Land of the Dead

I didn’t ask for this.

My father, who never led anything more ambitious than a Quarter Horse stallion from field to stall and back again, had a ready supply of misquoted leadership quotes, like “in the land of the blind, the man with glasses is king.” He used to deliver them between bites of my mother’s sister’s mashed potatoes while the fan blowing cool air from the basement whirred and tossed dust into the gravy. I always thought it was a strange thing for some country hick to say, but what did I know? I wasn’t any better than him.

I remembered that when I beheaded him last Friday. I remembered the way he used to say “power effs a man up. Absolute power efffs a man up absolutely.” I looked at the unfamiliar twist of his mouth and said, “A leader deals in hope, remember that one, Dad?” And then I used the grape spade and my right foot to hack his head head off, smushing a bit of his spinal cord into the slick clay beneath his body as I did.

It’s not clean work, and whatever the stories might lead you to believe, it never gets any easier. My younger brother Mac, the only one of us to make it to college, said that the human mind is programmed to feel compassion for something that seems to wear a human face, no matter how false that assumption of humanity might be. I feel bad that Mac’s elbow deep in this now, because it seems to me that Johnny, my older brother, and I, worked our arses off to send him off to an easy life with big words and fine city girls for nothing.

The epidemic hit while I was gone to an auction out west; looking at the mustangs you can get for a song out there. Most of them have helluva bad shoulder positions and these sloping rumps not worth anything, but they’ve got heart, and you know, heart’ll do you better than good conformation most days. Beauty queens look great on the back of the sheriff’s corvette in the parade and not bad in the back of a pickup bed either, but they aren’t much good when you’re winning your county back. Give me a man or a mare or a dog that’ll fight until they can’t stand, and then we’re getting somewhere.

But they’d given up when I got back. My brothers, I mean. And not just my brothers — everyone in this whole goddam town had already ceded the world to Them, was just waiting for their turn. And you know why? It was the word. Zombies. They heard that word and suddenly it was all fire and brimstone and God is coming to punish us and we’re living a horror movie. Their families were dying in twitching seizures and then climbing out of their coffins to pull the rest of the folks back in after them, and they couldn’t do a thing about it because they were zombies. I mean both sides, in my opinion, the living and the dead, both staring and drooling.

Hell, I said. It’s nothing worse than losing your family to the flu and then having them come back for you. It’s the cannibalism that throws people for a curve. It’s the flu wearing their brothers and sisters and fathers faces. It’s the same as a horse that spooks at the new water tub; fear of the unknown. The dead are slow, noisy, and not the brightest cows in the field. You whack the head off, and they stay dead. You’ve just got to get past the bit where they look you in the eye and you think for a moment that maybe they’re not really dead and they don’t really want to eat your face.

Because trust me, they do.

So now I’m riding in a beat up navy blue pick up truck, the back all full of shovels and chain saws and pick axes and Mac with his polo shirt collars turned up and Johnny with his toothpicks in his teeth, and I reckon we’re taking the county back, because no one else will. And maybe there is more of Them than us. And maybe one of these days They will swarm this pick up truck and They’ll rip our faces off and our bodies will shamble back into town to rip the faces off the people we’re saving now.

But ‘til then, as my dad used to say, “The price of being great is responsibility,” misquoting Churchill badly, but not as badly as some of his other favorites. We may not be the best built for this job, but we’ve got the most heart. And for now, that’s all that counts. In the land of the dead, the living is king.

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Author’s Note: a very very quickie, posted an hour before Friday, as I run from one book event to another this week. One of these days it would be fun to explore this Southern hick zombie concept a bit more fully . . .

image courtesy: jtcoleman

20 thoughts on “Land of the Dead

  1. Dude – love this story. Love it for its surprising turns of phrase, including the misquotes, and for its hopefulness in the face of zombies. You rock.

  2. One of these days it would be fun to explore this Southern hick zombie concept a bit more fully . . .

    YES.

  3. Awesome. (Especially that very last line) Totally ruthless protaganist, but is anybody who survives the zombie apocalypse anything else?

    Also totally fitting with my zombie theme lately, both in my writing and reading. And, of course, icon. I love any opportunity to use this icon.

  4. Zombies scare the bjesus out of me. Readings better than watching, but I’m still looking over my shoulder. Have a nice weekend, Simon.

  5. I know, I just read a zombie book and I’ve never written any zombies before. I was telling everflame that someone needed to write a zombie fic with a damn happy ending.

  6. LOL. Really? Zombies are definitely not the scariest horror creatures for me. One day we should sponsor a guessing game to see what really scares Maggie.

  7. It’s true, the total destruction of the world is often involved, so. Downer.

    I’ve been reading a bunch of zombie books lately, but unfortunately only liked, well, Forests of Hands and Teeth was really the only one I truly liked.
    Since the end of NaNo, I’ve been plagued by ridiculously shiny novel idea with many zombies. (Although I’ve written about zombies quite a bit, ummm, two short stories, no, three, and sort-of-a-novel.)

  8. The word just popped into my head. When I’m not so busy and read all your posts, images, words, and emotions spark across my mind/outside my head? which I know belong to you. I feel the energy around you. Not all the time, and I try not to do it, but it happens because of honesty. I admire and respect you, and spirit (yours, mine, God?) recognises the truth in that, so pathways of communication open.

    If I try, I don’t get it, and if someone tests me I fail. Theres a frequency emitted from the test = fail. Same with healing. The patients wants to test me, say, “I wont tell him I have kidney disease to see how good he is.” I wont find it, and the healing is altered.

    I’m babbling. A mint cookie, yum.

  9. That actually makes sense to me. I have a psychic friend who can also pick up stuff across phone lines and she’s been teaching me to do the same. I’m still better with words than numbers.

  10. haha, I’m trying. πŸ™‚

    It stays ridiculously upbeat by virtue of the main characters are completely insane. As in “no, Neil, I get that the zombie apocalypse is important and all, but I NEED TO FIND A BAND FOR MY HALLOWEEN PARTY. IT’S VERY IMPORTANT.”

  11. I’m reading through the stories to get inspired and this one made me laugh. Srsly–zombies don’t scare me, perhaps because I have total faith that the rednecks will win:)

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