Tag: zombies

Flash Fiction: Jersey City of the Dead

Courtesy http://www.milsurps.com/

200 Words At A Time, Part 3. Michael D Woods started it, linderan continued it, and I’m giving it a title.


“Casey’s Jersey City crew got careless,” Says Bossman. “Zombies flooded three sites. Two held them back but we blew the third. Horde made it up four flights and we couldn’t risk it. All told, probably lost fifty people.”

Bossman looks at me, gin blossoms reddening. The skin around his eyes draws tight, his hands, resting on the desk between us, clench, unclench. “Go find Casey. You ask him how he nearly lost three buildings. Then, once he answers, you make certain it doesn’t happen again.”

“Yes, sir,” I say.

Boss nods, quick, but the tears never leave his eyes. I turn and make for the stairs. How do I make fifty deaths count for something? These weren’t soldiers or made-men. These were men, women, and children, each under the protection of the Poverelli family. Fifty dead. And I gotta go make it fifty-one.

Name’s Blaylock, but everybody calls me Block. The name suits me. I’m muscle for the Family. It’s my job to make sure none of these mooks foul up and let the dead run riot over our rooftop paradise.

Here, it ain’t the zombies on the streets you gotta worry about. It’s the guy beside ya still breathing.

—–

I only knock once ’cause I’m a little pissed. I’m standing just outside the door to Casey’s office, gun in hand. Behind me there’s a little crowd of civilians gathering. They’re all lookin’ mean at me—probably because they’re a little fed up with the administration at this point. They’re all quiet-like though, ’cause I was sent by Bossman himself and they knowed it.

It took a while to get to Casey’s place, what with the big, still smoking ruins of the building he lost in the way. Before the screw-up I coulda walked straight over. The buildings had been like a row of teeth, albeit crooked and rotting. But, one of ’em had got knocked out, so I had to schlep it ‘cross the gap on the ground, which was dangerous.

That was a stressful trip. I am stressed.

So, I only knock once. Then I open the door, see Casey still getting’ outa his chair, and say to him, “Casey.”

“I… I can explain,” he says, but his face says he can’t, so I shoot him before he can bullshit me. His head pops like a soda can that somebody shook up and dropped.

I turn around and hear one of the civvies, actually a soldier I guess, since he’s pointing a gun at me, say, “We’re sick of the Family’s shit.”

I see that they’re all pointing guns at me and frown. I musta underestimated how angry they was.

—–

Here’s the thing about Jersey City that some folks forget.

Jersey City folks, they’re used to some gunfire ruining a nice, quiet evening.

Jersey City zombies, well, they ain’t so kind.

There’s a reason my gun’s got a silencer. It’s not that whisper-quiet pchew, pchew bullshit you’d get in the movies, but it’s a damn sight more quiet than, say, a bunch of pissed-off civvies with poorly-maintained firearms.

I duck ’round the corner into Casey’s place when they start unloading. I ain’t gonna lie, being outgunned by just about anybody is pretty scary, and I’m a little scared as I hunker down behind Casey’s davenport. But I got two things going for me.

One, the mob’s more scared than I am, so they hesitate rather than rushing me.

Two, guns without silencers are loud as balls.

“Why don’t you come on out, Block?” It’s the soldier again. Gotta be the leader. “Stop hiding and face death like a man.”

I spot the fire escape outside of the bedroom window, a room and a half away. I’ll never make it with them watching.

Then the zombies start breaking down the door downstairs.

The civvies panic. I make a break for it.

Game Review: The Walking Dead

Here, take this. It’s my zombie card. I’m turning it in because as of this writing, I have never read the graphic novel The Walking Dead, nor have I tuned in for the television series. What I know of the series has been gathered from snippets of others’ conversations, posts on Tumblr, and good old-fashioned deductive reasoning. I know it’s a zombie cataclysm tale (‘apocalypse’ is an inappropriate word as it means ‘revelation’ and not ‘disaster’), there are only a handful of survivors, they squabble among themselves because homo homini lupus, and one of the survivors on the TV series played Murphy McManus from The Boondock Saints. So I downloaded the episodic video game of the same name developed by Telltale Games with only the barest knowledge of what I was in for.

Courtesy Telltale Games

Our story begins with Lee, a college professor, handcuffed in the back of a police car on the highway out of Atlanta. While the police scanner carries information regarding some sort of city-wide disturbance, the officer behind the wheel seems more interested in his own stories, and determining if Lee is, in fact, guilty of whatever he’s accused of. The car hits someone walking across the highway, and in the resulting crash, the police officer is killed. Lee struggles out of the car and with his cuffs before the police officer reaches for him, but more due to an appetite for brains than as a plea for help. It is only the first of many challenges Lee will face, and considering some of the choices that lay ahead, it may well be one of the easiest.

Once you get into the game, you will discover that you have stepped not into a shooter or even an RPG, but something far more reminiscent of games gone by. Playing this game reminded me of long nights of pixel-hunting in the likes of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle. Telltale has done episodic adventure games in the past, but many of them have seemed to be more whimsical fare, at least in presentation. The Walking Dead is quite earnest in its subject matter, its writing, and its characterization. There are going to be some characters you downright hate in this game, but they’re so well written and acted that even as you want to hit them, you can understand the motivations behind their unreasonableness for the most part.

Courtesy Telltale Games

But by far, the standout character is Clementine. Normally, child characters are either irritating to the point of losing all sympathy or become a huge burden to the adult characters through either their own ill-conceived actions or exploitation by others. Clementine, however, is different. At eight years old, she manages to survive outside her parents’ house and helps Lee when he arrives. She has a very solid sense of right and wrong, and some of Lee’s choices involve whether or not to tell her the truth. She will remember if you lie to her, as well; The Walking Dead does a great job of keeping track of choices Lee makes, big or small. It feels very natural to have characters reference things that happened two or three episodes ago as you go about trying to stay alive and sane in the wake of unchecked horror.

So the story is good and the characters top-notch; what about the gameplay? Well, that may be one of the biggest strikes against The Walking Dead. As a point-and-click adventure game, there isn’t a whole lot of actual game to be had. While some items can be small or hard to see even as you move your mouse all over the screen, none of the puzzles are terribly complex. What combat there is exists in a very simplified form, and while the occasional timed sequence does liven things up, hammering the Q key to escape the grip of a zombie is about the most complex thing you’ll do to fight the undead. Then again, there are plenty of games and mods out there if all you want to do is blow off zombie heads with a shotgun like you’re in Army of Darkness or something.

Courtesy Telltale Games
“I said, we’re closed!”

There are two modes of gameplay, one which gives you hints and tips as you play regarding where to click on items and what results will come of the choices you make, and one that keeps the UI as minimal as possible to maximize your immersion. As much as I preferred the second mode, as it yanked me into the story in an incredibly absorbing way, the first is good for those who are unfamiliar with adventure games or terrible at puzzles. With the hints on, the story is not held up by your hunt for the right battery or candy bar. Turn them off, and the atmosphere and tension increase significantly. As much as the straightforward design of the game could be seen as something of a flaw, the power of the narrative and the humanity of the characters is what stands out, and the game has the good sense not to get in its own way. The cell-shaded art style harkens to the graphic novel, while the character’s voices and the game’s episodic nature gives the TV show vibe. It’s the best of both worlds, and you get to put the boot into some zombies yourself rather than reading about or watching other people do it. I don’t see how this isn’t a win all around.

Stuff I Liked: The way characters’ prejudices and preconceptions come into play naturally, and are discussed with maturity. The natural flow of dialog. The environments that provide diversity and move the story along without feeling forced or out of place.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Occasionally characters moved with stiffness or unnaturalness, and I’m not talking about the Walkers. A bit more puzzle variety might have been nice. I hope your Q key is in good shape.
Stuff I Loved: Lee. Clementine. The subtle soundtrack. The way friendships were formed and tested. The very real handling of matters like food supplies, fuel, and human understanding in the face of the ongoing calamity. The moments that made me stop and think, or gasp in alarm, or well up.

Bottom Line: The Walking Dead wants to tell you a story. It wants to bring you into this vision of our world and show you what can happen when people are thrown together due to something beyond their control. It seeks to use zombies the way they’re most effective: not as target practice, but as a means to show humanity at its absolute worst and its undeniable best. It does all of these things extremely well, and you should definitely invite it into your home to do its thing.

Flash Fiction: Benjamin Franklin in the Bermuda Triangle

Couretsy Fist Full of Seamen

For the Terribleminds request for pulp insanity, we return to the adventures of a revolutionary wizard.


The lingering storm clouds made way for the moon, and that was when it began.

The crew of the fluyt Eenhoorn lit lamps on-deck to throw back the darkness. The ocean nearby rippled and swooned, small waves crashing over one another. To Captain Kroeger, the phenomenon was entirely unnatural. He gave the wheel to his first mate, passed a deckhand being sick over the rail, and went into the cabin where their passenger sat, reading.

“Mister Franklin, we need you on deck.”

The American looked up over the rims of his spectacles.

“I take it the storm has ended?”

“Yes. But something else has begun.”

Franklin put his book aside and rose. He picked up a collapsing umbrella from his belongings and ventured out with the captain. He took one look at the swirling waters nearby and frowned.

“Captain, you may want to have your men man their battle stations.”

“Sir?”

“We passed Bermuda this morning, correct? And are taking a southern course?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then we are in dangerous waters.”

“We spotted no other ships nearby! Neither the English nor the Spanish are…”

The roar of the sea in upheaval drowned out the captain. From the swirling pool burst the prow of a ship. Its hull rose into the moonlight like a breaching whale, its masts hung with seaweed instead of sails and tackle. Kroeger’s breath caught in his throat when he beheld the opposing crew. They shambled rather than walked, in various states of decay, many an eye missing from its socket and those still intact smoldering with murderous intent.

“Battle stations! Run out the guns! Prepare to repel boarders!”

Benjamin Franklin furrowed his brow as he studied the enemy ship. Any colors it would have flown had long been consumed by the wildlife beneath them. Sliding the long umbrella into his belt, he climbed the rigging towards the crow’s nest. The Eenhoorn reeled under the superior firepower of the enemy vessel, despite said vessel’s cannon having been underwater moments before. Franklin nearly lost his grip more than once, but he refused to let go completely, gritting his teeth against the spray of the sea and the smell of battle. He alighted into the crow’s nest and took stock of the situation.

The enemy ship was closing in on the Eenhoorn. The half-eaten ambulatory corpses and oddly animated skeletons moved towards the railing closest to the fluyt, wielding grappling lines. Franklin knew it was now or never. He reached down the front of his shirt for the key that hung around his neck. When he freed it from the silver chain, it made his fingers tingle. He slid it around the top of the umbrella, opened the device, and held it above his head.

The storm clouds high above began to shudder and growl. Lights went off like cannon fire within the dark surfaces, and as Franklin pitched the umbrella towards the enemy ship, there was a momentary feeling that his hair was standing on end, his skin about to catch fire. A bolt of lightning snapped into existence, connecting the cloud to the umbrella as it sailed over the ghost ship. The steel spines of the device conveyed smaller bolts onto the ghost ship’s deck, catching a few of the undead crew on fire. A cheer went up from the Dutchmen as Franklin climbed back down.

“That was brilliant, Mister Franklin!”

“Thank you, Captain, but it only slowed them down. I need to find a more permanent solution, and I only brought the one umbrella with me. Hold them off as best you can. Excuse me.”

He grabbed his jar of salt from his belongings and made his way below decks, to the lowest point in the ship. He set a box down and carefully laid out the circle he’d need. Praying the Eenhoorn did not list too much, he touched the circle with both hands.

“Come up from your Locker,” he said. “Come up from your Locker, Come up from your Locker, Davy Jones, Davy Jones.”

The shadows in the bilge seem to grow longer, and in the circle, two saucer-like eyes appeared, blinking at Franklin.

“Ye be a bold soul to summon me, human.” Blue smoke wafted from the spirit’s nostrils. “Release me, and I’ll not drag your ship down to me Locker.”

“I will release you when you take back the ship attacking us.”

“Ye have no business at sea, Benjamin Franklin.”

“Shall we parley, then?”

There was an annoyed puff of blue smoke. “Go on.”

“My destination is Barbados. I have business there with a voudoun priestess.”

“I know of whom ye speak. She be a long way from home.”

“I want to offer her help. Perhaps bring her back to our colonies.”

“Two of ye at sea, then? I should indeed drag ye down now.”

“We will do no harm and work no further magic while at sea. You have my word.”

Jones reached up with a hand to stroke one of his horns. His tail swished in the dark.

“And what benefit be Davy Jones getting out of this bargain? I drown ye now, I’d have me no worries.”

“I wouldn’t go down without a fight. And if we fight, we draw the attention of ocean powers greater than you.”

Jones grinned, his eyes alight. Three rows of teeth glistened in the semi-darkness. “Ye’d lose, little wizard.”

“Maybe. But not before hurting you just in time for your king to arrive.”

The smile vanished. “Fine, then. I give ye safe passage to Barbados and back. But this not be something Davy Jones will forget, Benjamin Franklin.”

“Nor shall I.” Fingers broke the circle and the spirit was gone. He climbed through the decks to find the crew celebrating.

“The sea swallowed them up again!” Captain Kroeger slapped Benjamin on the back. “How did you do it?”

“The fine art of parley, captain. Now, let us get to Barbados with all possible speed. The less time we spend in these waters, the better.”

Book Review: Double Dead

Courtesy Abaddon Books

Ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed? It’s terrible. You’re bleary-eyed, groggy, sore from where your spouse has been elbowing you in the ribs all night to stop your snoring… and you’re starving. It’s that stomach-gnawing hunger you just can’t shake until you’ve devoured half the pantry. If that sounds familiar, you’ll immediately relate to the protagonist of Chuck Wendig’s debut novel Double Dead. Excepting of course that Coburn’s a bloodsucking fiend.

That’s not hyperbole. When we meet Coburn, there’s no question that he’s a monster. Vampirism has not turned him into an upper-class snob or a glittery mewling fangless stalker; Coburn the vampire’s an asshole. He knows it. He revels in it. It was what made his nights so much fun until he woke up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. He hooks up with an RV full of humans heading to the West Coast and, being no fool, volunteers to protect them in exchange for the occasional nibble. Better than getting torn limb from limb and your brains eaten, right?

On the surface, Double Dead is deceptively simple. It’s the sort of premise fans of the horror genre and zombie fiction will find immediately appealing. Diving into it, though, we quickly find these dark waters run very deep. Sure, there are a couple characters who get picked off here and there because it’s the end of the world and everything, but many of them have enough dimension and living, breathing presence that its clear there’s more going on than a simple monster mash-up.

I can’t say it’s for everybody, though. The squeamish will want to avoid it, and be forewarned that Chuck is his usual (and in my opinion, delightfully) profane self. But chances are, being a novel about zombies with a vampire as its driving force, you know already if Double Dead is interesting to you or not. I challenge you, though, to find another zombie apocalypse yarn with a Wal*Mart cult of cannibals, wilderness fortifications manned by juggalos and the scariest thing in a pink bathrobe you’ll ever encounter.

2012’s First Braindump

In lieu of IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! this week, postponed due to the dayjob workload, I give you the start of that thing I’ve been inspired to write thanks to Chuck Wendig as I mentioned Tuesday. I honestly don’t know if anything will actually come of this, but rather than post some pithy filler I was driven to put this little scene down and see how looks. So here’s the opening to Dead Man On Campus.


Ever been punched in the face?

I don’t mean tapped on the cheek in an endearing way by a family member or close friend. I don’t mean slapped by a girl (or guy) you were trying to compliment and ended up insulting. And I don’t mean the kind of dead-leg punch you get from a chum on the couch when you’re kicking their ass in a first-person shooter on their expensive console that you kind of only befriended them to play since you live down the hall & get bored sometimes.

No, full-on punched. Right goddamn hook to the jaw.

It was my first time and my ass hurt almost as much as my face did from it hitting the curb.

I tasted blood. This wasn’t unfamiliar. Growing up nerdy in the outskirts of a big city, you learn to take a few shoves and pick up books out of the gutters. I’d had a bloody nose from a spill a couple of times. But this was the first time I’d seen a big, idiotic jock standing over me and not felt a surge of paralytic fear.

No. I was fucking pissed.

“What?” I give the jock a shit-eating grin. “All I said was it might behoove you to stop treating your girlfriend like a piece of meat.”

He hauled me up by the collar of my jacket. It’s a really nice pea coat my mom bought me, black with those little anchor buttons, like the ones worn by the Boondock Saints. I’m not Irish, though. I’m some kind of American mutt. The bozo nose-to-nose with me has some Teutonic blood in him, though. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, thick and brawny. His ice-blue eyes are trying to burn holes in my skull.

“You talk to me that way again, freshman, and I’ll turn you to paste. You feel me?”

I glance at the girl. She’s more scared than I am. There’s a switch.

“Yeah, bro, I feel ya.”

He drops me. He grabs the girl – by her waist, of course, with hand in prime gropeing position – and walks away. She glances over her shoulder at me, apologies in her wide, frightened eyes. I wave goodbye and, in spite of the pain in my jaw, smile.

She’d been pushing him away, telling him ‘No’, and he’d insisted on being all grabby. What was I going to do? Just let him fondle her in the street between the library and the science building, leading into the big parking lot in the middle of the campus? At one time, I might have. But I wasn’t the huddled little boy trying to get to school without the neighborhood toughs beating me up for my lunch money. Not anymore.

As they walk away I contemplate what I can do. I can make Bozo think it’s raining frogs. I can cause his vision to blur and turn his flavor of the week into a reject from Hellraiser before his eyes. I’d love to set his varsity jacket on fire but I have real trouble controlling that sort of thing. If I were really brave I’d pull my entire being into myself and concentrate my consciousness into a sort of singularity in my soul that would burst out of me and blast all of my organs and senses into overdrive, basically slowing everything around me to a crawl. But the last time I tried that my mentor nearly called 911 when my heart stopped.

I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. My name is Simon Aechmagoras, and I’m a sorcerer.

Well, a sorcerer’s apprentice. Like Mickey Mouse, only taller and with better fashion sense.

I check my watch, a mechanical pocket-and-chain job I inherited from my grandfather, and swear. I get up and run, sore jaw and bruised ass and all. Sorcerer or not, my biology teacher hates it when people show up late for his lectures.

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