I had never considered writing a zombie fairy tale before in my entire life. Why would I? It’s not a genre that comes up very often, and so it definitely doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
Except, one day last year, I was looking at Entangled Publishing’s open submission calls, and one of their upcoming books was going to be a collection of zombie fairy tale novellas. Even though this was completely out of the norm for me, the idea sounding intriguing, so I thought I’d take a stab at it.
A couple of months later, I finished the book and sent it to the publisher. They rejected it, saying that the writing was good, but the tone of the story just didn’t fit the rest of the books in the collection. Okay.
I tried again…submitting it to another publisher, who also rejected it, saying that the story didn’t seem to start in the right place for a romance novella. So, a bit dejected, a put the story aside for a time until I figured out what to do with it.
By now, I’m no stranger to self-publishing, so it was only natural for me to take this book and publish it myself. As I’ve done with my previous books, I edited it and designed the cover and everything – all by myself. This is the final result, and I’m pretty proud of it.
To capitalize further on its new release status, this book is being featured as one of the giveaway books for this Saturday’s Virtual Ebook Fair. So I’m offering the first chapter here in this blog post. But first, please enjoy this brief video trailer I created on my own (with a little help from Animoto).
Louisville, KY Halloween, 1984
“The only way to stop these zombies is to get that bellflower from the witch’s garden and make oil from the dried leaves. I’ve run out of all the supply I had,” Zed told his pregnant wife one evening while he gazed out the window toward the garden that contained his zombie-killing treasure.
“Zed, I don’t want you to do this. I’m scared,” his wife said, an audible tremor in her voice.
Zed looked back at her. “Of course you’re scared, honey. Those zombies want to eat your brain, but I’m not going to let them. I’m going to go over there and get some of that bellflower. It has to be tonight. We can’t wait any longer. Their forces are getting stronger, and the poison will take at least two days to make.”
“But what if the witch sees you? She’ll turn you into a frog or something.”
Zed laughed. “Honey, she’s not that kind of witch.”
Zed’s wife frowned at him and reached for the can of Tab sitting on the end table next to her. She took a quick sip. “I still don’t like this. I’m due any day now. What if something were to happen to you? Who would help me take care of the baby?”
Zed’s mouth quirked at the self-centered comment, and his hazel eyes twinkled. He chocked it up to pregnant hormones, even though he knew better, and chose to ignore it. “Everything will be fine. I promise. Don’t you know by now that you married the world’s best zombie killer and herb thief? I’ll be back before you know it.”
Zed’s wife opened her mouth to protest, but the look on his face stopped any further comment from her. She watched quietly as he gathered his flashlight and his black leather jacket. He crossed the room to kiss the top of her head before walking out the door into the chilly, dark night.
Gert stood in her darkened living room, staring out at the street in front of her house. Children of all sizes passed by, dressed in full nightmarish regalia, although some of the younger children were dressed in cute Disney character costumes–Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, etc.–with a few Strawberry Shortcakes and Care Bears thrown in among them. And some of the more daring girls had donned their Wonder Woman and She-Ra costumes to complement the boys’ G.I. Joes and He-Mans.
A familiar pang pierced her heart. She’d always wanted a child of her own. That, of course, had never happened. No man would even look at Gert, with her missing teeth, misshapen nose, and asymmetrical eyes. Not to mention her impossibly stringy hair. No. Having children the old-fashioned way was certainly out of the question for Gert.
That was why she created the zombies. They were her children–mindless souls in need of guidance and protection. True, the original zombies had been created by that happy radiation accident, but she had learned the trick. She had harnessed the power for herself, and she’d discovered the one herbal remedy, angel’s trumpet flower, that could simulate the radioactive effect, just as there was only one herb, campanula, that could serve as the deadly antidote to the spell.
And, Gert thought with wry amusement, there was plenty of campanula in her garden, as well as the angel’s trumpet flower. She’d originally planted it in a desperate attempt to increase her attractiveness. She’d heard that, by drinking tea made by boiling the bell-shaped flowers in water, her appearance would naturally be improved. All the old folk medicine books talked about how bellflower tea would soften, smooth, and beautify the complexion.
By the time Gert realized that no special tea was going to do anything to enhance her looks, it was already too late. The plants had overtaken their portion of the garden at an alarming rate. She couldn’t keep up with tending them. And she couldn’t even get rid of the plants, even though she knew they posed a grave danger to her zombie creations.
The prospective zombies were easy enough to find. Louisville’s homeless population was a large one—and growing every year—and most of the men who fit into this category congregated in the same spots. The hobo camps. Gert learned the locations of all the city’s hobo camps. She’d wait until the camp was nearly empty, and then she’d offer one or two of the desperate men some of her fermented angel’s trumpet flower tea and seedpod cakes.
Very rarely did anyone ever refuse these gifts. And, once the men were under Gert’s spell, it was easy to get them back to her home. She’d established a bunkhouse, of sorts, for them in the huge two-story shed out back. The city had zoning laws against keeping cows in the backyard, but the law books said nothing about housing zombies. Fifteen men, in all, had joined her family more or less willingly. No one questioned what had happened to these men—not even the other hobos in the camp. Death and disappearance were everyday occurrences for them. No one batted an eyelash if a hobo went missing.
So far, no one else had discovered that the campanula that was so plentiful in her own garden could destroy the zombies she’d worked so hard to create. Gert smiled. Her secret, and her children, were safe. It was unfortunate that her zombies had such a craving for human brains, just like the radioactively created zombies. This, of course, struck fear in the hearts of all the adults in the city, so no one came to visit her anymore.
Those trick-or-treating children–young and innocent as they were–weren’t afraid of the zombies, although they were afraid of her. Gert knew there would be no child brave enough to come knocking on her door for trick or treat that night–or any night in the future, for that matter. She’d heard the hushed whispers as she walked through the aisles of Winn-Dixie, and as she filled up her Ford LTD at the Exxon gas station. To the childish imagination, a witch was much scarier than any brain-eating zombie, thanks to the nightly fairy tales the children heard before falling asleep. Bedtime stories featured witches. Not zombies.
Gert sighed and turned her back on the frolicking youngsters. She would keep her zombies inside tonight, even though it was Halloween. She wanted to let the children have their fun, free from any danger. She knew, though, that the people of Louisville would pay dearly for the temporary confinement. Her children would be especially hungry after twenty-four hours of not being able to roam. There would be mass slaughter in the overnight hours of All Saints Day.
A nice cup of chamomile will take away the stress, Gert said to herself as she walked into her kitchen. She gazed out the double window over the sink as she pulled out a small old teacup from the stained oak cabinet above. She gasped. There was a light flashing in the
“What…?” she asked. “Who could that be at this hour?” And what do they want with my garden? Gert set the cup down with a clatter on the Formica and lunged toward the back door.
When she saw Zed, she instantly knew who he was. He was a threat–her main enemy. He wanted to destroy all her children. “Stop right there!” she commanded.
The moonlight shone down on the intruder in her garden, and Gert saw his whole body tense. The flashlight quit moving.
“I won’t bother asking who you are because I know the answer to that already. What I don’t know is what you’re doing here.”
Zed fumbled with the flashlight in his hand, making a move to turn it off. “I…I…uh, that is…My wife…”
Gert turned her head slightly to the left and narrowed her eyes. “Your wife what?”
“My wife…is pregnant.”
Gert huffed. “I know that! You don’t think I do? I know every pregnant woman in this city. I watch them all through my crystal. I know every single labor pain–every single water break. I watch it all. In fact, I think there’s another baby about to be born in a few minutes. You’re interrupting my evening entertainment.”
Gert watched the fear and uncertainty cloud the brave man’s face. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
Gert laughed. “You’re sorry? Oh, now, isn’t that just rich? I catch you burgling in my garden at night, and you say you’re sorry for interrupting my baby-watching?” She took a step forward and pointed her right index finger just inches away from his nose. “What is it you want?”
Zed took one deep breath before he spoke. Gert watched his eyes. They shifted slightly down and to the right. “My wife has a terrible craving for a salad, but our car broke down. It’s too far to walk to the nearest grocery, and I knew your garden was right here…so I thought I would just pick some greens and take them back to her.”
Gert frowned. “I don’t have any spinach or lettuce.”
Zed shook his head. His permed brown hair didn’t move. “No, but you have campanula. The leaves make a deliciously healthy salad. They’ve been eaten that way for centuries.”
Gert’s frown deepened. Zed the zombie killer wants my bellflower? He can’t know, can he? She rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. Of course he could. Gert nodded once. “All right. Say I let you have some of my campanula. What will you give me in return?”
Zed blinked. “In return?”
“Yes. A fair trade. My campanula for something of yours…”
“But what do I have that you could possibly want?”
The witch smiled. Her mud brown eyes stared straight into his hazel ones. “Your wife, as you say, is pregnant. She should be due soon, yes? In another couple of months?”
Zed took a step back, staring at the witch and shaking his head. “You can’t mean…?”
The witch began to laugh. “How much is it worth to you, zombie killer?”
Zed dropped to his knees. “I can’t. My child?”
“Your child for my children. A fair trade.”
Gert watched as Zed weighed the options in his head. He wrung his hands. “A fair trade? All right. Take me instead of my little girl. Please.”
Girl. The word filled Gert with a fresh new longing. Her zombie children were all male. She’d been lonely for feminine company for a very long time. A little girl was just what she was missing. Gert smiled. “Ah, so you know it’s going to be a girl? Good. I’ve always wanted a little girl.” She laughed. “I would treat her as if she was my own–my own living, breathing, flesh-and-blood little girl.”
Zed stared at her for a long time, his mouth agape. She had a good idea of what he was thinking. Killing zombies was his profession. It was how he made his living. If he didn’t get this bellflower now, he would have nothing to make the zombie-killing potion. He would be out of a job, and his family would be homeless and would, most likely, starve to death. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent people would die as a result of his failure. Her zombies might even take his precious wife and child. Yes, he would lose his child as part of this deal, but he might lose his child, anyway, if he didn’t get the campanula.
“I could pay you…My wife and I have a decent sized nest egg saved up. You can have it all…in return for your trouble,” he offered wearily, but Gert could read on his face that he didn’t think she would accept his offer. And she was sure that she wouldn’t.
Again, she laughed in his face. “Money! What would I do with money? I have all I need right now…except a daughter. Your little girl. Your child for my children. That’s my price, zombie killer. Take it, or else get out of my garden.”
Zed stared into her eyes for a few minutes, gauging how serious she was. She watched as he chewed on his bottom lip. He flicked the flashlight in his hand off and on. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Finally, he nodded. “All right.” He gulped and swallowed. “A fair trade. But I would appreciate it if you said nothing of this to my wife just yet.”
The witch chuckled. It was a low, rasping, gravelly sound. “No, dear. Of course not. We wouldn’t want to cause her any undue distress that might harm the child inside her. Your secret is safe with me. My lips are sealed. Now, pick your bellflower and go. I’ll be in touch soon enough.”
When Zed returned home that night, his wife was already in bed asleep. For once, he was grateful that the pregnancy hormones made her so exhausted. He needed to be alone to formulate his plan–and to start on the potion. There wasn’t much time.
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