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Preview of The Changed by B. J. Burrow

Posted on February 12, 2010 by Flames

It’s not the end of the world-it’s just zombies.

Chris is an ordinary guy with a boring job, a perfect fiancé, and plans for a happy, if predictable, future. But when the dead stop dying and become, instead, simply “changed,” ordinary isn’t so comforting anymore. Wandering stray animals suddenly develop a taste for flesh and brains, and while most of the human zombies might be harmless, can anyone really be sure?

With the help of a morning show shock-jock who has recently turned into a zombie and the burnt-out walking remains of a businessman, Chris becomes the backbone of a fight for undead rights among the fear, prejudice, and uncertainty dividing the living and the not quite dead.

Apex Book Company has offered a small excerpt from this new zombie tale for Flames Rising readers to enjoy.

The Changed is available now at DriveThruHorror.com.

The Changed by B.J. Burrow

A refreshing, slow-moving brook cut through the middle of a picturesque field. Bright pink flowers covered the banks of the stream as if blown there casually by God. Cotton-white clouds moved lazily overhead as Alan Sands opened a picnic basket, commenting, “I feel incredibly corny.”

He pulled from the basket a container of potato salad and Wendy Larson laughed. “For a horrible second,” she said, “I thought you were going to hold up corn on the cob.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I was going to make you take me home.”

“So,” Alan said, walking on his knees toward her, his denim shirt stretching tightly over his broad shoulders and strong chest, “our relationship is one bad pun away from falling apart.” He leaned over and kissed her.

The sun had begun its slow melt into the horizon, painting the gently running stream with sunset, bathing Wendy’s soft face golden, making the blond highlights in her hair shine.

She spoke against his lips. “You’ve got a three pun limit.”

They broke the kiss and he smiled. His dark, silky hair fluttered in the cool breeze. “I won’t risk it. The punishment is too great.” He cocked an eyebrow, and she laughed again. Alan began unpacking the rest of the picnic basket. It was their fourth date and things were going extremely well.

Near his parked car, up the sloping hill, a cow crossed the dirt road, heading toward them in a slow, easy gait.

Wendy opened the potato salad and asked, “Did you make this?”

Alan shrugged. “I like to cook.”

“Is this German potato salad?”

“Nein.”

“You don’t play fair. German potato salad is my favorite.”

“Ve have vays of finding dees tings out.” He smiled: an embarrassed, cute smile. They had yet to sleep with each other but she decided right then and there that she would ask him into her apartment at the end of the night.

He continued, losing the German accent, “I also have macaroni salad, a home-made olive spread for the sandwiches, and, for dessert, chocolate cheesecake.”

She stared at him. “You have got to be joking.”

He shook his head, suddenly serious. “I’m not joking at all.”

She said, “This is good, but I’m afraid it all hinges on what you brought to drink.”

“I anticipated this.” He placed the macaroni salad on the traditional red and white checkered blanket and turned to the ice chest.

Wendy glanced at the approaching cow. “Looks like we’ve got company.”

Alan looked up, following her gaze. “He’s been hassling me, saying you’re his girl and I should step off.”
“He does look like some of my exes.”

The sun obscured the animal’s features, but they could see its jaws working a cud, its tail swishing back and forth. Alan thought, Don’t come over here and drop a load, you bitch. Still on his knees, he pulled out a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white, and a Budweiser from the chest, holding them up proudly as he faced Wendy. “Red, white, and American, all made this year.”

“I am impressed,” she said, laughing and glancing again at the cow. “I hope you brought three glasses.”

“Monday morning, we’re filing a restraining order. Have you called the cops on him before?”

“I think it’s a she.”

“Oh, God, you’re a lesbian?”

She laughed as he duck-walked toward her, carrying the bottles. “I must kiss you again. I can’t help it.”

She turned her face, pointing to her cheek. “Only here. I’m not that kind of girl.” He kissed her cheek, lingering a little. When he sat back, she asked, “What, no tongue?” but then gave a start; the cow was right on top of them.

Her words came in a quick burst—”What’s wrong with its eyes?”—and before Alan could look, the cow dipped her head forward and bit off his right ear.

Alan shrieked, dropping the bottles, and reaching for the gushing wound. The cow head-butted him, knocking him flat onto his back. Wendy screamed, throwing herself against the cow’s flank, trying to push the beast away. Alan began to rise, but the cow calmly lifted a hoof and stepped on his chest, pinning him to the ground.

He gave a groan that quickly turned into a wheeze as something in his chest cracked.

“No!” Wendy yelled, pushing, pushing, pushing as hard as she could against the cow. The animal would not budge.

The cow, taking her time, finished chewing Alan’s ear, swallowed, and lazily bent her head back down. Alan jammed his hands under her jaw, but the cow easily overpowered him, lowering her head to take off the left half of his face in a slow, slobbery bite. Alan’s scream climbed, stretching into a shrill warble. He beat his fists against the unflinching cow’s chest.

Wendy, crying, grabbed the cow’s leg and jerked at it. The cow swallowed, bent her head, and took off Alan’s lips and nose.

Wendy stood. She stared at the horror. At Alan’s panicked eyes. The blood bubbling out of his face. The white bone of his cheek. His fists beating at the animal.

She turned and ran for the car.

A floor-to-ceiling wall decal of James Dean hung next to a fifties retro “Duck and Cover” poster, telling children that the best way to survive a nuclear blast was to hide underneath their desks. Lava lamps stood on either side of a sixty-inch television. Mike Tabor, in front of the television, steadied himself on a Wii balance board, a shot glass full of whiskey in one hand, the Wii remote in the other. He called out to his roommate, “I got this, I got this! Get ready for your next shot, bitch!”

The reply came from the back bedroom: “It ain’t over till it’s over, ass-bag!”

Mike concentrated hard on the game, but he had already taken four shots of Maker’s Mark in thirty minutes, just one less than Paul Rameriz. Mike waved his arms, spilling his whiskey—“Shit,”—and, his concentration broken, lost the game. “Fuck!”

Paul emerged from the hallway laughing, carrying a crossbow and ready to fire, an arrow with a Shuttle T-Lock Broadhead nocked into place. Mike refilled his glass and downed it, making a face. He said, “Your turn, ass-flap.”

“We’re tied now.”

They were both currently skipping their Introduction to Political Science elective.

Mike said, “One more game, winner takes all.”

“Because you’re a pussy?”

“I don’t want to get so drunk I don’t remember the concert.”

“I don’t care if you remember it.”

“What are you doing with the crossbow?”

“Where’s the phone book? I wanna see if the arrow will go through it.”

“Cool. I think it’s by the phone, dude. Hey, don’t…” and then a ‘twang’ sounded and Mike looked down at the end of the arrow sticking out of his chest, dead center.

Paul shrieked.

Mike gurgled, dropping to his knees, dropping his shot glass, dropping his mouth open.

Paul reflexively fell to his knees as well, close to his friend. He shouted, “Don’t touch it! I saw this on a show! If we don’t remove it, you’ll be fine! The shaft will actually stop the blood loss.”

Mike coughed out a spatter of crimson against Paul’s glasses and fell onto his side, his hands weakly crawling toward the arrow.

“Dude, don’t touch it! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, I’m sorry, man, I am so sorry!” Paul began crying.

Mike convulsed.

He shuddered.

Finally, he fell still.

And then abruptly sat back up, snapping, “You fucking idiot!”

“What?”

“You shot me!”

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry!”

“Call 911! Hurry!”

“Oh.” Paul staggered to his feet. On his way to the phone, he asked, “It doesn’t hurt, or something?”

Mike looked down at the yellow feathered end of the arrow sticking out of his chest, speckled with blood, then back up at his roommate. He replied softly, “It doesn’t hurt at all anymore.”

In Chicago’s Saint Luke’s Medical Center, an unconscious man lay on an operating table, his chest open, two doctors working on him. The heart machine beep, beep, beeped, flat-liiiiiiiined.

When the anesthesia wore off, the man, feeling nauseated but in no pain, woke in the morgue, covered by a sheet. He jerked into a sitting position. Black, sandy liquid rolled out of his open chest cavity. “What?” he asked, his voice thick. He touched the jagged opening in his chest.

He saw the other covered bodies, feet sticking out, toe-tagged. He looked down at his own toe-tag and leapt off the table, shouting, “I’m gonna sue! This door, it’s mine!” He kicked open the door and started down the hall; people staring, some screaming, all trying to get out of his way. He pointed, bellowing, “That plant, it’s mine! I’m suing this hospital for everything it’s worth!”

Off the coast of Alaska, three fishermen stood on the deck of their boat, watching a swordfish refuse to die, fish eyes rolling, head beating the deck.

A minute.
Two.
Three.
Four minutes, five, would you look at that, the damn thing won’t die.

In the Bahamas, a man on his honeymoon finally swam free of a vicious undertow two miles from his hotel. He walked back for drinks, water pouring out his nose and mouth, his skin white like a soggy tortilla.

A suicide in France stood in her claw-footed bathtub filled with blood and water. Sobbing, she washed herself clean.

In Japan, a car hit a small child. The girl rolled against the undercarriage, flesh tearing from her body, and popped out the other side, dazed, no longer in any pain, but crying for her mommy.

The strawberry incense made Christian’s nose itch and his throat tickle, but he smiled anyway because it made Erin happy. She dropped onto the couch next to him, placing the lighter back in her pocket, saying, “Remind me to get some more. That’s the last one .”

“I’ll pick some up tomorrow.”

The smoke, a spastic white ribbon snapping off the orange glow at the end of the stick, quickly filled Christian’s efficiency apartment, choking the oxygen in the living room, clinging to the air in the kitchen, and seeping into his bedroom to pool onto his pillow to give him a restless night.

Erin gave Christian a quick kiss, scooted her television tray closer to the couch, and asked, “Are you ready?”
All the lights were off except for the television. Christian loved the way the blue screen tinted Erin’s pale face, making her eyes gleam, making the valleys in her black hair darker, the peaks almost white. “Rock and roll,” he replied. The blue tint turned his blond hair green.

Open Chinese food cartons marched along the backs of their television trays, along with a decorative ceramic sake jug with matching miniature cups. They lifted their cups, clinking them together. “Bonsai.”

Christian hit play on the DVD remote and the Friends disc, Season Two, began to cycle, its menu appearing. Erin said, “We’re on ‘The One with the Breast Milk.’”

“I know. I always remember.”

“And yet I always tell you. Are you already tired of that? Two years after we’re married, you’re going to demand a divorce.”

“I will not,” he said, leaning over, kissing her neck.

“You just watch.”

Christian retorted in his dumb-guy voice, “Yeah, you just watch.”

She laughed and he selected the episode. On Saturdays, they had created their own night of classic NBC programming. It had been Erin’s idea, but they had both bought the DVDs, excited, debating over which shows would be the perfect ones to fill the night. They started at the beginning of each series and were watching them in order, with Friends in the lead spot, followed by The Office, then Seinfeld, and topped off with Homicide.

The show was just about to begin, the screen black, when the phone rang. Christian quickly hit pause.

Annoyed, Erin asked, “What?” Christian stood without answering, pushing his tray back. Erin said, “We don’t interrupt—”

“The shows haven’t officially started yet.” Christian picked up the cordless. “Hello?”

Christian’s dad, Shane, asked in a flat, dead voice, “Are you watching this?”

“Watching what?”

“Turn on the TV.”

“What channel?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Shane breathed heavily, noisily.

Christian picked up the remote and Erin stared at him, obviously not happy. He asked his father, “What’s happening?” as he switched back to regular television.

A news anchor looked at the camera with worry, saying, “…first reports from the hospitals. This is not contained to one area, but appears to be nationwide. Possibly worldwide, I’m being told.” At the upper left of the screen, the word LIVE floated.

“What’s going on?” Erin asked.

The anchor continued, “This is not an elaborate hoax, as I’m sure you realize, but…” He took a deep breath. “This may be the most significant event in the history of the world.”

Erin asked, “What’s going on, Christian?”

“What’s going on, Dad?”

Shane didn’t reply. The anchor continued to speak. “We’re going live to our colleague Larry Sherman in New York. Larry?”

They cut to Larry Sherman, standing in front of Bellevue. Larry looked haggard. He kept glancing at his surroundings, not interested in keeping his focus on the camera. Police, SWAT, and fire trucks flanked the hospital. Larry said, “Thank you, Charles,” then turned to the Indian man standing beside him. “Can you help explain what is happening, Dr. Patel?”

Dr. Patel offered a pained smile. “I can’t explain, but I can say, without a shadow of doubt, that the dead are coming to life.”

Night sat heavily over East Texas, creating a sweltering, damp blanket. Smoke from fires desperately wanting to become infernos rolled above the small town of Henderson. Floyd Brown and his wife, Tara, drove little-used back roads, avoiding most of the rioting.

The cemetery resided on top of a hill overlooking the burning town. Floyd eased his Ford pickup past the wrought-iron gates, his eyes sweeping the headstones, the trees, the inky shadows.

Tara said, “Hurry.”

Floyd didn’t respond, his thick, scarred knuckles tight and white around the steering wheel.

Tara, a red-headed wisp of woman, punched the dashboard. “Get us there!”

They followed the unlit road, winding through the graveyard. He pointed to a backhoe parked near a dark building. “I’ll use that. Faster than the shovels.”

Tara’s face twitched, nerves pulling and snapping under her skin, her eyes fluttering, a spastic tremor popping, popping, popping in her cheek.

He parked the car and Tara jumped out. Floyd called, “Honey, be careful,” but she was gone. He moved to the backhoe, his senses on edge. He couldn’t hear anything but the crickets chirping. Overhead, finger-thin clouds scratched at the moon.

The keys weren’t in the backhoe. He checked the door of the building and found it locked. He lifted a heavy steel-toed boot and smashed the door open. An alarm beeped five times before letting out an unending wail.
Tara, running past a blur of headstones, heard the wailing and for a brief moment her heart leapt, thinking it was the cry of a woman in pain before realizing that it was just an alarm. As she reached her daughter’s fresh grave, she stumbled, falling to her knees. Her hands became claws, digging at the black dirt. “Hang on, baby! Hang on!” she shouted.

The backhoe behind her rumbled to life.

Floyd maneuvered the vehicle skillfully, and in ten minutes he had uncovered the steel vault surrounding the coffin. Tara jumped into the grave, touching the cold metal. “She can’t get through this!”

Floyd jumped out of the backhoe, retrieving his welding kit from his pickup. He slid into the grave, handing a pair of goggles to his wife.

Tara clutched the goggles, but did not put them on.

He sparked the torch and went to work, cutting through the vault.

After fifty excruciating minutes, he was able to push enough of the vault away to reveal the upper half of the cedar coffin. Tara scrambled past him, throwing open the lid.

Jane Brown lay as she had the last time they had seen her, with papery hands folded over young breasts. Her cheeks had sunk dramatically, her cake makeup going grey. Tara stroked Jane’s icy face, whispering, “Open your eyes, baby. Open your eyes for us.”

But Jane never did.

* * * *

The Changed is available now at DriveThruHorror.com and Amazon.com.

This preview for was provided and published with express permission from Apex Book Company.

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