Monday, April 7, 2014

Zomburbia chapter one

I've written often enough that I have a novel coming out later this year. Perhaps you'd like to read a sample of it? If so, then you are in the right place!

My publisher, Kensington, have given me permission to post the first chapter of Zomburbia here. I'll post link to various online retailers at the end of the excerpt in case you like the sample and want to read more.

A Zombie Apocalypse Novel
By Adam Gallardo

Chapter One
Good Times at Bully Burger

The night shifts at Bully Burger are the absolute worst. It’s like sitting through a five-hour History lecture from Mr. Chanders, only you have to wear a festively colored polyester uniform while you do it. Maybe a car an hour comes through the drive-thru, and you really get tired of that fearful look people get in their eyes after dark.

The Bully Burger—whose mascot, I swear to God, is a cartoon of Teddy Roosevelt holding a hamburger—is a minor big deal in these parts. Six stores that sprouted up back at the dawn of time. People around here are crazy proud of this homegrown franchise. This particular store, the last one to be built, is at the far end of a developed strip out on Commercial Street. That nicely named strip is where the town started to shove all the franchises and big-box stores in the late ’70s and, as you can imagine, it looks like one long stretch of hell. It’s all Walmarts and Mickey D’s as far as the eye can see. Depressing.

There are no other stores really close to the Bully Burger, so we don’t share a fence with anyone. We’ve got a sturdy chain-link that runs all around the lot with a motor-controlled gate facing the street. All of the parking is in the front of the shack and the drive-thru runs around back where our patrons get a lovely view of the shed that holds our Dumpster and incinerator.

Despite the fact that TR is our mascot, our color scheme is a rip-off of every other burger chain in existence. It’s all red and orange and yellow. I doubt very much that our twenty-sixth president really dug on these colors much. Not that anyone asked my opinion before settling on the decor.

Inside it’s as cheerless as you might imagine. Hard plastic seats molded for the average 1970s fanny, which means that today’s super-size variety hardly fits in them. Not that there were many butts in seats the night this story starts. There was only one, in fact: that of our security guard, Chacho.

I suspected that was not his real name. Even though it was on his name badge and all, it was in quotes, so I think there was some subterfuge going on at some level. Besides this attempt to hide his identity, he was a pretty cool dude. He was ancient, maybe forty, a big Latino guy with a shaved head and a long mustache. Like a Mongol warlord, you know? If Chacho worked the afternoon shifts, he stationed himself by the gates the whole time to make sure no undesirables got on the property, but if he worked a night shift, even though he should’ve been outside, everyone looked the other way and he sat inside with his newspaper and his armor all piled up on the seat next to him. He could throw that shit on in about ten seconds flat if something slipped through the gate that shouldn’t. It seemed like a weird way to make a living, beating the crap out of shufflers. I guess someone had to do it.

Behind the counter were me and my friend Sherri. Sherri and I had been friends since the womb practically. We went all the way through school together, and we were gonna graduate together next year and then screw off to New York together. I had a plan that extended past that—including saving the world—but I doubted that Sherri did.

Sherri was shorter than me, maybe five-five? And she’d always been more athletic than me, not that she played sports or anything. Playing sports would be trying just a little too hard, if you get my drift. She wore her black hair cropped really close to her head and she was pretty in a butch sort of way. Actually, her looks started causing whispers about us being lesbians ever since our classmates figured out what lesbians were. Which we were totally not. Lesbians, I mean. That night, she wore her company-mandated clown shirt unbuttoned over a T-shirt that was made to look like it had handwriting on it, though it was screen printed or something. Yes, I’m a Zombie, What’s Your Excuse? it said. Many raised eyebrows from customers when she helped them at the counter. Which was rarely at night. Mostly she ran the grill.

If there had been any manager besides Mr. Philips on duty, Sherri would have buttoned the shirt. But Mr. Philips had just been a shift grunt named Ted until a couple of weeks before, and Sherri felt like he’d not yet earned her, or anyone’s, respect. So, the shirt was to remain unbuttoned for the foreseeable future. Ted spent most of his shifts back in the manager’s office on the phone with his girlfriend or surfing the web for porn. Apparently he’d figured out a way to erase all traces of where he’d been online and he wouldn’t tell any of us how to do it, too

I worked the drive-thru window that night. I say “worked” but mostly what I did was talk to Sherri, and run my side business.

“Okay,” she said from the front counter, “top three people you’d like to see have their brains eaten by hordes of zombies.

I didn’t have to think about this list for very long.

“One,” I said, “Mr. Chanders—”

Sherri cut me off with a slicing motion of her hand.

“You know, Courtney,” she said, “we should call this game ‘top three people you’d like to see have their brains eaten by hordes of zombies who aren’t Mr. Chanders since he’s so obvious.’”

“You didn’t say that, though,” I said. “So, number one, Mr. Chanders.

“Two: Lori Caldwell.”

“For serious?” Sherri asked. She looked at me totally not believing it. “I’m going to need some justification.”

“She completely hates me,” I said, ticking things off on my fingers as I went. “She thinks she’s so great, even though she’s got that lazy eye, and she ruined my grade point average by not letting me borrow her notes for our last AP English test.”

Sherri looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“That’s sort of lame, but I’ll allow it,” she said. “Give with number three.”

“My mom,” I said with no hesitation.

Sherri did a long, drama-queen-y sigh and shook her head.

“So obvious,” she said. “If this was a TV movie, you’d be forced to come to terms with your tumultuous feelings about her. Also, you’d be played by a second-tier Disney starlet.”

“Let’s hear yours,” I told her, ignoring the jibe.

Before she could get to it, we heard three sharp car-horn blasts.

A car sat in the median lane waiting for us to open the gate.

“Open ’er up,” I shouted at Sherri, my head outside the drive-thru window. Almost immediately I heard the electric motor hum to life and then the rattle of the chain-link gate sliding open. The car waited until the gap was just big enough to let it through and then it sputtered to life and drove into the lot.

“Okay,” I said, pulling my head in, “close it.”

I noticed that the third member of our crew, Phil, had come up from the back where he’d been cleaning. He stood there waiting to see if we’d need his help with this order or if he could go back and keep prepping to close. Phil was pretty unremarkable—average height, average short brown hair, average medium build, average—the only other thing you need to know is that he was a year younger than Sherri and me and he was in our grade as well as in two of my AP classes, and in my Journalism class where he mostly draws incomprehensible editorial cartoons. This classified him as annoying in the extreme.

“Back to the bog, Gollum,” Sherri said to Phil.

He slowly turned his head and just stared at her in his creepy way for a second before answering.

“Gollum lived in a lake in a cave,” he said.

“Whatever,” she said, shooing him away with her hands. “Go and get cleaning; I want to get out of here before eleven.”

He blinked again, then turned and disappeared into the depths of the store.

A tone sounded in my headset, and I hit the button that lets me talk to the customers out at the order board.

“Welcome to Bully Burger,” I said as fast as I could, “where we’re bully about service. How may I help you?”

I winced a little. That slogan was so dumb, I was convinced it killed my soul a little bit every time I said it.

I heard whispering over my headset. No matter how much I strained, I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying.

“Can . . . can I get, um, two Whoppers?” the voice on the other end said.

“We don’t serve Whoppers here, sir,” I answered, and shot a look at Sherri. She purposefully avoided eye contact but made sure I could see her frowning at me. Her back stiffened, too. I ignored her. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

“Sure,” the voice said. “How about, uh, two Bully Meals, extra-large, one with curly fries.”

I punched it into the register.

“That’ll be thirteen-ninety-six at the window,” I said. “Please pull forward.”

Sherri chucked some frozen patties on the grill.

The car sat under the window as I threw it open and looked out at my customer. A rat-faced little guy with a knit cap pulled down over his ears sat behind the wheel of an old beat-up Escort. He smiled up at me expectantly. It looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days and hadn’t bathed in even longer. Another, equally rat-faced, guy sat next to him, his leg bouncing up and down. The passenger craned his neck to look up into the window.

I glanced around behind me to see if anyone was paying attention. No one was.

“You wanted Whoppers?” I asked.

The first dude’s head bobbed up and down on his pipe-cleaner neck.

“Fifty dollars,” I whispered.

The guy frowned and did this involuntary head shake. I thought he might argue with me, but then the passenger leaned over and said something. The driver shot me a look and then dug cash out of his pocket and counted out fifty dollars.

“And thirteen-ninety-six for the burgers,” I said.

If looks could kill, there’d have been an empty seat in Mrs. Callow’s homeroom the next day. But I didn’t change my expression; I just waited. He counted out a few more notes and handed them to me.

“Thanks,” I said as brightly as I could. Fifty bucks went into my pocket and fourteen went into the register. I didn’t bother with the four pennies I owed him.

And before you start to get all judgmental on me, just don’t, okay? Yes, I sold Vitamin Z, but I wasn’t really a drug dealer, you know? And, before you ask, it’s true; Vitamin Z is made from actual zombie brains, but I’m not going to get all judgmental about what people put in their bodies. It might have been a rationalization, but I only sold to asshats like the two ferret brothers. I mean, Jesus, those guys were going to find a fix somewhere and I might as well have been the one to get their money.

Also—and this may be way self-serving—I needed the money if I was going to escape Salem and go away to school in New York. My dad had offered to pay my way but only if I agreed to go to a school in-state. Ideally, he’d have liked me to spend the first two years at the community college where he taught. That way it’d all be free. However, community college in a no-horse town in Oregon was not going to advance my plan to help rid the world of the undead. Also, I have to tell you, the thought of another two years stuck in Salem made me want to blow my brains out.

So I’d been saving up every penny I could to get out of Dodge. That’s why I originally took the job at Bully Burger. Soon after, it became clear I wouldn’t make the dosh fast enough, so I started looking for another way to make money. And I found it. I figured the rate I was going, I’d have four years at most any school wired. Especially if I got scholarships. Which I totally would.

Sherri brought a bag full of food and a cardboard tray with two drinks over to the window. The smell of grease wafted up and hit me in the nose. How people could eat this garbagestuff, I would never know. I shoved in a handful of ketchup packets and napkins. Then I slipped my hand into my apron and pulled out two small Ziploc bags full of shiny black powder. Those Ziplocs went into the bag, too. I handed the whole mess out the window to Ratzo. He immediately ripped open the bag and seemed to relax when he saw the two baggies sitting on top of the burgers

“Thanks for choosing Bully Burger,” I said

The guy tore off without saying anything. In fact, I barely got my arm out of the car before he screeched away.

“Come again!” I yelled out at the car that was now waiting for the gate to open.

“Brothers?” Sherri asked in my ear. I didn’t know she was still standing there. “Or dad and son?” She had her arms crossed on her chest as she looked out the drive-thru window at the car. “Or, given the strong genetic markers, both?”

“Not really interested,” I said. “Already forgotten.”

“Hmm . . .” was all Sherri said.

She pushed the button, and the gate started to slowly close and the lights from the beater receded. Another car in the turn lane was trying to get in the gate before it closed. They slammed on their brakes when it became obvious they wouldn’t make it.

“Hey,” I shouted, “we got another car! Open it up again.”

The gate shuddered as it came to a stop and back open again. The car pulled through.

Chacho stowed away his paper for the moment since the car parked in the lot. The owner frowned on customers seeing the security guard wasting time like that. Three guys in letterman jackets got out of the car and walked toward the door.

“Great,” Sherri hissed, “like these dopes don’t know we’re supposed to close in half an hour.”

“Relax,” I told her. “With the monkey in back catching up on cleaning, we’ll still get out of here early.”

She didn’t look at all relieved by this and practiced her best sneer to sling at the a-holes who were just now coming through the door.

The trio filed in, all of them high-fiving and laughing that too-loud, we-are-dudes laugh. God, I was just glad that Sherri had front counter.

I moved to the grill and waited for their order to show up on the monitor. As I was waiting, staring at the screen, I became aware that I could hear something over the hiss of my headphones that didn’t sound like ordering.

Sherri scowled at me. Then my eyes slid over to the guys in front of the counter. There was a six-foot pile of blond hair and flashing white teeth speaking to me. I slowly pulled the headset off my ears.

“Hey,” the guy said, “hey, aren’t you Courtney?”

Oh, my God, one of these trolls knew me.

“Yeah?” I asked, unsure of protocol when spoken to by someone so clearly outside my social station.

“Brandon,” the guy said like that explained it all. After a second or two of blankness from me, he pointed at himself. “Brandon Ikaros,” he said.

It slowly dawned on me. Brandon Ikaros. He was in my Journalism class. Not an AP class. He played a bunch of sports and mostly wrote human interest pieces for the Quotidian—which is a stupid name since the paper comes out once a week. Sometimes Mrs. Johnson even lets him write movie reviews despite the fact that he’d seen and liked all the Transformer movies.

Also, I’d never done anything to make him aware of me, ever.

“Right,” I said, “Brandon.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I just wanted to say hi, because,” he hesitated and smiled at me and I did my best to deflect it. “Because I didn’t know you worked here.”

“Okay,” I said. “Hi.”

Why was Sherri not taking their orders? Why was she not breaking this up and saving me from this terribly awkward situation? If I was on fire, she’d put me out, right? Actually, I might have to think about that one.

“Listen, Brandon,” I said, “it’s great to see you, but,” I waved my hands over the grill to indicate I had other, more important matters to attend to, “I have to get back to work.”

“Sure,” he said, nodding his head. “No problem. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

Rather than reply, I just nodded and then shot daggers at Sherri as Brandon turned away from me and faced her, ready to give his order. Maybe if I stared at her hard enough, her head would explode all over Brandon’s letterman jacket.

The cream of the school’s jocktocracy was about to give their orders to Sherri when I heard a voice behind me.

“Hey, there’s someone outside.”

Phil stood behind me. He stared past us all and into the parking lot. The rest of us turned and looked.

He was right: there was someone out there who hadn’t come in with the rest of the football team. This someone shuffled awkwardly, slowly, dragging one leg behind. His shoulder hitched in a weird way with every step.

One of the boys said, “Shit.”

Chacho moved fast for a big guy. He sprang up out of his bright plastic seat and started throwing on his body armor. The knee pads and shin guards were already on, so he got on his elbow pads and the pads for his forearms. He ignored the high-necked body armor and just put on the helmet. Then he scooped up his clear plastic shield and his club and he sprinted out the door.

Sherri and I ran from behind the counter and stationed ourselves next to the picture window closest to the action. Phil was close behind us and the jocks came up more slowly; maybe they felt like they shouldn’t be watching this. But, really, how could they not?

It was totally a zombie, a pretty fresh one, too. It was a dude, maybe my age, maybe a little older. He wore jeans and a MELVINS T-shirt. He wore one Dr. Martens boot. The foot missing the shoe looked like it had been chewed on pretty well. Also, except for half of his face being gone, he was probably pretty good looking when he was alive.

“If I were a zombie,” I whispered to Sherri without taking my eyes off the scene, “I’d totally go with him.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.

When the shuffler moved into the light, I saw that he had a death grip on a bloody stump of a leg. Someone somewhere was missing everything below the left knee. I shivered when I noticed that the foot was wearing a pink Chuck Taylor. Then I wondered if I knew anyone who owned shoes like that. I couldn’t think of anyone.

Out in the parking lot, Chacho wearily approached the shuffler. Zombies are slow and all that, but they can move surprisingly quickly when you least expect it. Chacho had been trained to deal with them, so he knew that better than most folks. He kept his shield in front of him and his club ready to swing.

As soon as the undead kid saw him, he went into Classic Zombie mode—arms up like he wanted to give Chacho a hug, and he started groaning. He dropped the leg he’d been gnawing on. It lay there forgotten as the zombie eyed fresh meat. Something black and thick dribbled out of his mouth. Maybe he wasn’t as cute as I originally thought . . .

Chacho shouted at the thing. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Probably cursing at him in Spanish. I’d heard it before; it was pretty entertaining.

When it got close enough, Chacho did a pretty good head feint to the left and when the zombie moved that way, he slammed into it with his whole body, the shield between them. The shuffler stumbled back, grunting in surprise, and then Chacho brought his club up and over from behind the shield. There was a dull crack we could hear even through the glass and then the kid’s head was barely attached to his body. It hung there at a weird angle that made me feel sick. But, of course, the kid already being dead, that didn’t stop him. So Chacho swung his club again and caught the kid on the other side of his head. That drove him to the ground.

Chacho dropped his shield onto the thing’s chest and then put all his weight on top of it. He left the head exposed, though, so he could go to town on it with the club, which he raised and brought down again and again. Pretty soon it went from a cracking sound to something like sucking mud every time he did it.

After a while, Chacho stood up and the zombie kid didn’t even twitch. Chacho stood over him, bent over with his hands on his knees, and breathed hard. After a few seconds, he took off his helmet and wiped his forehead. He placed his gear on the ground next to the body and grabbed the kid’s legs. He started to drag it toward the incinerator that lives in the back of the store. A wet trail snaked behind him from the kid’s shattered melon.

I realized that I hadn’t breathed in a while, so I took a deep breath. Sherri and a few others did the same thing. I turned and smiled at Sherri, though it felt forced. She didn’t say anything if she noticed.

“Good times at Bully Burger,” she said, and she sounded a little shaky.

“Yeah,” was all I could say.

We turned and made our way back behind the counter. Phil held the kitchen door open for us, and Sherri must have been feeling generous because she didn’t snarl at him or order him back to the depths of the store, she just mumbled a thanks and returned to the register.

Brandon and his friends were up at the counter then, Sherri at the register ready to take their order. I stood in front of the grill and Phil was in the back of the store. The only sound I heard was Chacho outside banging open the incinerator door.

We all stood like that for what seemed like a long time.

“Welcome to Bully Burger,” Sherri said finally. “How can I help you?”

I shuddered and I thought, for the millionth time, that I needed to get the hell out of this town.

End of chapter one.

I hope you liked that. If you did, and you have any interest in reading the rest of the book, here are some links to a number of online booksellers where you could preorder it. No pressure.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM!,
Indie Bound, Powell's, Bookish

No comments: