Monday, November 12, 2012

No Brainer by Rebecca Leigh

Grace Jones is a government-employed zombie killer. Ethan Waters is a zombie. Together Ethan and Grace battle the zombie mafia and have hot sex. But will they also find love?

Grace Jones is a government-employed zombie killer. As a member of the elite Zombie Investigative Agency, she spends her days ridding the world of lower zombies. Her nine-to-five gig is turned upside down when she's assigned to investigate the zombie mafia's Red Brain Project. One of the members of her team is an ex-lover and the other is a zombie.
Ethan Waters is a zombie. Different from the brain-sucking and savage lower zombies, Ethan lives the more sophisticated life of an upper zombie. Ethan turns out to be the perfect compassionate foil to Grace's often emotionless slayer. Together Ethan and Grace battle the zombie mafia, have hot sex, and also find love.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This title contains a HFN ending. (And it is M/F!)

The worst part of entering a lair is the stench.

"Fuck!" My body doubles over.

I can't stop the yellowish-green, sour liquid from curling through my throat and spurting out of my mouth. If I'd eaten one damn thing today, I would have puked it up. As it is there's only bile. The acid from my stomach burns my throat and sears my tongue. My queasy gut isn't exactly an asset when it comes to my job.

I've smelled rotting flesh before, plenty of times, but the stink in this house is as overpowering as it gets. The air smells like something has been decomposing in here for weeks.

I swat the flies buzzing around my head as I step through the open door and over the threshold. Another wave hits me and more bile lands on the dirty hardwood floors. Puking has become somewhat of standard fare for me in the past couple years. You'd think I'd get used to it, but I never have. My sense of smell was just designed a little too acute to deal. I wipe thin strings of spit from my mouth and continue into the hall of death.

I cover my nose with my hand in an attempt to stave off at least some of the stench. It doesn't help. The aroma of decay lingers in the air as thick as the humidity after a hard rain in the middle of summer. Breathing only through gritted teeth doesn't help because the smell manifests itself in my mouth with a rotten and stale flavor. I love living in central Texas, but the weather is not good for my line of work. Even in the winter, it's too damn hot to go looking for dead bodies.

I pick up my pace, running across the entryway and into the first room on the left. The closer I get, the more pungent the odor. I've been doing this job too long not to realize I'm heading in the right direction.

If the stench wasn't enough of a sign, the trail of blood leading from the front door would be a dead giveaway. No pun intended. What'd they do, order take-out and drag in the pizza boy kicking and screaming?

Apparently the answer to that is yes--and a whole lot more.

Finding the bodies is close to unbearable. I can deal with destroying the undead. Hell, I live for that shit. I can even handle quelling the last signs of life in any of the victims exposed to the virus that threaten to rise again. Offing them before they come back makes my job easier anyway. But seeing the used and discarded bodies is definitely the worst.

The stench coming from what was once the study is unbearable.

It was probably a comfortable and quaint room a couple of decades ago. A rock-covered fireplace sits nestled in the corner with cedar logs that were never lit. The Victorian-themed furniture would have been comfortable after a long day at work. The graying colors, muted tones of blue and green, would have been relaxing.

For a moment, I wonder who'd lived here--before it became a haven for the undead. Maybe a man and woman with a couple of kids. I bet they had a maid. People that own grand homes like this always have a maid. A nanny too, to raise their offspring. The man would come home from a hard day's work and the little wife-y would have his tonic waiting. The kids would scramble around his feet to vie for daddy's attention. There are no pictures in the room to signal whether my guess is correct. Did the family escape the monsters that took over their abode? Or did they join the fray?

If this were my place, I'd kick my heels onto the ottoman and stretch out on the loveseat. Maybe have a shot of vodka. A stiff drink is about the only thing that can calm my nerves these days. I'd close my eyes and dream of a world where my job wasn't necessary, a world where the dead stay dead.

But this is not my place. This house hasn't belonged to anyone in years. At least not anyone alive.

The furniture is dusty and riddled with holes. Cobwebs hang from the ceilings. The cherry floor is unpolished, dirty, and cracked.

And in the middle of it all is a pile of bodies.

As I walk closer I can see maybe seven different heads. Or what's left of them, discarded like so much rubbish. Under bloodied and matted hair, open skulls still ooze the last remnants of brains.

I walk slowly over to the pile and kick the bodies around. Some of the limbs still stiff with rigor mortis fall to the side. All the eyes are wide with the last horror of impending death. The eyes stare, piercing through nothingness with a plea for help that never came.

From the vestiges of boobs and dicks, it looks like four men and three women. Some of them have been dead longer than others. On some, the blood smeared from head to toe is crusted. On others, even the gray matter is starting to dry. A few have maggots squirming around in the festering flesh.

I've learned to tell how long someone's been dead by the stage of decomposition. The types of insects and the vapors emitted from a body depend on the stage. Most of these seven unlucky souls are nearing the putrification stage. The bodies are bloated and have a greenish brown tint.

The zombies had a fucking feast. A brain luau.

I examine the bodies up close one more time to make sure that none of them will rise again. The best way to tell is by examining the gray matter. I wasn't very good at it in the beginning, but now it only takes me a few minutes to figure it out. The easiest way to tell is by how much brains are left in the skull. More brains equals higher likelihood of a new zombie entering the world. If there is sufficient gray matter remaining, the next step is to check the brain stem. If it's exposed and there are bite marks near it, then the person's been infected. The only way for the virus to spread is through the cranial nerves.

I see bite marks on the necks and chests that have turned to sores and are crusted with scabs. If exposed to the virus, the sores would still be fresh. If a body doesn't transform within the first several days, it's dead for good. I guess that makes these guys and gals lucky.

On first assessment, my guess is the monsters that killed them are more than likely long gone. Some creatures make homes out of their lairs. Vampires are like that; they keep returning over and over to the places that hold a semblance of life for them. Vampires nest. Zombies are different; they set up house long enough to eat and then they scatter.

Sometimes new zombies will stay temporarily in an old lair, perhaps because they possess some vestige of human fear. Maybe they're afraid to venture out after they've transformed. But it never lasts for long. The need for brains pulls them into my world.

I'll still take a look around the rest of the house to ensure this lair is abandoned.

I glance one more time at the pile. Damn, the cleanup crew's going to have a hell of a time with this joint.

I cuss as I make my way through the rest of the house room by room. The stench and the sight of blood are overwhelming. I'm not sure why there aren't more bodies here. It's hard to believe this much damage could have come only from the people in the study. There's got to be enough blood smeared over the walls and floors to account for at least two dozen. Maybe the bodies were carried away to serve as late night snacks.

Stronger zombies have a penchant for storing nibbles here and there. Like a dog burying a bone. Or a squirrel storing food up for the winter. The habit might explain why the fiends decay so quickly--eating snacks composed of old, dried brains does little to curb the effects of decomposition in the undead.

The winding staircase leading to the second floor is so old the wood is rotten. The banister on one side is broken off and leaning precariously in mid-air. The steps, once covered with an ornately patterned oriental carpet, are slanted and cracked. The only thing left of the carpet is tattered pieces clinging to the edges of the stairs.

I take each step with caution. The last thing I need is to fall to the ground below and break something. I fractured my arm once while battling a hive of zombies and I damn near lost the fight. The higher I ascend, the more the stairs creak and sway. I don't even realize I am holding my breath until a loud, hard puff escapes my lips when I reach the top.

There are two wings. To the east, there is a long row of closed doors. Any one of them could be housing throngs of undead. To the west, a short hallway leads to a single immense steel door. The metal structure is out of place among the Victorian English d├ęcor. The oddity is enough of a reason to check there first. The trail of still-wet blood leading from the stairwell to the door is an even better reason.

I creep over the blood-stained carpet. When I turn the knob, the door squeaks as it opens. The room on the other side is pitch black despite the fact that it is the middle of the day. The only light shines in a tiny sliver from the hallway.

I step one foot inside and realize my original assessment that this house is deserted is wrong. Dead wrong. I hear the distinct sounds of slurping coming from the far corner of the room. Another step and I hear a gurgle, a loud groan, and a shuffle.

Zombies may be strong, even in death, but they are notoriously slow. For some reason early deterioration focuses on the appendages, especially feet and legs. The zombie in this room is no exception. I race toward the zombie at a rapid walk, my eyes adjusting quickly to the darkness. When I'm a few feet from him, the scant light reveals his grotesque features.

The left side of his head is mangled and reveals the remnants of his dried brain. One eye is hollow and the other is an oozing hole with an eyeball halfway hanging out of the socket. His nose and upper lip are gone and his lower lip is swollen, dripping with blood and freshly eaten brains.

He only has one arm and he reaches it toward me with a groan.

"Uuhhhgg," he moans.

His bony hand covers my shoulder. Each digit curls and makes a slight cracking sound. He pushes down, sending a sharp pain pulsing through my arm and back. His fingers are like a bear trap, digging into my skin. His long and gnarled nails slice and draw blood.

"Uuhhhgg." He inches forward with another guttural moan.

"Die, fucker." I could have easily run away from him rather than let him touch me, but the closer they are the easier the kill. I pull out the Glock nestled in a holster next to my thigh and point it between his eyes.

I pull the trigger and the face, devoid of any emotion but hunger, is gone. What was left of his head explodes and bits scatter on the floor in the darkness. The now fully dead body crumbles.

After I flick away a sliver of zombie flesh that landed on my cheek, I stumble to the corner of the room. My feet thud against the body the zombie had been munching on. There's no way for me to tell if the person will rise without dragging what's left into the fully lit hallway.

I tug the arms and slide the carcass over the floor until the light reveals a teenage girl. She couldn't have been more than sixteen. Her streaked blonde hair is matted to one side of her head with dried blood and her eyes are frozen wide with fear. I push the crusted hair to the side to reveal an opening the size of the zombie's mouth. Warm brains still cling to the serrated edges of the wound. Other than the one gash, there are no other bite marks anywhere on her body. She'll stay dead.

Another lucky stiff.



visit Rebecca's Website for all her M/F, and M/M titles

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