Monique Lewis Happy

Book trading.  Does anybody else remember doing this?

As a young teenager, I didn’t have a whole lot of cash.  I mowed lawns in the summers, and had a paper route for a while, and worked for a very short while in the shrimp camps down in Kemah, Texas.  But money was still short.  I couldn’t just skip over to the bookstore and buy an armload of books, even if it was 1983 and most of my favorite stuff was coming out in mass market paperback and selling for $1.25.

Money was scarce.

I do remember skipping lunch for days on end, saving my lunch money to buy the books of Robert McCammon and Stephen King.  But even then, there was a limit to what I could buy.

And there was most definitely a limit to what my school library had available.

So I turned to my friends.  We developed a sort of fiction underground, trading paperbacks amongst ourselves the way some kids traded baseball cards.

I’ll give you three of my Guy N. Smith giant crab novels for that James Herbert you’ve got there, I remember myself saying.

To which I got:  No way.  Give me that Charles Beaumont collection and I’ll give you the collected stories of Ambrose Bierce.

That was a snapshot of my teenage years.  My education, if you will.

Trading books.

And it was just such a shared history that convinced me I had to include today’s guest in my countdown to the September 3, 2013 release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, Ms. Monique Lewis Happy.

You see, when she was a young girl, her parents took her out of school and set out for a three-year trek across the world’s oceans in a 40 foot Newporter called The Caprice.  They dragged all over the globe, and the main source of her education during that time was the limited collection of paperbacks her father stowed aboard.  These included John D. MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name but a few.  Not a bad start for a tike, but hardly a complete education.  Sensing as much, Monique began to trade paperbacks with other boats she’d meet on her way.

And so her education grew.

Much as my own did.

Hearing that story I felt an instant kinship with her.

Also, it didn’t hurt that since her return from that round-the-world voyage she’d managed to become a noted editor in the Indie zombie genre, counting among her clients the legendary Mark Tufo.  (Check out my interview with Mark Tufo here.)

I thought Monique’s unique role in the zombie genre might provide an interesting turn on the whole zombie conversation, and so I am pleased to bring you Ms. Monique Lewis Happy, editor-in-chief of zombie mayhem.

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related projects?  How do you approach the genre?

Monique Lewis Happy:  Well, actually I’m not a zombie writer, or at least not a published one. I’m a zombie editor.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the zombie genre. In 2010, I read the beginning of a new zombie series by Mark Tufo, and liked it so much I went on his blog to introduce myself and tell him how much I loved it. We became friends on Facebook. One day he gave a shout out to his fans, and asked if anyone wanted to review and edit his latest book. I volunteered, having been a legal secretary for over 25 years. I felt confident that I could do a good edit, plus I was dying to read his next installment on the series! I did that first book for fun and for free, and he liked my work so much he hired me. That gave me the courage to begin my own editing services, and I’ve been going strong ever since.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some other really stellar indie authors such as Robert DeCoteau, who has some great books out there, and G.R. Mountjoy, who has written an intense military zombpocalypse series. Most recently, I’ve been working steadily with Shawn Chesser (who’s a great guy, by the way — I’ve really enjoyed working with him), and my newest client, Sean Liebling, who is a kick in the pants and has begun a new series entitled Blood, Brains, and Bullets. Not for the faint of heart!

It’s been very exciting to work with all of these authors because of the experience and knowledge which they bring to the table. These guys really know what they’re talking about. I’ve learned so much about weapons systems and nomenclature. And they are writing really good stuff. They are revitalizing the zombie genre, along with other great authors like John O’Brien, J.L. Bourne, Joe Talluto, Shane Gregory, and yourself, of course!

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

MLH:  I am in no way prepared, except for the knowledge I’ve gained from working with the aforementioned authors. Physically, I probably could not outrun a zombie, unless they are of the shuffling variety. But I would be determined to survive, and I have children to protect. Not sure who would win if it came down to Mama Bear vs. a zombie. *grin*

I seriously think that the majority of mankind will be snuffed out in the first few days. The Preppers will probably outlast us all, and good for them! I can only hope to make it long enough to hook up with a group of people and make it to a safe enclave.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here. I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

MLH:  I know you’ve heard this before, but I’m a huge fan of ANYTHING that George Romero has had a hand in. My favorite zombie movie is probably Dawn of the Dead (the original, although I enjoyed the remake), followed by Shaun of the Dead.  Next in line on my faves list is Day of the Dead (by Romero) and Zombieland. I can watch Zombieland over and over again. Especially the final scene with Bill Murray.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

MLH:  The fight scene in the bar in Shaun of the Dead, when Queen is playing on the jukebox. I just watched it again and couldn’t stop laughing. Zombies and campy humor. Good stuff right there.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

MLH:  Personally, I love to lose myself in the world of the apocalypse. It’s not just about the drastic climate change or zombie virus or whatever else brought about the end of the world. It’s about the human spirit, our survival instinct, our true characters that come out when all that counts is where our next meal comes from and what we are willing to do to live one more day on this earth.

I think the current popularity stems from a desire to have a “do over” – to wipe away the old, material ways that are so clearly not working and begin anew with just the basics. To even out the playing table, so to speak. It’s very appealing to a lot of people.

Thanks for having me!

I can be contacted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MoniqueHappyEditorialServices

I’m also blogging at http://moniquehappyeditor.wordpress.com/

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Lisa Morton

Did you happen to catch my interview with Weston Ochse?  In that interview I talk about sitting with Wes at the HWA’s table at the Book Expo America convention, which remains one of my favorite events I’ve ever attended…for several reasons.

I’ll explain.

First off, I got to meet a lot of people I now hold as dear friends.  (I remember sitting in the little backseat of Lisa Morton’s short crew pickup, my knees crammed into my chin and a pile of boxes leaning against my head, talking with Gene O’Neill about his history as a boxer, for example.) It was my first introduction to major conventions and all that they can do for an author’s career; which is, believe me, an article all unto itself.

Secondly, it introduced me to life as a professional writer, which at the time, I’ll honestly say, I didn’t put in the same sentence with my own literary efforts.  But Lisa Morton helped to change that.  This was the woman who pulled me aside and said she thought I had a promising career ahead of me.  She was, in so many ways, the gatekeeper for my transition from interested hobbyist to pro.  I can’t thank her enough for giving me that early confidence.  I’ve often wondered how you can repay that sort of early helping hand up, and the only thing that comes to mind is mentorship.  Lisa was there for me when there was no formalized such thing as a mentorship, and I have tried to emulate that same voice of confidence and experience when I myself became a mentor.  I can think of no higher words of praise to say to a senior fellow than thank you; and to you, Lisa, I say a sincere and honest “Thank you!  You rock!”

She has won her share of Stoker awards.  She has turned out stories that challenge our view of how things should be (Don’t believe me, check out her story “Sparks Fly Upwards” – it’s one of my favorites.), written novels that reimagine our idea of the monster, and highlighted the fact that women deserve a bigger presence in the horror genre.  (To this day I would love to see Lisa Morton write the feminist take on the Last Girl trope.  I would stand in line for that short story.)  And in the course of becoming a leading voice in the horror community, she has also managed to become the leading authority on Halloween.  That’s not hyperbole, either.  She really is the world’s leading authority on Halloween.  (Check this out to see what I mean.)

But enough of that.  I can go on all day about Lisa Morton, because I love her so.  All you really need is to read her, and I’m presenting that opportunity now.  Please enjoy!

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Lisa Morton:  I’m occasionally shocked to realize that I’ve written enough zombie short fiction to fill a book! Most recently I’ve been part of the two shared-world Zombie Apocalypse anthologies edited by Stephen Jones, and I’m currently working on a tie-in novel called Zombie Apocalypse: Washington Deceased.

Zombies are us, with our personalities scrubbed out and replaced by the most basic, most primitive of needs (to feed). They’re not sensual and intelligent like vampires, savage like werewolves, or mysterious like ghosts; they’re just blank. Because of the blankness, they’re like the horror equivalent of an erased blackboard that you can write anything on. Religious allegory, political commentary, social satire…the zombie story can easily become any of those.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

LM:  Sorry, but I don’t see us taking great care of the joint without zombies; they’ll just make the final fade-out happen a little faster. I might last a little longer than everyone else, but I have an unfair advantage (as do you!): We’ve spent more time thinking about this stuff than everyone else.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

LM:  I’ve got to go with Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. I saw it in on opening night, when I was in my second year of film school. A teacher’s assistant who knew I liked horror insisted that we go; I’d somehow never seen Night of the Living Dead, and had absolutely no idea what I was in for. And yeah, it pretty much destroyed me. I didn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It took me a while to realize that what bothered me wasn’t even so much the idea of the hungry dead as it was the living survivors, sealing themselves away in a shopping mall. One of the great scenes in movie history for me is when Fran, the female lead, kind of wakes up and says, “What are we doing here?” Horror movie as rejection of consumer society…I’d certainly never imagined anything that subversive.

I also have to give a shout-out to the follow-up, Day of the Dead, which I think is an extraordinary and underrated film. The way Day suggests that the ultimate breakdown comes as the result of a battle between right (the military) and left (science) seems more and more prescient.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

LM:  Does it have to be a zombie being killed, or can it be zombies doing the killing? If it’s the latter, I’m going with the end of Day, when the zombies rip apart the military leader Rhodes who screams “Choke on it!” while he watches parts of himself being eaten. I even love the way Romero cuts back a couple of times to parts of Rhodes being dragged around the abandoned facility by listless zombies.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

LM:  That we fear we are being erased by the very culture that tells us to be unique, that sells us products by subtly preying on our fear that we’re really not different at all. That dread of conformity works two ways in the zombie mythos: By turning the dead into one big, indistinguishable hungry mass, and by suggesting that the living are nothing but walking meat lockers. It strips intellect, emotion, and self from all of us, and replaces it with nothing but consumption and gore.  Yeah, that’s pretty terrifying. 

Go here to buy Lisa’s books and go here to check out her website

James Cook

Okay, so most of you know about my zombie masters series by now.  I’m interviewing one zombie master each day as I count down the days to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead.  With me today is one of my recent discoveries, Mr. James Cook.

I bought the first volume of James’ Surviving the Dead series back in May of this year on the recommendation of a friend, and was hooked from the first page.  He hits hard and doesn’t let up.  If you like intense, character-driven action and suspense, James Cook has you covered.  Definitely follow the series in order, starting with No Easy Hope, then go to This Shattered Land and Warrior Within.  You can pick up the books here.

But for now, please welcome Mr. James N. Cook, zombie master!

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre.

James Cook:  My zombie writing, much like all my writing, is character driven. My work is less about the zombies and more about the lives of the people surviving the apocalypse. The zombies are the setting, the danger, the constant threat in the background. They’re the splash of cold water in the face every time you wake up from a good dream. They’re the monster that comes crashing through the window when you think you’re safe. The zombies provide the catalyst that drives people to abandon their old lives and start new ones.

The most interesting part of post-apocalyptic storytelling—to me at least—is the difficulty of day-to-day survival juxtaposed against trying to rebuild civilization. In my writing, I explore how societies, much like anything else, are large bodies comprised of small parts. The bricks of a society are individual people, and the mortar that holds them together is relationships. Add in the architecture of laws and government, and what you get is the tribe, the most basic element of human culture. Make the tribe big enough and you create a society. Pit these societies against each other, and you have war.

In my zombie series (Surviving the Dead), the end of the world didn’t stop warfare. If anything, it ushered in an even bloodier chapter of violence than what existed before. The reason for this is simple: human nature. The inescapable reality of the animals we are beneath the thin veneer of civilization. That’s what my books are about.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

JC:  Am I prepared? Absolutely not. No one is. They might tell themselves they are, but they’re not.

Would humanity win? I guess that depends on your definition of winning. The pages of history are littered with the bones of once-great civilizations. If winning means rebuilding to the level of our old glory, then I doubt it. It took western civilization nearly 1600 years to recover from the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the Romans didn’t even have air conditioning.

If, however, your definition of ‘winning’ is survival, then yes, I think we would. Everyone who is alive today is a descendent of a small group of people in Southern Ethiopia who survived a mass extinction event. If we did it once, we can do it again.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

JC:  Season one of The Walking Dead. I’ve always been a huge fan of the ‘lone survivor’ archetype. Those early episodes were a big part of the inspiration for my first novel, No Easy Hope.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

JC:  Season Two of The Walking Dead. After Rick finds Sophia, he hides her and goes back to deal with the two walkers tracking her. It’s one of the few zombie kills I’ve seen on screen where the character uses his bare hands to kill the infected. Well, technically he used a big-ass rock, but you get the idea.

What really grabbed me about that scene was when Rick was hiding behind the tree, breathing deep, clutching the rock, and screwing up his courage. The look of determination on his face was classic.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yoke of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

JC:  I think it shines a light on our fear of inevitable forces. Death is the most obvious of these, but that’s not the specific nerve zombies strike.

Most people don’t really understand much about the world around them. There are forces that affect our lives—politics, law, warfare, natural disasters, climate change, overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, corruption, racism, religious fanaticism—that we fear instinctively, but can’t quantify or speak of eloquently from an intellectual standpoint. Stated more plainly, we know the world is a big, dangerous, scary place, but we’re not really sure why.

There are literally billions of people out there who feel as if they are helpless bystanders in the vast ocean of events that is life in our modern world. This feeling of helplessness engenders a fundamental distrust of the world around us, and more specifically, of other people. This distrust of other people stems from a wellspring of fear that lives in each and every one of us because, as much as we tout our vaunted morals, and as much as we want to believe that we are compassionate human beings with hearts, and minds, and souls, and value, the truth is, we’re all just a few missed meals away from savagery. We’re all just hairless apes with brains too big for our own damn good. And we all know that if the proverbial shit hit the fan, the worst threat we would face would not be the circumstances of the disaster, but each other.

We know this, all of us, because the darkness we project onto others is just a reflection of the darkness that lives inside us. We like to try and convince ourselves that we are good people and those other people are the bad guys, but in reality, there is a bad guy in all of us. Anyone who doesn’t believe that has never gone hungry, or been afraid for their lives. Or both.

Zombies embody our innate fear of the darkness that dwells within us. And because we feel that darkness, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we see that darkness in other people. If all those people, in all their mind-boggling billions, decided to break bad and start murdering each other wholesale, there is no force on this earth that could stop them. We, the individual, being the good, decent, thinking people that we are, would be swept up in that tsunami and dashed against the rocks just like everyone else.

That’s what zombies represent. The individual evils of the world, one person at a time, aggregated into an irresistible tide of destruction. And the fundamental nature of the zombie—specifically its motivation to kill and its method thereof—preys on one of the oldest and most deeply-ingrained of human fears: the fear of being eaten.

Zombie apocalypse fiction symbolizes our understanding of the fragile nature of civilization, and the inevitability of its demise. We all know, deep down, that one dark day this whole fucking mess, all of it, is going to come to a screeching halt. And as much as we would like to believe differently, we all know beyond doubt that when the time comes, there’s not going to be a damn thing we can do to stop it. That’s what zombies tell us about ourselves.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was James N. Cook.  Check him out on Facebook here.

And while you’re stalking James on the Internet make sure and stop by Amazon to pick up a copy of my upcoming zombie novel, The Savage Dead.  You can do that right here.

Wayne Simmons

We are now less than a month away from the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and a full week into my Zombie Masters series.  Today I’m bringing you a tattooed badass of a writer named Wayne Simmons.

Every once in a while I get to write blurbs for writers I admire, and in one such blurb I described Wayne Simmons as the bare knuckle boxer of the zombie genre.  He is exactly that.  His novel Flu was my introduction to his body of work and I haven’t missed a book by him since.  I highly recommend Flu and Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Both are great, and I’m eagerly awaiting his new release, Plastic Jesus.

Belfast born, Wayne currently lives in Wales with his ghoulfriend and a Jack Russell terrier named Dita.  You can learn more about him here, and you can order his books here, but for now enjoy this conversation with one of horror’s most original voices.

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Wayne Simmons:  Always a pleasure to chat with you, Joe!

I’m Wayne Simmons, token Irish zombie writer and once a ginger (until Jesus took all my hair away). I’m probably best known for my novel FLU, a Belfast-based horror romp about a mutating virus, the zombies it creates and the ragtag bunch of survivors trying to get along with each other (and failing) in order to stay alive. It’s defiantly horror, defiantly Northern Irish and defiantly Romero-esque.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

WS:  I think humanity would be screwed. We’re all so technologically dependent right now, one eye constantly on social media, that if/ when the lights went out, we would really struggle to put one foot in front of the other. We’d be zombie food for sure.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

WS:  Movie-wise, I could talk about the holy trinity of Romero (after all, that’s the reason we’re all doing this thing, right?) but let’s put that aside and talk about the lesser-known stuff. MUTANTS is a French zombie thriller that gets a lot less attention than it deserves. It’s a superb film, balancing character development perfectly with the gore and action we all want to see. BEFORE DAWN is UK production, released this year, and it’s another cracker. Again, very character-driven, focusing on the story of our two main protagonists, but injecting some of the most brutal and intense zombie action and gore that I’ve seen in recent years.  PRIMAL is a recent Australian horror flick that follows an almost voodoo zombie vibe. It’s gorey, funny and super-violent and I love it.

Book-wise, I’d have to point you in the direction of fellow horror hack, David Moody, and his AUTUMN series. If you’re looking for something different within the genre, something that deals out a very realistic vision of the end of the world, and the zombie epidemic, there’s no better series on the market. For me, it’s the best apoc-horror since Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

WS:  Sticking with my movie choices, I’d have to say the final scene of PRIMAL, simply because it features the absolute best one-liner I’ve ever heard in a movie.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

WS:  Within zombie horror, we usually find some analogy of the danger of the herd mentality. Romero did it with racism and consumerism, but you can paint just about any ‘ism’ you choose onto the blank-faced canvas of the zombie, and that’s probably what appeals to me about this genre. With my books, I’ve dealt with sectarianism; will people still follow their pre-set social ideologies in a post-apoc world where governments and borders and religion and cultural identity mean absolutely nothing? Often, the answer is yes and the drama that creates, the tension between characters, is wonderful fodder to play around with.

You can check out all of Wayne’s wonderful fiction here

Mark Tufo

Are there any Mark Tufo fans in the house?  Raise your hands with me.  Whenever I’m asked for my recommendations on great zombie writers I have a short list I always give out, and Mark is always on it.  He’s hilarious, he’s terrifying, and he’s a damn good storyteller.  I’m delighted to have him here on Old Major’s Dream.

As you know, I’m counting down the days till the September 3rd release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, with a series of interviews of zombie masters, and Mark Tufo is most certainly that.  Mark was born in Boston Massachusetts. He attended UMASS Amherst where he obtained a BA and later joined the US Marine Corp. He was stationed in Parris Island SC, Twenty Nine Palms CA and Kaneohe Bay Hawaii. After his tour he went into the Human Resources field with a worldwide financial institution and has gone back to college at CTU to complete his masters.  He has written the Indian Hill trilogy with the first Indian Hill – Encounters being published for the Amazon Kindle in July 2009. He has since written the Zombie Fallout series and is working on a new zombie book.  He lives in Maine with his wife, three kids and two English bulldogs.

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Mark Tufo:  Hi Joe, first off I wanted to thank you for inviting me to be here. But I was told there would be refreshments and I’m not seeing any. Right now I have three series that revolve around zombies, Zombie Fallout, Timothy and The Book of Riley, so I guess it’s safe to say I really dig zombies. I’ve been fascinated with the genre since I was 7 and my babysitting cousin thought watching Night of the Living Dead would be a good way to while away the time. I’ve never been so scared and enthralled in my entire life. When I started the ZF series I really wanted to go with the Every Guy and see how he would deal with protecting his family and friends. That he’s a sarcastic smart-ass was just a bonus.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

MT:  I’m not a ‘prepper’ per say. I have guns, ammo and some food stored. Could I make it for the long haul with my stores and my defenses? I don’t think at my present location. I think humanity’s survival would rest on how fast the outbreak hit. And having been prior military I think the biggest threat to mankind would be mankind. When the crap hits the fan we are not nearly as altruistic as we would like to think. Cynical? Probably.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

MT:  I almost hate answering this question because honestly I’ve read or watched so many books and movies that I’ve loved I’d never be able to give this list justice. How about if I go with a cop-out. If it has a zombie in it, I’m pretty much a fan.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

MT:  Dead Snow has this one scene where two men one armed with a sledge hammer and the other a chainsaw fight through a horde of Nazi’s. I thought that was a pretty awesome scene. Now hopefully if I’m ever caught in that scenario it’s with a fully automatic weapon. None of that hand to hand combat crap! Always carry extra ammo!

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

MT:  Personally I think people want a change. A radical, apocalyptic change. We are so wrapped up in the monotony of our lives that somehow fighting hordes of the Living Dead seems like a viable alternative. No more mortgage, cable or cell phone bills. No more stories about our corrupt government officials. No increasing taxes. No more working for The Man. It’s a way to live life the way it was meant to – unencumbered. Although fighting continually for your survival has its own inherent burdens.

Thank you for allowing me the time to rant!

And that, my friends, was Mark Tufo, one of my personal favorites.  You can learn more about him and his Indian Hill Trilogy and Zombie Fallout series at his website here and here, and you can friend him on Facebook here.

You can check out all his books here.

John O’Brien

Welcome to Day 3 in my Zombie Masters Series.  I’m hosting a different writer each day as I count down the days till the September 3rd release date of my next novel, The Savage Dead, and with me today is one of the most inventive new voices in zombie fiction, Mr. John O’Brien.

When I first came up with the idea for this series I knew I had to have John onboard.  I’m a huge fan of his A New World series, and the man himself is fascinating.   He is a former Air Force fighter instructor pilot who transitioned to Special Operations for the latter part of his career gathering his campaign ribbon for Desert Storm. Immediately following his military service, John became a firefighter/EMT with a local department. Along with becoming a firefighter, he fell into the Information Technology industry starting two large casinos in Washington as the Information Technology Manager and becoming the Network Manager for the Washington State Legislature, the Northwest Information Technology Manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Network Systems Manager for Hollywood Video.

Currently, John is writing full-time on the series, A New World. As a former marathon runner, John lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and can now be found kayaking out in the waters of Puget Sound, mountain biking in the Capital Forest, hiking in the Olympic Peninsula, or pedaling his road bike along the many scenic roads.

So please help me welcome John O’Brien.

 

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

John O’Brien:  First, I’m not sure you could technically classify the creatures in my series as zombies as they aren’t undead but rather a mutated species of humans. The series is a survival story of a normal person, although, admittedly, he does have a skillset suited to the post-apocalyptic world. The books take one through the onset of civilization’s downfall and having to deal with living in a new world. The rules have changed and a greatly diminished humankind are no longer at the top of the food chain. The mutated beings are a ferocious and relentless new species that hunt at night.

I approach the story from a central perspective of survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The creatures are thrown in to up the ante so to speak. They add an additional element of danger. I also take the perspective that I like the fast, strong, agile type of creature which changes the strategy of dealing with them. Initially I had in mind that the creatures would be able to function day and night like zombies but in thinking about the survival strategy, it would have been almost impossible for any of humankind to survive so I limited them to just being able to be out at night.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

JO:  Although not as prepared as I would like to be, I think I would be able to survive. Being in the country helps as it would be some time before any horde showed up this way. I think some shred of humanity would survive but only those who can quickly recognize and adapt to the situation would be those who would be holed up in enclaves or on the run. Any manufacturing would cease so adaptation and mindset would be paramount. Depending on the nature of Zs, life might become a nomadic way of life – moving from place to place as the zombies found those still around. As far as humanity winning, that depends on how quick the reaction is. And how quick the spread of infection. My guess is that most of humanity would disappear quickly leaving small groups to survive.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

JO:  I would have to say my favorite zombie-type movie is 28 Weeks Later. Although it’s not really dealing with zombies, the abilities of the rage creatures take survival to a whole new level. I like the ferocity and speed of the infected.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

JO:  I have to go back to 28 Weeks Later when the husband kissed his wife and become infected with the rage virus.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

JO:  I think there is a change in the air and people feel it coming. Society is moving at a sharply elevated curve that cannot be sustained. The popularity perhaps indicates and unknown future and the embodiment of our own mortality. Zombies bring the post-apocalyptic nightmare into a more personal realm. The dead walking the earth were once one of us – loved ones and friends.

There is also the aspect that a zombie apocalypse presents a survivable scenario. Everyone, well, I say this as a generality, believes that they can survive a zombie war. It brings a post-apocalyptic scenario that one can live through. There isn’t any luck, well, some doesn’t hurt, but it’s about surviving through using one’s skills and mind rather than luck of the draw with a viral, economic, environmental, or nuclear apocalypse – or some celestial body colliding with the earth.

There are many reasons and each has their own reason for enjoying the zombie apocalypse. For me, it represents the ultimate survival situation.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the readers and fans. Your support of zombies authors everywhere means a lot.

Thanks for having me, Joe.

You can find John on Facebook right here, check out his website here, and check out his books here.

Iain McKinnon

Well, here we are on Day 2 of my countdown to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and the Zombie Masters Series is just gaining momentum.  (Check out yesterday’s interview with David Moody here.)  Today’s featured writer is a good friend of mine, Mr. Iain McKinnon.  Iain first came to my attention around Christmastime, 2009, with his novel Domain of the Dead.  It was a tough, gritty novel filled with everything I loved about the zombie genre.  We chatted on Facebook, and I realized I’d discovered a kindred spirit.  We now communicate on a regular basis, and we even got to share a big plate of sushi recently in Los Angeles.  And it was my great pleasure to write the introduction to the sequel to Domain of the Dead, his brilliant defiance of death, Remains of the Dead.

Iain McKinnon was born in Scotland in the early seventies and lived a happy well balanced childhood, with the exception of being forced to wear flares and the 1978 World Cup. Iain is a Sci-Fi geek with a macabre streak currently writing for Permuted Press. He lives and writes from his home just outside Edinburgh. 

This is a writer you should be reading right now.  But if you haven’t, take a moment to hear his thoughts on zombies and then go read him.  You can check out his books here.

This is Iain McKinnon!

Joe McKinney:  Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream.  I’m glad you could swing by.  You’re no stranger to zombie fiction.  Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing?  How do you approach the genre?

Iain McKinnon:  Thanks for inviting me. You’re right I’m no stranger to zombie fiction. I guess my writing springs from my love and terror of zombies. I watched Romero’s Day of the Dead when I was eighteen and it seriously freaked me out, in a way no other horror ever had. Well that was me hooked. I devoured all the zombie movies I could and when I’d finished those I reluctantly moved on to books.

I say reluctantly because I’ve never been a reader. I blame it on my dyslexia but I struggle to read.

I’m the only writer I know who isn’t a voracious reader. I’ll maybe read two or three books a year.

As a writer though I’m nervous about reading other writers’ work. As I said I love zombie fiction and I fear I’ll read something I was planning on doing and have to abandon an idea because I’ve read how someone else approached it.

But painfully slow reading speed aside I would say my dyslexia has been a powerful force in shaping my writing. The up side of dyslexia is I’m better at planning and three dimensional thinking than most people which helps the flow of my writing. But because my spelling is abominable I use text to speech software to spot my mistakes and I think this has the knock on effect of making my writing flow to the reader.

The mechanics of my writing aside I come at the genre very much as a fan. I write the zombie horror I’d like to read. As it turns out there a lot of people out there who like the visceral and claustrophobic zombie horrors I like. 

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win? 

IM:  I think humanity would win. We’re smart and resourceful and adaptable but I don’t think our civilization would survive. I wrote a piece for the Zombie Research Society a few years back about our western culture’s Just In Time supply chain.

Within a few days of any disaster the supermarkets would be bare and people would start to go hungry.

While we can cope with localized disasters in the western world if something like the 1918 flu pandemic hit again things would get nasty really quickly.

I’d say I’m better prepared than most people. Just by the nature of my work as a writer I’ve explored the scenarios and had rudimentary survival training. But while my family and I are better prepared than most I think luck will be the major factor in anybody’s survival. You can make all the right decisions, have all the right kit and training but in an event as big as a worldwide zombie pandemic a lot will be down to just dumb luck.

Although I don’t hold up much hope for the Western World there are still groups of isolated hunter gathers left in the world. While the technologically savvy perish the stone aged peoples on the fringes of the world will have the advantage.

As Walter Greatshell wrote in his novel Xombies the Eskimo will be the dominant culture in a zombie apocalypse.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.) 

IM:  Let me start by being sycophantic and mention Dead City straight off. I like the zombie stories that keep a tight cast of characters that work though an immediate chain of events. Fast, hard and nail biting. So you can see why I like Joe McKinney as a writer in general.

I also like the writing style in the novel. I’m a visual person so things like describing a car’s crumpled bumper like the nose of a boxer appeal to me.

Peter Clines is always a safe bet. His novels are an easy read but deceptively so. All the while he’s spinning threads into the story that weave into the final (and usually explosive) act of the novel.

Travis Adkins who has helped me a lot with my writing is worth checking out. He has a very direct and fluent voice which at first glance appears simple but is in fact beautifully constructed.

David Moody who has the knack of grabbing your imagination and dragging you into the situation. His dystopian stories hang around with you long after you’ve read his work and you constantly find yourself thinking “what would I do?”

I’ve already mentioned Walter Greatshell, great writer with the ability to dig deep into a fantastical scenario and pull out things you’d never have thought of.

Bob Fingerman’s Pariah has to get a mention for a zombie novel where the zombies are almost secondary. His characterizations are sublime. That man can tell me more about a character in one minute of action than most writers can pull off in a chapter.

When it comes to movies I feel we’ve been let down in the past few years. Yes there have been some great ones, 28 Days Later (sit back and wait for the arguments) the re-make of Dawn of the Dead and even Shaun of the Dead but other than those and a few notable exceptions we’ve been treated to a parade of no budget no script half hearted cash ins. Even Romero has become a disappointment. Sure his first three zombie movies were seminal and spell binding but he’s now made six, half of which have no merit at all.

Now that I’ve pissed off all the Romero fans in the house before you lynch me take a look at Dead Set from Charlie Brooker and tell me you can’t make a contemporary and intelligent zombie film (ok TV show). And not to forget The Walking Dead which continues to captivate the zombie loving audience. 

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time? 

IM:  Funny that. I can’t think of a single zombie death. It’s not the zombies we care about though it’s the living. We all remember Captain Rhodes, Flyboy, Ben, Shaun’s step dad, Bill Murray and dozens more. But the zombies… nope.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves? 

IM:  It’s the them and us tale isn’t it? We don’t want to be them. The stupid, decaying mindless monsters. The majority who are in the wrong, who we are powerless to overcome. The antitheses of all that we are. A malevolence which can take our identity from us and turn us into them.

What’s not to be scared of? It’s a metaphor that applies regardless of the age or social circumstance. It can be economic, moral, political, race, gender, the horror that is zombification can be superimposed over any issue.

Make sure and check out Iain’s books right here.  He’s one of the truly good ones, and a guarantee for a good read.

Also, check his website here and check out his Facebook page here.

Questions about Dead City?

Quite a few readers have written to me with questions about my novels Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead, so I thought it would be helpful to write a reader’s guide to the whole Dead World series. You can find it in the headings listed across the top of this webpage under “A Reader’s Guide to Dead World.”

I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, while at the same time providing some useful information. Of course, I can’t anticipate every question, so if there’s something special you want to know, just ask it in the comments section on that page. I won’t worry about spoilers in my answers back to you.

Enjoy!

Joe McKinney’s DEAD CITY is one of those rare books that starts fast and never EVER lets up. From page one to the stunning climax this book is a rollercoaster ride of action, violence and zombie horror. McKinney understands the genre and relies on its strongest conventions while at the same time adding new twists that make this book a thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended!
–Jonathan Maberry, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song

I enjoyed Dead City. It was a quick, fun read. I also thought McKinney did a fine job of realistically portraying the police officers and keeping their world accessible to “civilians”. Not always an easy balance, but he pulled it off.
–Brian Keene, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea

Dead City is a real thrill for the reader, jam-packed with fast driving, shooting, desperate stand-offs and lots of blood. McKinney, a San Antonio homicide detective by trade, writes with an authenticity that brings the events of “Dead City” to bloody, grasping life.
–Matt Staggs, Editor of Skullring.org

Tight writing…is what makes Dead City seem frighteningly possible. I like to have chills race up and down my spine, and I like to have to look over my shoulder to make sure I’m safe, and his writing had me feeling this way the entire time I was reading … and even after I’d finished the book!
–Phillip Tomasso III for In the Library Reviews

From the very first page of this urban thriller, Joe McKinney puts the cuffs on his readers and throws away the key. Gritty suspense, great characters, and very real cops. You’re gonna like this guy.
–Tom Monteleone, author of The Blood of the Lamb and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel

Plague Dogs

The cover for Potter's Field 3

Plague Dogs
By Joe McKinney

If they’d come a few minutes earlier the dogs would have surprised him in the bedroom, kneeling next to the bed, muttering his goodbyes to his dead wife. They’d have found a middle-aged man in shabby clothes, dirty gray hair hanging in curtains over his face, his expression ashen with grief. He would have been unarmed. They could have torn him to pieces. But they came too late, and when they broke out of the treeline and into his weed patch backyard Mark Vogler was already on his feet and headed for the kitchen, where he had moved most of his tools.

At first there were only two of them, both mangy and feral, but there were almost certainly more moving around in the dense cedar thicket that lined the yard. The dogs were part of the pack that had been trying to get at him for the last week, chewing holes in the boards he had nailed over his windows and doors, baying in the night, melting into the cedar thicket that surrounded his house like ghosts when he got drunk enough to stagger onto the back deck and take pot shots at them with his pistol.

Now, numb with grief, but not as numb as he thought he’d be, he leaned his forehead against a gap in the boards and watched the dogs charging the house. He wasn’t afraid, and he found that funny. He tried to tell himself that he should be afraid, that this time the dogs would smell death inside the house and keep at it till they got inside, but instead all he could think about was how long it had been since he’d slept last. What was it, two nights? Three?

He coughed. Yeah, he thought, it’s mutated all right. I’ve got a day left, maybe two.

“You need to do it if you’re gonna do it,” he said.

He grabbed an old Ruger pistol he kept on the counter and ran his finger over the trigger. The gun was a .357 with a blued barrel and walnut grips, nothing fancy, but solid and reliable.

Probably the last solid and reliable thing left in this world.

His eyes snapped to a loose corner of the plywood board he’d nailed over the back door. A Doberman, its muzzle streaked with blood, one eye clouded to a pale milky pink from a recent fight, was forcing its head and shoulders inside.

“Aren’t you the smart one?” Vogler said. “I didn’t see you.”

Ropes of saliva and flecks of foam flew from the dog’s bloody mouth. There was a stuttering growl rising in its throat, and its one remaining eye rolled in its socket with a feral intensity that only hunger could create.

He put the business end of the Ruger against the side of the dog’s head and, doing his best Dirty Harry, said, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?”

He fired, and then everything the animal had ever known and experienced sprayed out across the rainwater-sodden floor.

“Guess not.”

He stood there looking at the mostly headless corpse of the dog and he thought about what an animal knows, what its memory is like. This one looked four, maybe five years old. That meant it might have started its life as someone’s pet, though that phase of its life would have ended quickly. It might not even remember what life as someone’s pet was like, the regular meals, the occasional belly scratch. Most of its life had been spent feral, roaming the ruins of San Antonio with the packs, feeding on the detritus of a gone world.

The clicking of claws on the terracotta tiles of the back patio pulled his attention away. Both of the dogs he had seen earlier were there now, their sinewy bodies weaving through the rusted remains of his lawn furniture.

Vogler moved fast. He kicked the boards off the back door. They tumbled away easily with the Doberman’s weight to pull them down. The next moment he was through the door, his weapon trained on the lead dog. Vogler fired, turned, then fired again at the second animal. The first collapsed instantly from a solid head shot. The second fell back with a whimper, veined bubbles forming and popping at the hole in the side of its chest.

He kept the weapon trained on the second animal, waiting for it get back up, but it didn’t. It stared at him, panting, and he stared back at it, waiting for that exact moment when the dog’s life left its body.

He was looking at the dog, but he was thinking of Margaret, his dead wife. His grief was real, that much he knew, but he felt like he was too shallow to grieve her the way she deserved to be grieved. She had loved him honestly, despite all his years of self-absorption and putting his career before her, despite his ability to convince himself that providing for her was the same thing as loving her, and that made him wonder if his grief was for her passing, or for himself having to live without her.

He thought, Oh Jesus, am I that shallow? I am, aren’t I?

Vogler looked up at the tree line. The rest of the pack had come out of the trees. They were standing inside what had once been his yard, the fur bristling down their backs. None of them barked. The feral ones didn’t do that.

“Get out of here!” he yelled.

They didn’t move. They didn’t even flinch.

“Get!”

He ran down the steps and into the yard, screaming at them and waving his arms in the air like some mad prophet coming down from the hills to announce the end of days.

All but one of the dogs ran. It was a short-haired lab with a scar down the left side of its muzzle and the dirt and blood on its flanks was so thick that Vogler couldn’t tell what color it had once been.

“You better run, you son of a bitch,” he said.

But the dog just stared at him. Vogler raised the pistol and closed one eye and put the front sight square on the dog’s head and pulled the trigger.

The gun blast echoed through the surrounding hills, and when the noise was gone, Vogler wondered at how quiet it was here at the end of the world. Like a graveyard on a Sunday morning.

***

He couldn’t catch his breath as he remounted the stairs and went back inside. In the darkened kitchen he stood with one hand over his heart, trying to will himself to breathe. And then he coughed. He coughed hard, again and again, and each hack felt like something was inside him, trying to claw its way out. When the coughing finally subsided he steadied himself against a granite counter top that had been the finest money could buy not so many years ago, before the San Antonio flu and the military quarantine and all the useless madness that had come with those times. He stared at the light fixture above the empty floor where their dining room table had once stood. The room seemed to swell and contract, swell and contract, like he was standing inside a giant lung, and he thought he was going to vomit. Vogler had been a surgeon in the early days of the flu, and he’d heard patients describe this exact feeling, the same nausea-inducing hallucinations, the shortness of breath, and he knew what was coming. Another six or eight hours and his lips would start to take on the blueberry stain of cyanosis as his lungs filled with fluid and he drowned to death in his own blood and snot.

And then he remembered the pistol in his hand. Vogler looked down at it then and was surprised to see it was still there.

“Just make sure you save yourself a bullet,” he said, and was mildly amused at how easy the decision to use the gun on himself was to make.

He wondered what it was going to taste like, the soot-stained metal.

Vogler stepped outside again to see if the pack had returned, but the yard was empty. He leaned against the porch railing and let his mind drift. Behind him stood an eight thousand square foot monstrosity, a moldering Mediterranean-style villa that had been his dream home ten years ago when he built it for Margaret. It stood on top of a low, domed hill, commanding a view of other hills, other mansions. They were all wrecks now–all that remained of what had once been the Dominion, San Antonio’s wealthiest neighborhood. Looking to the south, he saw the city skyline and the yellowish, hazy dust that rose from it. Those streets were crowded with the mummified corpses of the victims of H2N2, the San Antonio Flu.

He turned away.

There was an obligation waiting for him inside. Margaret, in the dying moment of clarity that had penetrated her fever, had asked him to bury her next to their son in the soft dirt beneath the old oak in the front lawn.

He had promised her he would.

“Promise me you will,” she’d said, trying to sit up, trying to grab his arm, but unable to do either. “Tell me you will. Promise me.”

At first he thought she repeated herself because of the fever. Maybe she wasn’t thinking clearly. But then he saw the look on her face and he knew different. He knew her mind was as sharp as ever.

Twenty-five years earlier, right after completing his residency, his head swollen with pride at his accomplishment, there had been a nurse, a sexy brunette with brown eyes and small breasts and graceful hips. A short, white hot affair had followed. He ended it when Margaret found them out. And then, as she made him promise to bury her body next to their son’s, he had seen an echo of the doubt and mistrust that had plagued their marriage during the decade after that affair. He felt its sudden return now like a knife in the gut.

He went to the bedroom, and with a great deal of difficulty, for the coughing had returned, he shouldered her shrouded corpse and a shovel and headed for the old oak tree in the front yard to do his widower’s duty.

***

He dug for two hours, listening by turns to the slice and crunch of the shovel cutting into the earth and the snarls and yaps of the pack that was circling around him.

He touched the pistol in the waistband of his jeans and felt reassured by it. When he was done, he was going to lie down on the other side of his son’s grave and eat the gun.

“It’ll be like it used to be,” he said to the simple cedar post marker at the head of his son’s grave. The boy had been twenty years old when he died, but at that moment, Vogler thought of him as he had been many years earlier, a four year old child coming downstairs in the middle of the night to climb in bed between his parents.

Vogler wiped the sweat out of his eyes and went back to digging. Despite the coughing, despite the knowledge that there wouldn’t be anybody to throw earth on top of him when he was done, he had a sense that the labor was a good thing, that he was making good on the most important promise he had ever made. It felt good to sweat. The stiffness in his lower back felt good. The pain was honest, and Margaret deserved that. After all the years and all the troubles, she deserved something honest from him.

***

Later, when the hole was finished and the body was put inside and he had said all he could say in words to a woman who had shared his life with him and given so much of herself to him, he began to shovel the dirt back in.

So absorbed was he with his work, so overheated by the unaccustomed exertion, that he failed to hear the big black dog loping through the grass towards him.

He didn’t so much as hear the dog as feel the weight of its stare on his back. And when he did finally feel that weight he spun around on his heels and let out a startled cry at the charging black mass of fur and teeth.

The dog leapt at his face and knocked him down and tore into him. Vogler put his hands up to keep the dog’s teeth away from his throat and they fought, not as man and dog, but as two wild things whose only weapons were the muscles and the fists and the teeth they were born with.

Vogler managed to get one hand in the dog’s mouth and grabbed onto its lower jaw. The dog’s teeth shredded the palm of his hand, but Vogler wouldn’t let go. He twisted the jaw and the dog went down. But even then, even with the dog on the ground, whining in pain, Vogler refused to let go. He pushed the dog’s head up and away, exposing the throat. Vogler threw punch after punch into the soft flesh of the dog’s throat. “You go to hell, you son of a bitch!” he roared, screaming the words with the rage of one who has seen the world around him die and has been unable to do a damned thing about it, even for all the wealth and power that had once been his to command.

The dog convulsed under the blows, raking at Vogler’s belly with his back claws in a futile attempt to save himself. But there was no stopping Vogler’s attack. As a civilized man, he had farther to fall to reach that savage state where only survival mattered, and when he did finally make that fall, when the protective veneer of reason and humanity fell away and there was nothing left but the bright burning spark of primal rage inside him, he proved to be the stronger. He sank his teeth into the dog’s throat and tasted the fur and then the blood as the dog’s life leaked from its veins and down to the corners of Vogler’s mouth.

The dog kicked once, twice more before it died, and with that last kick snagged the trigger guard of the Ruger and pulled it from Vogler’s waistband. Vogler was bent over forward so that he couldn’t feel the gun leave its seat. But he did hear it go off, and he did feel the bullet punch into his belly and go tearing through his organs like a boy with a stick who has rammed the pointed end down into a fire ant mound and stirred it till nothing but an angry mess remains. That was what his belly felt like. That was what the pain of being shot in the gut felt like.

Vogler coughed in disbelief, then pitched over, face down in the soft black dirt beneath the oak tree. He lay there, trying to catch his failing breath, his eyes growing darker by the second and his skin crawling with sudden cold till it seemed he was the only being left alive on the barren, bald tip of the world, the blackness of space all around him. The thought passed through his mind that in the time before the world died of the flu he had been a surgeon, the head of a hospital…a wealthy man…a married man…a father. And now, he was a dying man, and none of it counted anymore because now he was none of those things. Now, he was merely a tree falling in the woods, unseen. Unheard.

The dogs closed in on him. He could hear them, he could hear their excited panting and their slobbering jowls slopping together, and he knew what was coming. Though he couldn’t see, he could still feel, and he could feel hot breath and wet teeth on his fingertips, the teeth pulling at the skin, almost gingerly but for their sharpness, taking a hesitant first taste of the flesh.

THE END

“Plague Dogs” originally appeared in Potter’s Field 3, published by Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2009. The anthology was edited by Cathy Buburuz.

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