Sample from the forthcoming collection with Hazardous Press Zombies Believe In You by Jay Wilburn
The sample includes the first chapter of the novella “White Pebbles” and the first section of the short story “Legend of the Soul Eaters” both included in the collection coming this June.
The Woodcutter’s Son
Hansel’s face was in the wet sand under the overturned fishing boat. He stared at the white pebble he had placed on the block under the bow of the boat where he hid beside the shore of the lake. The wood above his head had been cut by his father and then fashioned by richer men near the docks. The boat had brought wealth to families that were depending on Hansel now. The wood was rotting as it sat abandoned for too long.
The monster’s blue feet marched through the sand past the boat within Hansel’s view. If it discovered him, Hansel was going to be eaten alive. He breathed quietly as he watched the footprints behind the dead creature. They filled with water below the sand which soaked slowly back below the surface just like the footprints of any living person would. These footprints were missing some of the toes.
Hansel pulled the lines up over his shoulder on the ground in the shadow of the fishing boat. His catch for the day hung on the ends of each line. He did not have enough for everyone. Many of the animals in the forest had fled from the Twice Dead Plague. Both common beasts and enchanted creatures had abandoned the forests as the villages became the haunts of hungry death.
Hansel crawled forward to look under the rim at the docks and the catch houses. The rats on his lines dragged through the sand under him.
There were at least two of the moving dead under the dock. They were consuming something. It could have been an animal. It might be a human they were eating, but every survivor in town was waiting in the church now. There were other creatures that might have fallen prey to the cursed corpses as well.
On the boardwalk around the fishery house, others wandered as they searched mindlessly. They were driven by hunger and not thought. If they spotted Hansel, they would follow him until he was caught and they would eat until his bones were clean.
His father’s ax or an archer’s arrow could stir their brains and drop them permanently, but Hansel had neither of those weapons on this foraging trip.
He could see the red letters on the side of the long building facing the lake read, Bountiful Fish Market. It was past due for this season’s repainting.
He furrowed forward through the sand until he was exposed and rose up to kneeling beside the boat. He peered over the keel at the blue-footed cadaver as it advanced on its partners feeding under the docks.
He recognized the body now that he was out from under the boat.
The jacket had been fine silk, but now it was mired with filth and torn with bits of twigs and brambles. The linen pants were shredded and frayed around the cuffs. In addition to missing toes, the man had been bitten around his calves in a vicious manner.
His hair was uncharacteristically out of place. Tufts of it were missing around the back of his scalp for reasons that were not immediately apparent to Hansel.
Mr. Haber, who had run the fine articles haberdashery near the docks, had given up on caring for his clothes in death and had spent time in the woods and in the rain.
“Continue on to the docks,” Hansel whispered. “Continue your business there just as you did in life, Haber.”
He heard branches snapping in the trees that bled down the slope to his left up to the edge of the shore.
Hansel moved up off the sand and over the thick grasses to the dark gravel of the waterfront road. He did not look back, but continued up between the first buildings facing the water across the red cobbles.
He cut his eyes from side to side as he slunk along with the strung bodies of the rats bouncing against his chest and back. Most of the windows were broken out or shattered inward. Shingles were torn away and plaster was broken through where storms had inflicted damage that was no longer being repaired.
They began crossing the next street in front of him across the mouth of the alley. Hansel stepped back into the stoop of one of the taverns as he waited for the bodies of his dead neighbors to shamble along the street deeper into the village.
A bony hand reached through the lattice flicking out broken shards from the missing panes. The fingers closed over Hansel’s cords and tried to fish the rats into the tavern with the reanimated barkeep.
Hansel grabbed the cold wrist and pulled the arm out to the knob of elbow that caught in the square of wood. The barkeep growled and pushed his lips and tongue against one of the slats.
Hansel looked out from the corner of the doorway. The mass of bodies crossing the opening of the alley were still thick.
He twisted the emaciated arm, but the owner didn’t register nor react to the pain.
It’s not a fair fight, Hansel thought.
He grabbed the fingers one at a time and peeled them away from the lines. He couldn’t afford to surrender any meat to the monsters that would never satisfy their appetites.
“Let go,” Hansel said. “She’s counting on me.”
He froze at the sound of his own voice. His eyes went wide as the barkeep’s teeth locked on one of the slats cracking the wood as the inhuman creature slowly chewed through the lattice.
Hansel looked around the doorway again. One of the bodies had stopped. She was leaning hard to one side on at least two broken bones. She looked up through her greasy hair at the second floor windows down the alley. Her eyes and head jerked from side to side as she turned toward Hansel.
He pulled his head back before she spotted him.
It’s already too late, he cursed inside his head over and over, now this dead girl is counting on you too, you fool.
The barkeep growled as he wiggled his lifeless fingers out of Hansel’s warm grip and clutched the front of the young man’s shirt. Hansel pulled back stretching the fabric as the lattice began to break away from the edges of the frame in the door. The barkeep’s elbow popped through the hole and the arm extended out to the boney knob of his shoulder. Hansel stumbled off the stoop into the alley in front of the doorway where the dead man held tight to the boy’s shirt. The man’s moldy sleeve was bunched up against the wood as he tried to pull Hansel into his snapping mouth.
Hansel heard her limping up the alley. Her damaged legs produced a swish, crack, clop … swish, crack, clop. She began screeching in long, breathy bursts of animal desire.
Hansel looked as he held the barkeep’s wrist with both hands struggling for his freedom. Others paused at the mouth of the alley and turned when they heard the woman screeching as she hobbled closer to Hansel. They began to follow her. Some were moving more quickly. They began moaning as they reached out for him with what hands and fingers they still possessed. Most were missing pieces. They were going to take pieces from Hansel too.
“I should have just let you take the rats,” he huffed. “Death shouldn’t be this strong … nor this active.”
Hansel pulled his knife from his sheath. He held it up as the bodies filled the space from wall to wall. They jostled each other as they advanced on him.
He looked down at the hand of the barkeep twisting his shirt.
“You can do this,” Hansel said. “You’re not a child any longer and people are counting on you.”
He brought the blade down and began to cut and tear in uneven hacks. Finally, the section of cloth ripped loose from his shirt in the barkeep’s clutches. The dead tavern owner brought the cloth too his mouth and began to chew the piece of material.
Hansel looked at the hole in his shirt as the leaning woman’s fingers brush over his sleeve at the front of the pack. He dashed back down the alley still holding his knife.
As soon as he stepped back out on the red cobbles at the edge of the dark gravel of the waterfront road, he saw the wave of bodies closing in on him. Some were thrashing forth from the forest. Others were climbing out and around the fishery. Mr. Haber shuffled out from under the dock at the sound of the commotion. He was still chewing.
Hansel’s eyes fixed on the shadows in the lake.
“Are the fish returning?” he asked aloud.
The tops of the skulls emerged first very near the shore. The wrinkled flesh bobbed forward on the surface and then the milky eyes rose above the water. The bodies did not heave for air like a living man would. The nostrils and mouths surfaced next. Dark water drained out as they opened their jaws. They were not opening for air. They were hungry. The stout frames and waterlogged beards slowly came into view as the dwarves marched out of their watery grave.
Some of them still had the jagged hunks of white stone chained across their chests. Others still had their wrists bound by leather cord in front of them as if they were praying before they ate.
The rock dwarves from the quarry bury their dead in the lake, Hansel shivered as he watched. They are coming back too.
Over the moans and gurgles all around him, he heard a swish, crack, clop, and screech close behind him.
“God will not forsake us.”
Hansel ran along the dark gravel looking for a path through the closing horde.
Legend of the Soul Eaters
Father backed the bull oxen into the bars of the wagon’s thill shafts. They were large enough to tear him apart with their curled horns, but they snorted and bobbed their broad heads instead. He held them by the leathers strops attached to the rings through their noses as he tightened the harnesses to their wooly backs by hand.
I just sat in the rocker seat because I was too young to handle the bulls, but not young enough anymore to avoid this task.
Despite the winter chill and stripped trees, the forest seemed to be very close to the barn, cottage, and stocks today.
Father stepped up into the wagon and snapped the oxen forward to lumber deep into the trees.
I had only been down the dirt trail three times in my short life. There were few reasons to leave the homestead before I was trained to hunt. I was not an explorer like my brothers and I did not see beauty in the world around me like my mother did. Others listened to the legends and heard hope and grace. I saw darkness and danger.
My brothers stayed behind to guard and work this day. It was to me and father to travel to the city.
We were silent as we reached the ancient road. Most of the stones were still in place. They were perfectly hued with edges we could never achieve with a hundred years of trying. Some of the stones had been taken by our family and others to build our own houses, but enough remained that the wheels felt strangely absent underneath me as we rolled over their smooth surface.
We were told that these wonders had been wrought by the men who preceded us, but I couldn’t imagine that human hands were capable of miracles.
I felt very frightened and lonely riding next to my father that day.
I had never been this far from the cottage for any reason and it felt like reality was being pulled extremely thin. This was where monsters lived and tore through the fabric of our world.
I asked my father to break the silence and hold the world together for me with his voice, “Father, can you tell it now.”
“We have a long way before we reach the launch,” he answered after a thick pause.
I dared, “I would like to hear it now. You can tell it longer that way.”
Father relented, “The Legend of the Soul Eaters explains our world and the love the Maker shows us both in this life and in the life to come.”
I was distracted by the arches of the aquifers that rose higher than any roof over the trees beyond the slope of the road. It was just a section and it would no longer hold water, but it still stood in silent testimony. Father saw I was captivated by this reminder of how far people had fallen since the days of the Empire.
He said to me, “We can wait until the launch.”
“No,” I said, “I would like to hear it now.”
Father didn’t repeat the opening verse again.
He continued with the next line, “When the world was still young not long after the creation, there was a righteous and sober man named Jobe. Even though man had fallen from their love of the Maker, Jobe still served the Maker with all his heart. He lived in a large, white house in the center of Star City. He had great fields and stocks of hundreds of oxen. He had covies of birds and herds of tame deer.”
“Jobe was also blessed with fifty children through his wife, First, and his many concubines. Jobe’s children feared the Maker and helped Jobe build great monuments to the Maker and the forefathers of Star City and the Star Empire. They observed sacrifices at the site of the launch. For every sacrifice, he placed a stone in the Arlington Fields until the entire land was filled with altars to the Maker. Jobe even offered extra sacrifices in the morning just in case his children had sinned in the night.”
“Jobe was so loved and respected by the people of the Star Empire for his devotion to the Maker that the people made him Emperor and each of his fifty children were made lords and ladies over each of the regions of the Empire.”
“The Maker was very pleased,” my father paused to clear his throat.
I looked out into the woods at another cottage we were passing. I could see the family working as if life was unchanged for them. I imagined that they could see the ruins of the aquifer from their barn. This close to the ancient road felt very dangerous to me. I was afraid for them.
My father did not notice my distraction this time, so he continued, “Meanwhile, up in the Halls of the Maker, the powers and principalities came to present themselves to the Maker and to share all the work of their hands.”
“Also at this meeting was the Dark One who had come to spy on the plans of the Maker to try to reconcile his fallen children back to himself and away from the sting of death. The Dark One reminded the Maker that he had said himself that the payment for sinful life was no life at all and permanent separation from the Halls of the Maker.”
“The Maker knew this and he was not going to just break his rule by finding some loophole or clause to bring us unto his Halls from which we are all permanently banished. The Maker’s ways are not like the ways of man and he does not change the rules to suit himself, others, or the moment. He did have a plan to forgive us from the sting of death.”
“The Maker asked the Dark One what he had going on. The Dark One had to admit that he was wandering with no purpose. The Maker then dared the Dark One to try to foil the Maker’s plan for redemption of man. He even went so far as to reveal that the plan involved his righteous servant Jobe.”
“The Dark One took the bait and defied the Maker by saying Jobe only feared the Maker because of his great wealth. The Maker ordered the Dark One to remove Jobe’s wealth to see, but he forbade him to touch Jobe or his family.”
“The Dark One personally led his army of senatorial spirits and evil secessionists throughout the Star Empire. The wheels of industry were ground to a halt and Jobe’s wealth was divorced from him. He lost all his animals and his great fields of crops dried in the open winds of Star City.”
I asked, “What are the wheels of industry, Father?”
My father sighed deeply. He said, “It is a type of wagon that carried great wealth in the days of the ancients. Do you want to wait to hear the rest, son?”
I answered, “No, Father, I would like to hear the rest now.”
My father resumed, “Jobe did not curse the Maker as the Dark One expected. He went into the wild and hunted animals to continue his sacrifices for himself and his family each day. This is why we hunt meals today. Jobe’s people also surrendered their own wealth to the tax collectors of Jobe so he could build the tallest monument of all to the Maker. That is when Jobe built the Spike of Suffering which still stands tallest in the ruins of Star City today. They also elected to serve Jobe as their Emperor for another life’s term.”
“The Dark One was forced to return to the Halls of the Maker in defeat. The Maker reminded the Dark One of his failure by asking again if he had considered his servant Jobe. The Dark One asserted this time that if The Maker opened Jobe’s family to suffering and removed the love of Jobe’s people, then he would curse the Maker without fear. The Maker accepted the Dark One’s terms, but he hedged off Jobe’s body from attack.”
“The Dark One personally led his army of mobbing spirits and rioting protestations to slaughter the children of Jobe in each region of the Empire. The servants of Jobe returned to tell him the news. Jobe removed his emperor’s robes and dressed in sack cloth all the rest of his days. He rubbed ashes in his hair and raised his hands to the Maker in praise even in his suffering.”
“The Dark One was not finished. He unleashed the confounding spirits of Depression and Impeachment on the people of the Star Empire. Though Jobe remained sober before the Maker, his people cursed Jobe and cursed his Maker. Even Jobe’s own wife, First, grew to hate him. Still Jobe was righteous in his heart before his Maker.”
“The Dark One failed in his attempts to foil the Maker’s plans, but the Maker did lift his hand of protection from the Star Empire and it crumbled for the lack of fear from the people for the Maker.”
As my father spoke, we slowly left behind the tall trunks of the Forest of the Virgin and passed through more modest trees of the Star City ruins.
I had never been here before this day.
The sky was startling to me. In the thick branches of the forest, the limbs and stems weaved across the sky even in the leafless winter. The sky was a pale backdrop to the skeletal canopy above our heads as we worked or sat waiting for winter to pass. The sky could also be the white or grey furrow of cloud cover that cut above the packed, dirt trail that lead to and from our homestead. Out in the city, the sky was the entire, open scene. I was lost in it. The pressure of the day had made it a cold and empty sheet of blue over our heads. The bright sun prevented me from looking in the direction I was told was east. There was a fingernail sliver of moon still in the blue like a small cut to anchor my eyes, but I kept losing its position as my eyes tried to take in the entire foundation of the Maker’s Halls.
My father saw my obsession and he paused from the telling again.
The ruins of Star City were a patchwork of stone monuments and empty land where the cottages of the ancients had once been, but were no more. My father sometimes, but rarely spoke of his grandparents living in the buildings here until the curse of the Maker fell on them for profaning the monuments that had once served his glory. I wasn’t sure, but I believe they had fallen prey to the hands of the barbarians and the soul eaters that roamed the land far and wide.
I was about to ask my father to continue and then I saw it emerge on the open horizon. He knew it was about to come into view and he wanted to preempt my sin of interrupting a legend again.
“Is that it?” I asked.
“It is,” my father answered.
I felt I had to be sure he knew what I meant. It seemed so foolish looking back because what else could it have possibly been.
I asked, “That’s Jobe’s Spike of Suffering to the Maker . . . from the legend?”
My father answered, “Yes, it is.”
Even from a distance over wild brush and above the roofs of far less impressive structures, I could see its massive scale. After all these years, it was blazing white and impossibly thin as its point stabbed up into the blue sky instead of into the Earth as a spike should. I marveled that such a thing could stand at all or even existed in the world in the first place. Being told the verse over and over about the spike still standing to this day did not fully prepare me for the solid miracle of it and it was unnerving to see the reality just outside our forest home all this time …
* * * * *
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie
AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in June, here’s the complete list, updated daily: