Vitus Adamson is falling apart. As a pre-deceased private investigator, he takes the prescription Atroxipine hourly to keep his undead body upright and functioning. Whenever he is injured, he seeks Niko, a bombshell mortician with bedroom eyes and a way with corpses, to piece him back together. Decomposition, however, is the least of his worries when two clients posing his most dangerous job yet appear at his door looking for their lost son.
Vitus is horrified to discover the photo of the couple's missing son is a picture-perfect reproduction of his long dead son. This leads him to question the events of his tormented past; he must face the possibility that the wife and child he believed he murdered ten years ago in a zombie-fugue have somehow survived . . . or is it just wishful thinking designed to pull him into an elaborate trap?
Unfolding like a classic film noir mixed with elements of a B-movie, Bring Me Flesh, I'll Bring Hell is an imaginative spin on the hard-boiled detective genre and a new twist on the zombie novel. In Vitus Adamson, you will find a protagonist you can care about and invest in as he takes you through his emotional journey of betrayal and quest for redemption.
Skyhorse Publishing, under our Night Shade and Talos imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of titles for readers interested in science fiction (space opera, time travel, hard SF, alien invasion, near-future dystopia), fantasy (grimdark, sword and sorcery, contemporary urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history), and horror (zombies, vampires, and the occult and supernatural), and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller, a national bestseller, or a Hugo or Nebula award-winner, we are committed to publishing quality books from a diverse group of authors.
About the Author
Martin Rose writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre. Recent short work appears in anthologies such as Urban Green Man and Handsome Devil. More details are available at martinrose.org. He resides in New Jersey.
Read an Excerpt
Bring Me Flesh, I'll Bring Hell
By Martin Rose
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2014 Martin Rose
All rights reserved.
LAZAR HOUSE BLUES
Rain is hell on rotting flesh.
Rain dripped from the brim of my hat in rivulets while I waited for someone to answer the door, stabbing the button with one hand and clutching my jawbone in the other. Bleached bone protruded through thin, moldy flaps of skin. Bundled in a trench coat and a wide-brimmed fedora, I looked like a Sam Spade cliché ten years dead. A scarf concealed the lower half of my destroyed face until the rain and the wind conspired to tear it away and leave my tongue and the inner workings of my lower mouth exposed to the moist air.
My jawbone broke off an hour ago. Brushing my teeth in front of the bathroom mirror. A swift jerk of the toothbrush and my jaw came unhinged, fell into the sink, wet and ringed with toothpaste foam. I had stared a long moment, digesting this new, uncomfortable experience. I may be dead, but I was determined to take excellent care of my pearly whites. It was the unintended consequences I was having trouble with.
When a body part inexplicably breaks off, most people seek a doctor.
I apologize, that's not true — first the screaming, then the doctor. If you're a high-functioning corpse, however, medical plans are limited. Death qualifies as a pre-existing condition, so insurance companies loathe me and doctors don't like me because they're not sure how to bill a corpse. I exist in a gray netherland of loopholes.
So who does a zombie go to when he starts falling apart?
Not the sort of question I thought I'd be asking myself at the age of thirty, when I expected my biggest worries were going to be how to keep the lawn watered and how to send my son to college. Staring at my jaw at the bottom of the sink opened up a new world of questions that shook me in uncomfortable ways.
Better get used to this, Vitus. You've been dead ten years now. What's going to start falling off you when you're twenty years dead?
I thought of my son as I picked up my jawbone, balanced it on my palm with a long sigh. Molars embedded in the black gum line, the peeling flesh. These were the same teeth I used to tear my family apart with coyote hunger, with wolf appetite.
When a zombie falls apart, he goes to see a mortician, of course.
* * *
Niko cracked open the door through the rain streaming from the gutter. I stepped back, startled. I had not expected her.
A moon-shaped face peered out, tired blue circles beneath the eyes, pale skin. Dyed black hair. Bangs squaring her face in a Bettie Page pantomime. Goth-scene chick fixing up corpses for food money. How did a cute thing like her end up at Pleasant Hills Funeral Home playing nursemaid to rotting corpses?
A jaw is helpful when speaking. Without one, I could hardly use my charming wiles on her, so I brought something more persuasive with me.
I pulled out a Glock 19.
The barrel cut a black line through the pouring rain and she froze. A breath hissed through her clenched teeth.
I thrust a note into her face, distracting her from the gun. Her hands were small and coated with enough rings to double as brass knuckles. Dainty fingers with the nails painted black. She took the note from me and held it in the squall until ink smeared down the page.
I am falling apart and I need you to put me back together.
She peered over the edge of the paper and stared in the dark space where my eyes should be, swallowed in the shadow of the hat. If she was looking for my features, she would make out little to nothing, and that was the way it was supposed to be, the way I engineered it.
I held my breath until the steam ran out, funneling between us.
Memory flickered behind her eyes. With it, a small part of me blazed brighter. Then her expression turned opaque along with the feeling behind it, and what I took for recognition was only fear and nothing else.
I was relieved. She didn't recognize me.
"This isn't a doctor's office, or a hospital, we don't have those kind of —"
I ripped the note out of her hand and it pounded flat to the pavement beneath the rain. I fished into my pocket, bringing forth my jawbone into the light.
I thrust it into her hand.
She cried out and dropped it onto the cement. It played dead like a raw pork chop swimming in a pool of water.
I groaned through the scarf, hot breath in the cold.
How could she be so careless, dammit? That was a piece of me.
I lifted my gun, jerking the muzzle from the jawbone then back to her, making it clear that she should pick it up.
I appreciated that the gun had not driven her into hysterics, and she bent in the downpour to retrieve the rotten piece of flesh from the ground. She hesitated and then her fingers closed on it. The second she had it, I wasted no time and hustled her over the threshold and into the building. Ensconced in the dry warmth of the ventilated air, I motioned for her to keep going down the hall stretching out before us. Obediently, she backed before the muzzle of the gun. Her pleasing hour glass figure led the way, a curl of hair hugging the swell of her breasts.
I cursed myself for noticing it and wished I were still alive — wished I were that errant curl of hair nestled against her warm flesh. My salivary glands kicked in, churning my mouth into a cut-open tomato's wet, pulpy center.
Through a second door and we were in a room filled with gurneys, tables, and funeral home equipment — formaldehyde, fungicides, mentholated germicides, pump machines to siphon blood out and embalming fluid in, glues and tools too numerous to mention. Drain holes in the floor like sharp-set mouths with metal teeth. Florescent light reflected stark white walls.
Cold light fell upon me and I shrank in on myself — my grisly appearance made me self-conscious in the unforgiving CFLs — reduced to an insect examined under stadium lighting. How much could she see, now that we were out of the drizzle and in the arctic florescence? With my jaw in her dainty fingers, the resemblance to Bettie Page became even more striking as she tracked me with diamond-cut eyes.
I held the gun away from her and set it aside on one of the metal tables, the muzzle pointed at the concrete wall. Her shoulders fell, visibly relaxed.
Let's see how long that lasts, I thought grimly, and unwound the scarf from my face.
To her credit, she did not scream, but took one tottering step back.
I removed the fedora, setting it beside the Glock.
The world seemed to have stopped. The room, the building, embedded in oceanic silence. I knew if I arrived in the early morning hours I could catch her alone, doing preparatory work for upcoming burials. Corpses lay out beneath their shrouds in an orderly line from gurney to gurney, the impression of their noses and mouths and closed eyes casting deep shadows beneath. They bespoke an eternity I tasted but could not remember. The bodies made the room heavier with unmeasured gravity and my collar itched with discomfort. I was a trespasser in the natural habitat of the dead; and hushed, the quiet amplified and added to her vulnerable beauty.
Without my jaw, my tongue hung and dangled down into empty space like a pink necktie. My upper lip, purple-toned, and grotesque gaps revealed deeper tissue into the bone beneath. The light cast me in wretched hues as she studied me with eyes as big as paper lanterns.
I took a deep breath.
She could run, fight me, refuse me. I waited for her to decide my fate with a look or a word. Or a scream.
And then, she set the jaw on a stainless steel countertop and opened a rattling drawer where they kept surgical wires for use on corpses who needed heavy work to make them look normal — accident victims, chain saw oopsies, and other unforeseen massacres.
She picked up a scalpel, the wiring, and my jaw in her tiny hands, and turned to me, drawing closer — closer than she wanted to be. I tilted my head into the light, struggling to be still and keep my homeless tongue hanging in place.
"Will this hurt you?" she asked.
I shook my head. My tongue followed in an obscene pendulum swing.
She took a step forward and my back found the wall. Tiled surfaces, linoleum, and sterile smells conspired to close in on me and dizzy my senses. I could not remember the last time someone had touched me without intending to kill me.
"Brace yourself," she whispered.
I closed my milky eyes. Her warm fingers pressed against my ravaged face, and then she drove the wire in.
* * *
Three hours of broken skin and vile fluid, of Niko turning aside to wretch. She wore lipstick rendered in a pornographic red and when she finished she stepped back to admire her handiwork, head tilted beneath a cascade of black curls.
I opened my mouth, working the jaw. Metal clicked deep in my bones, but the fit was comfortable and it did the job.
I withdrew a battered pack of cigarettes and stuck a coffin nail between my rotted lips, dipped the end into the lighter flame, and breathed fire into my lungs.
"Are you going to kill me?" she asked.
"Are you dead?"
"You ask a lot of questions for a scared mortician."
"Death doesn't scare me. You look like all the corpses, but the smell is what gives you away. You smell like them. You smell like dead meat on a butcher's table."
I sighed. This conversation was finished. I turned, swiping the Glock off the table and tucking it into my shoulder holster, where it disappeared into layers of fabric. I grabbed the fedora and the scarf and faced the long hall to the exit.
But I did not wait. I left, trailing a long curl of smoke behind me, thinking of the days when I would have stayed.
* * *
The long, sterile hall fed into a lobby, with plush carpet and soothing blooms of fake plastic flowers. My shoes left imprints, stamped into high-end Berber until I came to stand before a suit of armor.
A knight dominated a pedestal beneath a showcase light, crosshatching long shadows down the metal plates. His presence was designed to offer a symbol of strength in a time of grief, a chivalrous, noble sentiment, or maybe just an expensive museum piece to give the funeral home a posher atmosphere. A long, black slit divided his visor, and I stared into the emptiness where eyes should be, transfixed. Even without substance, he pushed a sinister presence into the room, disapproving with his shield and his sword. Stained metal gone to rust at the edges. He looked ready to challenge me, to take me on.
I gave him a final resentful look and took my leave.
* * *
Finding work when you're minus a pulse and a heartbeat is difficult.
For this reason, I take on specialized clients through referrals. I'm a lone wolf kind of guy, even before Virus X, but Glock and I work together just fine — myself and several of his smaller, cordial friends. They're all the company I need, and all the company capable of tolerating me in turn.
This is how I came to be staring at the home security footage of two potential customers loitering on my front porch, ringing my doorbell at an ungodly hour of the morning. Morning itself wasn't my prevailing setback. Every hour of my unlife is ungodly, and being dead fixes problems you thought you had — like a need for sleep.
I used to waste my midnight hours in darkened bars in which most of the customers were packing metal where they shouldn't be or slinging dope; now I was left with the dubious comfort of an easy chair, watching black-and-white movies and silent films into the wee hours of the morning. These activities were punctuated by the chime of my digital watch, reminding me to swallow my dose of Atroxipine. Thanks to this handy drug, all that stands between me and a shambling, low-function, flesh-eating monster is a thin chemical veil activating key sectors of my brain in the frontal lobe, where the seat of forward thinking lives.
Occasionally, I do like to keep the odd bit of raw hamburger meat in the fridge for when I'm feeling under the weather. Other than that, I get by in a haunted house full of bad memories. It used to be full of family pictures — wife smiling, child playing, all the stereotypes that populate the beloved suburban dream I chased and chased until I woke up from the dream and found myself alone in a new nightmare. I burned the albums in the backyard when I'd had enough.
The pictures are gone, but the memories, those are harder to get at.
* * *
I dry swallowed my dose, two pills. My jawbone pinged a metal sound to follow the action, evidence of Niko's work. I smiled and touched the place where she drove the wire in to hinge the jaw, but sentiment didn't suit me. How long would my benevolent feeling toward her last with my brain's crumbling infrastructure dictating my emotional life? Better not to linger on her and confront the business at hand of the newcomers on my porch.
After attempting to make myself presentable — a challenge for a modern-day monster — a button-down shirt and a ragged pair of jeans later, I opened the front door.
A man and woman. He wore a pair of wire-rimmed glasses portraying his face as mousy and his eyes doubled in size, pushing forty with sandy hair graying at the temples. His sweater vest, his shoes, and his carefully creased khakis made him look like he stepped out of a catalog. The Dork Summer Fashion Line.
The woman wasn't any better, dyed red hair carefully coiffed, a long skirt down past her knees and to her ankles. Puritans had more flair.
We stood there, all three of us, frozen statues staring at a lone scarecrow in the doorway playing dress-up. I lifted an eyebrow and eyed them from the interior where the murk devoured my destroyed and rotted face. I removed all the lights in the house years ago, preferring the darkness both for myself and my customers. They didn't need to lose their lunch, and I didn't need the constant reminder that I should be six feet underground, not an extra from a Michael Jackson music video. Or Michael Jackson.
"Shut up," I began.
The woman, who had opened her mouth to speak, shut it, with a startled blink of her eyes. Like her husband, she resembled a pigeon, with the same degree of intelligence.
"I only take clients who have been referred. I don't know who you are. So before you say one word, I need to know how you got to my porch. Assuming you aren't here to hand out religious tracts."
The man cleared his throat and cast a nervous glance at his wife.
"Mr. Vitus, we got your number from Geoff Lafferty."
Geoff was an officer with the precinct. Sort of. He wrecked a cruiser and suffered paralysis as a result. When cops become disabled, arrangements are made — early retirement, disability, that sort of thing. But if you're only twenty-six, it's a tad young to be calling it quits, so they moved him to the evidence facility, where they store all the items from crime scenes. In a pinch, he was a quiet guy who could connect me to things the rest of the world had forgotten about, or even make inconvenient items disappear from a court case. A good guy to know in a state full of crooks.
"Aren't you going to invite us in?" the woman asked.
My hand fell away from the threshold, subsiding into the darkness. I turned my back on them, found a kitchen chair, and dragged it across the floor to perch before them. I offered them nothing. If I couldn't eat or drink, they wouldn't, either.
"Don't mind the smell. My dog died and I haven't buried him yet," I said acidly.
They came forward, and their faces twisted in unison as the smell hit them. I was going to have to get some air fresheners soon, I supposed. Couldn't have the neighbors calling the cops because there was a dead body in the house. Myself, I barely noticed the aroma of decay that wafted from my dry-rotted skin.
If I could describe the smell that pervaded in these dark rooms, the smell that oozed from my rotting flesh, I would have to say it was a cross between carrion, roadkill, and tuna salad.
Choking a little, the woman sat on the sofa, clutching her purse to her chest. She held her sleeve to her nose, watching her husband. She beat out a hesitant Morse code with every blink of her eyes: Can we leave? Please?
Excerpted from Bring Me Flesh, I'll Bring Hell by Martin Rose. Copyright © 2014 Martin Rose. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not what you'd expect in a "zombie" novel. Love the main characters and storyline. I need to know if there will be another