Sunday, June 09, 2013

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

I have a fat prole girl named Krystal in Bleeding Kansas, but she’s much different in disposition from the one you’ll meet here, who spells her name “Krystle.” The hell of it is, I’d forgotten all about Krystle when I was writing Krystal. If the name came up it’s because a common one among that social strata. Krystals, Krystles, or even Chrystals don’t grow up in McMansionland, drive minivans, or play with iPhones. I do not know why this is so. Only that it is. 

This one here just might save the night for our NPR-listening yuppie lady and her two children. 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 fifteenth 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!



KRYSTLE

A loud pop from the woods killed the lights before they reached the edge of the lawn. The pretty yuppie lady gasped. Not a peep from the children, though. Smart kids, thought Krystle. The squeaky wheels get the teeth; Krystle had seen that rule enforced more than once before coming to New Bethany.

Blind, her night-shocked eyes useless, Kystle cut to the left. She regretted testing these kids’ smarts one more time, not least because mom was the obvious weak link and might call out. With their feet pounding the earth, their fear-sweat scenting the air, they were already broadcasting their presence loud and clear to anything and everything out here tonight. Krystle could only hope the children would follow, and that mom would save her questions and comments for another hour.

The lights of the church’s main entrance told Krystle she had been successful in following the far edge of the lawn towards the front of the building. Trying hard not to pant too loudly (she’d managed to put on every pound she’d lost and then some in her time at New Bethany) Krystle slowed and looked over her shoulder. The yuppie and her kids were right on her heels.

Krystle stumbled to a halt and put her finger over her lips. She listened for movement in the woods beyond the lawn. One thing about the walking dead, they weren’t at all stealthy in the woods. But if those things were all they had to worry about she wouldn’t be worrying at all.

All the commotion seemed to be coming from the rear of the church. There had to be some bad guys around the front, though. Krystle saw a pine grove on a knoll to the right, silhouetted by the streetlight over New Bethany Road. Krystle waved the yuppie and her kids to follow her into the grove.

With the trees between them and the church and the streetlight Krystle motioned for them to sit. “I know you got lots of questions,” she whispered harshly at Anne. “But I need everyone to be quiet until we get away from here.”

“What’s going on? If those people were shooting at us then why —?” said Anne.

Krystle put her finger to her lips again. There was barking. It sounded like it was heading towards the door they’d left.

“Just follow me. And when I say be quiet, I mean shut up!” Krystle saw both daughter and son put a hand on their mother’s arms. “Look, being turned into breedin’ stock is the least of your worries back there. Just keep your hysterics to yourself until we find a place where we can all unload. Let’s take a second to get our breath and we’ll go.”

Just as she’d said it Krystle realized she was probably more winded than any of them. Worse, they could tell. Kystle noticed the yuppie’s boy and girl looking at her. Their big eyes and wide-open faces begged Krystle to take them and their mother someplace safe. Not their mother. Her.

Goldurn my tender heart, thought Krystle. All thoughts of ditching these people and lighting out alone went out the window with those faces. 

So the fat white-trash girl was in charge. It was an upside-down world, all right. One where the dead walked and the living...well, there weren’t a whole lot of them left, were there?

They had to get to someplace safe, and the only place Krystle had in mind was up that road apiece, past New Bethany and running close by Preacher Miller’s own compound. Another rumor of sanctuary, but Dr. Mark’s crew had stopped too many pilgrims passing along the way for it to be entirely imaginary.

Hell, and wasn’t New Bethany supposed to be the shit? Plenty to eat and no more running. That’s what someone had once told her, a million years and eleven months ago. That’s what they kept saying now but there was so much one could take even with a full stomach.

Krystle sighed. She was going to miss having a full stomach.

Krystle rose into a crouch and began making her way through the edge of the wooded lot adjacent to the church property. She was satisfied to see the yuppie and her kids were doing likewise, taking care to keep the trees between them, the church and the streetlight.

They came to the edge of the wooded lot where it sloped steeply to the crumpled and weed-broken four-lane with median that ran in front of the church. Krystle halted and held up her hand for the others to do the same. She looked towards the front of the church. One person stood behind the glass double doors. Probably sweating bullets for the slug he knew must be coming his way. But nothing seemed to be happening on this side. Not even a stray deader.

This bothered Krystle. It didn’t make sense to have the assault all on one side of the church. Yes, everyone would be expecting an attack on the front — but they would also be expecting one at the rear. They had to be saving something for the front, waiting until they had as many people tied up at the back as possible.

Which meant somebody was out here. Not in these woods, obviously, but maybe across the road. Even if these people were really that dumb when it came to basic strategy Krystle and her crew still had to go in the general direction these people came from when they crossed the road.

“What are you waiting for?” hissed the yuppie lady.

Krystle took a breath and let it out. Then another. “You have a name, yuppie lady?”

“Oh, we’re taking the time to introduce each other now!”

“I thought I heard Robin call you Anne.”

“Yes, I’m Anne Thomason. This is Stephanie and this is Evan. What I —”

“Should I call you Ms. Thomason? People like me don’t have last names, of course. You, on the other hand, are gonna want your propers.”

“Uh, you can call me Anne.”

“Well that’s sweet of you, Anne. Now tell me, you know how to use that thing?”

“What?”

“That rifle you’re carrying.”

“No, of course not!”

“Well, that’s a problem. ‘Cause we can’t go anywhere until you do.”

“You obviously know how to use yours!”

“I’ve never fired one of these things before in my life until tonight.”

“Please! You yourself said we’ve got to get out of here! Why are you playing games now?”

“I’m not playing games. Can you tell me for sure what’s across that road? Or what we’re gonna run into if we follow this tree line out of the streetlight?”

“I don’t hear any...Things, if that’s what you mean.”

“I don’t hear them, either. But in case you haven’t noticed that’s not all that’s out here tonight. Who do you think shot out that floodlight?”

“I thought church security was shooting at us.”

“I’d give those galoots a little more credit. They’re as dumb and mean as they come but I’m pretty sure if they was shootin’ at us the last thing they’d a hit was the light.”

“Okay.” The tears were gone from Anne’s voice now. “But who?”

“How long have you been at New Bethany, Anne?”

“Okay, so I heard about that other church. But surely they wouldn’t —”

“If not them, who else?”

“Why?”

“’Cause of all the things that get talked up around here the most likely truest thing is that our Dr. Mark really is better at organizin’ than Preacher Miller down the road. Put another way, somethin’ you an’ your kids — yeah, an’ my fat ass too — what we gotta deal with is that, wherever we hole up for the next two, three, four nights or so, we ain’t gonna find a speck of food. Hell, what’m I sayin’? Maybe weeks.”

“I know they send out parties to scavenge the houses around here.”

“Both churches been doin’ that. An’ keep in mind they’ve had all of two years to do it.”

“So why wouldn’t the churches work together, then?”

Krystle looked at Anne. “You ain’t been to church much, have you?”

“We went every Sunday to Trinity Episcopal before the Thing happened.”

“Oh. Yeah, I shoulda known.”

“Known what?”

“Y’all were too good an’ smart for the fundamentalist experience.”

“It was my husband’s church, okay? We knew plenty of people who went to places like New Bethany.” Anne paused. “I know how that sounds, but it’s true! These were real friends of ours!”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

“No, they tried to get us to come with them to the Living Water downtown where we’re from. We went with them to a couple a summer picnics. It was okay.”

“So what turned you away?”

“Well, the...I don’t know. The feeling just wasn’t right. Everybody was just a little too friendly.”

“So what happened to Living Water? Whyn’t you people go there when things went to shit?”

“Living Water was between us and downtown. I expect they got overrun before we did. Anyway, no one in their right mind was going downtown.” Anne shivered. “They were just pouring out of there. When the radio and TV went out we had no idea. Next thing we knew they were all over.”

“Well, the point I’m makin’ is these places are all in heavy competition with one another. They keep score not just with how much money they suck out of their flocks but how big their flocks are an’ how much stuff they got goin’ on with ‘em. It so happens New Bethany an’ Souls Harvest are the two closest to each other up here in the foothills. Jesus Christ himself could come back with all the heav’nly hosts an’ there’s no way these two big-dog preachers are workin’ with each other.

“So it turns out the end times are here an’ glory hallelujah guess what? — there ain’t no God, no Jesus, no heav’nly hosts. Ain’t much food, either. Like I said, Dr. Mark is a lot better at organizin’. He’s got his deacons all tight an’ loyal an’ workin’ the flock. He’s got no less’n three crews fannin’ out everyday to clean out the houses of everything they can carry. He’s got that one big crew clearin’ an’ workin’ land. You noticed they even managed to scrounge up some livestock.”

“Yeah. I thought that was pretty impressive.”

“Yeah, well I heard tell the owner of that livestock an’ his family was alive an’ well an’ doin’ just fine thank you when Deacon Sparks an’ his crew showed up. Just a rumor, mind you, but Sparks got a reputation.”

“I’ve only seen him once or twice.”

“I only needed to meet ‘im once. Anyway, Preacher Miller’s had a hard time of it. From what I hear he had a lot more women an’ children showin’ up at his place when the Thing went down an’ not enough men with guns. They never was much of a church to begin with. No Christian school, the day-care was a joke. Nope, all they had was the True Word of God. An’ man don’t live by the Word of God alone. He’ll need some bread to help him make that sandwich. Some vegetables and meat, too.”

“Huh.”

“I wouldn’t feel too sorry for ‘im. He’s every bit the slick-tongued horn-dog snake Dr. Mark is. Just not as lucky, or smart. You can’t run a church without good deacons. And by good, I mean ones who’ll jump-to at everything you say and make it happen.”

“Well, Preacher Miller or whoever it is seems to be doing a good job of tying up New Bethany right now. Assuming that’s who’s running the attack.”

“Oh, no assumin’ about it. They’re every bit as hungry as the  deaders by now.”

“But the Things are out there, too!”

“Run by the dogs. Yeah. Not good. Not good at all.”

“Run by the dogs?”

“It’s late.” Krystle looked back towards the church. She craned her neck to look both ways down the road. It was useless either way past the streetlight.

It occurred to Krystle that she could just wait until the inevitable frontal assault on New Bethany. It was probably the best plan — wait until the fight got good and hot then scoot around the back end.

But didn’t she just lecture the yuppie on how smart Dr. Mark and his deacons were? What if they were actually winning around the back of the church? If daylight found them sitting no less than seventy-five yards across the front parking lot it would be a hell of a wake-up call. And Krystle had to admit, she was sleepy as all get-out. Which meant soccer mom and her two were probably ready to drop.

“All right,” said Krystle. “I said I’d show you how to use this thing.”

“Yes?”

She was as ready as she’d ever be. Might as well get the adrenaline up. “All right, you understand the first principle of firearms, right?”

“I’m a beginner,” Anne said sharply. “Just show me how to cock and shoot.”

“Never point a gun at someone unless you absolutely, positively intend to use it.”

“Got it.”

“Do you? Look, I’m not sayin’ this just to piss you off but those people down there don’t intend to make a baby-maker out of just you. Soon’s that little girl of yours over there starts spottin’ her panties she’s up for grabs. They’ll call her a bride of Christ and a glorious mother of humanity. They’ll have the bullshit piled so high she’ll be proud to lie down an’ spread for one of Sparks’ little shits. If not Sparks himself. Hell, she turns out to be enough of a looker Dr. Mark himself might want a taste before turning her over to one of those nasty gray-haired old elders. Got that?”

“Yes, yes, I know already.”

“Really? You don’t seem too pissed off about it.”

“You said you weren’t trying to piss me off.”

“It ain’t me, babe. It’s them. What I’m sayin’ is if you ain’t fired-up crazy-pissed off enough to blow away the first one of these God-wads who shows his face outta the dark then you’re stupid enough to deserve what they’re gonna do when they catch you. An’ babygirl you can bet your sweet, toned yuppie ass they’re gonna catch you. ‘Cause I see you so much as hesitate I’ll leave you for ‘em.”

Anne glowered at Krystle. “I’ll shoot you first.”

Robin’s .22 pistol appeared suddenly between Anne’s eyes. “I seriously doubt that, sister” said Krystle. “I’m gettin’ away from this place. I hate to think what they’re gonna do to your kids but I’m gonna need another shooter if I’m takin’ ‘em along.” Krystle pressed the barrel hard between Anne’s eyes. “Tag, you’re it.” She stuffed the pistol into her back pocket. “So. We ready to play?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we ain’t playin’. If it’s in our way, we shoot it. Right in the gut. Central body mass, as they call it. You can’t miss.”

“But won’t they turn into...?”

“They gotta die first. It’ll take ‘em a while if you hit ‘em right. The deaders love easy meat. It’ll keep ‘em occupied while we run for it.”

Krystle saw the queasy look on Anne’s face. “You’d rather they come eat us? Your little boy back there, maybe?”

“How do I shoot this thing?”

“Honey, I’m not wastin’ my time ‘til I know. Can you shoot a dog?”

“If it’s attacking me, yes.”

“Oh, they’ll be comin’ for ya, all right.”

“What do you know about the dogs?”

“Only what I saw the night I came home an’ found my trailer park overrun. Saw plenty more on my way to New Bethany. ‘Course, you prob’ly don’t believe me when I say they go for the little ones first.”

“I believe you.”

“Just like the dea— never mind. You seen those nature shows on TV? They go for the weakest ones. The old, the hurt. The babies.” Krystle looked back towards the rear of the church. “Now what they’re doin’ up here with the deaders...hell, everyone’s hungry, I s’pose.”

“All right, all right, I get it already! We’re running straight into the jaws of hell and I’ve got to shoot! Can we get started already?”

Krystle held up a hand for silence. The commotion at the back of the church didn’t sound any closer but that wasn’t what bothered her. It was the pool of blue-green light before them.

Dr. Mark liked bragging how the men of the church (the ones who knew how to do this stuff anyway) had wired the old streetlight to work with the church’s electricals “to shine as a beacon for all who seek sanctuary.” No doubt something out there was waiting for someone to step into it. Or even around it.

“All right,” said Krystle. “See this? This here’s what’s called the safety....”

“Cheeldren of the night! Vat bee-yoo-tiful music they make!”

Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2011, 2017 by James Robert Smith