A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Mountain Dead, a small anthology of  zombie stories put out by Apex Publications. It was a delight to read (you can read my praise of it here) and I was, of course, craving more when I finally finished devouring its 66 pages. I was in luck. Mountain Dead just so happened to be a companion work to a larger anthology entitled Appalachian Undead. You might consider Mountain Dead the appetizer and Appalachian Undead the main course. And I most certainly ate it up. Licked my plate clean in fact and am ready for dessert. It seems only fitting that I write some words as to why I found this title so . . . delicious . . .
First off, it’s a large helping of zombie goodness. 20 stories over 214 pages with a preface, introduction, and afterword that give the collection a framework/context/meaning. It also includes some snippet bios of each author/editor and their relevant contributions to the field. This was especially nice because it allows the reader to continue exploring different works and authors after they are finished with a particular story. Well played team, well played. I’m going to ‘review’ the three stories which stood out the most in my mind, and hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why. Here we go!
Hide and Seek – Tim Waggoner
For me, this story felt so memorable because of its departure from convention. The first departure is the point of view; we get the events from the zombie’s perspective. I’ve seen this before in Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, but Waggoner’s take still felt fresh and new. I remember struggling at points within Marion’s work because of the polarity of his tone. He seemed to swing widely between humor, cynicism, despair and hope (I think in the end, Warm Bodies is a pretty hopeful novel). Waggoner didn’t need all of that to represent the humanity of his zombies. He focused (as many zombie fictions do) on survival but on the survival of dead instead of the living. Very interesting.
There is also a scene where our leading boy (yes the zombie is a child!) contemplates suicide. I don’t believe that I’ve seen this anywhere else, but it seems so obvious now that I think about it. Why would a zombie want to continue on in what I can only imagine would be a pretty miserable existence? I feel most stories don’t consider this because the idea is that the undead are trapped in a cursed immortality, that having died once they can’t ‘die’ again. But Waggoner gets us asking whether or not a second life (or an undeath) would even be worth ‘living’. Woah!
Spoiled – Paul Moore
This one made my list because of how truly horrifying I found the ending to be. Poor girl has a miscarriage and the dead infant tries to eat its way out of the womb during birth. Like I said, horrifying. And in true zombie-short fashion, nobody wins at the end of this tale. Really reminds the reader that no matter how much we sit here and imagine what a zombie apocalypse might be like, how we might survive and rebuild etc. Truth is we really don’t want to be around if the dead ever start rising from grave.
Note* I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m using the term ‘horrifying’ to describe the technical aspects of the story. It’s very well written. Great pacing and even some development of character (which can be hard to do in a zombie novel let alone a short). And the imagery is . . . True. It was just the ideas which I found so terrifying. Which a good zombie story should do. Well done here. Well done.
Calling Death – Jonathan Maberry
To me, this story felt the most like Appalachia. Or at least the way that I’ve conceived ‘Appalachia’ in my mind. Really drove home the idea of the people’s attachment to the land, and the simplicity of their lives. Simple, not because they weren’t capable of more complexity but because it didn’t bring them closer to any worth or value. We can see the havoc that is rough through materialistic conceptions of worth and value in the tale of the greedy mine owners and the poor hard working miners. Even in death, they are made to struggle. I’ve always heard the expression: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Apparently in Appalachia, you can’t sleep then either.
Honorable Mentions –
Black Friday (Karin Fuller): This one was sort of silly but a really fun read. Read it about two days before going black Friday shopping myself so the timing was impeccable.
We Take Care of Our Own (John Everson): Liked the way this one felt almost like a detective mystery. I’m always down for a good detective story, especially if it has zombies in it!
Company’s Coming (Ronald Kelly): There was a really neat racial component to this story that I was not expecting, nor do I see very often in zombie fiction. Well done there.
Repent, Jessie Shimmer! (Lucy A. Snyder): Who is Jessie Shimmer?! She seems like a really neat character who lives in a somewhat crazy world. I am definitely going to read some of her other stories (novels maybe?).
This is the END!
Of the post I mean. I’ll conclude how I usually conclude, by telling you all to go read this anthology. It’s on Amazon here, so you have no excuse! If I didn’t mention your story in my post, I’m sorry. Know that I thoroughly enjoyed all of the shorts in this anthology, but I just needed a way to write about it without writing 214 pages myself. Anyway, bye all!