It’s an Undead Thing by Alex Apostol
Zooey Beckett isn’t like other girls. For starters, she’s a zombie!
This new release from Apostol is sure to keep you on your toes as you follow Zooey Beckett through her treatment at the Undead Ward. Thanks to Zombutexachlorepinol, or more commonly known as the Z-shot, zombies are cured and brought back to life. But all is not as it seems. The staff seems to recoil at the sight of her and the other Undead keep disappearing through a pair of black double doors, never to be seen again. Can Zooey make it through her three weeks of treatment at the hospital to get back home?
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Three men in navy blue jumpsuits walked the Boston Common with animal control poles. The loops at the ends swayed with each cautious step they took, careful not to make a sound as they stalked through the trees. Everything was quiet. Even the birds held their breaths, not letting a single peep fall from their beaks. Every so often, a gentle summer breeze rustled through the branches, making the three men turn on their heels.
“Didn’t we clear this area two days ago?” the youngest man in the back whispered.
He was twenty-five-years-old and the newest member of the National Guard’s zombie division, a special unit meant to catch and cure walking corpses. A rush of adrenaline made the young man’s hands shake every time they were dispatched. Three men was not enough for the task in his opinion, but ever since the plague took a good chunk of the population the military had been left short-handed.
“And now we’re clearing it again,” the man closest to him hissed through his teeth.
Sergeant Stone’s name suited him as he was built like a solid wall of chimney. His lips were pursed so thinly, it was a wonder how they didn’t disappear altogether. He was tired of the newbie always questioning everything. It was their job to shut up and follow orders. If they didn’t, the zombies could very well take over again.
The reign hadn’t lasted long thanks to all the zombie lore from comic books, movies, and television. The CDC had even implemented a plan for if the zombie plague ever broke out due to the popularity of the monsters. No one ever thought it would really happen, until it did. And then, the government was quick to act. Sergeant Stone was one of the first to volunteer for the division.
He laughed when the Major told him a nineteen-year-old was joining the team that morning. He wasn’t laughing now that they were out in the field.
“Would you two shut your traps?” their commanding officer growled from the lead. “We’re looking for flesh-eating, organ-chewing, blood-drinking zombies, or have you forgotten why we’re here?”
He was a decorated war hero who served three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. His hair was silver and thinning, and his arms sagged with muscles that had been ignored over the years. It was the pins on his breast-pocket alone that commanded respect.
“No, sir,” they whispered in unison.
“Good, then come on.”
Together they walked in a U-shape, Major Jackson facing forward and leading the way while the newbie, Private First Class Goodman, faced the East and Sergeant Stone faced the West. There should have been someone watching their six, but they were told they would have to do without for a while.
The rustle of shambling footsteps sounded ahead.
The Major held up a fist, stopping the other two in their tacks.
A dull groan echoed off the trees.
Major Jackson pointed to Sergeant Stone and motioned for him to circle around and come up from behind. The Sergeant moved with stealth, his feet not making a sound on the plush grass. Goodman felt his knees knock together as he lost sight of his comrade. There were only two of them now.
Up ahead, a female limped slowly out into the open from behind a tree.
“Ma’am!” The Major called out with his catcher’s pole gripped in both hands.
He knew she wasn’t going to respond, but protocols had to be followed, even if they were stupid.
The young woman opened her mouth and let out a hiss before clacking her teeth together.
The two men nodded once to each other and watched as the dirtied woman moved toward them, her arms raising up in front of her. Her long brown hair was matted with twigs, dirt, and dried blood. A good shower would detangle that mess. Her pale face was scratched, but not so badly that she wouldn’t recover in time. The only substantial wound visible was the chunk that had been bitten from her trapezius, nothing that couldn’t be cleaned, stitched together, and grafted over.
“Let’s bring her in,” the Major declared.
They advanced on the pitiful zombie.
“Z-729657,” the Major said in an official tone, “you’re coming with us to the Massachusetts General Hospital where you will be admitted into the Undead Ward for treatment and—AHHH!”
A large male had wandered up soundlessly from behind and sunk his teeth into the Major’s arm. He munched relentlessly as screams pierced the air. His head was thrown around as the Major tried to shake his bloodied arm free.
Goodman stood frozen in horror. It was the first time he’d seen anyone attacked up close. Crimson spilled from the Major’s arm onto the green grass. His Commanding Officer was losing his pallor before his eyes. Though his legs were unable to move, his stomach gave a violent lurch.
“What are you doing?! Catch it!” Sergeant Stone’s gruff voice called as he ran up to them.
He didn’t wait for Goodman to snap out of it, but secured the female zombie by the neck with his own catcher’s pole. She struggled listlessly as he held her in place. Her growls echoed in the young Private’s ears, debilitating him further. His vision tunneled and all he could see were her bloodied, gnashing teeth with bits of the Major’s skin hanging from between.
“For fuck’s sake,” Sergeant Stone growled.
He shoved the catcher’s pole with the secured zombie into the petrified kid’s hands and snatched his away. With precision and ease, he slipped the loop around the male zombie’s neck and yanked him away from the shrieking Major, taking a chunk of arm with him.
Major Jackson dropped to his knees, howling. The blood flowed from the gaping wound like a raging river. He tried to stop the bleeding with his hand, but his life-force gushed between his fingers. With his free hand, the Sergeant pulled the Major up by the collar.
“You’ll be fine, Sir. They’ll get you fixed up with some of that Zombutexa-whatever-the-fuck it’s called, and you’ll be good to go.”
“I don’t want to become one of them,” the forty-eight-year-old man wept while clutching his arm.
The Sergeant rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to turn into one of them. Now, come on. Let’s get them in the van and get out of here before any more show up.” He snatched the other pole from the frightened kid and led both zombies across the park.
The corpses bumped into each other, hissing and clawing at the air for freedom, while the Major whimpered from behind. They left the Private dumbstruck in the blood-stained grass.
“Let’s go, fuck-shit, before we leave your ass here!”
Goodman snapped out of his horrified daze and jogged to catch up. He went to take one of the poles, but the Sergeant jerked it away. The two zombies stumbled sideways and let out a series of moans and growls.
“I don’t think so, newbie. Not after what you just pulled.”
“I didn’t mean to—” the copper-haired, wiry kid started to say.
“Save it. It’s not up to me what happens to you now.”
When they reached the Army-green van, Sergeant Stone ushered the dead up the ramp and into the back. He released the loops from the poles with the press of a button. Sensing their freedom, the two bodies lunged forward. Stone slammed the doors and peered in through the tiny window. He smiled with all his crooked teeth.
“Not today, motherfuckers!”
The Major groaned loudly from the other side of the van, as if death himself were approaching to take him away.
“All right, all right,” the Stone grumbled as he walked around to the driver’s side. “Let’s go.”
Goodman hopped in first and held a hand out. The Major, refusing to take it or possibly not seeing it through his blinding pain, inched his way through the passenger door and onto the seat. The smell of copper immediately overwhelmed everyone onboard.
The van lurched forward and a loud thud came from the back. Stone gave a satisfied chuckle as he turned onto Tremont Street. The Major let out another dramatic groan as Goodman stared at his wound with a gaping mouth. The kid nudged closer to Stone without realizing it. The Sergeant nudged him with his elbow.
“You wanna sit in my lap, Goodman?”
“Sorry,” he mumbled as he readjusted himself, and then he whispered, “do you think he’s going to be okay?”
The Major had leaned his head against the cool glass of the window. His eyes slowly closed as he struggled to breathe properly. He looked like he’d aged ten years in the last ten minutes.
“He’ll be fine. Takes a good twenty-four hours to zombify completely. They’ll give him the shot and that will be that.”
“That will be that,” Goodman repeated as he nodded his head.
He had no choice but to believe his Sergeant. After all, the hardened man had been on countless zombie hunts since hospitals all over the country opened the Undead Wards at the beginning of the year. He’d been through three Commanding Officers and eight teams of men. No one had ever died on a mission, though a good number had been bitten, infected for life with the zombie plague. But Stone believed it was all part of the job. The military had never been a safe career. This plague didn’t change that.
Goodman wondered if he stayed with the division if he would become callous like Sergeant Stone. The very thought sent a shiver down his spine. He tried to ignore the muffled groans and bangs from the back. No matter how many he came face-to-face with, he would never get used to the sight of a zombie hungry for his brains. When he decided to sign up for the division, all he thought about was the gratitude others would feel toward him for helping to make their city safe again. It wasn’t until today that he realized there was so much more to the job, like the zombies. He thought most of them had been cured already. If they allowed him to, he resolved to do better on the next mission.
In the back, the two zombies tried to stay standing as the van took sharp turns. The female moaned each time her head hit the hard metal side, but she didn’t feel any pain. She couldn’t feel anything but the overwhelming desire to sink her teeth into warm, flesh to get to the gooey brains underneath. The other zombie had been so close to securing their meal. If only they hadn’t been outnumbered, they would both be on cloud nine right now, riding a brain high for the rest of the day.
The mangled man she’d been picked up with looked at her. He parted his crusted lips as if he were going to speak, but all that came out was a deep groan. He continued to stare as the van rocked with each turn. His wobbly legs offered little help to keep him upright. With each fall, he turned away and grunted.
She’d seen this zombie before in the park. He was vicious and moved with an agility the rest had lost over time. When it came to brains, this guy wasn’t messing around. He wanted them bad and he would attack anyone to get them. A part of her felt scared to be alone with him, but then she remembered—zombies don’t eat other zombies. It’s rule number one.
Zooey Beckett opened her eyes. The repetitive beep of the electrocardiograph machine seemed to grow louder with each ounce of consciousness she gained. Her head felt like it’d been hit with a sledgehammer, her face and shoulders stung and ached, but she was alive! At least, she thought she was.
She went to move her hand to touch it lightly to her throbbing cheek, but was stopped midway. A loud metallic clank echoed in the empty room.
“What the—” she said in a raspy voice unlike her own.
Metal handcuffs chained both her hands to each side of a hospital bedrail. Panic rose in her chest like a fire. Her heartbeat raced, sending the machine into a frenzy. She thrashed herself about, trying to get loose.
“Somebody get me out of here!” she yelled, not sure if there was anyone around to hear her.
She vaguely remembered someone telling her they were taking her to the hospital, but she wasn’t sure why. Her brain felt light and clouded over with fog.
“Help!” she cried out. “Please help!”
Finally, the door opened and a young male nurse in green scrubs with too much gel in his dark, straight hair strode in. He turned off the EKG and shoved a thermometer in her ear.
“Hold still,” he said dryly.
Every breath was shallow and painful, and she was still confused. She ignored the nurse’s demands and moved about as much as her restraints would allow.
“Why am I here? What’s going on? What did I do?”
Crusty-haired nurse ignored her and took the thermometer out when it beeped, though with as much as she moved the reading couldn’t have been accurate. He wrote on his notepad and moved around to the other side of the bed, removing his stethoscope from around his thin neck.
“Can you tell me what happened?” she urged again. “Please!”
He placed the cold metal to her chest and looked up at the ceiling to avoid her desperate gaze.
Just then, a tall slender man in a white labcoat walked in.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Evan Fullerton. I will be your resident doctor for the duration of your stay.”
Zooey’s eyes grew wide as tears gathered in them. “What do you mean? Tell me why I’m here!” Blind rage was creeping up in her. She needed answers.
The doctor removed his silver-rimmed glasses and placed them in his breast pocket. The nurse rolled a chair in from the hallway and placed it behind the doctor, who lowered himself without ever taking his eyes off Zooey.
“What’s the last thing you remember, Miss…?”
She looked from him to the nurse. Her mouth fell open in bewilderment. “Zooey Beckett,” she said harshly.
“Ah,” the doctor sighed while nodding his salt and peppered head. “Miss Beckett. As detailed as you can, please tell me the last thing you remember.”
Zooey stopped straining against her constraints and laid her head back against the lumpy pillow. It was becoming clear she wasn’t going to get any answers until she provided some for them. She held back her tears and swallowed the lump in her throat. With a pitiful attempt, she rubbed each cheek on her shoulder to dry them.
“I had just gotten off work—H&M—and I was walking to the train.” Her voice shook, but she pressed on for the sake of figuring things out. “It had to be about 10:30 at night. I’d had a rough day and was feeling a little stressed, so I decided at the last minute to take a lap around the Common first to clear my head.
“Talk of the cure and safer streets had been going around. I thought I would be okay.” Her vision blurred as tears collected in her eyes again. She could see her words played out like a movie in her head as she spoke. “I was attacked by the gazebo, bit on the shoulder. I didn’t see it coming, and I couldn’t get away…” she swallowed and her breath hitched in her chest. “And then everything went black. That’s all I can remember.”
The doctor didn’t write any of this down. He simply stared into Zooey’s dull-gray eyes as if she were the only other person on the planet at that moment, his head continually nodding like a bobble.
“And do you remember what the date was when this happened?”
Zooey’s eyes shifted from his to the nurse’s and back. Her stomach tightened. “Umm…” she sniffed to stay in control of herself. “May twenty-first,” she finally said. “Why? How long did it take for you to find me? My roommate must have called when I didn’t come home. Was it last night? Two nights ago?”
The doctor wiped his face with the palm of his hand, brushing back his short hair, and then leaned back in the chair. “It’s July seventeenth,” he said painfully. “You’ve been gone for almost two months.”
She felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Zooey tried to take in a breath, but it was nearly impossible. Her chest heaved violently as she wheezed. The machine next to her bed beeped wildly and the nurse leaned over to turn it off.
“How can I lose two months of my life and not remember anything?”
The doctor continued to explain the situation. “Even though the cure is out there, we have not been able to capture and treat every single zombie in the United States yet. This is an ongoing problem because as we cure a handful, another handful is created by the ones still out there, as in your case.”
Tears flooded Zooey’s eyes and cascaded down her pale cheeks. The salt stung at her wounds, but she couldn’t stop. She was one of them—a monster, a living nightmare, a cannibal!
“Does that mean I-I-I killed…people?” she sobbed, wanting desperately to cover her face with her hands as she struggled against the handcuffs again.
They dug into her flesh, tearing away at her already tender skin. She flung her head to the side in an attempt to hide her scrunched-up face.
“Now, now, we can’t be sure what happened,” Doctor Fullerton said in a soothing voice as he stroked her hair. “All we know is that you are human again and your life can be restored to what it once was with a little help. Would you like that?”
The sweet, placid tone of his voice seeped in through Zooey’s ears and calmed her firing nerves. Her chest slowly stopped racking as she looked up into his kind eyes. She sniffed back her tears and used her shoulders to wipe her cheeks again. As she brushed the right one, a sharp pain made her wince.
“What do I do now?” she asked, meek and defeated.
Doctor Fullerton sighed through his slim nose. “For starters, you’ll have to stay here for a total of three weeks, assuming nothing else comes up medically. We did have to stitch you up a bit due to some substantial lacerations on your face and shoulder. Luckily, none of it required any surgery or skin grafting.”
Zooey nodded delicately. All she wanted in that moment was a mirror. The pain in her face doubled as she wondered how closely she resembled Frankenstein’s monster. She didn’t notice the nurse, who moved like a ghost to stand next to her, an empty syringe in his hand.
The doctor continued to outline her stay as her thoughts drifted in and out. “You will have one more day in this room to sleep off the sedative. You have already been out for two days so one more should suffice. After that, you’ll be moved into the Adult Undead Ward. There you will attend group counseling and one-on-one sessions with me daily to make sure we are preparing you for the outside world again. How does that sound?”
Zooey sat in silence as she took it all in. Her head felt heavy, like a bowling ball on a stick. “And once I’m released? What happens then?” she managed to slur.
The doctor smiled with a row of straight white teeth beaming out to her. She flinched at the sight of them.
“Great question! Well, you will continue to see me every two weeks for your treatment and a thirty minute therapy session to make sure you’re acclimating okay. Those only last for the first year and then you can go to one of the many walk-in clinics that are being trained on how to administer the treatment on-site.”
Her eyes drifted over to the male nurse who now hovered in the corner behind the doctor. She looked to her left where he had been standing a moment ago in disbelief. She slowly moved her head to stare at him again. He folded his arms and tightened the muscles in his face. A chill ran down her spine and she shivered.
She let her eyes wander the room to avoid the nurse’s gaze. There were three white padded walls and one glass one. Outside the room, she saw someone in a blue jumpsuit sitting in a rolling chair identical to the doctor’s and another younger man in a blue jumpsuit with orange hair standing next to him. There was something familiar about those two, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Does that sound good to you, Miss Beckett?” She turned her gaze to the doctor again. He looked into her eyes deeply, as if in desperate anticipation of her agreement. His eyes briefly shifted to the nurse in the corner, whose jaw clenched in the heavy silence.
“Sure,” she said. “Sound good.”
“Excellent,” he breathed out with a smile. “Then all that’s left is the interview.” He pulled a small notebook out from his pocket, along with a ballpoint pen. “What is your full name?”
Her eyes closed in a slow blink, almost too heavy to open again. Whatever the nurse had given her was strong. “Zooey Marie Beckett.”
“And when is your birthdate?”
“December 1, 1990.”
The doctor nodded his head as his pen scribbled away. “So that makes you twenty-six now,” he said more to himself. “And what is your occupation? Retail, or did you hold other jobs aside from H&M?”
Zooey blinked slowly several more times. Her head was foggy as it adjusted from being dead to alive again, fighting through the sedative.
“I was supposed to start Grad School for psychology at Harvard, but the school closed after the outbreak. I was only working at H&M as a part-time job to make rent, well until the landlord disappeared. Then, I was working for food mostly.”
She could hear herself rambling, but her lips wouldn’t stop moving.
“Ah, Harvard!” the doctor bellowed as he uncrossed his legs to switch them. “You plan to finish your degree then?”
She readjusted herself to sit up as much as she could without disturbing the handcuffs. “I’m not sure. I’m not sure about anything really.” Her gaze glazed over as the weight of her new life crashed down on her.
Doctor Fullerton waved the question away with his pen. “Don’t worry about. That’s what the counseling sessions are for. Now, are you originally from Boston?”
“No. My family lives in…Walker’s Landing… Washington.” Her words stumbled over one another as her lips started to tingle.
There was no hint of recognition on the doctor’s face. She wasn’t surprised. Her hometown wasn’t close to any major cities. If he wasn’t big into fishing as a profession, it was unlikely he would have ever heard of the place.
“And tell me about your family.”
“Why?” she forced out harshly. “I haven’t lived with them in eight years. I barely speak to them.”
“Okay, tell me about who you do live with then,” the doctor said without missing a beat.
Zooey’s eyes finally closed for good as she thought about her roommate. A warmth spread through her chest as she pictured Elizabeth standing at the kitchen counter sipping from one of her oversized coffee mugs, tapping her foot. She was always tapping her foot.
“Her name is Elizabeth Wentworth. She graduated from Harvard with me and was supposed to begin Law School before all this.” Her voice was slow, calculated, and distant.
“Quite an ambitious pair you two make.”
Zooey smiled, feeling a sharp pinch in her right cheek. Instinct made her hand shoot up to touch it in comfort, yanking the handcuffs against the railing again. The nurse in the corner unfolded his arms and took a step forward, but Doctor Fullerton held a hand up.
“Can you loosen these?” Zooey asked. “Or take one off so I can scratch my nose if I want to?” One of her droopy eyes cracked open.
The doctor’s gaze softened on her. “I wish I could, but we have to keep them on for a full seventy-two hours. It’s hospital policy.”
Zooey let out a frustrated huff and let her eyes close again.
“Do you mind me asking why you don’t speak to your family anymore?”
Her dark brows pulled together as her forehead wrinkled. “I still talk to them, just not much,” she corrected him. “My parents are stuck in a loveless marriage and they feel they have to make life miserable for everyone around them. My younger brother is a drug addict, in and out of rehab.”
The doctor didn’t say anything. He wrote on his small pad of paper furiously with his own forehead wrinkled in concentration.
“I think I’ve got just about all I need,” he said with a smile, and he stood up. “You rest as best you can and tomorrow morning we will have you moved to a more permanent room.”
He laid a hand gently on her upper arm. Her first instinct was to shrink away. She didn’t know this man at all apart from his name and profession. But the longer his touch lingered, the more she relaxed into it. It’d been almost two months since she had any living human contact. Though her brain couldn’t remember this, her body seemed to. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly through her nostrils, relaxing her muscles and mind as she gave into the heavy sedative.
“Can I call Elizabeth and tell her I’m all right?” she forced out before unconsciousness took hold of her.
At this, the doctor removed his hand and placed it in the pocket of his jeans. “I’m afraid you’re not allowed to make any phone calls yet. We are still preparing you for rehabilitation, and we have to prepare your roommate as well.”
Her lids wrenched open and she stared into his baby blue eyes, hoping she could telepathically wear him down into breaking the rules just this once. It didn’t work. He simply stared back sympathetically, his eyes turned upward like a damaged puppy dog.
“It’ll get better, Miss Beckett. Just give it time,” he said as he turned for the door. “Everything will be back to normal before you know it.”
That was the first lie Doctor Fullerton told Zooey Beckett.
I hope you enjoyed this free preview of my latest book, It’s an Undead Thing (Zooey Zombie #1)! Read the rest on Kindle today! (Kindle Unlimited users read for free)