I volunteered to host a guest blog to go along with this year’s Winter of Zombie. And here it is. Jay Wilburn talking about the allure of the crappy zombie movie:
In Defense of the Crappy Zombie Movie
by Jay Wilburn
There is comradery between zombie fans centered around terrible zombie movies. From video stores into the age of Netflix, the choices of badly shot, badly written, and badly executed zombie films has grown and grown. There are some great, even epic, zombie movies, but they just serve to emphasize the very low bar that other films reach. Some of them don’t even bother to reach, but they provide painful bonding experiences to fans all over the world. The fifth season premiere of The Walking Dead set the record for the series to date with over seventeen million viewers. There are films that will be classics and enjoyed for generations. These are not the ones I’m talking about.
Horror films are quick go-to’s for amateur, aspiring directors. The special effects that used to be mysteries are easier to replicate using information available online and software has expanded exponentially what can be done with visuals in editing. There are some high quality movies made on relatively low budgets. I’m not really talking about those either.
The zombie movie made with a cheap camera and bad make-up: Here is where life-long friendships are forged. There is nothing like a movie that has you bowing and shaking your head part way through. Other genre of film do the same thing, but those are likely to be turned off at that point. Zombie fans will sometimes let them run. They will let the pain continue. If others are with them, they can hold on together in the misery.
There is nothing nearly as character building as surviving the poor recreation of the zombie apocalypse and telling others what you have learned. These are the moments where an adult man looks into his soul and asks himself what a grown man is doing watching something like this. Worse, what is he doing watching another one and then another one.
Some of these films have titles that give full warning that there is a terrible experience ahead – titles that are offensive to one or more groups – puns that are so awfully conceived that they make porn look intellectually sophisticated – stories that are so monumentally terrible that no amount of nudity will ever make it worth the journey even in fast forward. These are the trials the separate zombie fans from others that demand quality in their entertainment.
I realize some of you have had enough. You are done with the terrible, independent zombie film. You are rightfully tired of the badly constructed zombie books and you value your time too much to subject yourself to it any longer. I respect that. You are still a fan and if the genre ever rises to meet its true potential, it will be because you demanded it. I will be no help, however. I do strive to make more of my books and stories, but a secretly (maybe not so secretly now) I love the terrible zombie film. I want more.
I challenge myself to sit through another and then another. I see a zombie film with Danny Trejo above the title and I am sold. I look at the terrible title and the worse artwork and I’m itching to hit play. I know what I am in for and I let it happen. I can’t wait to post about how such a thing still managed to drop below my worst expectations.
Occasionally, these forays of self-abuse surprise me by revealing a better than average story or film. This is my rare reward for being willing to dive into the fray again and again. The real reward is seeing the terrible joy the filmmakers had in putting together something they knew was awful, but they saw it through until the end anyway. There is also a forbid fascination with the projects where it becomes clearer and clearer with every minute that they have no idea how bad this was. It’s like watching a train wreck for an hour and twenty-seven minutes.
This brand of torture may not be for you. You can still enjoy the stories of those who endured the terrible stories. It is part of what makes zombie fans strong. It is the element of the genre that makes the fans so appreciative when something truly amazing happens. Set the bar high, but know that if you don’t, I will still be watching.
The stench of frozen rotted meat is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 10 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #WinterZombie2014
A while back, Rebecca suggested that it might be fun to exchange guest posts on one another’s blogs. I agreed with her. So, today I’m interviewing her here, on my blog, and on the 27th I’ll be making appearance over on her blog.
And now, without any more preamble…
Interview with Rebecca Besser
Thank you so much for suggesting this interview exchange. I think it will be a lot of fun J Can you begin by introducing yourself?
Hi, I’m Rebecca Besser, a wife, mother, writer, and editor. I’m also a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and have been published in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for various age groups and genres. I’m known best for my works in adult horror.
I’m generally off the wall when I’m hyper or in a good mood, and people have often offered to pay me to get high or drunk just to see what I’ll do. I’ll do almost anything sober, if I take a mind to…so not sober is scary. No, I haven’t taken them up on either offer. Frankly, I’m scared of what I would do if I didn’t have any control of myself at all.
I have a wild imagination and I’m known to start laughing out of nowhere for no reason. It’s really not for no reason – my mind just amuses me sometimes. Often those joyous thoughts cannot be voiced aloud because others just don’t understand… Oh, the joys of being me.
So, are you a writer/editor or an editor/writer?
Writer/editor – I was a writer first. Becoming an editor was more from building and learning my craft of writing, which is something I think a lot of writers fail to do. As a writer, the better you can write, and the less an accepting editor has to do with your work to make it publishable, is a solid margin in your favor. The stronger your writing is, the better chances you have of being published. And, if you know decent grammar, you know when you’re not getting a good edit from an editor you don’t know; it can save you a lot of headaches.
Like me, you seem to be driven by a desire to do All The Things. How do you balance that in your daily life?
I do what I can, when I can. I feeling like I’m always busy and behind on something. It’s hard to balance everything, and I often feel like I’m failing, but I know I’m not. I just put a lot of pressure on myself.
Luckily, I’m a talented multi-tasker.
What are you working on these days?
Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Undead Drive-Thru, which is Undead Regeneration. I’m trying to write the novel for NaNoWriMo, but I’m yet again reminded of why I normally don’t sign up. The universe seems to know when I make plans; it then does its best to mess up those plans with things I can’t control. Needless to say, I’m WAY behind on where I should be with word count.
Since the season is coming up sooner than we might like (or not soon enough, depending on your position), do you celebrate a winter holiday? If so, can you tell us a bit about that?
We celebrate Christmas, pretty much the normal way. We make sure to stay home Christmas day so our son can enjoy his presents. We also enjoy relaxing time and a big, home-cooked meal. I’m kind of a stickler about tradition and family time.
Thank you again, before you go, is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of my blog?
Yes, there is! I’m giving away two signed copies of Undead Drive-Thru (one first and one second edition) to one lucky winner of my re-release giveaway! Three runners up will win signed copies of just the second edition!
Look for official rules and how to enter on my blog:
When I agreed to participate in zOctober I announced that I’d like to have a few other zombie-themed posts on my blog for the month. Not so many as in the Month of Zombies, you understand, but a sprinkling. Christine Morgan, who I met through Fae, agreed to write a zombie-themed guest post for me. This one is all about zombies… before they were zombies. Enjoy!
Before They Were Zombies
Zombies, zombies, zombies. These days, everyone knows all about zombies. The zombie apocalypse has become to this generation what the nuclear aftermath was a generation or so earlier. We all have our contingency plans. Even the CDC got on board with some useful disaster tips in the guise of zombie outbreak preparedness.
Seriously. Ask anybody. Ask a little kid. Ask what’s a zombie, you’ll likely get the moaning slackmouthed shuffle with outstretched arms. Maybe with a “braaaaains” thrown in. Everyone knows if you get bitten, you’re doomed, unless you’re amazingly lucky in the timing of lopping off the bitten part. Everyone knows the only way to stop a zombie is with a head shot.
We have them in movies, in books, in video games, in graphic novels, on TV. We have zombie-themed marathons and flash mob events. Arguments about “fast zombies or slow zombies” fill many a convention panel, along with debates about the difference between infected crazies versus actual walking corpses.
They are THE modern monster of this day and age. Allegorical in oh so many ways, hitting a perfect storm of hot-button phobias, something that resonates on both deeper and more widespread levels than any other monster.
Although there are plenty of “puttin’ the feel in necrophilia” pieces of zombie erotica, they’re basically just, let’s face it, not as sexy as their best-known counterparts. Vampires have style, werewolves have passion, zombies have jokes about “you can keep the tip.”
Our current understanding of the zombie can pretty much be credited to Romero. He created an entire genre within his own lifetime, sparked the zombie revolution, changed a whole worldwide perception. That has got to be pretty damn cool by anybody’s reckoning.
But, did he invent the zombie? Oh, heck no. Zombie lore can be found in almost every culture in various forms, going back to the dawn of time. The moment humanity reached a point of sentience where we could fear death, you better believe the fears of undeath were not far behind.
Our burial rituals may have their practical reasons – you don’t just want to leave a rotting corpse lying around; it’s stinky, it’s messy, it might lure scavengers, there’s disease, there’s the psychological effects of witnessing it, there’s all sorts of dangers and concerns for the surviving rest of the tribe.
As we developed culture and civilzation, however, we needed something more. We needed the spiritual and supernatural aspects of death and burial rituals. We needed to believe we were doing right by our deceased, respecting our ancestors, helping their souls move on to the afterlife.
And, because we’re a kind of punishment-based contrary breed, we needed to drive it home with some big scary threats of OR ELSE.
OR ELSE their ghosts might come back to haunt you. OR ELSE a wizard/spirit might take over the dead flesh and use it to do evil. OR ELSE the body might get up of its own accord and go looking for revenge against whoever gave it offense.
R.I.P. = Rest in Peace. A nice way of well-wishing, but also a plea … please don’t return and hurt us. God Grant He/She Lie Still = same thing.
The word ‘zombie’ comes, of course and as most of us know, from Haitian voudon practices. Which, ironically enough, were less about animating corpses and more about casting spells or doing rituals to ensnare the minds and enslave the bodies of the still-living.
Why that one became THE chosen universal name is harder to winnow out. Maybe it’s just because ‘zombie’ is both memorable and kinda fun to say.
Before that, we had ghouls, sure, but ghouls were more vaguely defined … a ghoul might be a risen corpse gnawing on the bones of its graveyard neighbors, it might be a living person with a taste for dead meat, it might be a different species of being altogether. Mostly, though, ghouls ate the DEAD. They were desecrators, tomb-robbers. They didn’t bother the still-breathing.
Then there’s the idea of the revenant, but the revenant is an animated corpse in more than just terms of mindless hunger and movement. Revenants are more often described as intelligent, as foreign or even demonic spirits inhabiting the corpses and using them as puppets. Decaying meat-puppets, but hey, sometimes a spirit can’t be choosy.
Various cultures have their own particular takes on the lore, as well. Since I write a lot of historical horror and dark fantasy, these old legends are something I find particularly fascinating.
There are Biblical zombies … it’s not unknown for sacriligous smartasses to refer to Easter as Zombie Jesus Day … but if you go that route, Jesus was hardly the first zombie … let’s not forget good old Lazarus, who fits the classic criteria pretty well. The sisters of Lazarus were worried about the stench, since he’d been in the tomb four days.
What I always found interesting to ponder about that was, well, what happened with Lazarus after? He emerges, they unwrap him from the grave clothes and let him go … and that’s that. Poor guy. Assuming the best and that he came back fully revived and intact, that’s still quite a reputation to be dragging around. And assuming less-than-best, those were the days when stoning lepers to death was no big deal.
The Norse have the draugr, a specific type of corpse because it usually refers to men who died at sea, who fell off their ships and drowned, and were thus unable to be given the proper burial rites. No body, no barrow-mound or fiery Viking-ship funeral. Insult to injury, since drowning also meant not dying in combat and hence no glorious mead-party in Valhalla.
Another term for the draugr, perhaps reserved for those who didn’t drown per se and thus didn’t qualify, was aptrgangr … literally, after-goer … a wonderful term but not much in common use, probably because of all those consonants. I love the Germanic languages but you’ve got to admit, aptrganger sounds like someone with a wad of half-chewed PB&J stuck mid-gullet.
Related to and drawn from those stories, it’s a natural progression to the wight, or the barrow-wight, as seen in Tolkien’s work. The handy thing about wights is that they tend to stay localized; they don’t go roaming around and only attack whoever intrudes on their barrows.
Which brings us to the mummy, a very niche market of corpse. When it came to death rituals and funerary preparations, shut the front door because the Egyptians had it hands-down. The process of mummification even for your average slave or citizen, let alone the elaborate affairs of buring a pharaoh, blow everyone else out of the water.
Chinese folklore has the jiangshi, a name which refers to the peculiar stiff-limbed, rigor mortis ‘hopping’ quality of its gait. (somehow, I suspect “The Hopping Dead” might not have made for AS successful a show, even with Daryl Dixon). They don’t so much feast on living flesh but kill to obtain the released life force of their victims.
Similarly, the Tibetan ro-langs is so stiff that it cannot bend at all, so, it can be kept out simply by having low doorways. That may seem less than scary, the mental image of a literal stiff bonking sternum-height against the door jamb again and again, but they make up for it by being able to wag or flap their tongues at their prey. A ro-langs ( “ro” = “corpse” and “langs” = “to rise up”) differs from the jiangshi because the ro-langs is more RISEN up, as in, raised from the dead by magic or spirit possession.
The list, of course, goes on and on. And on and on and on, once you get into the lore of various roleplaying or video games, or more literature like Tolkien above. There are dozens of “types” of undead in your typical D&D game, each with their various powers and abilities. A lich is/does THIS, a skeleton THAT (animated skeletons are, of course, never cooler than when done a la Harryhausen, but I digress), a necromancer can create/control THESE, a cleric can turn/dispel THOSE, and so on.
Zombies, zombies, zombies. Usually human, too, you’ll find. Zombie animals are much more rare. Maybe people think they’re not as frightening or appalling somehow (read Pet Semetary), or maybe animals are already considered dangerous or weird enough while alive. Or maybe it’s just not the same degree of pathos.
Whatever your stance, though, I hope we can all agree that zombies are a big deal. The subject of “is the zombie genre played out” comes up even more often than the “fast vs. slow” debates, and I don’t see how it CAN be played out.
Some of the tropes may have been overdone, sure. I know I’ve read a few more standard outbreak/apocalypse novels and seen a few more movies along those lines. When they’ve become formulaic and aren’t bringing anything new to the party, that’s when they can seem overdone. It’s finding those new things to bring, those new ways to look at and play with the tropes, that’s where the fun is.
Played for laughs, for instance. Horror and comedy go well together; zombies can be funny in their bumbling, pieces-dropping way. In the midst of humor, though, there can also be poignancy. Movies like Fido, and Shaun of the Dead, hit all the right notes.
I’ve attempted it myself in stories like “Dawn of the Living-Impaired,” where political correctness rears its head … or “Seven Brains, Ten Minutes,” which was inspired by watching competitive eating shows. My story “Family Life” has a sit-com feel with a zombified fairy tale in the middle (Zombiella loses her foot at the ball!)
Stories done in other places or times than contemporary America, too … we need more of those. World War Z (the book) did a decent job looking at some of the ways it might happen or be handled in other countries.
Zombies in the past, why not? Zombies and pirates. Zombies in the Wild West. I have a story called “A Tower to the Sky” which sets the outbreak in ancient Mesopotamia, I have “The Barrow-Maid” with all the Viking blood and thunder. Given the range of my interests, I’ll probably go back further and attempt caveman zombies, or hey, how about as the real reason the dinosaurs went extinct?
Or the future. My story “Cured Meat” looks at what kind of societies might evolve among the undead once they’ve won and there are no more living people … not merely mimicking our current daily lives but pondering what would be important to them, what would be vital? I realized partway in that I’d stuck myself with a more daunting challenge than I’d anticipated; if sex and gender don’t matter to zombies, then no using those he/she pronouns. That was a toughie, but I enjoyed it.
Or crossovers. Steampunk zombies. Lovecraftian zombies. Just about anything you can dream up can be dreamt up with zombies (though let’s drop the whole just-add-zombies to existing works of literature, come on, it was a novelty the first time but like with the potato salad kickstarter, the glut of samey-same follow-ups aren’t as good; if we’re going to do it, let’s at least throw in some twists and be creative).
Right now, we are in the middle of a “When They Were Zombies” phase. But there was a “Before” and there will be an “After,” and I for one am eager to see where the lore will go next.
They’ve been with us for thousands of years, by various names and in various forms. They’ll be with us for thousands more. As long as we’ve feared and will fear death, we’ve feared and will still fear undeath.
Which means … MORE ZOMBIES!!!
Thank you for coming by Christine, and sharing this with my readers. Small confession? I’m totally one of those sacrilegious smartasses who has been known to call Easter zombie Jesus day. Try not to hate me for it 🙂
I’ve been meaning to put this collection together for honest-to-gawd years but things never seemed to work out, until now. That’s why, though I’d normally wait, set a launch date and try to build up some excitement and publicity before officially launching a title, I’m not doing that with this one. It’s ready to go, and so I’m going to set it loose upon the world before something else goes wrong to delay its release LOL
White Noise contains 20 of my zombie apocalypse poems, some of them are reprints (including the one which was included in Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing  and the one which was nominated for a Dwarf Star award) and some are being published for the very first time.
Ghosts of the city
peer out of the gloom
As a child he’d loved it
when the ‘clouds fell down’
and cloaked his world
it was just one more thing
to hide the shamblers.
One more obstacle to
One more enemy.
White Noise is $5.99 for physical copies and $0.99 for electronic ones.
Exceptions to this are if you buy a paperback copy (a great way to fill your cart when you need $5.99 more for free shipping, amirite?) you’ll get the Kindle version free and also, if you were subscribed to my newsletter yesterday you received an electronic copy for free.
“A collection of vivid scenes laid out in sharp and articulate verse, that when assembled, construct a grim narrative filled with tension, stark imagery, and unusual beauty. WHITE NOISE reaches in and evokes a visceral response— not always the one you’d expect.”
—Tim Deal, Shroud Quarterly
“In this collection of poems, Rhonda Parrish manages to capture all the emotions of life during an apocalypse: From fear and desperation to pain and sorrow. She even shows us love and hope. Some serious but most tinged with humor. This is a great collection of poems about the zombie apocalypse.”
—Carol Hightshoe – author of the Chaos Reigns Saga and Editor of Zombiefied I, II and III
“As soon as I read the first poem I was hooked! It was macabre but it wasn’t too far. Poetry puts our insides on our outsides and when it comes to zombies, well, that could get pretty gross in a hurry.
These poems were really good! They were passionate and made me think about zombies from new angles than I had thought about them in the past. There was a dash of the metaphysical put in and a lot of real living, non-zombie feelings as well. I’m going to go back for a second read, because they deserve it.”
I woke up today to the wonderful news that my story, Feeders, has been reprinted at Nova Fantasia. Nova Fantasia publishes in Galician so I can’t actually read it, but that’s okay. Galician makes the third language my zombie stories have been published in (English being the first, and Estonian the second) and that makes me ridiculously happy. On the off-chance you can read Galician, you can check out my story here:
In October I’m going to participate in zOctober 2014 at My Book Addiction. I’m also hoping to have a few zombie-centric things going on at my blog here (though nothing quite as intense as the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour). Hopefully that will coincide with the release of my newest zombie title *fingers crossed*
This is mostly a head’s up, but if you’d like to swap some zombie-centric blog posts, provide a guest post or participate in an interview on my blog let me know 🙂
It’s zombie month here on my blog (to celebrate the launch of Waste Not (And Other Funny Zombie Stories). One thing about zombies is that they are often paired with the apocalypse in fiction and movies and it just so happens I’ve edited a book full of apocalypses recently. You may have heard about it. It’s called A is for Apocalypse. There aren’t a whole lot of zombies in A is for Apocalypse, but there are some, so while this link is a bit tenuous, it is exist 🙂
During the process of our cover reveal for A is for Apocalypse some of the contributors participated in what I called “One question interviews”. We didn’t get a chance to share all of the answers to those interviews during the reveal, so instead I’m sharing them here on my blog. Along with a short excerpt from the book.
The excerpts I’ve chosen are one from U is for… by Damien Angelica Walters and X is for by Jonathan Parrish. I picked those two in particular because they are nearly completely opposite one another when it comes to theme, voice and writing-style. I figured that was a good way to show the immense degree of diversity in the stories in this book. Unfortunately for the spirit of the month, neither of them have zombies. Sorry. >_<
Excerpt from X is for… by Jonathan Parrish (contains profanity):
Cyrus is getting louder and his eyes more yellow. Little scabs around his eyes and his nose and always that dirty snot on his lip. I close my eyes because it makes them hurt to look at him, think about how I wish I was in the woods with bears, feeling flesh yield to my fangs and the blood and—holy shit am I hungry. And still I can feel his breath and I can’t open my eyes because then I’ll see him and fuck that. I want to get away, away from the next past and the fucked up now and the no future and find a hole and live in it with maybe an animal pal and we’d be a super awesome team at being awesome.
One Question Interview #2:
As a contributor to this anthology you are privileged to have been able to read a proof copy of it already. Aside from your own story, which one is your favourite? No spoilers, please 🙂
Michael Kellar – “U is for REDACTED” got to me early on, and ended up being a perfect little glimpse of what would be important when facing the end of the world.
Marge Simon– That’s really, really a hard question to answer. But I’m picking Damian Angelica Walters’ moving “U is for REDACTED”. It reminded me much of one of my top favorite dark sf stories, “Testament”.
Sara Cleto – I’ll admit that I haven’t read through the entire anthology yet (it will be my reward when I finish this semester’s grading!), but I adore Brittany Warman’s story- as always, her images are haunting, powerful, and full of wonderful folkloric resonances.
Beth Cato – I loved R. It’s one of the longer stories in the anthology, I think, and it’s a unique take on events leading up to the apocalypse. The whole vibe is creepy and gritty.
Brittany Warman – I sadly haven’t gotten a chance to read the whole proof yet but I know that all the stories in it I’ve read so far are amazing! I’m so honored to be a part of it :).
C.S. MacCath – I confess I have only skimmed the anthology as yet, but Beth Cato’s and Damien Angelica Walters’ stories fairly sang with emotion, and Gary B. Phillips has written a nicely-executed piece of humour.
There has been so much zombie stuff going on of late, what with the #SummerZombie goodness and my own giving over my blog to the theme that I’m beginning to feel a bit zombie-ish myself. Which is not to say I’m getting tired of the shamblers, I’m not, I’m just running low on words for blog posts 🙂
Happily, though, I don’t have to be wordy all the time 🙂
Back on Father’s Day I had a guest blog at Sarah Lyons Flemming’s blog about why I still love zombies. You can read about it by clicking here. There’s even a short little poem there 🙂
Also, John Anthony James wrote a blog post a while back about why zombies are awesome. He’s dusted that off and spruced it up a bit for us, and you can read it by clicking here.
And now, to finish up, I’m going to link to a few zombtastic poems and stories from Niteblade. Because :-p There are loads more zombies at Niteblade, but I’m just picking some of the more recent ones to link to here 🙂
I’m giving my blog over to the zombies this month to celebrate the release of my book, Waste Not (And Other Funny Zombie Stories). As part of that I’ve invited some friends to pop over and share their thoughts about zombies. One of the people who took me up on the offer was Cory Cone. Cory is the author of the fantastic zombie story Compassion, During and After the Fall which I had the pleasure of publishing in Niteblade. It was largely on the strength of that story that I invited him to contribute to A is for Apocalypse (which also, oddly enough, has zombies in it LoL)
Today, Cory is writing a bit of non-fiction for me to share with you here today. Specifically, he’s going to talk about the zombtastic works for Joe R. Lansdale. Confession time… I haven’t read any of Joe’s work, but after these glowing recommendations I intend to change that.
A Few Zombie Stories by Joe R. Lansdale
(a guest post by Cory Cone)
Whenever I’m asked to recommend a book, I suggest Edge of Dark Water by Champion Mojo Storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. It is a depression era novel set in East Texas, the setting of most of Lansdale’s stories, and is among my favorite of his books. But honestly, making only one suggestion from his gargantuan bibliography of novels and short stories is near impossible. Lansdale is constantly inventive, funny, terrifying, and insightful in his fiction. His collections include Bleeding Shadows, Bumper Crop, High Cotton, among others. He is also the author of several novels, including the Hap and Leonard series, The Bottoms, A Thin Dark Line, The Thicket, and Cold in July, recently released as a film.
If you have never read anything by this author and are curious about some of his non-zombie short fiction, allow me to recommend the collection The Best of Joe R. Lansdale. It contains some of his best work, including one of my all-time favorite short stories, Night They Missed the Horror Show. But be warned: it’s a story that haunts long after the final sentence. Last year, Apex Magazine reprinted one of his most famous short stories, Tight Little Stitches In a Dead Man’s Back, and it’s available for free online. In addition, Lansdale frequently posts his stories for free on his website.
But it’s the month of zombie, so if you’re looking to kick back and read some outstanding zombie fiction, you can’t go wrong with the following three stories:
Christmas with the Dead
Calvin, surviving alone in a zombified world, isn’t going to let the walking dead stop him from decorating his house for Christmas. This story remains among my favorite from Lansdale. It’s silly, it’s funny, it’s full of the perfectly articulated imagery one comes to expect from a Lansdale story (“The way their teeth bit into her, how the skin stretched, it looked as if they were trying to pull old bubble gum loose from the sidewalk.”). In the mix you’ll find moments so moving you can’t quite believe a story like this is getting to you, especially the absolutely fantastic ending, which I’d be a fool to ruin here. You can find it in Bleeding Shadows. It was also made into a film by his son, Keith, which you can buy on DVD.
A Visit with Friends
This story can also be found in Bleeding Shadows. A very different tale from Christmas with the Dead, A Visit with Friends is told in first person and is mostly a single scene of dialogue between the narrator and his wife. They’ve secured their houses, adapted, and feel fairly confident they will survive. Here, though, it’s more than just the main character(s) making due—it’s the entire city. In many of Lansdale’s zombie stories, he gives his characters a lot of credit and shows just how much ingenuity humans could potentially have in such situations. That said, this particular story, as well as the next one I’ll be mentioning, takes a much darker look at the world than Christmas with the Dead. It deals with nastier human impulses and asks the question: Who, in this zombie world, are the real monsters?
The Hunt: Before, and the Aftermath
This is another first person story, which is always a treat. Joe R. Lansdale’s characters have such distinct, relatable, and enjoyable voices that it is always a pleasure to get inside their heads. This story was collected in an out of print book, Trapped in the Saturday Matinee, and in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 24, edited by Stephen Jones. Once more, Lansdale uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop for disturbing human experiences. This story is about love, the temptations one must battle when married, and ultimately, forgiveness. Oh, and zombies!
There you have it. Dig in and eat up some great zombie fiction.
In order to help promote the release of my book Waste Not (and other funny zombie stories) I joined in on the Summer of Zombies tour which is taking place all month long. Today, as part of that, I would like to offer you an excerpt from Poxland by Bryan Cassiday:
Halverson felt like he was covered with hot leeches that were sucking the blood out of his flesh. To make matters worse, he felt like ticks were crawling under his skin across the entire length of his body. He scratched his left forearm trying to soothe the itching that was burning his skin. It did no good.
The ticks were embedded under his skin as they crawled all over his body. His scratching accomplished nothing, save to exacerbate the itching and smarting of his skin.
His eyes snapped open.
He realized he was lying naked on his back in the dingy bomb shelter. He surveyed his body. There were no leeches on it, and he could discern no traces of ticks burrowing underneath his skin, no ridges formed in his flesh by their burrowing. Nevertheless, his flesh was burning up.
The result of the nuclear blast. The scorching blast wind had striated his body as he had run for cover to the bomb shelter underneath the desert.
A single dim incandescent light bulb hung above him in a wire cage on the ceiling, as he lay in a daze on a bunk.
The explosion of the atomic blast and its accompanying overpressure had all but burst his eardrums.
His skin continued to itch like crazy. He had to get the radioactive dust off it. He needed to take another shower. But how many showers did he have to take and how often? He knew he had taken many since the atomic blast had flattened Las Vegas, a few miles away from where he now lay doggo underground.
He could not take that many more showers, though, he knew. There wasn’t an inexhaustible supply of fresh water in the shelter. What water remained needed to be conserved for drinking.
Iodine, he thought. He needed more iodine tablets to treat his radiation-contaminated body. Where was Victoria? he wondered. She and he were the lone survivors of the atomic bomb explosion, as far as he knew. He did not see her now.
He felt his forehead with the back of his hand. As he had thought, he was burning up with fever. Maybe he was delirious as well.
His mind raced, seeking answers.
Maybe the atomic blast had never really happened. Maybe the blast was a chimera of his overheated imagination brought on by the fever. Somehow he doubted it. In fact, it was all coming back to him.
The president had dropped nuclear bombs all across the country and all over the world in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to rid the nation of the plague-infected flesh eaters that were running amok around the world, wreaking havoc and spreading the pestilence wherever they roamed.
If only this was a nightmare! decided Halverson. Then he could wake up from it. The fact was, it was worse than a nightmare, because it was really happening. He would never wake up from it.
Above his face he saw a black spider rappelling down on a strand of silk from the ceiling. Then he wasn’t the only survivor, decided Halverson. This spider, too, had survived nuclear annihilation.
He did not like spiders. He did not like this ugly thing jerking its eight legs around like knitting needles darning an article of clothing as it descended ineluctably toward his face on its thread of silk that glittered like dew in the dim artificial light of the incandescent bulb.
His initial reflex was to kill the creature. He wanted to swat it off its silk strand and then stomp it on the cement floor.
But if he killed the spider, he would be alone in the blast shelter—unless Victoria was in another part of the structure. He had no desire to be the last man on earth, or even the last living creature on earth, for that matter.
Overcoming his reflexive urge to smash the spider, he decided to do nothing and let it continue its descent from the ceiling, to let the ugly arachnid live and keep him company in the cramped bomb shelter. To have any kind of life with the creature present was better than being left alone, he decided, even if it was a detestable spider.
He rolled out of the way of the spider as it descended onto the bunk.
Hopefully, the thing would not bite him later as a way of thanking him for his moment of kindheartedness, or, was it more accurately a moment of weakness on his part for sparing the spider? Was it weak to desire a companion in his solitude?
The creature crabbed away from Halverson across the bunk’s sheet. Just watching the way the spider scuttled off creeped him out. The last thing he wanted was a hunchbacked spider crawling across his smarting flesh. The suffocating sensation of leeches and ticks swarming on and inside his body was enough for him to deal with at the moment. Too much for him to deal with, in fact.
He sprang off the bunk to his feet.
He must find Victoria. Was she in any better shape than he was? he wondered.
A hunger pang attacked him. If worse came to worst, maybe he could eat the spider. Or maybe it would be best to let it reproduce, so it would bear more spiders and then he could consume them. Christ! What a sickening thought! He wanted to wretch.
His logy mind was straying off in directions he preferred not to travel in.
He massaged his forehead. He needed to pull himself together. To face his predicament like a man. The last man on earth, maybe. His mind kept revolving back to that nagging whim, he realized, like water circling a drain before disappearing down the sink. The last man on earth.
Was it really that bad? he wondered.
The president of the United States had ordered the nuclear bombing of the entire country in order to wipe out the plague-infected flesh eaters that were taking over the world. Yeah, it was that bad, Halverson decided.
Unbidden disturbing memories flashed back into his mind. He remembered confronting his brother Dan on the end of the Santa Monica Pier. Dan, who had contracted the so-called zombie virus and become one of the walking dead . . .
Mannering the cop wielding a smoking jackhammer and fending off the creatures as they converged on him on a Wilshire Boulevard sidewalk. Mannering jamming the clattering jackhammer into the chests and brains of the walking dead, pulverizing the necrotic tissue of the creatures with machine-gun piston thrusts of the tool, allowing Halverson and Victoria to escape as he covered their retreat. Then the gruesome sight of Mannering disappearing into the horde of flesh eaters, and his amputated, bloody arms flying out of the mob of creatures as they tore him apart and tossed away his bones that they had picked clean of marrow . . .
Reno the journalist staving off the flesh eaters with Molotov cocktails as they laid into Halverson and him at Alcatraz prison. Reno being ripped apart by the ghouls as Molotov cocktails exploded around him, taking out scores of the creatures jacked up into a feeding frenzy of bloodletting . . .
The memories were overpowering. Halverson could not deal with replaying them over and over again in his mind’s eye to the point of debilitation. He banished the images from his mind. The worst thing about it was that these memories were but the tip of the iceberg. He had plenty of other lurid recollections of flesh-eater attacks that were just as horrifying rattling around in the dark corners of his mind, waiting for their chance to surface to his consciousness and torment him with their graphic atrocities.
And then President Cole ordered the A-bomb dropped on Las Vegas, forcing Halverson and Victoria to take refuge in this blast shelter underneath the radiation-contaminated Nevada desert.
It was all too much to come to grips with, decided Halverson. He needed to forget about it and carry on, taking it one day at a time. The scope of the debacle was just too much for him, or for anyone else for that matter, to comprehend all at once. Trying to get his head around the enormity of it would trigger a mental breakdown, he was convinced.
He could not remember how long he and Victoria had been holed up in this dusky rat’s nest of a blast shelter. His mind was playing him false. It did not want to face the horrifying reality of his situation. Memories faded in and out. But were they memories or false impressions left from nightmares rummaging around through his calamity-besieged mind?
He was burning up. He needed water.
He strode to the water cooler, ran water out of the cooler’s tap into a plastic cup, and took a long pull of the tepid water. Cooler? he thought ironically, eying the container, grimacing with distaste at the water’s warmth as it enveloped his tongue. What he’d do for an ice-cold glass of water! Or better yet an ice-cold beer.
He realized he was dying of thirst. He drew another cup of water. The water remaining in the cooler bubbled and glub-glubbed as the water level lowered. The cooler was fast approaching empty, he realized with a sigh. He downed the cup of water, ignoring its lukewarm insipidity this time.
How much water did they have left? he wondered. You could go without food for days, even weeks. But you could not go without water for days, especially in the stuffy closeness of this poky shelter. They had to have water.
His gaze lit on the orange plastic prescription bottle of pills on the sink. He also needed to take iodide pills.
He managed to snap open the white childproof cap on the pill bottle and downed two of the iodide pills. He needed them to protect him from radiation poisoning by iodine-131, which had been released into the air during the atomic blast. Radioactive iodine-131 was absorbed by the thyroid gland.
By taking the iodide tablets he kept his thyroid saturated with iodine, so it could not absorb the poisonous iodine-131. The thyroid could absorb only a finite amount of iodine. The trick was to keep the thyroid saturated with iodine for as long as the air might contain radioactive iodine-131.
He did not know if any of the nuclear blast’s iodine-131 had seeped into the bomb shelter when he and Victoria had first entered the shelter during the explosion. But he wasn’t taking any chances.
Also, he did not know how long the iodine-131 would linger in the air after the nuclear explosion. He would keep taking the iodide pills for the time being.
As of right now, the outside air could not seep into the airtight blast shelter.
At least he didn’t think it could. He had no way of knowing for sure.
Of course, the iodide pills were useless against the radioactive cesium-137 and strontium-90 that might still be in the air outside.
Halverson heard footfalls. He turned toward the source of the sounds.
Yawning, wearing a white terrycloth bathrobe, Victoria was entering the living quarters from a bedroom. Noticing that he was naked she averted her face from him. Her blonde hair hung down on her shoulders in glossy coils.
A twenty-eight-year-old dress designer in the prime of her life wearing a threadbare bathrobe in a fuggy, claustrophobic cement room under the desert. No doubt she neither dug her wardrobe nor her dwelling, Halverson decided. Then again there wasn’t much to dig during their ordeal.
“Why don’t you put on some clothes?” she said.
“I fell asleep after I took a shower, I think,” said Halverson.
“My mind’s playing tricks on me. It’s filled with nightmares and bad memories. I’m having trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.”
She turned to look at him. She jerked her head away again at seeing him still undressed.
“Are you gonna get dressed or what?” she said, facing away from him, arms folded across her chest.
He strode over to a closet, opened its door, and removed from the cylindrical wooden hanger a wire coat hanger with a terrycloth robe draped on it. The robe looked like the one Victoria was wearing, right down to its shabbiness. He slipped it on.
She heard him close the closet door. She turned around and faced him.
“We got a problem,” he said.
He was scoping out a large translucent plastic cistern full of water that stood next to the water cooler when he spoke.
“We’re running out of water.”
Victoria eyed the cistern and looked grim. “Then we’ll have to leave the shelter to find some.”
“You know what that means?”
“It means we’ll get contaminated with radiation if there’s any left in the air.”
Halverson nodded. “This shelter wasn’t built for long-term habitation.”
“Why wasn’t it? If it was built as a bomb shelter, they should have stocked it with more food and water.”
“It doesn’t do any good complaining about it. We just have to deal with it.”
Victoria filled her cheeks with air and blew it out. “It seems like it’s getting hotter in here, too.”
Halverson had noticed the same thing. “I wonder if the A/C is conking out on us.”
“Maybe we’re losing our air supply.”
She eyed the vent in the wall opposite them. White cloth streamers tied to the vent’s grill were shivering in the outpouring air.
Halverson followed her gaze. The streamers didn’t seem to be blowing into the shelter horizontally as they had been the last time he looked at them. They seemed limper now and dangled down farther than they had earlier, signifying a decrease in airflow.
He sniffed the air. He fancied he could smell a trace of stagnation, which may have been generated by the increase in temperature. But he doubted it. Combined with the flaccid streamers at the mouth of the air duct, the stagnant odor more than likely indicated declining and inadequate airflow.
Not good, he decided. This must have been a jury-rigged bomb shelter cobbled together by the local Nevada militia. Probably one of those do-it-yourself prefab deals you could buy online.
Halverson decided he and Victoria would be lucky if they could last a week here without venturing outside.
“For all we know, this air recirculating in here may be unfit for breathing,” he said.
“What if it’s poisoning us?” said Victoria, growing alarmed at the idea.
“It’s probably not doing us a whole lot of good, in any case. But we’re still alive.”
“It’s looking more and more like we’re gonna have to leave here soon.”
“Yep.” Halverson eyed the bottle of iodide pills near the sink. “Have you been taking your iodide pills?”
“I think so.” Victoria screwed up her face in thought. “It’s hard to keep track of what day it is in this hole.”
Halverson nodded. “I can’t even tell if it’s day or night.”
“Now I know how a mole feels.” She surveyed their dim-lit quarters with disgust.
“If it wasn’t for this hole in the ground, we’d be dead by now of radiation poisoning.”
“There’s that.” She paused. “Do you think anyone else survived the explosion?”
“I don’t know. Did the government just nuke Vegas or did it nuke other cities and states as well?”
“We know they blew up California and New York while we were in Vegas.”
Halverson nodded at the memory. “He said on TV he was gonna nuke the entire country to cleanse it of the plague.”
“And then nuke the world. The question is, did he carry out his promise?”
“I’m not very eager to find out what’s left up there,” he said, looking upward.
Perspiring, he felt thirsty and drew another glass of water from the cooler. He gulped down the beverage.
“If we go topside and we’re still alive, where do we go from there?” asked Victoria.
“We have to find out what’s left of the government.”
“But they’re the ones who dropped the A-bomb on us.”
“I know. But they’re the only ones who know what’s going on.”
“If they know what’s going on, why did they nuke us?”
Halverson caught himself gazing upward again. “It must be worse than we thought up there. Dropping nukes is a last resort.”
“I wonder if it did any good.”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Victoria thought about it. “I don’t want to go outside.”
“We have to. We can’t stay locked up in here much longer.”
Victoria turned away from him. “I don’t care. I don’t want to go out there. At least those things can’t attack us here.”
“Maybe the A-bomb wiped all of them out.”
“I still don’t want to go up there.”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice.”
He took stock of the shelter. Floor-to-ceiling rows of shelves that bore serried canned goods lined one wall. They had plenty of food to last them for a while, he noted.
Then he looked at the water cooler. Beside it was the full, large plastic cistern that he had noticed earlier. Beside the cistern was a fifty-five gallon drum, which contained the remainder of their water supply.
“I’d rather take my chances here,” said Victoria.
“We’re gonna run out of water soon. No more showers. That’s for sure.”
“It already smells in here.” Victoria sniffed the air and grimaced. “It’s just gonna get worse if we don’t bathe.”
“We can live without bathing but not without drinking water.”
“What makes you think there’ll be any water we can drink up above?”
“You mean it’ll be contaminated with radiation?”
“Exactly. How will we know the water we find up there isn’t poisonous?”
“We can always find bottled water or drinks in supermarkets. We’ll be able to find something to drink once we’re out of here.”
“But that doesn’t rule out our being poisoned by the radioactive air,” she said irritably.
“I know that. The problem is, we’re not gonna be able to stay here much longer without anything to drink. And it’s gonna get worse.”
Victoria pricked up her ears. “What do you mean?”
“We’ll have to start going through the rest of the water at a faster rate than before.”
“The hotter it gets in here, the more we’re gonna have to drink to keep hydrated.”
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie