#11: Zombies in the rough
Greetings, zombie slayers,
I just got back home from my annual end-of-summer boys' camping trip. Every year, I head off into the wilderness with some old friends from high school, so we can spend three days drinking beer around a campfire while we speculate about our odds of getting rained out, and argue over which one of us looks the oldest. We did get rained out quite a bit on our last day, but it was all good. One of my friends has way more grey hair than I do, which in my book means the camping trip was a tremendous success.
When we head out for our camping trip, we usually opt for wilder settings. We want to be somewhere where we're completely disconnected from civilized conveniences like flushing toilets, electricity, and social media updates about the fight to liberate Britney Spears. In my book, you're not really roughing it if you're still strolling through an online GIF database to find the perfect Simon Cowell reaction shot.
Same goes for toilets. There's no better way to get closer to nature than by dropping trou and squatting in the bush, one arm wrapped around a tree trunk, fully alert to the possibility of a skunk, moose or wayward hiker interrupting your rustic constitutional.
When I'm camping solo (i.e. without my family in tow), I use my hammock rather than a tent. My camping hammock setup is pretty sweet. It's probably comparable to some sort of modest-sized Japanese hotel room, in terms of size and features. I've put a lot of thought into my rig. I have a fully self-contained, eleven-foot asymmetrical hammock with zippered noseeum bug net, a topcover, a built-in gear shelf, a full-length underquilt, a down topquilt, a separate gear hammock, a full-body wind sock, and an ultralight tarp strung up to cover most of my rig. With my side table, LED lighting and easy-to-reach pee bottle (which is conspicuously different from my water bottle because at 3am, I'm basically a blind moron), I have almost everything I need at hand. It's basically the outdoorsy version of a sensory deprivation chamber. It also makes me look like I'm being slowly digested by some sort of fat, prehistoric tree snake.
Sure, a bear would probably see me wiggling inside my hammock and think: "Awesome! I've always wanted to eat a man burrito!", but whatever. I sleep so soundly in there I probably won't feel him digging his teeth into me until he's on his third disappointed chomp.
Whenever I go camping, I always think of that chapter in World War Z (the book, not the movie) where hundreds of families evacuate the cities and settle in a campsite to escape the zombie apocalypse. If you've read the book, you know how that all turns out. But I still wonder if it would be a viable course of action. If my family and I packed up all of my camping gear and drove off to a remote National Park somewhere to escape the zombies, would we make it? Maybe all of us campers would team up, work together and set up a tight, deadly perimeter of Rambo-like forest warfare. Zombies would drop left, right and center, defeated by skillfully aimed marshmallow skewers to the brain.
Maybe, just maybe, our small, communal wilderness enclave would stay safe from the hordes of the dead as they devastate the cities and gobble up scores of hapless millennials midway through their tweets about the apocalypse, and about how super annoying it is that now they have to start saying YOLT instead of YOLO. #thestruggleisreal
Sounds good on paper, but I think my family would last about four days. And that's being optimistic.
Don't get me wrong. My wife loves the outdoors, hiking, swimming, all that kind of stuff. But sleeping in a tent? Forget about it. She enjoys camping about as much as I enjoy cleaning out the backyard compost bin, using a public pool's bathroom while barefoot, or riding my mountain bike down a very, very bumpy trail, except without a bike seat.
In other words, she's REALLY not into camping.
So no, camping isn't a valid post-apocalyptic option for my little clan. A few days laying on an inflatable mattress, pooping in a spider-filled outhouse and eating pickled beef tongues and instant oatmeal, and my wife would high-tail it over to the nearest abandoned Best Western faster than you can say Kumbaya. A crowd of mangled, walking undead tourists and shambling, bitey bellhops wouldn't be enough to keep her away, even if housekeeping and room service were temporarily unavailable on account of... you know. Murder zombies and stuff.
My wife may not be all that interested in tactical hand-to-hand combat, but come the apocalypse, I definitely wouldn't stand between her and a clean sink.
Not to mention my kids. They love camping, like most kids do. But most of their love for camping comes from their naïve perception that there are very few rules while camping, except maybe for the obvious ones, like don't eat flaming marshmallows, and please refrain from venting your sleeping bag farts. Camping in a zombie apocalypse would have so many rules, though. Right? No swimming. No hiking. No yelling. No poking stray corpses with a sharp, pointy stick to see what'll happen. Combine these rules with the complete absence of Wi-Fi, TV and Minecraft, and my kids would be ticking time bombs of post-apocalyptic boredom tantrums. Zombies would hear their wails from miles away.
What about you? Do you ever go camping? Do you think heading off into the wilderness might work for you during a zombie apocalypse?
If you ever felt like combining a fun, friendly camping trip with a gritty, tactical zombie survival experience (because who wouldn't, right?), there's an actual zombie apocalypse survival camp out of Canada that seems like it'd be a ton of fun. Although the pandemic seems to have halted their activities for now, it's definitely worth checking out as a future possibility. Personally, I really hope to attend their weekend camp-out one of these days.
In other news, I finally have a new vehicle to replace my rusty, miserable truck which died a few months ago. I picked up a gently used 2013 Honda Pilot 4WD from a dealership, which is much bigger than our other car, a boxy little 2008 Scion xB. This means that when my family and I head out of town for the weekend, I won't have to ask my six-year-old to keep a watermelon on her lap for two hours, pre-dress my ten-year-old with all of his clothes for the entire weekend, and experiment with twenty-seven different Tetris-like trunk packing configurations before settling on the optimal placement of my family's belongings.
It also means we finally have enough space for an extra passenger... probably of the four-legged variety!
That's right. Our leopard gecko Spark and our African dwarf frog Jumbo may have to step down a rung on the family pet tree. We're officially on a waitlist with a small family breeder to get a puppy in the spring or summer of 2022. After considering lots of different breeds, we went with a Sheepadoodle, which kind of sounds like a party game where people have to mimick embarrassing animal sounds to win. Instead, it's a crossbreed between an Old English Sheepdog and a Poodle, except then it's crossbred again with a smaller poodle, to make some sort of ridiculously endearing hybrid Frankenpuppy dog smoothie that's somewhere in the medium-sized, 25-45 pound range. Big enough that I won't accidentally crush him with my size 13 feet, but small enough that I can still pick him up without throwing out my back and warbling like an irritated donkey.
I've also heard that dog size directly correlates to dog food spending and consequential dog poop volume, so there's that. As much as I love giant dogs like English Mastiffs and Great Danes, I really don't want to be outperformed in the eating-slash-daily waste production department. That's how fragile my ego is. My Mom always told me to take pride in my strengths, no matter how basic they may be. Aside from my skills at stringing up a hammock and my ability to write monthly sprawling nonsense, my bowel regularity is one of the very few qualities I can legitimately lay claim to. So a medium dog it is. He'll be way easier on the eyes than I am, will run faster than me, and earn way more attention from my kids than I could ever hope to (unless I'm holding a bucket of ice cream), but at least I'll get to keep gloating about the prolific septic processing plant that is my ageing body.
This is what a Sheepadoodle looks like. Could they take down a zombie and defend their family in a bleak, brutal, post-apocalyptic landscape? Doubtful. Being this adorable comes with compromises, so I doubt there's a ferocious killer buried under all of that fuzzy cuteness. At least he/she will be warm and cuddly to snuggle up to if we end up sheltering in a cold, wet shipping container for a few weeks while we wait for the zombies to tire of banging on the walls and move on to less emaciated prey.
Anyway, a few months from now, my newsletter will probably feature lots of puppy content mixed in with the zombie stuff. Given the slobber, the biting and the nighttime howling that comes with raising a puppy, it likely won't read all that different from my regular zombie apocalypse material.
ZOMBIE MOVIES AND TV
The new (and last) season of The Walking Dead is happening right now, and I'm really enjoying it to date. Are you all caught up? Don't worry, I won't give you any spoilers, but it's looking like this will be a very exciting season. There are definitely plenty of parallels between the show's last season and the final run of TWD comic books, but there's so much that's different, so I'm not banking on the outcome of the TV show being close to the print version. Either way, I'm down.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 7 also premieres in about a month. You can watch the trailer by clicking the link below. Nuclear zombies? Bring it.
If you don't watch TWD, but you'd still like a big heaping wallop of zombie screen time to treat yourself to, check this out. I found out about this link a few weeks; there are hours and hours of free zombie movies to indulge in (lots of other movies too). The link below takes you directly to TubiTV's collection of free zombie movies to stream, which is totally astounding. Enjoy!
It's crazy busy right now, with me juggling three separate writing projects simultaneously. Exciting stuff for sure, but I'm definitely looking forward to reaching a point where I've only got one thing to work on at any given moment. Balancing writing life with a busy family life is already challenging, but multitasking different writing gigs makes everything more complicated. I'm hoping that 2022 will be a LOT more streamlined once Zillionaire and Better Dead than Red are officially published, along with one more short story set in the same universe, which I'm also planning on sending you all for free. Then, there should be nothing more than Zombie Vale 1, 2 and 3 to keep my fingers busy!
I've actually got a modest TV writing gig I need to wrap up right now; I was hired by a production company to adapt a very cool apocalyptic novel written by another author into a TV presentation package, hopefully to develop it as a mini-series. The writing part won't be too labor intensive, but I needed to dedicate quite a bit of time to read the novel, which was massive and complex. I can't share which book this is yet, but if it ever goes into further development at some point, I really hope I'll get to share the news with you!
I'm also doing a round of heavy editing on Zillionaire: Zombie Apocalypse Survival for the Rich & Famous right now, based on some thorough feedback we received from our developmental editor. He's somebody who specializes in novelty/gift books, and he gave my co-author and I so much useful advice towards turning this book into a fantastic final product. A lot of what we're doing now is streamlining, cutting excess content, laying out the book with lots of extra visual elements, and preparing a standalone free ebook of extra content for people who want to dive deeper into the quirky subject matter. It's a very, very time intensive process, but I can't wait until we're done and can finally get this strange, eclectic zombie book out there.
Finally, I'm also still editing Better Dead than Red; it goes off to my editor at the end of September. Slowly but surely, I'm getting closer to the finish line on this surprise story, which you'll be able to get for free once it's ready. It's taking quite a bit longer than I had hoped for, but then again, at first I thought this would only be a 1,500 chapter to open another book. Somehow it ended up as a 42,000 word standalone novel, which is kind of what also happened with Dom of the Dead. I'm glad I don't make babies like I write stories. If so, I'd probably have two unexpected pairs of conjoined sextuplets right now, and maybe my own reality TV show.
In the meantime, I wanted to give you all a little teaser of what's to come. At the end of this entry, you can read the prologue to Better Dead than Red, the very first chapter that opens up my next story.
I've mentioned this before, but I'm a HUGE fan of author Jonathan Maberry's books - specifically, his YA zombie books in his greater Rot & Ruin universe. It's a fantastic, totally engrossing series, with characters and settings that really suck you in, taking you to a world that's hard to emerge from. I just finished reading Jonathan Maberry's latest books in the series, Broken Lands (Book Six), and I'm about to start Lost Roads (Book Seven). I absolutely recommend these books. I can't find anything bad to say about them.
To make things even better, Maberry has managed to pull something off which most authors can only dream of. He writes in multiple genres, which is a feat in itself. His Joe Ledger series, which has about 14 books so far, is an immensely popular adult action/techno-thriller special ops series that's more in line with Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, with a hint of Michael Crichton. But the first book of that series - Patient Zero - actually features zombies in the mix. Even better, Maberry's Rot & Ruin series is set in the future of his Joe Ledger books - and there are so many satisfying crossovers in there that even the nerdiest zombie reader would jump for joy.
This is a brilliant move by Maberry, because readers often stick to one genre. But by doing so, the author has made it so that his readers will want to hop on over and discover his other series of books. And it's absolutely worth it. His stories are hard to put down. If you haven't already, I suggest you take a look at the Rot & Ruin collection, then move on to Patient Zero, the first of the Joe Ledger series. And if you've already dug into those books but haven't started Maberry's latest generation of zombie books, definitely try out Broken Lands, and go back to rediscover one of the greatest post-apocalyptic zombie worlds ever created!
OTHER AUTHORS TO CHECK OUT
A mysterious house, a lake shrouded in secrets, and a malicious spirit on the hunt…
When Rachel arrives at the dilapidated Bridge Manor, she knew something was wrong. The run-down house and its eerie, ominous-looking lake gave her the creeps – no matter how much her parents tried to convince her it only needed repairs and a fresh coat of paint.
As Rachel struggles to recover after her coma and rekindle her bond with her family, she begins to befriend their distrustful neighbors… and she discovers the harrowing story behind the manor and its lake. A ghost haunts these cold waters – one that wants her dead.
Entangled in a web of malicious spirits and horrifying happenings, Rachel must use all of her wits and bravery to rescue herself, her brother, and her parents before they fall prey to the spirits haunting the lake.
Can Rachel manage to convince her family that the stories behind Bridge Manor are true? Or will the Lady of the Lake claim her next victims?
Artfully blending a ghost story with a dash of horror and suspense, The Lake Has Eyes is a chilling and memorable tale that is perfect for fans of all things paranormal.
FREE BOOK PROMOS
That's it, folks. Thanks so much for reading, and remember to scroll down for a sneak peek at Better Dead Than Red! I'll see you again next month.
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BETTER DEAD THAN RED
A primal screech erupted from the massive fire; ragged and hateful, it tore into the night.
Solomon squinted his eyes and peered into the flames, blinking away the dry heat. He thought he spotted some movement, right at the edge of the bonfire. A hand, still moving, blackened fingers twitching and scratching as they burned.
A late activation. A glitch.
It didn't matter, not much. Principium was tricky that way. Sometimes, activation was delayed. Blood type was a factor. Genetics, medication, a few other variables could also come into play. But the end result was always the same. Still, the queasiness swam through him again, as it usually did after a purge.
Two of the soldiers standing guard at the hem of the jungle stepped forward, their rifles trained on the bonfire, searching the flames for movement. Just in case. But nothing would come out of there, Solomon knew. The heat was too intense. Another hour, and all that would be left would be a wide, chunky blanket of pale gray ash. Within a day or two, the sand, the wind and the ocean would drink up any evidence remaining from the mass cremation.
The screech died off, confirming his thoughts. He took a step back and swallowed, but his mouth was too dry, his throat too tight.
"Is everything alright, Doctor?" Kojima asked from beside him, her soft voice interrupting his thoughts.
Solomon ran a hand through his thin hair, not meeting his assistant's gaze. "I'm fine," he croaked.
Kojima persisted. "Are you sure? You seem a little... ill."
Solomon suppressed the urge to retch as the harsh, oily smell of the burning bodies reached his nostrils. The sickly sweet stench of human flesh roasting in the fire wafted right at him where he stood on the deserted beach. He gagged and clenched his jaw shut, fighting a wave of nausea. It was a struggle, but he kept his eyes trained on the bonfire. It wouldn't do for the others to see him averting his eyes, to witness his disgust. He was in charge of the Golgotha team. Self-doubt wouldn't be tolerated.
He spun and glared at Kojima. Her young, dark eyes were searching his face. There was concern in her expression, but it didn't seem entirely sympathetic.
"I said I was fine," he barked, louder now. "Indigestion, that's all." He stared her down until she lowered her eyes. Soon enough, she walked off, looking flustered.
Solomon swatted at the mosquitos darting in all around him, begging for blood. The loathsome little flies didn't appear even remotely put off by the nearby thick, black smoke as it rose into the evening air, swirling into a dark purple haze, blurring the setting sun.
Logs doused in gasoline snapped and popped amongst the blazing corpses. Even from this distance, Solomon could make out glimpses of the charred faces and ravaged bodies, blackening and powdering like charcoal through the fierce orange flames.
Solomon tried to swallow, but couldn't. It was an ugly, horrifying sight. Inhuman, in every sense of the word. Some might even call it evil. But the ghastly, hellish vision was also a promise.
Vindication was on the horizon. A trial by fire which would bring about the long-awaited salvation they were all desperately hoping for.
The results today had been less than stellar, but there had been some important improvements compared to last time. They were getting closer, of that he was certain. Of the twelve subjects, five had been tagged with Principium. Three of the five hadn't activated, which had been a bitter pill to swallow. Still, two lone taggers had been enough to complete the simulation, even if it had taken a little longer than expected.
Solomon reviewed the latest data in his mind as he watched the bodies burn. All seven placebos had been re-tagged in minutes, although several had put up a fight. One woman, a twenty-something wretch from Houston, she had managed to scurry up a tree, almost like a monkey. Her panic-fuelled agility had been remarkable at first. But her grip had failed her, and she'd fallen into the eager arms of her transformed companions.
Solomon wished the woman had hit a branch and knocked herself unconscious on the way down from the tree. But she hadn't been so lucky.
It had been horribly gruesome, even if witnessed through a monitor. The taggers had swarmed in like locusts, seething, teeming over her. They had literally torn the woman apart, making off with one of her frail arms while she lay there, still conscious, squirming and screaming in the dirt. Begging for help, as they always do. Calling for her mother, almost as if she were a child.
The sounds of twitching, scuttling bodies, fighting in the dirt. Growls, moans of hunger. Clattering jaws. Wet flesh, tearing. The snap of bones, crunching and grinding.
He could still hear the woman's disembodied, ghostly shrieks of agony, almost as if she were still here, still alive, her cries merging with the fire, fizzing and popping amongst the dancing flames.
The drones had seen it all, heard it all. And so had he.
Eventually, the tagged subjects had silenced her. They had shredded her face, throat and torso with their eager, twitching fingers and their voracious teeth.
As expected, she had activated moments later, and what remained of her body had dragged itself off to rejoin the others.
Neither of the original taggers had been disabled, despite sustaining multiple grievous injuries. They were simply too fast for the others to handle, hurtling themselves from one person to another, snapping and dashing like rabid wolves. And moments later, all the control subjects had also activated. The secondaries had been a little wonkier than the original taggers, much slower on the uptake than their progenitors. Their response to the frequency was more erratic than Solomon would have liked. Still, they'd remained online throughout the test, receiving and transmitting with minimal glitches.
This latest generation of Principium was definitely more potent than the last one. They were averaging a hundred and thirty-two seconds before secondary activation, which was almost a three hundred percent improvement over the last version.
The other three, though, zilch. No response to activation.
That was a problem, and it needed to be solved. Urgently. The old man wouldn't accept anything less than precise, predictable results. If Solomon didn't fix this issue soon, if the ongoing test results didn't pan out as per his grandiose promises, the old man might send Greumach to pay him a visit.
And that would be bad. Very, very bad.
The three misfires, they had run away. Solomon couldn't blame them, given the horrific bloodbath they had just witnessed. Panicked, they'd dashed into the jungle. Even worse, they had split off, all three in different directions. The taggers had mostly ignored them at first, but by the time all the other placebos had activated, the pack had picked up the scent. And they'd gone after them, just like bloodhounds.
Two had been tracked down quickly, within a half hour. Bitten, then activated. At eighty percent velocity, there was no way they could hope to evade the taggers for long. Their speed was fierce, manic and inexhaustible.
The third one though, that young, homeless woman from Boston... she'd gotten lucky. She'd made it all the way to the complex somehow, all the way across the island. Always staying ahead of the other eleven. Her determination had been impressive. But it didn't matter. The security detail had intercepted her just as she prowled across the courtyard, having almost made it to the front door.
She never even had a chance to ask them why this was happening. They shot her where she stood, no questions asked.
"Sir, the call just came in," a deep, heavily accented voice said from behind. Solomon turned and raised an eyebrow at Barnard. The tall, burly operator stood in the sand, his fatigues impeccably clean as always, a handheld radio in his hand.
"They're ready for you at the facility," Barnard said, impassive. "They said you should come right away."
Solomon looked at his watch, his nostrils tightening. They were earlier than usual. Greumach must be really putting the squeeze on them. Either that or there was something unusual to look forward to. Another glitch, maybe.
"Very good. Let's go, then," he snapped.
Solomon eagerly turned away from the fire, feeling the soft crunch of the sand underneath his loafers. Hopefully, there would be no surprises, no unusual results from the test. Timing was everything now. He headed back towards the helicopter at a quick pace, trailed by Barnard, sullen and silent.
He had to get back to the lab. He would have to supervise the Boston subject's craniotomy while she was still fresh. The other two misfires would undergo full autopsies also, to measure Principium's post-mortum decay. None of it would be pleasant, but it had to be done. The surgical team would already be scrubbing up by now.
Solomon's feet clanged on steel as he boarded the Blackhawk, residual sand scratching under his loafers. He sat on the bench, his eyes unfocused as the uniformed crew prepared for takeoff all around him.
The next dry run was scheduled for March. Only three weeks to go until the next naïve, miserable batch of test subjects arrived. He had so much work to do to get ready to deploy the next generation.
The clock was ticking. Their final deadline was getting closer every day. The old man wouldn't tolerate any further delays.
The next test... it had to be perfect.