(Fireworks finale from my backyard pool last night)
It began simply enough with Barry from Gnostalgia mentioning what would happen if the soul of a zombie came back to haunt him? Thus, began the concept for a short story contest.
The winner of this contest was a freaking nightmare. You can't imagine how amazing and inventive and wickedly awesome all of the entries were!!! When it came down to the top two, I ended up having to reread them outloud several times then broke down and shared them with a friend to help me discern which was better. The friend...couldn't pick either.
So, in an unusual twist of fate, there are TWO winners of this contest, both equally worthy and both amazingly riveting shorts on this theme of what happens if a soul haunts a zombie...
Scott Shoyer from AnythingHorror and Grim from Brain Stew are the winners! Here are their stories below. I will then announce 2 runners up whose work I will share. Scott and Grim, send me your addresses and your prizes will be sent off.
Thanks so much EVERYONE who entered. I always knew I had the brightest and best on this blog and ya'all seriously showed me that. I am humbled to just read your works. We have got to do this more often, ya'all!
Scott Shoyer's winning entry:
“Nietzsche was wrong ... ”
That’s one of the only thoughts I have left. With each passing day I can feel my brain slowly decomposing and loosing more and more of it’s “humanity.” To me it feels like whipped egg whites loosing their volume. They slowly dissolve into a puddle. Just like my brain. That’s why I’m writing this down. I don’t know how much longer I have until my brain gives into the virus ...
... that fucking virus. It came out of the jungles hard and fast. There wasn’t even an incubation period. If you came in contact with the virus you immediately dropped dead and then hours later you “woke up” and experienced the final transformation into ... into what? The “experts” won’t call it what it truly is. We’re zombies. Forget about the movies and the shambling dead. You just don’t wake up to being a zombie. Like life itself, its a process. At first its your skin and hair that go. The lack of blood circulating in your body makes you hair fall out and rot. But it seems that when your humanity was killed, so were the nerve endings. Dying hurt. A lot. Becoming a zombie doesn’t. It only hurts being aware.
After your skin starts to rot off your bones your eye sight starts to go. But what we lose in eye sight we make up in our hearing. It’s amplified. Especially good for hunting. So far my motor skills have stayed the same. I see some of them shuffling along like in the old movies, but I can still run and jump. But for how much longer?
Another thing; I don’t crave human flesh. I’m dead; not hungry. But I have an insatiable drive to infect the others around me who didn’t fall when the virus was airborne. They thought they were safe and immune. No one’s immune from this. I bite to infect; that’s what the bug inside me wants.
There’s not many people left; at least not in my town. I’ve bitten a lot of people. People I know. People I’ve loved. Children, even. It doesn’t matter; in my “mind” the only thing that’s important is the survival of the bug. I don’t know why that’s so important to me, but it means everything.
Part of my mind can still remember “me” before all this happened. Happy. Friendly. In love. Concerned only with happiness of myself and those around me. Not with the survival of some alien bug in me. But recently something’s been happening. I’ve been hearing strange noises everywhere I go. I’ve been seeing things through my deteriorating eyes. Weird things. Scary things. Why am I scared? I’m the monster, aren’t I? I figured these “things” were the result of my rotting brain. But then ...
... well then I saw something. I was walking in town looking to propagate my bug when I saw ... something. It was hiding(?) in a door way and when James walked by it grabbed him. James was already turned. We don’t bite the one’s already turned. We’re not cannibals. Ever since I saw James disappear I’ve been hearing and seeing things more.
Like I said, “Nietzsche was wrong.” The body and soul aren’t inextricably intertwined in each person. They actually are two separate entities inhabiting the same vessel. I’ve watched too many others disappear into darkened rooms, empty closets, and broken down vehicles. We were the hunters but are now becoming prey for something else ...
That bug could instantly kill on contact, but it only killed the body. And it seems in killing the body it released the other part of our equation. It released our souls. Nothing physical can survive the bug. People. Animals. Plants. We all fall. But the same bug that destroyed the world also gave birth to the weapon that can kill it.
I can hear my enemy getting closer. Once it “finds” and hones in on you its just a matter of time. Time I’m out of. My brain is rotting and I’m being hunted by
My soul ... my ghost has found my body and is back to cleanse it of the bug. I don’t know how it does it. All I hear are the screams ... screams coming from things that don’t experience pain anymore. Maybe its the shock of seeing yourself as a ghost. Maybe its the shock of dying. Again.
All I know is that I’ll find out soon. We took over the world for a while, but now “we’re” coming back to fight the bug.
The body and the soul are two different entities. I still find it hard to believe.
I can hear it. It’s in my home looking for me; using some strange homing device. You only get attacked by your self; never from someone else’s ‘self’.
I can feel the air getting colder against my rotted skin. Its close. No use in running. We’ve already infected the world. Now its our turn.
Its in the room with me. I’m staring at myself. It’s smiling. I’m not. I’m not scared or screaming. Yet. I can see in it’s eyes what it wants. It doesn’t want to cleanse me.
It wants revenge.
It wants revenge on the bug inside me. There’s only one way to get to it. It needs to go through me.
It’s close. I can feel it’s cold hand reaching out for me. I can feel the screaming building inside me.
Nietzsche is laughing.
Grim's winning entry:
…I make a noise, barely a huff, but it’s enough. He turns, looks at me with dead-blank eyes, charges, and goes for the throat. I hardly have time to react as he grips me with his vice-pinchers and reels me further back into the alley. Even one-handed this guy’s got Schwarzenegger beat. His teeth crunch as he maws the fleshy side of my neck but he’s getting nothing ‘cause my blood’s stopped flowing months ago. We tumble to the ground and tussle. He’s hovering over me, drooling and chomping with me holding him back at the shoulders. He’s already gotten a good chunk of my throat but he wants another taste and he ain’t getting it.
My feet curl under him just below the sternum and I give a powerhouse kick to the gut. I hear something snap and he stumbles back, but I get nothing from him. Zombies feel no pain. Luckily, neither do I.
Before I can get to thinking about the odds of a zombie and a ghoul crossing paths to duke it out in a dank back alley, I jump to my feet and he makes another charge of it. He’s not three feet away when a CRACK! splinters the air and shatters the poor fuck’s head into liquid carnage all down the front of my shirt along with a barrage of buckshot.
I duck, remnant survival instinct kicking in, and make a blind dash for it…the opposite way I’d come into the alley. Of course, it’s a dead-end and before I can mutter “dumbass” to myself I’m falling down an open manhole. The pit consumes me, darkness vivid as deep space. My back lands on concrete. I barely feel a thing. I get up and brush myself off. There’s a dead-weight being slid against concrete overhead and when I glance up a body is falling down at me. I sidestep it and it hits the ground with a wet SMACK. I see now it’s the armless—now recently headless—fuck that bit my neck and I’m about ready to kick his ass inward some more when someone clambers down the stairs that I had so expediently missed.
My head’s feeling a bit woozy by then and the room’s wish-washing back and forth. I’m still trying to figure out why my vision’s spinning when I haven’t had so much as a cold in half a year but my mind grows heavy before I can complete the thought. I black-out and when I open my eyes I’m outside myself. Literally. My body’s standing before me, looking blank like I usually do this time of night only it doesn’t seem aware of anything, not even me. It waits there a moment like an android with its master power switch set to “off”, arms dangling at its sides, head face-forward. I walk, or float, or something akin to motion, and wave my hand in front of its face and snap my fingers a few times. Nothing. Before I have time to step back and consider how terrible my corporeal half looks, a jolt kicks the body into “wake mode” and it tear-asses down the sewer, arms flailing like a fucking lunatic. I start to laugh then realize this really isn’t that funny and take off after it.
I’m an ethereal manifestation; a fucking ghost to be exact. Not wholly a unique experience for me, but just one ride of many I’ve had on this vast roller-coaster called death. I’ve taken countless dips off the slope of ‘ways-to-die’ but scratch zombification down as unique. No one gave me an instruction manual on how an already dead yet fully conscious ghoul deals with a bite from a member of the truly dead-undead. What’s weirder yet is why my body was affected at all by a bite. I could catch rabies and wouldn’t know it but a fucking zombie comes along and suddenly I’m in two places at once. What the hell?
I hear the clatter of someone coming off the ladder from behind me but I keep up with my corpse. It charges down a dank-ass channel, slapping sludge-water up the leg of my neatly pressed chinos, and angles toward a sound of collective moaning. I can’t help but wonder how much worse the night’s escapade is about to get when I round a bend and run smack into an undead horde.
Rays beam from cracks in an overhead tunnel vent revealing a mass of rotting flesh, declumping meat, and shriveled skin. Some of them turn when my corpse plows through their ranks to meet them. Many of their eyes have gone a milky white and their lips have curled back into tight sneers revealing blackened teeth wedged with stringy late-night leftovers of somebody’s protein. Some of their bellies are bloated, the internal gasses from within stretching their stomachs causing fissures that have burst, leaking putrefied entrails to their feet. I’m glad I’m not in my body ‘cause I get a sense the smell down here is worse than a morgue with a busted AC in Phoenix at noontime.
The mob doesn’t give my racing carcass a second glance. It’s one of them now. They shuffle and prod each other, each vying for a spot closest to a leaking steam vent. Being deader than a doornail, ghouls don’t feel the cold. But maybe a fresh human infected by a zombie has just enough spark left to sense a temp. It makes sense. My corpse is the only one not vying to soak up a steam-bath. But who knows, really. I’m not a fucking witchdoctor.
My body stumbles about the outer edge of the mob, drooling like it had too many gin and tonics and popped a month’s worth of sleepers to boot. It does double-back sweeps, trying to gain its bearings, scoping for something. A meal no doubt, but it’s just as disappointed as the rest. There’s a communal moan rising from the crowd and I meander my way past...
RUNNER'S UP #1: Barry from Gnostalgia
I am aware.
I can’t tell you how long I have been aware. I can only tell you that I am aware.
I know where I am. I am standing in the corner of a dark room. Though it is pitch black, I know that it is my home office. I don’t need to see it to know that my computer desk is in front of me. Even though I can not see it or touch it, I know that it is there. My file cabinets are to my left and my toys, as my wife called them, my pewter wizard and crystal collections are to my right. From time to time, I almost believe that I see a twinkle of light reflect from one or more of the crystals.
I also know that I am dead.
No one can explain how the zombie outbreak happened. Was it pollution, military experiments gone wrong, or some natural disease? All that I can tell you is that it was yet another plague. Sadly, there was no wise man to lead us to a promised land. No deity offered some relief. Nothing.
It wasn’t long before martial law was ordered, an emergency declared, and our rights were taken from us. I guess that we as a people decided to surrender our rights for the promise of safety. For me, that promise failed. I was infected with the plague.
Friends and family gathered to see me before the inevitable. We laughed and we cried. I had time to set my affairs in order. I knew what I needed to do before I changed. I had a gun. Then I was here.
My eyes seem to adjust to the darkness, I can see and feel the dust settle. I am so lonely. The power is off. The house is silent. The neighborhood is silent. I feel like the world itself is silent.
From time to time my mind drifts to a happier time. A time when my Father taught me to float. He stood waist deep in the bay and his strong hands supported me. “Just relax Paul.” “Just relax, let go, and you can float.” In time, I learned to float and drift around in the warm Florida bays. I gave it up shortly after watching the movie “Jaws.”
In time I learned to move. I didn’t want to move but I needed answers. I needed to know what happened. I moved to the family room and found the hospital bed. I wanted to be moved to a hospital bed because I didn’t want to die in the bed that I shared with my wife. It was also easier for people to stop by and say their goodbyes.
To my horror, the bed was overturned and the room was a wreak. I found my unfired gun. Oh my God. I didn’t do it. I didn’t blow my brains out. I must be the reason that the neighborhood is deserted.
“Drift Paul … let go and float”
Gilbert’s Book Store, I used to haunt this place. What am I saying, I am haunting this place. At least Gilbert’s had power; even though, the place was deserted. I quietly move from shadow to shadow exploring the old book store. I can’t help but think of the episode of the Twilight Zone where the poor man has all the time in the world to read and then he breaks his glasses. I have time to read but the books are often too hard for me to move.
Books are a great way for enlightenment and I found myself. Oh no, not in a metaphysical way. I found my body, my zombie. He, or is it I, was squatting in a corner chewing on something (or could it be someone ?) that I could not identify. Thank god I flunked biology.
Memories flooded into my mind, soldiers evacuated the house. No one was there when I changed. I didn’t hurt anyone … well by that point.
“They're coming to get you Barbara,” I said in my best imitation of “Night of the Living Dead.”
He, or should I say I, stopped eating and looked at me.
“Can you see me?”
“Can you hear me?”
My doppleganger looked at me in a quizzical manner. He reacted with grunts, growls, and wild swinging hand gestures.
“Look …look at this,” as I pointed to the music selection. “Listen!”
I tried to get the stereo to play and when I was at the point of quitting it roared to life. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody“ began to play.
Mama just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead
Mama, life has just begun
But now I've gone and thrown it all away
Didn't mean to make you cry
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters
There was no reaction. He was nothing more than an animated husk.
“You’re not me!”
“I don’t know what you are, but you are not me.”
I didn’t have the will to end this before. I have to end it now.
Moving to the phone, I managed to summon the power to dial 9-1-1. The operator rattle a series of questions but she could not hear me.
The police arrived and found the zombie. They surrounded the location and sharpshooters took positions around the building. I almost felt sorry for him. In time, shots were fired and the zombie fell to the floor. The shot was not a clean one and he lay twitching on the floor.
I moved over to him and said, “Let go Paul.”” Relax and drift.”
I don’t know if he understood me; but, he looked at me with a peaceful expression before he drifted away.
Once again, I find myself in my home office. No one bothers me in here. Alone, I stand and listen to the dust ... and sometimes I dream.
RUNNER'S UP #2 Pangs
It is said that life finds a way.
Well, not life really. Existence surely? I don't really know. I didn't learn any of this in Sunday School.
Considering the situation, I can draw no solid conclusions. My consciousness is awash in imagery I do not understand. At the same time, there is very little else.
I know that I am not alive. Not in the way I had been accustomed. I know this for certain because I am staring at my body. A shell that has exiled my very essence. Before me, a shambling mess of rage and instinct. This fact is striking enough to recognize as odd, even in my current state of dismay. I have no idea how this happened.
Lonely and confused, I have only the vaguest sense of self. A sense that is fading daily, if not hourly. I recognize my face, but that recognition grows more fleeting. The features I knew so well are contorted and wrong. Melting into a horrific mask. It sickens and saddens me, but the urge to gaze upon it does not diminish.
The landscape is torn and shattered now. Not like the image I hold of what things were like before. However, even that image is suspect. I have flashes of memory. Of times unlike this, or maybe delusions of things to come. More frequently, and more vibrant, are hellish images of chaos and violence. These too feel untethered in my time-line. Time is meaningless as I drift in and out.
I'm not sure if they are truly remembrances or merely dreams. My transition is hazy. I cling only to what I think of as rebirth. Waking into this new existence was, and remains, a haze. Halting moments of clarity. In between those moments is a whorl of numbness and shattered thoughts.
When I can muster enough energy, I am haunted by the doppelganger. Drooping and fetid, but seemingly not beyond its expiration date. I can descry no real life in this shadow of myself. Only some compulsion for survival. Constantly roving. Haphazardly seeking sustenance. This monstrous, warped version of a human is omnivorous and opportunistic. Perhaps it doesn't know itself what it requires. It is never sated and never rests.
I am aware that these beings are not immortal. Whether through the death of the invading virus (I can find no better term to describe it) or the eventual failings of the human body. It seems that this new hybrid species of human and unknown is as susceptible to the ravages of nature as any sack of meat.
In moments of despair, I have tried to separate myself from this gruesome, mocking representation of my living chassis. I am unable to do so. Some compulsion links me to it. More than physical limitations chain me in binary orbit with this monster. Obsession, psychological distress and essential life force drive us together like magnets.
My energy is not constant. Weakness of spirit overcomes me and I diminish. Is there anything that fuels this? I truly do not know. I am unable to define a pattern. My failure is due as much to my disorientation as it is to the Nothingness that grabs at me.
The depletion comes with fear. What have I become and what will become of me when that blackness overcomes? Will I awaken to yet more confusion and more loneliness? Will I awaken at all? Each new awakening, I feel less. Less me, less solid, less...everything. And yet, I am consumed by questions. Always questions. Never answers.
Am I fueled by a form of residual energy? Some tenuous linkage to the organism that I have become. Two parasites feeding off of one another. My incorporeal form leeching from the parasite as it ravages my physical form.
When my confederate has used up that form, will there be nothing left for me? Faded out to nothing finally? Or will I persist, as I feel I must.
Perhaps it is best I do not continue. I exist only in headspace now. There is nothing else. The world I view from behind my veil is fog and wisps of sound. What senses remain to me are dull. A dull impression of my surroundings. Still, in the midst of dim perception blazes the sharp edges of my emotional presence. Emotions that only serve to drain me and emphasize the isolation.
The effort of being now only brings pain and rage. How can this have happened? Why? More importantly, how can I break free.
Attempts to steer my beastly being toward its doom in fire and and nature's other brutalities failed miserably. Unable to physically interact with it, I have made more intimate contact. Our force is not compatible. The attempt left me in a pool of my own madness.
I am awaiting its demise. I will be free. One way or another. To fade into that fathomless Nothing or to finally fly free from this vagabond cadaver. I have nothing to cling to without this horrid, rotting caricature.
There are none like me. None that I can sense. Is this my own hell? Am I dreaming? Falling into Nothing doesn't seem like it could be worse. Yet I am unwilling to give in. Would you willingly abandon yourself? The void awaits and pulls. I cannot believe there is anything good in store for me behind that shadow. How else to explain my fear and anger. The inescapable loneliness. The emptiness that taunts me. Facing the abyss in abject terror, I can see no hope.
I am tired. Weary. Hopeless and forlorn.
Notice there; my perverted partner is floundering.
The Nothingness is beginning to envelope me again. I feel...something.