Monday, May 06, 2013

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

This where the section called “Wildwood Holler” runs out of road. It’ll be some time before I ever get around to writing the daring night escape to the Confederation.

I have a few more chapters based at New Bethany and at another church called Souls Harvest. If I ever return to it I don’t see it becoming a three-book series as much as a big, fat, involved nightmare of the zombie apocalypse, at the point where the remaining humans either organize, raise their own food, provide for their defense—or die. 

The age of scavenging is coming to an end. A wanderer’s best hope now is to find a community that’s reasonably ruled and not some neo-feudal plantation where you’re worked and worried to death for crumbs while your master feasts on the fruits of your labor. (You know, like in real life 2013.) A church would be one place to try; they’re generally very well organized. Of course, it all depends upon whose in charge of the church. Or, say, the confederation of mountain villages you arrive at before the siege begins....

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 ninth 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....


As Saturdays went, it didn’t go so badly at all considering this one had started with a combination dog-and-zombie show resulting in thirty-eight dead.  Nineteen of these had been completely pulled apart, and all of them had to be put down one way or another due to that pesky resurrection thing. Nothing like watching the jaw of a disembodied head stretching and snapping for you. Especially when it belonged to someone you used to know.

Fortunately the ones who had bolted from the campsite were among the completely pulled apart, as a New Bethany-organized task force had learned later that afternoon. The pickups had been found uphill, crippled with broken axels as they’d rushed to ascend the mountain. The undead which had availed themselves of this opportunity were already shambling downhill after feasting to whatever passed for their hearts’ content. Which would have been bad enough, but well-chewed familiar faces stumbling into camp to do some chewing of their own would have been more than the good folk of Wildwood Holler could bear after the losses suffered this morning.

The undead who had torn these fools from their vehicles (one, Donnie Coots, had apparently been stupid enough to jump out and try to fight them barehanded) were put down before they could threaten anyone else. They’d been burned with whatever else the New Bethanites could find of the fleeing campers, right there in the middle of that broken road.

They had even siphoned off the gasoline from the trucks to use as an accelerant, and brought back the rest. Those New Bethany boys never missed a trick. Rick had to admit he would never have thought to go after those idiots with some empty jerry cans and siphoning pumps. Scary, really, when you thought about it.

The camp looked cleaner than it ever had since people had started coming up here post-zombie-apocalypse. Something you wouldn’t expect from churchy types, all that good-stewards-of-creation talk notwithstanding. But then that Good Steward stuff was mostly PR, with very few True Believers among them (and those were laughed at, if not scorned outright by the we’re-gonna- get-raptured-anyway-so-who-cares? majority). 

No, this was all psychological. A psy-op, as the military geeks called it, establishing closure for the Wildwood Holler campers as they prepared to leave this part of their lives — and getting them used to taking orders. The goons Dare had brought with him didn’t wear the khaki uniforms that had spooked so many last time. But then, as Dare and his superiors had no doubt figured out, they didn’t need to. Just speak with the Voice of Command. And have something of value to give and withhold. Food, for one. And the promise of comforts long missed.

The dead had been burned and shoveled into the pits, powdered lime spread liberally upon the graves. What impressed Rick was they hadn’t planned for a zombie massacre; a fifty-pound sack of quicklime was merely standard issue on a Rescue Mission truck. To think he’d been so bent out of shape by the sight of a shrink-wrapped case of juice boxes...if these anxious campers could only read between the lines! It took more than mere balls to fight one’s way into town to get stuff like this.

But with the smell put down by the lime, the camps cleaned up, people packing for tomorrow’s evacuation, there was a contagious excitement that even Rick caught on to, and yearned to share more fully. Soon the heavy afternoon air was filled with the odor of — good Lord, was that mesquite? And citronella torches. Damned if they didn’t have those too.

Deacon Dare, having finished his visit with the Spencers, was walking about the camp, mixing a little are-you-ready-to-get-right-with-the-Lord with his hail-fellow-well-met routine. He gathered the children with promises of candy and a Message of Hope. He seemed especially interested in the camp’s children.

Rick was reminded of a comment Keisha had made regarding what she saw as the “pro-life” movement’s true agenda. She thought a more honest bumper sticker for them would read “It’s Not a Choice, It’s a Projected Unit of Labor.” The rest of Keisha’s observation would not have fit on a bumper sticker, but Rick thought it effectively described the underlying attitude Rick himself had observed among such people: “How Dare You Cheat Your Masters of That Which Is Rightfully Theirs!”

There weren’t that many children in the camp, all of seven more aside from the three in Daryl Kirkland’s care, and including the three teenagers in Caleb Spencer’s clan. As in days of old, children and old people had a tough time of it in winter, especially when the occasional flu virus made the rounds. Wildwood Holler hadn’t lost any children that way, but then everyone here had come from somewhere else, and the hard way, at that. Children could only run so fast, and they couldn’t drive cars. Like too many people they’d hole up somewhere irrespective of the fact that the dead didn’t sleep and once they were onto you, they would tear, pound and dig, day and night, until they had you.

The only safe place was upslope — such creatures of limited muscle and mobility tended to move along the path of least resistance. Now something was driving them uphill. Maybe they were following the dogs. So many millions of dogs, and they were hungry, too.

What bothered Rick was that the dead, however slow, did figure things out after a while. Once they got it into their collective unconsciousness that there was living flesh to be had uphill...well, one could only hope there were some savvy individuals in Sparta who knew how to make gunpowder. And enough people who knew how to use it.

Which brought Rick back to the children. They were only taking the three (it had been four until Carly’s demise this morning). But it was a safe bet New Bethany wanted every one of them. Even the ones Rick didn’t want, like the three rangy, mean-spirited brats which belonged to Sierra Collins, or the sullen young thug-in-training who occupied his own little corner near the bottom of the east side of the loop. He didn’t speak to anyone, and no one was quite sure how he even survived. He’d disappear for days at a time only to return with a pack full of canned food he somehow scrounged from what was left of Franklin, or maybe even further away.

He never spoke, so no one knew his name. People just called him “Thug” because he was big and hulking for a thirteen-fourteen year-old, and it just seemed to fit. Rick could hardly understand why he returned to Wildwood Holler after his scavenging. He seemed to have a need for human contact, even if he was skittish and all but growled if you got too close to his lean-to shelter and his stash.

Well, New Bethany could have him. Might work out real well pulling a plow in the fields. Rick could imagine one of Deacon Sparks’s goons with a whip, using the boy for just that. In another day and time he would have made a good defensive lineman. Now he was just another broken soul without a mama or a daddy. Either he ran away on his own, or he submitted to becoming a beast of burden, or (and Rick saw this as most likely) they just beat the poor brute to death.

That said, Thug still had more options than most. The problem concerning Rick was that Deacon Dare and New Bethany would most certainly want Danielle and Josh and Allie. Clean, intelligent middle class stock — two girls, at that — breeders! — were at a premium. How to get them past the watchful eyes of the New Bethanites and their willing accomplices in Wildwood Holler (who would gladly snitch for another helping of barbecue) was going to be a problem.

Oh, how I look forward to writing what happens after the sun goes down!
Copyright © 2008, 2013 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2013 by James Robert Smith