Zombie Tag

Zombie Tag

by Hannah Moskowitz


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Wil is desperate for his older brother to come back from the dead. But the thing about zombies is . . they don't exactly make the best siblings.

Thirteen-year-old Wil Lowenstein copes with his brother's death by focusing on Zombie Tag, a mafia/
capture the flag hybrid game where he and his friends fight off brain-eating zombies with their mothers' spatulas. What Wil doesn't tell anybody is that if he could bring his dead brother back as a zombie, he would in a heartbeat. But when Wil finds a way to summon all the dead within five miles, he's surprised to discover that his back-from-the-dead brother is emotionless and distant.
In her first novel for younger readers, Moskowitz offers a funny and heartfelt look at how one boy deals with change, loss, and the complicated relationship between brothers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596437203
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 12/20/2011
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 650L (what's this?)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Hannah Moskowitz is the author of Invincible Summer and Break, an ALA popular paperback for Young Adults. Hannah's YA novels were sold at auction the same day she began her freshman year of college. Zombie Tag is her first middle grade novel.

Read an Excerpt



I ONLY INVENTED ZOMBIE TAG three weeks ago, and we’ve already lost seven spatulas. For a while, I stole my mom’s, but now she’s completely out so I have to make my friends bring their own. Once our mothers find out where all their spatulas are going, they’re going to be so mad. They’re going to team up and form some kind of army against us, I swear. But we’d be totally prepared. A mom army is nothing when you’re trained to fight zombies.

Today is Anthony’s birthday, so we should be sleeping over at his house. But Anthony has an awful house for Zombie Tag. His place is like a museum. There’s all this great stuff, but you can’t touch any of it. And there’s nowhere to sit. My house still feels new and unfriendly, but, tonight, that’s a bonus. It’s fresh territory to explore.

But because it’s his birthday, we let Anthony be Zombie God. That means he’s the one who writes the words on the Post-it Notes—BARRICADE, BARRICADE, BARRICADE, BARRICADE, ZOMBIE. It’s pitch-black down here, so he’s using his phone for light. David’s using his to look up zombie fighting strategies, which is so dumb. I’ve read everything there is to read about zombies, and let me tell you, there are no little tricks for how to survive. It takes pure brute force. And courage.

And a really good spatula doesn’t hurt.

The air-conditioning is on too high because my dad is always hot, and here in the basement it feels like the tundra. We’re all jumping up and down and shivering while Anthony folds and shuffles the Post-it Notes.

Eben comes thumping down the stairs. “Dude, shut up,” I say. “My parents are sleeping.”

“All the lights are off,” he says. He’s panting from running through the entire house. He volunteered to do this, so he should man up and stop acting like he just ran a marathon or something.

Anthony clears his throat dramatically. “Okay,” he says, holding the Post-it Notes above his head. “We will begin. No trading, no showing, no sharing.” He passes them out. We peek at them and stuff the evidence into our pockets.

I can’t believe it. I’m Zombie. In our millions of games of Zombie Tag, this is my first time being the Zombie. It’s like it’s my birthday.

But no one would know from my face. I am the world’s coolest cucumber right now. They’ll all think I’m innocent until the moment I’m chewing on their brains.

“Okay, eyes closed,” our Zombie God orders. We snap our eyes closed, and I slowly open mine to make sure the others aren’t peeking. They have their fingers stuffed into their ears, just like they’re supposed to. I feel kind of proud that they’re following my rules so well. It’s not every guy who has a bunch of friends who really understand how sacred a thing like Zombie Tag is, you know? We’ve made up a lot of games over the years, especially me and Anthony, but ideas this good only come along once in a millennium. They’re smart to recognize it.

Time to fulfill my first duty as Zombie. I walk away from the circle as quietly as I can. I put all my weight on my heels before I lean onto each toe. When I was a kid, my brother told me that hunters used to walk like this so they didn’t get eaten by tigers. I totally believed him and put it in an early settlers history paper a few weeks ago, and Ms. Hoole gave me a C and wrote THERE ARE NO TIGERS IN THE UNITED STATES. Like that was even the point.

I keep my tiger-sneak walk going until I’m well out of the circle, then I run to the table and pick up the dinosaur. It’s this plastic coin bank my dad got me as a souvenir when he went to Russia with his boss to turn in all this paperwork on Time-Based Travel. He was all excited about going and kept telling mom that this was his big break but then he came home all depressed. I think the Russians are beating us at time travel or something.

Anyway, he had this whole stack of papers to work through and all these reports to file, like everyone on the trip gave their busy work to him. I asked if he was a spy just so he’d feel less lame, but then he said, “Quiet, Wil,” and that’s when he gave me this bank. And, it’s like, I’m not six, Dad, but at least it comes in useful for Zombie Tag.

It’s our Key. The other guys need to find the Key and then get to the front door in order to win. But that’s not going to happen. Sorry, guys. And if they don’t find the Key, I get to eat their brains.

I mean, they can try to defend themselves with the spatulas, but I’m going to be the scariest Zombie ever. They’d need, like, three spatulas each at least to fight me off.

I run upstairs and look for a good place to hide the Key. My parents’ room is totally out. If they knew we were still awake, they’d probably start putting tranquilizers in our food every time my friends stay over. It’s a good thing they’re heavy sleepers. Graham and I used to watch horror movies after they went to bed, and they’d hardly ever wake up.

I can’t do my room. Too easy.

I pause outside of the extra bedroom we don’t even use as a guest room. My friends aren’t allowed to sleep in there when they stay over. We all have to crash in the basement.

I’m pretty sure I’m not even supposed to go in there, because every time my dad or I step inside, Mom spends an hour fluffing the pillows and vacuuming over where we stepped. My mother set up all the baseball trophies and put my brother’s framed posters of girls in bathing suits, the ones she always hated, up on one of the walls. The room’s made up like any minute he’s going to come home and need it.

Dad tells me not to think about it. We had to put my brother’s stuff somewhere. It’s just a place.

I know Dad’s right, but I’m looking in there now and don’t want my friends tramping around in there, either. I guess Mom has brainwashed me.

So I hide the Key in the bathroom, behind the clothes hamper. It’s not the best spot, but it’ll still be hard to find in the dark and I’m running out of time to find anywhere better. There’s no rule for how long you can take to hide the Key, but it’s lame to be this slow.

I turn off my flashlight and scurry back downstairs. I run around the circle and tap each guy on the back, so they’ll know the Key has been hidden. I give Anthony a squeeze on the back of his neck just to scare him. They count to ten in their heads, and I’m back in the circle before their eyes are open. I blink stupidly and look around just like them. They have no idea I’m the Zombie, and it’s awesome.

“Okay,” David says. “I’ll take the downstairs.”

I say, “I’ll look with you.” He’s totally going to be my first victim. Poor David. So young.

We grab our spatulas, fighting over the best ones, but not for very long. We have to hurry up and separate. The fewer guys you’re with, the less chance you’re with the Zombie.

The other guys go upstairs to look for the Key. David switches on his flashlight and starts poking around behind the boxes we still haven’t unpacked. I pretend to search too, but really I’m counting to ten. Zombies have a ten-second lifespan as humans. Then they can start their hunt.

Once I’ve gotten to ten, I flop down on the floor, as quietly as I can. I try to pretend I’m just looking under the couch. Really, I’m dying.

My favorite part of this game is the dying, because I’m screwed up, I guess. I always liked the part where Bambi’s mom died, too. Now I think it’s awful, but when I was a little kid, I made my mom play it again and again. Maybe the most messed up part is that she did.

I’ve almost finished my ten seconds of dying when David says, “Dude, find anything?”

I stand up and go, “Rrrrrrrn. Braaaains.”

“Ah! No way, Wil!”


“You’re the Zombie?”

He takes too long to try to run, and I grab him and hold him by the neck. He’s flailing around, trying to hit me with his spatula. If he hits the top of my head, I’ll have to freeze. But he doesn’t make it. I try to sink my teeth into his ear.

He shrieks.

“Shh!” I say. “Count to ten.”

“You’re breaking character.”

“Shut up and count to ten.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and counts to ten. He has his death perfected; he always grips his chest and shakes like his insides are trying to get out. When he opens his eyes, he has the perfect practiced zombie look on his face. David has been the Zombie so many times. It’s not fair at all.

“Neeeeeeeeed braaaaaaaaains,” he groans.

I nod toward the stairs, and we start marching there together, our arms out. “Braaaaains,” we chant.

We search around the hallway with our flashlights. Anthony and Stella are rooting through my bedroom. They left the door open, which was so stupid of them. If they closed the door and put one of their BARRICADE Post-its on it, we’d have to bang our zombie fists against it for a whole thirty seconds before we could come in. Now we can just walk right in and turn them into the undead.

But scaring them first is way more fun.

David and I spy from the doorway. Stella found one of my secret magazines, and she’s looking at it with her flashlight and laughing. “Anthony, you have to see this. There are naked girls in here!”

I am so going to eat her brains.

I jump out and go, “Rrrrrn!” and Stella and Anthony scream so loudly that my cat Jack Bandit sprints into the closet with his fur standing up.

Anthony tries to fight us off with his spatula. Stella tries to bop me on top of my head for the secret zombie paralysis move. But it’s no use. We’re too fast, and we bob away from their hands like it’s nothing.

I grab Anthony, David grabs Stella, and we bite down. Those guys are zombie-toast.

Anthony takes his ten seconds to recover, then says, “Brains.”

I nod at him. “Braaains.”

We go into the hallway. Here’s the big problem. There’s only Eben left, and if he finds the Key and gets to the front door, he escapes with his brains intact. And judging by the closed bathroom door with the BARRICADE sign on the door, he might have a chance. And there’s no way I’m letting Eben win Zombie Tag in my house.

“Break barricade need brains want,” Anthony drones, and he starts banging on the door. We all join in. Eben’s totally freaking out in there. We can hear him scurrying around and mumbling, “Oh God oh God oh God oh God.”

I’m banging on the door as hard as I can.

I guess it’s from being up so late, but I start having a harder time focusing on the game every second I’m pounding. I hate when this happens, and it still does way too often, even if it’s not as often as it was.

In most ways I’m doing better. I don’t have nightmares anymore. But I’ll be doing something totally normal, like taking a test or trying to fall asleep, and my brain will start freaking out and telling me that I have to go save Graham. And I’m telling myself stop it, stop being so stupid, but I can’t shake the feeling. Every bit of me needs to get to Graham now, and I can do it, I can save him if I just do something.

I don’t know anything in the whole world except that I have to get into that bathroom right now. I’m banging on it and the noise is echoing in my ears a million times.

“Stop screaming,” Anthony says, and I wish whoever’s screaming would stop screaming. Then Anthony clamps his hand over my mouth and the screaming gets softer. It’s me. I’m the one screaming. I can still hear it in my head, even though I think I’ve stopped.

And Anthony broke character.

There are footsteps behind me, and I hear my father’s voice, always so low and scratchy, like he needs to shave the inside of his throat. “What time do you guys think it is? WIL!”

But I don’t care that he’s mad. I have to get into that bathroom. This isn’t a game anymore.

They have to let me into the bathroom now. I can get in and …


I’m coming back to real life. No. I’m so stupid. I’ll get in and no one will be there but stupid old Eben.

Stella goes, “Sorry, Mr. Lowenstein.” She doesn’t sound nervous. She’s so used to getting in trouble. “Eben, come out, man. Game’s over.”

The bathroom door opens, and my chest is like whunka whunka whunka, but it’s just Eben. I knew that. I knew it was just going to be Eben.

I shake my head back and forth. I need to spend more time in real life. Maybe I should watch less TV.

Or lose fewer brothers.

“Downstairs,” my father says. “Back downstairs. Wilson, we’re going to be discussing this in the morning.”

I wish he wouldn’t do this in front of my friends. But I guess after I have some sort of mental breakdown in front of them, I shouldn’t be embarrassed about getting lectured.

“Okay, Dad,” I mumble. And before he goes back to bed, I give him a hug. My friends probably think I’m sucking up, but I just want someone to hold me up for a second. He does. At least I know he’s not too mad.

We slump back downstairs. We don’t know if the zombies beat Eben, which sucks. So far, every time we’ve played, the zombies have won. I bet we would have won this time, too.

Anthony whispers to me, “Was that about Graham?”

I crawl into my sleeping bag and say, “Shut up.”

Everyone else falls asleep, but I stay awake and make up this story to myself about the zombies winning and nobody has any brains and nobody’s thinking anymore, and everything is always fun. And I always make it into the bathroom in time. And then I bite my brother and he screams and comes back to life.

*   *   *

What’s funny about my brother Graham dying is that he was one of the most alive people I ever knew. He was always running around and slamming doors and screaming at my parents or cutting his hair off or lifting me onto his shoulders or tackling me onto the rug. It’s also funny because he always fought so hard to stay that way.

“Let’s never grow up,” he said to me one time. I must have been about seven.

I said, “Okay,” because I didn’t get it, but I liked to do everything Graham did.

We spit on our hands and shook them to seal the deal, and he said, “Good. We’re going to be exactly like this forever. You and me, kid.”

And I said, “Me and you, kid,” which made him smile so much, and I felt really good about that.


Copyright © 2011 by Hannah Moskowitz

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