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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I wanted to put up a pic of a Zombie Jack-o-lantern, but this Death Star pumpkin is too awesome to pass up.
In celebration of this wonderous occasion, I'm posting a list of winners of the various contests:

Winner of David McAfee's signed paperback of 33 A.D.Christina (cmeghanb at gmail.com)



Winner of a paperback of Bloodlust by Zoe Winters - Pegeen (pkbrent at gmail.com)



Winners of ebooks of Cattitude by Edie Ramer - Julie ( julie at brazealcats.com) and Emily (ebdye1 at gmail.com)

Winners of ebooks of Jenny Pox by J. L Bryan - Amanda (
manaface at gmail.com) and chickenherder at hotmail.com


Winners of ebooks of Space Junque by LK Rigel - bluefrog62 at yahoo.com,  Alice  (alicebrown636 at yahoo.com), and Laura (bl1nkfa1ry at aol.com)
Winner of House of the Dead 3 from MJA Ware - Brandy (brandyzbooks at yahoo.com)

Winners of ebooks of The River by Maria Rachel Hooley - Emily (emilyking630 at yahoo.com),  Mary (zenrei57 at hotmail.com), and Cassandra (cassandrarenee87 at gmail.com)

Congratulations to all the winners, and a massive THANK YOU to everyone that participated in Zombiepalooza! To everyone who contributed guest blogs and short stories, as well as donating prizes, and to all the people who checked in and entered giveaways. Thanks, everyone! Zombiepalooza was a hoot!

I'd also like to leave a quick reminder that Stacey Wallace Benefiel's giveaway is still going on until November 5, 2010. She's got a first, second, and third prize, and it's kind of a big deal.

Also, don't forget to check back in on my blog in November. I have some happenings going on here. ;)

Have a safe and happy Halloween, everybody!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

One of Four


As Zombiepalooza draws to a close, David McAfee offers  One of Four - a short horror story that has nothing to do with zombies. It's like the palette cleanser of Zombieaplooza, but it's still definitely horror. 

As you may recall from the giveaway earlier in the month, David McAfee is the author of 33 A.D. and Grubs, a novella that gave me nightmares. For more info about him or his books, please check out his site: mcafeeland.wordpress.com

One of Four - along with fifteen other stories - is included in McAfee's horror anthology, Pound of Flash. It also has bonus material from David Dalglish, Daniel Arenson, and Michael Crane.
______________________________________________________
“You know who I am, Father.” It isn’t a question.

The priest looks at me, his youthful eyes brimming with idealistic forgiveness, and nods.

“I know who you claim to be,” he says as he steps past the nurse – a burly bitch named Swanson - and starts to close the door behind him.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Swanson says, holding up her left hand. She casts a meaningful glance at her missing ring finger. The scar is an angry red. “He’s a vicious old bastard.”

Her diamond ring had hurt like hell when it passed through my bowels, but the look on her face had been worth it. Maybe I wouldn’t do shit like that if they’d give me something to eat.

The priest ignores her missing finger. “He won’t harm me,” he says. “He can’t.” With that, he closes the door, while Swanson shakes her head and resumes her duties.

I can’t keep the snarl out of my voice. “Damn right I can’t.” I jerk forward in the bed, but the straps around my bare, sunken chest and arms hold me in place. I know it’s useless. I’ve been trying to break them for years now with nothing to show for it but raw, bleeding skin. They are too strong, especially in my pathetic state. They never feed me in this place, preferring to keep me weak and pliable.

He takes a seat by my bed, his soft white robe settles around him as though it’s made of air. On his finger a hefty gold ring winks in the dim light of my cell. I catch a faint whiff of cologne. I can’t place the brand, but it smells expensive. It probably is. The Catholic Church looks after its own.

I smile, revealing a mouth full of sharpened teeth. I had them filed to points long before the priest was even born. In my emaciated state, I must look like a fleshy skull smiling at him. He blanches, but doesn’t look away.

“They told me about those,” he says. “Do you think you frighten me?”

“Don’t I?”

He shakes his head, then reaches into a pouch at his side. He pulls out a vial of water and a rosary and sets them both on the nightstand. “Are you ready?”

I chuckle. A thick, wet gurgle. It’s all I can manage. “You can’t exorcise me, Father. I’m not a demon.” My belly growls. In the confines of the tiny room it sounds like an angry bear.

“We will see.” He pulls the stopper from the vial and begins to pray. I can’t understand a word of it. Must be Latin. He makes a motion with the vial that looks like a cross, then splashes the water on my face and chest. It’s cold, but that’s it. My skin doesn’t boil or blister, and I don’t scream.

He looks closer, his expression slightly puzzled. Then he reaches down and dips his finger into one of the drops on my chest, swirling it around in a circle.

“Careful, Father,” I say. My belly rumbles again, accentuating my warning.

His eyes shoot from my chest to my face, his disbelief plain to see. His finger raises off my flesh and hovers a few inches away. Almost close enough to bite, but not quite. He is probably thinking of Swanson’s scar.

“It’s true, then,” he whispers.

I nod. “But you already knew that.”

He looks at the vial in his hand. “I had to be sure.”

I nod again. “Of course.”

“We’ve been waiting for you.” His words are slow, deliberate. The fear that escaped him earlier now weighs heavily on every syllable. “How long do we have?”

I shake my head. “You should have come to me sooner.”

“We didn’t know.”

“Yes, you did.”

He closes his eyes and turns away, his face red. Maybe he didn’t know, but his colleagues did. They had plenty of time to fix things, and instead they went on as they always had. Only now, when it’s too late, do they think of me, locked away in their prison. Had they come to me sooner, I could have saved them. Any of my brethren could. But we waited. We wanted to see what they would do.

Now we know.

The earth begins to shake beneath us. His eyes snap open.

“Are the others here, already?” he asks.

“Not yet, but they are coming.”

He nods, tears sparkling in his eyes. He clutches his Bible and his rosary to his chest, and again begins praying in Latin. The only word I recognize is famēs, and only because it’s my name. A few moments later the roof of the building crashes down on him. The weight of the rubble snaps my bonds, and I am able to rise on shaky legs.

I leave the room and walk through the hallways, listening to the screams of people dying around me. Swanson is buried under a pile of debris. Her unblinking eyes stare up toward the ceiling.

The others are indeed coming, just as I told the priest. They have quite a distance to travel, of course. Currently, War is in the Middle East, Pestilence is in Africa, and Death...Death is everywhere.

I step out of the ruined building and look back just as the front, a huge brick and marble facade that sports a gleaming bronze Crucifix, tumbles to the earth. The Crucifix lands on a woman in a black and white habit, who sees me standing nearby and begs for mercy in Portuguese.

Too late, I remind myself.

I raise my thin, bony arms to the sky, waiting for instructions. They are not long in coming.

My name is Famine, and it’s time to go to work.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Holding Out For a (Zombie) Hero

Cara is a casual blogger (http://caralunell.blogspot.com/), slightly misanthropic law student, and extreme horror enthusiast with a soft spot for zombies and souled vampires.
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Holding Out For a (Zombie) Hero

Zombies can never be heroes. If you think about it, zombies are the ultimate villain, be it in literature, graphic novels, movies, or video games (Zombies Ate My Neighbors will always be a personal favorite of mine). And really, they are the perfect villain for a lot of reasons. They are unbelievably strong, one bite or scratch is infectious, and their sole purpose is to feed on human flesh. They were designed to be the bad guy, and they play the role perfectly.

The zombie genre has come back in full force in recent years: Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies…the list can go on. Recently, it struck me that this resurgence of zombies in pop culture is just that: a resurgence and NOT a reinvention. The contrast to the reinvention of the vampire genre really got me thinking.

Vampires survive on human blood. Ever since Dracula, they’ve been murderous monsters with no soul or conscience. Yet, over the past decade or so, vampires have reemerged in fiction as heroes. I think most people probably attribute this to Twilight, though Angel had a soul on Buffy the Vampire Slayer 10 years before Twilight was even published. (Just saying, know your roots, y’all). It makes you wonder, why can vampires be heroes and zombies never can?

When you give a vampire a soul or a conscience, it’s still a vampire. They are still immortal, still gorgeous, and still need human blood to live. But when you give them a choice, and they choose good, they become the hero, get the mortal girl, and live happily ever after. You will never see a zombie get the girl (unless you rent My Boyfriend’ s Back, which, by the way, you SHOULD). You will never see the zombie save the day and walk off into the sunset with his head held high.

Forget the fact that zombies are gross and unattractive and usually getting appendages shot off within the first few seconds of screen time. I mean, yeah, that definitely adds to the reasons no one wants the zombie to triumph, but I think runs deeper than that. If you give a zombie a conscience (or, even more unthinkable, a SOUL), what do you have? You don’t have some immortal, mythical creature choosing to do the right thing. No, what you have is a human, plain and simple. You have a human who craves human flesh, but a human nonetheless (so, really you have a cannibal, if you want to get technical). I mean, how boring is that? A vampire with a soul is conflicted and angsty and sexy, but a zombie with a soul is just what you expect a regular guy to be—conflicted, confused, and probably decaying a bit or at least missing an arm.

Of course, there’s the added complication that if you kill a zombie with a soul, are you really killing a person? (The scene where Jesse Eisenberg can’t kill Abigail Breslin in Zombieland comes to mind.) No one would get behind the human struggling for survival killing a zombie with a soul, because it would be killing a person and it would make people uncomfortable. (Because as long as we have a soulless enemy, shooting its head off is completely acceptable, obviously).

I’m pulling for the zombie to become a hero. I know it’s not going to happen, but I’m pulling for it. I want to see a zombie movie where one zombie stands up straight, acknowledges how much the zombie apocalypse sucks, and helps the humans wipe out the rest of the still-soulless zombies. But I’m not holding my breath.

The archetype has changed: zombies don’t have to move super slowly anymore, they’re usually the product of a virus as opposed to rising from the dead, they can have some level of planning or intelligence etc. But you’ll never see a zombie hero. That role will be saved for the vampires, and zombies will have to settle for mindlessly hunting human flesh. Sorry, zombies, but hey, I’m still rooting for you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Day

Today's short story is courtesy of William Esmont - author Self Arrest. His latest book, The Patriot Paradox, just came out. For more information about William Esmont or his books, please visit: williamesmont.com
____________________________________________________

Scott Atkinson pulled into his new parking spot at precisely 6:45 AM.

Morning sun bled through the tall pines at the far end of the lot. Birds sang. The asphalt was still damp from last night's rain.

He grinned. Looking in the mirror, he congratulated himself. Lead security officer. Who would have guessed?

Seventeen years after the zombie uprising, it was hard to believe the world was almost back to normal.

Scott was one of the lucky ones. Fresh out of high school and unable to land a job, he had chosen to cool his heels in the Arizona National Guard, to see the world, maybe even bag a few terrorists if he got lucky.

Life had other plans.

When the zombie plague exploded out of Honduras, his unit was activated and his tour ballooned to an open-ended commitment. Humanity was fighting for its very survival.

Crisscrossing the Southwest, he hunted ghouls door to door, putting a bullet into the head of each zombie he encountered, and dragging their stinking corpses to the giant funeral pyres dotting the countryside.

The sickly-sweet smell of roasting meat was forever seared into his brain. He didn't think he'd ever eat barbecue again.

He checked his teeth, straightened his tie. Good enough.

Today was his first day at MedCorp Biotech and he wanted to make a good impression.

Two hours later, he sat at his new desk, flipping through the glossy welcome package.
Startled, he reached for the ringing phone.

"Can you swing over to my office for a few minutes?" It was his new boss, Mitch Peterson, Executive Security Officer.

"Sure. I'll be right over."

"Close the door," Mitch said as Scott entered. He motioned towards the armchair opposite him.

"How are you settling in?"

Scott shifted in his seat. "Just fine, Thanks. It's a pleasure to be here."

Mitch waved him off. "We were lucky to find you. You're the right man for the job."

Scott suppressed a grin, kept a neutral business-like smile on his face. "Thanks."

Mitch leaned forward. "Before you get started though, there's one additional item we need to address." He extracted a folded piece of paper and a gold pen from the breast pocket of his jacket, sliding them across the table.

Scott picked up the document, unfolded it, and scanned the top. It was the densest text with the smallest print he had ever seen; he didn't know it was possible to get so many words onto one page.

"I don't understand—" His brows furrowed.

"It's a supplemental non-disclosure. As you know, we rely on some pretty advanced technology here at MedCorp..."

Scott chewed his lip as he read. "What's the difference between this document and the one I signed earlier?" he asked, referring to the non-disclosure contained in his welcome packet.

"The last paragraph."

Scott skipped ahead and his eyes grew wide. "Is this for real?"

"It is."

The paragraph in question stated the company reserved legal authority to detain employees for undetermined duration at its sole discretion.

Scott took a deep breath, his mind struggling with the implications. "Is this legal? It seems open ended…"

"Don't worry about it. This is standard lawyer-talk. Follow the rules and you'll be fine.

Scott considered Mitch's reassurances for a long moment, and then, with a quick flourish, he signed the document and pushed it back across the table.

Screw it. I need the job.

Mitch gave him a tight smile and tucked the paper into his breast pocket.

"Now that that's out of the way, we can get down to business. I've got something to show you—something that will blow your mind."

They left Mitch's office and crossed the lobby, proceeding to a bank of elevators. Mitch pressed the down button.

Once the doors closed, Mitch put his palm against a discreet frosted glass panel and gave Scott a mischievous grin. The panel pulsed amber, then went dark.

They descended, the small LCD screen above the elevator buttons marking their progress:

Six.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

The elevator continued to drop.

Minus One.

Minus Two.

At minus three, the elevator came to a gentle stop.

The doors slid open, revealing a well-lit hallway. The walls and ceiling were brushed stainless steel, the floors polished concrete. The construction looked recent.

A pair of men dressed in light gray jumpsuits and ceramic body armor stood on either side of the elevator. They carried M-19 Assault Rifles.

"What's this?" Scott asked, a bad feeling percolating in his gut.

Mitch didn't answer, instead exiting the elevator and striding away from Scott at a brisk pace.

He hurried to catch up, almost colliding with Mitch as he came to an abrupt stop before a large window.

The first thing he noticed was the glass. It was at least an inch thick. Deep within, he caught the telltale glint of high-tensile security mesh; almost invisible.

"Watch this," Mitch said as he pressed his palm against another frosted glass panel.

Scott sensed a faint vibration through his feet as heavy machinery rumbled to life.

A room became visible as a translucent barrier sank into the floor. A bank of overhead fluorescents flickered to life.

It was a charnel house. Bones littered the floor. Chunks of meat -entrails, bloody scraps of flesh, other bits and pieces he couldn't identify.

Scott recognized the signs. Zombies.

He opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get the words out, there was an enormous CRASH on the other side of the glass.

He leaped back; reaching for the weapon he didn't have. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up, old instincts jangling like an out-of-control fire alarm.

Mitch laughed. "Don't worry. We're perfectly safe."

Scott stole a glance at the guards. They were stone.

It had been years since he had seen a zombie in the flesh. They were extinct—or at least they were supposed to be—the last one-destroyed somewhere in Africa two years ago.

He took a step forward, a morbid curiosity propelling him to the window.

The creature gnashed its teeth against the tattered remains of its tongue. A pair of long-fossilized breast implants told him it was a woman.

One eye was missing. The other dangled from a wisp of desiccated optic nerve.

The zombie took a step back, cocked its head as if studying him, and charged the window.

WHAM!

He forced himself to meet Mitch's eyes. "I don't understand…"

"You will. This is why we hired you."

Scott was speechless. He watched the zombie out of the corner of his eye as it pressed its face against the glass, its tattered tongue skittering across the surface as it searched for food it could see but not touch.

The creature opened its mouth, tilted its head back.

He sensed, but could not hear the building moan.

It's calling. He shivered at the thought of the sound, a low, guttural roar that, from a distance, sounded like a far off train. Up close—well—it was usually the last thing you heard.

"It's simple," Mitch said, ignoring the creature." These subjects are critical to the future of the company. We've been studying them for five years and we've barely scratched the surface. One thing is for certain though—the company that can harness them is going to make more money than God.

Scott closed his eyes, shook his head, desperate to believe this was a bad dream.

"But—"

"No buts. You're on the inside now. We've got a pipeline full of product and a market clamoring for our solutions."

A second zombie - a man, joined the assault, battering the partition, working itself into a feeding frenzy like a shark in chum-filled water.

Mitch's face became hard. He pulled the document from his pocket and began to read.

"According to paragraph 31c - here on the back, MedCorp assumes exclusive rights to bodily remains of all employees in the event of a work-related fatality."

He locked eyes with Scott.

"It’s your choice, of course. They're hungry buggers and we never seem to have enough food on hand. Well, almost never."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Zombiepalooza Giveaway & Day of Sacrifice


When Amanda asked if I would like to contribute to Zombiepalooza I answered her with a resounding, “Hell yes!” Then I had to figure out what exactly I could contribute. I write YA paranormal romance novels and while they have a lot of magic and hot boys in them, they aren’t very scary. Actually, they aren’t even spooky. So I came up with the bright idea to excerpt a short story I was working on called Day of Sacrifice. Witches, human sacrifices, people burning alive, ass kicking angels? Day of Sacrifice has all of these, which makes it more appropriate for Halloween and Zombiepalooza to be certain. And just because it’s fun, I’m giving away copies of all three of my books. Details after the excerpt.


 

Day of Sacrifice blurb:  
With only three days left until her twenty-first birthday, her Day of Sacrifice, Flora Hamilton should be living it up. But when another Supernatural family puts a hit on her she’s forced to go into hiding with Julian, her gorgeous new Guardian Angel. Sometimes running for your life isn’t so bad.


 
 




Day of Sacrifice Playlist
1. Running with the Wasters-The Takeover UK
2. Halo- Beyonce
3. I Feel it All- Feist
4. Bleeding Love- Leona Lewis
5. Angel- Natasha Bedingfield
6. Lights Out- Santigold
7. Sleepyhead- Passion Pit
8. Electric Feel- MGMT
9. No One- Alicia Keys
10. All These Things I’ve Done- The Killers
______________________________________________

Day of Sacrifice Excerpt:
Flora opened her eyes just in time to see the wide, pink, unlined palm of her Guardian Angel swinging toward her face. Not again. Rolling onto her back, she felt the force of the near smack as it blew her bangs back off of her forehead. Her Guardian may be quick, but Flora’s instincts were pretty flawless, even when she was hung over. From her position on the plush carpet of the hotel suite floor, she grinned up at Maggie, a sinister giggle escaping from the corner of her mouth.

“I quit,” Maggie yelled, the power of her voice making the crystal chandelier quiver. “You’re the most insufferable Sacrifice I’ve ever been assigned to. You were responsible for your mother’s death, do you want to destroy the rest of your family with your immature antics?”

“That’s a low blow and you know it. Fauna and I can’t help it that our being born caused our mom to go off the deep end and kill herself.” Gods her head hurt. “And my ‘antics’ aren’t always immature.” Like nine times outta ten, sure, but...

“I don’t want to hear your excuses.” The Guardian spat, cursing Flora, a tiny globule of foam landing near her left ear.

“C’mon, Mags, don’t get your wings in a bunch. I’m almost twenty-one. I’ve got to live life to its fullest while I can. I’ll be dead in three days.” Flora sat up, hoping Maggie was done trying to inspire respectability in her through violence.

Her head was pounding and her mouth tasted and felt like a badger died in it. She struggled to remember the exact details of last night’s party. The suite was trashed. Two marble tables were upended, Champagne bottles strewn across every surface that had remained upright, and the hot tub overflowed with magenta soap bubbles. The sight of the bubbles kicked a flash of memory loose in her head. She slowly looked down at her body. Yeah, not so much wearing any clothes. Uh-oh.

She met Maggie’s furious gaze. “Okay, I can see how this looks,” Flora said, attempting to sound reasonable. Guardians loved reason. “But, I’m still a virgin.” She took a brief physical inventory. Yup, still feeling virginal.

Maggie threw a cushy light-blue hotel robe at her charge. “Don’t waste your words on me Flora, you’ve disobeyed and embarrassed me one too many times. I put in for a transfer after your last debauched incident and it came through this morning.” She flexed her majestic iridescent white wings once, rising a foot off of the floor. “May the Gods have mercy on my replacement Guardian, the next three days until your Day of Sacrifice will be the longest of their eternal life.” She shot Flora one last disgusted glare and disappeared.


Julian held out the black ceremonial robe embroidered with sacred images in gold and silver thread. After a moment, he dropped it over Aiden’s shoulders when his charge didn’t put forth the effort to slip his arms into the sleeves. They were standing in Aiden’s bedroom before a full-length mirror, his parents waiting downstairs to accompany them to his Day of Sacrifice. Aiden was Julian’s seventh charge. It never got easier. They’d all made it to their twenty-first birthdays and to their Day of Sacrifice ceremonies under his guidance. He’d helped prepare them all for slaughter, delivered the same speech to seven terrified young men.

“Hold your head up high. Your sacrifice to the Gods on this day will allow your family to thrive. They will gain the favor of the Gods. You have lived a good life and I have been proud to be your Guardian.”

Aiden swiped the back of his hand across his eyes, causing the robe to slide from one shoulder. Julian quickly pushed it back up.

“Thank you for protecting me,” Aiden said, trying to choke back the next round of tears. “You’ve been a wonderful Guardian and a good friend.” He stared at his reflection in the mirror and put the ceremonial robe on, tying the front closed over his naked body. He squared his shoulders. “I’m ready.”


Flora got up carefully from the floor, clutching the robe to her bare chest, fighting the vomit making its way up her throat. She was viciously hung over and pissed that yet another Guardian Angel had given up on her. They didn’t understand what it was to be your family’s Sacrifice, to be born to die. Sure, Guardians should be allowed to be a little grumpy, they did have to spend their entire lives looking after Sacrifices until their twenty-first birthdays, their DOS as she liked to call it, but at least they never had to die.

No one but another first born of a Supernatural family could know what it was like. The responsibility was placed on their shoulders from their first breath. Some Supernaturals bore the birthright better than others, werewolves in particular. Having been born with an intrinsic bond to their pack, they prided themselves on accepting their fate with honor.

Vampires had it the easiest. Since they couldn’t reproduce, all they had to do was turn one human virgin every twenty-one years, releasing their pure soul to the Gods. Of course, by their nature, they turned a human more often than once every twenty-one years. More like every twenty-one months. The Gods’ favor shone greatly on them.

Witches, like Flora, Sorcerers, Shamans, anyone who appeared human and had to use magic to wield power, their treatment of the Sacrifices could be called indifferent.

Although they didn’t have to go to school or learn magic or do anything for themselves- they could eat and drink and shop and watch TV until their eyes bled, as long as they remained alive with their virginity intact for their DOS- the life of a Sacrifice still wasn’t easy. If they didn’t live up to their end of the bargain, and few had ever dared to test this theory, they were hunted down by assassins and killed. Their family would be stripped of their supernatural abilities by the Gods and shunned by the community. Essentially, they were rendered human.

A shiver ran through Flora as she stepped under the hot stream of water cascading from a hidden spigot in the shower ceiling. She lathered her straight shoulder length black hair with lavender shampoo, taking in deep breaths of the scent, concentrating on bringing herself back to a normal, healthy, well-rested state. She muttered a brief healing incantation. Just because she hadn’t been required to go to school and learn magic, didn’t mean that she hadn’t.

Rejuvenated from her shower, she ran her hands over her body, dressing in jeans and a green hooded sweatshirt. The outfit was the complete opposite of the thigh baring red mini-dress she’d been wearing at Aiden Grant’s pre-DOS party last night. Well, at least what she’d been wearing before the hot tub incident.

She did a quick magical sweep of the hotel suite, righting the tables, dropping all the Champagne bottles into a recycling bin in the kitchenette, draining the hot tub of its scummy magenta water.

Now all she had to do was wait for Maggie to come back and guard her until her replacement showed up. No matter how much Maggie disliked Flora, she was breaking major protocol by leaving her unattended. All the Guardians got angry when Sacrifices had parties, especially DOS parties, fearing that they were all going to die of alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses, or do something crazy like take turns deflowering each other. But usually after the Guardians had given the Sacrifices a stern talking to, perhaps a swift slap in the face, they came back around and business proceeded as usual.

Flora flopped down on the couch and turned the TV on. Aiden’s sacrifice would be on soon, and while she detested attending DOS events, she could be more detached, more studied, watching it on TV. She wasn’t the only one that was that way. What all Sacrifices desired, besides having never been born, was to not look scared when they were strapped to the stone altar in the middle of the city square. Not to cry out in pain as their major arteries were sliced open with the ritual knife. Not to be betrayed by their bloody naked bodies on display. Complete composure. Dignity. The Sacrifices watched the ones that came before them and challenged themselves to do the same or better.

Settling into the corner of the couch, she checked the messages on her cell. Aiden’s procession into the square began. There were seven messages from her twin sister Fauna-Flora’s name was the only bullet she’d dodged, seeing as she was born a minute before, thus becoming her family’s Sacrifice and Fauna becoming what her parents considered to be their oldest child.

“Hey, Flor,” Fauna said, genuine concern in her voice, “I really need to tell you something. Please give me a call as soon as you get this. It is very important!”

Flora listened to the next three messages. They were all like the first and imparted no more information. She wondered why her sister wouldn’t just tell her what it was she wanted to tell her and get it over with. Fauna was a bit of a drama queen when it came to her, guilt-induced she sometimes thought, and could make a big deal out of her getting a paper cut.

By the fourth message, it seemed Fauna had figured out Flora wasn’t going to pick up. “Fuck you! Seriously. I know you’re at Aiden’s party and I would come and find you if anyone would ever let us non-Sacrifices in the loop. But no, you guys...” She sighed. “Okay, it is your right to have something that the rest of us can’t be a part of, I get it. But you’re my fucking twin and I need you to call me back. I love you!”

The next three messages came hours later, after midnight, presumably while Flora was passed out. She dialed her sister without listening to them, if Fauna had said the word fuck twice and let herself be recorded saying it, what she needed to tell Flora had to be important.
Fauna answered her phone, whispering. “Thank Gods. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, looking away from the television and a close up of Aiden’s face, his expression blank. “How are you? You sound like you’re having an epic conniption.”
Ignoring her remark, Fauna lowered her voice even more if that was possible. “Where are you?”

“At the Genevieve. I’m watching Aiden’s--”

“Who else is with you?”

“Uh, no one. What’s with you?”

“Tell Maggie you’ve got to get out of there now and get into hiding.”

“I can’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘you can’t’,” she hissed, “let me talk to her.”

“Maggie quit and her replacement hasn’t arrived yet.”

“Oh, crap. Get out of there now! Don’t come home, uh, go someplace public, go to Aiden’s ceremony.”

“That is the last place I’m going. Will you tell me what’s happening?” She stood up from the couch and searched for her shoes. She spotted the high heeled boots she’d been wearing the night before and quickly cast, changing them into tennis shoes. “You’re freaking me out.”

“Some seriously bad stuff went down at work yesterday.” Fauna had been working at their father’s company as a junior accountant for a little over a year. Seeing as Flora didn’t have a future, her father hadn’t bothered to offer her a job. Not that she wanted to be a boring-ass junior accountant, marketing was more her thing, but it would have been nice if he’d offered.
Fauna continued. “Dad...he had a business deal with Robert Fitzgerald that went south. The Fitzgeralds’ next Sacrifice isn’t of age for another six years.”

Meaning that they would get little help from the Gods to keep their manufacturing business profitable and that none of the other Supernatural families would want to enter into dealings with them.

“And that has what to do with me?” Leaving the television on, she headed toward the suite’s private elevator, jabbing the down button with her thumb.

“They’ve put a hit on you.” Flora knew that was what her sister was going to say, but she’d had to ask, regardless.

She kicked one of the stainless steel panel doors of the elevator, denting it slightly. It needed to move faster. Now.


Aiden removed the robe and handed it to Julian, who folded it and placed it at the foot of the Grant family crest.

Squeezing his fists to his sides, Aiden gave one last stoic nod to his mom and dad and then allowed himself to be led by the High Priest over to the sacrificial stone. He lay down. Julian was standing close enough to him to see that the chill of the stone raised goose bumps on his skin.

This was always the point in the ceremony when the Guardian wished he could take some sort of action. Beg for his charge’s life or transport them away. He knew what it felt like to die. He’d bled out under a tree during The War against the humans. The Supernatural side had won, but at a great cost to the community. A community that had a short memory and was easily swayed by the Gods. Julian had given his life for them all those years ago, but had been given his soul back when he became a Guardian Angel. Aiden was not so lucky. Soon his pure soul would belong to the Gods and he would exist no more.

The priest strapped his wrists and ankles into the leather restraints and began chanting and moving the dull side of the ritual knife over his body. 
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The giveaway for Stacey's books runs a bit different than the other Zombiepalooza contests. Most other giveaways end on the 28th, but since hers starts on the 27th, that doesn't give much time to enter, so the deadline is extended. Here are the rules for Stacey's giveaway:

1. To enter to win one of three prize packages from Stacey Wallace Benefiel, comment on this blog with an email address to contact you in case you win.

2. The giveaway runs from today until November 5th. On November 6th, the winners of all three prize packages will be chosen by random.org and will be contacted. Winners have 72 hours to reply before their prize defaults to the next runner up.

3.  Only one entry per giveaway. (But you can enter as many different Zombiepalooza giveaways as you want.)

4. US only. Sorry to our international friends. :(

 




Giveaway:
Grandprize- Glimpse and Glimmer (your choice paperback or e-book) and a copy of Day of Sacrifice (only available in e, only 28 pages long, easy to read on the computer)
Second place- Glimpse and Day of Sacrifice (e-book)
Third place- Day of Sacrifice



Stacey Wallace Benefiel is the author of Glimpse and Glimmer, the first two books in the Zellie Wells trilogy, and Day of Sacrifice: The Prophecy, the first short story in the Day of Sacrifice series. The final book in the Zellie Wells trilogy, Glow, will be available summer 2011. The next book in the Day of Sacrifice series, Rebellion: The Outer Territory, will be available early 2011. When Stacey isn’t writing she’s thinking about writing or what she’s going to make for dinner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You’ve Got Red on You: How Modern Life Parallels Shaun of the Dead

Hi everyone! The following piece is part of a very fledgling series on my blog Jon’s Line of Sight called “Sit Down, We’re Not Going Anywhere,” which deals with movies you must watch again and again, to the point of delaying better activities if said film is encountered unexpectedly, such as on basic cable. For Zombiepalooza, it seems like a great time to write one up for my favorite zombie movie of all time. As a bit of a formality, SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW…

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You’ve Got Red on You: How Modern Life Parallels Shaun of the Dead

Have you ever taken a look at your life when you’re in the middle of a workday? Most of the time we shuffle along in our daily routines, blindly pursuing the next waypoint in an ever-repeating loop. Get up earlier than you’d really care to, so you can get on the road with enough spare time to sit in slow traffic, all for the pleasure of spending the next 8-10 hours in whatever corporate-funded cell you’re required to occupy. Head home in same slow traffic, feel vaguely guilty for not doing more constructive things with the few free hours you have left in the day before getting to bed too late to feel good in the morning when you have to get up earlier than you’d really… Anyway, the point is that modern existence has become a series of urgent but stumbling steps toward the next poorly defined goal, in a constant fog of distraction and ennui.

This is why, when watching Shaun of the Dead, you must watch very closely to determine exactly when the world has fallen apart around the titular hero.

The plot of the film is a great twist on the zombie movie trope (sorry, I shouldn’t use the “zed-word”) in that it’s not so much a horror movie as it is a sentimental romantic comedy, which happens to be set during the zombie apocalypse. I’m not using this space to review the movie, nor to bore you with a synopsis (you’ve all seen it anyway). I will say that Pegg and Frost’s comedic timing together are nothing short of brilliant, and the film manages to convey the heavily emotional scenes of the final third with a sincerity I would never have expected after watching the first two thirds.

But back to ennui. The best and most obvious example can be found in two nearly identical tracking shots during the movie’s first 30 minutes or so. In the first, we see Shaun leaving his flat for his daily morning walk to the convenience store around the corner. We follow him across the narrow street, past a kid juggling a soccer ball, a man washing his car, a jogger, watch as he gives a panhandler a few coins, exchanges meaningless chitchat with the shop proprietor. This is simply what he’s done every day for as long as he can remember—he barely looks up.

Cut to the next day. He wakes up hung-over and newly Liz-less. He gets up, walks out his front door, and repeats the walk. He passes and even speaks to many of the same people, only now they’re all shambling undead. But Shaun is, in the most perfect example of the word I’ve ever seen in film, oblivious.

Over the course of the previous day, the clues were everywhere—weird TV news reports he flipped past without really seeing, the unexplained traffic accidents, the abnormally high number of people coughing in the bus. Shaun even catches some of these, like that old guy eating the pigeon in the park, but life distracts him from thinking about it long enough to make a real connection (in that case, deciding which rubber-stamp card to get on the flowers he’s finally remembered to get his mum). He’s constantly trudging along in his day, driving toward the little ill-defined goals that someone, seldom himself, has set for him, without really seeing the big picture. This is a nice little parallel to the zombie’s constant, shuffling pursuit of braaaaiiinnnns…except Shaun is driven by guilt at being a bad son and worse boyfriend.

Of course, a huge part of the inherent comedy of the film is this utter negligence of the crumbling of society around the chief characters. But it does point a big rotten finger at a society that has allowed itself to become so irrelevant that it would crumble without anyone noticing. You know, until someone points it out by trying to eat you in your back yard.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Zombiepalooza Giveaway & Freedom!


Freedom is a ghost story - but a decidedly different kind of one by Maria Rachel  Hooley.  She's also kind off to contribute THREE ebooks of her novel The River for a Zombiepalooza giveaway! More info about The River and how to enter follow after her story.

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The light bulb buzzes, flickers, and dies. Buzzes, flickers, and dies. The bathroom faucet drips--plink, plink, plink. The toilet won't shut off. It runs constantly. The kitchen is filled with dirty dishes piled with rotting food, a feast for the roaches. Dirty steak knives pile upon each other like metal pick-up sticks, and even in the faulty fluorescent lighting, the glare of blood on the serrated steel can't be ignored.

I wander from the kitchen toward the bedroom, but I won't go inside. Period. I haven't in the six months I've been trapped here. Since I was alive. From the doorway, I see the bed, and the same pillow--the one I bled out on. The stain covers most of the pillowcase and the pillow. But Shari argues with me, positive that it's her blood, not mine.

Who can tell? It's not like either of us see very well, only in the evenings when he leaves the lights on by accident because he's so coked up that he's only really here in the sense of body mass.

Right now he's not even here in that sense, but he'll be back, and he won't be alone. Last night I saw him fondling the braided strand of my hair he keeps and tuck it under the blood-stained pillow. Then he grabbed the strand he'd kept from Shari and put it next to mine.

Someone else's lucky night.

A key turns in the lock, telling us he has returned. As the door swings wide, I see he is not alone, never alone, as another blonde with blue eyes who might have been mistaken for my sister staggers into the room. As he follows her, I compare his brutal size to her diminutive form, and know that her petite 5'2 frame stands no chance.

Her eyes glazed, steps uneven, she laughs so loudly that I can't believe the sound comes from someone so small. Her mouth, painted bright red, is smiling. Her body, barely contained in a Spandex tank top and denim miniskirt, advertises her charms. The room reeks of flowers as her perfume fills it, and I wonder how long that smell will linger against the backdrop of death.

Doesn't she smell that?

His hands are on her, all over her, and I shudder, remembering what his fingers felt like. There are some things which transcend flesh.

"We have to do something, Kyla," Shari whispers. In the half-light I see her eyes, luminous, large. "He's going to kill her in a minute."

The woman draws back and looks around the room. "Did you hear that?"

He shakes his head. "No." Then he goes back to kissing her, his body pressing against hers hard, herding her toward the bedroom. 

Shari and I rush toward the kitchen, toward the bloody pick-up sticks on the counter. I reach for one, and she reaches for another, but our hands barely move the blades. "What are we going to do?" she asks, frantically looking over her shoulder toward the living room.

Has he taken her into the bedroom yet?

"Let's both try together." I squint at the pile and settle for the big butcher's knife on bottom. Pinching the bloodied steel between my forefinger and thumb, I wait for Shari to wrap her fingers around the hilt and hope we have enough of whatever we need to move it.

"On three," I whisper.

Together we count. One….two….three. The feel of gravity is overwhelming, and I've never lifted anything so heavy. I can tell by Shari's face, she's faring no better, but neither of us give up. A knife atop the pile shakes and falls to the counter. Then another.

I hear footsteps. He's coming. At first I think he's heard our noise, but then I see, he, too, has come for a blade. With careless ease, he scatters the knives from the precarious pile; half of them clang into the sink, a third falls to the floor, and the others spill across the counter. His hand darts out and snatches the long blade next to the butcher's knife. Holding it against the kitchen light, I see dried blood on the serrated edge. Was it my blood or Shari's?

Both of us step back, as though the knife wards us with promises of future pain. It does not matter we are beyond that. I will never forget the face of the man who killed me and how it shifted from normal to something surreal and demonic. I saw it in the eyes first, how they seemed so friendly only to narrow to angry slits. I lay on the bed, already half-naked from his coaxing. He held a knife in his hand. I raised my arms, trying to deflect it, but flesh is no match for steel.

Shivering, I force myself back to the present where he whirls around, heading to the living room, back to his latest victim. We look at the swinging door, its volley back and forth slowly diminishing.

"He's going to kill her! We have to try again," I whisper, reaching for the knife. In the weak light, I see Shari's fingers wrap around the hilt, joining mine again in trying to life the knife. Although the rest of the blades now lay scattered from his touch, the knife still seems so heavy. I narrow my eyes to slits, concentrating.

The blade slowly lifts. Shari and I look at each other in astonishment. For six months we've been trying to move things, but perhaps they were the wrong things, like outer doors and windows, ways to escape a place we weren't meant to escape, at least not while he still lived. 

"What now?" Shari asks, her gaze flickering from my face to the door which has almost stopped swishing back and forth.

"We can't use it, but she can!" I whisper, knowing that even if we tried to stab the psychopath, even together wouldn't be strong enough to steady the blade. It would take 50 ghosts' strength or lots of practice. Either way, we didn't have what we needed.

Together we hurry through the swishing doors toward the bedroom when the first scream hits, stopping us cold. We drop the knife from the sound of her terror.

I lean over and Shari follows my lead. This time picking up the knife comes easier. More screams. We run through the livingroom. At the bedroom doorway, we see him straddling her mid-section. Both of his arms are high above his head, his white-knuckled hands gripping the serrated blade already baptized with her blood. It drips onto her chest beside the spot where a hole gapes like a small volcano, the tissue shredded from the knife's coming and going.

"I…I can't go in there," Shari cries, her feet so still as if bolted to the floor. Although she still half carries the blade, the way her fingers loosely hold it like bent tweezer prongs which don't quite meet, I don't know how much longer she'll be able to help. 

"We have to! He's going to kill her."

Shari must have held on better than I thought because as I pull the knife into the bedroom, she stumbles with it, unwilling to let go.

The woman sobs, her badly cut left palm open as her arm lay just a few inches from me. Although I try not to look at him, I see his heinous face--the long oval shape of doughy flesh, ruddy and pocked as though time itself lived in his skin. His midnight eyes are half-closed in sexual reverie.

I set the knife into her hand and close her fingers around it. Her eyes widen at the sight of the knife, and had I not been holding her fingers, the trembling alone might tip the blade to the floor. Nudging her arm, I start a swing, a furious arc ending with the knife rising toward his chest and burying itself hilt-deep in his heart.

His arms fall to his side, the knife he'd held toppling to the floor. With unfocused eyes he looks at the wooden grip of the knife. He blinks once, twice, then this irises remained sightlessly open, trained on something else as his body pitches toward his intended victim. 

Screaming, she shoves him toward the floor. Once he falls clear of her, she crawls from the bed halfway around the room to avoid him before struggling to her feet and half dragging herself out of the apartment.

Shari and I look at each other and then at the body. Without taking our gazes off him, we back away, edging toward the door she'd left open in her desperate flight. The carpet is streaked with her blood and we follow the trail to the open door a scant few inches from freedom.

The door, as if spooked by a sudden breeze, slowly closes. "No!" I whispered, rushing toward it, my body already in the half-shadowed doorway before I see the subtle nuance of black against the light. From that darkness I feel hands wrap around my throat.

"Welcome to Hell," he whispers. From behind me, Shari screams. We've taken his flesh but not his evil. Flesh gives him limits. We've given him freedom. 
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BIO


Maria Rachel Hooley has written over 20 novels, including When Angels Cry, New Life Incorporated, and October Breezes. Her poetry has been published in more than 80 national literary magazines. Some of her short fiction has been published in Nocturnal Ooze and Combat Magazine. Her non-fiction has been featured in Red River Family and Byline magazine. Her first chapbook of poetry was published by Rose Rock Press in 1999. When she isn't teaching English to high school and college students, she is working on her next book. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and three children. As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, she is also an advocate for education about autism.

For more information on Maria, please visit: www.mariarachelhooley.com





The River
Diana Newport nearly drowns and finds herself on the razor's edge between life and death. When she returns to the land of the living, she is terrorized with nightmares and visions about Ronald Truman, an executed serial killer who slaughtered and raped twenty-five women and children, strangling them with barbed wire. When the visions begin to come true, Diana realizes that Truman is back and only she can stop him from resuming his killing spree, if she doesn't become one of his victims.


The giveaway for an ebook of The River  has the same rules as the other Zombiepalooza giveaways -

1. To enter to win, comment on this blog, leaving an email address to contact you in case you win.

2. The giveaway runs from now until October 28th at midnight. On October 29th, three winners will be chosen by random.org and contacted. They have 72 hours to reply before the prize defaults to the runner-up.

3. Only one entry per giveaway. (But you can enter as many different Zombiepalooza giveaways as you want.)

4. US only. Sorry to our international friends. :(

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Until Death Do Us Part

Our short story today comes from David Michael, author of Nostalgia. If you enjoy this story, be sure to check out his site: www.gunsandmagic.com.
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Ross's memory was fine, and his eyesight and hearing were still in working order, at least on the right side. It was his sleeping that the long years had robbed him of. He used to be able to fool himself and lay abed for the recommended eight hours even if he wasn't so much sleeping as zoning out, meditating on the back of his eye lids while Marjorie puttered about the house in her morning rituals. Now, though, he didn't have the patience. When the sun came up, when Marjorie started her morning ritual--especially when Marjorie started her morning ritual--he couldn't even pretend to sleep.

How many years could one person do the same thing over and over? The dusting was the part that Ross most couldn't understand. From one day to the next, dust didn't have time to accumulate, Ross figured. But what Ross could or couldn't understand or figure out was of no nevermind to Marjorie. She would keep on doing her morning rituals until ... forever, Ross guessed.

Or near enough to forever. How many years had they been married now? What came after the so-called Golden Anniversary? Diamond? Or just petrification?

Ross certainly felt petrified as the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon and through the parted curtains and poked him in the eye.

Parting the curtains of the bedroom window was always the first part of Marjorie's morning ritual. She got up, stretched with a creaking of tendons and a cracking of bones that was at once awesome and frightening to witness--and had been startling Ross awake since their first morning spent together--and then went to east window and pulled the curtains back with the matching sashes. Both curtains and matching sashes were faded and wearing thin--just like the two old people behind them, and like just about everything else in their little house--but Marjorie liked the material and the print and she refused to get new curtains until she could replace them exactly. Already the difference between the curtains drawn and the curtains parted was getting hard to determine.

The morning sunshine--and the dust put in the air by Marjorie's morning diligence and worn-out feather duster--irritated Ross's nose. He sneezed, causing Marjorie to oops! and say, as she said every time he sneezed, "Bless you."

As he did every time she said that, he looked at her and said, "Hang your blessing, woman. Stop dusting me."

Marjorie's thin face took on that hurt look she had perfected over the years, her thin lips pressed together until they almost disappeared, her eyes widening and the tip of her nose trembling as if she might start crying. Then she hmmph-ed and turned her back on him and continued dusting, sending a million shiny motes spinning in the direct sunlight.

Ross rolled out of the bed and stood up. He stretched, creating a few satisfying pops of his own. Marjorie still faced away from him. He put a thin hand on her thinner shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm always grumpy in the morning."

She turned around, letting his hand stay on her shoulder. "You're just always grumpy." Then she went up on tiptoe and pecked him on the right cheek. Her lips were dry and scratchy, just like they had been for ... how long? Too long. So he got revenge the way he always did, by kissing her on the forehead with his own dry, scratchy lips.

Marjorie pulled away from him, a tired and faded playfulness in her expression. "Get on with you. I have to finish my dusting."

Long ago, he would have given chase. Now, though, his gaze fell, as it always did, to her left hand, which she kept wrapped in a scarf and pressed to her stomach. As old and as far gone as they both were, he wondered at the vanity that made her hide her hand. He had given up trying to convince her that no one cared. He certainly didn't. He actually wanted to see her hand, which she found revolting, and she didn't care that she could still use the hand. She kept it wrapped in the same scarf, day after day. That argument he always lost. Like so many of the arguments they had had over the years. Not that he actually lost so many of them, he told himself--and had told his dwindling number of friends over the years--he didn't lose arguments so much as he had learned that winning arguments wasn't all that useful in the long run. And their marriage had certainly proved to be a long run.

He left her in the bedroom and went looking for breakfast.

The kitchen was spotless, as it was every morning. Not a pan in the sink, not a plate out of place.

And, as usual, no breakfast.

That was one thing that had changed. She used to make him breakfast every morning. Even on the mornings he got up late and she had to tsk-tsk him about how retiring hadn't meant he didn't have work to do. But then, just like Marjorie could no longer find the material to replace her favorite curtains, what he wanted to eat just wasn't available any longer. He couldn't muster any interest in the food she cooked for him. He would just sit at the table, look at the steaming piles of food she had cooked, never taking a bite until she took the plate away and scraped it into the trash. Eventually, she stopped making breakfast for him. He didn't blame her.

So, as he had every morning for--how long? way too many--years now, he went and sat on his favorite chair on the front porch and watched the drones heading to work, reveling in the last bit of entertainment his retirement left him.

The drab men and women in their threadbare work clothes walked mechanically along the road, stepping around the rusting hulks of the old cars on their way work. Some of them saw him step out of his front door and looked up. But, as always happened, their interest faded in an instant, and they continued along their way. None of them so much as waved in greeting.

Ross took some satisfaction that everything had gone to hell after he had retired. Otherwise, that would be him out there, slogging along to a job he hated, probably walking miles that used to seem so short but now stretched into eternity. If he got to work during daylight hours, he would be sitting in a cramped cubicle, staring at a dark monitor until the sun went down. Then he would get up, and walk back home. And when he got home, he would wait until the sun rose to do it all over again.

After a few hours, her morning ritual completed, Marjorie came and sat down beside him. That she sat on his left now was also a change from how things used to be, but she didn't want him to hold her left hand. Only her right hand.

So they sat there, holding hands, watching the damned, some of them with kids in tow on their way to days at school as dismal as those of their parents at work.

Ross found himself looking down at Marjorie's left hand, still wrapped, resting in her lap. After he got over the initial horror of what he had done to her, and their lives had returned to a semblance of their old routine, Ross had found the sight of the bare bones of her left hand oddly fascinating. That, as much as simple vanity, he figured, was why she kept it covered. Her skeletal hand was the only time in their many years together that there had ever been any violence.

She didn't blame him, and she had shushed all his apologies. She figured she had made him pay sufficiently by flattening the left side of his head with her favorite iron skillet and locking him in the garage until she had died of the festering wound he had torn with his teeth--he still remembered the sweet, sweet taste of her flesh--and then awoken hungry just like him. When she let him out of the garage, they had first looked at each other as if to find the best place to attack with their teeth, then they had hugged each other as tight as they had ever had. Since neither one wanted to eat the other any more, they made up.

And then they had gone out to look for dinner together. Along with the Pulvers next door--Hank Pulver with half of his face missing--they had searched every house in the neighborhood, finally finding that repulsive little punk Bobby Jackson--Bobby had more than once thought it the height of humor to throw rolls of toilet paper over and into Ross's hedges and trees--and cornering him in an interior bathroom. Ross remembered wishing he had thought of this particular revenge years before, when Bobby would have been even more tender and tasty.

Those had been happy days, when there were still living people to find and eat. But then the last of the living had been devoured or had died of their wounds and come back as undead.

After a only few more months of chaos, life--or un-life, Ross thought--had gone back to normal. In a manner of speaking.

At least he and his good wife had retired before it all went to hell. Because his own little corner of hell wasn't that bad, since he owned his house and had Marjorie with him. It was too bad about the grandkids. He missed them sometimes.

The two of them sat and watched the drones trudging by until long after the sun went down.
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Inspired by this painting by my brother, Don Michael, Jr: