Frost Bite: #ThrowbackThursday #amwriting #horror #shortstory #free #zombie @Sirens_Call

One from the archives: “Frost Bite,” originally published five years ago in an issue of The Siren’s Call, the eZine put out by Siren’s Call Publications. That’s a free ‘zine, by the way, so go check it out.

This was back when I wrote under the name Alex Chase, so if you want to read it in the original eZine, be sure to look for the right name. …You’ll also notice I’ve changed the title slightly since then.

But in the meantime, here’s my story. It’s zombie themed, so anticipate violence, gunfire, and lots of angry chewing.

***

Frost Bite

Ross Jackson stared out at the white-washed landscape; an icy gale screamed, hurling snow and ice at his team. He paid no notice. He was too preoccupied with the prestige that would come with their triumphant return home.

“Look, all I’m saying is that I’m glad to live in a world where we don’t need to carry guns around anymore. Walking around without a weapon… it’s liberating, you know?” said Joshua Newman from the backseat of their all-terrain Humvee. He seemed to be too large for their vehicle- at six foot four and nearly three-hundred pounds, he dominated any space he found himself in. That’s ignoring the fact that he almost always had a shotgun, assault rifle or other such heavy weapons at all times.

“What are you talking about? We’re all heavily armed. And not five minutes ago you said, ‘I love my shotgun almost as much as life itself’.” James Wake smirked, staring at Joshua. James, conversely, was a wiry man who barely scraped five foot ten. He had his legs crossed beneath him and a belt of assorted grenades strapped to his chest.

“I said we don’t need guns. I didn’t say they aren’t fun to have,” he grinned, resting his hand along the barrel of his custom VT-19 combat shotgun.

The Humvee sputtered to a halt outside of a small metal tube that led to the International Antarctic Geological Survey Center. The frigid gray walls towered over them. Lisa killed the engine as Ross threw open the door, blasting the interior with snow. They clambered out and trudged carefully through the snow to the shelter of the enclosed entryway.

James looked over at Karen; her eyes showed fierce determination, but they also glistened with repressed anguish. They were a few feet behind the other five members of the squad.

“Are you ok?” He asked softly.

“Yeah, why? You wanna lecture me too?” She snapped. He drew back. “Save it, James. I don’t wanna hear it. Don’t give me that, ‘You’ll be ok, everyone lost family to ‘em’ crap, got it?”

Karen Jensen was the small arms technician; they hadn’t found a single gun that she couldn’t take apart and reassemble in less than a minute. She lost her temper just as quickly.

James glared at her, “Actually, no. I was going to say that it is ok if you’re not ok. I was going to say that I’m here for you if you need to talk- though some of us didn’t have family to lose. But you know what? Fuck you, Karen.”

He stomped off towards Ross, who was working to cut down the door to the facility. She wanted to go after him and apologize but knew it wouldn’t help. James had been an orphan up until the Newman family had taken him in while he was in fifth grade. He had no real family, and the only remaining member of his adopted family was right there by his side.

She covered her eyes. Guilt was the last thing she needed. “Pricilla… you were always so much better at this touchy-feely crap… I really should’ve listened when you gave me advice,” she whispered. Pricilla Jensen had been bitten during a reconnaissance mission in the Swiss Alps and put down immediately thereafter.

“Almost got it- the power’s been cut off, but there should be backup power to the research and residential wings. James, you and Joshua are going to escort Shadow to the data facilities to see what can be recovered. I’m going with Karen to the residential suite while Marcus and Denver are going to get the main power on.”

“Got it,” James growled, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“Hey, James,” Denver’s high-pitched voice barely carried over the wind. “Is it true that you had the highest kill count out of any soldier?”

“He has the highest,” Joshua clapped a hand over his back. “This little weasel came close to killing me more than a few times, but he’s sent thousands of those god damned zombies straight back to Hell.”

“And that’s precisely why close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” James patted the canisters on his chest.

“So you’re the one who blew up the Golden Gate Bridge?” Marcus looked over.

James matched his stare. “Yup, that was me.”

“Nice.” His face couldn’t be seen through his mask, but it was clear that he was grinning. James smiled back.

“How many did you kill in doing that?” Denver prodded.

“I don’t know, honestly. At least ten, twenty thousand. Maybe more. We hovered over the center of the bridge in a helicopter. They were climbing all over each other trying to get to us, so it was hard to get a read on the body count.”

Ross kicked down the remnants of the front door and motioned for the team to follow. They fell silent and drew their guns. They crept inside; the building was dark and cold. The screech of the wind through the open door echoed throughout the hallway.

“Ok, we’re splitting up here. Keep your radios on and if there’s any sign of trouble-”

“Come on, dude, we’ve been fighting this war for almost a decade. We know how to handle this. Besides, zombies are slow and stupid. All you have to do is point and click- as long as they’re an arm’s length away, we’ll be fine. Let’s just get this over with,” Karen growled. She noticed James looking at her; she looked away, unable to make eye contact.

Ross glared at her. “Be careful- we’re still not sure as to how many bogeys we might find here.”

“Hold up,” James called. He gave a package of remote explosives to Marcus and another to Ross. “Leave one in your respective bays… just in case.” They nodded.

Marcus started off towards the maintenance bay. “Do you have any idea how to work a generator?” He whispered to Denver.

“Don’t worry, I think I’ve got us covered,” she laughed. Her voice still bore the light-hearted melody of one who hadn’t seen bloodshed. Though she’d been at the forefront of the war, her role was always within the bases she was stationed at. She never ventured beyond their walls. Her few friends were all kept safely within those confines as well.

Marcus had been a field “medic”- which meant it was his solemn duty to execute any and every bitten soldier he came across.

Ross and Karen tromped down to the residential suites. She spared a glance back towards James. He looked away, his countenance twisted by contempt.

“Let’s go,” James muttered. He led Joshua and Shadow towards the research labs.

“So, why do they call you Shadow?” Joshua looked over at the girl beside him.

“Why do you ask?” She said hesitantly; her low voice was barely audible.

He chuckled. “Look, I don’t care about what you’ve done; in times like these, only what you do matters. First we clear the world of the undead, then we rebuild it; it doesn’t matter what you did before. I’m just curious.”

She shrugged. “I’m quiet and can get in and out of anywhere without detection. If something needs breaking into, I can guarantee I’ll get you in, whether it’s a building or a computer.”

Joshua smirked, “Humble.”

“Fact,” she countered.

“Interesting,” James grinned. “So what brought you to the war zone?”

She rolled her eyes, “I got sloppy. Someone caught me rerouting troops from within the D.O.D. mainframe. They said I could be a soldier or be bait. My choice should seem obvious.”

“Why were you…?” Joshua squinted at her.

“Probably to ensure the zombies got distracted and went somewhere else, right?” James looked back. She nodded.

The group turned and walked into the main lab, where the computers were located. James and Joshua secured the room as Shadow took a seat in front of the glowing screens.

“We’re lucky the backup power kept these working,” James jutted his thumb towards her. She’d taken off her scarf and mask, exposing her angular chin, thin lips and pale neck.

Her fingers danced across the keys, the rat-tat-tat of her typing mimicking the constant gunfire that marred the better part of their lives. Sure enough, she’d broken through the facility firewalls within a few minutes. She thrust a flash drive into the USB port and began siphoning the data that had been collected, but froze.

“Hold on… there’s a file marked ‘URGENT’ on the desktop. Doesn’t look relevant, but you want me to examine?” she turned to the men.

James nodded. She opened it up to a series of video logs. She selected the earliest entry and hit play. It was dated from nearly seven years ago, towards the beginning of the zombie outbreak.

The screen buzzed, displaying the image of a well-groomed man with dark brown hair and a white coat. “Dr. Spaulding here; we recovered a few bodies from the ice. They appear to have once been zombified, but perished in the cold. The molecules in their brain burst as the water within froze. To be safe, we destroyed the heads.” The video ended.

The second showed the same man, looking notably more disheveled. It was taken roughly three days later. “I’ve just been informed that our evacuation has been delayed by an ice storm. Not sure if we have the supplies to make it until the end,” his eyes darted about. He was scratching his neck profusely. “In case we don’t… I understand. Whoever’s out there, calling the shots… I forgive you… there are more important things to deal with than rescuing us. Just tell my family that I love them.”

James stared at the ground. Joshua watched him. Shadow clicked the third video, taken later in the same day.

Dr. Spaulding was wild-eyed and shaking. “We were wrong to bring them here, so wrong, so very wrong! It wasn’t just the water that froze- the virus froze too! It went into a dormant state, or something, became spore-like, and finally… it… it… evolved. The freezing made the virus more powerful, somehow.

“We breathed it in when we smashed the skulls. We’re all infected now. One already turned… We shut down the power, he’s locked in. The regular virus can live for a few weeks outside of a host, not sure about this version. It takes you over, you don’t have to get bit to turn, you just itch, itch, itch… then stop being human. The new strain… keeps the flesh from decomposing. These zombies are faster… Stronger… Deadlier… Please… if you’re watching this… run.”

The trio looked at each other. James’s hand flew to his radio and slammed down on the talk button. “Marcus, whatever you do, don’t-”

The lights flicked on and the ventilation system gave a dull hum. Stale air washed over them.

“What?” Marcus radioed.

“Shit,” James hissed.

“I don’t understand,” he radioed back.

“Let’s get out of here,” Shadow leapt up and started for the door when a figure blocked her path. It looked human enough- except for the blank, white, telltale eyes.

Joshua whipped out his shotgun, but the figure had already lunged forward, tearing out Shadow’s windpipe in an instant. It threw her to the ground, snarling as it ran at Joshua.

He fired, blowing off its right arm. It stumbled and fell, but lashed out with its remaining arm and caught his ankle. James fired, putting a round through the front of its skull, but the bullet missed its hindbrain. It sank its teeth into Joshua’s ankle before he could pull away. He screamed, aimed down and smashed it’s skull with the butt of his gun.

Joshua dropped to his knees, slamming his fist into the ground. James knelt beside him. Joshua was sure it was just the trickery of a frightened mind, but he could already feel the burning, festering sensation of the virus taking over.

The words “Man Down!” came through over the radio- someone else had been bitten too. James put out the same call.

“I knew I should’ve gone with semi-auto,” Joshua tried to smile.

Marcus rushed in. “You too?” He looked down; Marcus had fresh blood on his jacket.

James nodded, biting his lip.

“Hey,” Joshua thumped James on the shoulder. “We had a good run, right? Besides, I kinda always knew I’d die during this war… Killing zombies was the only thing I was ever good at. There’s no place for me out there. Get out there and live.”

James gaped, “But the video…”

“I know, but I don’t believe that. I won’t believe that. Just go… alright?” He looked at Marcus, then handed over his VT-19. “Do it with this, will ya’?”

Marcus nodded. James threw his arms around Joshua and squeezed him tight. “Wait for me up there… got it?”

Joshua nodded, “I’ll have fresh coffee ready.”

James choked back a cry and retreated to the doorway. “I’ll miss you, bro.”

“I’ll miss you too.” Joshua shut his eyes; so did James.

The roar of Joshua’s shotgun echoed down the hall. James clung to the wall as he was wracked by sobs, hot tears spilling down his cheeks. Marcus laid the gun beside its fallen maker, grabbed James and ran to the entryway.

Ross and Karen met them there. They didn’t need to ask what had happened.

“We’re leaving,” Ross growled. He started for the door.

“No,” James’s cracking voice stopped him. “You’re leaving.” He held up the remote detonator.

“James, come on… don’t do this,” Karen whispered.

“I have to. I’m ending this war in the only way I know how… I’m not letting some other team come back here and risk more deaths.”

“You can come with us, blow it up as we go!” She yelled a bit too desperately.

“No… I can’t… the signal wouldn’t reach in these conditions,” he waved his hand at the snow-strewn gale, “and either way… I won’t.”

“Come on… he’s made his choice,” Ross said, gently taking her by the elbow and leading her back to the vehicle.

Marcus turned to James. “I’m sorry.” His eyes shimmered.

“You didn’t kill him,” James gave a weak smile.

Marcus nodded and walked off. The three remaining members climbed in and began driving away. Karen pressed her face to the window, taking one last look at him before the snow blocked her vision.

Nothing could prevent her from seeing the wave of fire tearing across the ice. A tear slid down the side of her nose.

It only took them a few minutes to reach the military transport plane. They drove inside, shed their snow-gear and tried to relax as the plane took off.

“That… sucked,” said Marcus.

Karen sniffed and nodded, falling silent for a few minutes.

Marcus scratched at his neck. “Is it just me, or is it itchy in here?”

“I’m itchy too,” Karen nodded.

“Probably just from the cold,” Ross said. “Slight frostbite, you know? It’s probably nothing. Besides, a little itchiness never killed anyone, right?”

New story out in Dead of Winter from @MightyQuillBks #Horror

Hey everyone! My story, “These Claws Dig Shallow Graves,” was picked up for the now-available Dead of Winter anthology, from Mighty Quill Books. Infinite love for those of you who pick up a copy, and double-infinite for anyone who leaves a review to talk us up! Click the pic to see its Amazon page.

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Weird crap I’ve said while playing #TheBindingofIsaac @edmundmcmillen

Hi everyone,

As you no doubt gathered from my last post, I’ve been playing lots of The Binding of Isaac lately. It’s a pretty weird game, but here are the weirdest things I’ve said or thought while playing (both alone and with friends).

Let’s take a ride.

  1. I’d prefer to start in the Burning Basement because I can make money off the fire.
  2. The Ocarina of Time has aptly prepared me to chuck a bomb in this tapeworm’s mouth.
  3. The power of flight has failed to protect me from tiny spiders.
  4. If I don’t cry on all this poop, I won’t have enough hearts to kill Mom.
  5. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m going to touch it. *Mortally wounded.* Oh. Note to self: That thing is “a bastard.”
  6. If you’re not using bombs to put out fire, you may not be doing it right. If you ARE using bombs, please direct me to the nearest bomb bag salesman, because I’m all out.
  7. I have more keys than God!
  8. The secret room was full of mushrooms, and the mushrooms were full of spiders. Again.
  9. The shopkeepers don’t mind if you blow them up. I mean, none of them complained afterward.
  10. Using a Devil Room is like gas station sushi. It might seem like a good idea, but if you’re not careful, you’ll regret it.
  11. Using a Devil Room is like choosing the holy grail. You’ll melt Nazi faces!
  12. Using a Devil Room is like insulting your mom during an argument. Sure, it might feel good, but you’re probably going to regret it.
  13. You can touch whatever you want, but don’t go crying about it if it hurts you.
  14. *Follow-up* Actually, since tears are your weapons, continue to cry.
  15. *As Samson* The best thing you can do for yourself is throw that boy on a spike pit.
  16. *As Samson* The redder you glow, the smoother your go!
  17. Remember kids: do all the drugs.
  18. I found a weaponized fetus in the basement. Good times.
  19. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since the first World War!
  20. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since S.H.I.E.L.D. dragged me out of the ice!
  21. I haven’t been this excited for a quarter since last week! …I’m really broke.
  22. Most games make you ask, “Why?” This one makes you ask, “What the fuck?”
  23. *As Eve* If you get attacked, your bird will eat people. It’s like Bioshock Infinite, except you’re more likely to accidentally kill yourself.
  24. *As Eve* Isn’t every night a terrible night to have a curse? I’m not less inconvenienced by the horns growing out of my head just because it’s Labor Day.
  25. *As ???, reincarnated via the Ankh* Am I cold, or just really dead?
  26. *As ???* Something stinks, and it’s probably me.
  27. *As plain old Isaac* I love how his first instinct upon finding any given object is to shove it through his head. KID. YOU’RE NOT A CLOSET, THERE SHOULD NOT BE HANGERS IN YOU.
  28. *Fighting Mom* Those calves are not meant for heels. Or going out in public.
  29. Satan can’t be killed by the Bible. Mom can, but not Satan. Why? Because he’s Satan, and you’re a child. He doesn’t have time for these games.
  30. I try to take pills whenever possible. Then I can show up to boss battles like LOOK HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE COMING OUT OF MY BODY.
  31. I’m not sure why that giant ball of crap is so yellow, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day prepared me for this. Now crank up the opera.
  32. This game has a great soundtrack, but it also syncs perfectly to Radio X from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
  33. Pro-tip: Blow up the slot machines. Also, I’m not allowed in AC anymore.
  34. The Devil Beggars are pretty chill dudes. I mean, they’re like Red Cross, but I get floating babies and damage boosters instead of fifty bucks and a cookie.
  35. There’s a fifty percent chance this game is just another set-up from Cabin in the Woods.
  36. Ultra Greed compared to every other boss is like having your girlfriend beat you to death compared to a quick kiss on the cheek.
  37. *Singin’* “’Cause I’m a gamblin’ boogey-man, although I don’t play fair!” *Dies*
  38. *Reading Isaac’s last will* How did I carry all this stuff? And when did I even find half this crap?
  39. This is by far one of the sickest, darkest games I’ve ever played. It should be a movie. I mean, everyone involved would get sued for making it, but it would have such a cult following.

That’s all for now! Keep shining on, you crazy diamonds.

Some things @theevilwithin did right, and some it did very wrong #videogames #horror

I’ve been replaying The Evil Within on my PS4 and, as I did the first time, really enjoyed some of the gameplay. Since I’m a pretty critical gamer, I can’t help but praise it–and chastise its creators for some glaring oversights and easily avoidable flaws. Let’s check this out.

Good: Run for your Life

There aren’t a lot of games out there with quality chase sequences, but when done right, those games deserve a thumbs up. The Evil Within is one such game, offering several “Run or you’ll die” moments, many of which are complicated by traps, offering even more ways to get brutally torn into a thousand pieces.

Bad: PS2-Grade Controls

Between a white-knuckled grip on the shake-cam and controls that feel more at home in Silent Hill than a PS3/PS4 title, you’re likely to slam Detective Castellanos into so many walls you’ll wish he was locked in a padded cell so he didn’t keep hurting himself. I’m not suggesting it should’ve been an Assassin’s Creed-style “turn so fast your legs skitter out to the sides” sensitivity, but god damn, this guy turns slower than a cruise liner.

Good: Interesting Monsters

Between the variety of disfiguration the main enemies suffer, The Keeper, The Four-Armed Teleporting Kayako, and the grotesque bosses, there are quite a few baddies to look at while the Detective gets murdered.

Bad: The hell do they look like?

Between the aforementioned herky-jerk camera, intentionally grainy screen, and the background environments, there’s barely any time to actually see what you’re shooting, and when you do see it, it blends into the background. Fuzzy texturing and an over-emphasis on gritty world-building left the creatures feeling lack-luster.

Good: Atmospheric Tension

Some of the early environments do a great job of capturing that survival horror feel, especially if you’re low on green gel and haven’t bought many upgrades.

Bad: They Completely Forget About Tension Halfway Through

Call of Duty style shootouts and an increasing reliance on bosses or subbosses to keep the game challenging cause atmosphere to go right out the window. Bonus Bad: Survival horror ammo scarcity, massive shootouts, and a camera that shakes harder than a fault line during a volcanic eruption gets frustrating very fast.

Ugly: The Main Character is a Moron

I was pretty disappointed with Det. Castellanos’s character. He spends half the game asking obvious questions, and the other half making idle, unthinking remarks. At one point, he even refers to “that red liquid.” …That liquid is called blood, detective.

However, the acting is very well done, and kudos for bringing in Jennifer Carpenter for Nicole Kidman. As a huge fan of Dexter, there’s a certain appeal to having her in the game.

Ugly: Too much Resident Evil

I love Resident Evil, and I’m all for homage, but between Evil being in the name, the final boss getting blown away by a rocket launcher, and the fact that it uses the iconic “zombie hunkered over, eating someone, then turning around slowly while the lights flash” TWO TIMES, I found myself wondering why I didn’t just play RE.

Even the subbosses are copied straight out of RE4, including fighting two giant troll things at basically the same time (El Giganto), a water-dwelling beast that you can’t directly kill (El Lago), and a subordinate of a major boss that uses ground hazards and extreme physical power (Salazar’s Right Hand).

But, when the game actually tries to be its own experience, rather than a fan-service clone, it handles really well.

Ugly: Troped-up Female

There are only two women in the game. Kidman plays the damsel in distress and the femme fatal, while Ruvik’s sister, aka Four-Armed Kayako, is the woman-as-monster. There’s no redeeming element here, and I’ve knocked a full point off its score for that.

Do I recommend this game? Yes. I wouldn’t say I love it, but I definitely enjoy playing, and have bought it twice. It’s not perfect–six and a half out of ten, at best–and it won’t give any seasoned horror fans nightmares, but it’s worth a few playthroughs. If you haven’t tried it, and you’ve got a little spare time/money, give it a look.