Authors: Matt Dinniman
— 2013 —
— | — | —
© 2013 by Matt Dinniman
Cover art ©
2013 by Erik Wilson
edition © 2013 Necro Publications
Book 7 in the Necro Fresh Flesh Series.
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— | — | —
To the city I left behind.
— | — | —
Let’s forget all this fourth wall bullshit and get
to the point. You’re the reader, and I know you’re there. We’re supposed to
pretend like neither of us exist, but if you’re going to trust me, we can’t
start this off with our backs facing each other. My name is Adam, and I want
you to look right into my eyes. This isn’t going to be a one-way exchange, no
sir. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to Nif, and it’s not fair to you. I’m
here. You’re here. And this is what really fucking happened the day they nuked
Nif and I were there. We saw it begin. You may
think you know what happened. You watch the news, follow the internet, and
maybe you read that dumb book by the guy who wasn’t even there, and that gave
you this feeling like you know what went down first-hand. But you don’t know.
You can’t know. Unless you were there too, you don’t know shit.
So here’s the scene. We’re in a small arena. It’s
a roller derby bout. Tons of people, but the only important characters right
now are me; my wife, Nif; and her cousin, Cece.
“What is that?” asked Cece. She sat next to Nif
and me in the stands, and she’d been staring hard at something for a while, her
clove cigarette clinging dangerously to her bottom lip. I watched the
cigarette, counting down to the inevitable dive of ash straight into the hair
of one of the let’s-be-edgy-and-go-to-the-roller-derby sorority girls sitting
in front of us.
Cece was a sturdy, box-shaped girl, a roller derby
queen on and off the rink. Her derby name was “Peaches and Scream,” and
everybody called her “Peaches.” Only me and Nif called her by her real name. About
a month before, Cece’s leg was busted in two places in a spectacular,
skates-over-head collision with the jammer for the Demon City Sallies. She now
sported one of those casts that made her walk like a mummy. It forced a
temporary vacation from roller derby. But my wife’s cousin never missed a bout,
and she wore that cast like a heavyweight championship belt.
Cece stood heavily. “I’m gonna go check it out.”
She clomped her way down the stands toward whatever had caught her attention below.
I looked at the ponytail in front of Nif and me. Not a single ash had fallen on
the girl’s head. I glanced to where Cece headed, but I didn’t see anything.
“Damn,” I said.
“What?” Nif asked.
I nodded toward the stairs. “Your cousin is all
worked up about something.”
“What else is new?” Nif said, twisting in her
seat. She scratched her arm. My wife seemed more distracted than usual tonight.
On stage, another scene played out. The halftime
band, a local punk group, couldn’t get the PA system to work. Feedback blared,
and the crowd booed and threw cups at the bewildered band. This was the first
time I had seen them, and I could tell they weren’t used to the surly crowds.
“I almost feel sorry for them,” Nif said,
scratching some more at her arm.
“What’s their name again?” I asked. They all wore T-shirts
with something hand-written on them, but I couldn’t tell what they said from where
we sat. The first word started with a “P,” the second a “V.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You won’t
A scream perforated the stadium.
Just like that. A scream, and the world changed
This was a scream unlike anything I had ever
heard. I thought maybe it was a cat at first. This was an unforgettable scream,
high-pitched and piercing, sounding amplified even though it wasn’t—one
of those sounds that causes every person who hears it to stop and look with
I stopped. I looked with dread.
It wasn’t a cat.
I hadn’t seen where Cece went, but I saw her now.
She stumbled backward on the track, tripping onto her ass, clawing at her face
as she screamed. Her cast boomed when it hit the floor. She had something
wrapped around her neck and on her head, like a mask. The pink and fleshy thing
pulsated, a blob of living Silly Putty. As we watched, the pink color grew
brighter, matching Cece’s Bombers jersey. The mass grew, covering more of her
face. She screamed again, and a tendril of the blob snaked its way into her
mouth, cutting her scream off cold.
This was not a typical halftime prank. Holy shit,
no. Something was wrong. Cece rolled onto her stomach and twitched, the mass
growing over the top of her head and down her back, covering the ‘Peaches’ on
her jersey until the whole top half of her body disappeared.
The ponytail and her friends screamed. They ran,
falling over themselves.
“The hell?” I said, jumping to my feet. Nif and I
looked at each other. We both ran toward Cece. Half the crowd rushed toward
her, the other half away, and the crush caught us. I reached and grabbed Nif’s
skinny wrist, holding her close to me, and she wrapped her other arm around my
waist, swearing at everyone, screaming for them to get the hell away.
Through the crowd, I watched as a
girl—Panda-Monium, a pivot and the captain for the Punky
Bruisers—grabbed Cece’s good leg. The moment she did, her body went
rigid, like a goddamned Medusa statue. She fell to the ground, her hand still
clamped on Cece’s ankle. Other roller derby girls crashed into Panda-Monium, and
when any of them came into contact with her, they also froze. In a matter of
five seconds, a glob of thirty people formed on the track and spilled over into
the sidelines. The moment anyone touched the group, even through clothes, they
became a part of it, frozen in place.
I stopped dead. Still on the bleachers, I pulled
“Don’t get any closer,” I yelled over the screams.
“What the hell?” she said, trying to pull away.
She didn’t yet see what was going on, but many had,
and the fearful and confused now surged away from the track and toward the exit.
I watched as the band’s bass player fell to the ground. He kicked at a trapped
girl near him. As he scrambled away, his foot slipped, and his ankle became
attached to her neck.
Band mates tried to pull him away, only to be
caught themselves. Soon a chain of bodies snaked across the track and into the
middle of the center stage, with a dog pile around where Cece fell.
By now, enough people had cleared away that Nif
could see what was happening. Everyone continued to stream out of the small
arena, and in the distance, a police siren wailed.
“We gotta find a way to get to her,” Nif said,
pulling toward the track. I couldn’t see Cece anymore under the pile of
“No,” I said. “We don’t know what’s going on. The
police are coming.”
Nif was only five feet tall. She weighed 95
pounds, if that. I should’ve been able to hold onto her. If I had been
stronger, if I had used both of my damn hands, if I had been more insistent and
kept her away, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Everything would’ve been
different. I would’ve pulled her out of that building. I would’ve gotten us
into our car and driven away.
But that’s not what happened. I wish more than
anything in the world it was.
She twisted out of my grip, and she got away from
me. She bounded down the stands toward her cousin.
I’m taking a dramatic pause right now because I
have tell you a few things before we get to the most fucked-up part of this
Like I said, my name is Adam. I am 24 years old
now, and I was 23 on that night last November. I’m half Irish, half Filipino if
such a thing matters. I look like a tall, dark-haired white guy, and nobody
ever guesses I have anything other than purebred ‘Merican in me.
According to all the records, I’m dead. If you
look at that memorial that alphabetically lists all the people who died that
night and the following morning, you’ll see an assload of Adams listed on there.
I’m the third one. Nif and Cece are both on there, too. Nif is listed right
underneath me, but they put her as “Jennifer.”
Everything you’ve heard about the Grinder is
bullshit. Pure, simple bullshit. They don’t know what they’re talking about,
those college-educated bozos on TV who’ve written whole books based on nothing
but the thousands of YouTube videos people posted after that night. I don’t
give a rat’s ass about the Kyl Commission’s initial findings. In fact, the only
one who came close was that crazy asshole on
The 700 Club
who blabbered about demons and abortion and gay
marriage. And even he wasn’t that close.
Don’t believe the reports that say it came from
the science lab at the university. Or it rose from the reservation. Or came up
from Mexico. They’re all wrong. I was there. I saw the damn thing born.
Most importantly, I know what it was. I know why
it was here. You take every scary-ass theory from the past six months, and you
roll them into a ball to make the freakiest, most terrifying thing you can
think of, and you still won’t even be close.
But we’ll get to that. First, I have tell you more
about Nif. I may be writing this in first person, but she’s the main character
here. Don’t ever forget that.
This is Nif’s story.
Jennifer. She hated that name, so we all called
her ‘Nif.’ I won’t say everything was perfect between us, because it wasn’t,
but at the end of every day, we slept in the same bed, we kissed each other
good night, and we both thought that we were going to spend the rest of our
lives together. We didn’t have kids, but we had a ferret named Hamlet. Nif had
tattoos and smoked just about anything available to smoke, and she was addicted
to God, punk rock, and roller derby, in that order.
She didn’t compete in the roller derby herself.
Her bones would’ve snapped like her cousin’s leg the first time someone knocked
her onto the floor. But she was friends with pretty much everyone involved in
the local scene, and she never missed a bout, dragging me with her.
Nif and I were in school together since the 10th
grade, but we didn’t date until my senior year, and not until after she had
dropped out. We worked together at Big Shot Chicken. I was shift manager, well
on my way to take over the chicken-roasting world. Yeah, I was one of those
guys. Straight-laced, did my homework, dotted my I’s and crossed my T’s. I had
watched my dad fuck up my family’s world, and I was determined to do the exact
It’s funny; Nif had the same deal with her dad. The
man was a genuine war hero, a pillar of society, the type of guy who won
community awards and actually deserved them. The only thing he ever really
screwed up was Nif.
She hated him for it. To this day, I don’t know
what he did to make her hate him. I asked her once, and she started to cry like
you wouldn’t believe. “I don’t know either,” she said. But by then, it was too
late. This was at her mom’s funeral, and her dad had been dead a year.
The fast food gig, for me, was for my scholarship
applications, show I could hold a job. My family wasn’t rich, so I had to go
through the whole financial aid and scholarship crucible. The college
gatekeepers liked things like track team, honor roll, chess club. Shift manager
of a hole-in-the-wall chicken restaurant.
For Nif, the job paid the rent on her shitty
little apartment. She was only 17, but she lived by herself. Her mom had
figured 17 was close enough, and took off while her dad was out of town. He
didn’t even know where Nif lived, though he came into Big Shot sometimes to try
to talk to her and give her money. She wouldn’t talk to him, but she would take
I was a total asshole manager. I remembered Nif
from school, but she didn’t remember me, and that made me mad. It made me mad
because she was one of those people you instantly recognized, someone you
noticed when she was gone, and I had noticed when she’d dropped out of school
the year before. For fuck’s sake, I sat right behind her in Spanish two years
in a row, and she didn’t know me when she got hired.
She looked at me like she’d never seen me before.
This one night, we were the only two closing up
the restaurant, and I was chewing her ass for not cleaning off the tables in
the dining room. I was ready to go, and she’d spent the last ten minutes
fucking with the radio because the DJ had promised to play a Bad Brains song.
She was all excited because they never played that shit on the radio. I pointed
out she had the CD sitting right there, but it didn’t matter. “It’s different
when it’s on the radio,” she said.
“Yeah, it’s not as good,” I said.
“You know what, go fuck yourself,” she said.
“People like you won’t ever understand.”
“Yeah, and people like you will spend your whole
life waiting by the radio, when you got the CD sitting right there.”
She paused then, just looking at me,
me. We’d known each other for
three years, we’d worked together for six months, and I’d finally gotten her
attention. I even felt a little triumphant right then. But then she opened her
mouth, and both of our lives changed forever.
“You either fire me or fuck me. That’s the only
way you’ll get me away from this radio,” she said, leaning back against the
wall. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it right there.
“But…but,” I stammered. I was never bad with
words, except when I talked to her. I never even thought I liked her in that
way until she said it. She wasn’t my circle. She was unique, an anomaly. I
never thought we existed in a universe where she and I would get together. I
wasn’t going to fire her. Maybe write her up, but not fire her. I couldn’t even
fire her if I wanted. I didn’t know what the hell to say. “I don’t have a
condom,” I said.
She laughed and took a long drag on the cigarette.
She let the smoke seep out her nose, and I swear that cloud filled the entire
ceiling of the restaurant like a storm.
“Either you’re a pussy, or you think I’m dirty.
Which one is it?”
I was so out of my element. I don’t even remember
what I said.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she said, putting down her
We fucked right there on the table. Right where we
make the chicken.
I wasn’t a virgin, not by a long shot. I’d spent
my whole junior year in a highly dysfunctional, insanely sexual relationship
with a girl from the chess team.
a virgin, and that blew my mind.
She had what seemed like hundreds of boyfriends. A
parade of them, all tattooed and older. They came into the store every day to
talk to her when she was supposed to be working.
guys were her circle. But she’d never had sex with any of
them. She chose me, seemingly on a whim. Just like that. I didn’t understand.
We didn’t get together right after that. After
that night, she pretended like it had never happened, and we went back to our
old routine of me being the asshole, and her being the unruly,
But as much as she pretended, things were
different. She stopped letting guys come over to the store, and sometimes, in
my peripheral, I’d catch her watching me, but when I turned, she looked away.
Part of me wanted to never talk to her again. I
had no plans on staying in Tucson, and I just knew hooking up with someone like
her would keep me here. I knew what my friends would say.
Stay away from her. What’re you thinking, man?
Nobody would guess we were a couple, at least not
back when we first got together. I looked like what I was—a chess team nerd
who corrected the chemistry teacher when he made a mistake.
And Nif? She was a punk-rock, skater girl to the
core: full of piss and vinegar and fuck-you, even with her fine features like a
porcelain doll you’d see for sale in the Sunday newspaper leaflet. Half Mexican
and half white, she dyed her brown hair midnight black. So black, it would blend
with the night sky, and she was just a disembodied, glowing white face. She
always wore these striped, knee-high stockings and Doc Martin boots that
weighed as much as she did. Everywhere she walked, her footsteps boomed, but
she made it look graceful. When she walked into a room, you knew she was there.
And when she ran toward her cousin that night,
when everything was still contained within the roller derby arena, everyone
turned to watch her run. That’s just how it was with Nif. She moved, people
I screamed for her to stop.
She got to the main scrum of girls, and she
grabbed the back of a girl’s jersey, as if she planned to throw her aside to
get to Cece. But as special as Nif was, she, like everyone else, wasn’t immune
to whatever this was.
She froze, hands fixed to the back of the girl.
I continued to scream, only it changed from
What could I do? That feeling of helpless horror, hardly
ten feet in front of me, was unlike anything I had ever felt. I wanted to run
up and help her. I almost did, too. I took a few steps forward. Someone grabbed
my shoulders, and if he hadn’t, I would’ve charged right down there. But as
much as it pained me to stop, I controlled myself after that first second. I
couldn’t help her if I was trapped, too.
I didn’t run. I couldn’t leave her. I fell to my
knees on the metal bleachers, crying out in frustration, almost falling
forward. Nif stood there, paralyzed. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I could see
the eyes of some of the others, and they held nothing. They remained frozen,
More people stood around me, equally horrified. I
recognized some of them as friends and boyfriends of the roller derby girls.
One man cried out and rushed down the last of the bleachers, and he grabbed at
the group just as someone else tried to pull him back. Both of them became
stuck, covering up Nif so I couldn’t see anything but her cherry-red Doc
The group of afflicted came too close, and if it
grew any more, I’d be trapped. Crying and yelling, I ran across and down the
stands so I’d have an exit at my back.
The group of paralyzed people continued to grow,
but more slowly now that the arena had cleared. As I watched, helpless, a cop
ran in, a big, barrel-chested guy with a mustache. I’d seen him before. While
the folks in the local roller derby scene were a friendly bunch, fights did break
out from time to time that required a police presence. I didn’t know his real
name, but once the announcer had called him “Officer Beefycakes” over the PA as
he entered the arena, and the name stuck. Whenever he came around now, the
crowd would chant, “Beefycakes! Beefycakes!” and he’d wave. He stopped at the
sight of the group, looking around in surprise.
“Don’t touch them,” I said, frantic. “If you touch
one, you’ll get stuck, too. You have to do something. My wife is in there.”
He talked into the radio on his shoulder. He backed
up, taking me with him. “How…how long?”
“It just started a minute ago. It happened so
fast.” I told him what I saw, with the pink thing on Cece’s face, but I said it
so quickly, I’m not sure he understood. I’m not sure he believed me.
“Everybody outside,” he called. He tried to pull
me with him, but I shouldered away, numb with fear. For her. For myself. But I
wasn’t going to leave her. Several of us remained in the arena, surrounding the
group, just out of reach, all of us calling out names.
It happened so fast.
At one moment, the cluster was just that. A
cluster of people.
It all changed in an instant. The long, tail-end
line of people started to move. At first, it was a twitch, like a single snake
or tentacle, attached to the large, unmoving mass where Nif was.
Then the line of people, fifteen deep, rose
impossibly into the air. It swung up into the stands, slamming through the
onlookers. A guy got smacked in the face with the body of the guitar still
clutched in the hands of the trapped musician. He flew across the room,
crashing against the far wall. He crumpled to the ground, unmoving as blood
gushed out of his head.
“Fuck,” the officer said, pulling his gun. He
aimed, but he didn’t have anything to shoot. The tentacle swung angrily in the
air, back and forth, looking for targets. It picked up six or seven more
people, all at crazy angles who swung loosely except at the point of contact,
as if a thick wire snaked through, holding them in place like Christmas lights.
Outside, more sirens blared.
The tentacle whipped toward the cop and me. I
ducked as it whooshed over my head. The officer wasn’t as quick, and his face
smashed against the legs of a captured body. He lifted off the ground.
I scrambled, crab-walking backward toward the
exit, not looking away. The long tentacle lifted over the main mass and broke
apart. People rained down on top of the group, reattaching at the top, turning
the mass into a quivering ball of humanity. People rearranged themselves,
moving in a strange, staccato manner, crawling sideways like flies on a wall.
I watched in horror as the ball became tighter, a
giant sphere several people thick. I cried out Nif’s name. I couldn’t see her,
but she was in there somewhere, crushed against the others. People in the ball
had obvious injuries, but their faces betrayed no pain. I wondered if they were
dead, or kept alive by whatever force that was doing this.