Monday, October 7, 2013


The following is the first 14 chapters from my book of 96 Chapters, All Together Now: A Zombie Story. You can get the whole thing here.


This YOUNG ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers.

In no way is this warning an apology. I believe a horror story should aim to shock and disturb. But since much of my writing is targeted at younger readers and I run the blog Middle Grade Ninja, I feel it's only fair to warn parents and sensitive readers up front:

In the pages that follow is a gruesome, repugnant tale featuring horrific acts of violence sure to warp young minds.

Esteemed Reader, if that sounds like as much fun to you as it does to me, we'll get along fine.

I'M NOT A BAD WRITER, but I'm amazing with a baseball bat, which is why I'm still alive to write this.
     I get mostly A's in English, or at least I did before the school burned down. Two summers ago my short story "Raccoon Avenger" was published in the Harrington Herald.
     I just wanted you to know this story isn't going to suck.
     It might suck.
     I'm not exactly writing it under ideal circumstances. We don't dare turn on a flashlight. I'm writing this by moonlight on the floor so they won't see me through the windows.
     This story will be filled with a lot of terrible things. That's not my fault. A lot of terrible things happened.
     I'm just going to write what I know. After all, someone should be writing this down, and for all I know the world's great writers are all dead, or worse. So you're stuck with me.
     At least this will be a short book. There are only 300 pages in this journal and there's a good chance I won't live long enough to fill them all. So if this story should just stop somewhere in the middle, you'll know I didn't make it.
     Or maybe I lost this journal. Let's hope it's that.
     I can hear them as I write this, shuffling around outside, moaning in that low way they all do. I only really pay attention when the moans get close.
     When they get close, their moan becomes a growling snarl that's one of the last sounds you'll ever hear.
     They look harmless, confused. They stumble and stagger like drunks. They're so slow, you might think you could walk by them, but that'd be a mistake.
     Get too close, they'll rip your chest open, and you'll die hearing their snarling and your own screaming and the splash of your insides against the tops of your shoes.
     Hopefully, you don't know what I'm talking about.
     Hopefully, as you're reading this, it's all over and the world is a nice place again with baseball and picnics and apple pie.
     Hopefully, you've only read about zombies in books, and much better books than this one.
     But probably not. Probably there is no you.
     Or maybe you're a different species that evolved after human beings finally got wiped out and you're curious to see what we were like.
     Or maybe you're an alien, moving in now that the world is vacant—I mean, even the dead can't live forever, can they?
     If you are an alien or a new species, you don't even know what baseball or apple pie are and you should read about them instead of zombies.
     I don't even know if that's the right word for them. Zombies is what they were calling them on the news back when the power was on and the broadcasts were still running.
     Zombie is as good a name as any and it's what Michelle, Levi, Chuck, and I call them.
     Before the news crapped out, they said there were zombies in Europe and China and even Japan.
     If the human race is extinct, who's going to read this journal?
     This is stupid. I'm not writing this.

I CHANGED MY MIND. I wasn't going to write this, but there's nothing else to do except hide. I can't sleep or go outside.
     Levi's stopped talking to himself, which is good. He was freaking Michelle and me out.
     Now he sits quietly in the corner of the store, his arms wrapped around his legs, knees curled to his chest. Sometimes he rocks, but mostly he just stares straight ahead like he's seeing something Michelle and I can't.
     Michelle's not sleeping, either. She hasn't moved for a while, but I crawled by her and saw her eyes were open. That's easy to spot on a black girl. The whites of her eyes stand out perfectly against the darkness of the room and her skin.
     Levi's white, by the way, and so am I, and so is my little brother Chuck. Just in case you were wondering.
     This story is kind of going to be about me—I mean I can only really tell you the stuff I saw, right? So I guess I should tell you about myself.
     My name is Richard Allen Genero. I'm 15 years old. Michelle Elizabeth Kirkman is also 15, Charles Walter Genero (technically deceased) is 6, and Levi Davis (I don't know Levi's middle name) is 17.
     Chuck and I have lived all our lives in Harrington, Indiana, which is a little town 37 miles north of Indianapolis, not too far from Brownsborough. I was born here and if the things groaning outside have their way, I'll die here.
     If you know anything about what happened, you know about Harrington. After all, Harrington's the birthplace of Kirkman Soda, which is where we're going.
     That's where the cure is.
     That's where Chuck needs us to go.
     I don't go by Richard, by the way. I can't stand that name and I don't want you to think you're reading a book by some jerk named Richard, or worse, Dick.
     I go by Ricky.
     The girl I'm traveling with, Michelle Kirkman, is the daughter of Gerald Kirkman, who


I DIDN'T DIE. JUST IN case you were concerned because I stopped writing so suddenly.
     Dead fingers tapped the window beside the double doors, one finger striking the glass at a time like an impatient person waiting.
     It broke my concentration.
     After a few moments, the zombie moved on, but I'd totally forgotten what I was going to write.
     So let's start over:
     Michelle, Levi, Chuck, and I got back to Harrington this afternoon. It took us four hours to get here from Brownsborough—a trip that used to take 25 minutes by car.
     We walked in the fields that run parallel to I-65. We only saw three zombies during the whole walk, aside from Chuck, of course.
     The first two weren't a problem.
     In our first hour of walking, we came across a green truck lying on its roof, its wheels in the air like the stiff limbs of a carcass.
     It was in the center of a field, but we could tell from the thick tracks leading up to the wreckage that the truck had come from the highway.
     A side mirror lay in the grass several feet away and I had an idea the truck had flipped over at least twice, breaking off its mirror before rolling to a stop on its back.
     Levi wanted to walk around the wreck and I thought that was smart, but Michelle marched straight to it. "They could've packed food or weapons," she called over her shoulder.
     That was a fair point.
     I hurried to catch up, but I stopped when Michelle brought our only gun out of her jeans and pointed it through the truck's windshield.
     She knew not to fire it. A gun's good for getting out of a tight spot, but the shot will draw the attention of every zombie in hearing distance.
     I had my bat up, ready to swing before I knew what the danger was.
Then I heard the muffled thumping. There were two corpses pounding on the windshield from inside the truck.
     "They're out of food," Levi said.
     When I looked where he was pointing I felt faint and my vision clouded with black spots. If this had happened a week ago, I would've thrown up. But I've seen a lot since then.
     At first I could see only the zombies lying on the roof of the truck's cab, Mommy and Daddy. Both of them had the dark-rimmed, all-white eyes of the dead, sunken because the pale grey skin surrounding them had gone lax and hung off their skulls like dough.
     Mommy was wearing a blue summer dress, stained maroon all down the front. Daddy had broken his neck and his head lolled on his shoulder. An unnatural bulge protruded beneath his jaw and stretched the skin there to near bursting.
     Then I saw what Levi meant by "food."
     Hanging upside down behind Mommy and Daddy was a car seat. It was still strapped in, despite the seat belt straps on either side having been gnawed through.
     The soft grey lining of the car seat was stained red and black and covered in flecks of skin and hair.
     "They're trapped in there," Levi said.
     "How can you tell?" Michelle asked.
     Levi shrugged. "If they could've got out, they would've. Let 'em starve."
     He kept walking. Michelle followed.
     I stood a while staring at the car seat, but when I heard a faint crack in the windshield the zombies were pounding on, I got moving.
     The third zombie wasn't trapped. He came right at us.


WE DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS a zombie at first. He staggered as he crossed the field. From a distance, he could've just been injured.
     He was about a football field from us when Michelle said, "That man's headed for the highway. We should warn—"
     The thing growled, the sound a combination of hoarse moan and sharp snarl, screamed from stiffened vocal cords.
     Michelle had the gun up and aimed before the zombie could turn toward us.
     His right arm was missing from the bicep down. His mouth stretched too wide. As he got closer I saw his jaw was broken and hanging permanently open, held in place by strips of rotting flesh.
     None of them run, really. Most of the time they shamble slow, but they move a little faster when motivated.
     If we'd been running, the zombie never would've caught up to us. If he hadn't been in our path, we would've let him be.
     Some people enjoy killing them, like maybe they're making the world safer one zombie at a time. But when the whole world is filled with those things and more people turning every day, I doubt one more or less zombie makes much difference.
     I don't like killing them.
     'Killing' isn't really the right word. How do you kill something that's already dead?
     It isn't easy, but they can at least be put down and afterward they don't bother anyone anymore. Whether they're dead then or were before, I don't know. I'll leave it to the philosophers to decide.
     Killing zombies isn't hard. They're slow and dumb and have no weapons, aside from their teeth and fingernails. But you have to be very careful and know what you're doing.
     I've seen people fire round after round into their chests and the zombies keep coming. You have to kill the brain. Otherwise they don't die, or stop being undead, or whatever.
     I've seen them walk around on fire and it doesn't bother them. Hack off their legs, and they'll crawl after you without stopping to notice they can't walk.
     They feel no pain.
     So far as I can tell, they feel nothing except hunger. They don't think, they don't sleep, and I've never seen one go to the bathroom.
     They kill and roam in search of more things to kill, and that's all they do.
     Michelle had the zombie locked in her gun sight, but only as a precaution.
     Levi and I flanked him.
     I had my lucky baseball bat, but Levi carried an axe, so I let him take the first swing, and the second, both aimed at the thing's legs. The blows were intended to disarm (disleg?) rather than kill.
The zombie crumpled to his knees, his white eyes never leaving my face, his craven moan never changing pitch, his one remaining arm stretched toward me.
     Levi hacked at that arm and I swung my metal bat straight into the zombie's forehead, like hitting a baseball off a batting tee.
     Though the bottom half of his one arm now hung by the thin membrane of skin Levi hadn't severed, the zombie still had both biceps raised toward me.
     I brought the bat down again. When I raised it, it was covered in the same blackish red that sprayed from his head in a fine mist.
     The zombie convulsed.
     I swung the bat one last time and when it connected, the thing's skull made a loud cracking sound like an ice-weighted branch snapping. The impact traveled up the bat and stung my hands.
     The zombie went limp and silent.
     Levi wiped his axe on his purple "New Life Christian Church" T-shirt, then dropped it to his side and kept walking.
     I should've kept walking, but I didn't.
     Maybe it was the clothes the zombie was wearing: brown slacks, a blue and black striped polo shirt, and black dress shoes, as though he'd been at a church supper. Maybe it was the wedding band on his left hand.
     I knelt beside the corpse and rooted in his pocket until I found his wallet.
     According to his license, this man had been Gary Boyer. He had four credit cards, a gym membership, and a photo from his human days. He was standing with a woman, two small children, and Donald Duck in front of that giant golf ball in Epcot.
     "Are you coming?" Michelle asked as she passed.
     I couldn't speak just then, so I dropped the wallet and got to my feet.
     From a distance behind us came the quiet moans of Chuck, ever following.


THE KIRKMAN SODA BOTTLING PLANT was the third Harrington exit off I-65, but off the first was Ernie's filling station.
     For the record, I didn't want to go. I was just as hungry as Michelle and Levi, but we'd been avoiding buildings the whole walk for a reason.
     A zombie alone in a field is one thing, easy to spot and relatively easy to put down. But the only way to truly know how many zombies are in a building is to go inside.
     The other problem is the people who are still living, crouched in whatever shelter they can find, terrified, maybe insane—the last week has had that effect on people—and armed.
     If they see something come into their shelter walking on two legs, they might shoot first and check to see if it was a zombie after.
     Ernie's has a glass front, so we could see most everything from outside. But we couldn't see what might be hiding between the aisles of motor oil and candy and travel goods, or in the bathrooms, or in Ernie's office.
     It was Michelle who made me see the logic in it—but don't put this on her. In the end, it was my stomach that did the convincing.
     "Daddy's plant is five or six miles from Ernie's," Michelle said. "But it will take us longer to get there."
     "Because of Bridgeport Heights, Autumn Creek, and Tree Side Point."
     Michelle stared at me, waiting for me to catch on. When she saw I wasn't going to, she rolled her eyes and said, "The subdivisions Daddy owns off the next exit. Plus there are two other subdivisions and an apartment complex. We'll have to go around them."
     She was right, of course, and I felt stupid for not thinking of it.
     It's nothing but fields and farms from Brownsborough to Ernie's, but the second Harrington exit leads to neighborhoods that stretch out on either side. Here I was protesting going into one building and trying instead to march us into an army of rotting suburbanites.
     "It's already late afternoon and the sun will be down before we can get to Daddy." Michelle put her hands on her hips and sighed. "We may need to find someplace to stay tonight. But first we need food, and Ernie's is our best bet. It's the only thing off this exit."
     "There's the Harrington Inn," Levi said, shifting a gnawed toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.
     "That's on the opposite side of the overpass," Michelle said. "And the next building on the same side as Ernie's is the jail, and that's at least two blocks away."
     "Sounds safe," I said, throwing my hands up. "While we're at it, why don't we swing by the Java Jive. I could use a latte, maybe a muffin. If we hurry, we can still catch the 7 o'clock movie. I want to see the new James Bond, but only if you guys want to. We can see something else."
     "Funny," Levi said, not laughing or even smiling.
     "I'm hungry," Michelle said through gritted teeth, her eyes locked on mine. "Tonight, I'll be even hungrier. Tomorrow morning I'll be weak and we have a lot of walking still to do. We'll go slow and be safe. If the place is crawling, we'll backtrack and go around."
     Every so often, it surprises me this is the same Michelle Kirkman I grew up hating almost as much as I hate her father. She's been a rich brat as long as I've known her, but now that money doesn't mean anything, she's different.
     My dad used to say you know you're hungry when gas station food sounds good. There was more to our argument, but I don't remember the rest and in the end Michelle's plan made sense.
     It was after six when we got to Ernie's.
     We could see it from the last few fields before Harrington proper starts. It was a small building with an awning stretched out over six pumps, and neither humans nor zombies milled around outside.
     Atop the awning were bold red letters spelling out "ERNIE'S." The sign was neon, but Harrington hadn't had power for days and the red letters were as dull and dark and lifeless as the rest of the world.
     In a backyard three houses down from the jail, two adult figures stood beside a swing set. They weren't moving or talking, just standing and staring in that mindless way of the dead.
     They were far enough away from Ernie's not to be a concern.
     Michelle had her gun out and Levi and I had our axe and bat at the ready, but it was unnecessary. 
     We were able to creep right up to Ernie's and around to the front without being seen.
     Or so we thought.

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