The Fields is my zombie novella that’s due out this summer from The Zombie Feed, an imprint of Apex Publications. Cover blurbs for the book have already been posted on here, but the Introduction by Jonathan Maberry has not (you’ll just have to buy the book once it’s available to read it). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is probably the best stuff I’ve ever written and I think you’ll dig it a lot. In any event, I thought it was time to post an excerpt from the forthcoming book. Enjoy.
Billy Fletcher was running for his life.
Something, though he could not see exactly what, was chasing him through the small plot of land in the back of the family’s several acres of property, which his father had made into somewhat of a cemetery to bury the slaves who had died of old age, disease, or by a severe beating for disobeying orders. His father was one mean son-of-a-gun and was known as such to all of the other slave owners as far as three counties over. Hell, he was even the leader of a local group of plantation owners who would get together to auction off, trade or just to abuse slaves for the sheer fun of it at their semi-monthly gatherings. Billy figured, though he still could not see what was chasing him, that it wasn’t his father. Oh no. For one thing, the person was a lot smaller than his father (one of the things that Billy was glad about inheriting from his old man was his size) and was running somewhat hunched over and with a limp on its right side. His father had had legs as strong as an ox, before the cancer whittled him down to nothing but skin and bones, so Billy knew that when he did dare to glance over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching dark figure, that there was no chance in hell it was his father.
Billy sprinted past the last of the small, crude wooden crosses that his father had always stuck in the ground after burying one of the dead slaves, and ran into the tobacco field that separated the small cemetery and the house. And if it just wasn’t his luck – Billy had never been quite as agile as his old man had been – he went sprawling forward when his foot caught a large rock that he must have missed during the previous day’s work in the field. Naked, Billy’s stomach, hit the rough ground first, followed by his elbows, face and then his hands. As he skidded across the rocky soil, he could feel the skin being flayed off his body, and he screamed out in pain. Something grabbed onto his right ankle so he quickly rolled onto his back, temporarily breaking the person’s grip. Billy tried at the same time to crab-walk backward away from the hunched-over figure standing above him and to scream, but nothing would come out of his mouth. He wasn’t sure if it was the sudden stench in the air, which reminded Billy of rotten chicken eggs that his father had had him clean out of the coop as a young boy, but the hairs on the inside of his nostrils and the back of his throat burned like someone was holding a burning kerosene lamp right in front of his face. He coughed a few times to try and clear the mucus that was starting to build in his sinuses, but it didn’t do the trick. The smell only got worse with each step the dark figure took closer and closer to him.
Finally, after trying to back away on the soles of his feet and the shredded palms of his hands, Billy collapsed onto his back. His father had always tried to instill in his only begotten son the importance of being a man and nothing else, of never showing emotion, especially around the slaves who were put on this land to work the fields and nothing else. Billy couldn’t help it. Tears streamed out of his swollen eyes and snot bubbles burst out the end of his nose.
Then the black figure leapt on top of him.
Billy tried wiggling his body back and forth, his bare back scraping against the other various sized rocks that his previous day of hoeing had apparently missed, trying to shake off the smelly person that was now trying to smother him.
But then it got worse. A lot worse.
The person that was lying on top of him suddenly raised its head ahead from where it had been resting against his chest. And that’s when Billy first saw what the person really looked like that was trying to do only God knows what to him.
Then Billy noticed…
The entire right side of the person’s head was caved in. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the thing’s eyeballs was hanging by a thick red vein from its socket and was swaying this way and that with each movement the thing made on top of him. The facial skin looked loose and wrinkly, like at any moment it would lose its battle to stay connected to the thing’s skull underneath, and melt right off and fall on top of Billy’s own face.
Then, of course, there was the smell. Oh, the smell. As Billy continued to try and shove the thing off of him, he could swear that he had never smelled anything worse in his entire young life. Even though he had noticed the smell before the ugly thing had had leapt on top of him, it was even worse now. So bad, in fact, that Billy was afraid that if he didn’t get the thing off of him, and soon, that it wouldn’t matter how long he scrubbed his body with a bar of lime down at the creek, that the smell would never go away.
Trying to scream again, but still nothing coming out, Billy watched as the thing’s head suddenly shot downward, its loose eyeball slapping against the bridge of his nose, a second before he felt teeth penetrate the skin on the side of his neck, and then felt the thing’s jaws snap shut. The thing jerked its head from side to side, trying to rip Billy’s throat out. Tears flooded out of Billy’s eyes as he continued to try and push the smelly thing off of him. But, it was no use. The thing was entirely too strong, even though the weird part to Billy was that he could have sworn he recognized the slave as being Samuel, one of his and his mother, Gertrude’s, personal favorites, who had worked his father’s tobacco fields for seven years, until Billy’s father had given him a severe beating. Samuel, one hell of a nice guy, had died, and Billy had watched his father bury him in the small plot of land in one corner of the plantation. Billy had stuck the small, wooden cross in the ground above where Samuel’s head would have been. It was little but it had meant the world for Billy to be able to do one small thing in his friend’s honor.
And, now that his former friend was biting the side of his neck, all the times he spent with him through the years sneaking him extra bread and water after his father had fallen asleep at night, or even just talking with him about life in general, came rushing back to him.
My God, Sammy…how could you be doing this to me, Billy screamed inside his head.