Battle of the Network Zombiesby Mark Henry
In Seattle's undead circles, populated by werewolves, devils, and rampaging yetis, Amanda Feral is one of the beautiful zombies. But to maintain her stylish rep, Amanda needs cash. The quickest way: appear on the reality show, American Minions, hosted by lecherous wood nymph Johnny Birch. Soon, Amanda moves in to "Minions Mansion," crowded with immortal fame whores. But even the 24-7 video cameras can't catch everything. . .
When Johnny is found incinerated, Amanda channels her inner Miss Marple (minus the fugly cardigans) to find the culprit. Was it Hairy Sue, the white trash stripper yeti? Tanesha, the glamorous trannie werewolf? Angie, the Filipino vampire with a detachable head? Unveiling the killer in a heart-stopping finale won't just save the show from cancellation, it might just keep Amanda alive-or as close as a ghoul can get. . .
"Sexy, funny, and twisted. You've never read anything like this!" --Richelle Mead, #1 New York Times bestselling author on Happy Hour of the Damned
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Battle of the Network Zombies
By MARK HENRY
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Mark Henry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCHANNEL 01 Saturday 2:00-2:30 A.M. Tapping Birch's Syrup
* * *
The remaining "ladies" share a group date with Birch and another challenge: create evening gowns with the local flora ... poison ivy! Plus, Ludivine reveals a secret deformity.
Its official name was the H & C Gentleman's Club-that's what it said on the tax statement, at least, and in the phone book-but everyone in Seattle knew it as the Hooch and Cooch, the Northwest's first hillbilly-themed titty bar, and it certainly lived up to its backwoods inspirations. The exterior was dilapidated, a hodgepodge of boards nailed up at weird angles and intervals as siding, while rust from the corrugated-metal roof striped the building a gritty orange. It clung to the hillside above Fremont on pilings so rickety, the slightest bump threatened to dump the shack's smutty guts onto the quiet neighborhood underneath.
I'd applaud the audacity, if the owner weren't Ethel Ellen Frazier, vampire, mega-bitch and, worst of all, my mother.
I considered leaving the car idling in the space-a sound getaway plan was looking like my best option-then fished out my cell and hammered in Marithé's number.
"Seriously?" I asked the second she picked up, fondling the address she'd written on the back of my businesscard.
"What?" My assistant's voice always sounds annoyed, so it's difficult to assess her tone. A good rule of thumb is just to assume I've interrupted something very important like saving time in a bottle, writing the Great American Novel or ending the plague that is zombie crotch rot-more likely, at that hour, she'd be using the Wite-Out to create a budget French manicure.
"The Hooch and Cooch? Since when is one of my mother's strip clubs an appropriate meeting place?" My eyes took in the stories-tall cowgirl on the roof, lit up old school-in lightbulbs rather than neon. Several were burnt out, but most notable were the cowgirl's front teeth. On closer inspection, those seemed to be blacked out on purpose-it's nice to see attention to authentic detail. The ten-foot-tall flashing pink beaver between her legs was a subtle choice, if I do say so.
"He insisted," she said, her voice echoing on the speakerphone.
The pig's name was Johnny Birch and he was famous for three things-crooning jazz standards like that Bublé or Bubble guy or whoever, screwing anything with a hole (including donuts) and doing it all publicly on his own reality show, Tapping Birch's Syrup (shown exclusively on Channel SS12). He was also a wood nymph, but even though that's all ethereal and earthy, it's really secondary to the pervert stuff. Apparently he had a proposition, and from the look of the Hooch and Cooch, I had a pretty good idea it wasn't business related.
"Seriously, this better be a for-real deal or I'm gonna be one pissed-off zombie."
"Karkaroff was very specific that this was a priority meeting." I could imagine her sitting in the cushy office chair, making air quotes, leaning back with her ankles crossed on the desk,admiring her trophy shoes.
My business partner was already fuming from our recent clusterfuck with Necrophilique. How was I supposed to know the fecal content of the cosmetics? Do I look like a chemist? Still, we needed the money after word spread and the launch tanked. What was the saying, beggars can't be choosers? Not that I was a beggar, by any count, but ... shit, mama's got bills to pay.
"Fine." I gripped the phone to my ear and started loading my purse with all the important undead accoutrements as she yammered on about her day. Flesh-tone bandages (you never know when you'll get a scratch, and humans are normally surprised when they don't see blood seeping), cigarettes (why the hell not?) and lastly, Altoids, of course, because dragon breath doesn't even begin to describe the smell that escapes up this rotten esophagus.
I did take a moment to wonder if I was dressed appropriately for the venue. The Gucci skirt was definitely fitted and might draw some roving hands, but I could certainly handle those. My big concern was the white silk blouse.
It was Miu Miu, for Christ's sake.
The Hooch and Cooch didn't look like the kind of place that any white fabric, let alone designer silk, could escape without a stain.
As if on cue, two drunken slobs slammed out of the swinging doors and scattered out onto the red carpetless cement. One landed on his ass with his legs spread, an expanding dark wetness spread from his crotch outward. His buddy clutched at his stomach in a silent fit of laughter, but then fell against a truck and puked into the open bed. The rest dribbled off his chin and down his loosened tie as he slid to the concrete. I guess that answered my question about fashion choices. Pretty much anything will do if your competition is piss and puke stains, though clearly the blouse was in danger and the stains were much more dubious than I'd imagined.
"Ugh. Christ. Call me in ten minutes. I know I'm going to need an excuse to get out of here."
I stuffed the phone in my Alexander McQueen red patent Novak bag-yes you need to know that, if for no other reason than to understand that I've moved on from the Balenciaga; it's a metaphor for my personal growth-and headed in, stepping over the passed-out figure on the threshold. The urine smell was unbearable. Someone had enjoyed a nutritious meal of asparagus. I shoved the splintery doors into the strip club's lobby and was greeted by a wall of palsied antlers, Molly Hatchet blaring some 70s bullshit and my mother's pasty dead face beaming from behind the hostess stand.
"Darling." She crossed the room in three strides, cowboy boots crunching on the peanut shells coating the floor and arms reaching-the effect was more praying mantis than loving mother, I assure you. "You should have called."
I submitted to a hug and, over her shoulder, caught a glimpse of Gil, arms crossed and leaning on the open bed of a Ford F-150 that seemed to have been repurposed as the gift shop-how they got it in there, I have no clue. A pair of those ridiculous metal balls dangled between his legs from the trailer hitch behind him. I couldn't help but giggle. He tipped his Stetson in my direction and winked.
"You're right, Mother. I'll definitely call next time."
She pulled away, concern spreading across her face. The vamping achieved the kind of freshening a top-dollar Beverly Hills facelift aimed for, but no amount of magic could revive Ethel's sincerity.
"It's just, we haven't had a whole lot of time to sort out this ... tension between us and I'd like us to be a family, again."
Again. Just like that. Like there'd ever been anything remotely resembling a "family." Unless her definition of family was the people one ridiculed, judged and rejected, then yeah, I guess we had a "family."
I clenched my fists. If blood flowed through my veins rather than thick yellow goo, I might have turned beet-red. But instead of appearing angry, I took on a sickly jaundice, which is never cute.
I decided to stuff it and pushed past her to find Johnny Birch. "Sure, Ethel, let's work on that."
"I don't appreciate your sarcasm." She sang the final word, as she did when pretending something didn't actually bother her. I grinned, triumphant.
I bounded up to Gil. "How do you put up with that bitch?" I stabbed a thumb in Ethel's direction.
"Who, your mother? Oh please, she's wonderful to work for and so funny...."
His voice trailed off, replaced by the twangin' guitar of Southern rock. Mother had obviously brainwashed Gil to spout this pro-Ethel propaganda and I wasn't about to listen to it. "Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. A real peach."
"A better question is how do I put up with this 70s-ass rock."
The music changed. "Slow Ride" by Foghat. "Seriously. What's the deal?" I asked.
"Part of your mom's plan; it's all she'll play here. She says 70s rock forces guys to buy beer. Something in their genes. Oh ... and look at this." Gil reached into the truck bed, which was lined with various Hooch and Cooch promo items, T-shirts, CDs, pocket pussies-that sort of thing-and retrieved a DVD. A sleazy, greasy-haired dancer grinned from the cover. One of her front teeth was missing and she wore a wifebeater that didn't do a good job of hiding the fact that her boob job looked like two doorknobs. It read: Learn to Strip with the Girls of the Hooch and Cooch (see inset on page 5).
"Jesus. Like one of those Carmen Electra striptease workouts?"
"Yep." He tossed it back in the truck. "Sells like hotcakes."
I looked past Gil into the club for the first time and witnessed the horrors of uncontrolled testosterone production. A drunken mass of homely men and a few semi-doable ones, surprisingly, crowded around two spotlit islands, shouting obscenities and waving dollar bills. It was nearly impossible to distinguish them as individuals; they'd reverted to some sort of quivering gelatinous state. A few appeared near death, eyes rolling in the back of their heads as though they'd never seen a used-up hooker-I mean nude woman-writhing in a metal wash tub, scrubbing herself with a moldy bath brush and kicking suds off dirty feet at her sweaty admirers. Maybe it's because we were indoors.
Between the two performance spaces-though really I'm being overly generous with that description-was a large shack built into the back of the club complete with everything you'd expect to find in the backwoods of the Ozarks-or in a typical Northwest suburb for that matter-a covered porch, rocking chairs, even a butter churn. Everything, that is, but a little inbred blind kid playing the banjo and showing off the graveyard of teeth in his mouth.
He must have been on a smoke break.
Booths lined the edges of the room, where hillbilly chicks chatted up customers under the watchful glass eyes of various stuffed animal heads. Fog lights on truck grills jutted from the walls, lighting up the tables and the assorted (or sordid) activities taking place there.
"This place is a regular Rainforest Café. Only instead of cute plastic animals you've got dirty whores."
"Absolutely." Gil crossed his arms and beamed, as proud as a new father-sure, he had a stake in the place, but he was overdoing the satisfaction considering the place reeked of bleach and I'm pretty sure it wasn't emanating from a big load of laundry.
"Pays the bills," he said.
"Listen. I'm supposed to be meeting a guy. Johnny Birch, that fame whore from TV. Have you seen him?"
"Um." He scanned the room. "Totally. What a freak. I think he's just finished up with Kelsey." Gil pointed to a hallway flanked by two columns of chicken coops. A lanky dark-haired man emerged with a jug of moonshine in one hand and a skanky redhead in the other.
The guy was tonguing the girl's ear as I approached.
"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Mr. Birch?"
He spun the girl away like a Frisbee, absolutely no regard for where she might land. She twirled a few times, collapsed in some other perv's lap and started gyrating. Birch measured me in long sweeping stares. Head to toe, lingering on the tits and back to the head. "Sure am." He extended his hand. "And you're Amanda, lovely to meet you."
He pulled at my hand as though planning to pull off a gentlemanly knuckle kiss, but I snatched it back, wishing for a Clorox wipe. "Yeah. Um, you have some sort of business proposition, I've been told. Do you want to talk about that here or do you have a table somewhere? Maybe a private booth they reserve for regulars."
"You mean V.I.P." He winked.
"No." I shook my head. "Just regular."
Birch nodded and chuckled off the jab under his breath.
The next moment, the blaring 70s rock was silenced, an apparent signal for the strippers to make way for the principal dancer in this redneck ballet. They scrabbled off on bruised knees, wet hair dangling in clumps, bulldozing collapsing pyramids of dollar bills in front of them.
Birch pointed toward the shack.
The lights dimmed and a jaundiced glow rose behind the dirty shower curtain covering the front door of the facade. At the edges of the porch, slobbery men set down their jugs and hushed each other as though in reverence to approaching royalty. It became so quiet, I could hear the chickens scratching in their cages and crickets chirping or rubbing their legs together or whatever the fuck they do. Though that last bit was probably being pumped in through the speakers to set the mood. The stage light brightened until columns of dust motes stabbed into the audience from between the rusty metal curtain rings, stretching across the waves of corrugated roofing above and the five o'clock shadows of drooling businessmen below.
And then she stalked into silhouette-no ... shuffled is a better word-to the opening cowbells of Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog"-'cause really, what else would you expect?
"Harry Sue!" I could have sworn someone yelled.
"Harry Sue!" the crowd shouted back in liturgical response.
"Harry Sue?" I asked Birch.
"Short for Harriet, maybe?" He shrugged without taking his eyes off the dirty play unfolding.
When the guitar roared in, Harry Sue snatched back the curtain and stomped out onto the porch in Daisy Duke overalls and the most hideous high heels-since when did Jellies make a heel? Her blond hair had been teased and tortured into massive pigtails, hay jutting from the strips of gingham holding them in place. Her face was pretty enough, if you could get past her wild eyes, bee-stung lips and the mass of fake freckles that sadly recalled the broken blood vessels of an alcoholic more than the fresh sun-kissed face of a farm girl.
She didn't tease the crowd of howling men much, making quick work of the denim overalls with two rehearsed snaps at each shoulder; they slid off her bone-thin frame and pooled around her ankles. The ensuing slapstick of Harry wrestling her feet out of the denim mess would have been charming had my eyes not been stuck to her undergarments. Not satisfied with a dirty wifebeater and some holey panties, the stripper wore cutoff Dr. Dentons, complete with the trap door. Of course, in true trashy stripper fashion, Harry Sue wore hers backwards.
The room was filled with redneck boner and there I stood in the middle of it, without a vomit bag, a designer cocktail or a canister of mustard gas. You couldn't move through the room without rotating aroused men like turnstiles and I had no intention of doing that. I did notice that Johnny Birch was standing awful close to me.
Glad to see you, close.
"That's my asshole, asshole." I jerked away from his probing fingers.
Johnny grinned in response, totally deserving the punch I threw into his kidneys.
"Ow!" He ran his fingers through his hair, eyes darting nervously at the men around us, as if any of them were looking for anything other than a beaver shot. "Jesus. It's all in good fun."
"Touch me again and we'll see who's having fun."
"Aw." He scowled.
Harry Sue slunk down in one of the rockers and the men whimpered in unison-apparently prepared for what Harry Sue had in store for us. She rocked slowly, pivoting her ass forward on the edge of the chair until the flap was front and center. She toyed with the buttons, tweaking them like nipples.
I glowered. Shot a glance at Birch. Wished I were drinking. The stripper got my attention when she unbuttoned one side of the flap, then the other, finally, exposing the biggest 70s bush I'd ever seen. It was massive. Afro-like. Harry Sue needed to be introduced to the wonders of Brazilian waxing, though she'd likely be charged extra. And then it clicked. The men weren't yelling Harry Sue.
They were shouting Hairy Sue.
Still. It didn't make sense.
I've read Cosmo. I know men prefer shaved to bouffant. Yet they were clearly enthralled by this stripper. I watched more closely.
Hairy (let's just drop the Sue part; it never had any real value anyway) reached for the butter churn and pulled out the plunger, dripping melted butter down the front of her jammies.
She peeked at the mess, frowned, then licked the end of the plunger before returning it to the churn. In one motion, she slipped out of the Dr. Dentons and reached into an aluminum pail next to the rocker and retrieved an ear of corn, which she preceded to shuck, using her teeth. She sprinkled her breasts with corn silk. With the ear she traced circles across her belly, her thighs and then, as though by accident, she dropped the cob on the porch, gasped and then slipped from the chair into a full split, hovering briefly above the ear before nestling it against her buttery crotch.
I shifted from one foot to the other.
There was absolutely nothing sexy about this. These guys were all perverts.
Hairy Sue rose then and bowed to the wild applause and showers of dollar bills. She posed there like she owned that porch, corncob dripping and a fat smile spread across her face.
The lights dimmed.
"I'd sure like to see your bush." Birch again. His lips curled into a lewd smile.
I nearly vomited up my dinner (let's not go into what that might have been, just yet). "Is that some kind of wood-nymph joke? 'Cause I'm done with your poor impulse control."
"Hey." He stepped back, spread his arms and wiggled his fingers. "I can control the trees and stuff."
Excerpted from Battle of the Network Zombies by MARK HENRY Copyright © 2010 by Mark Henry. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Mark Henry recently traded a career in the helping profession to scar minds with his fiction. He attributes his ideas to premature exposure to horror movies, and/or witnessing adult cocktail parties in the '70s. He's been further formed by surviving earthquakes, typhoons, and two volcanic eruptions. Happy Hour Of The Damned is his first novel. He, surprisingly, lives and breathes today in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two dogs. Readers can visit his website at www.markhenry.us.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Amanda Feral, the celebutante zombie star of Happy Hour of the Damned and Road Trip of the Living Dead is back in action, returning to Seattle's night-life scene, albeit with far less cash than she started with. Like the rest of the world, Amanda's finances are on the rocks, and the only thing that looks like it will save her from the bone-breaking threats of the reapers, to whom she's indebted, is taking a role on a reality show. Amanda's no actress, but playing herself to the camera is something she's perfected. The problem is, she has to work opposite one Johnny Birch, a dirty wood nymph with sexual proclivities to make a yeti gasp. It's no wonder someone wants him dead - Amanda wants to kill him within minutes of meeting him, after all - but it does put a hamper in the reality show when someone actually does murder the star. Far from being willing to give up, Amanda smells opportunity: make the show about solving the murder! Amanda's no detective, but her on-the-rocks boyfriend was a member of the police force before being turned into a werewolf. With his help, and the assistance of Wendy, Gil, and even Ethel (Amanda's mother, if the word mother translates to antagonist-for-life), Amanda's ready to crack the case wide open, and look good on camera doing it. And there are certainly plenty of excuses to check out the latest hot-spot openings in Seattle's undead-scene that help with solving the murder. Right? Mark Henry includes just as much snark as ever, and his send-up of reality television, both with Amanda's show and the short TV Guide like blurbs for other programs at the beginning of each chapter, is dead-on. (For my full review, visit http://www.flamesrising.com/battle-network-zombies-review/ )
If you are looking for an off-beat urban fantasy that ties together comedy, horror, action and the train wreck that is reality television - this is the book for you. I am a huge critic of reality television and even I loved this book. Of course the method of delivery really seals the deal. Nobody is safe from the snark in this series, everyone is a potential target. In this latest installment of the series Mark Henry dives even deeper into the seedy underbelly of the paranormal genres. Raunchier, more gross and most likely the most hilarious writing I have seen from him yet. By the end of the book you will find yourself rooting for the characters you would have never thought you would be loving.
Not all zombies are disgusting creatures as depicted in the Night of the Living Dead saga. Take Seattle's Amanda Feral for instance; she is beautiful using makeup to cover rot like hiding acne, but when a part gets too nasty she can turn to the reapers who for an exorbitant fee (will health care reform cover this) will fix the blemish. Since her ad agency tanked thanks to a client who created a product that flopped once the public knew what is made of, Amada's "agent" Wendy KlarKaroff arranged a meeting with the despicable wood nymph Johnny Birch for some needed publicity by appearing on his reality TV show. Johnny's new show "Minions Mansion" is overloaded with "guests" who hate him. When someone threatens him, he plans two hire a body guard from one of the contestants on his show. Amanda becomes a judge on Minions Mansion and is one of the first people to find his corpse inside his locked safe. Many of the crew including the judges had strong motives to incinerate Johnny, but Amanda fears the killer will strike again; yet her warning is ignored as everyone assumes Johnny deserved to die and prefer Happy Hour of the Damned. Somewhat chick-lit comedy, Amanda's latest urban fantasy amateur sleuth (see Road Trip of the Living Dead) is a unique reading experience as Mark Henry gives the zombie treatment to reality TV. Amanda is perfect for pulling off the satire with her sidebar commentary about life as a zombie diva which is expensive because image is everything and she must have expensive make-up and a classy wardrobe and she hope the publicity of being a judge will get her some clients for her ad agency. Fans will enjoy this refreshingly something different as Amanda judges the undead as deadly, but her philosophy is to die with your makeup on. The audience will like the switch from a reality show to a mystery who-done-it which Amanda hopes to solve Harriet Klausner
If you haven't read any other Mark Henry book, you must read this one. Full of snark and extra cool zombies it just doesn't get any better. Amanda Feral is on a new adventure to try to save her failing tv show. When a smarmy wood nymph gets murdered, she has to try and make it work. Join her and a riotous cast of characters as she and her friends Wendy and Gil navigate the hysterical world of the supernatural as told by Mark Henry.
While the premise is original the story quickly breaks down into a modified version of a who done it. The characters are interesting so far as the premise of the book, zombies, werewolves, and vampires, but the characters themselves aren't overly deep. It's definitely entertaining to read through on a rainy day or while you're at the beach and need something distracting, but not necessarily anything you'll write home about it.