Well, not exactly without warning. Anyone with a brain could have seen it coming miles away. That meant the government was blindsided but LARP survivalists like Ash were ready. Seriously, who reanimates an ancient virus and doesn’t expect the zombie apocalypse?
Scientists, that’s who. White-coated nerds with doctorates and not a lick of common sense in their skulls.
“Hey! Let’s play God! What the hell could possibly go wrong?”
For Ash, though, their idiocy was the start of a brand new existence. One that brought his particular set of skills into the limelight: hitting shit with sticks and surviving on Spam and Ramen. He was King of the World now. Mind you his castle was a stuffy studio apartment stocked wall to wall with survival gear and canned foodstuffs, but since he’d offed the property manager with a thrust through her eye hole for trying to eat his brains he didn’t have to pay rent anymore.
It was the little things that made life worth living after the internet crapped out.
Oh, and society too. Can’t forget about those guys. Wannabe gangbangers, bobble-headed celebrities, lying politicians, fanatic government clerks, and terrorists. Yup, it’s a real shame that all of those people up and died.
Insert sarcasm tag for all those having a hard time keeping up.
The end of the world was the best thing to ever happen to it.
And in celebration, just like he’d done every day for the last year, Ash went out looking for a few rotten skulls to crack. There was never a shortage of those.
Early on he’d been a bit more cautious, creeping around town and taking the zombies by surprise, smacking them in the back of the head, and then running off to hide until his heart stopped kicking his ribs in and he could breathe again. Cardio was an issue for a while there. No surprise considering his diet usually consisted of Cheetos and Mountain Dew and his exercise regimen was a quick sprint to the fridge or bathroom in between game loads. These days he went after the Zees with a gusto he used to reserve only for Friday night World of Warcraft boss raids. He’d leveled up in the zompoc and no undead scarecrow was going to take him out without a fight.
To prove it—and mostly to stave off boredom because there wasn’t anything else to do but mope or masturbate—Ash went out every day, ready to chip away at the horde of zombies that filled the streets like a Halloween version of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, minus all the cool floats. And like every other day the zombies stumbled along oblivious to the ten he’d taken out the day before, the dead-again bodies left where they’d fallen.
It made for a God-awful stink.
There wasn’t any getting used to it but Ash had long ago learned to cope. He’d raided a convenience store and stocked up on cartons of cigarettes. Not because he smoked—that shit will kill you—but because of the filters. He snipped them off the rest of the cigarette, keeping the tobacco to barter with, and stuffed a filter up each nostril. That kept the funk to a minimum and he could use them over and over, just as long as his allergies weren’t acting up. He preferred the menthol.
Death just smelled better with a side of mint.
Geared up, Ash started his rounds. He wore a custom suit of chainmail over his torso, which hung almost to his knees, that he made himself during his SCA years. Hardened leather pauldrons covered his shoulders and were attached to more chain that covered his biceps and forearms and were woven with softer leather in between the joints to allow for better movement. On his hands were sap gloves that offered up more of an impact when he struck the zombies, plus they kept his hands safe. No Z was getting through the reinforced Kevlar of the knuckles no matter how many teeth they had left.
On top of all that he wore baseball knee and shin guards modified with a ton of Velcro to keep them on, the straps covered with plastic plates to protect the backs of his legs. Over them he wore a pair of large, steel-toed boots that he duct-taped around his calves. A rugby helmet with a metal cage covered his head and topped off his outfit, and he’d manufactured a slim gorget to wear about his throat just in case a lucky zombie got through the rest. They hadn’t so far.
Ash clumped out of his second story apartment and made his way down the long balcony that connected his place to his neighbors. They’d all surrendered to the plague within the first few days so he’d offered them swift ends and tossed them over the rail, their brains bashed in by the sudden stop at the parking lot below. Fortunately there was already a gate at the top of the stairs—a preventive measure demanded by the property owner’s insurance company to keep the neighbor’s Darwin-concept-challenged children from tumbling down them after the first three recorded incidents. Ash had built on that concept and welded aluminum sheeting around the balcony so as to entirely enclose the upper floor, leaving one-inch cracks between them so he could look out on the world without leaving the safety of home.
He checked his array of weapons, a half dozen hammers of different types seated snugly in a carpenter’s tool belt around his waist sitting alongside his short sword, the edge honed to razor sharpness, and glanced down the stairs. The staircase empty of Zees, he unlocked the gate’s padlock and stepped through, securing it once more, reciting the combination like a mantra. He then shifted his confiscated riot shield from his back to his arm and went out to meet the morning with a smile on his face.
The weather was gray and hazy, a cool breeze wafting in off the bay. It was a perfect day for zombie killing. Ash drew in a deep breath, reveling in what little fresh air he could smell through the filters, and yanked his favorite claw hammer off his belt as he circled the block. His apartment was located just a few streets down the road from the local college and just about a mile from downtown. What that meant was there a never ending supply of dead folks gnawing their way loose of their residences. It also meant there were a bunch of jocks around, which made Ash happy. Nothing said excitement like giving a jock Zee a wedgie.
Karma had a way of coming full circle in the apocalypse.
Today, however, he was looking for different prey. Rather than follow his normal route through the labyrinth of the college he chose to head downtown. Traffic had blocked most of the thoroughfares during the early evacuation attempts but Ash had cleared a couple dozen streets, hoping into cars and parking them on the sidewalks while they still had gas and charged batteries. He wasn’t much for driving, especially since there was nowhere to go, but the empty streets gave him more room to maneuver and kept most of the zombies on the sidewalks, blocked by the vehicles. Plus it allowed him to keep better track of anyone in the area, the makeshift blockades forcing anyone traveling down the roads in a direction of his choosing; one he could watch from his bedroom window.
It had been a while since he’d seen anyone living though. The last guy he’d spotted was offering himself up as a buffet to the local Zees, though Ash suspected it wasn’t on purpose. He put him out of his misery a few minutes after killing the zombies, the guy unable to answer any questions, his throat ripped out. There hadn’t been anyone since that guy. Ash thought about it for moment. It had probably been more than a month ago since that happened.
That was a big part in why he chose to go downtown. As happy as he was alone—no one to worry about or stab him in the back—he was becoming antsy in the relative silence. Not quite I am Legend antsy, making friends with mannequins, but he was getting there. So to head that off he’d decided on a change of scenery. Besides, he hadn’t been downtown for a few months. He was curious as to how it fared in the time since. It hadn’t been good the last time around.
He strolled down the center lane, ignoring the Zees piling up against the cars in a futile effort to get to him, their growls more amusing than threatening. Ash might not have been one of the cool kids before the end of the world but the zombie apocalypse was one hell of an equalizer. The biggest, meanest badass back in the day was now a slow, shambling hunk of meat that led with its face and there was no one to stop Ash from clubbing them down like baby seals during coat season.
The meek had come into their inheritance at last.
Ash had thumped a couple of Zees before he slipped into the shadows of downtown, the buildings looming above and blocking the morning light, but it had been an uneventful trip overall. The dead were starting to spread out and had likely wandered off in search of fresh victims now that the easy pickings of the urban flesh Market had been thinned out. There was better hunting in the suburbs these days, he figured.
He made his way to Main Street, dodging a few gaggles of Zees, more than he wanted to take on at once, and marched on toward the entertainment district. As he rounded the corner near a dilapidated night club, the broken sign reminding him to pick up some wine coolers on the way back, he heard the unmistakable sounds of zombie agitation, their voices raised in frustrated angst. His heart thundered as he realized what that meant.
Someone was alive nearby. Zombies only got excited when they were killing.
Ash bolted down the street and into a nearby alley, following the sound. He caught sight of a group of Zees advancing on someone trapped between them and the back wall of the alley. The person, who he couldn’t see through the wall of zombies, was fighting back. He watched as one of the Zees crumpled, its head like a stomped pumpkin, and then another fell but there was no way the person would win out without help.
Ash charged forward and kicked the closest zombie in the top of its calf, dropping it to its knees. Before it could even respond, he reached over its head and sunk the claws of the hammer into its nose. Shield rested against the Zee’s shoulder to hold it in place, Ash peeled its head back as if he were opening a soda top, complete with the fizzy pop of its brain juices.
Snoot Maneuver completed, he ripped the hammer loose and slammed it into the head of the next zombie. It had just started to turn toward him when the hammer punched a hole in its forehead. Ash bashed the one on his left aside with his shield, clearing some space, and he caught a glimpse of the person trapped in the gangbang of Zees.
It was a woman.
And she was hot!
Ash found himself staring. The woman wore military camo pants but they did nothing to hide her well-toned assets. She ducked low and dodged a reaching Zee and reared up with savage grace to split the corpse in half with a single blow of her machete, starting at its crotch and ending at its chin, her arm following through with the swing. Black blood dotted the air as the zombie toppled back and fell into its friends but Ash couldn’t pull his eyes from the woman. Stretched out as she was he had the perfect view of her ample breasts pressed against her tight T-shirt. He felt his cheeks grow warm. It had been a long time since he’d seen a woman who wasn’t rotting out of her skin or airbrushed on a magazine page.
It wasn’t until a zombie nearly knocked him over, tugging on his shield and snapping at him with blackened teeth, that he came back to reality. He yanked loose and sunk his hammer into the zombie’s skull, cracking it open like a spoiled egg. A quick pivot drove the edge of his shield into the jaw of another Zee and Ash followed that up with the hammer claws, ripping the top of its head off. He dropped one more and the women did the same, clearing the last of the undead, both bodies slipping to the concrete with moist, meaty thumps.
“That was mighty impressive the way you—” Ash started as the woman wheeled on him, his tongue stalling in his mouth.
Pale of skin, like really pale, her dark, wild hair making the contrast even worse, she bared her teeth and snarled at him, her face distorted in a scowl. Her blue eyes were dotted with stars of black and they seemed to pulse in their sockets. The sound that came out of her mouth was half-growl, half-roar, and entirely inhuman. She raised her machete, her other hand reaching for him. Ash stumbled back at the malevolence she projected, seeing black veins pulse at her neck.
Hot as she was, she wasn’t alive.
“Whoa there, Zimbo!” he said, placing his shield between them and raising his hammer. “What the fuck are you?”
She glared at him a moment, and then her expression softened as if it were a chalk drawing left in the rain, a palpable sense of peace washing over her. The dots in her eyes vanished and she dropped her arms to her side. Ash held his ground while all this happened, stunned into silence. Just as he found his voice he felt something solid pressed into the base of his skull.
“Drop the hammer or I paint the wall a lovely shade of you.”
“That’s descriptive,” Ash said but did as he was told. The claw hammer slipped from his fingers. “You might want to turn a gun on Miss Congeniality over there while you’re at it. I’m really not sure what she is but she is definitely dangerous.”
The woman smiled and wiped away every trace of the monster Ash had seen just a few moments before and he wondered if he’d seen it at all. There was nothing there but model good looks and sweet country charm now, the pretty girl next door.
“Sorry about that,” she said, a slight Texas accent twanging at the edges of her words.
Ash stiffened. “You can speak?”
“Of course I can.” She gestured to the battered Zees. “I’m not one of them. At least not yet.” A wistful sigh ended the last sentence. She waved off the gun wielder. “He’s okay, Marc. He helped me with the stiffs.”
The rifle barrel eased back from Ash’s head, and he rubbed at the circular welt it left behind. Slowly, he glanced over his shoulder to see who had snuck up on him. He met the barrels of four more rifles hovering a few feet away, the black holes staring at him with cruel intent. A group of angry soldiers joined them.
“Uh, hi, everybody.” Ash didn’t dare wave.
Marc, the one closest, had his head shaved and looked as if he could be The Rock’s younger, shorter brother. Built like a pro-wrestler with a height deficiency, he filled out his shirt much the way the woman did, but Ash was far less interested in examining the guy’s curves. He had a couple of holsters attached to his hip and he wore a belt that was loaded down with magazines for the M-16 he was hoisting.
“Stand down,” Marc told the others. They did so with reluctance, and Ash breathed a sigh of relief at not having all that firepower pointed at his skull. His helmet wouldn’t do shit against a bullet.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked.
“Ash.” He split his gaze between her and the others.
She smiled again but there was something off about it he noticed. Something he couldn’t place.
“I’m Vix.” She pointed to each of the soldiers in turn. “You met Marc there. The tall gentleman behind him is Calvin.”
Tall was an understatement. Calvin was easily six and a half feet if not more. That meant he had Ash by about six inches. The soldier stared down at Ash through narrow brown eyes. His dark, shaven scalp reflected the dim morning light and gave his features a brooding menace. He nodded but there wasn’t anything approaching friendly in it.
“I’d hate to see how big Hobbes is these days,” Ash muttered under his breath.
“That chica there is Gloria.” The woman raised her index finger in a tense hello, the rest of her hand never leaving her rifle.
She was about as tall as Marc but a third of his size, which wasn’t to say she was small. Her curves were way better proportioned, Ash noticed, but there was nothing about her that screamed weakness. He wouldn’t be asking her to make him a sandwich anytime soon. Dressed like all the others in camo pants, tan boots, and plain green T-shirts, all military issue, and with plenty of ammo strapped about, she looked every bit the soldier.
“Hey,” the third man told him, offering up the barest of grins.
“What’s up…Chuck?” Ash asked, grinning as the man sighed and shook his head.
“Yeah, like I’ve never heard that one before…”
“And last, but hardly least, is Melanie.”
The aforementioned Melanie raised an eyebrow but offered nothing else resembling a greeting. She was slim, but in solid shape, more wiry than muscular. Her hair was cropped short and was so dark there was no way it could be natural, hints of blue glinting as she moved her head. A clone of the others in outfit there wasn’t much of her standing out from the military ensemble but a little button clipped to her shirt told you all you needed to know about her attitude.
My balls are so big I have to carry them on my chest.
Ash, of course, had to confirm her boast. She grinned at him as he did but it wasn’t friendly. In fact, it was kind of feral, like a cat getting ready to rip him a new one.
“Uh, pleasure to meet all of you,” he said, tearing his gaze from Melanie and returning it to Vix, which did nothing to stop his cheeks from burning. He was grateful the helmet hid most of his face. He got a few canned niceties in response to his own. “Semper Fi. Oorah!”
“That’s Marines,” Gloria said. “We’re Army, kid.”
“Oh, sorry,” Ash said, not that her clarification meant anything. Soldiers were soldiers as far as he was concerned. They were all soldiers these days.
“We should probably go,” Marc said. “We need to find food before we move on.”
“I can help,” Ash offered. While the soldiers weren’t exactly the friendliest of people, he wasn’t ready to see them go yet. Especially not Vix, despite her oddness. He snuck a furtive glance her way.
“That’s okay, man,” Calvin told him, giving him a disapproving look. “We’ve got this. Thanks.”
Ash shook his head. “Not if you’re looking here you don’t. Downtown went to hell mid-morning, everyone and their mother already packed into the area. What didn’t get snatched up by the legion of wage slaves as they tried to get out of Dodge was collected by the scavengers that moved through after the fact. This place has been barren for eight months, at least. What hasn’t been taken has likely rotted or is locked up with the Zees who couldn’t reach the streets. There aren’t any big box stores around here for long term produce or supplies.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve been here from the beginning and watched it all go to shit.”
Melanie groaned. “What now then?” She looked to Marc, who was clearly the guy in charge.
“You can come home with me,” Ash said, stumbling to clarify when he saw the woman glaring at him. “I mean, uh, all of you, of course. That sounded bad.”
“That it did,” Gloria agreed. Her fingers tapped the funeral march against her weapon stock.
“I have plenty of food,” Ash went on. “Enough for you to have a warm dinner and to take a bunch with you afterward, wherever you’re going…”
“And what do you get out of it?” Melanie asked.
“A little while where the voices in my head aren’t all mine.”
“That’s plain sad,” Marc said.
“Isn’t it?” Gloria agreed.
“Knock it off, guys.” Vix came over and threw an arm over Ash’s shoulders. “We’d love to come to dinner. Thank you for inviting us.”
The others grumbled but Ash barely heard them over the raucous beating of his heart. The warmth in his cheeks dribbled down his neck and spread across his chest. Before it could go any lower he slipped away from the woman and started off.
“This way. My place is just down the road.”
Vix followed right after, the rest of the soldiers muttering amongst themselves before deigning to catch up. Ash could hear their heavy footsteps behind him, untrusting and reluctant, but there was only room in his head for one thing.
Well, two actually.
The first was that he’d get spend more time with Vix.
The other was that he hoped he hadn’t left any of his spank mags sitting on the coffee table that morning.
Join Ashford Dane as his post-apocalyptic existence is thrown into chaos by the sudden arrival of a ZILF!
Yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about. If not, look it up.
Comfortably situated at the end of the world Ash stumbles across a group of soldiers traveling through his neighborhood and meets Vix, the hottest pseudo-corpse since Lily Munster. Lonely, and mostly bored off his ass, Ash invites them to dinner only to have uninvited guests show up for a nibble. A cannibalistic nibble, that is, and these guys like their meat burnt.
Ash's home and a lifetime of supplies go up in flames and he's forced to flee with the soldiers. Nowhere else to go he joins their mission: To hunt down the only scientist capable of saving Vix from the horrible infection that threatens to turn her into a full blown zombie.
Things just go downhill from there, hordes of zombies standing between them and their goal. But hey, if they succeed maybe then Ash'll stand a chance of escaping the dreaded friend zone.