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.”

Robin was nodding towards Evan and Stephanie, whose grip on their mother’s legs tightened even as they inched behind her. “Get off it, Robin. You don’t care for your own children, let alone mine.”

“I think about Justin and Susan everyday,” Robin said.

“Sure you do. Whenever you take off your clothes and see the stretch marks. I’ll bet you’re glad those monsters got them. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn you’d thrown them screaming into their rotten blue clutches before taking off running.”

“Oh, Anne. Anne, Anne, Anne.” Now Robin smiled.  “Honestly, your life will be much better served as a deacon’s fifth or sixth wife.” The smile broadened, showing teeth. “The temple maintenance deacon. He’s only got two that I know of so far.”

“So you’re livin’ large as an elder’s mistress. Good for you. Seriously. So why mess it up for me and my kids?”

“I told you, Anne. It’s for your own good. And theirs.”

“You believe that.”

“Really, that you’d take your own children from the safety of New Bethany. Gamble their lives with all those things stumbling around out there.” Robin made a clicking sound with her tongue. “Honestly. It’s not like you’re the only woman who was uncomfortable with Pastor Winthrop’s sermon this morning.”

Anne remembered the stricken looks on the faces in the Worship Hall her as Pastor Winthrop had spoken of the necessity of repopulating the earth with God’s People. The looks of weary resignation on the others had been more painful still — after carrying on through weeks of hunger, boredom, terror, hunger and more terror just to get here, Anne understood the urge to give in and give up.

But worst of all had the blank and serene faces of the women — so many of them! — who saw nothing wrong with the stated return to Old Testament values. That anyone could willingly spread for a man someone else had chosen for them was one thing. To submit to his already existing, jealous and just plain pissed-off, bitter-mean wives beggared the very definition of masochism.

Anne’s voice was strained as she said, “Just the only one willing to do something about it.”

“Oh, don’t be so full of yourself. There were at least two others I know of who were talking about running. God knows how many other little lambs have been pining away for some hardcore Moses in a pantsuit to lead them out to the Promised Land.”

“So let them go! You can have these almighty God wads all to yourself. Less competition!”

“Anne, honey, the pastor and the elders here believe no woman should be left behind. And as a woman in Christ I am pleased to serve His church.”

And pleased to have subordinate women to bully. Anne’s fists clenched. “You’ll have to serve them without me.”

Robin swung the pistol towards Evan and Stephanie. “Sister, we wouldn’t want this gun to go off accidentally in the scuffle, would we? Let’s get walking. I got a feeling you and your brood are sleeping somewhere a little more secure tonight.”

“So it’s just you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I expected half a dozen or so ‘ushers’ popping out of nowhere to muscle me off.”

“Oh, they’re coming. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that.”

“You called them?”

“You saw me call them!”

“Yes, I did. They sounded more preoccupied than pleased.”

“Well, the sermon was this morning. Anyone who was thinking about leaving was leaving tonight.”

“I had no idea I was part of a movement.”

“You’re just one of a misfit few.” Robin smirked. “I’ll bet the real trouble is from all the lower-level men who realize they’re not gettin’ any.”

“Lower level. As in ‘recently arrived.’”

“As in walk, little sister! We can talk on the way.”

The “little sister” remark was aimed at Anne but the gun was pointed at Stephanie, who clutched tighter at the back of Anne’s leg. Stephanie and Evan moved in front of Anne but Robin said, “Oh, no. You two stay between me and your mother in case she does something foolish.”

Stephanie cried out, and she and Evan whirled behind Anne as Anne swung about to face Robin. “Bitch, you can only squeeze off shots so fast. You take away any one of my last two reasons to live and so help me God I’ll tear your fucking face off with my bare hands!”

Robin backed up a step. “Such language,” she said, somewhere between a whisper and a hiss. “In God’s house, no less.” A pause. “All right. Fine. They can run along ahead of you. Just get going. There’s plenty of places I can aim to bring you down before the stray hits one or both of your little basket cases here.”

Anne turned around and they began walking. “And,” said Robin to Anne’s back, “by ‘bring you down,’ I don’t mean fatally. Come to think of it, the stray shot doesn’t have to kill anyone either.”

Anne shuddered at Robin’s meaning. The relish in Robin’s voice indicated she just might do it, too.

Good Lord, it was hard to believe this was once a wife and mother.

Ah, but who was she kidding? There was a Robin in every school, in every office building. If you were lucky you didn’t share a classroom or a floor with this particular strain of pure superbitch, but you certainly heard about them. They became all the more unavoidable as you moved into the bigger houses in the better neighborhoods, among what David called the Courtesan Classes, those higher strata of upper middle classes who clustered immediately outside the realms of those richer still. Little Lady Macbeths, but without the weakness that caused them to lose their minds after only the second or third kill.

Now that undead flesh-eaters had collapsed civilization and only enclaves of trigger-happy control freaks survived — well, hell. Monsters like Robin couldn’t help but thrive.

Anne might have asked what Robin’s husband had done for a living before the Thing happened. But all she could think of now was how they were moving away from the kitchen and its back door into freedom. The motion sensor lights by the Dumpsters had been out for a couple of days, a situation Anne knew would be fixed by tomorrow night. This had been their last best chance.

They were walking along the outside hall by the plate-glass windows that ringed the big circular building. The interior sections of New Bethany Community Church were a chore to navigate and Robin apparently didn’t care to spend too much time threading the corridors. Moreover, the most heavily guarded area was here at the outer ring. It made sense, given how floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows and sliding glass doors had proven so fatal during swarms. Anne hadn’t been the only one run out of her house thus. After nearly a year of meeting and talking to fellow survivors it was almost cliché.

The men guarding the double doors leading to the back lawn spared no more than a glance for the woman with the pistol goading the mother and children ahead of her. Anne might not have heard the raucous barking and shouts had one of the men not been standing between the open door and its aluminum frame, his eyes fixed on something beyond the floodlights.

But the tension in their bodies as they gripped their long rifles indicated this wasn’t about stray dogs. She could hear the urgency in the voices crackling from the police-style radios clipped to the breasts of their shirts but Robin marched them away before Anne could make out what was said.

“Looks like there’s something going on out there tonight,” said Robin. “Sure you still wanna take your children out there with you?”

“Between slavery, sex slavery, more slavery and the living freakin’ dead? No contest.”

“You’re a strange one, Annie-doll. It’s a wonder they let people like you breed.”

“According to Pastor Winthrop, there’s no ‘let’ about it.”

“Right now the living freakin’ dead outnumber us thousands  to one, if not more. Even weirdos like you gotta answer the call.”

“So what’s yours? I’ll bet you had your tubes tied right after your requisite second child.”

“We all have our parts to play.”

“I’ll bet.”

“I got you, didn’t I?”

Anne could see they were coming close to the main doors, where the hall would open into the lobby and its nouveau cathedral ceiling arching to the building’s full two-story height. Robin would no doubt find someone there to hustle Anne and her children up one of the wide stairs that arched dramatically about either side of the doors leading into the Worship Hall. The pre-school and early elementary classrooms up there featured small toilet areas which would excuse locking the strong metal doors from the outside. To keep the smaller children from wandering off while Mommy slept, of course. And if the young MILF was locked in, too, well...many who had struggled to get here were grateful for the abundant food, shelter and security provided by the megachurch. As Anne once had been.

This part of the hall was one of the few sections along the church perimeter where no double-doors and their attendant guards could be seen. This would be the point on TV in which you got someone to create a diversion. But all Anne had were Stephanie and Evan. Ages eight and six, both had been rendered all but mute in the past near-year since they had followed their mother out the front door with their father’s screams in their ears, run out into an unnaturally black night as monsters which looked like the people down the street (and the people the next door block over, and the people next door to them) had come crashing through the sliding glass door to eat them alive.

Six weeks on the run had taught them that their lives depended on being quiet, that the dead had phenomenal powers of hearing. Anne reckoned it had more to do with sensitivity to vibration, like sharks, but no matter. It was amazing to see how quiet and still two children could be when they had the scent of rotted flesh in their noses, the thrum of aroused and hungry moans in their ears. They wouldn’t move unless Anne nudged them forward.

Which was what she was doing now. They had no idea they were being marched with their mother into a lifetime of bondage. They already trusted the teachers to take them away to their lessons. Over time they might even come to believe all the craziness about dead people eating their father as part of God’s Wonderful Plan for their lives. They were young enough. Given enough structure and activity, the right songs to sing as they learned their chores, and they would replace one series of nightmares with another they would defend to the death as the One True Path.

At least they got clean clothes, a secure place to sleep, something to eat. It was better than what Anne could do for them.

Maybe this was God’s plan after all, thought Anne. Karma, kismet — who knew? After all Anne’s play-along smiles and deliberate misdirection Robin had not only determined that Anne was leaving, but when and where to catch her doing it.

Anne could only imagine who would be chosen for her mate. The deacons got first pick but there were other men who had proven themselves “godly” in the eyes of Pastor Winthrop and the elders. Maybe the man assigned to her wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe she’d get used to the kitchen duties pulled night after night while women like Robin and the higher level deacons’ wives stalked about “supervising?” Coming “home” to a small office/room, expected to be the Biblically mandated submissive wife, to lie down and take his seed. To take the Biblically sanctioned beatings when hubby had a bad day? Or when she showed the bad manners to speak her mind....

Someone called out for Robin. Robin was pointedly ignoring the woman but she must have pulled at Robin’s sleeve or something because Anne was aware of Robin having stopped behind her.

“Krystle! Damn it, can’t you see I’m busy!”

“I’m sorry, Robin! I —”

“It’s all right. Pardon my profanity. The ways of the world are hard to shake.”

The short, dumpy dishwater blonde’s eyes were wide. “I didn’t realize you had a gun.”

“I’d a thought it was pretty obvious,” said Robin.

“I didn’t see it. I mean, it’s a small gun.”

“What do you want, Krystle?”

Krystle’s eyes widened more as she looked at something past Anne’s shoulder. Even Anne turned to look. And so Anne missed what caused the hollow metallic thump against Robin’s skull.

Anne turned again to see Robin staggering, attempting to raise the gun up towards Krystle. Krystle chopped the iron skillet sideways across Robin’s wrist. A choked squeak escaped Robin’s mouth and the gun tumbled across the floor. Anne jumped away as Kystle brought the skillet up and clubbed Robin squarely on the head.

Krystle tossed the skillet to Robin’s body where it lay crumpled on the carpet, then bent over and scooped the gun from the floor. Looking once behind her, then at Anne, she said: “You wanna stay here?”

“Um.” Anne was suddenly away of small hands pulling at hers. “No.”

“Come on. We don’t have long.” Krystle began to move back down the hall the way they’d come. “Oh, and get that skillet, will ya? We might be able to use it.”

Anne took the skillet from where it lay atop Robin. It was phenomenally heavy.


Anne looked down. It was Stephanie.

“She’s gonna turn into one of Them soon.”

“I didn’t hit her that hard,” said Krystle. “Course, you wanna stick around and find out....”

“C’mon kids, let’s go.”

Hurrying back the way they’d come they found the guard standing in the open door as if he expected a full division of hell’s army across the floodlit lawn any second. Anne heard the barking and — oh God. That was a scream. Anne knew the particular timbre of that scream.

The other man called out to Krystle. “Hey! Whatchoo guys doin’ out?”

“I need this one back in the kitchen soon’s she gets her kids put away and — oh my God what’s that!”

Just as the man turned Kystle jammed the pistol between the man’s belt and his Kevlar vest. The report sounded like a muffled firecracker.

The man in the doorway turned to see Krystle pulling the man’s rifle from his hands. He got no more than “What” out of his mouth when Anne aped Krystle’s chopping motion with the skillet at his wrists.

“Ow! Hey!” Anne’s blow hadn’t connected as directly with the bone. The man rounded on Anne. Anne pulled up the skillet as if to swing (she honestly had no idea what she was going to do) but there was a loud crack! and the man was thrown back into the door.

Krystle pulled the man’s rifle away and handed it to Anne. “Drop the skillet. We’re fine with these.” Anne stood dumbly by as Krystle rustled through the man’s vest and belt. She grabbed a magazine and stuffed it into her pocket. Krystle glanced up at Anne, “Can you —? Never mind. Come on!”

Evan and Stephanie still had their hands to their ears. Anne patted them on their backs and urged through the door. Krystle pushed through behind them and began trotting out ahead as quickly as her bulk would allow.

Anne knew they should move faster. Looking into the darkness beyond the floodlit lawn Anne wondered also if they shouldn’t turn even more quickly back. The barking, the gunfire, the growls, the screams...the excited moans of hungry once-humans...Anne followed the short fat woman with the rifle held almost comically before her, aware that she too was carrying a rifle, and with no idea how to use it. Stephanie and Even kept pace alongside, trusting Mom knew where to go.
Creatures of the night! What beau—oh, never mind. 

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2017 by James Robert Smith