and I attracted a pack of zombies when we stopped to fuel up at the Texaco in Buffalo Springs. I hoped we’d lost them, but hope was all I had. Bob said
they were the fresh remains of a high school football team who’d been drowned
and de-souled by water daemons at a lakeside party.
strong corpses have the speed and stamina to run down a deer. Until the
sun and wind finally turned their flesh to stinky jerky, they’d be dangerous
enough to make a vampire crap bats. And fresh zombies are persistent as
porn site pop-up ads. If they take a shine to the smell of your blood, they
might track you for days, stopping only if live meat falls right in their laps
be months before they got the Dead Man Shamble and could be taken out with a
well-placed head shot. Of course, with the right software and hardware,
you could kill even the most problem zombie, but that was some fairly arcane stuff, even for experienced hackers.
my editor was right, Bob was one of only about five genuine cyberspiritual
experts in the U.S. But so far he seemed more like a second-rate grease
monkey than a computer guru. I had my doubts.
we should go back to the gas station,” I suggested. “That guy Bubba said
he had a sick badger in one of his pens. Wouldn’t this work better with a fresh
important, Bubba had plenty of guns and ammunition; all I had was a small
6-shot Beretta in the thigh pocket of my cargo pants. Bob had a small
deer rifle in the gun rack of his cab. Not nearly enough firepower if the
zombie teen squad showed up.
no challenge, little lady,” Bob said, his voice dripping with scorn and tobacco
juice. “Any fool with a copy o’ Red Hat and a pair of pliers can put
Linux on a live badger, or even a fresh-kilt one.”
hit a pothole, and I nearly lost my grip on my old iPhone. My nice shiny
new Nokia phone had fallen out of my pocket when the dead kid in the tattered Nickleback tee shirt was chasing me through the parking lot by the gas pumps, and I’d be
damned if I was going to lose anything else on this trip.
was going to kill my editor for sending me on this Texas Hellride.
Absolutely kill her. Or at least demand a paid vacation. I could
still hear Wendy’s simpering wheedle: “The highway patrol says the Lubbock area
is all clear; you’ll be perfectly safe, Sarah.”
was warming to his rant. “This zombie business is war. War, little lady, the
kind Patton never dreamt of. We are fighting the gall-darned Forces o’
Darkness. We gotta use some serious finesse, and there ain’t nothing that
spells finesse like installing a home defense system on a dead badger. You
write that down, little lady. The readers o’ MacHac need to know this stuff if
they’re gonna keep them an’ theirs safe.”
dutifully typed it down on my iPhone. I’d gotten pretty quick with the screen
keyboard, but as a precaution against being dropped in the mud I’d stuck the it
down in a sandwich bag, which added an extra layer of challenge to note-taking.
damn, come to papa!” Bob abruptly swerved over onto the shoulder and
slammed on the brakes. The Ford slewed to a stop in the caliche beside a
stand of mesquites.
the glow of the headlights was a dead badger, all four legs stiff in the
air. It was on the large side, maybe close to twenty pounds. Bob
hopped out of the truck and ran over to the badger, turning it over and feeling
around in the blood-matted fur.
legs and spine and skull are in right fine shape,” he yelled back to me, as
excited as a ten-year-old on Christmas morning. “I can’t feel nothing but
some broke ribs. This’ll do!”
tossed the badger into the bed of the truck, and soon we were speeding back to
Computer Shack was wedged in between a hair salon and a Subway sandwich shop in
a little roadside strip. The big storefront windows on all the shops had
been boarded up with plywood sheets and reinforced with two-by-fours and rebar;
all the shopkeepers were relying on neon “Open” signs to tell passersby that
they were carrying on with business in the face of the zombie apocalypse.
followed Bob into the shop and he locked and barred the door behind us.
The air smelled of dust and plastic with a faint metallic stink from a
burned-out monitor he’d hauled in for parts. Soon, it was all going to
reek of rotten badger. Bob carried the carcass over to a work table he’d
already cleared off and covered with a long sheet of butcher paper. He
wiped his hands off on his overalls and pulled out an ancient tangerine iBook,
which he set on the other end of the table. I pulled out my phone to take
first the easy crap: puttin’ the Duppy card in the iBook so’s we can get OSX to
talk to the badger,” Bob said. “I already downloaded a copy of FleshGolem from
the Apple site—it’s in the Utilities section.”
pulled what looked like a wireless notebook card out of a drawer of the
table. It had a hinged lid and a clear cover over what looked like a
small, shallow ivory box inlaid in the card.
you take some hair and blood from the critter and put them in this here
compartment.” He popped the cover open and smeared a hairy clot into the
lifted the keyboard off the iBook to reveal the Airport slot. He slid the
Duppy card inside, replaced the keyboard set the iBook aside.
heard a thump and a shriek from the hair salon next door.
git yer shotgun!” I heard a woman holler.
woman sounded a little like Wendy, though the only time I’d ever really heard
my editor scream was when a college intern lost an entire set of page
proofs. Mostly she just took on a fakey-sweet patronizing tone when she
thought you’d screwed up: “Well, we’ll do this better next time, now won’t we,
Sarah?” She talked down to practically everyone like we were
preschoolers. No wonder she’d been divorced twice.
her for sending me out here. If I survived this, I was gonna demand
vacation and a shiny new workstation
now we gotta install the Duppy security antenna,” Bob said, apparently
oblivious to the shouting next door. “You can run your badger without it,
but it’d be pretty easy for someone to hack him if they could get some blood
and hair offa it.”
jumped as the shotgun boomed twice in rapid succession next door. A
chorus of zombies roared in pain
told them they need a better lock on their back door,” Bob grumbled. He got
a penknife and made a small incision at the nape of the badger’s neck. He
picked up a long, thin, coppery wire and shoved it down into the incision like
a mechanic forcing a rusty dipstick into a car engine. “You gotta get
this to lay as flat on the spine as possible, or your security won’t be good.”
somebody was firing a pistol, the pops punctuating the zombie roars.
we go see if they need help?” I asked.
gals know how to handle themselves. Opening the door right now’s kinda a bad
wiped his hands off and pulled out a bright yellow software box with a cartoon
of a witch doctor on the cover. “Now we get to the fun part. We’re gonna
install VüDü; it’s a wicked little Linux distro. If your badger’s got
some kinda brain damage, you can do a modified install, but it’s a real
bitch. And rabies makes the whole thing a crapshoot. Read the
frickin’ manual before you try it.”
heart bounced as dead fists hammered the plywood protecting the computer shop’s
front windows. I couldn’t hear anything from next door; I hoped that
meant the women inside had driven their attackers away.
pay that no nevermind; even if they got through the wood, they still got to get
through the window bars. We got plenty o’ time.”
pulled a small, rolled-up piece of parchment out of his desk. “This has
the system config info, spiritual program components, and your password.
You gotta write it all down on blessed parchment in something like Enochian or
SoulScript. Write neatlike. Roll it up, and stick it down the
badger’s throat, all the way into the stomach.” He demonstrated with the
aid of a screwdriver.
zombies were still hammering the plywood. A couple of them had found a loose
edge and were wrenching one panel away from the bricks. One shoved a gray
arm between the bars. The pane fractured and fragments shattered to the
hands were shaking too hard to take notes, so I set my IPhone aside and dug my
Beretta out of my thigh pocket. Not that I was in much condition to shoot
ain’t gonna need that yet,” Bob said sharply, apparently irritated I’d stopped
taking notes. “Them bars’ll keep ‘em back better than that little peashooter you got there.”
reluctantly stuck the pistol in my waistband and picked up my phone.
opened the VüDü box and pulled out an herb-scented scroll of paper. “This
is the entire code behind VüDü. Fold it up into the shape of the critter,
and put more blood and hair inside.”
He unrolled the scroll and started folding
it up into an origami badgerlike shape. “It’s real hard to make your own paper,
so don’t lose it. Open-source only takes you so far with this stuff.”
zombies had wrenched the first plywood sheet clean off the window. Three
of them were growling and rattling the bars while the others hammered and
yanked at the remaining boards. My stomach was twisting itself into an
acidic knot; the bars really didn’t look that sturdy. With every good
pull, I could see the steel bolts in the cinderblocks giving, just a little. I
wondered how far I’d get if I made a run for the back door.
cursed Wendy a thousand ways. A vacation and new computer wouldn’t even
begin to make up for this trip.
was studiously ignoring the zombies. Finished with the origami badger, he
smeared a foot-wide pentagram on the paper using the badger’s blood. He set the
carcass at the top point, and put the origami badger in the middle.
burn the paper an’ do your incantation.” He got out his lighter, opened
up the VüDü manual, and started chanting while he lit the paper. Bright
green flames erupted, and the smoke curled around the badger’s carcass.
We watched as the smoke flowed into the badger’s mouth and nose. It
shuddered as it took a breath.
got badger!” He pulled out the tangerine iBook and started typing furiously.
badger was trying to get up, its rigor-mortised legs jerking like Harryhausen stop-motion. It got its head up and growled at us, baring long
canines. It sounded more like an angry grizzly bear; I didn’t think
something that small could generate such menace. I took a step back, just
to be safe.
that’s why they call them badgers, little lady ... when they get mad, they’re
real bad news!” He laughed. “Nothin’ pisses critters off like bein’ woke
from a good dirt nap.”
was feeling sicker by the minute. I’d had my doubts about the reanimation working, but it had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t have the thing under
control. The zombies had pulled the rest of the plywood off the window
and were heaving hard on the creaking bars.
opened a Telnet window and started tapping in commands. “Junkyard dogs
ain’t got nothin’ on badgers. I seen a 15-pound badger send a 60-pound
pit bull mix yelpin’ and bleedin’ back to his mamma. I mean, lookit the claws
on this sucker. This bad boy could dig his way through highway pavement—”
badger abruptly lurched to its feet and leaped on Bob, chomping down on his
left forearm. Bob hollered and fell backwards into a table of
disassembled PCs. The badger worried his arm furiously as it tore at his
belly with its clawed forelegs.
started forward to try to help Bob, but he waved me back frantically with his
Git the iBook! Type in ‘kill 665’!”
did. The badger froze, still latched onto Bob’s forearm. His tee
shirt was soaked in blood from the deep slashes in his belly. He
awkwardly shook his arm, but the badger wouldn’t budge.
that’s a helluva system bug,” he said weakly. “This little bastard’s bit
me right down to the bone. Launch FleshGolem, would ya? It’s in the
spotted a dock icon that looked like Frankenstein’s Monster and clicked it. A
program opened that looked a lot like the Mac port of the old DOOM first-person
shooter game. Instead of a game screen there was a pixellated black-and-white
image of Bob’s face.
was seeing through the dead badger’s eyes.
it’s real cool, get this critter offa me! Hit the ‘escape’ key!”
badger unclenched its jaws and fell to the floor with a heavy thump. The screen
told me the badger was resetting itself. Bob clutched his bleeding arm,
wincing. The badger righted itself and sat like a dog, awaiting new commands.
The blood on Bob’s shoes shone like tar through the eyecam screen.
this stings,” Bob said. “Where’d I put that medical kit, I gotta—”
bars hit the pavement outside with a tremendous clanging crash. One zombie was
pinned beneath the bars, but the other four poured in through the shattered
dangit! Can’t a man finish a presentation ‘round here?”
pulled a shotgun from a shelf beneath the work table and fired it at the
rushing zombies. My ears rang from the boom. The blast hit the lead zombie
squarely in its chest, but it barely slowed down.
back an’ get the badger running,” Bob called loudly, apparently a bit deafened.
“An’ don’t forget to initialize NecroNull in ‘options’, or he ain’t gonna be
the iBook, I ran to the back of the shop and spotted a closetlike restroom. I
ran inside, flipped on the light, and locked the door behind me. The lock
wouldn’t hold for more than a minute or two, but I hoped Bob could keep the
zombies busy long enough to figure out what I was doing.
the roars and shotgun blasts, I set the iBook on the sink and moused around,
trying to get the badger up and biting
the basic controls were indeed fairly simple and DOOMlike, there was menu after
menu of advanced controls for a mindboggling array of behaviors. There was even
a Karaoke menu so that you could hook up a microphone and attempt to speak
through the primitive vocal cords of the creature you’d reanimated.
aside the mental image of a frat boy drunkenly singing “Louie Louie” through a
dead Pomeranian, I found the NecroNull combat option and clicked it on.
eyecam screen shuddered and turned technicolor. A new menu of fighting commands
popped up for regular Kombat mode and IKnowKungFu mode, the latter of which
came with a warning that it was only good for five minutes before your golem
inner 15-year-old giggled: Spontaneous combustion? Fire is cool! Fire fire
told my teen to buzz off and set to kicking some zombie hiney in Kombat mode.
I could see was a mass of legs, so I hopped the badger onto a nearby chair for
a better view. Bob was leaping from table to table, trying to dodge the five
zombies as he reloaded his shotgun. He’d blasted away parts of their limbs,
heads, and bodies, but he’d only just slowed them down. Even the one who’d lost
both its lower legs and all of one arm was hopping around on stumped thighs,
gamely trying to grab Bob’s ankles.
turned his head toward the badger. “A little help here?” he called. His voice
came through the iBook’s speaker a half-second after I heard it through the
leaped the badger onto Runs On Stumps. As the badger bit into the back of its
neck, the zombie went rigid, and its skin went white and ashy. The zombie’s
NecroNulled flesh crumbled like clay beneath the badger’s teeth and raking claws.
one!” Bob said. “The others won’t go so quick ‘cause they ain’t hurt so bad.”
attacked the next zombie, which had only a superficial shotgun wound to its
shoulder. As the badger’s teeth sank into its neck, the zombie roared and
punched the badger into a pile of empty computer cases. I heard a dull snap
from the speaker, and the badger shuddered.
SPINAL TAP IN PROGRESS!
mode not possible. Continue via IKnowKungFu? (Y/N)
Fire! Fire! my inner teen chanted.
hit the “Y” key, and the screen went red. The badger rose up, up in the air and
floated against the ceiling, scanning for targets. The zombie who’d fractured
the badger’s spine was flaking apart like asbestos, and the remaining three had
cornered Bob, whose shotgun had apparently jammed.
Bob looked up, saw the badger, mouthed Oh crap and dropped to the floor,
covering his head.
badger screamed down on the zombies, jaws snapping and paws clawing faster than
the computer could track. It went clear through one zombie’s head like a fuzzy
buzzsaw and ripped through the others. I caught a glimpse of Bob crawling
desperately for cover at the back of the store. The badger dove in and out,
faster and faster, like a small furry dead Superman.
gave the iBook the four-finger salute, but the program was locked. I was
just about to hit the power button when the badger exploded.
know how matter can turn into energy? I found out later that the reason
NecroNull is buried in FleshGolem’s options is that when IKnowKungFu sparks a
spiritual overload, it causes all of the still-living matter in the golem to
become energy. A few bacterial cells, usually, or maybe a dying
roundworm. Not enough to match the power of a nuclear weapon, but plenty
to create one hell of a bang.
it a bug, or a feature? I guess it depends on how many zombies you have to
kill, and how badly you want them gone.
boom rocked the entire building, and I was knocked flat. The iBook clattered onto
the dirty floor, its keyboard popping free and its screen blacking out.
got to my feet and cautiously opened the door. Bob lay in an unconscious
heap against the back door. The computer shop was a complete wreck. Smoke
and zombie blood hung in a thick, rust-red mist. The remaining windows were
shattered, and the front door had been blown off its hinges. There was not a
single zombie in sight.
middle-aged women in pink beautician’s smocks stood on the sidewalk outside,
squinting into the dark shop. One clutched a Mossberg shotgun. Though
their faces and smocks were smudged with soot and blood, their bouffants were
you okay in there?” the older of the two women called.
fine, but Bob needs an ambulance,” I replied. “Does the phone in your shop
does. I’ll go give the boys at ’t VFD a holler,” she said.
took me three days to get back to civilization. I didn’t end up killing
my editor; when I got back we had what diplomats call “a frank and cordial
exchange” and, well, we parted ways. After that, I did what any good
American would do: I sued.
But all's well that ends well. I used my settlement proceeds to start up the Critter
Karaoke Club, and the college kids can’t get enough.