Waking up in a military complex, months after zombies attacked school, B has no memory of the last few months. Life in the UK has turned tough since the outbreak, and B is woven into life- and battle- in the new military regime quickly. But as B learns more about the zombies held in the complex and the scientists keeping them captive, unease settles in. Why exactly was B saved? And is there anyone left in the world to trust?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Darren Shan
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Darren Shan
All right reserved.
I smell burning hair. It’s a nasty, acidic smell. I burned my eyebrows once when I was playing with a lighter and I’ve never forgotten that foul aroma. As my face wrinkles with distaste, an even nastier stench kicks in and I almost gag. What the hell is that?
As I’m trying to place the sickening scent, a tall man staggers past, face and skull ablaze, trying to slap out the flames but failing. He falls to his knees and shakes his head wildly from side to side, the flames growing thicker, glowing more brightly. And I peg the source of the smell.
It’s burning flesh.
With a startled cry, I flail away from the man on fire and glance around desperately for something to quench the flames with, or someone to call for help. It takes all of two seconds to realize I’m in just as much trouble as the guy with the burning pumpkin for a head.
I’m in a large room. Not one I recognize. I should be in my school, but this is a place I’ve never seen before. Pure white walls, except where they’ve been scorched. Several oversized windows, lots of people on the other side of the glass, peering in, studying the chaos.
There’s a small team at the center of the room, six people in black leather pants and jackets, faces hidden behind the visors of motorcycle-type helmets. Each is armed, a couple with flamethrowers, another pair with stun guns, two with spears.
Lots of figures surround the six in leathers. Fifteen or so men, a handful of women, a couple of teenagers, a girl no more than eight or nine years old. Except they’re not normal people. They’re zombies.
I categorize them even before the memories of what happened at my school click into place. I’ve seen enough horror films to know a fully paid-up member of the living dead when I see one. They don’t move as stiffly as most movie zombies, but they have the vacant expression, they’re missing body parts, some are caked in blood, their teeth are gnashing together hungrily, they’re covered in scars and cuts, and wisps of green moss grow over their wounds.
Wait… I never saw moss in any of the movies. I only saw that on the zombies in the Internet clips of the attack in Pallaskenry. And on those who struck when my school was attacked. When I was killed.
I flash on a memory of Tyler Bayor jamming his hand into my chest and ripping out my heart. I moan pitifully and my hands snake to my breast to find out if that really happened or if it was just a dream. But I’m distracted before I can check.
One of the leather-clad tormentors at the center of the room is bigger than the others, tall and burly. He breaks away from the group and sprays flames in a wide semicircle, scorching the zombies closest to him. They squeal and peel away. It seems like the dead can feel pain too.
“Rage!” one of the others barks. “Get your arse back here. We’ve got to stick together.”
“Sod that,” the tall one retorts, and pushes forward, coming towards me, letting fly with more flames.
I forget about everything else and flee from the fire, survival instincts kicking in, following a man and woman who were singed from the last burst. I try to call to the guy in the leathers, to plead with him to stop, but there’s something wrong with my mouth. It feels like it’s full of pebbles. All that emerges is a strangled “Urrggghh! Ugga gurhk!” sound.
One of the zombies–a woman–leaps onto the tall guy’s back and gnaws at his shoulder. He lowers his flamethrower, grabs her hair and tugs. She claws at his helmet. He bends over to shake her off.
While I’m not naturally inclined to side with a zombie, it’s clear that we’re in the same boat. An enemy of theirs is also an enemy of mine. So I dart forward to help the undead woman tackle our foe with the flamethrower.
One of the others in the center yells a warning to the suitably named Rage, but it’s too late. I rush him from his blind side and throw myself at him. I probably wouldn’t be able to knock him over by myself, but the weight of the woman helps drag him down.
As the guy in the helmet yelps, I grab the hose of his flamethrower and wrestle it from him. He hangs on tightly, roaring for help, but then the woman bites his arm and digs through the leather of his jacket. With a curse, his grip loosens. A second later I’ve ripped the hose from the tanks strapped to his back and the device is rendered useless.
The person with the other flamethrower peels away from the group and starts towards me.
“Cathy!” someone shouts. “Don’t break rank!”
“But Rage needs–”
“Forget about him. We need you to cover the rest of us.”
As the woman hesitates, I heft the hose–it feels quite solid–and move in on the guy on the ground. He’s pushing the female zombie away, trying to make room to kick at her. I take a couple of practice swings, then let him have it, bringing it down as hard as I can over the top of his helmet.
The guy bellows with pain and backs away from me as I swing at him again. The zombie gurgles and shoves me aside, hurrying after him, clawing at his legs like a cat as she tries to grab hold. My gaze fixes on the small bits of bone sticking out of the ends of her fingers and I’m stopped in my tracks by another flashback.
I glance down at my own hand and see bones jutting out of my fingers too. I drop the hose and clutch the hand to my chest, moaning softly. I check the other fingers and find more extended bones. I raise my head and shriek at the ceiling, a wordless cry of frustration and terror.
The guy on the floor lashes out with a foot and connects with the zombie’s head. She’s driven back. He forces himself to his feet and staggers towards the safety of his pack. Other zombies throw themselves in his path, clutch at him, gnash at his gloved fingers. But he’s strong and moving fast. He brushes them aside as if they were mannequins, then slips behind the woman with the flamethrower and picks at the material around the place where the zombie bit him, examining his wound.
I chuckle sickly at the sight of the guy studying his arm. The bite of a zombie is contagious. He’s finished. Any minute now he’ll turn into one of them, and good riddance to the bugger. I’ve no sympathy for anyone who tries to burn me alive.
I look at my fingers again and the chuckle dies away at the back of my throat as I’m forced to correct myself. He’ll turn into one of us.
A siren blares and panels slide open in the ceiling. As I stare, bewildered, nets drop through the gaps and fall on several of the zombies. There must be weights attached to the nets, because the zombies stagger, then fall. They become entangled as they writhe on the floor and are quickly trapped.
More nets drop and the rest of the zombies are swiftly subdued. They hiss and roar defiantly, and some try to flee, but the nets find them all, even the little girl. Soon I’m the only one left standing. For some reason they haven’t targeted me. I squint at the ceiling as the panels are replaced, waiting for the area above me to open, but I’m either standing in a spot where they can’t get at me or for some reason they don’t want to ensnare me.
“Do you think I should toast this one?” the woman with the flamethrower asks, advancing past the struggling zombies.
I snarl at her and try to shout a curse, but again all that comes out is a gargled noise, something along the lines of “Fwah ooo!”
“Hold on,” somebody says, and a guy with a spear puts it down, then removes his helmet. I stare uncertainly. It’s a boy, my sort of age, maybe a bit younger. The rest start to take off their helmets and I’m astonished to find that all of them are teenagers. I look for a familiar face, but they’re all strangers to me.
As four of the boys drop their helmets and study me with dark, suspicious expressions, the girl called Cathy takes off hers. She’s scowling. She points the nozzle of her flamethrower at me again.
“She attacked Rage,” Cathy growls. “I say we finish her off.”
“They don’t want us to,” one of the boys mutters, nodding at the ceiling, then pointing at a window, where the people on the other side of the glass are watching calmly.
“All the more reason to burn her,” Cathy sneers.
“Hold it!” the tall one–Rage–barks. He’s still wearing his helmet. He strides over to the girl with the flamethrower and stares at her through the dark lens of his visor. “Nobody breaks the rules around here.”
“But she attacked you,” Cathy pouts. “She tried to kill you.”
“Yeah,” Rage says. “You would have too in her position. She’s a zom head. We have to hand her over.”
“She might not be,” Cathy says. She still hasn’t lowered the flamethrower.
Rage tilts his head, then looks back at me. “Got anything to say for yourself?”
Unable to express myself with words, I give him the finger.
Rage chuckles drily, then takes off his helmet. He’s got a big head, hair cut even shorter than mine, chubby cheeks–a chunk of flesh has been bitten out of the left cheek and a layer of green moss grows lightly around it–small ears, beady eyes. He’s grinning wickedly.
“Whaddaya know,” he jeers, reaching out and bending my finger down. “It’s aliiiiive!”
As I stare at him, more confused than I’ve ever been, a door swishes open. Soldiers and medics spill into the room and fan out around us.
The madness begins.
I’m B Smith and I’m a zombie.
I study my face in the small mirror in my cell, looking for a monster but only finding myself. I look much the same as I did before I was killed, hair shaved tight, pale skin, a few freckles, a mole on the far right of my jaw, light blue eyes, a nose that’s a bit too wide for my face. But if I stare long enough I start to notice subtle differences.
Like those blue eyes I was always so pleased about. (I was never a girlie girl, but they were my best feature and, yeah, I used to admire them every so often if I was feeling gooey.) They’re not as shiny as they were. They look like they’ve dried out. That’s because they have.
I tilt my head back and pour several drops from a bottle into each eye, then shake my head gently from side to side to work the liquid about. Reilly gave me the bottle. He also taught me how to shake my head the right way.
“You can’t blink anymore.”
That was several days ago, not long after I was brought to my cell from the room of fire. I was bundled in here without anyone saying anything, no explanations, no sympathy, no warnings. After the horror show with the zombies and the gang in leather, a group of soldiers simply shuffled me along a series of corridors, stuck me here and left me alone.
For a few hours I paced around the small cell. There was nothing in it then, no mirror, no bed, no bucket. Just a sink that didn’t have running water. I was wild with questions, theories, nightmarish speculations. I knew that I’d been killed and come back to life as a zombie. But why had my thoughts returned? Why could I remember my past? Why was I able to reason?
The zombies in Pallaskenry and my school were mindless, murdering wrecks. They killed because they couldn’t control their unnatural hunger for brains. The zombies in the room were the same, single-minded killing machines on legs.
Except I thought that those teenagers with the weapons were zombies too. Rage had definitely been bitten by one of the undead—the moss growing around his cheek was proof of that. But they could talk and think and act the same way they could when they were alive.
What the hell was going on?
Reilly was the first person to enter my cell that day. A thickset soldier with brown hair and permanent stubble, he brought in a chair, closed the door behind him, put the chair in front of me and sat.
“You can’t blink anymore,” he said.
“Uh urh ooh?” I grunted, forgetting that I couldn’t speak.
“You can’t talk either,” he noted drily. “We’ll sort out your mouth soon but you should tend to your eyes first. Your vision will have suffered already, but the more they dry out, the worse it’ll get.”
He produced a plastic bottle of eye drops and passed it to me. As I stared at it suspiciously, he chuckled. “It’s not a trick. If we wanted to harm you, we’d have fried you in the lab. Your eyelids don’t work. Go on, try them, see for yourself.”
I tried to close my eyes but nothing happened. If I furrowed my brow it forced them partly closed into a squint, but they wouldn’t move by themselves. I reached for them to pull the lids down. Then I saw the bones sticking out of my fingers and stopped, afraid I might scratch my eyeballs.
“Good call,” Reilly said. “Revitalizeds all come close to poking out an eye—a few actually did before we could warn them. Most reviveds instinctively know to keep their hands away from their eyes, but you guys…” He snorted, then told me how to administer the drops.
I stare at myself in the mirror again and wipe streaks from the drops away as they drip down my cheeks—the closest I’m ever going to get to tears now that I’m dead. My eyes look better, but still not as moist and sharp as they once did. I can see clearly, but my field of vision is narrower and the world’s a bit darker than when I was alive, as if I’m staring through a thin gray veil.
I open my mouth and examine my teeth. Run a tongue over them, but carefully. I nicked it loads of times the first few days and I still catch myself occasionally.
After Reilly had given me the drops, he told me why I couldn’t talk.
“Your teeth have sprouted. When you returned from the dead, they thickened and lengthened into fangs. That’s so you can bite through flesh and bone more easily.” He said it casually, as if it were no big thing.
“The bones in your fingers serve the same purpose,” he went on. “They let you dig through a person’s skull. Better than daggers, they are. We’re not sure why it happens in your toes as well. Maybe the zombie gene can’t distinguish between one set of digits and the other.”
I wanted to cry when he said that. I don’t know why, but something about his tone tore a long, deep hole through my soul. I made a moaning noise and hung my head, but no tears came. They couldn’t. My tear ducts have dried up. I can never weep again.
Reilly went on to explain how they were going to file my teeth down. They’d use an electric file to start me off, but after that I could trim them with a metal file myself every day or two.
“It’ll be like brushing your teeth,” he said cheerfully. “A few minutes in the morning, again at night before you go to bed, and they’ll be fine.” He paused. “Although you won’t really need to go to bed now….”
It’s been hard keeping track of the days, but by totaling up Reilly’s visits I figure I’ve been here at least a week, maybe longer. And not a wink of sleep in all that time. They gave me a bed, and I lie down every now and then to rest, but I never come close to dropping off.
“The dead don’t sleep,” Reilly shrugged when I asked him why I couldn’t doze. “They don’t need to.”
I was nervous when a medic first filed my teeth down. I always hated going to the dentist, and this was a hundred times worse. The noise was louder than any dentist’s drill, and splinters from my teeth went flying back in my throat and up my nose and into my eyes. My teeth got hot from the friction and my gums felt like they were burning. I pushed the medic away several times to snarl at him and give him an evil glare.
“Just don’t bite,” Reilly warned me. “If you nip him and turn him into one of your lot, you’ll be put down like a rabid dog, no excuses.”
The medic wiped sweat from his forehead and I realized he was more nervous than I was. He was wearing thick gloves, but as I’d seen in the room when the woman bit the tall guy in leathers, clothes and gloves aren’t foolproof against a zombie attack.
I tried to control myself after that, and didn’t pull back as much as I had been doing, even though every part of me wanted to.
The medic left once he’d finished. I ran my tongue around my mouth and winced as one of my teeth nicked it.
“I should have warned you about that,” Reilly said. “Doesn’t matter how much you file them down, they’ll always be sharper than they were. Best thing is to keep your tongue clear of your teeth.”
“Thash eashy fuhr you tuh shay,” I mumbled.
“Hey, not bad for your first attempt,” Reilly said, looking impressed. “Most of the revitalizeds take a few days to get their act together. I think you’re going to be a fast learner.”
“Shkroo you, arsh hohl,” I spat, and his expression darkened.
“Maybe you were better off mute,” he growled.
It took me a while to get the hang of my new teeth. I still slur the occasional word, but a week into my new life–or unlife, or whatever the hell it’s called–I can speak as clearly as I could before I was killed.
“B Smith went to mow, went to mow a meadow,” I sing tunelessly to my reflection. “But a zombie ripped her heart out, so now she’s a walking dead-o.”
Hey, I might be dead, but you’ve gotta laugh, haven’t you? Especially when you’re no longer able to cry your bloody eyes out.
Lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about Mum and Dad.
Reilly hasn’t told me anything about the outside world. We’ve spent a lot of time together. He chats with me about all sorts of things, soccer, TV shows we used to watch, our lives before the zombie uprising. But he won’t discuss the attack on my school or any of the other assaults that took place that day. I’ve no idea if order has been restored or if the soldiers and medics here are the only people left alive in the whole wide world. I’ve pushed him hard for answers, but although Reilly’s been good to me, he can play deaf and dumb to perfection when he wants.
I’ve said a few prayers for Mum and Dad, even though I’m not the praying type. For Mum especially. It’s strange. I thought I loved Dad more. He was the one I respected, the one I wanted to impress. Mum was weak in my opinion, a coward and a fool for letting her husband knock her about the place. I stood up for her and always tried to help when he’d lay into her, because that’s what you do for your mum, but if you’d ask me to name a favorite, I’d have chosen Dad, despite all his flaws.
But she’s the one I miss most. Maybe it’s because of what Dad did the day I died. He came to rescue me. Risked his own life to try to save me. But then he made me throw Tyler to the zombies, turned me into a killer, and since then…
No. That’s a lie, and I don’t want to lie to myself anymore. I’ve done too much of that in the past. Be truthful, B. Dad didn’t force me. I threw Tyler to the zombies because I was scared and it was the easy thing to do.
Dad hated foreigners and people who had different beliefs. I never wanted to be like him in that respect, but to keep him quiet I acted as if I was, and in the end it rubbed off on me. I became a monster. I don’t ever want to allow that to happen again, but if I’m to keep the beast inside me under control, I have to accept that the guilt was mine for doing what Dad told me to do. You can’t blame other people for sins of your own making.
I sit up, swing my legs off the bed and scowl. No use worrying about Mum and Dad until I have more information. I’m sure answers will be revealed in time. They can’t be keeping me alive just to hold me in this cell forever. I have to be patient. Explanations will come. If I have to mourn, I’ll do it once their deaths are confirmed. Until then I need to hope for the best.
To distract myself, I focus on the throbbing noise. It’s constant, the rumbling of machines in the distance, AC, oxygen being pumped in for the living. It never ceases. It drove me mad for the first few days, but now I find it comforting. Without a TV, iPod, or anything else, it’s the only way I have of amusing myself when Reilly’s not around. I tune into the hum when I’m bored and try to put images to the noises, to imagine what’s happening outside this cell, soldiers marching, medics conducting their experiments, the teenagers in leather….
Hmm. I’ve no idea who they were. I’m pretty sure, judging by the green moss on the tall guy’s cheek, that they’re like me, zombies who can think and act the way they did before they died. Reilly refers to us as revitalizeds. The ordinary, mindless zombies are reviveds. But why were the revitalizeds in that room with weapons? Are they prisoners like me, or are they cooperating with the soldiers? Where did they come from? Why are they–we–different from the others? Is there hope for us? Can we be cured?
I sneer at that last question. “Of course you can’t be cured, you dumb bitch,” I snort. “Not unless you can find the Wizard of Oz to give you a brand-new heart.”
I get up and stand in front of the mirror. I seem to be studying myself a lot recently. It’s not that I’m vain. There just isn’t anything else to do. But I’m not interested in my face this time. I was wearing the shredded, filthy remains of my school uniform when I regained consciousness. That’s been replaced with a pair of jeans and a plain white T-shirt.
I pull the T-shirt up to my chin and stare at my ruined chest. I never had big tits. Vinyl used to call them bee stings. I told him I’d do worse than sting him if he kept on saying that, but I liked Vinyl, so I let him get away with it.
My right boob is the same as it was before. But my left is missing, torn from my chest by Tyler Bayor. A fair bit of the flesh around it is missing too. And my heart’s been ripped out, leaving an unnatural, grisly hole in its place.
Bits of bone poke through the flesh around the hole, and I can see all sorts of tubes inside, veins, arteries and what-have-you. Congealed blood meshes the mess together, along with the green moss that sprouts lightly all over the wound. Every so often a few drops of blood ooze out of one of the tubes. But it’s not like it used to be. This blood is much thicker, the consistency of jelly, and the flow always stops after a second or two.
I quizzed Reilly about that. Without a heart, there shouldn’t be any flow at all. The same way that, without working lungs, I shouldn’t be able to speak.
“The body remembers,” he said. “At least it does in revitalizeds.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I frowned.
“When you recovered your wits, your brain started trying to control the rest of your body, the way it did when you were alive,” he explained. “You don’t need to breathe anymore, but your brain thinks that you should, so it forces your lungs to expand and collapse, which is why you can talk. You can stop it when you focus–if you shut your mouth and close your nose, your lungs will shut down after a minute or two–but most of the time your lungs work away in the background, even though there’s no reason why they should.
“If you had a heart, it would be the same. Your brain would tell it to pump blood around your body. It wouldn’t operate as smoothly as it did before–no more than a weak pulse every few minutes–but it would keep the blood circulating, albeit sluggishly.
“Now, you don’t have a heart,” Reilly said unsympathetically, “but the brain’s a stubborn organ and it’s doing the best it can. It’s roped in some of your other organs and is using them to nudge your veins and arteries, to compensate for the missing pump. Some of the scientists here are blown away by that. They’ve never seen a body do it before. They think you’re the coolest thing since sliced bread. They’d love to take you off to their labs to study you in depth.”
“Who’s stopping them?” I asked, but at that the soldier clammed up again.
I’ve poked my finger into the cavity in my chest a few times, dipped it in the blood and smeared it across my tongue. But I can’t tell if it tastes any different. My taste buds have gone to hell. My mouth is dry–my tongue feels like it’s made of sandpaper–and apart from a foul staleness that is always there, I haven’t been able to identify any specific tastes.
I sigh as I stare at the hole. It shocked me the first few times. I couldn’t believe that was really me. I turned my back on the image and tried to cry. Shook my head and refused to accept that this was what I’d become. But now it doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t let it. Why should I? After all…
“Heh,” I laugh humorlessly at my reflection.
… life’s too short!
Reilly comes in with a bowl. “Grub’s up,” he says cheerfully, kicking the door closed behind him. I’m standing in one of the corners when he enters, so I spot the armed soldiers outside the door as it slides shut. Reilly must have been coming to see me daily for at least two weeks, usually twice a day, but they never take chances. He always has backup in case I make a break for freedom. The soldiers outside couldn’t save him if I decided to bite or give him a playful scratch, but they can make sure I don’t get more than a couple of steps outside the cell.
“What’s on the menu today?” I ask sarcastically.
“Really?” I gasp.
“No, you idiot,” he grunts, and hands the bowl to me.
Excerpted from Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan Copyright © 2013 by Darren Shan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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