Authors: Mark C. Scioneaux,Dane Hatchell
“Scioneaux and Hatchell double-down on the horror and thrills in this gritty, action-packed zombie thriller. This one has real bite." – Jonathan Maberry, New York times best-selling author of Rot & Ruin and Dead Of Night.
Mark C. Scioneaux & Dane Hatchell
Copyright 2014 by Mark C. Scioneaux & Dane Hatchell
Introduction for Insurgent Z
By Joe McKinney
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked when the bottom will fall out of the zombie genre.
I don’t get mad. What would be the point? Besides, most of the time there’s no malice behind the question. Some readers are just genuinely mystified by the seemingly endless fascination we have for zombies. They fail to understand why anyone would want to read about dead things eating the living. I think, for most of the people in this category, that initial gore factor is a roadblock they just can’t pass. Perhaps they are willing to accept that the best zombie fiction has a dense stratigraphy of meaning and subtext, but they shut down at the gore and are unwilling to go any deeper. That’s okay with me. As I said, there’s no malice in their objections, only revulsion.
But sometimes there is malice. There’s resentment. There’s jealousy. Some ask about the end of the zombie’s dominance of modern horror with a sort of sick glee in their eyes. I’ve seen that look from more than a few readers, and invariably, I get the feeling that they’re trying to twist the blade into the self-respect of every writer who has ever penned a zombie story. The folks like the ones I’m describing look on apocalyptic fiction in general, and zombie fiction in particular, as the easy way to sales – the literary equivalent of selling meth to school kids. Everybody’s doing it, so it must be easy. There are oceans of crappy zombie fiction out there, so surely there can’t be any value to any of it, right?
Whenever I encounter such objections, I’m tempted to respond with all the sarcasm I can muster. I love zombies. I love their rotten little hearts. So believe me, the temptation to go into frappe mode is hard to resist. I usually hold back because I suspect that’s the fight such detractors both hope for and expect, as though engaging in the argument implies there’s a chink in the armor or a latent fear that the zombie really is a second class citizen. Personally, I don’t think the zombie needs validation. If you love zombies, you get it, pure and simple. If you don’t get them, and have no desire to do so, well, that’s punishment enough, I think.
But you, well, you’re different. You, Gentle Reader, have picked up a copy of this book because you’re curious. Chances are you love zombies as much as I do. Maybe you’ve read something else by Scioneaux and Hatchell and thought you’d like this too. Maybe you read the back cover, and thought a story about a soldier coming home to horrors, far worse than anything he faced in combat, sounded like the kind of ballsy fiction you want to take a chance on. Regardless of the reason, I like you. You’re the kind of person with whom I enjoy talking. You get this whole zombie thing.
And you’re in luck, because this book has all the ingredients of a great zombie story. Headshots and gore abound. Scioneaux and Hatchell give you a fast-paced narrative full of oozing bodies and narrow escapes, and poignant ruminations on the fragility of a man’s body and the resiliency of his character.
But all of those things are par for the course in good zombie fiction. Any number of books can give you those kinds of thrills. Why this book? Why is Insurgent Z worth your time when there are literary thousands of other zombie books out there vying for your attention? What elevates this book above the dross, thereby making it worthy of your time and your dollar? Well, the difference between good zombie fiction and great zombie fiction is the quality of redemption. Plain and simple. You come for the shambling dead, but you stay to see what the living will make of them. The best zombie fiction has always been about crossing borders, about changing from alive to dead, or better still, from dead to alive. It plays on the nature of life as a transitive form of existence, and in so doing, explores not so much the meaning of life, but the
of life. If our existence is harsh, nasty, cruel, and perhaps even pointless, why go on? Why not just lie down and quit? What’s the point?
A great zombie story, like the one Scioneaux and Hatchell have offered up for you here, presents a character struggling to answer those very questions. In many ways, the zombie story, when done right, as it in the pages that follow, serves up modern answers to the Existentialist challenges handed down to us through the legacy of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.
That may sound like I’m imbuing the zombie with an inflated sense of importance, but I assure you I’m not. Let me give you some context from the book you’re about to read. Insurgent Z is the story of a man named Mason. Mason is a soldier. Mason is a damn good soldier. The kind that follows orders. The kind that, when you send him on a secret mission, gets the job done. Unfortunately for Mason, his faith in God, country, and purpose, is about to have one of the most devastating bug-meets-windshield moments in recent memory.
Used as a pawn and cast aside as expendable, Mason is left in a pit of despair to contemplate the worth of his continued existence. He confronts head on the horror in Albert Camus’ famous opening to
The Myth of Sisyphus
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.
That’s pretty weighty stuff, but so too is the full extent of the betrayal heaped on Mason. He staggers back to the real world a shattered man. He starts to drink. He gets the shakes. He can barely sleep at night for the dreams that come. With everything he loved and respected turned against him, a lesser man might very well have slid a rope over his head, or put a gun in his mouth. But Mason’s got a hard grain of moral courage running through his being, and that enables him to meet head on the promise of human potential that runs through Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous epithet:
Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.
It seems pretty obvious to me that Mason is a sort of Existentialist Everyman, and his path through the novel is a mirror of our own quest for answers in a universe that often times seems blind to our suffering and indifferent to the better angels of our nature. There is something of all of us in Mason, and through his journey, perhaps we can learn something about ourselves.
All of that is my roundabout way of saying that there’s no danger of the bottom falling out of the zombie genre. Great works of fiction have always concerned themselves with understanding the human condition – what it means to fail, and what it means to rise above the mean and the shabby circumstances of failure – and zombie fiction is every bit as much a part of that dialectic as the love story, or the bildungsroman, or the epic poem. The zombie is our negative, our foil, the dim reflection that helps us realize what it means to be human, and that’s why the zombie is here to stay. It is a tool the writer uses to help understand the world and our place in it, and I think it is going to be with us as long as we continue to ask hard questions of the universe.
But enough of my ramblings. Talking about zombie fiction is fun, but the real joy is in reading it, and you’ve got some great reading ahead of you.
San Antonio, Texas
December 29, 2012
Betrayal of a Brother
Eight years ago...
“I don’t like it. Something doesn’t feel right.” The whisper came from one of the three figures, each shrouded head to toe in black burqas.
“Doesn’t feel right? They give you a thong to wear, too, Webb, when they handed you the burqa?” Sanderson chuckled at his own joke.
“What’s the concern?” Mason casually asked. “We passed through the market unnoticed, and the key opened the door to the room directly across from our target. The mission is right on schedule. Soon as the marks enter the apartment across the street, we blow ’em to hell, and then get out of here.”
Mason pulled the field glasses from his eyes and looked away from the window. Three stories down, an alley separated the two apartment complexes. There was nothing much to see other than overflowing dumpsters and trash scattered about. If the INTEL report was accurate, and he prayed it was, one of the top masterminds responsible for the IEDs that took numerous American lives would soon be dead and gone. Mason had already lost a few close friends to cowardly roadside attacks. He’d be damned if he lost another comrade.
“Okay, guys, hand them over.” Mason reached his hand out and snapped his fingers. Webb lifted his burqa and removed one-half of an assembly that had been taped around his leg. It was one piece to a puzzle that would launch a rocket-propelled grenade. Sanderson followed suit and peeled off the other half.
“That thing started to rub me raw ten minutes after we hit the street. I’m glad to be rid of it,” Sanderson said.
“At least you didn’t have a damn grenade inches away from your nuts.” Mason removed the tape from the RPG snuggled against his thigh.
His fingers slightly tingled when they met the steel casing, in awe of the power harbored within. The single-stage thermobaric projectile was designed specifically for antipersonnel and urban warfare. The contents of the warhead would scatter on impact in aerosol form and then ignite. A high-pressure blast wave equal to 2kg of TNT would obliterate any object inside the apartment. At least if the thing had pre-detonated, Mason wouldn’t have lived to regret accepting the mission.
Using a hex key, Sanderson assembled the stock and trigger components. The finished product was a steel tube with a flared end wrapped in wood around the middle. The wood protected the user from heat, and the flared end would aid in blast shielding and recoil reduction. He checked the paint marks he inscribed earlier on the optical sights to ensure it was still aligned.
Webb stared at the weapon. The grenade was more than half the length of the launcher.
“The projectile is initially launched by a gunpowder booster charge and is powered thereafter by a rocket motor,” Mason said, explaining what they all already knew. He talked too much when he was nervous, and though he did his best to remain cool and calm, at the moment he was tipping his hand. Mason continued to hold it with both hands and waited for Sanderson to finish.
The apartment was a small studio. The room provided enough space for the full-sized mattress laying on the bare floor, and a sitting area that would look spacious if the only furniture were a couch and chair. A cheap row of cabinets hung above the sink in what was barely a kitchen. Mason thought the average Iraqi family would consider a place like this a mansion. Collateral damage from the initial bombings on Bagdad, and refugee migration, had residential living quarters going for a premium.
“I still don’t like it,” Webb said.
Sanderson huffed out bad air and shook his head. “Webb, did anyone ever tell you those blue eyes of your sparkle like diamonds in the deep ocean?”
“I bet you got a pretty mouth hidden under that burqa.”
“Sanderson, shut the fuck up!”
“No, you shut the fuck up. You need to focus on something else other than being scared of your shadow. Get your mind on the mission. We come. We kill. We leave. If you lose focus, you’re going to get yourself killed. Or worse, you might get me killed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on dying out here.”
“Take a breather, both of you,” Mason said.
Webb turned and offered the flared end of the launcher; Mason inserted the grenade securely into place.
“We could be here for the next ten minutes or ten hours. Since the bathroom is down the hall, I’m going to open the latrine right here. I’ve got to piss so bad I can taste it.” Mason turned and walked over to a wall that had a short stack of newspapers scattered about. He glanced down, wondering if there might be something worth reading, then realized his Arabic was more than just a little rusty. He rolled the burqa high enough to find the zipper on his pants and fished for his manhood. Just as it hung out in open air, and he began to relieve himself, Webb whispered with surprise.
“Hey, a light just came on in the room.”
“Fucking great. I can’t stop pissing now. Do you see anyone?”
“No one yet, just—”
The door to the apartment burst open with a thunderous crash. Mason spun his head around and saw a boot level with the door lock hanging in the air. A small round object then bounced across the floor, metal clanking against stone.
“Jesus Christ! Get down!” he cried, but there was nowhere to seek cover.
He saw a bright flash. A shockwave grabbed his consciousness and shoved it into a deep abyss. The world went dark.
* * *
A tornado of thoughts weaved in a hodgepodge of unrelated images. A light in Mason’s mind glowed, and an assaultive, aromatic air entered his nostrils screaming for him to awake.
His vision, blurred from the hold of unconsciousness, cleared as he blinked and struggled to assess the situation. A few feet away stood an unwashed man, unmistakably dressed in enemy garb. He held a crushed ampoule in his hand.
Mason found himself breathing rapidly through his nose. A piece of cloth had been stuffed into his mouth and his lips sealed with tape. The taste of mold and sour cheese from the rag trickled down his throat.
Don’t throw up—don’t throw up
, he commanded his body, following with a short prayer. A dull pain throbbed within his head.
“Good. The last one is awake now.”
Mason turned his head toward the voice and saw Webb and Sanderson bound in chairs. Like him, both were gagged. The muscles in his arms sprung to action, only to be thwarted by the abrasive cords that burned into his wrists, as he fought the restraints. His legs were similarly held captive. His bare feet scratched into the filth on the sandy, stone floor.
The man who spoke wore a long sleeved
stood a few feet from Webb. Mason noticed the sharp Persian features of the man wearing traditional Iraqi attire. To his left, three desert rats wearing tattered Iraqi Regular Army combat uniforms, waited at the ready with Kalashnikovs hanging from neck straps. “The eyes betray you, Americans. You struggle against your bonds as if you think that if you were free, you could somehow escape. But your eyes show the fear of what you know is to come,” the Persian said.
Mason racked his brain to remember if he’d seen this man’s face in the INTEL reports. It was distinctive enough with a scar tracing its way from his right eye down to the corner of his mouth. The man had long, straight black hair, and was clean-shaven. Mason couldn’t remember any photos of a rebel leader without facial hair of some sort. That profile would have stood out.
Webb turned his head toward Sanderson, then craned his head over to meet Mason’s gaze. Sweat trickled down Webb’s cheek, and his face flushed red with white blotches.
“You see? Even this one can sense what is about to happen.” Scarface looked over to the soldier on his immediate left. His eyes narrowed, and he quickly nodded.
The soldier stepped forward and jerked the tape from Webb’s mouth. Webb’s skin clung tightly, refusing to let go. Beard stubble and a piece of skin from his lower lip remained on the adhesive side. Once the rag was out of his mouth, Webb attempted to dry spit the taste away.
“You bastards need to go ahead and kill me now. I ain’t telling you shit,” Webb rasped.
Scarface raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, curious. He turned to one of the soldiers behind him and gave a quick nod.
The soldier took a step back, raised his rifle, and pulled the trigger with no hesitation.
The shot cracked loudly in the small room. Webb’s skull peeled open from the front, blowing the right half of the scalp off, and leaving the other half attached and hanging to the side. Brain matter splattered on the back wall.
Sanderson and Mason both jumped in their seats and redoubled their efforts to pull loose from the bonds.
“See, Americans? I am a compassionate man. I granted this man his final wish.”
Muffled curses from the Americans slowly curled a smile on Scarface’s lips.
“However, there are limits to my compassion. You two will not be as fortunate.” Scarface paced back and forth in front of the two Americans, his arms folded behind his back. “I am going to begin your torture now. You will have twenty-four hours to contemplate all the methods my people perfected over the centuries to extract information from the enemy. Dwell long and hard, dogs. There is no way out of your situation better than a quick death. Such a reward can only be earned by giving me information that I find useful.”
Scarface stepped to the door, stopped, and turned his head. “It would be wise not to disappoint me. You will find that I am a very, very, patient interrogator.”
Scarface left the room, and the four soldiers followed.
Pungent fecal odor drifted through the air as Webb’s muscles relaxed in death.
Mason’s mind drifted in and out of the present, delirious from dehydration and the oven-like heat in the room. He spent most of the last twenty-four hours communicating with Sanderson using sign language and eye movements. There was little to say, other than contemplating the chances of a rescue and encouraging each other to stay strong until the end.
The rage he felt after Webb’s murder sapped a good portion of his energy reserves. He imagined ripping free of his bonds, grabbing a Kalashnikov from a soldier, and beating the enemy’s head with the butt until his skull cracked open. He would then shoot the other soldiers, except Scarface. A bullet to the head couldn’t begin to even the score for what that monster had coming to him. Mason saw himself toss the gun aside, and then bound over to the Persian in three quick strides, his arm flying back like a baseball pitcher winding up for the game-ending fastball. His fist shooting forward and smashing Scarface’s nose with the force of a cannon ball. He’d hold the Persian by the collar and simply pound his face into oblivion. Again and again, his knuckles would mash soft cartilage and crush bone. All the while, savoring Scarface’s screams for mercy, but there would be none. Not now, not ever. Mason wished he had the power to turn the whole Middle East into a sea of radioactive glass. If he could make a deal with Satan, he’d sell his soul for just one nuclear bomb to drop.
Webb sat in the chair with what remained of his head tilted toward Mason. His one eye gazed into nothingness, but to Mason, it was saying,
See, I told you something wasn’t right
Webb’s body shifted throughout the hours, expelling gas, and tightening with rigor mortis. The dry heat accelerated the body’s decay. Mason’s nose stung from each breath as the taste of death settled in the back of his throat.
The door opened abruptly, and three armed soldiers led the way in front of Scarface. One carried a brown sack. The contents in the sack writhed with life.
The soldiers lined up against the wall at attention. Scarface stopped in front of Mason and Sanderson, holding bottles of water by his chest. His eyes scanned the prisoners, and his expression seemed to change from indifference to delight. “It is time to give me what I want. I will be a generous host and give you something you want first, but then you will owe me the same favor.”
A quick nod from Scarface and two soldiers left rank and slowly peeled the tape from the Americans’ mouths. Mason pushed the rag out with his tongue and spat, while Sanderson dry heaved.
“Here, drink this. It will ease the words from your throat.” Scarface uncapped a bottle of water and pushed it to Sanderson’s lips.
Sanderson hesitated for a second, but finally relented and opened his mouth. Scarface lifted the bottle and poured until Sanderson coughed. Water ran down his chin and onto his sweat-soaked shirt. After Sanderson cleared his throat, Scarface gave him the rest. Sanderson uttered a small sigh of relief, and relaxed in his chair.
Scarface turned to Mason with a freshly opened bottle. “Drink. No need to die with a dry mouth.”
“I’ll drink it. It will help when I break out of this chair and rip you apart.” Mason accepted the bottle to his lips and drank until the last drop fell. His laser stare never left the eyes of Scarface.
“Americans watch too many movies. This is not a movie, and you are not Bruce Willis. There will be no grand finales where the hero gets rescued in the end. Ask your fallen friend there what happens when you play the hero. Real life paints a different picture than your movies do.”
As Scarface backed away, a soldier stepped up with a rag and a roll of duct tape.