Read an Excerpt
Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie
By C. A. Verstraete
Intrigue Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 C.A. Verstraete
All rights reserved.
Funny how the most important or memorable moments of your life are bookmarked between the ordinary.
That's how it was the day my life changed — forever.
My cousin Carm — short for Carmella Sanchez — and I, Rebecca Herrera Hayes (Becca to my friends), hoped to go shopping and get in on the last of the sales for our final summer vacation trip. I was looking forward to visiting my mom's friend in Lake Geneva, but fate, or something else, had other plans.
Instead, my ever-thrifty Aunt Imelda, whom I'd called Tia since I was little, told us to dig through the boxes of clothes she'd brought down from the attic before she committed to buying anything new. So, rather than sort through the racks at the store, we picked through our old wardrobes at home. Bummer.
But ... maybe it was a good thing since we might not have heard the news otherwise.
To my delight, I grabbed another way-too-small pair of shorts from the box (that shopping trip becoming more real by the minute) when a staccato dee-dee-dee-dee signaling a news alert cut off Lady Gaga's wails on the radio.
The announcer's serious tone made Carm and I stop cold and stare at each other, our job, and the clothes, forgotten.
THIS IS AN URGENT NEWS BULLETIN: WINDALE POLICE AND WINDALE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENTS REPORTED A RASH OF ATTACKS BY UNKNOWN INDIVIDUALS. THE ATTACKERS ARE DESCRIBED AS DISEASED, WITH AN OFFENDING SMELL AND LIMITED VERBAL COMMUNICATION. THE SUSPECTS DO NOT RESPOND TO COMMANDS AND EXHIBIT NO EMOTIONS OR REACTIONS UNTIL THEY ENCOUNTER THOSE NOT INFECTED. THEY ARE CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND WILL ATTACK FOR NO REASON. DO NOT APPROACH.
THE NATIONAL GUARD HAS BEEN CALLED IN AND LOCAL POLICE URGE CITIZENS TO LOCK THEIR DOORS AND STAY INSIDE.
REPEAT — USE EXTREME CAUTION
My cousin's face went white. "Bec, what do they mean?"
"I don't know ..."
Carm made a face like she'd bit into something bad. "Maybe it's fake, you know like that War of the Worlds broadcast Tia told us about. I can't believe all those people listening to the radio really thought they'd been invaded by aliens!"
"I-I don't think so. Let's see if there's anything on TV about it."
Carm and I fell silent. Scenes out of some horror movie come to life flashed across the screen — people running, others fighting off hordes of horrid creatures, their mouths bloody, their diseased hands tearing and ripping at human flesh. A staccato blast of gunshots ripped through the air. High-pitched screams and terrified yells erupted from the fleeing mob. The warnings scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen made the sweat break out on my upper lip — be alert ... zombies ... use caution ... stay indoors ...
I quickly shut it off. The images made me want to puke, or freak out, or both, but I still had trouble believing it was real. I mean, here? In our little Wisconsin town? We weren't in some nowhere place, even if it felt like it sometimes. In an hour or so, I could be in Chicago or Milwaukee, or take an even quicker drive to Lake Geneva.
"It has to be phony, it has to be," I insisted. "It's too weird."
Any further discussion had to wait when Carm's cell phone dinged, signaling she'd received a text message. She pulled the phone from her pocket, and seeing her alarmed expression, I sidled next to her. "Carm? What is it?"
She didn't say much before turning off the phone, her face creased in worry. "It's my mom, she's worried. She's going to look for Spence. He texted he was sick and needed help. Now he doesn't answer her calls or texts."
My eyebrows raised in question when my phone flashed and beeped like that little Star Wars movie robot. I tapped the screen and quickly read the message. "It's my mom, she's going with. She said to lock everything, something bad's going on, and don't go outside. She said they'll be home as soon as they can."
My fingers flew over the tiny keyboard in response, saying we'd heard the news. No way could I tell her Tia had gone to get some milk before all this happened and wasn't back yet. I had a feeling she didn't need more to worry about.
I gulped when the radio announcer repeated the warnings. Now martial law was being declared. Anyone caught out on the street past curfew would be detained or arrested. Looters would be shot.
It didn't get more real than that. Breathing deep, I prayed Tia would come back soon. I tried to smother my growing panic at my whole family being somewhere else. I had to pull myself together. The quiver of Carm's bottom lip and the way she picked at the pile of clothes on the table concerned me. My cousin had always been kind of chicken, so I didn't need her falling apart. There was too much to do.
Time for some other distractions. I had to keep Carm busy. "Carm, c'mon, help me. Let's move the couch over in front of the door. Then we better check the bedroom windows upstairs. Make sure they're locked and the shades are down. I'll check the windows in mom's bedroom and the bathroom."
I crossed the room and stopped on the staircase when she didn't answer. "Carm?" My cousin stood in the living room and peered out the window, an odd expression on her face.
"Carm, you okay?" No answer.
I retraced my steps, reached out, and tapped her arm. "Carm? What is it?"
"I-I'm not sure," she whispered.
A peek out the window alerted me to the problem — some guy staggering around in the distance. The way he wove back and forth made me uneasy. "I think it's some drunk. I bet our neighbor drove his car into the ditch again."
"Bec, I don't think so."
I gasped when she inched behind the loveseat, threw the lock, and opened the door. "Carm, wait. You can't go out there! What about that stuff on the radio and TV?"
When she ignored me, I had no choice but to either hold her back or follow. Part of me wanted to tackle her, but I trailed behind her instead to the porch, my eyes still on the guy in the field. He'd come a little further, close enough that even from here, I could see his hair was black, not gray like my neighbor's.
He staggered closer and began to wave. My alarm grew when Carm stumbled and gasped, hand on her chest.
"Carm-Carm! What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"It's him!" She pushed away my hand and ran down the steps.
I grabbed at her shirt and held on in an attempt to stop her. "Carm, wait, no! You can't go down there!"
She shook my grip loose and shoved past me. I ran in pursuit and tried to catch her, my heart pounding. "Carm, stop, please, Carm!"
I nearly ran her over when she came to a halt within a few feet of our visitor.
He stared, eyes like slits. He took another step.
As he drew near I noticed several horrid raw sores and the sickening, pasty gray tone of his skin. I grimaced, grabbed Carm's arm and backed up, stumbling over my feet, when he reached for me with a loud groan.
"No-no!" Carm screamed as his body crumpled and he fell into the grass in a heap. I tried to keep her from him, but she swore at me and pulled away before rushing to his side.
"No, leave me alone!" she yelled. "I have to help him."
"Carm, no — don't. Don't touch him. He's sick."
"No, I have to help him," she cried. "I have to."
All I could do was stare at her, and then at him. My cousin Spence had come home.CHAPTER 2
"Spence?" I gasped, unable to believe that this wreck of a man in front of me was Carm's brother.
His clothes, dirty and in shreds, hung from his arms and legs like rags. He was skin and bones, a shadow of his former robust self. Spence had always been a health nut. He used to eat weird organic stuff and lifted weights like it was his religion.
What in the world had happened to him?
"Hey, cuz? Maybe we shouldn't touch him. We don't know what he caught."
She glared at me. "I know, but we can't leave him here. Maybe he got attacked by those things, the ones on TV. We have to help him."
I sighed, knowing she was right. Still, I hesitated.
One word came to mind ... horrible. If this was what happened when you came in contact with them ... I shivered.
We couldn't let him lie there and attract attention. Not much choice. Besides, I loved Spence too much to leave him there.
Uneasy without really understanding why, I pulled off my long-sleeved shirt and stood there in my tank top, glad it didn't get as cool as the TV weather lady had predicted.
"Take off your shirt," I told my cousin. "Wrap it around your hands. We'll drag him to the porch. Once he wakes up, we'll get him inside somehow. None of us should be out here."
It wasn't easy. We stopped several times, rewrapped our hands, pulling and dragging his body across the grass and down the cement walk. Dead-weight; it was like moving a ton of potatoes. He never flinched or made a sound.
Finally, after several attempts to get him up the steps without smashing his head, we finished. Carm dropped his legs with a loud thump on the porch floor.
I put his arms down, huffing and puffing, trying to get my breath, and I was in pretty decent shape, or so I thought.
Carm wiped a hand across her forehead and took a breath. "Whew, that was hard. I'm going to get some water. Want some?"
"Yeah, I'm thirsty, too. I'll wait here in case he wakes up."
Once Carm left, it gave me a chance to look at Spence. I mean really look at him.
The handsome Spence, the one I'd daydreamed about marrying one day (before I knew about first-cousins being unable to marry), was gone. In his place was an old man. He'd added at least a few dozen more years to his twenty.
It was a lot to take in.
I couldn't help it and stepped back, glad Carm wasn't around to see my reaction.
The longer my cousin took to get her water (where'd she go, Lake Michigan?), the more nervous I became, especially when Spence twisted around and gave a low moan.
His fingers twitched. He kicked out a foot and made a funny low growl.
I slid back a few more inches to put some distance between us and wondered what was taking her so long. "Carm?"
Where was she?
My attempt to lean backward and peek through the doorway made me lose my balance and bang my arm on the doorframe. I staggered, ending up where I'd started. From the corner of my eye, I saw something move and jumped.
I turned and took a sharp intake of air. Spence and I gazed eye to eye.
He sat up, made another unintelligible growl, and grabbed for me. I screamed and yelled, but he stared straight ahead and right through me as if I wasn't there. My heart pounded so hard I swore my shirt fluttered. I panted, becoming more frantic, as he scratched and clawed at me.
"Spence, stop-stop!" I yelled. "Carm, help!" The minutes felt like hours. I didn't know how much longer I could keep him at bay when my cousin ran in and yelled.
"SPENCE, NO, STOP!"
Finally, he did. A second later, he peered at me and back at Carm like he didn't know either one of us.
To her credit, my cousin took his attitude in stride and tried to get her brother's attention. "Spence, it's me. It's Carm, your sister. Spence?"
She prodded him again, her eyes sad, her face a picture of misery. We both screamed as Spence suddenly groaned and mumbled what sounded like "sorry." His eyes rolled back, he went limp and slumped to the ground like a deflated balloon.
"Quick, Carm, let's pull him inside before he comes to again." I rewrapped my hands and grabbed his feet when Carm gasped.
"Bec, your arm! You're bleeding!"
I glanced at where she pointed, but Spence's moans drew my full attention. "Never mind, I banged my arm. Hurry, we have to move him inside before he wakes."
Getting him past the doorway, and into the living room, took every ounce of my strength. My chest heaved; my breath came out in grunts as I fought to move him and keep myself on my feet.
The effort it took surprised me. That's what I got for sitting on my butt the last two weeks and not going swimming.
My cousin stared at me funny. "Bec, you okay?"
"Fine, I'm fine. Lock the door. Oh, wait, his backpack's on the porch. I'll get it."
Once outside, I picked up the backpack and leaned against the doorway for a second, surprised at how everything spun around. I took another deep breath and waited for the dizziness to fade, then hoisted the pack over my shoulder and came in, locking the door.
The pack on the table, I sat down and tried not to let Carm see how tired I felt. I had to keep going; I couldn't let my cousin down by falling apart. I didn't understand my sudden weakness, though my arm throbbed. I chalked it up to stress and being clumsy.
I watched Carm slide the straps from the front buckles and open the pack. One by one, she pulled out an unusual assortment of bottles and jars. My curiosity, and uneasiness, grew with each label she read.
"M-whatever, something I can't pronounce, sounds like some stuff I had to take once." She set the container down and opened a white jar.
A strong ammonia smell made my eyes tear.
Carm hurriedly closed the jar and took out the final two containers. "Unlabeled. There's nothing on these."
"What're they for?"
"I'm not sure." She dug around inside the pack some more. "Wait, there're some papers in here."
The papers she unfolded contained a bunch of weird numbers and letters, scribbles, and medical symbols. The last page held two columns of names, one with a big red X on the top.
"Carm, what did Spence do at that job?" She shrugged. "I don't know, but my brother didn't always have the best judgment. He called my mom and told her something was wrong in the lab, something big. He was doing stuff he wasn't qualified for. Then he never called back."
"We better call our moms, let them know Spence is here," I said.
Carm punched in a text. "Not available." She tried calling. "It's not ringing. You get anything?"
I did the same. "No, nothing. Their phones aren't working." I tried to sound positive. "Give them time, they'll call."
We ran to the other room when we heard her brother stir. We watched as he slowly pulled himself up, resting his back against the end table. His words came out in a stutter.
"Good, got?" I asked.
His head jerked slightly. "Meeeee."
"Got you," Carm deciphered. "Someone got you?"
A weak sigh came out. "Mmm-aaaa," he muttered.
I moved closer to my cousin and whispered in her ear. "Carm, what'd he say? May? The month?"
She shook her head and bent closer to her brother, which made me nervous. His mouth kept moving, like he was trying to say something.
Carm studied him and then turned to me. "Not may, make, he said." She listened again. "For —" She paused. "Get them."
"Them?" I asked. "Them who?" Then it hit me.
I ran to the table, grabbed the papers, and waved them at her. "This must be it! Some kind of formula."
Carm and I screamed when Spence emitted a low growl. His limbs started shaking like he was being electrocuted. He gurgled and choked. A minute later, a frothy, opaque white substance bubbled from his mouth and dribbled down his neck and shirt.
We watched in horror, unsure of what to do, though we somehow sensed Spence was beyond help.
One last gasp and his body fell over. He stared at us unseeing, eyes bulging.
Dead. I couldn't understand it. But how? Wiping my eyes on my sleeve, I wrapped my cousin in a hug before I voiced my next suggestion. "Carm, we have to move him. We can't leave him there."
Carm took a quick peek at his body again, then glanced at me, more tears tracking down her face. "I know. I can't keep seeing him this way. I don't get it. Was he that sick?"
For once, I had no answers. And given all the weird stuff on the news and talk about zombies of all things, the next question hung unspoken in the air between us: if he contracted whatever those things out there had, would he stay dead?
Feeling like I wanted to jump out of my skin, I helped Carm spread a sheet on the floor, the floral print a weird contrast to his pallid skin. We pulled him on top of it, closed his eyes, and folded his arms. Carm gasped when the pieces of a clear capsule rolled from his hand.
"What's that?" I eyed the empty pill she held in her hand, the alarm bells dinging in the back of my head. "Carm?" The paleness of my cousin's face scared me.
"Now I get it. Bec, his arm, look at his arm."
Her voice came out in a whisper. She clasped and unclasped her hands. The red gash glowed against his gray skin.
"I know what he did," Carm whispered.
"That stuff in his bag. He wants us to make more, for them. He took it because ..." I gulped. "Because he was changing."
We put another sheet on top of the body and with a lot of grunts, huffing, puffing and effort, dragged it into the bedroom. The door shut, I stood there and stared, totally heartsick at the recent turn of events.
Excerpted from Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by C. A. Verstraete. Copyright © 2013 C.A. Verstraete. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.