Tag Archives: writing

Santa Claus Versus The Zombies – A Dark Christmas Tale For Readers Of All Ages

24 Dec

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. The same could not be said, however, for the graveyard next door. Every year, Tommy stayed up for as long as he could, excitedly peeking out of his bedroom window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he travelled the world delivering presents, and every year, Tommy fell asleep before Santa arrived. Tommy would wake next morning, his head freezing cold where it had drooped against the window pane as he dozed, to find a bulging stocking hanging from the end of his bed, but not a hide nor hair of Santa Claus himself.

This year, Tommy was determined to stay awake long enough for Santa to arrive. He was a year older now, and he was sure that this year he’d finally be able to do it. Yet, despite his best efforts, as the clock struck midnight, Tommy could feel himself starting to nod off. Trying to hold the inevitable sleep back for as long as possible, Tommy stretched and yawned. Then a movement outside caught his eye, and instantly he was wide awake. At first, Tommy wasn’t quite sure what the movement was, but one thing was for sure: it wasn’t Santa Claus. The ground outside was covered in snow, turning the usually scary looking cemetery behind Tommy’s house into a winter wonderland: frost coated the trees, and the grass, and the grave stones, making them glimmer in the moonlight, yet underneath the snow, something was stirring.

Suddenly, a long thin object thrust itself upwards through the snow. At first, Tommy watched the object curiously as it moved back and forth, then, to his horror, he realised it was a bony, wrinkled hand. The hand reach skywards, opening and closing as it grasped at the cold night air. A moment later, it was joined by another, and together the two hands pulled, first a skull-like head, then a decaying body from the ground. Tommy stared, both terrified and mesmerised by what was happening just beyond the end of his garden. As Tommy looked on, the bloated, rotting body finally pulled itself free of the frozen ground and staggered to its feet. It shuffled through the snow, dragging one foot behind it. Tommy watched it for a minute: it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, just wandering aimlessly between the grave stones, touching each one as it passed. Then Tommy noticed the snow lying on another grave began to tremble, and a head started to emerge. Then another. And another. So shocked was he, that it took Tommy a few seconds to notice the pattern: every time the first zombie (and what else could it possibly be, but a zombie?) touched a head stone, the body buried in that grave clawed its way from the ground and started to follow it.

After ten minutes, Tommy found he was no longer frightened. Instead, he could feel laughter building inside him. When it had just been one stumbling re-animated corpse, it had been scary, but now there were so many of them, all playing follow-the-leader as they trailed after the first zombie, shuffling and staggering, bumping into each other, slipping on the ice and the snow, and falling over when they bounced off each other. It was hilarious and Tommy couldn’t help but think that if this was all that zombies were capable of, they weren’t really anything to be afraid of after all.

Then, off in the distance, high in the night’s sky, Tommy saw something else. At first, it seemed like it was just another twinkling star, but slowly it grew bigger and bigger, and Tommy knew that stars didn’t do that. Tommy wasn’t the only one to have notice the rapidly approaching object: the zombies were looking up, too, letting out mournful moans as they reached towards it.

As Tommy watched, the object came closer and closer until it was near enough for him to see what it was, and his heart leapt: it was a sleigh being pulled by eight powerful reindeer. With the night being clear, there was no need for Rudolph to be leading the way, and Tommy tried to remember the names of the other reindeer: there was Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner, and … what was the last one again? Tommy always had trouble remembering that last name. His brow furrowed for a moment and then it came to him: Blitzen! Yes, that was it. By then, the sleigh was close enough that Tommy could make out the plump man with the long, white beard and red suit who was holding the reins and shouting orders to the reindeer. Slowly the sleigh turned and started to descend, and Tommy realised to his delight that it was coming into land on the soft, fresh snow that covered his back yard.

A second later, and Tommy’s delight turned to terror: the zombies had seen Santa Claus too, and they were now racing towards the wall that divided Tommy’s yard from the cemetery. Hang on, thought Tommy, racing? That couldn’t be right. He closed his eyes tight shut and shook his head before opening them again: sure enough the zombies which had, until then, been bumbling around aimlessly, were now moving fast and efficiently across the frozen ground. What on Earth, Tommy wondered, was going on?

As Santa’s sleigh touched down, the first of the zombies made it over the wall and rushed across the snow towards where the sleigh had come to a stop. By this time, Santa’s head was buried in his big black sack, searching for something, and that was when Tommy went cold: Santa hadn’t seen the zombies. More and more of them were pouring over the wall with every passing second, and still Santa Claus was rummaging through his sack, unaware of the danger that was descending upon him.

Tommy knew he had to do something. He couldn’t, after all, be the kid who’d let Santa get eaten by zombies, he’d never live it down, but what could he do? The house was locked and he couldn’t reach the key to open the back door. Even if he could, what hope did Tommy have against all those zombies? Then it struck him: all he needed to do was warn Santa that the zombies were coming. Santa, after all, had flying reindeer, he could easily escape from the yard before the zombies got to him. Tommy banged on the window, but Santa didn’t look up. He banged again, still nothing. Finally, in desperation, Tommy pulled the window open and yelled at the top of his voice. ‘Santa, there’s zombies coming! They’re right behind you!’

Santa suddenly shot upright, and looked round. He saw Tommy and waved, a jolly smile on his rosy-cheeked face, still unaware of the rapidly approaching danger. Tommy shouted again and gesticulated wildly at the zombies, which, by then, were only a few feet from the back of Santa’s sleigh. Santa frowned for a second and then slowly turned. When he saw the zombies, he froze, but only for a moment, then he sprung into action, grabbing the reins and yelling to his reindeer, urging them on, but nothing happened. That was when Tommy realised his warning had been too late, the zombies had already got a hold of the sleigh and no matter how hard the reindeer strained, they couldn’t manage to pull the heavily laden sleigh and all the zombies that were now clinging onto it.

Tommy watched in horror as Santa looked round desperately for something he could use to defend himself, but he found nothing. This was unsurprising; after all, the worst thing Santa Claus usually had to deal with was when the elves drank too much eggnog as they were loading the sleigh and started fighting with each other, and drunken elves weren’t exactly difficult to deal with. As Santa started frantically digging through his sack of presents, searching for anything he could use to fight off the zombies, Tommy could see the fear in his eyes. Santa glanced up and seeing the zombies just a few feet from him, he gave up searching for a weapon and, deciding to hide rather than fight, he dived out of sight. The zombies weren’t fooled and they started clambering on to the sleigh as they hunted for their intended prey. Tommy was aghast: surely there was no way Santa could possibly survive? This, Tommy thought, wasn’t how Christmas was meant to end, for without Santa Claus to hand out presents to the children who’d spent all year being nice rather than naughty, what was the point of Christmas?

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Tommy saw a red blur streaking across the heavens and towards the ground. A moment later, it landed with a heavy thud behind the zombies and Tommy instantly realised who it was: it was Rudolf. The lone reindeer pawed the ground and snorted loudly, causing some of the zombies to turn and run towards him. Despite the undead that were rapidly closing on him, Rudolph bravely held his ground. Then, when the zombies were only a few feet away, Rudolf lowered his head and charged, running the closest zombie through with the tips of his razor-sharp antlers. Once he was sure it was dead, Rudolf threw the once-more deceased zombie to the ground, but he didn’t stop there. Rudolf charged again and again, throwing zombies this way and that, breaking arms and cracking skulls.

After what seemed like an age, but couldn’t have been more than a minute, the zombies realised they were beaten. Those that could still run, tried to retreat towards the safety of the graveyard, but Rudolph wasn’t about to let them get away so easily. He chased after them, slashing at them with his antlers and trampling the last of them under foot. Soon, nothing was moving that shouldn’t really be moving in the first place, and the lone reindeer, with his bright red nose glowing in the darkness, trotted across to the sleigh and let out a gentle whinny.

Tommy held his breath, wondering if somehow Santa could have survived, then he emerged, crawling out from under the seat where he’d been curled up in a desperate attempt to remain beyond the grasping hands of the attacking zombies. Santa straightened up, adjusting his clothes and brushing stray flecks of glitter from his beard. He patted Rudolph’s nose, before leaning forward and removing a withered arm that had become wedged in Rudolf’s antlers. Santa smiled, knowing his old friend had just saved his life, and tossed the arm into the snow. He looked up at Tommy, and tipped his fur-lined hat in thanks towards the young boy, before pulling on the reins and taking off once more, Rudolph following closely after.

Tommy watched until Santa, his sleigh and all the reindeer, including Rudolf, had disappeared into the night’s sky before turning his attention to the devastation which had been left in his back yard: there were bodies, or what was left of them, everywhere. That, Tommy thought to himself, would take a lot of explaining when his parents woke up and saw the mess, and he really wasn’t sure they’d believe him if he told them what had just happened. Maybe he’d be better off not telling them anything about what he’d seen, and instead left them to try to work out what happened when they got up the following the morning. Satisfied that this was the right thing to do, Tommy decided he’d better go to bed before anyone discovered he was still up and started asking awkward questions.

That was when Tommy realised that in his rush to get away after Rudolf had saved him, Santa had forgotten to leave him his presents. At first Tommy was upset, but after giving it some thought, he realised that one small boy missing out on his presents this one year was a small price to pay for saving Santa’s life from the zombies. Tommy sighed, and turned away from the window; that was when he saw the over-stuffed stocking hanging at the foot of his bed. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief: how on Earth had Santa managed that? Then it dawned on Tommy and he smiled happily to himself: while Santa might be just as scared of zombies as the rest of us, he’s still magic.

Happy Christmas!

***

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

This is the third year that I’ve done a special Christmas-themed zombie short story for the readers of my blog. If you haven’t read the previous ones, you can find the Christmas 2013 story, titled The Office Christmas Party – The Tale Of A Christmas Night Out That Goes Horribly Wrong, here, and the the Christmas 2012 story, titled Waiting Up For Santa Claus – A Cautionary Tale, here.
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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

The Office Christmas Party – The Tale Of A Festive Night Out That Goes Horribly Wrong

23 Dec

I was never a fan of the office Christmas party, but as I cowered in a decidedly rank cubicle of a pub toilet, feet braced against the door as three of my colleagues did their best to break it down, I couldn’t help thinking this had to be the worst one ever.

It had all started so normally, with the false joviality and bonhomie of people being forced to socialise with others they’d clearly rather never see once the working day was done. I mean, half the people there would usually cross the road to avoid having to speak to the other half if they saw them on the street. Yet, here they were, having to make small talk while clutching plastic glasses of cheap sparkling wine while we waited for the signal to move on to the restaurant. As usual, there was the core group, mostly made up of secretaries and personal assistants, who were full of the festive spirit, and probably quite a lot of the alcoholic kind too. They were the ones who organised the Christmas night out, meaning it was their type of evening, while the rest of us, those who didn’t really want to be there, floated around the edges, trying to avoid getting drawn into an apparently never-ending conversation with Mike, the office bore. If you did happen to get caught, the best tactic was to try to pass him onto someone else as soon as possible, since it seemed he was more interested in talking than talking to anyone in particular. This meant if you could draw someone else in, you could then make your excuses and leave, and he’d barely bat an eye-lid.

Just as someone tried to dump Mike on me, the cry went up from the organising committee telling us it was time to head off to the restaurant. The plan was to go for that most traditional of Christmas meals, a curry, before heading off for some drinks in whatever pub would let us in on what was known as Black Friday, or even Black-Eye Friday, because of all the trouble caused by overly-drunk office workers out with their colleagues on the last Friday before Christmas.

Even as we headed out into a night chilled by a biting wind and horizontal rain, I could see a few of my fellow workers were already stumbling and bumping into each other; others were bedecked with strings of tinsel around their necks and cheap Santa hands on their heads. Two of the PAs, both of whom I knew had partners at home, had their arms round each other in a manner that suggested it wouldn’t be long before they’d be all over each other.

Looking back, I remember thinking to myself at that precise moment, that, given previous Christmas nights out, it was all following the same old routine. As I snorted derisively at how wrong I’d been, the door under my feet me shook and shuddered as the people outside continued to throw themselves against it. I wasn’t too sure exactly who they were, but my best guess was a couple of the rugby players from the accounts department because the door was already starting to splinter and it wouldn’t be too long before they get through.

Everything seemed normal in the restaurant too. The food was ordered, a choice between having one of the usual curries off the menu or the special turkey curry which had been added just for Christmas. Predictably, almost everyone chose that, despite the fact that it sounded disgusting. I went for a chicken tikka masala, which caused Mike, the bore, to start rambling on, to no one in particular, about how this wasn’t actually a traditional dish from India, as you might at first think, but rather it was invented in Britain, most probably in a restaurant in Glasgow, in the 1950s. This would have been quite an interesting story, if he hadn’t told it at exactly the same point of the Christmas night out for at least the last eight years in succession. Looking across the table, I caught Mark’s eye. He nodded towards Mike and held up nine fingers forcing us both to stifle a laugh. You see, the reason I know that Mike has done this for the last eight years, well nine now, even though I’d only worked for the company for five, was because Mark had started keeping a count, and had told me about it on the first Christmas night out I’d been forced to go on. Mark was one of the good guys, and with a bit of luck, once we moved on for drinks he and I could find a table in the corner and amuse ourselves by watching the others make complete fools of themselves.

By the time the food arrived, we were all pretty well-oiled and the conversation had grown loud and boisterous. As I tucked into my tikka masala, I heard Mike launch into his story again, just in case someone hadn’t heard him the first time. Sam, one of the PAs who was sitting to my left, poked at his turkey curry. He spiked one of the lumps of meat onto his fork and sniffed it, ‘It doesn’t really look like turkey, does it?’ He gingerly nibbled a bit. ‘Doesn’t taste like it either.’ He took another nibble. ‘I mean it doesn’t taste bad, it just doesn’t taste like turkey.’ He took a larger bite. ‘Tastes more like pork or something like that. I thought turkey was meant to be white meat …’

On hearing this, Mike immediately switched seamlessly from talking about the origins of tikka masala to talking about the difference between brown leg meat and white breast meat on turkeys, and which he preferred to eat. To give him credit, it was a new story, but that didn’t necessarily make it interesting. Everyone turned to the food in front of them and did their level best to ignore him.

Soon enough the food was finished and we were heading back out into the night to find somewhere for drinks. Giving everyone the once over, I noticed that almost all of them seemed a lot more drunk than they should have been given how much alcohol they’d consumed: tripping over their own feet and hanging onto each other for support; even those who usually kept themselves pretty sober seemed heavily intoxicated. If fact, it seemed that Mike, Mark, me and the girl Sam was currently clinging to were the only ones who weren’t having trouble walking. We must have come across as a bit of a drunken rabble because we were turned away from the first five bars we tried.

Eventually, we found somewhere and trooped in out of the wind and rain. Inside, it was a real dive, but rather than head back out into the night to try to find somewhere else, we decided to stay put and make the most of it. While Mark commandeered a table where we could watch the rest of the bar, I got the drinks in and joined him there after a couple of minutes. We clinked out glasses.

‘Cheers!’ I clinked my glass against Mark’s, being careful not to spill too much as I did so.

‘Here’s to another easily forgettable night with some of the most banal people on the planet!’ Mark’s opinion of our colleagues was about as high as mine. ‘Although …’ He glanced around the room, ‘… they seem to be a lot more worse for wear than usual which might make it memorable after all. I mean, look at that,’ he pointed to the far corner, ‘Sam’s already passed out, and it looks like Janet’s about to do the same over there.’

No sooner were the words out of Mark’s mouth than Janet fell forward, her head hitting the table with an audible crack, but even that didn’t wake her.

‘Yeah, but some of them are up to their usual tricks.’ I nodded towards the bar, where Mike had two of the temps cornered and was telling, if I wasn’t mistaken, the tikka masala story for the third time that night as they swayed gently back and forth in front of him. ‘That’s got to be new a new record!’

‘You’d have thought so, but it’s not even close.’ Mark sipped his pint. ‘He’s still four short of his personal best.’

‘Should we go and rescue them?’

‘Nahhh, wouldn’t want to cramp anyone’s style.’ Mark tipped his head towards the far end of the bar where three lads barely out of puberty were trying to pluck up the courage to mount their own rescue mission in the hope of securing the girls undying gratitude – or at least a quick snog under the mistletoe before the end of the night.

By the end of the fifth pint, Mark and I had long since given up on all that was going on around us and had set out to put the world to rights. I think this is why we didn’t notice what was going on until it was too late. A sudden scream brought us back into the room.

‘What the fuck …’ Mark was staring across the room to where Sam was now clearly wide awake because he’d lunged at the girl sitting next to him and was all over her. The attention was obviously unwanted, but no one seemed to be doing anything about it. I cast my eyes around the room and that was when I noticed how many people were slumped over tables beside half empty glasses or on the benches that ran along two sides of the room. Mike was still rambling on to the people around the table where he was sitting, ignorant to the fact that they’d clearly been passed out for some time. The bar staff didn’t really seem to mind and were having their own conversation out the back, but the girl’s scream brought them running through, one of them grabbing a bat from behind the bar. He pointed this at Sam, ‘Oi! You! No means no around here!’

Sam ignored him and carried on pawing at the girl, and trying to kiss her despite her protests. The barman shouted again, but this only seemed to rouse the rest of our co-workers from their collective stupors: that was when I realised we were in big trouble.

As the barman vaulted the bar and started towards Sam, there was a cacophony of scraping and clattering of wood against concrete as the others clambered unsteadily to their feet. Almost immediately, it became apparent there was something not quite right about them. They no longer seemed drunk, but rather they appeared stiff and uncoordinated; yet with each passing second their movements became more fluid. As one, they rounded on the barman, taking him by surprise and pulling him to the ground. He tried to fight back, but there was little he could do against so many and within seconds he’d been ripped limb from limb, sending his head skittering across the floor. This attracted the attention of Maree, the slightly plump secretary of the managing director, and she chased after it.

Meanwhile, in the corner, Sam was still all over the girl, but it was now clear he wasn’t trying to kiss her; instead he had his teeth bared and was trying to bite her. That was when I noticed his eyes: rather than being clear and blue, they were now dark and dull, and they stayed still and lifeless despite his frenzied attack. I looked round at those attacking the barman and saw they were the same.

‘What the hell’s going on?’ I stammered to Mark, half under my breath.

He ran his hands through his hair, ‘I don’t know, they can’t be that drunk, can they? Maybe someone spiked something …’

I ran this scenario through my head, but there wasn’t any drug I could think of that would make people act like this.

‘Whatever’s happening, I think we need to get the hell out of here,’ I whispered across the table.

I glanced around the room. Our table was tucked out of the way and while we couldn’t make it to the main door without being seen, it seemed like we could slip into the corridor leading to the toilets and, more importantly the rear fire exit, without attracting too much attention. As quietly as possible, we got to our feet and with Mark behind me, we crept along the wall towards what we hoped would be our way out. We’d got no more than a few feet before the sound of breaking glass echoed round the bar. I turned and froze. In his inebriated state, Mark had bumped a table covered with empty glasses and bottles, sending several spilling onto the floor where they shattered into a million pieces. We looked at each other for a moment and he mouthed ‘Sorry’.

There was something slightly comical about it, and being quite drunk, I almost laughed, but then a roar brought my attention back to the rest of the room. I turned my head and was greeted by a bizarre tableau: most of our colleagues, dressed in their Christmas finery, complete with tinsel and Santa hats, stood over the bloodied and broken body of the barman, while Sam had finally looked up from where he’d been chewing through the face of the girl he’d pounced on. Further along the same wall there was another, smaller knot of people with blood dripping from their hands and faces. All of them were now staring at us with dark, soul-less eyes.

I felt Mark’s hand pushing me forward as he hissed one word into my ear: ‘Run!’

At the same time, the others surged towards us and we made it to the door way just ahead of the fastest of our colleagues. We sprinted along it as quickly as possible and, as we rounded the corner, seeing the exit ahead of us for the first time, it seemed like we’re pulling away from those who were pursuing us. We reached the door and, without even slowing, crashed into it, expecting to burst into the night – that didn’t happen; instead, we crumpled against it. Confused, we looked down and saw a heavy metal chain looped tightly through the handles and secured with a heavy-duty padlock.

‘Shit!’ I glanced down the corridor where our colleagues were just turning the corner, ‘What now?’

‘In here!’ I looked round and found Mark pointing the door to the men’s toilet. We pushed it open and leapt inside before throwing ourselves against it in case they tried to follow us in. For a moment, it seemed like we had got away, but then we felt the first of our colleagues hammering on the door. Within moments, there were so many of them trying to get in that we knew we’ll never be able to keep them out.

I turn desperately to Mark, ‘What now?’

‘The cubicles. The doors have locks on them.’

It didn’t seem like a great idea, but it was better than staying where we were. ‘Okay. On the count of three. One. Two. Three!’

We leapt to our feet and dashed across the grubby, tiled floor. The door crashed open behind us as we slide into the cubicles; me into the right hand one, Mark into the left. There was just enough time to get the door shut and the latch flipped before our colleagues reached it and started trying to break it down. I wedged my feet against the door, just in case the lock didn’t hold, but it seemed pointless as the door looked too flimsy to hold out for long.

I called out to Mark, ‘What the hell’s going on?’

‘I don’t know …’ He sounded as scared as I was.

For some reason, I had a flash back to the restaurant and what Sam had said about his food; about how the meat didn’t look like turkey. That’s when something occurred to me. ‘Mark, what did you eat?’

‘What?’

‘At the restaurant, What did you eat?’

‘What the hell d’you want to know that for?’

‘Just tell me.’

‘I was going to go for the turkey curry, but I remembered how bad it was last year so I went for a prawn makhani instead.’

‘Who else didn’t have the Christmas special?’

‘Only you, Mike and that girl Sam was chewing on in the bar. Everyone else had the turkey curry. Why?’

‘I don’t think it was made from turkey.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Well, Sam said it tasted more like pork.’

‘So it was pig not poultry,’ there was a confused tone in Mark’s voice. ‘Why would that make them act crazy?’

‘I don’t think it was pig; just something that tasted like it.’ I tried to think of what it might have been, but I couldn’t come up with any possible answers. ‘Whatever it was, I think it must have been tainted or infected or something …’

I heard the sound of splintering wood and glanced up to see the top hinge had separated from the door, and I knew it won’t be long before they’d break through.

Mark called through from the next cubicle again, ‘How the hell are we going to get out of here?’

I looked round for a window or some other way of getting out, but find nothing. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Shit!’ There was a brief pause before he carried on. ‘Knew I should have stayed at home!’

There didn’t seem to be any way we’re getting out in one piece, but I felt I needed to say something to lighten the mood. ‘Look on the bright side, we won’t ever have to listen to Mike’s chicken tikka story again.’
‘What d’you mean?’

There was another crack from the door as a second hinge gave way. Now the door was only held in place by the remaining hinge, the latch and my feet.

‘The last I saw of him he was being eaten by the managing director, two of the interns and that work experience girl everyone kept flirting with.’

‘Well, at least there’s a plus side then!’ Mark shouted back as I heard his door give way.

At almost the same moment, the final hinge gave out on mine and I knew it’ll only be seconds before the creatures that had once been my colleagues finally got hold of me and tore me to pieces, just like they had to done to the barmen, ‘Yeah, happy bloody Christmas!’

***

This is the second of the two Christmas stories I’m posting this year (you can find the first one here). It was inspired by the many office Christmas parties which I’ve been to over the years. Most of them ended better than the one in the story. Then again, some of them ended up worse!

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.
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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

22 Dec

This is a very short story I put together for my blog readers to mark the holiday season (after all, nothing says Christmas like zombies – or is that just me?). Be warned, it’s not your usual happy festive tale. Then again, since it features the undead, this is probably not surprising! As you might have guessed, and despite its title, this is not a story for a younger audience. It’s just a quick piece I wrote to explore an idea that popped into my head a few days ago, but hopefully you’ll still enjoy it. If you’d rather read this story offline, you can download a PDF from here. Merry Christmas!

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

‘Look!’ The girl pointed excitedly, ‘It’s him, it has to be.’

The boy glanced at the clock on the wall, slightly confused, ‘But it’s not midnight yet.’

‘So?’

‘So it’s not Christmas Day, is it?’

‘But it looks just like him. And besides,’ the girl said knowingly, ‘It’s already Christmas somewhere. Maybe he’s just early.’

The two children were peeking through their curtains, trying not to be seen. Despite their mother’s frequent warnings that he wouldn’t come unless they were asleep, they’d been determined to catch a glimpse Santa Claus. They tried every year but they never quite managed it. This year it seemed they might have finally succeeded. At five minutes to twelve, they’d heard a noise and had scampered from their beds to investigate.

Outside, their front yard was covered with snow, the snowman they’d built earlier in the day still staring off into the distance. Beside him was a new figure, his red coat stretched across his portly belly. They couldn’t see his face, but curly white hair hung down below a hat edged with fur. Beside the man lay a large sack from which spilled brightly wrapped packages. He stood slouching, one arm around the neck of the snowman. The man wasn’t really moving, just swaying slightly from side to side.

The boy looked up at his sister. ‘What should we do?’

The older child scratched her head as she surveyed the room they’d shared for as long as either of them could remember. A Christmas tree stood decorated in one corner while home-made streamers were strung across the ceiling. Finally, her eyes landed on the stockings that hung expectantly from the ends of their beds and an idea popped into her head. She grinned at her brother, ‘Let’s go out and see if he’ll give us our presents now, before we go to sleep.’

‘Yeah, that would be really cool.’

‘We’ll need to be quiet though. We don’t want Mom waking up.’

The younger kid rubbed his backside, remembering how it had felt when he’d been spanked for getting into a fight at school. If she’d been mad because of that, she’d be madder if she caught them out of bed on Christmas Eve. She’d already shouted at them earlier in the evening when they were still bouncing round their room long after they should have been tucked up in bed. Twice. But this was an opportunity not to be missed. After all, how many other kids would be able to say they’d got their presents from Santa Claus himself rather than just waking up on Christmas morning and finding he’d visited them in the night?

They grabbed their stockings and crept to the door. The elder child inched it open, making sure it didn’t squeak. Once there was enough room, they slipped through and snuck down the stairs, remembering to jump over the loose one at the bottom, the one that always creaked loudly when anyone stood on it. At the front door, the girl turned to her younger brother, ‘You sure about this?’

He nodded enthusiastically.

She reached up and took the key from its hook before sliding it into the keyhole. It first turned smoothly and silently, then there was resistance followed by a quiet click that told her the door was now unlocked. The girl pressed down the handle and pulled it open, letting in a blast of frigid air. The two children shivered in their thin night-clothes. Outside the street was silent, the snow muffling the usual noises of the night. The man had moved away from the snowman and now stood on the far side of their front yard with his back to them. The snow round his feet was messed up as if he’d been shuffling through it rather than walking across it. His sack still lay open on the ground by the snowman, seemingly forgotten.

Leaving the door open, the girl stepped forward, feeling the snow crunch under her weight, the cold shooting up through the soles of her feet. For a moment she thought about going back for her shoes but that would take time and he might be gone before she got back. She’d just need to be quick. Running forward, she called out quietly, ‘Santa, don’t go, we’re here. Can we have our presents now?’

Just as the girl reached the snowman, the figure in the red suit turned and she saw his face for the first time. She skidded to a halt, causing her brother to crash into her from behind, and stared at the face beneath the fur-trimmed hat. The man’s pale, sallow skin was splattered with red and his white beard was stained by a thick dark fluid that dripped slowly onto the snow. His deeply sunken eyes were a dull black with no spark of life in them.

‘That’s not Santa Claus. Is it?’ There was a frightened tone in the young boy’s voice. He clung to his sister’s arm. He didn’t know why but the man scared him. Maybe it was something to do with the eyes and the way they seemed to stare right through him.

‘No.’ The girl was frightened too. She tried to think of what to do next, but it seemed her brain had stopped working. She wanted to run, but couldn’t; she was rooted to the spot.

Then the man started towards them, slowly at first but becoming faster with each faltering step. Suddenly, the girl was no longer frozen with fear. She turned and fled, pulling her younger brother with her, but it was difficult to run across the snow in bare feet. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that the man in the Santa outfit was gaining on them. As he moved, he let out a moan that sank deep into her soul.

The kids were almost back at the house when the girl’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. She tumbled to the ground, pulling her little brother with her and landing heavily on her back. She pushed the boy onwards, towards the safety of the front door. As he disappeared inside, the girl rolled onto her front. The snow crumbled beneath her as she desperately struggled to get back onto her feet.

The girl yelled when she felt the man’s hand close around her leg and start dragging her backwards through the snow. But it didn’t feel like a real hand. While it gripped her so tightly it hurt, there was no warmth in it. Instead, it felt as cold as ice. She turned and saw the man’s face again, this time much closer. His red hat had fallen from his head, but he didn’t seem to have noticed or even to care. While his eyes looked lifeless, maybe even soulless, his jaw moved back and forth, causing his teeth to gnash against each other.

The girl kicked out, trying to break his grip, but even though she hit him as hard as she could he didn’t seem to notice. She heard someone screaming. It seemed distant at first, but quickly grew closer and closer. For a moment, the girl wondered who it was, then it dawned on her that it was coming from her own mouth. She struggled frantically but it was no use, she couldn’t get away. As the figure in the red suit loomed over her, blocking out the stars, the girl felt his fetid breath on the side of her face and realised she was going to die.

The man sank his teeth deep into her neck, ripping at her flesh. Although the girl could see her own blood spraying across the snow-covered yard, turning it a deep crimson red, she felt no pain. As the life drained from her body, the girl wished she’d listened to her mother. She wished she’d gone to sleep instead of trying to stay awake until Santa arrived.

***

For those who have read this far, here’s a quick reminder that between the 26th and 31st of December, I’ll be posting extracts from the first three chapters of my new book, For Those In Peril On The Sea (available in the UK from the 3rd of January 2013 – I’m afraid it won’t be available outside the UK until March) on this blog. It’s a tale about post-apocalyptic survival in a world where the land is no longer safe, so if you liked the above story, you might like it as well.

‘Zombies Love Brains’ – A New Undead-Themed Children’s Picture Book

21 Oct

Zombies Love Brains Front CoverZombies Love Brains is a little project I’ve been working on for almost two years. It started off as a bit of a challenge from a friend’s daughter to write a children’s book, and kind of blossomed from there. Today it’s finally on sale both in print and as a Kindle ebook, and if you’re interested, you can buy it from here.

Zombies Love Brains is a salutary tale for young readers, aged three and over, which explains that becoming a zombie is no reason to be impolite to others, or take things that don’t belong to you without asking first.

Normally with my books, I’ve provide extracts of the first few chapters, but that doesn’t really work for a picture book, so instead, I’ll show you some of the pages. For me, it’s the artwork that really makes Zombies Love Brains come to life, and for that I’ve got to thank my illustrator Mike Kloran. His work is brilliant, and exactly what I was looking for, and he was very good at dealing with all my demands and changes of mind as we worked together to finally get this book finished.

So, without further a-do, here’s some of Mike’s amazing artwork from Zombies Love Brains.

The book starts with the obvious statement that zombies love brains:

zombies_love_brains_page_1

And from there moves on to exploring exactly how much zombies love them:

zombies_love_brains_page_5

This is probably my favourite set of images from the book, and I especially loved the dog with the zombie arm in its mouth.

zombies_love_brains_page_6

The granny from the above image makes a re-appearance later in the book, where she seems blissfully unaware of the zombies that are surrounding here.

zombies_love_brains_page_15

Anyway, that’s Zombies Love Brains for you, and it’s out just in time for Hallowe’en. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but for those who are into zombies (and let’s face it, many children are!), it seems to be a big hit.

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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Sketch to Final Art: Zombies Love Brains — Surviving the Dead

16 Oct

My upcoming children’s book Zombies Love Brains will finally be published on the 21st of this month. It’s been a real pleasure working with Mike Kloran on the pictures, and it’s been an amazing learning experience for me. In this post, from his Surviving the Dead blog, Mike’s done a really nice post which shows part of the process we went through when developing the artwork from his initial ideas to go with my words to the final artwork, and for those who are interested, I’ve re-blogged it below.

 

Very soon (October 21st) you’ll be able to get your hands on this great little book I did the illustrations for. Zombies Love Brains is a salutary tale for young readers, aged 3 and over, which explains that becoming a zombie is no reason to be impolite to others, or to take things that don’t […]

via Sketch to Final Art: Zombies Love Brains — Surviving the Dead

Hurricane Lola – Or Why Bringing A Puppy Into Your Life Is No Easy Ride!

15 Oct

A year ago this week, hurricane Lola blew into town and turned our lives upside down. Ever since, things haven’t quite been the same around here, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before you get too confused, I should explain that hurricane Lola wasn’t an errant tropical storm, but rather a four pound ball of fur that we’d chose to invite into our lives. My girlfriend and I had talked about getting a dog for years, and now that I spend most of my time working from home, it seemed the right time to finally take the plunge, and what a plunge it proved to be.

While we fell in love with her from the first moment we saw her, raising a puppy has been far from the easy road that we might have imagined it to be. I’d grown up around dogs, but as a kid I got to do all the fun bits of dog ownership without realising quite how much work was involved behind the scenes, especially if you want to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted and well-behaved dog – and who would want anything else?

Hurricane Lola

Cute as this picture is, I still wonder where she got the pacifier from in the first place, and I really hope there wasn’t a small child crying somewhere just out of the shot!

Before inviting a dog into our lives, I’d had images of myself sitting at my desk, the dog curled up in her bed under the desk as I happily tapped away at my computer, allowing me to occasionally reach down for a quick scratch behind the ears as I re-read what I’d just written. The first night was enough to shatter that cosy little picture as Lola managed to drag the power cable for my laptop from the kitchen table and maul so badly that by the time I found it in the morning all it would do was beep plaintively (who knew a power cable could even do that?) meaning I had to immediately go out and buy a new one if I was to be able to use my computer that day. What followed was weeks of being jumped on whenever I sat down to work, being pestered to get up to let her into the back garden to wee every hour on the hour, and sometimes in between, too, and generally being drowned with constant demands for attention and play.

Under this sort of pressure, something had to give, and I’m afraid to say it was my writing. This was only right as after all, we’d been the ones to decide to take her in so we couldn’t change our minds, and the effort which we have put into Lola has been so worth it. The more time we spent training her, the calmer she became, gradually changing from a hurricane to a tropical storm and then, most recently, to little more than a gentle breeze, although, to continue the weather analogy, there are still the occasional gale-force gusts from time to time.

Now, just over a year after bringing her home, things are starting to turn out the way I’d originally hoped, and as I type this post, Lola is curled up beside me on the sofa, fast asleep after her early morning walk. Yes, from time to time she does wake up and plonk her nose on my keyboard, just to see what I’m doing, and I have to delete the resulting stream of gobbledygook, but for the most part she’s just happy just to be lying by my side. There’s still a lot of work left to do, but it’s most definitely a start.

This brings me to the point I want to make. There are certain decisions you make in life that you can’t go back on, or more accurately, that you shouldn’t go back on once you have made them, and choosing to bring a dog into your live is one of them. Too many people decide to get a puppy on the spur of the moment, having given little thought to how much it is going to change their lives, or how much work will be involved, especially in the first six months, to make sure that they end up with a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult dog. The result is that dog rescue centres are crammed full to bursting with animals that have been abandoned or given up because people haven’t taken the time to bring up the cute little puppy they brought home properly, resulting in it growing into an unmanageable adolescent or adult.

The fault here does not lie with the dog, but rather with the owners, although it is easy to see how it happens. My girlfriend and I spent many years considering all aspects of bringing a dog into our lives, researching which breed to get and discussing who would do what, but still we greatly under-estimated the amount of work which would be actually involved, and how difficult the first year would be. The kitchen furniture has been sacrificed to teething, the laminate floor will never be the same again, and simply rolling out of bed in the morning and making a cup of tea before sitting down to read for a few quiet minutes to start the day quickly became a pipe-dream. The hard work, and it was hard work, was constant, with little room for much else, including writing and relationships. Yet, all the disruption and time and effort which we have put in, is now being repaid ten-fold as Lola is growing into the type of dog who is a dream to own, providing companionship and bringing joy into our lives.

So, if you are thinking about getting a dog, here’s my advice: think long and hard about it, and then think some more. Are you really willing to put pretty much your entire life on hold for the first year to give your new arrival all the attention and training that they’ll need to grow into a happy and healthy adult? If you’re not or if you have any doubts (and you have to be completely honest with yourself about this), then don’t do it. It won’t be fair on you, or on your dog. If you are, then go for it. Your life will never be the same again, but as long as you are properly prepared, that is not necessarily a bad thing!


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

My New Normal – A YA Flash Fiction Zombie Story

15 Jun

What is normal? Not normal for everyone else, but normal for you? Is it dragging yourself from bed and hurriedly pulling on your uniform before taking yourself off to school? Is it hitting the snooze button on your alarm so you can get another five minutes in bed? Or getting up and feeding the kids before feeding yourself? Is it racing for the train at seven am? Or sitting in traffic for forty-five minutes just to get to a job you hate? Is it watching day time television rather than going to lectures? Or partying all weekend, then spending Monday to Friday recovering and looking forward to the next one? Is it caring for your grandmother in her dotage? Or running five miles each morning before class? Is it yoga and meditation? Or kickboxing and spin class? Is it watching soap operas? Or reading gossip magazines? Or posting everything you do on Facebook the moment you’ve done it? Is it completing the Sunday Times crossword, in ink, in twenty minutes flat? Or corn flakes for breakfast, tuna sandwiches for lunch, and meat and two veg for supper, no matter what? Is it cuddling up on the sofa after a long day, and feeling all warm and loved? Or reading a book all by yourself? Is it being happy? Or sad? Or just being you? That used to be my life, too, all of them, at one time or another, but that’s not my normality now. Instead, normal is running and fighting, and screaming and shouting; it’s fear and terror, interspersed with hiding and crying; it’s losing all those close to you, over and over and over again; it’s smashing in skulls and chain-sawing off limbs, just to stay alive; it’s blood and gore, and the stench of rotting flesh; it’s struggling each day, all day, every day without a break or even a pause; it’s not sleeping a wink for months on end, or even daring to close your eyes for a second. This is how life is now that the dead have risen from their graves and walk amongst us, hunting us, consuming us, devouring our very flesh whenever they get the chance. For me, for all of us, this is now what normal is.

***

Author’s Note: My girlfriend has suggested this bit of flash fiction would make a great start to a YA zombie novel. YA is a territory I rarely stray into, but looking back on this, I think she could be right. Now, all I need to do is to come up with the rest of the story …



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.