one can do that for you.

Writing Bleeding Kansas and The Resilient was like a long bout of illness. But the only way out of illness is through it. You have to beat the thing. 

Am I vain? Of course. Selfish? It goes with being vain, so what? But lazy? Not quite.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work. 

Related: BLOWBACK OF THE DEAD: On Composing Violent and Disturbing Literature and Its Effects Upon One Man Who Writes It

Monday, May 27, 2013

BLEEDING KANSAS in Post-Production

At 4:05 a.m. MDT Friday, 25 May, I finished it. Bleeding Kansas, my second novel, and the first in the Saga of the Dead Silencer trilogy, is getting the final blue-pencil before I send it off to Severed Press tonight.

I’ve taken down all the full chapters on this site. I’ll publish little excerpts here and there, but to get the full shootin’ ‘n’ ‘splodin’ experience that is Bleeding Kansas, you’ll have to buy the book. Which will still cost less than that beer you’re buying at the bar after happy hour, or even that spendy, syrupy coffee-like concoction you bought at Starshmucks this morning—and with its mobs of hungry dead, shootings and mutilations, Bleeding Kansas should prove to be far, far more satisfying. Unlike the beer or the ur-coffee, you can savor the mayhem again and again. How’s that for value?

In lieu of the normal book cover that’s running the risk of being overexposed, here’s a GIF of three inebriated young women dancing. Happy Harlan Ellison’s Birthday! Which I honor by getting back to work....

A scene I would have liked to have seen at my wrap party last night. Minus all those other people, of course.

Monday, May 20, 2013

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

A little followup/epilogue to the action inside the main building at New Bethany megachurch, in which a malefactor gets her comeuppance. Or, more precisely, “come-eat-ance.” Run the boilerplate!

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 those readers who were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the fourteenth 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!


Robin awoke to the sound of approaching footsteps. Great, about goddamned time! Mark would make them pay for this. Elder’s mistress, hell. If that dumb soccer twat only knew!

She saw the security guard leaning over her. Another staggered behind him, his face bloodied. Crazy sick-ass bitches, no telling how they did it but they’d gotten through them.

“About time! You got your people after those... people, I hope.”

The first guard’s head bobbed loosely as he knelt beside her. Robin took it for a nod.

“Let me take my time getting up, all right? My head’s splitting.”

The guard pulled on her arm. He got another hand under her armpit.

“Let go, I’m fine! I just need a little —”

The teeth closed sharply into her flesh. Robin screamed as the incisors tore, the molars ground into the bone. She screamed louder as the second one fell to his knees and pulled at her hair, the better to line up her face with his.

His face —!

God the lobby’s just over there there’s people over there why don’t they hear me why don’t they come dear god where is everybody?

"Peopllllllle...people who eat peoplllllllle...are the most wonderful peopllllllle of alllllllllll!"

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2017 by James Robert Smith


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Driving Through the Apocalypse

We all rage at the Lookie-Lous, even as we take in a little potential gore porn every time we pass a wreck. Like no one else see us doing it. We can hardly blame our hero, though, given the circumstances. Hell, I had to see, too:

I take my time going through the formerly barricaded area. I try, anyway. Even with the windows up the stink makes my eyes water. A greenish-yellow haze of flame flickers like a dank, swampy will-o-the-wisp over the nearer piles of bodies. The flesh is burned black on the bones. The mouths of the skulls hang wide as if screaming, tendrils of the whitest smoke pouring through the eye and nose holes. For blocks on either side it’s a hilly, rolling landscape of ruined humanity. If any are on their feet they stand well behind the haze, and I don’t see how they can get to anyone in this bulldozed path between bodies before all these gassy, superhot fires go out.

The burning in my nose and throat is going beyond merely irritating to painful. I tap the accelerator and push through quickly. It’s not just the bodies, though they’re obviously the most poisonous. The pall of smoke from the east side is merging with the blazes on the west, and the warehouses on either side of this street are catching fire.

Beyond the second barricade I notice a rifle barrel sticking from a third-floor window, the muzzle pointed to the sky. Smoke billows through the open window. This was one of the buildings Gitmo hit with the tear gas from his launcher. But the smoke from the fires across town is also thick at that level. You’d need a good coroner to tell what got him first.

I speed to catch up to the car in front of me. The truck carrying the loot from the liquor store as per his original assignment—it’s the one pickup with a hardtop, while the women and children ride open—closes the distance behind me, as does the snowplow behind it. Can’t blame these guys for not wanting to linger, either. No doubt pissed at me for rubbernecking.

Yeah, but they looked, too. As did you. As did I. As would anyone. 

In this case the smell of charred zombie flesh is a powerful motivator to move on. Perhaps someone should come up with Charred Zombie Flesh-flavored flares to throw around wrecks to speed traffic. Because keeping the flow in the face of tragedy is the hallmark of any great plantation empire. Just putting that out there.

There's plenty more to see in the nightmarishly violent, bug-eyed brutal land of Bleeding Kansas!

Bleeding Kansas Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

Saturday, May 18, 2013

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

Here we move to the interior of New Bethany and meet another set of characters in the course of dipping our narrative toe into the megachurch’s dark side, and learning what motivates those desperate families Preacher Miller and his people saw escaping into the night. 

Quirky Character Notes: I based the character of Robin on Robin Meade, the loathsome Morning Express anchor for CNN Headline News, and exemplar of everything that is wrong with “news” media in this benighted empire in decline. I can’t help but hear her husky, snooty old woman’s voice when reading her dialogue. In Bleeding Kansas she became Stefani Dunham, after crossing her with FOX News’ resident fembot Megyn Kelley and making her semi-sympathetic because—it’s science fiction, bitches! Run the boilerplate!

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 those readers who were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the thirteenth 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!


That Anne had already known Robin would betray her would have been met with wonder by her husband David. Poor sweet David, so smart in his way, would have whistled through his pursed lips and muttered something silly about superior female intuition.

But Robin’s betrayal had demonstrated a principle obvious to Anne or any woman of middling intelligence who had survived middle school: never trust a girl more popular and better-looking than you. And when that hot young thing comes up full of compliments about your hair and how smart you are, never, ever turn your back.

“So what’s in it for you?” Anne said, eyeing the small pistol in Robin’s pale, smooth hand.

“You and I both know this is wrong,” said Robin. “Not just for you. For them.”

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Kansas City Friday Night with Zombies

The following passage strives to capture that special feeling  when you go to your room on the 15th floor and realize you’re watching the sun go down on a completely different world than the one you woke up to this morning. From Chapter 7 of my novel Bleeding Kansas, “In the Night Kitchen”:

On my way down the hall to my room I’m startled by the whump! of a body throwing itself at the other side of a door, roaring and snarling like a frustrated predator behind the glass at the zoo. Thank God that thing hasn’t figured out how to work the latch. Thanks again for being many doors down from mine. I don’t want to have to try and sleep with that thing’s angry, hungry yowling in my ears.

I open the door to my room, this same room I woke up in this morning. The same room on another planet, where the hotel staff is dead or food for the same. I close the door behind me and secure the latch.

The sun edges below the horizon, its orange-yellow beams blazing like a silent scream through the window. I look down onto streets that were completely empty this morning. Still no cars or trucks rolling about. Just…people? 
It’s like Mardi Gras, wall-to-wall bodies and not one of them walks a straight line. I see no cars or trucks, armored or otherwise. No muzzle flashes of rifles or sidearms. All you see are these erratic, atomized little blotches, every one a stone killer.

Mardi Gras of the dead. I like the sound of that. Not sure I'd like the smell, taste, or feel so much, but it sure sounds like fun!

Bleeding Kansas Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

State of the Apocalypse, Five-Seventeen-Thirteen Edition

I should know better, but every now and then I find myself cruising these websites where it’s the same complaint every day, “our personal interest group’s Sworn Enemies have really done it this time! check out this news item!” and they have over a thousand views a day, with at least 30 or so comments. The really good ones will get a troll from the Other Side to stir things up from time to time.

Same existential principle.

I’ve been that troll on occasion. To mix metaphors, I like to think of the Web as a Wild West caricature in which every establishment along the dusty digital avenue is a saloon, and in every saloon there is a fight. You pick one, push through the swinging double doors, and fight. The world goes on outside but while you’re inside that one saloon you’re fighting like it’s the Final Battle for All Civilization. You swing fists until you’re tired, and then you swing some more, because the winner is not the rhetorical mastermind with the Most Cogent and Unarguable Point, but the last troll standing. It’s quite a buzz.

Then again, I’ve seen blogs—you’ve seen ‘em, too—where the posters talk about how the bagel and coffee they got at so-and-so’s today seemed somewhat lackluster, it’s a little chillier than normal this time of year, etc. Even these people have their little community thing going on: “Oh, good to see you’re back posting. I hope you get over your cold! The weather has been freakish, lol, keep your chin up.” Not that I would want to be responsible for such a thing. But I can’t help wondering, how do they do it?

I’m especially vexed today because I’ve noticed that my recent post on “Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I” and how its musical construction goes so well with my novel, is...trending? Not on the Web, but in my all-time posts. It’s already tied for number 7 in my top-ten most-viewed posts. Even the Bleeding Kansas chapters didn’t get so many hits so fast. How did this happen?

It’s not the first time I’ve tweeted a link with the #zombieapocalypse tag. I didn’t even leave a comment on someone else’s blog with a link back to mine. And here’s what really gets me: how many of these posters do you think have actually played the embedded YouTube recording? “Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I” is 13 minutes, 38 seconds. No video. It’s not even a hooky prog-piece, let alone pop. “Larks Tongues, Part I” more closely resembles a film soundtrack, with quiet sections that would irritate people used to constant stimulation from their entertainment.

You’d think I’d have people crawling all over this blog for the delightfully violent and better-written-than-most zombie fiction. Nope. King Crimson and one of their most difficult, least accessible works, and how I relate that to my zombie novel, in a rough Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz fashion, just not so synced—that’s bringing in the page hits.

But how? Of all these referring sites, only two are what I’d call legitimate websites that normal people visit and browse. The rest are porn portals, false fronts of one form or another. The search terms used are no help either. 

It’s a mystery. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep banging the side of my skull with heel of my hand to force the blogposts out while orchestrating the end of Bleeding Kansas. While the rest of the Internet wars over that Dastardly Other and their latest (a lot of real-life pain, true, but what are you really going to do?) my challenge is to resist the urge to join the brawling, and finish writing this book. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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

Preacher Miller’s night gets even worse! Run the boilerplate!

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 twelfth 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!


Brother Brock, bless his heart, said nothing. No telling what his thoughts were of this disaster. He gathered up his rifle and walkie-talkie, and as he and Preacher Miller made their way along the wooded slope abutting the rear of the New Bethany compound he was taken down by a white flash out of the trees.

That’s what Preacher Miller might have seen had he not been creeping on ahead. He turned at the sound of Brock’s body hitting the ground — Brock hadn’t time to even scream — to see three more dogs tearing at him. It was another second or so before Brock found breath and voice to cry out. By that time Preacher Miller was already running, barely missing the trees, very nearly running into —

“Travis! Brother Travis!” Only now Preacher Miller realized he was running away, leaving one brother in the dirt to be torn at by dogs as another brother stood witness.

“I — I’m surprised to see you on your feet,” said Preacher Miller. “Come, Brock, he’s —”

Travis let the rifle he was carrying fall and dangle by its strap as he raised his hands to grasp Preacher Miller.

Preacher Miller ducked behind a tree, then another as Travis stumbled towards him in the sharpening moonlight. Preacher Miller could hear Brock crying out piteously as the dogs growled and tore. Preacher Miller glanced about him. Then he leaned into the rise, running as fast as he could uphill.

Travis turned to follow. But the gradient was too steep, and he fell backwards. He grunted as he rolled and hit a tree.

By this time Preacher Miller had reached the top of the ridge. He cut a dark and frightened figure running full-out in the bright blue moonlight. 

Albert the Alligator only opens his mouth for the biggest number.

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2017 by James Robert Smith


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Ultimate Soundtrack to Your Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare

Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I by KING CRIMSON

A professional music critic (read: disco twink) for the BBC listed this track at number 9 on his list of “10 Worst Songs to Have Sex To,” with the zinger that any children conceived during this would have “bones like joss sticks.” I’d rather King Crimson founder Robert Fripp not have honored such typical lamestream media anti-prog trash with a reply, but his response that  “the bones of anyone conceived to Part One have a large proportion of apprehension, terror, inevitability & metal in addition to joss sticks within their DNA” goes a long way towards describing the many moods of this 13:38 masterpiece. And by “goes a long way” I mean to say it doesn’t capture all of them. It’s just a damned good start.

“Larks Tongues in Aspic, Part I” is so perfect for writing post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve put it in heavy rotation on my desk speakers. It opens with a slow fade-in of various xylophoney/chimey percussion instruments courtesy of Jamie Muir. For the first two and one-half minutes we’re lulled into a sense of normalcy. It’s a normalcy tinged with apprehension—say, we’ve got a character flying out to a major city for a job interview. At the one-minute mark a high, thinly metallic wash representing the Mayday Malaise creeps over the vibes. By the 2:30 mark it dominates as the Final Flu. It goes all the way until the 3:00 mark when David Cross’s violin begins its tense, percussive line, culminating into the catastrophic slam of metal guitars at 3:40. The dead have risen to feast on the flesh of the living.

What follows next has been described as rock-jazz “fusion” (it was very much a thing in the early to mid-1970s) but it sounds more like funk to me. Prog funk with a light be-bop flavoring, if you want to get technical about it. Whatever you call it, it evokes the chaos ensuing as the National Guard and the police and the public are overwhelmed by the numbers and rigor-driven strength of the reanimated. 

The track slows down at around ten minutes—we’re taking stock of our situation—and then the violin comes back at around 11:30, deeper, more frenetic. At 12:26 the tension is broken with a crash. But the world is not the same. It’s an uncanny valley where Things Unnatural walk. Imagine  waking up with that eerie Mellotron and guitar soundscape in your head, David Cross’s violin keening throughout for all that has passed, and for the terrors yet to come. As I did this morning, realizing I am very close to finishing Bleeding Kansas

Whatever your apocalypse, Mr. Robert Fripp and Co. have your music for it right here. Thank you, Mr. Fripp and the 1973 incarnation of King Crimson for creating such a challenging and compelling piece. You and all the other great musicians who created and defined that broad spectrum of experimental-exploratory music called progressive rock have nothing to apologize for, or even explain.

Oddly, there is no straight album version of “Lark’s Tongues” on YouTube. I suppose I’ll have to rip and post it myself. Until there, here is a superb, albeit abbreviated performance on some ancient, long-forgotten television program.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to Put Out a Fire on Your Lawn with the Bratty Bastard Who Started It

Today’s devotional is from Chapter 21, “The Battle of Oak Blossom Lane”:
By the prodigious spray it’s apparent the arteries aren’t convulsing shut. Good. I grab Brandon by the back of his shirt and shove him hard into the blazing privacy hedge. There’s a hissing like a fuse as the spurting blood drowns the flames. Stunned, Brandon falls to his knees and shrieks as the heat from the smoldering debris seals his wound with a crackling of seared flesh and steaming blood. The stench is gagging. Goddamn it, I’m so looking forward to living somewhere in post-undead apocalypse America that doesn’t stink like a bag of sour assholes. 

I love how this ends in a sorta-kinda prayer. An American™ Prayer! For a better America! One that doesn’t stink like a bag get the picture.

It’s a dream we all share. Kumbaya, bitches!

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

More fun with Preacher Miller of Soul’s Harvest, the rival church to Deacon Dare’s New Bethany. Run the boilerplate!

In 2008 James Robert Smithand 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 eleventh 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....


A straight-up defeat would have been easier to bear. New Bethany had had the superior numbers, far more than the hundred or so Preacher Miller had reckoned earlier. But the numbers and bullets that had driven back the Soul’s Harvest expedition were numbers and bullets directed at the countless dogs and deaders swarming the church and its outlying buildings and houses. In this battle the men of Souls Harvest hadn’t even counted as a force. They were merely in the way.

As the moon rose above the treeline Preacher Miller marveled at how much there was of New Bethany. It was something he hadn’t noticed that time he’d come to parley, that so many of the houses in the surrounding village were occupied — and that there was at least one armed man in every one of those houses. They also saw women at the windows with rifles or shotguns. An older boy might be at the other side of the house, firing away at the hungry shamblers closing in on their home.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Please Don't Leave Your Dead Children Unattended"

Today’s Prime Passage from Bleeding Kansas, Chapter 19, “The Dead People of Wal-Mart” illustrates the need for this:
Panga in hand, I jog down the wide aisle separating the grocery from the dry goods. There are display islands in the middle of this aisle. I’m come to the clothing section and the racks enclose the right side of the aisle like little banyan trees concealing the predators beneath.

A hand claws at me from beneath one of these and I miss a step, my foot coming down on that hand. But that gives the other hand a chance to grab at my boot. It’s a small blue hand, with stubby blue fingers and yet I can feel its death-rigored grip through the leather.

I pull my panga and swing but the child is wrapped around my boot now—a little thing with a yellow ribbon in her hair and the fatty child skin chewed away on one side of her face. An eyestalk hangs eyeless from one socket but the muscles about her jaw are intact and working. Her little baby teeth are bearing down hard on my boot. I lift up my foot and kick at the display in the middle of the aisle. A small ribbon of intestine trails beneath her waist; she has no legs, not even bones.

Her teeth bear down harder.

How on earth will our intrepid hero escape this icky pre-dicky-ment? The answer’s here, from Severed Press!

Related: How to Put Out a Fire on Your Lawn with the Bratty Bastard Who Started It

Also: Fun with an Old Zombie Trope: The Apocalypse Virus

Bleeding Kansas Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

Thursday, May 09, 2013

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

We’re in another setting and another set of headspaces altogether here. The titular Preacher Miller represents Soul’s Harvest, a rival church to Deacon Dare’s New Bethany. Miller’s congregation is more remote, and poorer besides. Hunger and privation and pride drive people to do crazy things. And as Preacher Miller and his flock will discover, sometimes on the way to do crazy things you run into even crazier things. As it is in the zombie apocalypse, so will it be the Twilight Zone.

Run the boilerplate. 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 were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the tenth 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....


“You hear anything from Brother Josh across the street?”

“Sorry, Preacher. Same as before.”

“You think the batteries gave out on their radios?”

“We took ‘em right out of the packaging. Just like you said to.”


“They were as fresh as fresh can be.”

“I hear you.”

“When Jim gets back with his squad we could send him out.”

“All right. I suppose we’ll have to wait a little longer, then.”

“Chuck says it’s still quiet up in front. They might well be all right.”

“Let’s hope so.”

“We did see some more people goin’ out that back door.”


“Some more women. A few men. Just about all of ‘em had kids with ‘em.”

“Well. Trouble in paradise. Nice to know a full belly isn’t all that’ll keep a body someplace.”

“Yeah, ‘cept for that last bunch. The dogs caught ‘em right as the door closed behind ‘em.”


“If it weren’t for the light comin’ out from inside we wouldn’t have seen as much as there was to see. It was awful enough in shadow seein’ those Things grabbin’ at the little ones.”

“The Bible tells of horrors like this. Consider the children Herod had put to the sword as he sought the Baby Jesus.”

“At least it was quick for them.”

“We don’t know that, Brock.”

Preacher Miller’s stifled sigh made this last statement sound harsher than he’d intended. It did, however, have the desired effect of silencing Brock.

But did it silence the doubts in Brock’s heart? Doubt poisoned faith, and this had been a long season of doubt. The end of the world had announced itself on a summer’s night nearly two years ago but if no one could pinpoint the date it was because no one had reckoned it as the end.

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. 

Preacher Miller had read Mark, Chapter 13 from his pulpit when the terror began. For emphasis he read nearly the same words as they appeared in Matthew, Chapter 24. The Bible, contrary to what the unbelievers so often said, did not contradict himself.

But had Christ already touched down on the Mount of Olives as prophesized in the Revelation? The stench of corrupt flesh, the screams of living prey among the unnaturally darkened streets might prove a distraction even to such a Glorious Appearing.
But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of his house: And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.

Most had not time to pull on their slippers as the dead came crashing through their doors and picture windows. As for the people who had run back into their houses, the ending was always the same: “And all of a sudden he runs back in to get — She turned around and went back in because she —” If these people had only read their Bibles, they might have known. That such a plainly worded warning from Jesus Himself, echoing the prophet Daniel, had not been heeded by the Bible-believing was even more tragic still.

As for those with little ones — oh, the heartbreaking tales he had heard! The babies pulled from their cribs, the mothers who had turned and run straight into the teeth of the monsters when their little ones had fallen behind. The husbands who had sacrificed their flesh that their wives and children might escape....

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

That the sun and moon still shone at their appointed hours — that the stars still moved according to their custom in the firmament — seemed hardest of all to believe in the face of all that had happened. Still, there would be no missing the coming of the Lord! The days of tribulation could not last much longer. Christ Himself had promised!
Meanwhile, nearly two years past the end of the world Preacher Miller found himself in charge of over four hundred children and women and men, in decreasing order of number. Just enough women to look after the children and too few men to go hunting and scavenging to feed them all.

It had often been observed that Dr. Mark’s squads, for all their guns and body armor could easily have gone down the broken highway into the city and brought back untold bounties from the super-stores there. They would be plenty for everyone for years to come, even for those heathens rumored to have settled farther on up in the hills.

Now it turned out that Deacon Sparks and his people had been going into the city. They’d not only brought back entire tractor-trailer loads of food, they’d rolled in fuel trucks. It had taken them weeks to move the abandoned cars from the right-of-way and rig bridges over washed out sections of road. But they had done it, all the while fighting endless, ravenous mobs of hungry Unclean to make it happen.

Preacher Miller had gone down with two brothers to parley for a small piece of that bounty. Oh, such in-your-face courtesy you never did see, all slaps on the back and hail-O-brother-in-Christ, come in, come in! Next thing they knew they were sitting at what the New Bethanites called lunch but in ordinary times would have been a feast. No ham or turkey, of course, but they were working on that. The steaks would have to do and they were sorry it was all they had.

Yes, they’d had the nerve to apologize for that. All that and the mashed potatoes (still pretty good if from a box) with the real butter and string-bean casserole and the mashed sweet potatoes from the can, again with real butter and raisins. And everyone in that auditorium room ate the same thing save for the steaks, though if Preacher Miller had heard anyone complain about the spiced ham from the can he would have duly slapped him upside the head.

Preacher Miller and Brock and Joshua had waited until the meal was finished before talking to “Dr. Mark” as he liked to be called. Dr. Mark’s reply? Well, why don’t you move your people down here with us? We’ll integrate our flocks! I know we have some fundamental differences in doctrine. But it’s quite clear upon whom our Lord and Savior has smiled....

“We’ll see,” Preacher Miller had said.

“Don’t take too long thinking about it, Brother,” Dr. Mark had said. “You know our Lord has charged us to feed His sheep. I’m just extending my hand.”

“I know,” said Preacher Miller. “Lemme pray on it.”

To be fair, Dr. Mark could easily have said we’ve got all the people we can handle right now. Which, to Preacher Miller’s mind, would have been for the best. All he needed was a leg up. Some milk for the babies, a few cans of beans for everyone else. They could do without meat until they grew enough corn to barter for a bull and a cow — or found ones of their own, as Dr. Mark’s ever-industrious Deacon Sparks and company had somehow managed to do.

But it was clear charming ol’ Dr. Mark was shooting for all the marbles. Come on down. Integrate the flock! Of course, there was no mistaking who would be in charge. And why not? It was his house.

And that was just it, thought Preacher Miller. New Bethany Community Church wasn’t God’s house. It was Dr. Marcus Zachary Winthrop’s House of Vanity. Sure, Preacher Miller might expect some nice rooms and an office and maybe even a few shots at the Sunday lesson when Dr. Mark felt like taking a break. But how to reconcile that madness about Original Sin Dr. Mark preached, that cruel, Catholic-borrowed craziness that damned even unbaptized babies to hell? That business about the Elect Dr. Mark had appropriated from those smug Presbyterians?

Every Christian and his weird pagan second cousin twice-removed knew about “Cafeteria Christians” and their way of taking of what they liked from the Bible and leaving the rest, but Dr. Mark had taken the absolute worst of every pseudo-Christian heresy ever concocted by man or devil, mixed it with a few he’d made up himself, and served up a doctrinal gumbo which guaranteed damnation to every unwitting soul who so much as sniffed at its foul contents. Ol’ Man Winthrop (“Doctor” Mark, hell!) (literally!) could not know how hateful it had been to feel that slap on the back and be called a “brother” in Christ by someone such as he. In that instant Preacher Miller sympathized with the unbelievers. He understood how so many could be turned away from Christ when such salesmen from Satan’s own used car lot were accepted by so many as the Lord’s agent on earth.

So Preacher Miller and Brock and Josh had trudged back to Soul’s Harvest the next day, bellies heavy with breakfast and hearts heavier with shame for having accepted as much in such a house of iniquity. Upon their return there was a service, and Preacher Miller reported to the assembled of his journey. They groaned at his description of his welcome. They groaned louder at his description of the feast.

Yes, Preacher Miller said, it was there at Dr. Mark Winthrop’s table that the greater test had been revealed to him. For there was no question in his mind whether they would accept the yoke of Babylonian captivity in exchange for morsels from the table — but what of the assembled here? Could they see it? Could they see that their very faith and courage in God the Father, and of Jesus His only begotten Son was at stake?

For it would be by faith and courage alone that they might wrest these bounties from the well-armed, well-organized, and very well-fed heretics who proclaimed Christ from one corner of their mouths while worshipping the demigod Winthrop body and soul.

Was their faith strong enough?

Such a call to arms had been just what some members of the flock had been waiting for. When the sullen man from the very back row of the Sunday services had stepped forward with his rifles and night scopes Preacher Miller had cried out, “Where’ve you been all this time!” to which the man had replied, “Waitin’ on you.” That had been Jim.

And wouldn’t you know, he had a brother named John. Preacher Miller was immediately put to mind Christ’s disciples James and John, and how He had dubbed them Boanerges, “the Sons of Thunder.” If that hadn’t been sign enough those two brothers, along with their hunting partners Ron and Clay had come across a herd of no less than seven deer the night Preacher Miller and his escort had been gone — and they had taken every one of them. “It was almost as if somethin’ was runnin’ ‘em up towards us,” said Jim.

A waxing moon rising late provided the most logical time for an assault, giving them a week to plan. As they couldn’t risk getting caught scouting New Bethany’s defenses they would have to base everything on what they had observed while approaching for parley.

Every man strong and able enough to hike the distance to New Bethany reported for duty that night. The church was left under the guard of a few of the fiercer sisters as the men — all thirty-three of them, a meaningful if not large number — set out for New Bethany just before sunset.

They had stayed off the road, which made for slow going. The plan had been to come upon New Bethany from the ridge along the rear of the church, beyond the corral where Dr. Mark’s men were sure to expect an attack. They would creep around between the corral and the main church building, leaving just enough men to pin down the guards there while they assaulted the rear of the church. Josh would take a few men and draw attention to the front while the main force took out the doors in back.

They were crossing one of the many overgrown lots in the once under-construction housing development when the dead came upon them from either side. Their shadows against the starlight proved more than startling: no one had encountered more than one or two of these Things in this area for months. If not for the packs spotted stumbling along the ruins of the Interstate it would have been assumed their threat was long since over, that the last of them had given in to wear and fallen to pieces.

But as if to emphasize the miracles Preacher Miller and his party might expect tonight, the dogs that drove the dead — drove them as if they were nothing more than a herd of sheep — ensured that the dead had nothing to do with Preacher Miller’s war party. By their excited moans it was clear that the devil’s risen were interested. But the dogs nudged their flanks and ran about their legs. The dead would grab for the dogs, miss, and stumble in the exact direction the dogs wanted them to go.

And they were headed straight for New Bethany Community Church. Brock counted as many as forty of them converging in the field ahead.

“Durned if those things ain’t bellerin’ just like cattle,” said John.

“Wild dogs an’ deaders,” said Clay. “This ain’t gonna be pretty.”

“Neither’s what we’re about to do,” said Jim.

“If they get into the real cattle Dr. Mark’s got in that corral this is gonna be mostly for nothin’.”

“You’re forgettin’ those trucks they brought in.”

“I ain’t forgettin’ nothin’. Even if we don’t want Dr. Mark’s cattle — an’ believe me, we do! — what you ain’t thinkin’ about is how we’ll still hafta fight those dogs. Deaders gonna be bad enough, but there’s somethin’ ‘bout those dogs that ain’t right.”

“Nothin’ to it. Find the lead dog and drop ‘im. The rest’ll scatter.”

“You see how many dogs there were?”

“Kinda hard to figure in the dark.”

“That’s just what I’m sayin’!”

“Gentlemen,” Preacher Miller had said, and he paused as their attention settled upon him. “I say we accept this for the blessing it is and move on. We may find other blessings waiting if we only act upon the ones we have now.”

“Yeah, like Dr. Mark’s boys shootin’ all those dogs for us!”

“And spending precious ammunition doing so,” said Preacher Miller. “That’s just one of many possibilities. There are others we likely won’t even see coming. But we must be strong, and we must move.”

Preacher Miller did not need to remind them that they were but thirty-three men going up against maybe one hundred or more very well-trained and very well-armed uniformed security guards and who knew how many more in reserve. The chaos those dogs and deaders could stir up could only be heaven sent.

The Lord had meant this to be.

They found themselves slowed in following the dogs and deaders. In turn the men’s presence had slowed the pack, as the dogs had to fight that much harder to keep the deaders on the forward path, and not turned towards the living men. So Preacher Miller held his party back long enough for the pack to get far enough ahead and they took a more roundabout route upwind of the dogs and their fetid charges.

They were an hour and a half off schedule by the time they arrived in the woods behind New Bethany. By that time New Bethany and its environs were in full uproar.

The heaviest fighting was around the corral and Preacher Miller decided to skirt that altogether. Deacon Spark’s squad there was firing wildly into the darkness. Preacher Miller’s men had to crawl on their bellies to get around and even then Brother Travis got hit. Holding a torn piece of shirt over his wound he drew up behind a tree to serve as post and lookout as the rest moved on.

Once past the corral Preacher Miller hung back with Brock and the radio while Jim and a crew of three went down to scout the back doors. Josh took five men around the front while the rest assumed positions in the woods about the rear of the church.

“Should we shoot at anyone while we’re waitin’?” said John.

“Only if you can’t help it. I don’t want ‘em knowin’ we’re here until there’s nothin’ they can do about it. Understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“All right now. I’m gonna wait on word from Josh and then we’ll put the squeeze on. Take what shots you can, but don’t waste ammo. Stand by your radios until I give the word.”

“Yes sir.”

Preacher Miller had no way of knowing how much time had passed but he guessed it was a good half hour or more since he sent Josh out to draw fire at the front of New Bethany. He heard the gunshot that took out one of the floodlights at the back of the church. Preacher Miller had half a mind to get on the radio and tell Jim to shoot out the rest.

After he reckoned fifteen more minutes had passed he ordered Brock to do just that. “And tell Jim he can either charge the back of the building or go see what happened with Josh.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Tell Jim he needs to see what’s goin’ on with Joshua. Keep in radio contact. Everybody else, let’s go on in the back door and do what we gotta do.”

“What’re we gonna do?”

“Either we get the call to come on in, or this is where we all meet to go runnin’ back home.”

“You still want Jim to shoot out the lights?”

“Unless he needs to see the way up front, yes, get him to do that first!”

Preacher Miller could imagine the verse that might be written about this battle in this particular testament: And so it was that the Preacher Miller stood for so long with no news of Brother Joshua and the sounds of battle in his ears that he lost his nerve. There was but one chance to save the war this night. He could only hope John, Jason, Terrell and the rest were as crazy to get going as Jim had been.

Preacher Miller thought of the people back at Souls Harvest and said a silent prayer. He thought to ask Brock to pray with him and decided against it. Brock was already giving the orders.

Won’t someone think of the poor mothers who can’t feed—or feed on—their children?

Copyright © 2008, 2013 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2013 by James Robert Smith