This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
The wind blew through the cherry blossoms in the Sakuragoaka
gardens. Musashi knelt and cleared his mind, letting his cares drift on the
wind. He saw without seeing as he closed his eyes, his mind clacking in the
dark of his dreams, igniting a small flame of consciousness. His thoughts
wandered silently as he smelled the fires burning in the distance, food cooking
in the next town over. Dogs’ barks travelled over the mountains as whispers in
the cool evening air were ushered in by the coming night.
The ground he knelt on was soft, and grass stained his dark brown robes. He hadn’t washed for days or combed his hair. Cleanliness had become a pretence he didn’t much care for.
Suddenly the air became tighter and sharper as pinpricks brushed his skin. His eyes cracked open and let in some light as his mind came soaring back, like a demon hurtling into this world. A foot touched down on the grassy earth and sent shockwaves through the ground and then another and another and another and another and another.
Three sets of two … his eyes closed again as he listened. Three men or one six-legged demon. He’d only know when he cut it. They’d only exist when his blade touched them and then only for a moment after.
He took a deep, slow breath as they approached. Steel breathed out sharply as their swords loosened from their ramshackle sheathes. The air took on the smell of iron and copper. They approached from behind as Musashi meditated; their steel quivered as the light hit the blades.
His heart beat like the leather drum of a mighty ship approaching a certain destination. He fancied his attackers could feel it in the very ground they stood upon. The vibrations through their feet made them feel numb and light-headed, losing the tips of their swords to a strange feeling of giddiness as they got close to the kneeling man.
He took one deep breath, taking in the last of the sweet smells of the cherry blossom tree, its pink petals falling as it swayed in the wind. Musashi brought his sword forward in his waist wrap and turned the blade in its scabbard, pushing out his bottom lip as he did. His grizzled lower jaw cocked to the side as he felt the greasy stubble on his face with his other hand. He sighed a little as he slowly pushed up the hilt, gently popping the blade from the sheath with a slight jerking motion from his thumb.
The blank figures flapped slightly like the sails of a ship in a changing wind. They sprang to life, having come too close to turn back. Their fear pushed them onto this mortal stage to face blood and sweat and bone and will.
The vagabonds tensed their legs and took their stances, trying to gain strength from the earth. They swallowed and took their pride up like an iron flag and they bounded towards the old man resting his eyes in the cool afternoon. He listened to the gears of the world slowly turn, smelling the sweet and tart smells of the grass and the blossoms mixing in the dying evening.
Their swords were heavier than his and they bolted forward, shaking like they were held together with string. His sword was a dancing feather and cut through the air like a blossom from the cherry tree. His hand had barely touched it; his grip was light and nourished the blade with his will; it stayed straight and did not falter in the wind; it moved with it, flowed on it and cut it like a ship parting the waves. He felt a natural exhilaration for what was meant to be: men travelling towards their destinies, whatever they may amount to.
They set on him, their movements those of men underwater. His great eye saw all their movements but recognised them only as insignificant shapes in the dark depths of a boundless ocean. His mind only thought of cutting, his blade sharpened by his burning will, a searing desire to be seen by the ambivalent god of the moon and stars.
They scattered like leaves, their bodies wanted to be cut; they were made complete by his blade, a cut for each and each in place; not a drop of blood fell until it was ready to fall and Musashi sheathed his sword once more.
Suddenly, as if from the sky itself, a crack appeared and Musashi felt a foot on his shadow, a tightness in his chest, as if his guard had been penetrated by some unholy force; he quickly drew his sword again; it was already halfway out when he heard a scream tear through the heavens, a star falling with the force of the earth itself. It eclipsed him, like an insect in the wake of a great mountain.
“TJ STOP SCREWING AROUND IN THE YARD AND TAKE OUT THE TRASH!”
“MOOOM, I’M FILMING FOR YOUTUBE!”
“-AND YOU BETTER NOT BE PUTTING HOLES IN MY FENCE WITH THAT SWORD!”
TJ sighed heavily as he looked at the jagged cut in the water cooler bottle he had picked up on his way home from the local movie theatre it bled out over the unevenly cut grass as his fantasy faded into the corners of his mind. He scratched his neckbeard as he looked at his crappy mall katana sticking out of the fence, still twitching from the force of the swing. He must have let go when his mom called him.
He looked into his digital camera and sighed audibly into the vacant lens.
“Hey fat ass!” A nasal voice rang out from over the fence and TJ turned like Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller’. “Yeah you, neck beard, over here!” His neighbour leant on the fence like a crow, with a superior sneer sitting atop his pointy douche bag goatee. He looked like a hipster Ming the Merciless with a pair of poser shades dangling from his fingers.
“You better watch it, man. You almost put another hole in my
ass with that pig sticker of yours. Hommie doesn’t play that. My exit hole
remains an exit hole. Feel me?” His neighbour flailed his sunglasses in his
fingers and tried to sound like a black guy.
“What are you doing, man? No one wants to see some fat re-re in his mommy’s yard, cutting up bottles with a butter knife, when they can see handsome motherfuckers like me and my associates chopping on some real meat with some big… mmm weapons!” He smiled and motioned with his sunglasses at TJ’s camera and his bottle massacre. “We’ve got over sixty thousand billion subscribers, nigga. Wut chu got, like one-two thousand maybe? Some tight-fisted jackers fapping their flaccid nubby dicks over fat retards getting sweaty in extra-large tees.”
TJ averted his gaze as he attempted to jostle his sword free of the fence. His pits were wet and stinging, shame and anger swelling. He said nothing and shook his head from side to side trying to get his emo black bangs out of his sweaty face; he just took it.
“Stay off my fucking YouTube, asshat, and keep that mall sword crap in your pants.” His neighbour hopped off the fence, laughing. “Now where the fuck were we? Oh yeah.” He turned to the camera as it focused on his goateed, smug face, and put his sunglasses back on. He slicked his floppy black hair back on his head.
Lightning struck his posture as he launched into character, the cheesy yet edgy game show host spiel in three, two, one: “Wut’s up, Zed heads! I am Zed Theodore-Brogan, bringing you another face-raping edition of Zombie Stump Fuckers!
“Time for exposition, kiddies!” Zed quivered with glee. “We all know the zombie apocalypse is old news; we’re living post-post apocalyptic now, people, but for all those naysayers saying, ‘But Zed, the zombie apocalypse already happened and the military already killed them all and cleaned it up and saved the day in some cousin-fucking backwater and shit - why do you need to prepare for something that already happened?’ I say ‘Fuck that! I was doing this before it happened and I’ll keep testing the weapons and skills you’ll need for the zombie apocalypse if it ever happens again, because why the fuck not?” Zed sneered at the camera, mocking the naysayers and pointing his finger. He felt slightly cheated every time he had to fulfil that gratuitous exposition.
“But that’s all cool, right Gill? Anything could happen.” Zed sneered ominously at his colleague; the camera panned over to a guy of around the same age, mid to late twenties, with wavy brown hair, and a little soul patch hiding under a bit of an overbite. He was covered head to toe in reasonably priced motocross gear, holding a fibreglass black skull mask in his gloved fingers. He smiled awkwardly as he felt the camera panning over to him.
“..Err, yeah, you know, there could be, like, scientists, ya know, who are, like, transporting a vial of zombie jizz in, like, a beaker and then they could, like, drop it and this whole shit could be back on, but, ya know, with, like, super zombies, ya know what I’m saying?” Gill croaked, stumbling over his words, caught a little off guard.
Zed took hold of the lens with his hands, black polished fingernails greasily handling it. He got close up in the eye and began to spit.
“You see, that’s what this is all about, people. We do this for you. Yeah, it’s fun, but you need us. YOU NEED US.” Zed walked the camera around until finally it pointed at a skinny pair of denim-covered knees, kneeling in a patch of well-kept grass in Zed’s mom’s backyard. “Oh, have we got a surprise for you on this edition of Zombie Stump Fuckers! All the way from Lysander labs, in the beautiful San Fernando Valley, meet Bob.”
Zed brought the camera up with a jolt, and steam and bile bubbled onto the lens as the audience of Zombie Stump Fuckers were given a close up of a rotting corpse called ‘Bob’. Wheezing and burping a viscous liquid with each laboured breath, Bob otherwise seemed quite placid for a flesh-eater.
Zed quickly put his arm around Bob, raising a thumb in approval. “That’s right, people, we got ourselves a live one. Well, sort of. You get the picture. Pan out a little, Roy, so they can see the T-shirt.” Zed shooed the cameraman back as he stepped away from Bob who hadn’t even seemed to realise he was surrounded by delicious people.
“Yeah, gimme a minute. I wanna get in all the gore on pretty boy Bob here,” Roy said, his voice muffled by the camera. It was hoarse and nasal as he squinted to look through the camera, and a harsh spike of indifference ran through it, mimicking that of the sleaziest of porn producers.
The camera zoomed out jerkily and refocused on Bob’s torso, showing a garish Zombie Stump Fuckers T-shirt, sodden with cold sweat. The white T-shirt was embossed with the logo of a stick man having sex with a decapitated, ghoulish head. “You can pick these bad boys up on our website, along with a lot of other goodies, like mugs and weapons and all that good stuff. It helps support the show and keeps the boys looking pretty.”
The camera turned to Zed’s skinny face as he got a little serious, like a cartoon character doing a little segue or a PSA. “Now kids, a word about safety: before you go looking for your own zombie to molest in all different ways, I want you to take notice of the precautions we go through on this show to reduce the risk of infection.”
Zed went comically close to Bob’s face, poking at his rotten gums with a gloved finger, as if he was giving him a dental exam. He lifted the upper mandible to reveal that Bob had no teeth. “See, for all the kids at home, Bob’s biting days are over. You may also have noticed we didn’t have much use for his arms, so they went too. It’s all for safety. We’re professionals here on this show, folks. Don’t try this at home.” Zed chuckled as he flapped the empty sleeves of Bob’s shirt, with that shit-eating grin plastered all over his face.
“Ok, now we’ve got the introduction and the shilling out of the way, it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for: run the tape.” Zed smiled and licked his top row of teeth as he thought about the smell of copper and iron against freshly cut grass. It was summer and sweet and smoky smells filled the air; the sounds of lawnmowers and dogs barking rang out, like droning choirs and off-key bells, over the hills of the small, suburban, middle-American town. Warm sun on a black T-shirt was a luxurious feeling with a cold beer in your hand, but all that was pushed out of Zed’s mind as feats of bloody carnage came bursting forth from his twisted imagination. His hands were sticky and dank, smelling like raw meat.
A cheesy eight millimetre film noise sample started as a grindhouse filter was played over the digital video: an extreme close-up of an obscure metal grate moving atop a red, cushioned plinth inside someone’s garage; it was covered with black bin liners. The camera panned around the strange, stainless steel object as different lights and filters were passed over this mysterious wunderwaffe, revealing spikes and nails and little snaggy, gratey bits, leather straps and pointy, distorted pieces of metal.
“Brought to you by the people at lethalsilverware.com, made from solid 440c stainless steel, all the way from exotic China, the one and only, custom made for the show – the EVISCERGRATOR!” The camera panned back, jerkily for a grindhouse feel, the film popping and crackling with a digital effect. It revealed a custom-made pair of lethal cheese graters, a trashy emo girl caressing them seductively as they sat on a red, velvet pillow.
It cut back to the back garden after the intro. Gill was putting his skull mask on, for ‘protection’. He affixed the graters to his hands like gauntlets. The handles had been customized with machine cut g10 and leather inlays for comfort and maximum grip, with a pair of gaudy, spiked knuckle dusters for an added angle of attack, although they were already a formidable piece of kitchenware. The trashy girl from the video appeared, as if out of nowhere, and began fastening them to his wrists with a series of custom leather straps and Velcro. He gripped them tightly in his gloved hands and felt a surge of adrenaline course through him. Although his mask hid his facial expression, a strange private sense of completion filled his chest and he swelled with a new emotion that he kept to himself.
“You ready, Gill?” Roy said, clearing his throat behind the camera.
“So what’s your plan of attack?” Zed said. Roy flailed the camera back and forth between them, Zed fighting for screen time between him and the bewildered space monkey about to be shot from a cannon into his destiny.
“Err, I think I’m gonna punch it square in the fucking face, err, and then I’m just gonna grate my way all the way down until I see that white and pinky mushy stuff on the inside,” Gill mumbled under his stuffy mask. Nevertheless he felt lean and strong and whole and mean, like an iron rod straight out of a white hot furnace.
Bob gurgled unintelligibly as Gill took his position, just off centre; the camera zoomed in gingerly, shaking slightly from side to side from Roy’s sheer morbid excitement. The zombie was chained to the fence with a simple dog collar. Zed stood the other side of Bob and quickly unhooked the leash with a snap, and not much happened. The fight had gone out of Bob with his teeth and his arms; he was just a meat popsicle and didn’t see a reason to even rise to his feet. Gill felt a pang of sorrow that got his cock a little hard for some reason; he didn’t need to dwell on it: this was a mercy killing; it didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy it.
Gill straddled the air in front of Bob and levered an effective punch to the cheekbone. A satisfying crack and a spurt of greenish red goo were the crescendo to a well-timed strike. Bob’s eyes rolled around in his head like a pair of soft boiled eggs and he moaned drunkenly as blood and puss ran ribbons down his chin.
A downward strike sent jagged nails jutting out of the base of the gauntlets into the soft flesh of the hardest part of Bob’s head, scraping the front of his skull and top of the skull cap, raking up flesh and hair and chipping tiny fragments of bone. The zombie drooled and snapped his jaws open and closed feebly, like someone getting back alley brain surgery. A large portion of flesh came loose from the top front part of his head. He slumped forward like a wind-up toy slowly running out of turns, and it made Gill feel maudlin and out of place. This triggered a sudden hatred for himself and he struck at the side of Bob’s head angrily, sideways, into the soft parts of his face, dislodging a portion Bob’s jaw. He rent the gummy flesh from the cheek and tongue with the barbed nails and teeth of the cheese grater. Flesh clung to the glistening metal teardrop blades, ripping like razor wire on tender meat.
Bob fell to the grassy ground of Zed’s mom’s backyard; she was passed out upstairs, already a fifth into a bottle of cheap store brand booze at three in the afternoon, chasing lunch away with an empty stomach, racing the hours down until the room stopped spinning.
Bob rolled onto his back breathlessly, gasping without sound, as if he were trying to form words without a tongue or a bottom jaw: ‘No, please, stop, help!’ Something like that, all in the eyes alone. His body was a coffin made of rotting flesh, yet something stoked a tiny ember of humanity encased in that soggy husk.
“Finish it,” Roy said coldly behind the harsh gaze of the camera’s eye. His voice was like the sound of a penny hitting the dry bed of a deep well.
Gill paused for a moment. He looked at Bob’s eyes flitting around sleepily, and felt like a monster, all decked out in plastic and tin, a mask. He wanted to crawl inside that mask and forget he had a face. Zed’s smile, like the wings of a crow, cast a long shadow on Gill, and his pause became painful.
He knelt beside Bob, placing his off-colour head between the monstrous cheese graters and began to use them as the manufacturer intended. He held tight to the handles of the graters and began to move his arms back and forth like he was trying to start a campfire against the sides of Bob’s head, grating his flesh. His knotted, matted hair became tangled in the graters’ teeth as Gill grated faster and faster, ripping the hair and the flesh, grinding the bone. Snapping sounds went deeper: wet sawing sounds, like a magic act gone terribly wrong; popping, cracking, hissing, pressure being released: sprays of old, dark blood, as he reduced the head quickly to a lumpy, gritty pink paste dotted with soggy bone fragments and matted hair. He almost expected the eyes to pop out of Bob’s head comedically from the pressure, but instead, they burst like warm grapes and were ground down to pulp with the rest of the matter in Bob’s skull.
All that was left was a portion of the back of the head and the throat; the tonsils were visible, making the remnants of his head seem like the discarded core of an apple. The tonsils jostled disconcertingly from remaining nerve activity and a hissing, guttural noise came from the open throat, as well as a noxious smell, like an open manhole cover.
Gill stood up and inhaled. He was sweating all over his armour. The graters were covered in gore and muck and rotten flesh and hair, and bits of bone; he smelled like an abandoned slaughterhouse. He swallowed a little sick and walked out of shot.
“Fuck,” Roy said, under his breath behind the camera, with a poorly hidden pang of excitement in his voice.
“Well, there you have it, folks - cheese graters: man’s greatest weapons against the zombie horde, if they should return in our lifetimes.” Zed snapped the camera back to his smiling face, putting on his faux movie announcer voice. “Thanks for tuning in, folks, to another face-grating edition of Zombie Stump-Fuckers. Don’t forget to thumb up the video and subscribe to our channel for more zombie eviscerating action. This is your loyal host, Zed Theodore Brogan, preparing you for the zombie apocalypse…again.”
Dejected, TJ went back inside the house, feeling the sting of a verbal wedgie deep down in the sacred regions of his taint, which itched something fierce today in the midsummer heat. He recovered his sword from the fence and dreamily thumbed a slight imperfection in the cheap Chinese sheet steel blade.
The TV was on in the living room and a pretty reporter in a puffy jacket was spilling exposition like a leaky sieve, but TJ’s mind was otherwise occupied as he stood fawning over the damaged blade.
“Only seven months ago this town was thick with the undead: small town America, ravaged by a deadly virus that turned regular human beings into flesh-eating walking corpses. Today we hold a memorial for those who fell to this outbreak and we say ‘never again’.” The pretty brunette, in her long puffy coat, took two steps to stand beside some local yokel, with eyes as glassy as an smart phone store, before she tilted the microphone under his glorious blonde neckbeard. “Diane Redfern, Channel 8 News. We’re joined by the only known survivor of the Arkham, Louisiana outbreak, BJ Tirk. BJ, can you tell us a little about the incident?”
“Well now, I didn’t see much. I was up at the truck stop, trying get my dick sucked at the time, then everyone started eating each other and it was just horrible” The fat thirty-something shook his chins. Someone stern cleared his throat behind the camera. The yokel tucked his shoulder-length blond hair behind his ears as he started to get a little more serious. He put on a set of black-rimmed hipster glasses and began talking again but in a more mechanical voice as he awkwardly read from a pre-released statement someone handed him off camera in his hillbilly drawl. “Erm, well Diane, I was just mind-ing my own business, when the zombies appeared, pause. Then luck-eely I was saved by the military and a shadowy government agency that prefers to go unnamed at this time; looks at Diane Redferne.” Diane cleared her throat uncomfortably and tried to salvage the interview.
“So not a single survivor but you? You must be very lucky and happy to be alive. Do you have any idea how the incident started?”
“I reckon it was dem damn Iraqis what done it or maybe some damn athee-ists.” BJ was cut off by another angry throat clearing from behind the camera as he went back to his sheet of paper. The camera panned up to avoid showing it, but could still pick up his nervous rustling. “I be-lieve, looks at camera, the outbreak was a bio-log-log-logical attack perp-petrated by a radical animal rights group, looks indig-wut?... Err, as a revenge attack for the local pig-wrestling tournament and hog roast that was sched-uled later on that day, Di-ane.” Diane cleared her throat with a mortified expression, trying desperately to keep her composure in the presence of this colossal boob, towering six feet of flabby, sweaty man meat over her.
“Al-right, well, thank you, Mr.Tirk. This is Diane Redfern going back to the studio.”
“Damn liberal communist Iraqi atheist faggots!”
“Cut him off, now!”
The news broadcast ended with an angry fumbling sound and harsh whispers, static and then a pair of bewildered news anchors tried to move on.
“Well, thanks, Diane, for that, err, unusual story. Moving on to recent news, the global mega-giant corporation, Pudgiwara industries, was in the news this week for…krrzz.” TJ turned the TV off.
“I NEED TO GO TO THE MALL!”
“OK, GREAT! I NEED A VALUE PACK OF TAMPONS ANYWAY!”
“Gross!” TJ sighed and scrunched his nose up as he probed the nicked edge of the blade with his pudgy thumb. It snagged on a sharp shard of metal, drawing a ruby tear of blood. He reacted sleepily to the cut and placed the thumb in his mouth with a disgusted, distant look on his face. “Ow”.
Alex Rushmer: I just want to say that the writing in this is amazing! I read the first couple chapters and was absolutely drawn in by it, The way you use first person in this story is extremely engaging and does wonders with your character development. I immediately had a picture of the characters and plotline...
CurlyRed: I read this entire book in just under 4 hours I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN! i found myself emotionally attached to the characters and making personal connections that i had never experienced before while reading a book! I was constantly wanting to read more, every chapter left me on a cliff hanger tha...
Tony Lee: Great ideas. Some mistakes here and there, but not too much to break the immersion :) This was my second book here, and I'm pretty satisfied! Well I can't think of anything else to write so I'm just gonna fill the space up with random words. Magazine holder sidney sheldon first bible shack tom ha...
Beloved Q Medina: At first I figured it was another genre fiction book and didn't have any expectations, but by the first few chapters I found myself engrossed in Sid's journey. Some say that genre fiction is predictable, or not as substantial as literary fiction, but this novel was anything but that. I found myse...
Deleted User: This is a very clever story in the style of 19th century (and turn of the century) Gothic writing, very reminiscent of Stevenson's The Body Snatchers or even of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (less so of Frankenstein itself, since the author is more minimalist than Shelley's florid, Romantic rhetoric). ...
dragonswilleise: I loved this book, it was nearly impossible to put down from start to finish. It was fast passed without being overwhelming and slowed down where needed. Overall this was an amazing novel that I will definitely recommend to others.
Kiz16: After a truly shocking start to the story, I found the style and content slowed down as the author introduced a varied group of characters who I thought were fleshed out very well. After a slow couple of chapters, I found this story difficult to leave with the tension growing within the house. Yo...
Jaslyn: I loved reading this so much!! The transformation of Nina's self-esteem was incredible to read, and while I was rooting for Parker halfway through, I was very satisfied when Harrison and Nina finally got everything straight. The side characters were adorable - I especially loved Anna, Richel, Mic...
Bradley Darewood: I really really really liked this. I just voted for you!The voice is flawless-- I can't write men as well as you do and I have a penis. Maybe I'm narcissistic but I particularly enjoyed the moment where he muses about how artists would do better in such a solitary job. But my favorite moment ...
JulieJeanette: I'm only on chapter nine, but so far I am loving this story!. I am on pins and needles hoping that they find good men in their lives by the end. I am American and so the British tone and lingo ('knickers,' 'sod it' ) of the book is very appealing. I had to find out how much '12 stone' was by goog...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."