Book Blurb: The zombie apocalypse, which has devastated the world, is in its final throes when Meg's husband is bitten. She has lost so much already that she simply can't face losing him too, so when it becomes apparent that he is about to join the ranks of the walking dead, she decides to employ her skills as a dog trainer and takes it upon herself to train him.
Not only must she face the dangers inherent in close contact with a zombie, she must also protect him from outside forces that mean him harm. Can she convince the handsome yet stern Colonel MacDonald that he deserves a chance? Can she stop him being used for vivisection? What about those who want to use him as bait for other zombies?
Join Meg during the final few months of the Zombie war, as she shares her, at times, gruesome, sad and darkly humorous story.
Let me make one thing clear; I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I don't know shit about Freud, cognitive behaviours or Neuro-linguine programming, or whatever the hell it is. When I began this fool's quest, I had no noble intentions of proving anything about life, intelligence, the soul or any other quasi-philosophical crap.
I am a dog trainer. Not only that, I am a kick-arse dog trainer.
It just seemed clear to me that the zombies retained a basic intelligence. They knew what they wanted (food) and they could perform simple tasks (such as opening door handles). I reasoned that if they were capable of even rudimentary intelligence, they could become productive members of society. Perhaps they might even progress and gain intelligence, just as children grow and learn. They may never become Prime Minister (though sometimes I don't think they could do a worse job) but one day, I thought, it might be possible that they would be your checkout person at the local Tesco Extra.
The truth is, this war/contagion/conflict, call it what you will, had already taken far too much from me. My parents, my brother, my two dogs and too many friends to list had all been casualties; so when he was bitten, I simply couldn't stand losing my husband as well.
This is the account of how I taught him to be a productive person once again.
The conflict was nearly over by the time my husband was bitten. The people had won, the zombies had been killed (again) and new outbreaks were becoming fewer and fewer every day.
Of course there were some places where zombies ruled, mainly the cities where, with more people to feed from and with a denser population, the contagion naturally spread faster. In the country, a zombie might have to walk a mile or two before it found someone else to infect, maybe a lot further in places like the Highlands, I'm sure, but in the cities, fresh prey was much easier to come by. Maybe they're as liable to be couch potatoes as we are and in an ideal world, they would sit on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer reruns, while waiting for a delivery of brains from the local Nom-Skulls takeaway. Not that zombies really eat brains. I mean, I'm sure they would but brains are difficult to get to, compared to the other organs.
Anyway, the zombies seemed to be successfully contained within the cities, having been trapped with a mixture of natural barriers, like rivers, and man made ones, like walls, barbed wire fences and huge ditches. Generally speaking, they posed no threat to the rest of the population. The odd soldier or doctor who was studying them (and being guarded by the hapless soldiers) was infected. And sometimes walkers came across a zombie on a less beaten path and got infected. Needless to say, rambling is a very unpopular pastime these days, unless you're a thrill-seeker.
New cases are quickly contained and put down though.
Jim and I had finally decided that we had to go to my parent's house and clean it up. We didn't expect a quick sale, after all the country is still recovering from the conflict, but it turns out that it's very hard to sell a house with a blood-spattered, intestine-covered, shotgun-pellet-riddled living room. Estate agents can be so fussy!
The upshot of this is that we were going there every weekend to wash, scrub, polyfiller and paint, as well as remove the metal window guards and various other leftovers from the conflict. The carpets had to be burned. We did try taking the rug to a dry cleaner, but they didn't want to know. Shame; they were oriental rugs and Mum had paid a fair amount of money for them.
We live in a small sized-village, just outside Edinburgh and my parent's house is between our village and the next. It was our fifth day working here, and we came armed with paint and rollers to redo the living room. We were making good progress when Jim sloped off for a quick ciggy. Filthy habit, but I had lived with it for five years so I was beyond chastising him.
His scream made me jump, and I was so surprised that I dropped my paint roller onto the brand new beige carpet! That carpet had cost a small fortune (carpet isn't exactly easy to come across these days)! I think it was fear that made me angry. Over the past two years I had realised that anger was much more useful than fear and I suppose I'd trained myself to react with anger to frightening events. I marched out to the back garden, collecting a rather vicious-looking meat cleaver on my way, though it had done nothing but decorate my mother's knife block for 20 years. It was probably as useless as a plastic knife, but I didn't stop to test its effectiveness.
As I got into the garden, I saw Jim coming out of the shed, his hand wrapped in a hanky but otherwise looking fine and dandy. I became even angrier, thinking that he'd just tripped or fallen and scared me for nothing. When I looked up at his face however, true dread seeped into my bones.
I walked to the side so that I could see around him, into the shed and there on the floor lay a very decomposed zombie. I can't say how long he'd been there but there didn't seem to be an awful lot left of him. The spark of life, however, the one that reanimates these corpses, was still going strong and although it didn't have much motility, it was clearly doing its very best to get out of the shed and eat us.
I wasn't standing for that! I've had enough of being preyed upon and as far as I was concerned, it was time to reclaim our place at the top of the food chain! I strode towards the shed and three swings of the meat cleaver later, the zombie was dead. Again. I looked at the cleaver, impressed by how sharp it still was.
“Meg,” I heard Jim say, and his tone instantly killed any pleasure I was feeling at my Rambo-like display.
I turned to him and he pulled the hanky away from his hand to reveal a bite mark.
“It bit you,” I said, not quite comprehending what this meant, mainly because I didn't want to. “How could it bite you, it can hardly move!”
I was mixing my tenses. I do that a lot. Thankfully my old English teacher died at the beginning of the war and so she doesn't know, and if she is by some chance turning in her grave, I can't see it.
“It wasn't moving; it thought it was dead.”
“So you reached out and touched it!” I shrieked. Of all the idiotic, imbecilic, moronic, asinine, stupid things to do!
“I had to know if it was really dead,” he said, his eyes pleading with me to understand.
“Then poke it with a broom handle!” I snapped.
I knew this was serious but I wasn't in the mood to forgive him, so I simply grabbed the wrist of his injured hand and dragged him inside. By the time I had cleaned and bandaged the wound, I had calmed down, but I still wasn't ready to face the truth.
“There,” I said when I was done. “All finished.”
“Meg.” That simple word held a plea for me to understand the gravity of this situation, but I simply couldn't. “You need to call SPOT.”
If you've been living in a cave (which since the outbreak, is quite possible) SPOT is the Scottish Public Outbreak Team. They take the infected and the possibly infected away, usually never to be heard from again.
“I will do no such thing!” I snapped, thrusting the Dettol bottle that I'd used to disinfect the wound at him. “It kills 99.9% of all bacteria and viruses!”
“Look, see, it says so on the label, in black and white!”
“Meg.” I was being unreasonable, his tone said. For my own safety I had to call them, his tone said. He loved me and didn't want to hurt me, his tone said.
You may think that I'm reading an awful lot into one word, but Jim has always been rather taciturn, so I've learned to listen to his tone of voice more than his words.
Still, said or implied, I wasn't in the mood to hear it.
“No. They'll take you off to one of those quarantine camps and even if you aren't infected, they'll send you off for vaccine testing or vivisection or something.”
I would like to add here, that I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, but I knew my point of view was indefensible, so I was using anything I could to back up my stance.
Plus, I must just mention this quickly, it seems that all the films and TV shows about zombies had been largely correct about everything, from how they moved, to their intelligence levels to their bite spreading infection. There was a part of me that found it a little hard to believe that fiction had got so much correct, and I had to wonder if George Romero hadn't known something that the rest of us didn't. Had he been trying to warn us?
Anyway, back to Jim.
I knew that my outlandish arguments weren't going to win me this one but I still had hope. Hope was just about all I had, if I'm honest. I put my arms around him and held him tightly.
“It takes two days for a bite to turn someone,” I said. “Please, come home with me. I promise that if you show signs of infection, I'll call SPOT.”
Jim agreed. Perhaps there was also a part of him that didn't want to face his fate just yet.
I drove home and on the way, concocted an excuse about needing some chocolate cake, but Jim having had too hard a day to come with me. I dropped him at home so he could rest, then headed into Dalkeith, the largest village around that wasn't populated by zombies.
It was perfectly believable that our little village wouldn't have chocolate cake, mainly because our local baker and his wife had been eaten.
I had been into Dalkeith many times in recent weeks, since the restrictions had been lifted, and had been suitably shocked and appalled to see that a sex shop had sprung up in the village! I mean, it was understandable that a city like Edinburgh had a few sex shops because there's always an underbelly in any city, but a little place like Dalkeith? I was suitably disgusted.
I headed there now.
Parking restrictions are a thing of the past, especially since the military and locals had been moving the broken-down or burned-out vehicles off the streets. As such I was able to park right outside. Still, I drove a little way down the road and parked outside of a church instead.
I expected the shop to be dark and forbidding, and full of dirty old men in anoraks, wanking themselves through a cut-out pocket as they browsed the porn. Instead it was light, airy and the only person in there was behind the counter. He looked up as I came in and smiled warmly.
I mumbled something and blushed, quickly turning to the shelves so that I wouldn't have to make eye contact. I looked through the items on display until I came to the BDSM rack. There were PVC and pleather (plastic leather) face masks and outfits, pink furry handcuffs but nothing that looked like serious business. I kept searching in the vicinity, hoping to find some hard-core bondage paraphernalia. I couldn't spot what I wanted, so I carried on looking around the shop.
When I had looked seemingly everywhere, I stood in the middle of the shop, wondering if I had the courage to speak to the chap at the register.
He eased my dilemma somewhat by asking, “Do you need help?”
“Um, yes, actually.” I stepped closer. “I'm, um, looking for some, uh, handcuffs.”
“Something heavy duty?” he asked, probably having seem me dither over the pink fluffy ones.
“I'll be right back.” He smiled kindly, then disappeared through the door behind him, returning not thirty seconds later with a box.
“These will be what you're after,” he said, bringing out a pair of padded leather wrist cuffs. They did up with a sturdy buckle, and each had a metal loop with a sort of catch that looked like something you might see on climbing equipment.
“Don't you have any made of metal?” I asked.
“Metal chafes,” he answered. “You don't want to wear the skin down to the bone now, do you?”
He gave me a pointed look, and I knew that he'd guessed what I wanted them for. I suppose that I wasn't the only person to think of using BDSM equipment to restrain a zombie.
“You'll also need these,” he said, bringing out two slightly larger cuffs. Ankle, I guessed. “And this.” He brought out a ball attached to leather straps. It looked like something I might have bought for the dogs.
“What is it?” I had to ask.
He illustrated by putting the ball in his mouth and the leather straps around his head, though he didn't fasten them.
“Oh!” I swallowed. I hadn't even thought of a gag.
“We also have ring gags,” he said, bringing the same kind of leather strap out, but this time attached to a metal ring. He put the ring between his teeth. “'Eeps uh mouth open, 'ee.” He removed it so that he could speak properly. “It stops them from biting, but the ball gag will absorb more sound. Or we've got this.” He pulled out a face mask with eye and nose holes, but no opening for the mouth. “What would you like?” he asked.
“I'll take them all,” I said.
Finally he showed me a very large cuff with a metal loop.
“For the neck,” he said. “Stops them from moving their head about too much.”
I nodded that I wanted it.
He quietly rung up my purchases and put them in a nondescript paper bag. I paid and he handed me the bag, though he held onto it for a moment as he said, “Good luck.”
“Thank you.” I meant it.
He released his hold on the bag and I left.
You're probably wondering why money still exists after such an apocalyptic event, and money as we knew it doesn't. However for the past 10 months, everyone has been given a weekly allowance of chips which they can use to buy food, petrol or fuel (such as wood and coal), candles, blankets and various other necessities from the government (before that we had to fend for ourselves). It was basically rationing but those chips have now become currency and ever since they were introduced, they have been traded for a variety of goods and services.
Soon after victory was declared, everyone had been given 1000 chips, though there were still limits on what you could claim from the government. A maximum of two litres of petrol per person, per week, five litres of water; you get the idea.
Of course, the shops and suppliers still need to buy their products from the government; there's no such thing as independent imports, or outsourcing (well there is, but it's highly illegal and likely to get you shot rather than imprisoned). Everything we buy (through official channels, at least) has been checked, rechecked and finally irradiated or boiled, in case it has any infection on it (though that's just a precaution since biting still seems to be the only way to catch the disease). Then, finally, the product or produce is given to businesses to sell.
People still make cakes and food etc, but the flour, eggs and everything else, has been purchased from the government. Even British farms had been commandeered by the government during the outbreak, and continue to be run by them.
The public don't much like these restrictions now that the conflict is almost over, but what little government remains is constantly on the television, reassuring us that as soon as it is safe, the farms would be handed back to their rightful owners, should they still be alive.
When I talk of government, what I actually mean is our military leaders, with the old Deputy Prime Minister and a few surviving cronies acting as a figureheads, to at least give the impression of democracy. Of course, this party has overrun its election term by over two years. Turns out that when hoards of zombies are trying to kill you, elections are the first thing to go. Who knew?
Still, we are assured that the country will be back to normal in five years. Since our population is now down from 60 odd million to under ten million, I find it hard to believe that we can rebuild in that time. Still, when has politics had any bearing on the truth?
Jaded? Moi? I'm shocked that you could even think such a thing!
To give them their due, there has been a lot of recovery work done since the tide started turning in our favour. The power is back on, though only for two hours a night. Television is also back for those same two hours, though sadly there are only two channels. Channel One broadcasts the news for the two hours. Channel Two broadcasts repeats, usually of comedy shows. I don't feel much like comedy these days, somehow when you've seen your friend's entrails being eaten, watching Basil Fawlty beating up Manuel just doesn't hold the same appeal. Basil Fawlty beating up a zombie might be amusing, I suppose, but I don't know how long it will be before we start making TV shows again.
I also don't have much interest in the news; it's mainly just a bunch of talking heads and I've heard everything they have to say before. I tune in for the first and last fifteen minutes each night, when they give the headlines, just in case there's something important I'm missing.
Still, the power being on gives us a chance to recharge things, like rechargeable lamps and batteries; and not forgetting, iPods. The internet doesn't work and won't until the phones come back on, but at least we have a little music!
They're working on phones and internet, they say, but that must be a gradual introduction because the fragile network could easily become overloaded. I suspect that they don't want us to access the internet in case we discover something unpalatable, either here or overseas. Say for example, that France or Ireland had a resurgence of infection, or even worse, that the living dead had won the war in those places. Such information could cause another panic, what with both countries being so close to us, and panic can be deadly.
To be brutally honest, I think that as many people have been killed by other people as by the zombies. Many of us aren't particularly nice when under pressure. Rioting, looting, murdering anyone who showed any signs of illness, even if it was just a cold...
Where was I? Ah yes, the phones. All land lines only accept incoming calls, not outgoing ones, unless they are to emergency services or SPOT. In the meantime, most places now have a payphone that operates on chips (so that people didn't use them too often). I had managed to talk to my sister, Molly, who lives in London, but we were never very close and she hasn't tried to call me since. I know she is safe, that's enough for now.
On the surface, life is almost back to normal, though my memory of what is normal is sadly faded. Those with “necessary skills” have been hired by the government to help rebuild. Those without such skills have tried to start new businesses, or reopen their old ones, such as supermarkets, dressmakers and, of course, sex shops.
Jim was an investment banker, so while he does do the odd day of manual labour, mostly he just stays at home and reads. As for me, it turns out that the military could use a dog trainer, and I've been working for them for four months. I train their dogs to sniff out infection. That's just like teaching a dog to look for drugs, which is easy enough. It's the handlers that take the real training, not the dogs.
The Army did consider using dogs against the zombies, but while dogs might not be susceptible to the infection, they can still be easily killed by the undead. Plus, they do have sharp teeth, but it's very hard to train a dog to sever a head; it just takes too long to bite through a neck and the dog is usually dead long before that.
When I got back to the house, I found Jim sitting on the sofa, staring at Jet, who was huddled in a corner. Jet is a mongrel that I adopted a few weeks back.
There are few domestic pets left, and hardly any pedigrees; I guess bloodlines just aren't important when you're fighting for your life. Most animals fared okay, though. They can run much faster than a zombie and although this thought is more than a little disturbing, it seems that many have been living on the flesh of twice dead zombies, which until very recently, hasn't been in short supply. They also seem to have a sixth sense about who has the infection and their instincts have served them well when it came to survival, which is why my heart sank as I saw Jet watching Jim from the farthest corner.
Jim looked up as I came in, his eyes saying all I needed to know. 'Even the damn dog thinks I'm infected!'
He handed me the telephone but I refused to take it.
“Not yet,” I said, reaching out to touch his forehead. He didn't seem to be running a fever yet so there was still hope, right? Right?!
Oh, what do you know, anyway!
“I got something,” I said, handing him the paper bag. He was a little confused when he brought out the restraints. Did he think that I wanted to go swinging perhaps?
I could see in his expression, the moment when he realised what I was planning.
“No. They are completely safe!” I said. “Our bed is made from cast iron and there is no way you are getting out of these cuffs, dead or undead!” I began buckling them to his wrists and he just sat there and let me.
Maybe he was humouring me, or maybe he really didn't want to be dragged away by SPOT, I don't know, but I was glad that he wasn't fighting me. We tested the cuffs, securing them to each other, then the bed frame, pulling against them with all our might. They really did seem to be secure.
When we had tested them, Jim put the ankle cuffs on, just so that I wouldn't have a fight on my hand if he turned quickly. We were finished just in time to watch the nightly television. The headlines were much as they usually were. Britain is rebuilding. Do your part! We Want You! I swear that if Earl Kitchener could have been reanimated, they would have dug him up and put him on TV.
What I want to know, is where was this 'Britain' when Jim and I were fighting for our lives. Where were they when my parents were being bitten, presumably whilst trapping the zombie that had bitten Jim today. One single zombie seemed to have taken three people from me, so where was Britain when I needed them!
Bloody running scared, that's where.
Our emergency services were overwhelmed within days. The army was drafted in, then the other military forces. It took about a month for everything to crumble.
Then it was every man for himself, or herself.
Thankfully, Jim is something of a worrier, so he had panic-bought half of Asda. We had tins of soup, peas, beans and bottles of water coming out of our ears!
Of course, he didn't think to bulk-buy any chocolate, did he? Do you know how long it's been since I had a little square of chocolate? A whole year! If anything, the craving gets stronger with time. You see, I did manage to loot some in the end. When what we had began to run out, we made a run into the city to see what shops had anything left, and miracle of miracles, I found a box of dairy milk in a Scotmid storeroom. I was saving it, eking it out with only one square a day so that it would last.
Thankfully we have a river not far away from the cottage, so after the water went off and our supplies ran out, we could refill the containers there. Of course it had to be boiled, which was a pain, but at least we had water.
I came back from the river one morning, my legs literally groaning under the weight, only to find that Jim had traded all of my chocolate for a bag of coal! Yes you read that right, he gave it all away.
The next day I traded all of his underpants for a bottle of penicillin.
“Did you have to trade them all?” he had asked, completely flabbergasted when he discovered what I'd done.
“Exactly,” I said with a smug smile.
If he couldn't even save me a few lousy chocolate bars, then I didn't much care if his privates chafed or not!
Where was I? Oh yes, Jim was trussed up in BDSM gear and we were watching the news. The talking heads came on after the headlines, waxing lyrical about how well we were doing at containing the remaining infected and rebuilding our infrastructure. The news always calls them 'the infected' rather than zombies. Maybe zombie isn't politically correct or something.
I wouldn't mind if they called them the undead, but infected is just such a silly term. A cold is an infection, as is food poisoning, chickenpox and thrush. I have suffered with all of them, and none has ever turned me into an undead, flesh-eating monster.
I left Jim to watch as I prepared our dinner in the kitchen. Tonight it was chicken stew, which was what we'd also had last night, and the night before, and the night before that. Still, thank god that since the government had got their act together, meat had been available. Forced vegetarianism (and lack of chocolate) had been turning me into a irritable wretch.
Potatoes are still in short supply but we are assured that by next summer, we will have a proper crop of them.
What I wouldn't give for a chip right now!
Anyway, fresh bread was still a luxury and I sliced some as our accompaniment, in lieu of potatoes.
We ate in silence as we watched the so called 'comedy' show on Channel Two and when we were done, I snuggled into him.
The TV and lights died when the power went off, and we were left with just the glow from the fire to illuminate us. Normally we'd turn on our battery powered lamps but tonight I didn't want to move. This could be my last chance to cuddle him and I wasn't going to waste it.
The silence stretched out between us. We were together but alone. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I'd look after him, that we'd get through this but I didn't know how to anymore.
Surviving the zombie apocalypse wasn't easy and it had required a lot of sacrifice. For example, our sex life; we haven't had sex since my birth control pills ran out. Raising a baby in this environment was impractical. First, they cry at odd times and everyone knows that noise attracts zombies.
Secondly, they need breast milk and baby food and at times, we haven't had enough to feed ourselves. Food has been a bit more plentiful these last few months but I'm still only a size twelve (the smallest I've been since I was a child).
Finally, running from the undead is much harder when you're pregnant or holding a baby. Don't get me wrong, I want children, but I wasn't going to risk mine and the baby's lives to accomplish that.
Another casualty of the war is intimacy. We cuddle and we hug but we don't talk. How do you talk about having seen a child brought down by those monsters, especially when the devil incarnate (only a slight exaggeration) Mr Johnstone, somehow managed to not only survive, but thrive during the conflict? I never expected life to be fair, but I also didn't expect to be confronted daily with its injustices. We were both afraid that we'd lose the plot if we let our emotions out.
Don't get me wrong I cried a lot in the beginning, we both did, but you just can't sustain that long term. You have to harden your heart, look the other way and try to forget what you saw.
We drifted apart, we had to; but Jim is not only my best friend, he is my only friend. We are a team and I honestly don't know what I'd do without him.
Jim and I are very similar in our looks, both stereotypical Scots with red hair, green eyes and pale skin that burns in the sun rather than tans. The only real difference is that his ginger hair is curly whilst mine is straight. At 33, he's just five years older than I am. Far too young to die.
Eventually we had to move as the fire began to die and we headed up to the bedroom. The cottage is small, just a living room, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. Upstairs there is just one room, our bedroom.
The bed, the wrought iron one I spoke of earlier, was here when we bought the house. It's massive and heavy and would need to be sawed to pieces to be carried out, so it just seemed easier to keep it and buy a new mattress. Now I was glad of it.
Jim insisted that I attach his cuffs to the bed, just in case and although I argued, I found myself giving in. I was scared too. I secured his hands and feet to bars of the headboard and footboard, though I secured them close together so that he had some freedom of movement. I felt his forehead and still there was no sign of a fever.
I hadn't prayed since the beginning of the war because they were never answered, but as I crawled into bed beside him, I said a prayer, asking God, or whoever might be listening, not to take Jim from me. That's how desperate I was.
When I thought he was asleep, I was finally able to tell him how I felt.
“Don't leave me,” I begged softly.
I awoke the next morning to a cry and within seconds was on my feet, brandishing the hockey stick that lived on my side of the bed.
The cry came again and I realised it was Jim.
He was covered in sweat and clearly having some kind of nightmare. I dropped the hockey stick and made my way around to his side of the bed.
“Hey,” I said, gently shaking his shoulder. He was burning up.
His eyes opened but he continued to cry out, as though he was having a nightmare. He was delirious.
I couldn't deny the truth any longer; very soon my husband was going to be a zombie.
I hope you enjoyed this sample. If you want to find out what happens to Meg and Jim,
How to Train Your Zombie is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US
Review from Zombie A.C.R.E.S: ★★★★★
Excerpt- The first couple of pages made me plan to rate it at 4 stars, for good writing, but I wasn’t expecting anything “new” on the Zombie Front. HOWEVER, Author Catherine Winchester changed my mind on both those expectations in a heartbeat, and quickly I found my interest truly absorbed in what proved to be a very special novel-of zombies... Click to read more