Ferocious by Jeff Strand, Narrated by Scott Thomas

Ferocious is a perfect blend of witty dialogue, quirky characters, and nightmarish horror. But what else could we expect from Jeff Strand?
When Mia’s parents die in an accident, it’s up to her reclusive, misanthropic uncle Rusty to step up and care for his baby niece. He’s in no way equipped to take on the role of parent, and it’s nothing he ever expected of his life, but he’s determined to do the best job he can.
Surprisingly enough, he manages to do a fine job, home-schooling Mia and teaching her his woodworking trade as they live a life of quiet solitude in the forest. He may not have believed it possible at first, but Rusty managed to raise her almost to adulthood, and he’s proud of how she’s grown up.
Just as Rusty begins to question whether he’s shortchanged Mia by raising her in such isolation, their world is shattered by wildlife gone mad. Squirrels, birds, deer, wolves, bears, and other creatures have become aggressive and determined to kill Rusty and Mia–but the aggression isn’t the hardest part to comprehend, it’s the fact that they’re all dead.
Strand drags us at breakneck speed through a sequence of events that would be horrible under the best of circumstances; but miles into the woods without any hope of salvation nearby, these are far from optimal conditions.
Scott Thomas’s narration captures the wry wit of the two protagonists even as they grow increasingly exhausted and violated as the narrative progresses. The quality of the narration never took away from this being a Jeff Strand story, and that’s something to be proud of.

Deadman’s Road by Joe R. Lansdale, Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki

Before Deadman’s Road, I’d only been acquainted with Reverend Jebidiah Mercer via one of the short stories contained within this volume, but the character stuck out as one with a great deal of potential for additional adventures. I’m pleased to discover that I was not wrong.
Joe R. Lansdale populates his fictional version of the American Wild West with monsters, both human and inhuman, familiar and strange. All of this is filtered through the sardonic and rueful Reverend Mercer as he struggles to fulfill God’s will, a capricious and cruel thing.
As he faces off against zombies, werewolves, goblins, and other monstrous entities, Mercer is joined by assorted men and women who frequently don’t survive the encounters with the same sort of adroitness the Reverend displays. Short-lived as his companions may be, they provide ample fodder for Mercer’s wit and derision in some of the most entertaining dialogue Lansdale’s written outside of the Hap and Leonard novels.
The narration of the audiobook provided by Stefan Rudnicki perfectly suited the gruff and acerbic Reverend, as well as the other characters filling these tales. This was only my second encounter with Rudnicki as a narrator, and he was no less impressive this time around.

I, Zombie: A Different Point of View by Garry Engkent

Waking up can be a bit disorienting. Waking up to a large room full of people attending your funeral would be vastly more confusing and horrific. For Gregory Laine (Gory), this is how it all begins. It’s only natural for a zombie to eat, but Engkent goes one step further and offers both a motivation and a purpose behind that constant drive to consume.
With a mouthful of his girlfriend’s breast, Gory is captured by agents working for iASK, the Institute for Abnormal Scientific Knowledge, before he’s carted off to a secret facility where the institute hopes to study the properties that have resurrected him. In this miraculously undead specimen, the keys to various scientific and metaphysical mysteries could be revealed–if only the dead man would cooperate.
Can anyone be prepared for the changes Gory is undergoing?
What surprising revelations does he have in store for those hoping to monitor him, his former friends, and himself?
Garry Engkent provides readers with an often-overlooked perspective within zombie fiction–the perspective of the dead–and he does so in a way that sets itself apart from the work of David Wellington, George A. Romero & Daniel Kraus, and others who ventured into this territory.

You can obtain this story as well as the other Emerge titles by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Like a Brother by Shane McKenzie

Setting the stage and whetting the appetite for his upcoming novel, Addicted To the Dead, Shane McKenzie’s Like A Brother provides readers with a tantalizing glimpse of a world where the dead don’t stay dead and organized crime is going strong–perhaps stronger than ever before.
We join Donnie, a member of Sal’s crew, just after another crime family interrupted a funeral and spirited away Calico and the object of the funeral, Beauty. Sal is planning to attack, and take back the people who were taken from him. But his enemies aren’t done yet. Barely surviving the bloodbath that ensues, Donnie struggles to reach his family and the families of the others who’d just been murdered, but he might be too late.
Will Donnie have the strength to take revenge and perform the rescue that Sal’s crew had intended before they were all but wiped out?
Will he ever see his friend–his almost brother–Calico again?
McKenzie introduces us to a world of casual, excessive violence and a thriving black market built on the nourishment provided by an unsavory meat supply with unique characteristics.
After reading this story, you’ll surely be addicted as well.

You can pick this up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Growing Dark by Kristopher Triana, Narrated by Kristopher Triana, Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, Michael Zapcic, Kevin McGuire, Thomas Mumme, and Jennifer Mumme

Growing Dark truly showcases the eclectic range Triana is capable of in a way a reader would otherwise only discover if they took the time to read half a dozen books. Running the gamut from intense cosmic horror to something that could be considered kid-friendly, there’s no doubt any lover of dark fiction will find something to love in this short collection.
From the Storms, A Daughter kicks everything off, sharing the story of a town that’s been going through hard times, and they’re only getting harder as the region gets flooded. First responders in boats are struggling to locate stragglers to take them to safety, but what they find instead is evidence that there’s more to fear than the water.
Eaters is a post-apocalyptic excursion into the remnants of the old world, as a small party of hunters is clearing the area of zombies. As with most tales like that, things don’t go smoothly. Triana manages to bring some originality to the topic, and an ending that readers/listeners are unlikely to see coming.
Growing Dark is a coming-of-age tale gone wrong, as a farm boy surrounded by sickness and decay desperately wants to prove to his father that he can be a man. Sometimes being a man involves making some hard choices, and sometimes they’ll be bad choices as well.
Reunion is an insightful story of childhood regrets and how the mistakes we make can haunt us well into adulthood, altering the courses we travel and where we ultimately end up.
Before the Boogeymen Come was the most surprising inclusion in this collection. Triana entertains readers as he breathes life into the monsters who plague the imaginations of young children before media and experience provide new monsters to replace the old.
The Bone Orchard is a heartbreaking western tale that could be read, depending on the reader’s perspective, as being either pro-life or pro-choice in its message. An old shootist returns to an old haunt and old love, only to discover there’s a sinister secret behind keeping the brothel running smoothly.
Soon There’ll Be Leaves is a character study framed by multiple horrors, the most potent of which being reflection on a life not well-lived and the looming loss of family. Returning to a place he’d sooner never see again, our protagonist is approached by an old flame who proves the adage that one can never go home again, as an attempted affair takes an unforeseen twist.
Video Express is a nostalgic exploration of the video rental stores of our youth and condemnation of how we quickly turned our back on the family-run establishments in favor of places where we could easily snag the newest titles.
Giving from the Bottom is another character study, this time focused on the horrors of everyday life and the gradual erosion of both one’s ability to care and one’s will to live when nothing seems to turn out as expected.
The collection ends with the strangely epic Legends, a vision of an afterlife that is not at all what one might expect. In Triana’s captivating narrative, we discover that the dead–if they’re famous or infamous enough–become eidolons of a sort. Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin come together as paragons of what generations of moviegoers and fans imagined them to be, and as such, they are bestowed with purpose and power to protect the world from infernal entities who may have similarly familiar faces. For me, Legends was the best of the whole collection, providing a glimpse into a world I could see the author fleshing out into a much longer piece.
The narrations provided by Dani George, John Wayne Comunale, and Kristopher Triana himself were the best of the bunch. Triana especially did an excellent job of providing his characters with distinctive voices, and in the case of Before the Boogeymen Come a level of caricature that was enjoyable. The additional narrators, Michael Zapcic, Thomas Mumme, Jennifer Mumme, and Kevin McGuire were satisfying as well, just not as memorable as those provided by the three previously mentioned.

Black Friday by Todd Keisling

Retail is a thankless job, but working retail on Black Friday would be an absolute nightmare. For Doug, it’s not so bad. He knows it’s a job he wouldn’t want to make a career out of, but it pays the bills, and he gets to work with his girlfriend, Jenna.
As challenging as he expects the day to be, Doug never anticipates just how bad it can get. Black Friday is rough, but when it might just be the end of the world, things are about to get worse.
In the tradition of George A. Romero, Todd Keisling provides us with a funhouse mirror distortion of the American obsession with consumerism. Providing commentary on the mindless or single-minded hunger that grips wide swaths of the population on the biggest shopping day of the year, Keisling forces us to wonder how much difference there is between one shambling horde and another.
Even in a genre run into the ground, Keisling manages to create something fresh and entertaining with well-developed characters, fantastic writing, and plenty of wit added into the mix.

Black Friday was released on Halloween of 2021 as part of the 31 Days of Godless event. You can pick it up for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the app on your mobile device. The link follows:

The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski, narrated by Jennifer Fournier

The Ghoul Archipelago takes us on quite the adventure. On the high seas, to the islands of Southeast Asia, we experience a region of the world unfamiliar to many of us. Kozeniewski populates his near-future vision of the exotic environment with smugglers, pirates, island tribes, missionary religious fanatics, a smug computer programmer and inventor, and, of course, zombies. We’ve witnessed zombies all over American and Europe, the cities of Asia, and the islands of the Caribbean. Stephen Kozeniewski takes us to a novel location where we can witness the collapse of civilization and the rise of the undead, somewhere it’s less apparent that the rest of the world is gone.
At the core of this story, we see the same sad commentary on human nature fans of the subgenre should be familiar with. No matter where we are in the world, it would appear that we’re always too preoccupied with petty squabbles and power plays to focus on the survival that should be the unifying goal under such dire circumstances. As depressing as it might be, the author probably isn’t far off from the truth of it all.
Skirting through a gauntlet of pirates on the payroll of a billionaire still fixated on profit, adherents of a Christian death cult, and a megalomaniacal naval commander are Henk Martigan and his crew of smugglers. Will anyone make it through Kozeniewski’s tale alive, or will monsters, both living and undead, grind all of the survivors into a meaty pulp of blood and viscera until only maggots thrive?
It’s not easy to create an original story of the zombie apocalypse, but The Ghoul Archipelago is precisely that. Reliant on three-dimensional, believable, and even sympathetic characters, Kozeniewski propels the reader through scattered viewpoints as the adventure becomes far more than just a zombie story.
Jennifer Fournier’s audiobook narration is excellent, especially when capturing shifts in cadence and accent from one character to another.

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

It’s a testament to the skill of Daniel Kraus as an author that I couldn’t pick apart which elements of this were remnants of the unfinished material from George A. Romero and which aspects were things Kraus brought to the table.
There is a lot of book here, spanning from the very beginning of the zombie apocalypse fans of Night of the Living Dead are quite familiar with all the way to the interval when society begins to rebuild a hopefully better civilization from the ashes and decay left behind after a decade and a half of zombies and struggling to survive.
The story is told by focusing on a handful of specific characters and showcasing their efforts to navigate the nightmare their world has become, during different periods of the apocalypse and the aftermath. It shouldn’t need to be said, but not everyone survives to the end…or at least they don’t survive in the way you might hope.
Filled with the scathing, and not always subtle social commentary you should expect from Romero…this book tells us more about ourselves and the world we’re currently living in than it does about the ghouls and how they came about.
It was additionally a nice touch that there were chapters dedicated to showcasing the internal landscape of the zombies, making them out to be more than simply the mindless killing machines we often consider them to be when we’re watching the movies. Of course, fans of Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead should know that Romero very clearly had it in mind that there was still something going on behind those dead, white eyes.

Work In Progress #2 [Another Bit of Action]

The shotgun deafeningly tears through the woman’s legs, shredding everything near the knees and bringing her body to the ground.
The body doesn’t lay still for long. Only seconds after hitting the ground it is already struggling to drag its broken form back onto devastated legs. The words horrifying and pitiful mesh together in his head as he is forced to consider what he’s seeing while he watches the mindless creature desperately trying to accomplish the impossible just to get at him and presumably rip him to pieces with teeth and fingers that are already torn so badly that bone is protruding dangerously from some fingertips.
Mercy and anger urge the same reaction as he levels the barrel at the snarling face of the thing clumsily pulling itself towards him and he presses his index finger against the trigger. A mist of bone and blood, brain and flesh spreads out and paints the asphalt behind it as rhe woman flops dead to the pavement.
He stands there, staring down at the mess laying at his feet for a moment longer before tucking the gun against his chest and darting across the street hoping that he can distance himself from the scene before any of the other residents are drawn there by the shots he fired.

Work In Progress #2 [Attempting To Hide, Draft 1] (Yes, I know that I shift the tense throughout, I haven’t figured out which I want to use for the novel or even written this whole chapter)

Moving silently was made substantially easier for Miles with the downpour and frequent thunder masking any noises that he made; but he was painfully aware that the same muffling was working against him being aware of any potential threats that he would want to hear coming.

He needed to just find somewhere to duck away from the storm and his pursuers long enough to get his bearings and establish some sort of plan of action. He hoped that everyone else was having better luck than he currently was, finding some sort of safe haven. Hopefully they were all still together. Maybe Gale had gotten them all back to his house and they were securely holed up and waiting for him right now. He damn well needed to do the same thing for himself or he was going to wind up just as dead as Kateb.

The rain was colder than he would have liked and his clothing was sticking uncomfortably to his skin. He wanted nothing more at the moment than to get out of this fucking torrent; he wanted the fuck out of this god-awful town and to be as far away as possible from the crazy assholes that lived here, but first he wanted out of the rain.

He had seen a lot of terrible shit when he was overseas, a lot of things that made very little sense, but none of what he had seen even in Afghanistan or Northern Africa compared to the sheer, unreal insanity of what he had been seeing in this small Idaho town.

Hidden behind a sturdy privacy fence, he saw what might actually be the first lucky break of the night. The lights were out in the house and there was no apparent movement anywhere around him, but he was damned if the door to the backyard wasn’t wide open and swaying slightly with the breeze.

He made his way to the gate facing the alley and tested the latch, relieved to find that it opened without any difficulty. The door to the house is indeed open, he was hoping that it hadn’t been an illusion played by shadows as he made his way down the dark alley.

It takes every trace of willpower that Miles has to keep from going right for the door, but he can’t just ignore the situation that he was in. He makes his way from window to window, peering in through the lower corners, long enough to see that nothing is moving inside and that there is an unoccupied laundry room on the other side of the open door. There appeared to be another door at the far end of the room, which was a good thing, it gave him a buffer between himself and whoever might be lurking in the darkness of the structure.

He stood in the almost absolute darkness, listening for any sound, no matter how slight, that might not be caused by the storm going on outside. His ear pressed against the door leading to the interior of the house, he could hear nothing that indicated that anyone was home, so he built up the nerve to test the handle, as slowly as he could turn it.

An empty kitchen waits for him on the other side, only marginal light coming in through the blinds from the distant light down the alley. There appears to be a living room through the arch ahead of him and to the left. He doesn’t want to go any further into the house. He wants nothing more than to just stand there dripping onto the linoleum floor until there isn’t a trace of moisture left on his clothing, but he needs to check things out and make sure that he’s as safe here as he wants to believe he is.

Miles crosses the dark kitchen, his movements slow and deliberate. The house appeared empty as he crossed the backyard and peered through the first floor windows that faced the ally, but that was no guarantee that the occupants weren’t present. The door into the kitchen from the laundry room had been unlocked at least and kept him from having to force his way through, and he had let himself in with all of the stealth that he could manage.

He stood silently in the entryway between the kitchen and living space for close to five minutes, listening to the silence of the place, attuned to the slightest whisper of his breathing until the sound of his own pulse in his ears echoed like a drum. He didn’t make the slightest motion until he assured himself that nothing moved in the almost pitch black interior of the residence.

His foot descends softly and the faintest creak of the floorboard beneath causes him to immediately shift his full weight back to the other. His breath halts mid-exhale and his eyes widen as he scans his surroundings with sweeping movements of his eyes; his head stationary, like the rest of his body, as still as a living statue, each muscle tensed to react at the slightest impetus.

Even within the structure he is aware that the noise couldn’t have been a fraction of the volume that it was to him, but he was unwilling to risk the possibility of being discovered by anyone that might be there. There was no chance of the sound carrying beyond the walls, but still Miles worries that his misstep could draw the attention of either of the threats currently roaming the town.

In the den he discovers something that makes him want to cry tears of gratitude, above the mantle is an older pump action shotgun. He moved as quickly as stealth would allow and slid the gun from the hooks that held it in place like he was receiving communion.

 

(Gap in narrative, still unwritten)

 

In the darkness something latches onto him with hands like a hungry animal, clawing at him and struggling to pull him towards it, or it towards him. Either way it amounts to the same thing.

The shotgun in Miles’ hands erupts with an almost deafening explosion and the hands are no longer there holding onto him. Something wet and visceral hits the ground a few feet from where he stands. Almost immediately he begins walking backward slowly towards the open doorway that he knows is there, and he can hear the hungry thing in the darkness shifting itself around, breath gurgling in its throat.

It drags itself across the floor, the gender that it might have been before disguised by the severity of its wounds. Still it moves inexorably forward, desperate to reach its prey even as the final traces of life begin to dissipate within it. There is no question though, that it should be dead already, that its momentum should have ceased some time before; but somehow it just keeps dragging itself along, leaving a trail of blood punctuated by viscera at irregular intervals.

Miles had seen some terrible things in combat, been party himself to some of the most monstrous actions that one human being can perform against another, but in the minute or so that he had spent watching this creature crawl its way towards him in the half light, he felt bile surging against his esophagus.

Worse than the appearance; the hoarse, guttural groan that issues from its ravaged throat forces Miles’ teeth to clench.

Finally he raises the table leg that he wields like a sledgehammer and he brings it crashing down onto its skull, again and again until he can no longer distinguish between the sounds of splintering wood and bone. So much more silent than the shotgun that had initially shredded its body had been. He finally takes a moment to mutter a prayer to any gods that might be listening that the sound of gunfire hadn’t seemed to attract the attention of others like the thing he has just dispatched, perhaps within the same house.

“This simply cannot be happening,” Miles whispers to himself as he begins to analyze what he can remember of the town’s layout, working out the best route available to him back to Gale’s home and the SUV that he left parked there.

Everyone would be making their way there as well, if they weren’t already there, anyone still alive at least. But the rest of them didn’t know about the firearms and ammunition that Miles carried in a false compartment in the back, so he muses hopefully that Gale is armed, or he makes it back there quickly enough to make a difference. It seems that his obsessive preparations for terrible scenarios finally proves itself to be worthwhile.