By Darren Shan
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When news reports start appearing of a zombie outbreak in Ireland, B’s racist father thinks it’s a joke– but even if it isn’t, he figures, it’s ok to lose a few Irish.
B doesn’t fully buy into Dad’s racism, but figures it’s easier to go along with it than to risk the fights and abuse that will surely follow sticking up for Muslims, blacks, or immigrants. And when dodging his fists doesn’t work, B doesn’t hesitate to take the piss out of kids at school with a few slaps or cruel remarks.
That is, until zombies attack the school. B is forced on a mad dash through the serpentine corridors of high school, making allegiances with anyone with enough gall to fight off their pursuers.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Zom-B Underground
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It was the darkest, most wretched hour of the night when the dead came back to life and spread like a plague of monstrous locusts through the village of Pallaskenry. The luckier victims were slaughtered in their sleep, their skulls ripped open, their brains devoured. The others suffered a far more terrible fate.
The living and the undead shared the village for a short, frantic time, but it was a balance made in hell and it could not last. One side would surely wipe out the other. As the demented, demonic beasts tore into their unsuspecting prey, killing or infecting, it soon became apparent that this was a war the living had never been destined to win.
Brian Barry watched sickly as his mother dug through the shredded remains of her husband's face to scoop out his brains. Mum had often joked about killing Brian's dad, on nights when he had stumbled home from the local pub, or when he wouldn't shut up about soccer. Brian and his dad had always laughed when she made her outlandish threats. But neither was laughing now.
Brian couldn't understand how the world had changed so abruptly. It had been an ordinary Sunday night. He'd watched some TV, finished his homework just before going to bed, and settled down for a night of sweet dreams before another school week kicked off.
Screams had disturbed his slumber. Brian wasn't a light sleeper, but even the dead were unable to sleep through the uproar in Pallaskenry that night.
Brian had thought at first that somebody was throwing a party. But he lived on a quiet stretch of road. His neighbors weren't party animals. Had teenagers driven out from Limerick city to bring noise and chaos to the countryside?
As his head cleared and he turned on the light in his bedroom, he quickly realized that this was no party. The screams were genuine roars of terror. Looking out of his window, he spotted some of his neighbors running, shrieking, fighting. He watched, awestruck, as Mrs. Shanahan stabbed one of her sons in the chest with a long knife, then staggered away, keening sharply.
The stabbed son should have died instantly, as the knife had pierced his heart. But to Brian's astonishment he yanked out the knife, tossed it aside, then fell upon his mother with a bloodthirsty howl. Mrs. Shanahan had time to scream once more. Then her son somehow cracked her head open with his fingers and began pulling out lumps of her brain.
Brian turned away and vomited as Mrs. Shanahan's son stuffed bits of his dead mother's brain into his mouth and swallowed gleefully. Then Brian rushed to his mum and dad's room to seek protection.
They weren't there.
As if in a nightmare, Brian shuffled towards the kitchen, where he could see a light. Pushing open the door, he spotted his parents, but he didn't call out to them. There was no point, he saw that immediately. His father would never hear anything again. His face had been ripped apart and his body was deathly still.
As for Brian's mother, she was too busy eating her dead husband's brain to care about anything her son might have to say. There was a nasty cut on her left arm and a green fungus was creeping across the wound. There was something strange about her teeth and fingers too, but Brian didn't focus on those details. He could stomach no more. Weeping softly, he backed away from the kitchen of death and fled into the night of blood and screams.
Brian headed for the main street of Pallaskenry, crying, moaning, shivering. He could see atrocities unraveling wherever he looked, corpses littering the road, people–neighbors, family members, friends–feasting on the dead, tucking into their brains.
Fighting was rife, brother struggling with sister, wife with husband, child with parent. It made no sense. It was as if a great madness had swept through the village and struck at random. Anyone who tried to reason with the cannibalistic crazies was knocked down and ripped apart. The only ones who stood any chance of survival were those who didn't stop to ask questions, who didn't try to help, who simply turned tail and ran.
But Brian was a child and he believed that adults had all the answers, that you should always seek assistance if you found yourself in trouble. So he pushed on, searching for a police officer, a teacher, a priest… anyone.
All he found was more horror, blood everywhere, corpses everywhere, undead monsters everywhere. Nobody could help Brian Barry. It was every man, woman and child for themselves.
Brian somehow made it to the top of the main street, ducking challenges, skipping past the lunges of bloodthirsty abominations. In the middle of the killing frenzy, there was no shortage of targets, so the undead creatures didn't take much notice of an eleven-year-old boy.
At the top of the street, where the road branched, a man was standing, feet spread wide apart, hands on hips, studying the violence. Lots of undead creatures were gathered at this point, scrapping with the living or feeding on the brains of the freshly killed. None attacked the man in the middle of the road. Some growled suspiciously at him, but all of the monsters let him be.
Brian was young but he was no fool. He saw his best chance of survival and launched himself at it, desperation lending him one last blast of speed when he'd been sure that his lungs were about to burst.
Slipping past the frenzied, sharklike killers, Brian threw himself at the feet of the man who was immune to the attacks. He looked up and got ready to beg for his life. But when he saw the man's face, he paused. The tall man was very thin, with a large potbelly and extraordinarily unsettling eyes. They were double the size of Brian's, the largest eyes the boy had ever seen, unnaturally white, with a tiny dark pupil set in the center of each. Brian was immediately reminded of an owl.
"Yes, little boy?" the man murmured. He had a soft, pleasant voice, like one of the announcers on the TV shows that Brian had been watching earlier that night. It didn't really suit those eerie eyes.
"Please," Brian gasped, grabbing hold of the man's legs. "Help me. Please. My dad's dead. My mum…"
"She killed him?" the man asked, then tutted when Brian nodded. "How sad that you had to bear witness to such a shocking scene. No child should ever be put in so unfortunate a situation. You have my condolences."
One of the undead creatures darted at them, reaching for Brian, drooling as it moved in for the kill.
"Back!" the man with the large eyes barked. The monster snarled at him but retreated as ordered.
"You… you can… help me?" Brian wheezed.
The man frowned. "I could, but with so many in your perilous position, it hardly seems fair that I should single you out for special treatment."
"Please!" Brian wailed, clutching the tall man's legs even tighter. "I didn't do anything wrong. I don't want to die. Please!"
The man sighed and looked around at the dead, the dying and the undead. He hesitated, then decided to be merciful. "Very well," he muttered. "But I'll only do it for you. The others will have to fend for themselves. What is your name?"
"You need to let go of my legs, Brian, move back and kneel in front of me."
"Kneel?" Brian echoed uncertainly.
"Yes," the man said. "Then close your eyes and say a silent prayer, any prayer will do, or none at all if you're not religious, although I find that even the most agnostic individual gains a measure of comfort from prayer at a time like this."
"You'll help me if I kneel and pray?" Brian asked.
"Yes," the man smiled, and although it was a cold smile, it filled the boy with hope.
"Okay," Brian said, releasing the man's legs. The undead noticed this and started to move in for the kill. Brian gulped, then closed his eyes and prayed manically. He couldn't remember the words very well but he did the best he could, trying not to think about his mum and dad and how he used to complain when they took him to church.
The tall man looked down tenderly at the boy. Then he spotted the monsters closing in and wiped the smile away. He would have to act swiftly if he was to honor his promise and spare the boy the agony of death at the hands of these foul beasts.
"You have been a brave boy, Brian," the man whispered. "I am sure you will be reunited with your parents in the next world."
Then his hands snaked out. Brian didn't see the long, bony fingers, and only barely felt them as they gripped his head and twisted left then right. He heard a sharp cracking noise but felt no pain and was dead before he knew it.
The man let the corpse drop and bade Brian a silent farewell as the living dead moved in and tore into the boy's skull. He watched for a while, then checked his watch and grunted. There was still a long way to go until morning.
With a small cough he adjusted the ends of his sleeves, then started down the road into the village, leaving the undead leeches to carve up Brian Barry's skull and feast upon the hot, sweet brain within.
Zombies, my arse! I've got a real problem on my hands. Dad's been drinking and I can tell by his beady eyes that he's close to tipping over the edge.
We've been watching the news, a report about the alleged zombie attack in Ireland. Dad takes a swig of beer, then snorts and switches channels.
"I was watching that," Mum complains.
"You're not anymore," Dad grunts.
"But it's important," Mum presses. "They might attack here. We need to know what to do, Todd."
"B knows what to do, don't you?" Dad says, winking at me, and it's a relief to see he's still at the stage where he can crack a joke.
"Of course," I grin. "Put my head between my legs and kiss my arse good-bye!"
We crack up laughing. Mum tuts and makes a face. She doesn't like it when we swear. She thinks foul language is a sign of ill breeding. I don't know how she ended up with Dad—he could swear for a living.
"Don't be silly, Daisy," Dad says. "It's all a con. Zombies? The dead returning to life to feast on the living? Give me a break."
"But it's on the news," Mum says. "They showed pictures."
"They can do anything with computers these days," Dad says. "I bet B could knock up something just as realistic on our laptop. Am I right, B?"
"Dead on," I nod. "With a few apps, I could out-zombie George Romero."
"Who's that?" Mum frowns.
"The president of South Africa," Dad says seriously and we both howl at her bewildered expression.
"It's all very well for the pair of you to laugh like hyenas," Mum snaps, face reddening. "But what happens if zombies attack us here? You won't be laughing if they kill me and B."
"I'll happily chuck you to them if you keep on moaning," Dad says, and there's an edge to his voice now, one I'm all too familiar with.
Dad stares at Mum, his eyes hard. I tense, waiting for him to roar, or maybe just throw a punch at her without warning. If he does, I'll hurl myself at him, the way I have countless times in the past. I love him, but I love Mum too, and I can never stand by and let him lay into her. The trouble is, there's not much I can do to stop him. We could both be in for some serious battering tonight.
But instead, after a dangerous pause, Dad smirks and switches back to the news. That's Dad all over—unpredictable as the weather.
I scratch the back of my head–I had it shaved tight over the weekend and it's always itchy for a few days when I do that–and watch the footage from Ireland. It's a helicopter shot. They're flying over Pallaskenry, the small village where zombies apparently ran wild on Sunday.
The village is in ruins. Buildings are being burned to the ground by soldiers with cool-looking flamethrowers. Corpses all over the place. At least they look like corpses. Dad reckons they're dummies. "That's a waste of good ketchup," he said when Mum challenged him about the blood.
"I mean," Dad says as we watch, "if it had happened in London, fair enough, I might believe it. But bloody Ireland? It's one of their Paddy jokes. There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a zombie…"
"But they've shown dead people," Mum persists. "They've interviewed some of the survivors who got out."
"Never heard of actors?" Dad says witheringly, then turns to me. "You don't buy any of this, do you?"
"Not a word." I point at the TV. They're showing a clip that's already passed into legend on YouTube. One of the zombies is biting into a woman's head. He's a guy in pajamas. His eyes are crazy and he's covered in blood, but apart from that you wouldn't look at him twice in a crowd. The woman screams as he chews off a chunk of her skull and digs his fingers into her brain. As he pulls out a handful and stuffs it into his mouth, the camera pans away and, if you listen closely, you can hear the cameraman vomiting.
The clip had gone viral on the Web by Monday morning, but they first showed it on TV that evening. There was an uproar the next day, papers saying it shouldn't have been aired, people getting their knickers in a right old twist. It gave me a fright when I first saw it. Dad too, even if he won't admit it. Now it's just a bit of fun. Like when you see a horror film more than once—scary the first time, but the more you watch it, the lamer it gets.
"He should have dipped that bit of brain in curry sauce," I joke.
"B!" Mum gasps. "Don't joke about it!"
"Why not?" I retort. "None of it's real. I reckon it's a trailer for a new movie. You wait, another few days and they'll admit it was a publicity stunt. Anyone who fell for it will look a right idiot, won't they?"
"But the police and soldiers…" On the TV, a tank fires at a church, blasting holes out of the walls, exposing zombies who were sheltering inside—these guys are like vampires, they don't come out much in the day.
"They're part of the campaign," I insist. "They've been paid to go along with the act."
Mum frowns. "Surely they'd get in trouble if they lied to the public like that."
"Trouble's like a bad stink," Dad says. "Throw enough money at it and nobody cares. Any lawyers who go after these guys will be given a big fat check and that'll be the end of that."
"I dunno," Mum says, shaking her head. "They're talking about a curfew here."
"Course they are," Dad sneers, knocking back another slug of beer. "The government would love that. Get everyone off the streets, terrify us into holing up like rats. It'd leave them free to do whatever they wanted at night. They'd ship in more immigrants while we weren't watching. That might be what the whole thing's about, a plot to make us look away while they sneak in a load of scabs who'll work for peanuts and steal our jobs."
Mum looks dubious. "You can't be serious, Todd."
"I'd bet my crown jewels on it," he says firmly.
She stares at him, maybe wondering how she ended up marrying such a paranoid nutter. Or maybe she's trying to convince herself that he's right, to avoid any arguments and associated beatings.
The worst thing about this zombie scare is talk of a curfew. I'd go mad if I had to stay home every night, locked in with Mum and Dad. I mean, most nights I stay in anyway, watching TV, surfing the Web, playing computer games, listening to music. But I know that I can go out, any time I please. Take that choice away and I'd be no better off than a prisoner.
I shiver at the thought of being caged up and get to my feet. "I've had enough of zombies. They're boring me. I'm heading out."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Mum says. "What if there's an attack?"
"Don't be daft," I laugh.
"But if they struck there, they could strike here. We're not that far from Ireland." She looks like she's about to cry. "They come out at night, the reporters all say so. If they attack London and catch you on the street…"
"Dad?" I look to him for support.
"I dunno…" he mutters, and for the first time I see that he's not so sure that this is the work of sneaky liberals.
"Don't tell me you're gonna start too," I groan.
Dad chews the inside of his cheek, the way he does when he's thinking hard.
"Put your foot down, Todd," Mum says. "It's dangerous out there. You can't–"
"I can do whatever the bloody hell I want!" Dad shouts. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do."
"I'm not," Mum squeaks. "I was only–"
"Shut it," Dad says quietly and Mum zips up immediately. She knows that tone. We both do. I gulp as Dad sits forward, putting down the can of beer. He cracks his fingers, eyeballing Mum. She's trembling. She's not the sharpest tool in the box. She missed the earlier warning signs, his expression, the clip to his words. But now she's up to speed. Dad's in a foul mood. There could be some thuggery in the cards tonight.
I start to edge towards Mum, to do my best to protect her. I hate it when Dad hits me. But I hate it even more when he hits her. Mum's soft. I'm more like Dad, a tough little nut. I'll distract him if I can, draw his attention away from Mum. If I'm lucky he'll only slap me. If not, and he starts punching and kicking, I'll curl up into a ball and take it. Won't be the first time. Won't be the last. Better he does it to me than Mum.
"B!" Dad barks, making me jump.
"Yeah?" I croak, trying not to shake.
He glares at me—then snorts, picks up the can of beer and settles back again. "Go do whatever the hell you feel like."
"Sure thing, boss," I smile and tip him a stupid salute.
Dad smirks. "You're an idiot," he says.
Praise for Zom-B:"Shan packs in the bites, and he rips out enough entrails for even the most jaded zombie fan; the cliffhanger ending...closes on just the right note to leave the audience gnawing for more...A series opener to sink your teeth into."—Kirkus Review
- "A raw and deeply observant tale of a morally questionable kid trying, and usually failing, to move beyond the ingrained racism instilled by B's father. It is a brave move by Shan to posit such a bigoted hooligan as our protagonist."—Booklist
- "Character development is impressive...and Shan executes the transition from normalcy to wholesale terror masterfully."—Publishers Weekly
- "Horror with a social conscience...This compelling page-turner builds steadily to the climax then throws the reader off the cliff with a twist that is impossible to see coming."—--VOYA
- On Sale
- Oct 16, 2012
- Page Count
- 160 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers