(Chapter One only)

Motor City Shambler cover

Joshua Calkins-Treworgy

June 2009

Motor City Shambler

Joshua Calkins-Treworgy

Copyright 2008/2009 by Joshua Calkins-Treworgy, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.

June 2009

ISBN: 973-1-60215-107-7

Act I

Introduction of a Rotted Mind

Salutations. I suppose, looking back, it all started about five weeks ago. I won't be covering that entire time here, just a few days of it. With any luck, I'll be able to save this document to a disk and take it someplace safe to continue on it.

Nobody's sure how it all started, be it a plague, a virus, or perhaps something slightly more biblical. I certainly don't know, nor can I often find the time to try thinking about it. I have needs now, needs that are terrifying but which must be met. I require flesh and blood, and if possible, brains.

That may seem like a disgusting diet to you. I assure you that it isn't exactly my choice of dietary needs either. I'm a zombie, though, and zombies eat living human beings. We aren't great conversationalists, or athletes for that matter, despite what you may have seen in certain recent zombie film renditions. George Romero had it right way back when he made the first zombie flicks. For the most part, we are a slow, methodical, and above all, stupid species.

Yes, I am a zombie. How, then, am I getting these words across to you? Slowly, painfully, and with more mental effort than I believe most of my kindred to be capable of. As I sit at this old computer, staring at the white screen and tapping away, I am only capable of typing out a maximum of about twenty words a minute. Ask any secretary and they'll inform you that that is incredibly slow. As such, I'll keep this diatribe to a minimum word count. Oops, hold on a while. I'll be back. My stomach is grumbling and I can hear someone living entering the floor.

* * * *

Hey there, I'm back. Poor son of a bitch didn't stand a chance. However, I will say this; he put up one hell of a fight. They just don't seem to realize, in their panic, that if they took the time to actually aim at the head, they might make better effect of their firearms. And contrary to popular belief, being shot in the chest over and over again may not kill my kind, but it does hurt like a bitch! The karate instructor from about a week ago did more damage, tell the truth. He broke my right arm when I took a swing at him.

Again, how then am I typing this out? Well, I'm situated on the fourth floor of an office building here in downtown Detroit. As a result, I don't get too many visitors. The zombie body has a limited ability to heal itself by making use of the organic tissue we consume. There were a few survivors trapped in the second floor elevator, and, well, I did what needed doing. I feel like hell having to give in to my compulsions, but survival is a more powerful instinct than you might believe.

We are more powerful in larger numbers, but trying to communicate this to others of my kind is nearly impossible. We have a basic form of semi-telepathic communication, but it only works well with a few of us. There's one lass up here with me, and she too is a member of the walking dead. She's been bringing me coffee now and again, and warning me when she senses a living person entering the building. She's very helpful, though the coffee doesn't do me too much good. Its only real result is me having to get up every now and again to use the bathroom.

Yes, the zombie body does process normal sources of nutrition. However, we tend to excrete everything into our pants, since most of us don't have the presence of mind to use a toilet. And while normal food and drink could serve us, we need flesh and blood in the long run. It's hardwired into our systems from the moment of our un-birth. The more often we feed, the more powerful and capable we become. A few weeks ago, I had myself a family special down the street in one of the dilapidated apartment buildings dotting the interior landscape of this city.

The wife went down quite easily. I tore her throat open with one of my now long-nailed claws. She gagged and tried to gurgle a shriek as she fell on her kitchen floor. Again, I felt terrible, but I had to do it to keep going. The husband, well, he struggled, and he was strong as an ox. He hit me over the head with every damned thing he could lay hands on. Then he retreated back to his bedroom, where he kept a small .22 pistol. He shot me a few times in the stomach before I jammed my thumbs into his eye sockets, and boy, that hurt. It was the first time I'd been shot. The dog just cowered in the corner. To be merciful, I snapped his neck with sharp twist and dug in.

Where am I going with all of this? Oh, right, I remember now. I wanted to tell you, whoever may eventually read this, what it was like being a sentient zombie in a world going to hell and breakfast. Having access to the Internet and newspapers, I've kept up on the human perspective of this world-changing event. Believe it or not, this whole series of events started in Ohio, but I'll get to that later.

Oh, by the way, the name's Bob. Bob the Zombie.

How it All Got Started

Bob the Zombie, as you may well imagine, was not the name my loving parents graced me with upon birth. My living name was Robert Steven Johnson. I was a partner in a young soft drink company called Blast-Off Cola. My job entailed going from city to city and attaining vending rights in the larger metropolitan areas. The concept of the small company I worked for was relatively simple. We would supply vending machines full of our product, but only machines. The beverage would not be made available to grocers on a package scale until we could generate solid profits.

My job had a few perks. I have always enjoyed being out in the wilderness, and one perk was that I always had a few extra days, where I went, to explore the outskirts and rural areas of the cities I visited. It happened during one such trip into the woods surrounding the city of Buffalo, New York.

I was turned into a zombie.

There was nothing magical about the pathways I walked in the woods around a small suburb called Angola, about a half-hour's drive outside of Buffalo. I had on a blue checked chambray shirt, an orange hunter's jacket, and black jeans tough enough to keep the bites of pesky insects at bay. The peaceful solitude of the woods around me seemed otherworldly, as though I had been transported not to a simple woodland, but to a sanctuary away from the modern world.

While walking between the towering trees that stood sentinel over this area for untold centuries, I spotted another nature lover along the trail. Or so, I thought. Using a walking stick to propel myself toward him, I called out for his attention. "Hey, mister," I called, attempting to gain his attention. "Do you own this property? It's a lovely area." I lowered my voice as I approached, then reached out and grabbed the man's shoulder, and turned him toward me.

That was when he grabbed my arm and bit off a nice section of my biceps.

I had only been bitten once before in my life--by a heavyset Doberman. Allow me to tell you that the pain of being bitten by a human being (or zombie, in this case) is far worse than being bitten by an animal. Revulsion churned my stomach's contents as I flailed away from the man busily chewing on the chunk of fleshy tissue he'd torn from my body.

"What the fuck?" I grabbed at the bleeding wound on my arm.

The stranger merely grinned and groaned savagely, his teeth working over what should have been a part of my physical makeup. The wound burned, and I knew right away that it was infected. The thick scrim of yellow and black pus coming from the man's mouth gave me a visual clue that I would indeed need to sterilize the wound. But not now. For now, all I wanted was to run out to the place on the side of the road where I'd parked my rental car and get the hell away from Angola.

With leaves and branches rustling and breaking underfoot, I sprinted blindly through the woods, coming out on the shoulder of the road a hundred yards south of my vehicle. Still clutching my arm, I raced to the car, clambered in, and shot like a bat out of hell in the direction of the nearest medical facility. I was bleeding severely, splashing crimson life fluid all over the upholstery of the rental as I wove around other vehicles on the road between me and the hospital.

When I arrived at Lakeshore Hospital about twenty minutes later, my head felt fuzzy, my mind clouded. They drugged me, cleaned and dressed the wound, and told me that I'd be staying in their company for at least twenty-four hours. I lied to the nurses and doctors who asked how I'd got the injury. Blamed it on a wild dog. They were only too happy to tell me that thankfully I didn't have rabies, but they suggested I see my personal physician about the oddity that they did find in my blood work.


* * * *

The next day, after my release, I boarded a plane at the Niagara Falls airport and took myself back west, to O'Hare International. I picked up another rental and drove to my hometown of Detroit, where everything at first seemed to be normal. I entered my apartment building through the main lobby doors. The building I lived in was once an upscale hotel. The floors above the sixth story were apartment suites that used to rent for top dollar. Everything from the second to fifth floor was one and two-room economy lodging. Now, everything about that structure remained, but the building served these days as permanent or semi-permanent housing for its residents.

My apartment stood up on the eighth floor up. I crossed the large, open-spaced lobby area with its lush new red carpeting with golden trimmed patterns of diamonds. The scents of coffee (available free to residents) and pipe tobacco filled my nostrils, odors that combined to make me feel a little light-headed, but more at home. Into one of the three elevator cabs I stepped, and pressed the dull plastic eight button on the panel to the right of the cab's interior.

Closed in and slowly ascending (I secretly suspected that I would die one day when the cables snapped, spilling the cab and myself down into the second subbasement) towards my apartment, another odor caught my attention, but it wasn't pleasant at all. I could smell the cloying odor of something fetid and perhaps spoiled, rotted. I performed a brief examination of the elevator cab's floor, but found no scraps of food.

When the elevator rose from the seventh to the eighth floor, a loud 'ding' sounded in the cab, and the doors shuffled apart gently to admit me to my floor. Whilst I padded down the hallway, digging in my right pants pocket for my keys, I tried once more to identify the foul scent. As I stood finally before my apartment door and bent down to fit the key into the lock, I realized the source of the stench.

The odor wafted up from my bandaged arm.

Turning the key and pushing forward, I admitted myself to my two-bedroom suite apartment, flipping on lights along the front hall and in the living room as I passed toward the back hall and my bathroom. I had been told to clean the stitched wound and change the bandaging as needed after leaving the emergency room back in New York State, but I didn't expect I would need to do so already. My nose and, a few minutes later in the bathroom, eyes, shut me up about that.

The skin around the stitches appeared mottled and slightly green, as if a fungus proliferated just under the surface. Not much of the muscle tissue had actually gone down the strange woodsman's throat, as I had originally feared when bitten. But a vile yellow pus oozed out onto the bandaging--I wasn't about to let that gunk collect up in large quantities.

I scrubbed my arm under my showerhead for a full minute, making sure to use cold water. After the grime had been washed away a little, I applied peroxide (not recommended by the doctors, but by my own inner voice) and some Neosporin. I then poked the wound lightly, and flinched at the pain that flared up at the point of contact. I wrapped the wound in fresh bandages, stripped down the rest of the way, and headed into my bedroom.

As a young executive partner, you might expect I had Wall Street Journals around in stacks, or a computer constantly linked to work files. You'd expect wrongly. The bedroom was about fifteen feet by twenty feet. The door stood on the left side of the room, and when one entered, a simple card table stood to the right of the entrance. Spilled atop the table would be my latest collection of comic book purchases, a Game Boy Advance, and several small cartridge games. My computer, which stood on a desk to the right of the bed in the far corner from the doorway, was on stand-by.

In my jockey shorts, I proceeded over to the computer desk where I pulled on the plain blue button shirt that I wore open while at home alone. The central overhead light of the bedroom was only forty watts, and so a soft radiance spilled into the entire room, lending the chamber an air of eternal dimness. I liked this for several reasons. Firstly, it was the sort of level of light that, if feeling particularly fragged, I could sleep in. Secondly, was is the ideal level of light when I was reading in order to make myself tired enough for sleep. Lastly, with a lower level of light, I wouldn't so quickly realize how out of shape I was when not wearing a great deal of clothing.

I turned the computer on with a flick of the space bar, and the system quickly started. My Internet home page immediately opened and I checked my e-mail. I only had a couple of messages, but that was not what caught my eyes. What did was in the lower right side of my load-up screen, where local area news got front-page coverage. The small tagline read, Mysterious Cult Activity Continues. Now, I hadn't been home in about a month and a half, so I didn't know there'd been any cult activity in the first place.

I clicked the link for the story and began to read with what I would later realize was instinctive curiosity. Instincts, as I have said, can be a hell of a lot more powerful than people give them credit. The page revealed the following story. I have cut and pasted it here in the interest of saving time (which, trust me, I suspect I have plenty of):

Mysterious Cult Activity Continues

May 17th, 2010

The city of Detroit's southern districts have suffered yet another fatality in what police suspect may be a string of cult-based activities. Victims have all been discovered in the outskirts of the city in varying stages of decay, and a single similarity leads authorities to believe that they are all the work of a single group of perpetrators. Insider sources state that parts of the bodies had been 'bitten off', and the bite wounds have been consistent with the bite patterns of human assailants. When asked about this discovery, authorities declined comment.

That was as far as I was willing to read at that moment. I'd known a few people back in my high school days who dabbled in cultist activities, but nothing had involved biting people. At least, not that I was aware of. I immediately clicked on another link on the side of that Internet story to a related tale coming from Cleveland, Ohio. The story read much the same way, and suggested a possible link between the activities there and in Detroit.

People will always theorize if you give them a basic set of facts and figures. The total victims thus far numbered eleven between the two cities. My mind flashed back to that man who'd bitten me in the woods. Had I contracted some disease from him, something that would rapidly decay my body until I fell dead in the streets around my neighborhood? Perhaps coming back from the local pharmacy?

I turned off the computer, and felt a rush of nausea. I sprinted as fast as I could to my bathroom, and just opened the toilet in time to hurl like a drunken college freshman near the end of a three-day bender. I remembered in that moment the first time I had done just that, and compared it to the current circumstances. Two glaring differences stood out--and told me that I was certainly doomed.

Firstly, this wave of sickness hadn't been brought on by alcohol. Secondly, there was fresh blood in my apartment toilet along with my breakfast. Shadows infringed upon my peripheral vision, and shapes swayed and distorted around me. Despite trying to hold fast to the porcelain throne, I slid and hit the floor with a meaty thud. I knew then I was as good as dead. Whatever strange plague this cult had developed had done its work on me, and I was a goner. At least, for the time being.

* * * *

I could never determine how much time passed in that void of nothingness through which I floated. I only recall bits and pieces of what happened during that time. Here and there, I would briefly see a vision of screaming, thrashing people I lived in the building with. They would be invariably swinging something at me, trying to possibly club me to death. Then darkness would drown out my conscious vision and there would be nothingness again, now accompanied by tastes and tactile sensations.

Something warm, and wet, and sweeter than any candy sliding down my throat. Refreshing, though I knew not from whence the sensation came. Sometimes the same sort of taste would invade my mouth, only more velvety, smoother. Sometimes I felt the burn of alcohol going down my throat with the taste, but could detect no spirits. Often there was coarse fur along the bits of food that I chewed upon without the aid of sight or sound, like on peaches.

When finally my mind decided to function again in concert with my body, I discovered that I was sprawled out on my bed. My arms and legs burned from apparent unconscious use, but since I was in my own bed and not some medical ward, I figured things couldn't be too bad. I'd had a bad sickness, and apparently had gotten over it within the confines of my apartment.

The thick, coppery scent of blood assaulted my nostrils as I rubbed my eyes, trying to see in the dim light of the bedchamber. As I have said, I like dim lighting in most cases. I pulled my hands away from my eyes, and stared wonderingly at them. The flesh had become mottled and bruised, and my nails had turned the sort of shade of yellow usually associated with jaundice. I opened my mouth to ask myself 'what the hell', and only a strange moan issued from the back of my throat. "Mraaaaagh?" It was more a question than a statement.

Let's take a minute and set my story aside, so that I can explain a few more things about the zombie species. First of all, there are more like myself and Judy, the lady who brings me coffee. We are by far the minority among zombiekind, but we are there. We, possibly more than you humans, realize the horror of what we are. We commit acts so unspeakable and atrocious that they should not be witnessed except within the confines of Mr. Romero's films on the topic. For all of us (I think), the vague blur of experiences I described to you is the first few days of our zombie existence, our un-life. If we aren't killed by humans or other animals, that is.

We feel emotions just like humans. We are joyous, we are depressed. We are angry, and we are content. We are flighty, and we are serious. We are vexed, and we are at ease. We love, and we hate. In many regards, we are very much like humans. The only major personality difference is that we are, as a whole, almost completely incapable of expressing these thoughts and ideas to you humans or each other in any coherent fashion.

A few of us have found networked computers through which to exchange information and ideas, much like you humans. You think we're all just a bunch of rotting flesh eaters. The joke's on you. Hundreds of our more intelligent specimens have coordinated attacks against your hometowns. It has, however, been difficult getting the average member of our species to help out with these well-laid plans. Part of the problem as well is the fact that we aren't exactly fast of foot or capable of driving a car.

A few have tried, but I'll talk more about that later. Back to my story.

"Mraaaaagh," I said again, trying to say hello, to call out to anyone who might be able to help me. I still didn't know what had happened to me, and not knowing seemed to be the cruelest part of this awakening.

I managed to slump myself up to my feet, and I looked down at myself. I wore a white button shirt with the buttons in the improper slits, making me look deranged or haphazard. I fixed that as best I could, though my swollen, stupid fingers seemed to have one hell of a time getting the message I was sending them with my brain.

Next, the trousers. Well, they weren't my best pair, but a decent and well tailored pair of blue jeans hung from my hips, which felt a bit stiff along with my back, neck and legs. Past my legs to my feet my eyes roved, and there I nearly shrieked. There sprang from my slightly puffy feet several dozen shards of glass, tacky, glue-like blood holding them in place. Strange, I thought, staring at my ravaged feet, I don't feel much pain from it. I sat back down on the bed, and started prying the shards free with numb fingers.

When all of the nasty little pieces of flotsam were out of my feet, I tried flexing my toes. Despite every mental effort and the considerable physical effort I exuded, I found that I could not perform this most basic task. Determined to get to a hospital and find out just how bad off I was, I rose from the bed, and started to cross the room toward the door.

Surprise number, what, three? Four? I don't recall or care, because despite the brisk pace I wished to set for myself, my legs lurched and rebelled against my commands. My right leg in particular seemed to want to be stiff at the knee and drag along behind. Jesus, I thought, I must look like a fucking...

And then I was before the floor-length mirror near the card table, just on the side of the doorway. My eyes roved of their own volition that way, and I squared my body to face that which I had become. I'd seen enough movies by the age of twenty-eight to know. I'd read enough books (both novels and comics), played enough video games. I clutched the sides of my head, looked to the ceiling, and loosed the mightiest and most pitiful groan one such as I could muster.

I was a zombie.

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