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forum last stand

To read more of Craig Saunders' work, check out his novels A STRANGERS GRAVE and SPIGGOT

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HOW TO TICKLE A ZOMBIE

by Craig Saunders

Y’pscrsis Stanton Dublovkvech the Third (Deceased) tried desperately to expel an inquisitive worm from his left nostril, where it was burrowing toward his brain. He could feel it snuggling into his nasal cavity, and squirming against the membranous membrane...thingy...that stopped people’s grey matter falling out of their noses.

He wasn’t sure if the worm would make any actual difference to his intellectual functions, should it reach his brain, but being a recently emergent zombie he was reluctant to try anything new.

Being dead was kind of new enough, he figured. He wasn’t quite ready to try figuring out flat-pack furniture, say, or debating the worth of 3D gaming in his local, ex, boozer.

There was probably a knack to being a zombie, but he hadn’t quite got it down yet. He’d only been self-aware for five minutes or so. He didn’t exactly remember being killed, or a funeral.

Plus, he was in the dirt.

Being in the dirt made trying things out a little difficult, but small steps came first. The dirt, in a way, was his womb.

Not his womb. He wasn’t a woman. Y’pscrsis was a man. He didn’t have a womb.

But you know. Figuratively speaking.

He remembered being alive, that subtle sense of growth and regeneration that you couldn’t fully appreciate until you’d actually passed on. Of course, most people nowadays were burned and recycled into various household products. You could follow your loved one’s progress from cremation through to kettle, toaster, or for the unfortunate and distinctly unloved ones, toilet brush.

Small steps came first. Same as being a baby. Figuratively speaking.

There was the old breathing and beating heart malarkey. He was buggered if he could figure it out now he was trying to think about it. It would help if he could just get a little light. Being buried under god knows how many feet of dirt wasn’t helping his synapses any.

Now, what was it? He tried to think back to his basic biology tutorial he’d taken in kindergarten. Left ventricle? Was there an aorta in there somewhere? And what the bloody hell was haemoglobin supposed to do?

He tried to breath and only succeeded in taking in a mouthful of foul tasting…no, wait…taste buds didn’t work either. There was just a kind of grainy sensation. Never having tasted dirt before he wasn’t sure if this was just ordinary dirt, or recycled, or if it was his stupid taste buds.

At least that was something to be thankful for. He might be struggling to get a heartbeat going, but he could remember food well enough. He remembered eating beefburgers, sausages, bacon, fried chicken...all the food groups. He didn’t remembered the taste of dirt, and that was probably because it tasted like shit and no one ever served it up, not even in the greasiest of dodgy eateries.

The worm snuggled right next to his brain. It tickled, mildly, but it didn’t seem to want to go any further, like a dog, circling, then plopping itself down with its tail curled around it.

Y’pscrsis tried to think. He’d already given up on circulation. It seemed a bit of a waste of time. He was obviously still alive (in a sense) and if he was able to think he must be cogitating…no, wait, didn’t that mean thinking, also?

Bugger.

He tried to snort out the worm but he didn’t have any breath to blow with.

It was surprising how much of your bodily habits were tied up with having breath. It was no wonder dead people were always so still. They couldn’t laugh, or blow their noses, or whistle. Y’pscrsis wasn’t doing much better either. At least he hadn’t been cremated. He’d been interred. A rather upper class death, he felt.

Shame he’d had to be murdered to be buried in the earth though. And when you got right down to it, who’d want to spend the rest of their undead life being eaten by worms and beetles and rotting under someone’s hardy perennials?

I wonder if I can just wriggle my hand, he wondered. He wiggled instead. Wriggling proved a little tricky as his hands were apparently shackled behind his back.

He pondered this for a while. It threw up several pertinent questions.

Was his murderer suffering from some kind of obsessive compulsion? Was the murder followed by burial somehow deemed insufficient to keep him down?

Shackles seemed a little...overkill.

Or, he mused on a slightly different track, was the murderer just plain lazy? Had he been bound before his interment, and had the despicable miscreant simply forgotten to untie him?

But there would be trace evidence left behind. The shackles would be coded, as all recycled products were, with a microscopic bar code indicating where it was purchased and who purchased it. A stupid killer, perhaps?

How embarrassing. Being killed by someone stupid.

But then maybe…maybe the killer was an occult grandmaster who knew Y’pscrsis’ game, be it man or woman or other denomination*.

 

*(Hermaphrodites, Angels (Sometimes one and the same) and emancipated pleasure bots all claimed sentient rights)

 

They would have to be powerful indeed to have overcome his wards. He was no slouch in that department. He’d been conjuring demons since he was a mere nipper. He’d banished his first angel by the age of twenty-three.

Speaking of which, what if it was an angel? He’d made enough enemies in his time. And you just couldn’t keep the little bastards in Heaven. They just popped back onto the prime plane easy as you like, popping like peas for a pod, or popcorn. Pop, pop, pop.

Fuckers.

At least you knew where you stood with demons. They were grateful. After all, even a minute on earth after an eternity in Hell must seem like a gift from the Anti-Christ himself.

The boss?

Nah. Too simple. The boss had bigger fish to fry. Like letting loose the Old School Pantheon.* Besides, Y’pscrsis had been on his side since the last war. Doing his dirty work. Summoning up his minions. Strike that. It wasn’t the boss.

Probably wasn’t a demon, either.

Angel then.

Or just some freak who took things to excess.

 

*The old Gods largely comprised of the Anti-Christ’s school chums from his time at Eaton, where he studied ancient Latin, Greek and buggery. He often regaled the underworld with tales of the time when he, Berty Cutthroat (God of Swiss Knives) Oswald Kettlefish (Son of Bertram Kettlefish, Lord of the Seventh Plane and Godfather of STD’s and cough medicine) and the God of Unwashed Undercrackers had doused the chemistry teacher in ether and brimstone and burned him for all eternity.

 

Y’pscrsis wished he could remember more.

He wished he could remember the name of his first girlfriend. He’d been twelve, she’d been fourteen. A coup, and no mistake. His old mate Rummy Gnatbottom had been so jealous he’d stabbed himself in the left nut with a biro.

He wished he could remember that, then realised he’d just thought about it, so really, wishing he remembered stuff that wasn’t pertinent at all to the case seemed a little pointless.

Instead he wished he remembered who killed him, and how the hell he was going to get out of the earth.

So, Y’pscrsis, he said to himself silently in his head in a way more reminiscent of thinking to himself, rather than speech. So, who killed you?

He remembered closing his office door for the night. He’d been balling his secretary, Samantha…he remembered that fondly. Damn shame. Breasts you could juice a lemon on. It had been a cold night, unusual for March in the south of England. Cold nights were a thing of beauty when Samantha had forgotten to wear her bra. She often seemed rather forgetful in that department.

The streets had been quiet. Even city streets these days were quiet. There was a curfew for the normies. The night belonged to the Legion, and to the angels. Daylight still belonged to people. You had to let them have something. And, at the end of the day, if they were too stupid or too proud to pick a side then they couldn’t bloody well bemoan their lot.

Y’pscrsis was just as happy for them to be picking potatoes and working the furnaces as he was for them to become food for demon kin. It made no difference to Y’pscrsis. He was, he thought, a made man. The big boss had a soft spot for him. He was the golden boy of the Anti-Christ himself. You didn’t get more made than that.

But someone had dared to come gunning for him.

Oh, he thought. Another clue.

Firstly, dead, buried, shackled. Second, the modus of death...the mode...arse...method:

Gun.

He knew it had been a gun from the tell-tale great big hole in his guts.

There wasn’t any pain and the hole was full of dirt, so he wasn’t worried about his inside bits suddenly becoming outside bits.

Not, he imagined, that it would matter to him much, apart from the obvious inconvenience of having to skip over your own guts every time you took a step.

He was a zombie. He didn’t know if he’d been made, or if it was just a gift from the Anti-Christ, known by some as Be’laalin, or to some, more simply, the Bastard.

Y’pscrsis swallowed without thinking.

Then he thought for a while. After that, he thought for a while longer. Thinking didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t like he was in any kind of rush. He was about to go on thinking, but then he felt something dribbling out through the hole in his stomach.

More dirt.

He pondered that for a while. A zombie has little else to do but ponder. Contrary to popular belief, they are actually quite smart. There is little to distract them. Some of the finest members of the Anti-Christ’s adult education centres are zombies in good standing. Well, perhaps not good. A little lopsided, more often than not.

He chewed the cud. It was dirt, but he couldn’t think of a better pun. Chomp, chomp, gurgle, gurgle…the swallowing action was more of a reflex than anything else. Dirt hit the back of his throat and there was an automatic tightening and contracting of various muscles and bits that he didn’t know the name for.

After about an hour, he felt he had accomplished something. His belly was being pushed up by the constant expulsion of dirt, and at each bite he thrust his head forward.

It’s a long lonely business, being a zombie. Most zombies are made by design, and hence people are kind enough to bury them in a shallow grave, or with just a sprinkling of dirt over them if you don’t want them coming back too grubby. Unhallowed dirt is essential for the process, as it is by nature occult.

Y’pscrsis wasn’t even slightly bored. He let his mind wander off on its own for a long weekend break and concentrated on his munching.

Y’pscrsis worm squiggled and snuggled away in his brain while his mind wandered. It didn’t really make much difference to the thought process, after all. Plus, thought Y’pscrsis, it was nice to have a pet. He didn’t know how long worms lived for. If it was like, say, a dog, and one year was really seven. Or if it was like a turtle, and might live to be two hundred years old or something.

But really, it was just a worm.

Two days later, a clump of grass broke free and a small bird, perhaps a swallow, alighted into the sky and promptly fell off, because the grave was, in fact, upside down. It is very difficult for a bird to fall off of the sky, but it can happen. Whenever a bird flies into glass and leaves a greasy surprised imprint behind, it is because they fell off the sky.

This may even be true, but it probably isn’t.

The clump of grass popped up, then it was sucked back down into a hole. Chomping sounds would have been heard throughout the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Mk II) had there been anyone there.

“Mwaugh!” said Y’pscrsis as he was born and took his first breath of fresh air. He heaved himself up from his early womb and roared into the night.

“Ruawaph!” he cried. His only reply was a small wet dribble of dirt from the hole in his abdomen.

He spat out some dirt and licked around his teeth.

He hated being a cliché. There was no good reason a zombie couldn’t speak if he set his mind to it. Breathing was a bitch, but if he could figure eating, he could figure speaking.

He spat out some more dirt. Opened his mouth to let some breeze in. Tried to swallow the air. It didn’t really work. Then he spat out some more. He couldn’t really work up any saliva, but that might just be because he’d eaten three times his own bodyweight in dirt.

Air wheezed out.

He figured if he could wheeze, he could shape those wheezes. He thought he’d try some words out for size.

“Ha. Hey. Hello?”

It was gloomy. He looked around and saw he was in a beautiful park. The park was well-tended, full of lots of expensive and beautiful plants. Someone had taken great pains to make it look infinitely amazing. It was a kind of...erm...kind of...he thought it looked sort of like one of the wonders of the world he’d seen in books.

A sneaky bastard of a suspicion loomed that it was, in fact, one of the wonders of the world.

He didn’t really want to confirm it, but he didn’t really have a choice if he was going to go looking for clues. So he looked. Looked above.

And found himself staring at a bustling metropolis and suddenly felt vertiginous waves of sickness wash over him. He fell to the ground…the ceiling…and tried to hug it.

He was in the bloody Hanging Gardens of Babylon! (MkII)*

Then he jumped a screamed a little bit like a small girl who’d just been given a pony for her birthday, because someone took his hand.

With his face in the dirt he couldn’t see whoever it was that took his manacled hands in theirs. There was a metallic clink as a key was inserted, and suddenly his hands were free.

“Oh, thank you…fuck!” he said turning.

 

*The garden was based on the paradox principle, invented by Marx Dostovostokov in 8450 A.A.C. Dostovostokov was believed to be working on a unified theory of everything when paradoxically he disappeared up his own arse. Paradigm, the God of cripples, small change and Perspex laughed so hard that he gave birth to the Mistress of the Seas.**

 

**Before the advent of seas, sailing had been a rather arduous task much hampered by large quantities of mud.

Be-laalin smiled at him. It was a rather toothsome smile. He was like some kind of batman, hanging upside down as he was. Flames flickered over precise incisors. The Anti-Christ patted Y’pscrsis on the shoulder. Y’pscrsis didn’t burst into flames, but his suit jacket smouldered.

 “Ah, Y’pscrsis,” the upside-down Anti-God said. “I’ve had much fun watching your antics. Most amusing, what?”

“What?”

“Yes, most amusing, old chap.”

“Yes,” said Y’pscrsis mildly. His stomach wanted to cramp up in fear, but the only fear he felt was in his mind. There were no reassuring farts or sweaty palms. Just imagination.

“So, ah, it was you?” said Y’pscrsis carefully. The boss wasn’t a cruel God, per se…it was just that sometimes he got a little carried away. Like that time in New York with the plague of cucumbers.*

“Don’t you remember?”

“No, I can’t say that I do.”

“Oh,” said Bel-aalin, sounding mildly miffed. “I was quite inventive.”

 “Yes,” said Y’pscrsis, not wanting to offend the boss. “The old hands behind the back lark was a bit tricky.” He felt something rooting around up his nostril and remembered the worm. He sniffed for a bit and decided it was, after all, quite comforting.

 

*Or like the time in London’s Piccadilly with the plague of Picalilly which was much more piquant and confusing on a different level.

 

“Left the hole in the stomach for you, see?”

Ah, so that was the old boss being kind.

“Very kind, Sir,” said Y’pscrsis, wanting to vomit from fear and hanging upside down over the metropolis but at the same time finding himself strangely detached from it all. Being dead’s great for emotional detachment, although Y’pscrsis was slightly perturbed at the thought of falling off of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (MKII!). He had a suspicion that a fall from such a great height might add more than an unsightly hole in his dead body, and he didn’t fancy being dead with every bone in his body crushed.

“Bad business, Y’pscrsis, sending my cousin back.”

“Sorry?”

“So you should be,” sniffed the Anti-Christ.

“No, I mean, pardon,” said Y’pscrsis, as though speaking to a child. The kind of child that people were determined to call ‘special’, when what they really meant was ‘thick’.

Be’laalin shook his enormous head theatrically. “Bhaal. You remember? With the gammy leg?”

Y’pscrsis’ mouth dropped open in an ungainly manner. “Is that what this is all about?”

“Well, he was a bit miffed,” said Be-laalin, almost apologetically. He was rather like an offended public school boy. Unerringly polite and quite eloquent right up until they shot you with both barrels and claimed your death an unfortunate hunting accident.

“But he was an angel!”

“Ah, yes, but, you know how it is. Family. Naturally, I had to have you killed. Still, now you’re a zombie, I don’t suppose that will matter so much.”

“No, Sir. I suppose not,” said Y’pscrsis, who had to admit that as time went by, he cared less and less about being killed. He’d had two days to mull it over, and he’d come to the conclusion that  barring having to eat his way through another ton of dirt, being dead really wasn’t all that bad.

“Good chap. On with the show.”

“I’m sorry, Sir,’ said Y’pscrsis. “I’m not sure I catch your drift. Do you mean my job description has changed? Will I now be working,” Y’pscrsis imparted the next words with scorn, “the performing arts?”

“No, no, dear chap. Just, you know...ah, well...consider it a promotion.”

“What do you mean? I’m sorry if I’m being obtuse, your magnificent pestilence, but how is being eternally dead, say, compared to being eternally alive, a promotion?”

“Well, I’ve got a heart, you know. It’s the form of the thing. I couldn’t very well let you get away with that nasty business with Bhaal, but I do have rather a soft spot for you, you know?” At this Be-laalin patted Y’pscrsis on the buttock.

“I thought it’d be a bit lonely for you, you know, wandering around for years on your tod. Got your lady friend down, erm, up, here somewhere. You’d better get digging.”

“What?! Samantha?”

“Yes, that’s the lass. Nice breasts. Not a bit droopy. Bit of a waste, now I come to think about it. Oh well. Live and learn.” Be-laalin pursed his lips in what would pass as a thoughtful gesture for one in command of all his faculties. Be-laalin struggled to pull the look off. “Hmm. Poor taste, in your case. Sorry old chap. Father always said I was a bit insensitive. Anyway, you’d better get on with it. It’s been known to drive people crazy, you know, being buried. Wouldn’t want your lady friend to be all ‘ooh, wargh’ when she gets out of the dirt, now, would you?”

Y’pscrsis pursed his lips, managing to look thoughtful where Be-laalin only managed to look toothsome and demented, and sighed. Thoughtfully. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me where she is?”

“Oh, she’s around here somewhere. Buggered if I can remember where. No rush, though. Now, how the bloody hell do you get down from here?”

It was just like the Anti-Christ, all powerful as he was, to complete fail to figure out something so simple as falling. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (MKII!) were quite confusing, though. For an imbecile.

Imbecile or not, he was still the boss.

“I think you have to chew,” said Y’pscrsis with a sweet smile.

“Really? Oh well.” Bel’aalin shrugged expansively, hunkered down and buried his face in the dirt.

One thing to be said for a public school education, it stopped the upper classes from having any real sense and let the intelligent people get on with the real job of running the world.

“Thank you, Satan,” Y’pscrsis whispered under his breath in a small voice. If it hadn’t been for his father, Be’laalin would never have got into Eaton school for public boys and the crazy, stupid old Anti-Christ might have actually learned something useful.

Like irony.

And Y’pscrsis?

Y’pscrsis did all his schooling in the school of hard knocks.

Hard knocks he could take in his stride. Unlike walking, which was proving a little difficult now that his intestines weren’t held in by ten pounds of dirt. The hole in his gut – the telltale size of a point-blank blast with a double-barrelled shotgun – was just the right size for his guts to fall out through.

But the school of hard knocks didn’t just teach you not to be a sissy about little things like your guts falling out. It taught you to be resourceful. So, until he could get his hands on some superglue or something that never rotted to stuff his hole with, like hotdogs, he tied his guts around his waist like a slightly horrific cummerbund. He looked like he was going to a zombie convention, or the zombie ball, but it would suffice.

The school of hard knocks also taught you not to waste time going the long way around when there was a short one. He rooted around in his pockets for a minute until he found his phone, hit speed dial and followed the ringing.

He wondered what being a zombie would do for his sex life. He didn’t know if he could figure out the correct passage of blood flow, but he did like to think positively – his whole body was in the throws of rigor mortis anyway…perhaps it would be like have a full body Viagra trip. A holistic stiffy. He felt, well, almost spiritual.

He followed the muffled sounds of Samantha’s phone’s ring tone – some kind of Cuban sounding Bolero tune – to a small patch of shrubbery laid on the earth at a jaunty angle.

With the city below, and the dirt above, or maybe the other way around, he tore at the clumps of grass, and then at the dirt below. He accidently took out Samantha’s eye while he was digging and she called him all the names under the sun, but she didn’t seem to mind, not really.

At that point, his pet worm decided to fall out of his nose and into Samantha’s eye socket.

He realised, looking at her beautiful face, slightly soiled and with a worm for a right eye, that he was glad it was Samantha he’d spend eternity with.

She really was a bit of alright.

It took a while to dig her out completely, but toward the end she got her hands free and she could help a little.

Her head was a bit floppy, thanks to the garrotte Be-laalin had used to kill her, but she wasn’t all ‘ooh, wargh’ when he finally got her out. She only got that way later.

Even the boss, chewing with his mouth open, didn’t put them off for long. 

 

 

 

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News & Updates

8/1/17: Flesh Trade is now out in paperback and ebook!

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11/17/14: We are pleased to announce we will be publishing Justin Coke's novel, DEAD WRANGLER.

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10/20/14: Win a free paperback copy of Ben Johnson's urban fantasy novel A SHADOW CAST IN DUST on Goodreads.com. Contest ends Nov 7.

6/24/14:We are pleased to announce we will be publishing Bryan W. Alaspa's novel, tentatively titled ROTATE THE EARTH.

5/21/14: Ben Johnson will be signing copies of his new novel at Krakatoa Coffee Shop in San Diego on Sat, June 7 from 3-5.

5/21/14:Now out! A SHADOW CAST IN DUST by Ben Johnson! An epic urban fantasy!

3/20/14:Take advantage of our REVIEW REWARD MONTH, all March, for free ebooks!

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2/11/13: On Thursday February 14th, 2013 The Hermetic Hour with host Poke Runyon will interview the distinguished scholar and author Geoffrey James whose historical novel "The Sorcerer" on Elizabethan magus John Dee has just been released by us. It should be noted that Geoffrey James is also the author of "Enochian Evocation of Dr. John Dee," and "Angel Magic', both factual and practical works on the magical art. Geoffrey brings a unique combination of talents to his novel: he is an historian, a magician and a masterful story teller. Tune in here: The Hermetic Hour

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12/25/12: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

12/01/12: We will be releasing ANGEL STEEL by Randy Chandler and THE DEAD BOY by Craig Saunders.

11/31/12: Through the In Between, Hell Awaits by Robert Essig is now out! If you like demons this book is for you.

10/31/12: MATT DARST, STEPHEN BRYANT and CLIFFORD ROYAL JOHNS will be sitting on panels at Windycon. Make sure you drop by and say hi to them. windycon.org/ Click here for more info: Schedule

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6/25/12: We will be publishing Robert Essig's novel Through the In Between, Hell Awaits

6/25/12: We will be releasing the horror novel MUTE from Jeffrey Hale. More info to come.

4/10/12: We've accepted a great sci fi/mystery novel from Cliff Johns. More info to come.

3/01/12: Check out this awesome trailer for A PACK OF WOLVES.

2/23/12: THE FLESH OF FALLEN ANGELS and DEAD THINGS should both be out in March.

1/03/12: Happy New Year! Look for Craig Saunder's hilarious novel, SPIGGOT, due out in a couple weeks!

12/05/11: Eric S. Brown's newest novella, A PACK OF WOLVES, now available!

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5/9/11: The detective horror antho is out. We've also accepted books from Gregory L. Norris, Randy Chandler, and David T. Wilbanks. Our first Mystery Novel is on the horizon, written by Robb White.

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