Thursday, April 19, 2007

Finding Peace

Finding Peace
By Jon Catron

Carl stood in the cooling midnight air of the woods by the lake. It was always so peaceful here, so serene, so free of the constant struggle back in the City. Somewhere in the distance, some nocturnal creature that Carl, city boy that he was, couldn’t identify called out to its mate or family or whatever. Honestly, Carl was ignorant about such things, but wasn’t about to let his ignorance of such small details spoil his brief getaway. He took a few lazy steps down the path toward the lake, letting the dense summer foliage brush against him. It was nothing like the forcible press of bodies that is ever-present in the city. Sometimes, Carl regretted his decision to stay in the city. He could have come out here into the “wilderness” but he was a city boy, and didn’t think he could go for very long apart from his beloved hustle and bustle.

If Carl were being completely honest with himself, there was a slight thrill to coming out to the lake. There were persistent stories and rumors about throwback quasi-religious cults performing monstrous and unspeakable acts on the occasional straggler out in the hills north of the lake. But even with his own small thrill at the potential for danger and wildness, Carl would be one of the first to discredit such silliness. The whole idea was preposterous. Those sorts of things didn’t happen anymore, too much had changed in the world. He would laugh at the very notion, if he could somehow find mirth after everything that had happened.

The Crisis, as everyone liked to call it, had changed so much in so many unexpected ways. But they had survived, and began to thrive, to truly live again. It changed Carl. He never smiled anymore. He never laughed. Not after what happened. But he still liked to come out to the lake and relax, and try to forget.

Memories from that time were still hazy, as if it had all been one horrible, arduous nightmare. Carl could remember very little after that horrid afternoon aside from the smoke and fire and the press of bodies, pain and relief as he realized he was alive and had, miraculously, survived. But from time to time, something, or someone, would remind Carl of that look on Bob’s face as they separated and a tear would roll from Carl’s remaining good eye.

Sometimes Carl had to wonder if any of the other survivors felt like he did. He had to wonder if any of them felt the loss as keenly as he did. Oh sure, some had lost much more, both in physical capabilities and emotional damage. But Carl had to wonder occasionally if they felt how deep the Change really went.

Occasionally, on a still night, he would sit in his dingy little apartment (It wasn’t really his apartment; the duplex he’d lived in had been burned down along with over half of the city.) and stare down at the bodies still decaying in the street. He would wonder why he wasn’t among them. What made him so special that he got to live? Why were any of them still around? Most of the time, Carl was just like the others; barely alive, barely mobile automatons, hardly at all distinct from the corpses still laying in the street, washing away little by little with each new downpour.

Carl slowly made his way from the cabin toward the lakeshore, lost in these inner reflections. He was not usually given to deep contemplations, but they came to him unbidden more and more lately. Perhaps that is how they got so close, so very close without him noticing.

The sound of a foot rustling through the underbrush finally gave them away. Carl’s eye snapped open wide and he turned his head as the wind change and gave him a whiff of their overpowering stench.

He turned and tried to run, but he couldn’t keep his footing in the brush choked slopes leading toward the lake. So instead he took several swings at his attackers, even as he stumbled, but his lack of footing sent his strikes wild. And then he saw Bob.

He wanted to deny it, he wanted to not believe it, but it was Bob’s face, Bob’s eyes hard and cold, staring back at him, intent on his destruction. That more than anything dropped Carl’s world out from under him. He turned again to try to run, but they were on him before he could take more than a single step. They jumped on him from behind, pinning him to the ground, tearing at his limbs, screaming at each other like wild animals. Despite having his head held down in a pile of wet and moldy leaves and fescue, Carl screamed as they tore first his legs, and then arms, loose from his body. Despite the pain, the shock, the soul crushing betrayal, Carl continued struggling, even as he saw Bob kneel next to him, machete in hand…

*****

“Easy, easy there…” Bob said, trying to calm his team. “One mostly intact zombie head, just like the doctor ordered.”

Bob held Carl’s decaying head aloft just a bit, examining it with a concerned eye.

“You think he’ll really get us a cure, Bob?”

“Vaccine, Ted, not a cure…” Bob chided with irritation obvious in his voice.

“There ain’t no cure for this…” He said, motioning to Carl’s body simply. “but this.” He finished, raising the severed head level to Ted’s eyes.

“Now bag up the other parts and clean up this mess. Can’t take the chance that the wildlife gets inta this. An’ don’t get none in your mouths.”

Bob stood up and considered the decaying visage of his once best friend. “Goddamnit Carl…” He sighed and carefully placed his gruesome prize in a thick, ice filled polyethylene bag, and held it tenderly in his arms. “Well I guess ya might just save me after all… ya cocksure sombitch.” Bob sniffled slightly, but wisely resisted the temptation to wipe the tear from his eye.

Bob stood on the path down to the lake by Carl’s old fishing cabin, soaking up the cool night air. Before, it had always been so peaceful here, so serene, so free of the struggle and grind back in the City. But now, it was a battleground. Now, it was the front line of humanity’s constant struggle for survival in a world gone mad.

But soon, soon, Bob consoled his conscience, it would be Carl’s final resting place.

“Soon you’ll have Peace, old buddy…”

The Curious Life of James Taylor

The Curious Life of James Taylor
by Christopher Allan Death

A dark figure splashed through knee-high water and stumbled over large jagged rocks, fleeing further and further into the perilous mountain terrain. He tripped several times, falling face first into the subzero mountain river. Each time he stood up cursing and shivering just to fall once more. But he pressed forward. Not even hell itself could stop his fanatical excursion into the untamed Colorado wilderness.

Two cold silver eyes glared through the darkness ahead, and the man stopped quickly. For a moment he was worried that he had unwittingly stumbled upon a hungry brown bear searching for food, but then he realized it was only a jackrabbit. The wild hare sensed his presence and quickly disappeared into the thorny undergrowth.

The man watched his furry little friend recede into the darkness and quietly reflected upon his own position. Like the jackrabbit, he too was running for his life. Except this time the predator was not a normal human being. No. The thing that pursued him was something else entirely: something born from the very depth of Hades.

Clambering out of the icy cold water, the man knelt behind a thick pine tree and let the silence descend. Almost immediately he could hear splashes echo across the river behind him. An unnatural odor intermingled with the scent of fresh pine trees and newborn sapling, slithering through the deep nightfall and violating his nostrils. He knew the odor before it ever reached his olfactory lobe.

It was the scent of charred flesh.

The man released a terrified breath and scurried further into the forest. He could feel serrated undergrowth and fallen branches bite into his bare legs as he tore through the darkness, thundering past ancient oak trees and colliding into fallen logs. Every breath he took felt like scissors cutting erratic patterns across his lungs, leaving him breathless and sore. But he knew that he couldn't turn around. If he stopped, that thing would catch up to him.

He couldn't let that happen.

Suddenly the bushes behind him crackled. The man stopped dead in his tracks and became still as a deer caught in the headlights. He could hear something approaching through the trees, moving deftly through the tall foliage. He knew that the creature was close because he could smell the sickening odor and hear the twigs snap underfoot.
He turned around and saw a huge oddly shaped figure loping through the twilight. It might have been a giant orangutan, if not for the abnormally large head and thick human-like legs.

The man released a silent scream and dove into the bushes. He had been running from that thing for almost his entire life. Only now the creature had become more ferocious and bloodthirsty than ever before. That was what finally drove him into the harsh Rocky Mountain wilderness.

Ever since he was a baby, his parents knew that James Taylor was a very special child. But it wasn't until his fifteenth birthday that they realized exactly how special.
Unlike most American children born every 0.5 seconds, James developed a rare mental disease called Psychotic Schizophrenia. Since there was no known cure for his condition, his parents raised him just like any other red-blooded American boy. They brought him to the park and enrolled him in various daycare centers to encourage social interaction.
Unfortunately James never really found his niche in high school. Due to his quiet nature and erratic schizophrenia attacks, he never made many friends. The friends he did make soon abandoned him after they discovered his psychological stigma.

When James left for Boston to pursue his interest in culinary arts, his parents stood behind him one hundred percent. They thought that his time away from home would open up new horizons for the young bachelor, but they had no idea what lay ahead.
At first James loved his culinary school. He made several friends who shared his affinity for cooking, and even found himself a steady girlfriend. Except that was before his first major psychological breakdown. And that was before the monster climbed into his mind.
The scent of burning and putrefied flesh was stronger now. James could almost taste the vile stench on his tongue and feel it slither down his throat. It made him sick. He felt warm stomach bile lurch into his mouth.

Streams of silvery moonlight filtered down from the dark canopy and fell across the hideous monster. He could see every disturbing feature clearly beneath the huge waxing moon. The creature was like a disease, infecting every cell and nerve ending inside James' body.

"Just leave me alone!" he shouted.

The creature seemed to crack an awful grin and lumbered forward once more. Its stiff, knotted toes crushed branches and insects alike beneath its monstrous weight.
James unleashed a breathless shriek and skittered into the thick foliage. He tried to tell himself that the creature was just a figment of his imagination, but something inside him refused to submit.

No matter what happens, just keep running.

Rocks and twigs snapped underfoot as he thundered through the labyrinth of trees. Every once in awhile he would slop to catch his breath and position himself among the rugged Colorado wilderness. He hoped that the creature would become lost among the countless oaks and dark ravines, but it always remained just a few steps behind him.
Suddenly James noticed a light up ahead. He scrambled toward the light with catlike dexterity and only stopped when he was too tired to go further. He could see a hunting lodge through the thick foliage, perched atop a small grassy knoll. Hunters had probably constructed the little cottage for shelter during the cold winter months.

James felt a thrill of excitement course through his veins. If there was electricity in the little lodge, that meant there might be people too. And people could help defend him from the creature!

James still remembered the first time he came face-to-face with his nightmare. The date was January 6, shortly after Christmas break. James came home from College to spend the holidays with his family when disaster struck. Someone snuck into the house during the night and killed his beloved parents. The emotional trauma that followed sent James into a complete psychological breakdown.

Shortly after he returned to college, the nightmares began. James woke up in a cold sweat almost every night with visions of some horrible monster burned into his brain. Even in his dreams he could smell the odor of decay and feel its putrefied presence. It was almost like his subconscious mind was caught in a horrible schizophrenic attack, replaying the nightmare over and over every night.

About three days later the beast emerged from his dreams. He saw it when he went for a walk around the lake. He saw it when he drove to the supermarket, and he saw it standing in the shadows when he went to sleep each night. He saw it everywhere. That was why he decided to run away.

The bushes behind James shuttered. Before he could react, a giant arm reached through the darkness and slammed into his chest. He grunted and felt himself vault into the air. When he landed, sharp barbs pricked into his delicate white flesh. But that was the least of his problems.

James leapt to his feet just as the creature lumbered into view. A deep, throaty cackle followed him into the darkness. But he kept running. He ran until his lungs burned like fire and then he ran further. He kept running until the little hunting lodge burst into view and he could feel the door beneath his slick, sweaty palms.

"Is anyone there?" he gasped, slamming his fists repeatedly on the door post. "Please let me in! Can anyone hear me?"

James turned around and peered into the murky foliage. The forest had become completely quiet. He could no longer hear the chirping of crickets or smell the putrid burning odor. So he knew something was wrong.

"Can anybody hear me?"

The silence remained undisturbed.

James swallowed hard and tried the doorknob. The door swung back easily, revealing a warm interior with several modern appliances. He mentally noted the simmering coffeepot and conventional oven, preheated to a balmy 500 degrees. That meant he was not alone in the rugged Colorado wilderness.

James heard the door open behind him. He turned around, hoping to find several robust hunters wearing camouflage slickers inside the door. Instead he found a massive dark figure blocking the exit. He screamed and stumbled against the far wall.
"What, what do you want from me?"

The creature grinned and maneuvered its enormous bulk through the small doorway. Bits of forest debris and dust scattered across the wooden floor, following the creature into the cabin.

"Please, stay away from me!" James choked, fighting back fear that bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. He could see the creature more clearly now, beneath the bright industrial neon lights. It had grown even more hideous than he remembered.

"Why are you following me? Why?"

The creature twisted its red frosting lips into a fractured smile. Its black chocolate eyes glimmered beneath a mop of greasy licorice hair.

"Revenge!" it muttered in broken English.

James felt his entire body twitch with fear. His face turned deathly white. Some sort of malicious intelligence reflected in its cold ebony eyes. Right away he knew that he wouldn't survive this encounter.

"Why did you kill your parents, James?"

"I didn't kill my parents! They were killed when a burglar broke into their house at night!"

"You did kill your parents, James. And you baked their bodies into gingerbread cookies so they wouldn't be found."

"That's a lie! I would never kill my parents."

The giant gingerbread monster took one menacing step forward. Crumbs flaked off its knotted toes and scattered across the floor. A flicker of anger crossed the creature's face.

"Don't deny your guilt, James Taylor. I was there that night when you snuck into their house and gutted them mercilessly. I was there when you ground their bones into dust and baked their remains into gingerbread cookies! Don't deny your guilt anymore."

James slumped helplessly to the floor. He was crying freely. Big salty tears spilled down his cheeks and landed softly on his trembling hands. He knew that the gingerbread man was telling the truth. He could remember what happened that night on Christmas Day when his parents lay asleep in their beds. Everything returned to him in a flood of guilt.

"Who are you?" he sniffled.

"I am your conscience, James. I was watching that night when they told you to withdraw from the culinary school because they were worried about your mental health. When you refused, they said they would stop paying your tuition. Then you killed them. You killed them in cold blood." The gingerbread man flexed his stubby fingers. "Now I'm going to kill you."

James fell to his knees and begged for mercy. He promised that he would return to the city and take responsibility for his crime. But it was too late. The gingerbread man closed his fingers around James' throat and hoisted him into the air.

***

A few days later the little cabin door opened once again. Except this time three burly hunters stepped into the cozy interior. They set their rifles by the door and started peeling off their camouflage slickers.

The first man stopped just inside the door, twitching his thick handlebar mustache.
"Dammit Mitch, you forgot to shut down the generator! Now thanks to your damn carelessness, we're low on power."

"Sorry John," the man called Mitch replied meekly. "With all the excitement I just forgot."

"What's that smell?" the third man ventured.

"Seems like something's cooking," Mitch replied.

John whiffed the air.

"Smells more like burning to me."

"That's odd."

John patted across the hardwood floor. The oven was turned up to BOIL, and he could see something large smashed inside. The other hunters stood back cautiously. He pulled back the oven door and a massive cloud of rancid black smoke billowed into the room.

"What in God's name?"

John choked back smoke and stumbled away from the oven. Inside lay a charred body, bony fingers stretched feebly toward the hunters. Every hair on his body had been scorched off, and the place where his eyes should have been were hollow black sockets. His skin was brown and leathery.

"And what's this all over the floor?" Mitch whined.

John turned around and saw the trail of crumbs leading to the oven. It looked like little pieces of gingerbread cookie.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Zombie Anthology

Magazine of the Dead is planning an anthology of zombie stories. We need your zombie stories. The guidelines are simple: stories should be no longer than 10,000 words. They should contain at least 1 zombie. They should be well written.

This will be a paperback book. The plan is to split proceeds with the contributors (after we have recouped our exspenses).

Send submissions to: magazineofthedead@yahoo.com
Put the word “Zombie” in the subject line.

The Man Who Ate Flesh

The Man who ate Flesh
By
David Nordahl





In the town of Thor’s Peaks there lived an old man that no one dared go near. He’d killed others and everyone knew that, even the sheriff. The people also knew that if they kept their distance they’d all be safe. Over the course of the years there was an uneasy truce between the man and the town. The truce was they wouldn’t interfere with what he needed to do and he wouldn’t go after any of them. That was until the day I decided to break the truce.

I can’t recall how the idea first popped into my head. I’m sure it started one night when I was at Lindee’s and after one to many I decided to do something about him. At first my bar buddies could talk me out of it usually with the promise of another round. After awhile the thought wouldn’t go away. Why should this man be allowed to keep going on killing these people. Don’t these people have families? Just because everyone else is afraid of him why should I be? I’ve lived a lot of places and never saw anything as silly as a whole town afraid of one old man.

Eventually it got so bad that the thoughts were with me when I got up and when I went to bed drunk or sober. I almost brunt my face off twice at work because I was thinking about him instead of what I was welding. Do you know what it’s like to have a thought in your head and not be able to get it out? Let me tell you I can now relate to most of the people in the asylum. People told me that I was nuts but unless I did something I would’ve been driven insane.

A few nights later after I made my choice, I won’t bore you with the details of the 3 a.m. decision making process. I was at the door of the man no one would even push out of the way of an on coming bus. A sip of whisky from my flask for courage and I banged on his door.

No Answer.

I banged again louder this time.

No answer.

This time I hit the door with all my might. Being a steel worker I had pretty good upper body strength the door started to rattle at the hinges. Finally after a few minutes the door creaked open.

I kicked the door open and I charged in.

The house had no working lights (a switch by the door proved that) the only light source came from the living room. I didn’t really care about being quiet. I was there to end it once and for all. I reached the living room when everything changed.
Instead of seeing a demented lunatic feasting on flesh and rubbing blood all over himself I found a very old and sickly looking man crying in a chair. He looked up at me with red eyes.

“Have you come to kill me?”

I nodded yes

“Then make it quick, I’ve lived like this for over thirty years. I can’t stand seeing all their faces when I go to sleep”

I reached in my pocket and pulled out my switchblade. The blade opened with that trademark sound. I walked up the old man and put the blade to his throat. His eyes pleaded with me to end it for him but at that moment I lost my nerve. I wanted to ask him why he did these things. Before I could his hand clasped mine and the knife slid across his throat. If I hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have believed that a person would or could kill themselves like that.

Blood first spewed on my face and then gushed on the floor. I wiped my face with the white handkerchief that I keep in my back pock. I wiped the blade, closed the knife and put it back in my pocket. I covered the old man’s face with the blood stained handkerchief. I really don’t think too many people will cry for him.

The deed done I went home and was fast asleep a little before four. The next morning I went to work, only one person mentioned the old man. Same at the bar most of the people had a sense of relief that the old man was dead. It was funny but it looked like some of the old timers started to stare at me with looks of dread on their faces. I guess some of them probably knew him before he went completely nuts. That night I had the worst dream of my life I had a vision of a red mist that hung over my head. I couldn’t make out any shapes. It started to swirl faster and faster until it formed a doughnut. In a voice that can’t possibly be part of anything in Heaven or Earth the red mist says “Flesh”. The doughnut turns into a cyclone and enters my stomach. That’s when I wake up.

I wake up dripping sweat and all I can think of is one of my bar buddies big meaty arms.


The End

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Customer Is Always Psychotic

The Customer Is Always Psychotic
By Joshua Weston

Breanna tightened her scrunchie around her ponytail and picked up the tray of food. Her scowl of disparagement and depression was wiped away with the swinging of the door, and she was out of the kitchen and into the dining area. Her smile was fake, but the customers couldn’t tell that. She walked over to the corner table with the steak and fries, and placed them in front of the man sitting there with a smile and a nod. “Is there anything else I can get you sir?” The silent shake of his head told her all she needed to know. “If there’s anything else I can do for you, just let me know.” She began to walk away.

“Hey, um… Breanna?”

She turned around, flashing that beautiful fa├žade of a smile. “Yes sir?”

He arose from the table and a conniving grin appeared on his face. “Actually, there is something you can do for me.”

She cocked her head confusingly and reluctantly responded, “Y-yes, what is it?”

She hardly had the sentence out when he was upon her with a steak knife, stabbing at her body with great force and vehemence. A cackling sound emitted from his lips as he plunged the knife deep into her soft flesh. Even after she was dead, he still stabbed and stabbed.

By now the entire restaurant had erupted into the sounds of horrific screams and chairs being tossed to the side for a quick escape. One man sat in a booth, his work shirt covered in sauce and ketchup. As he rose, the knife wielding murderer noticed his nametag; his name was Frank.

Frank approached; a heroic inspiration about him. “Boy, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Frank was an impressively sized man, so he felt talking down to this asshole was not below him. “What’s your name, psycho?”

His eyes were glazed, narrow, and had an intent stare in them. “My name is John,” he said, with a slight tone of vilification. “And you’re in my way.” With that, he slid the knife in between his lips, wiping the memory of Breanna from the knife. The knife was not satisfied. It wanted more.

A patron took a wrong turn and ran too close to John, making that the last mistake he would make. John guided the hungry blade through the eye socket and straight to the brain of the poor soul, killing him instantly, then shoved him to the ground. He then raised his eyes to Frank. “Bring it, cocksucker.”

Frank began to run at John, but didn’t expect the pistol in John’s belt. Two bullets to the head dropped him and ended his life. There weren’t a lot of people left in the restaurant, but ones who were continued to be subjected to torture and death…

****
“Sir!”

John shook his head, bringing himself back to reality. “Uh, nothing; I’m fine. Thank you, Breanna.” He smiled nervously, and started to cut his steak. Breanna turned and walked away, passed through the door to the kitchen, and rolled her eyes.

John continued to eat, savoring every bite of the perfectly grilled steak. The fries were dipped into steak sauce; he enjoyed them that way. His meal was devoured quickly, and he finished it up with the rest of his soda.

He stood in the middle of the destruction, laughing wildly out loud, awaiting the inevitable firefight with the police. Everyone he could possibly hurt would feel the torture and pain he felt in himself. He ran out into the haze of red and blue lights, gun blazing…

He left a tip of four dollars on the table, and went to the counter to pay for his ticket. Then John stepped out into the sunlight, staring across the street at the convenience store. He wondered how many people were in there that would succumb to his murderous rampage.

That and he had a craving for a donut.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Stories for Replicants

The new print anthology from MotD is out now.
The second anthology from Magazine of the Dead. Stories for Replicants contains all of the recent stories from MotD, plus several new stories that have not appeared on line. It features work by: Darran Anderson, Peter Wild, Harold Wilson, Christopher Allan Death, Norman A. Rubin, James Horn, Aurelio Rico Lopez III, Edward Rodosek, Terry Doss, James Riser, Nathan Tyree, Joey Ketcham, and a classic reprint from E.A. Poe.

See it here: http://www.lulu.com/content/777237