Pariahby Bob Fingerman
A frightening, darkly comedic look at people surviving a zombie onslaught, from award-winning comics sensation and novelist Bob Fingerman.
A global plague has nearly vanquished mankind; the citizenry of New York City is no exception. Eight million zombies. Shoulder to shoulder. Walking the streets, looking for their next meal of human flesh. The residents of an… See more details below
A frightening, darkly comedic look at people surviving a zombie onslaught, from award-winning comics sensation and novelist Bob Fingerman.
A global plague has nearly vanquished mankind; the citizenry of New York City is no exception. Eight million zombies. Shoulder to shoulder. Walking the streets, looking for their next meal of human flesh. The residents of an Upper East Side walkup have joined forces to keep themselves safe, the pageant of walking rot outside their windows a constant reminder of the their foreseeable fate. Trapped in the safety of their building, the tenants find themselves at each others' throats. When they spy a lone teenage girl who walks unharmed among the undead, impervious, their world opens up.
When a zombie pandemic sweeps the land, a group of survivors hide out in an Upper East Side apartment building. As food supplies dwindle tensions rise, and their only salvation appears in the form of Mona, a mysterious girl who repels the zombies. Though Mona brings food to the survivors and a new sense of possibility, they wonder why she's impervious to the zombie hordes and endeavor to discover her secret. But their decision to put it to the test could shatter the safe, careful world they've built for themselves. Fingerman's latest is a spectacular entre in the zombie genre, largely due to his focus not on the undead but on the living, investigating our humanity and how easily we can turn on each other. But what truly distinguishes Pariah from other worthwhile entries is its humor in the face of bleak and extremely disturbing events (the sociopathic jock, Eddie, for instance, enjoys fishing for zombies in a manner that will turn readers' stomachs). The lack of resolution is unsettling, but what could be resolved in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the undead? Readers should shamble to the store for this one.
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By Bob Fingerman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Bob Fingerman
All rights reserved.
Larry Gabler lay there, gasping, bleeding. At seventy-two, he was Abe's junior by eleven years, but at the moment he could have given Methuselah a run for his money.
"You gotta get home to Ruthie," he wheezed as sweat glossed his waxy face.
"Yeah, yeah," Abe said, pouring himself a stiff one from the bottle in his desk. The radio droned the barely cogent reportage of nerve-wracked correspondents attempting to articulate what was happening throughout the five boroughs — not to mention the entire globe. Abe took a tentative sip of the whisky, then downed it as he sauntered over to the window to catch an eyeful of uncorked chaos below. As he peered down, three taxis collided, the driver of one bursting through his windshield like a meat torpedo. People were jostling, shoving, climbing all over each other, every man for himself, the hell with the rest. The sounds of screams and random gunfire echoed in the darkening canyon of office buildings, the sun ducked for cover beyond Jersey to the west. Mixed in with the usual filth in the gathered curbside snowdrifts was a new hue: deep red, and plenty of it, like big, bloody snow cones.
"Oh yeah, I can't wait to get down into all that," Abe said.
The stray who'd brought Larry limping in cowered, nearly catatonic, on the other end of the waiting room's lumpy sofa. She was a good-looking young Puerto Rican, maybe in her early to mid twenties. Maybe Dominican. Abe couldn't tell. Young was young, old was old, Hispanic was Hispanic. Larry let out a chalky groan, farted loudly, and slumped forward, chin on chest, blood oozing from his nostrils.
"I think your friend is dead," the Latin girl murmured.
"He was dead when he came in," Abe replied. "I could smell it all over him. You get to my age and death's one of the few things you can recognize easy."
Abe looked at the blood-soaked material around Larry's chewed up calf, the slacks shredded. He downed another shot of whisky and made for the door.
"Where you going?" asked the girl.
"I gotta pay Menachem Bender a visit."
Without explaining, Abe left the office of Cutie-Pie Infant Wear and hastened down the hall to Menachem Bender Men's Big & Tall to pay a visit. Abe tried the door. Locked.
"Bender, you in there?" He pounded a few times, rattling the pebbled glass with Bender's name and logo painted upon it. "Bender, c'mon! It's me, Abe Fogelhut! You in there?" No answer. Abe cased the hall, then elbowed the loose pane out of the frame, the glass crashing to the linoleum beneath. Taking care not to cut himself, he opened the door, experiencing the giddy thrill of breaking into his neighbor's business as well as a jolt of bowel-tightening fear. "Bender!"
Abe gave the unlit room a quick once over, then stepped in, flicking on the overhead fluorescents, which buzzed in protest. A cursory look at Bender's books made clear Cutie-Pie wasn't the only outfit in the garment trade to have a lousy last quarter. "Oy," Abe sighed. "My condolences." Abe stepped around the desk toward the storeroom, nearly tripping over Bender's body, a .38 clenched in his white-knuckled hand. Bits of skull and brain matter flecked the adjacent wall and floor. Abe raised a hand to his mouth and then lowered it, realizing he was going to neither scream nor throw up. He just shook his head and opened the stockroom, repeating his previous sympathies. Turning on the light, he allowed himself to smile.
"Perfect," he said, eyeing stacks of unsold winter wear for enormous outdoorsmen.
Moments later, he returned to Cutie-Pie to find Larry hunched over the Latina, violently munching on her entrails. The contents of Abe's stomach disgorged, searing his throat. Larry didn't even look away from his still-twitching repast as Abe, grateful he'd retrieved the revolver from Bender, emptied the cylinder into his undead partner. The fifth shot removed the top of Larry's skull and he collapsed onto the girl's remains. Abe spat bile onto the floor, took a gulp straight from the bottle of Cutty Sark, swished it around, then spat again.
"Okay," he said, affecting as much calm as possible. "Okay."
He wiped his mouth with his hankie, took a box cutter and sliced open one of the myriad boxes of his unsold stock of Baby Sof' Suit infant winter onesies. "Okay," he said, "time to redeem yourselves."
Five-foot-five Abe, with his thirty-inch waist, stepped into an XXXL pair of Bender's Breathable Sub-zero ShieldSooper-System(tm) Weather Bibs, a double-insulated hunting overall for fatties who like traipsing off into the wilderness to shoot helpless critters. Leaving the bib down, Abe began stuffing onesies down the pants, padding himself from the ankles up. When he'd reached maximum density he pulled up the bib, heaved on the matching camouflage parka, and stuffed in more onesies. With the hood cinched tight around his scarf and a pair of snow goggles, Abe resembled Santa Claus geared up for combat.
"Okay," he said again, this time muffled, "let's go home."
Flat on his back, Dabney lay awake in the open, the sky above him a slab of starless slate. No clouds differentiated the opaque murk that hung above, but it wasn't a rich blackness, either. It was grayed out, lifeless. Stars would be nice. Maybe the moon. Something. Instead there was nothing, nada, zip. How could that be? Maybe his eyes were going. Beneath him the silver-painted tar paper was lumpy and hot, still retaining the heat of the day. He felt the texture with his thick fingers, creased and peeling, much like his own skin, which was sunburnt from spending all his time up here on the roof. Let the others rot in their apartments, he figured. I'd rather rot in full sight of God.
Dabney touched his forehead and plucked a strip of his peeling skin away and pressed it onto his tongue, tasting his own acrid saltiness on the paper-thin jerky substitute. He let the rind sit there for a while, building up sufficient saliva to swallow it. He knew this was disgusting behavior, but so what? He was doing a self test of what senses he could stimulate. Taste: check. Touch: check. Sight: negative. Hearing? All was quiet above and below so Dabney forced an acidic burp. Check. Smell?
Smell had taken a beating in recent months, not that smell had ever been his favorite. The nullification of smell was sort of a blessing, given the circumstances. So, three out of five, for the time being. Morning would come and sight would soon return to the roster.
Four out of five.
"Jesus, even a little air movement would be an improvement. Movement. Improvement. A breeze through the trees would please as it rolled over my knees like a disease or honey from bees and it would ease my ... my ... Fuck. Lost it."
With the rhyming game over, Karl rolled over on his side; the mattress where he'd been lying was damp with perspiration. Moisture he could ill afford to lose. Karl stared at the wall, or at least in the direction of the wall. It was so dark he couldn't see it, but it was there, a thin layer of protection between him and them. And he wasn't even thinking about the big them. The capital T them. He was just thinking about the them that constituted the others in the building. His neighbors.
All the windows of apartment 5B were open but you'd never know it, the air was so still it felt like a vacuum. Karl inhaled deeply through his nose, some buildup within the nasal passage creating a high-pitched whistling noise. He breathed in, out, in, out, changing the tempo, attempting to negate his insomnia by nose whistling some half forgotten pop tune, the melody of which had come unbidden from the depths of his subconscious. What was that tune? Now he began to hum it, a ditty sans lyrics. But there were lyrics. He knew that much. This was killing him now. The more he hummed, stretching out the notes, the less the words came into focus. This was killing him. Well, not really. But it wasn't helping.
Weighing, like, a hundred or so pounds was killing him.
Being dehydrated was killing him.
Not sleeping was killing him.
The earworm was merely aggravating.
With internal creaks and pops belying his actual age of twenty-eight, Karl swung his legs over the side of the bed and touched his toes to the bare wooden floorboards, which were as warm as everything else. What kind of world was this where even the floor was tepid? Floors were supposed to be cool to the touch. Even in summer.
Before stepping from the bed, Karl groped at his night table for matches. Though he was loathe to strike one and add to the heat even a little, he was more averse to stubbing his toes or tripping over something. After living in this apartment for the last few years you'd think he'd know the lay of the land, even blind. But he didn't. His sweaty palm found the book of matches and Karl snapped one into life, the brightness singeing his eyes for a moment as they adjusted to this pinprick of light in the absolute dark. The small dancing light found the blackened wick of one of the candles, which sputtered to life, creating a pool of comforting incandescence.
Karl had lots of candles, gifts from his mother, aunts, grandma, and past girlfriends. Even female coworkers — Secret Santa crap. What was it with women and candles? He'd gotten them as gifts, pretended he'd appreciated them, then thrown them all in a box in his closet. Now he was grateful for them — except the scented ones. He'd learned that lesson the hard way. The fresh, fruity, cinnamony, flowery aromas reawakened his dormant sense of smell, unfamiliar odors rousing the olfactory receptors, which in turn refreshed the revulsion from the overwhelming tang of rot outside. It had only taken one Apples 'n' Spice candle to teach him his lesson. He'd lit the wick, basked for a moment in the delicious bouquet, and then puked from a crushing whiff of the ceaseless alfresco parade of putrescence.
In the light Karl could make out the trappings of his bedroom. The posters on the wall — Kiss, Slipknot, Metallica, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Motörhead, Korn — reassured him, though none of those bands was responsible for the rogue melody assailing his brain at the moment. What was it? Familiar yet unfamiliar. It was sort of pretty in an annoying kind of way.
Karl's eyes roved to The Wall of Beauty, a veritable tapestry of pinups, centerfolds, magazine clippings, and most personally gratifying (and now, in retrospect, most painfully sentimental), Polaroids from the good old days when he was "getting some" and could occasionally convince his conquests to pose for him in the raw. When things had been different he'd been discreet and kept these pix salted away in a private place, but now? Now they were on permanent display.
Karl got up from the bed and shuffled over to the wall. The flickering candlelight made the images seem to writhe. Though there was some mild twitching south of his personal equator, it was insufficient for the purpose of autoeroticism. Eroticism! What a joke. Is there anything less erotic than jacking off before an altar of two-dimensional representations of nubile flesh? Of any flesh? In this case, dead flesh? All dead. At least Karl assumed they were all dead. So, did whacking to these beauties' images constitute virtual necrophilia? Back in the day, one of Karl's fave porn starlets offed herself. Consequently, his massive cache of videos in which she'd appeared became anathema to his libido. He gave the tapes away to a friend less burdened by ... what would that be? Sentiment? Conscience? Ethics? Empathy? Plain old decency?
Decency seemed an antiquated concept. So when he could work up the energy these days, he spanked to dead ladies. Were there any other kind?
Karl ran his fingertips over some favorite images. Long of leg, wide of hip, narrow of waist, all with come-hither eyes. His prize was the Polaroid of Dawn-Anne McCarthy, his junior high crush. He'd run into her years after they'd graduated, on line at a store here in the city. Her disdain for him in junior high had vanished and for a few dazzling weeks they'd fulfilled every last one of his adolescent fantasies about her, and several his pubescent mind had been too inexperienced to even conjure.
Until he'd blown it, of course.
"You were the best, baby," Karl said, touching the tip of his index finger to the flossy hub of Dawn's sex. He exhaled with conspicuous melancholy, not that there was anyone to notice or lend comfort. "You were my Everest."
Karl flushed with embarrassment at his floridity, then looked up at the ceiling and considered going up to the roof. Maybe it was cooler up there. Maybe there was some air up there. Then he considered Dabney and reconsidered, slunk back to bed, blew out the candle, and curled up on his side on the edge, in an attempt to avoid the damp spot.
Which was warm.
Across the hall, in 5A, Ruth Fogelhut poked her husband of forty-six years in his xylophone ribs with her chicken claw of a hand, her hard, pointed fingers raking his translucent epidermis and leaving behind scarlet trails — not that either could see them in the dark.
"Who sleeps around here? Especially ..." Pause for a brief dry-throated coughing fit. "... with you torturing me all through the night. Sleep? What is this thing you call sleep? I should be so lucky to sleep. Even a nightmare is preferable to your constant mutchering."
"You don't have to be so unpleasant, Abraham."
"Is that supposed to chasten me, 'Abraham'? What, I'm a five-year-old and saying my whole name is a scold I'll abide? Abe, Abraham, call me whatever you like. Call me Ishmael, for all I care. Sleep. Sleep's a sweet memory."
"I'll call you a shit, how's about that?"
In the blackness, Abe smiled in triumph. In all her years, Ruth was never one for cursing. It was beneath her, such vulgarity. Swearing was for the common folk, the hoi polloi. But take away amenities like food, running water, electricity, hygiene, etc., and even Emily Post might call you a cocksucker at dinner.
"I'm sorry, Abe. Abe, is that better?" Ruth's voice was croaky and plaintive. It sounded like it was coming from something not quite human, something rattle boned and cotton mouthed. Something mummified and meager. Oh wait, it was. Ruth, once a breathtaking, slightly Rubenesque ringer for a young Ruby Keeler was now a crinkly sack of bones, nearly bald, with craters like eggcups holding her dulled, gummy, gray eyes.
"Abe's fine," Abe mouthed, almost silently. Why raise one's voice? Gone were competing noises, like traffic and planes roaring across the sky. Gone were the cries of children, or mugging victims, or brawlers from the bar catercornered from their apartment. Gone were the ghetto cruisers with their booming systems, the bass so deep you could feel it in your colon. Gone were the nightly aural assaults from the garbage trucks, the thunderous growl of the crusher mechanism, the clash and clang of the emptied cans being slammed back to the pavement, the inarticulate badinage of the sanitation workers. Who'd think you'd miss that crap? "Abe's fine," Abe repeated, as much to reassure himself as Ruth. It felt better to talk about himself in the third person, made him think of himself as not quite real. Reality sucked. Abe's not fine, he thought. Who the hell is fine nowadays?
"I can't sleep."
"Really?" Abe said, the sarcasm creeping back, edging out his miserable attempt at tenderness. "You could knock me over with a feather." The fact was, you could knock either of them over with a feather, and not a particularly large feather at that. Two skeletons with a soupçon of withered meat held together by decrepit membrane lying side by side in a dilapidated sarcophagus.
One flight down, on the fourth landing, ear pressed against the door of 4B, Ellen Swenson clasped a hand over her mouth, suppressing the urge to call out to her husband, Mike, who dozed sporadically in their apartment, behind their currently unlocked door. Ellen had left her left flip-flop wedged between the door and the jamb and tiptoed across the narrow hall to eavesdrop. Mike didn't believe her assertions about their neighbors, the jocks — the former jocks, at any rate. They were regular guys. Beer guzzlers. Hockey players. Bullies. Republicans. Regular guys, for crying out loud. Guy's guys. Because they were so surface, to Ellen they also were something of a mystery. Mike's argument, by way of Freud, was that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but Ellen didn't buy it. With empty apartments still available, why'd they choose to live together when they arrived here? She didn't just accept things at face value.
Excerpted from Pariah by Bob Fingerman. Copyright © 2010 Bob Fingerman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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