The fetid swamps of the Muckmire were home to all sorts of noisome maladies and disgusting diseases. But the constantly shifting morass of hills and pools and fens filled with rotting vegetable matter were forever churned from beneath by rising gasses liberated by volcanic activity, and they were forever bringing valuable minerals and treasures from the Fifth Age to the surface or near it.

So every day, vast and ragged fleets of swamp trawlers would set out from the few outposts of civilization in the Muckmire, from Grant’s Crossing at the edge to New Maun in it heart on the largest and driest of the swamp islands. Floating above the morass on ancient and sputtering hoverdrives, they would use metal detectors and the crew’s keen eyes to find valuables and bring them back for sale on the thriving scrap markets. It was an open secret that trawling the Muckmire markets was the best way to acquire rare minerals on the cheap, or to find spare parts for (or the rare working example of) technology that had since passed beyond the ken of man.

But there was a price.

The swamp trawler crews regularly sickened with all sorts of horrible illnesses. There was swamplung, which caused he afflicted to drown in foul secretions from their own chest, unless they could be drained by a piercetap in a clinic (an operation which still had a frightening rate of death and permanent disability). There was wetboils, where great blisters that wept watery fluid formed on every exposed surface, leading to death by dehydration or choking or disfigurement.

A most dreaded malady, though, was the walksleep.

Crews would fall asleep, one at a time, and exhale spores and gasses which caused their fellows to do the same. Unless they were flung overboard or isolated in the airtight chambers some of the biggest trawlers kept, walksleep could incapacitate an entire crew. The coma was so profound, and so deep, that nothing would wake the sleeper. At a clinic they could be fed through a tube, but in the Muckmire they would die of dehydration in their sleep.

But that wasn’t the thing that the trawler crews dreaded, bad as it was. Dying of the walksleep caused sufferers to rise after a time, animated by strands and filaments of an unknown fungus-like organism. They would then perform a dreamlike parody of the work that they had in life while constantly exhaling the selfsame spore-laced gas. Thus it was possible to find trawlers crewed by walksleepers and even small settlements thereof, and any trawler suspected of bearing the contagion stood the risk of being blown away by the harbor guns of New Maun or any settlement worth its salt.

To the adventurer, though, the stalkers who walked through the fens on foot or the freeloaders who trolled them on small skiffs, the walksleepers were a tempting target. For in their actions after death, the afflicted would often haul in additional treasures, and continue to bear those that they had found (to say nothing of their ships and equipment). It was risky work, and many a stalker or freeloader with a dodgy mask or filter wandered the Muckmire as a walksleeper, but the rewards drew many who were at their wit’s end and had no use for the plodding pace of a swamp trawler.

Saul and Alina Rozchenko were two of the best. But even they could not see the ends that awaited them in the gloom of the Muckmire.

Inspired by this.

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This column, a response to the previous columns by William “Black Bill” Cubbins IV and Felisa Lloyd Matsumura-Tamaribuchi is from Poe Edminster-Caar. Dr. Edminster-Caar is a professor of Undead Studies at Ravensholme University in New England and the author of the controversial undead rights book “I Am Zombie.” As one of the first openly zombie faculty members at a major North American university, Dr. Edminster-Caar has won five ZAAD awards and the prestigious Golden Brain trophy from the Swedish Zombie Academy.

I was, as ever, amused to see the childish infighting between pirate affairs commentator “Black Bill” Cubbins and ninja activist Felisa Matsumura-Tamaribuchi in these pages. One can predict their scrapes with almost clockwork efficiency, point and counterpoint, attempts at serious discourse by one hijacked in favor of shrill condemnation by the other, all in the service of flogging their pet horses in the ridiculously named “Pirate-Ninja Peace Process.” Which, as Voltaire might quip, involves neither pirates, nor ninjas, nor peace, nor a process.

It matters not, though, because in the end they will all taste the same when they are devoured by zombies.

I have been accused, occasionally, by living commentators of militantly pushing an “undead agenda” and attempting to pervert the young and the impressionable into taking up a zombie lifestyle. Implicit in that is the backwards notion that zombiehood is a “deathstyle choice” or acceptance of the abhorrent “resurrection camps” where people attempt to “cure” zombies, as if we are suffering from some sort of affliction or disease. I am certainly more reasonably in my pursuits than Mr. Cubbins or Ms. Matsumura-Tamaribuchi, I think, though not for any lack of passion.

Rather, I am confident that time is on my side and that history will prove that we zombies are the ultimate solution to the “pirate-ninja peace process” and indeed all societal problems. Once we’ve all grown enlightened enough to learn that zombiehood is as natural as being alive, and is in fact preferable, we can all agree that laying down and accepting living death will solve all the world’s problems. Mr. Cubbins and Ms. Matsumura-Tamaribuchi are united in their opposition to undead rights, perhaps the only thing they do agree on, but even now any country or municipality that bans open zombiehood is experiencing a brain drain to more undead-friendly locales, and whether by persuasion or open bitings on the street, zombies will soon render both pirates and ninjas obsolete, with those that resist shown the error of their ways through the devouring of their delectable brain matter.

History is on our side; we will exhume you.

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Columns of zombies streamed through the rift, lurching in perfect formation as they moved between the Zombieworld and Dessie’s world.

“How do you get them to do that?” asked Dessie. “Zombies, whether in the movies or in your zombieworld, aren’t exactly known for their coordinated movements or being able to march. Even the zombie soldiers in 8 Fortnights Afterward didn’t really have much semblance of-”

“It’s the Marching Grizzlies from the university, okay?” snapped Fext. “My thrall lieutenants laughed when I said I would zombifiy the lot of them just to make an impressive spectacle. But who’s laughing now?”

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This post is part of the May 2014 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “Take a Character, Leave a Character”

MELINDA: Hello and welcome to our program! We’ve got quite the show for you here today, as always! But first, let’s meet our panelists. First up is Ulgathk the Ever-Living, Elder Lich of the Seven Lands. Tell us a bit about yourself, Ulgathk.

ULGATHK: Well, Melinda, I’m currently a sitting member of the Council of Undeath, sole ruler and commander-in-chief of the Unholy Army, and Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs in the Obama Administration. In my spare time, I do volunteer work to help rehabilitate the public image of what I like to call the ‘neglected undead:’ liches, wights, ghouls, ghasts, and my other non-zombie and non-vampire brethren.

MELINDA: Touching! Executive experience, leadership, and volunteering? He’s a triple threat, ladies and gentlemen.

ULGATHK: I am a threat to all that lives or cools in undeath, Melinda.

MELINDA: Our next panelist is sure to be familiar to all you sports fans out there. It’s Tom Hicks, color commentator for NBS Broadcasting. Tom, I hear next season is looking pretty good?

TOM: That’s right, Melinda. I look forward to providing meaningless patter to help fill the otherwise dead air in between sacks, home runs, zombie attacks, and other pulse-pounding moments in sports.

MELINDA: And what would you say to people who call sports commentary boring or vapid? Are they wrong?

TOM: That’s right, Melinda. I would challenge those people to actually listen to one of my rambling monologues, delivered in a sports voice, during the interminable pregame show for a major sporting event. In addition to the usual useless statistics that assume causation, I touch on themes as universal as the philosophy of consciousness, artificial intelligence, and predestination as I am chained in that chair for hours on end with airtime to fill but no one paying attention. Unable to live, unable to die. Back to you, Melinda.

MELINDA: Also joining us on our celebrity panel is Dowager Empress Cnhyn Hallud of the Crimson Empire. Viewers of the popular reality show Princess Search know her as a judge there, but before that she was the 19th and final wife of Crimson Emperor Testarossa, plucked from obscurity for her beauty before outliving the Emperor by 40 years and counting.

HALLUD: The many splendid mushrooms of peace be upon you and yours, Melinda. I seek only to see the beauty in everything, especially that which has no beauty. For what is life but a journey of self-discovery and love and flowers and smiles and puppies and rainbows and love?

MELINDA: Dowager Empress Hallud, how do you respond to critics that call you out of touch, given your fabulous personal wealth and unimpeachable position as stepmother to Crimson Emperor Testarossa II, or criticize the Crimson Empire’s human rights record?

HALLUD: I don’t think about it for even a moment, Melinda. I was a lowly milkmaid until my beloved Testarossa executed his former wife in my favor; as a self-made and powerful person, I seek to help others realize the self-actualization and harmony with nature that I have already achieved. Human rights are but a fleeting shadow substituted for true enlightenment, as my old bocce ball partners Elena Ceausescu, Imelda Marcos, and Madame Mao would tell you.

MELINDA: Here in the corner, still in his neural interface suit and HUD rig, we have noted RPD (remotely-piloted drone) jockey and interstellar prospector Cameron “Cam” Hickson, RPD (remotely-piloted drone) jockey. Cam, I understand that RPDs use faster-than-light communications technology to remotely survey the far reaches of our galaxy with the human pilots safely back on Earth.

CAM: Bullseye, Melinda. Communications are fast, spaceships can be made fast, but we humans are awfully, awfully squishy. Space exploration becomes an order of magnitude easier and cheaper when you strip out the parts needed to keep humans from becoming chunky salsa.

MELINDA: So you sit at home and pilot your drone all day? What makes you any different from a gold miner in an MMORPG like Dungeons of Krull?

CAM: Well, for one thing, I am paid in cash for my surveying and prospecting, and I own my own rig, and I don’t have to kill a hundred kobalds to level up my piloting mojo. For another, when your character in Dungeons of Krull dies, you just respawn. There isn’t a chance of a neural feedback loop that might kill you. And instead of farming the same patch of ground endlessly, I–or, more accurately, my drone–am out there finding real things that will be actually exploited to make life better for everyone. Provided that claim jumpers and psychotic griefers don’t wreck my rig.

MELINDA: Perhaps our most distinguished panelist is next: French filmmaker Auguste Des Jardins, director of Les trois Juliets and multiple Oscar nominee and Palme d’Or laureate. Forgive me for asking, Mssr. Des Jardins, but didn’t you die in 1976?

DES JARDINS: A man must have his secrets, Melinda, and a filmmaker even more so. A wiser man than I once said that no one dies until the last person who knows them through their works can no longer remember; by that measure, I have never been more alive and have, I hope, many long years ahead of me.

MELINDA: Mssr. Des Jardins, your films are as divisive as they are critically acclaimed. There have been widespread reports of seizures, hallucinations, and out-of-body experiences viewing your cinema, especially your last film, The Sacred Cenote. Would you care to respond?

DES JARDINS: I will only say that filmmaking as a whole is a violent seizure, a vivid hallucination, an out-of-body experience of the most profound kind. It is a linking and a meeting of minds, of souls, and I was able to make only very gradual progress toward that ideal with my work. The Sacred Cenote came closer than all my other works combined to the true unity to which I realized I had been aspiring all along. If that makes people uncomfortable, there is always Jaws.

MELINDA: Splendid! Our final panelist was chosen from a pool of applicants to help add a more popular dimension to our program. Please welcome Odessa “Dessie” Mullin, paranormal enthusiast and native of Hopewell, Michigan.

DESSIE: Oh man, it is just such a huge honor to be here, Melinda! I watch this show so religiously that I really ought to be ordianed in it as a high priestess or something. I do just want to say, though, that ‘paranormal enthusiast’ is kind of a misnomer. I do love all aspects of the paranormal, but my first and truest love is zombies. And, in fact, I sometimes slip into a horrifying alternate dimension where the zombie apocalypse, or zompocalypse, has already occurred, and-

MELINDA: Ms. Mullin? I-

DESSIE: -it hasn’t done anything to decrease my love for those lovable brain-eaters. On the contrary, I love them more than ever! But I also love ghosts, and ghouls, and liches, and banshees, and wights, and ghasts, and barghests, and Ulgathk the Ever-Living, and…you know what? Maybe ‘paranormal enthusiast’ is an okay thing to call me after all.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
Sneaky Devil

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GARRULOUS: So tell us, what will your starting loadout be? Keeping in mind, of course, that the points you earn from your kills can be exchanged for additional supplies, ammunition, and other items.

MAXIMUS: Well, Garrulous, I am taking three weapons with me into the Zone. As my long arm, a long-barrel Ithaca 37 shotgun with an extended magazine tube and a mix of 00-buck and 12-gauge slugs. My sidearm is a post-1962 Browning Hi-Power in 9mm Parabellum with an external extractor. As a backup, a Walther PPK/S in .32 ACP and a bolo machete from Las Ventosas in Manila.

GARRULOUS: Unpack that for our viewers at home a little bit. Why that specific loadout? I note that none of those weapons was made after 1962.

MAXIMUS: It’s all a matter of simplicity, ease of use, ease of repair, and ease of resupply, Garrulous. The Ithaca 37 is a tried and tested design, simple and easy to repair. It can be used ambidextrously with that lovely combination loading/ejection port on the bottom, helping to keep it clean. I carry a mix of ammunition for varied situations, of course, and it’s highly likely that my competitors will carry the same gauge, meaning that scavenging is very, very practical.

GARRULOUS: And the Hi-Power? Most of our competitors, as you know, prefer the .45 M1911A1 or a more modern 9mm Glock.

MAXIMUS: For me, Garrulous, the Hi-Power is the best of both worlds. It has many of the same design features as the 1911, making it very reliable and repairable, while it can chamber the 9mm ammunition that I will find on my competitors’ corpses. The 9mm Parabellum lacks the stopping power of the .45, true, but with nearly twice as many rounds I find it offers me more tactical choices.

GARRULOUS: And, again, we find many of your competitors preferring a revolver for their reserve firearm. Why the PPK/S?

MAXIMUS: If I am in a tight spot and I have to draw my reserve, Garrulous, I want to be able to put as many rounds as I can into the target. The PPK/S is easier to reload under fire, even if it fires a weaker round, and it also gives me the flexibility of having a cartridge that is not likely to be carried by my competitors. In a situation where I need to loan out a weapon, I prefer to strictly control how much ammunition is available.

GARRULOUS: And the Bolo?

MAXIMUS: Best, most lethal cutting tool around, Garrulous. Simple as that.

GARRULOUS: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Maximus Carnage, two-time Zombie Games champion, spilling his darkest secrets! Anything to add for us, Maximus?

MAXIMUS: Don’t read too much into what I say and what I do out there. This is a means of entertainment making use of our large, if contained, surplus zombie population. It’s not a metaphor for anything, and the populace that is cowed into obedience watching me brain the brainless must be very dumb or very cowardly.

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“I think this games of ‘Hunters vs. Infected’ may have gotten a little out of hand,” said Mikey.

“Oh, really?” said Jake. “What was your first guess?”

“Maybe the fact that we’ve holed ourselves up on top of Squibb Hall with canned food and Nerf snipers on the roof,” Mikey said. “It’s kind of spooky, but it’s just what Dr. Jonsen said would happen.”

Jake shrugged. “Well, I don’t see why we shouldn’t see it out anyway. We’ve got snipers in place, belt-fed Nerf machine guns, and the game ends on Sunday.”

“But they turned Kevin, and he knew your plans from the beginning,” said Mikey, playing with the green cloth tied around his harm that marked him as a ‘hunter.’ “He could gather up everybody and plan an assault that could overrun us.”

“Mikey, he’s a guy with a red bandanna tied around his arm, not an actual undead monster,” sighed Jake. “The rules of ‘Hunters vs. Infected’ are very clear: when a hunter is tagged by an infected, they become an infected, and they are not allowed to use any hunter weapons or knowledge in the game after that.”

“But what if he does anyway?”

“Then we shoot him between the eyes with this,” said Jake, brandishing his Nerf XP-7000 battery-powered, laser-sighted assault rifle. “We have enough darts to finish them off.”

“And these things can fire mini-screwdrivers if we run out,” said Mikey. He picked one up, loaded in his magazine, and blasted it off; it landed with enough force to bury itself in the weak and crumbly concrete of the abandoned dorm’s rooftop.

“Mikey!” Jake cried.” You know the rules! Modifying Nerf weapons to fire ordnance other than official Nerf-sanctioned ammo is strictly forbidden!”

Before Mikey could respond, one of the sentries cried out. “Infected!”

The Squibb Hall stairwell door crashed open, and a mob of students with red armbands began to pour out.

“That bastard Kevin! He must have used the steam tunnels to get in without being seen!” cried Jake. “Open fire!”

The two Nerf Dushka-138 automatic guns opened up, but the charging students ignored the rain of foam from the sky.

“Cheating! That’s cheating! You’re cheaters!” raved Jake, brandishing a copy of the official rules. “You have to lay down when you’re hit!”

“Uh, Jake?” said Mikey. He was looking at the students’ pasty complexions, vapid eyes, and torn clothes with some degree of alarm. “I don’t think they’re playing the game anymore.”

“They’re not?” Jake watched the horde overwhelm a sniper post on the far corner of the roof and tear the frat boy manning it to shreds. “Holy shit, they’re not! Quick, give me some mini-screwdrivers!”

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PLAY-BY-PLAY: It’s the 2nd down and there’s 10 yards to go on the Chicago 30 yard line, with 6 minutes left in the quarter. We just saw Masterson tackled by Tennison on Chicago’s 26, 4 yards lost.

COLOR: Fitz is not happy about that, you can see it on his face.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: There’s Masterson back for the throw. And there go his boys, swept by Detroit. And there goes Masterson himself, sacked by Tennison for the second time in as many minutes.

COLOR: Good day for Detroit and Tennison out there. Man’s writing pure football poetry.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Isn’t he just? Okay, I think that’s the warning siren I hear.

That’s right, Jim. Later than usual, but then randomness is part of the game. How long would you say they have? Five minutes?

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Maybe two. I’ve seen it as low as thirty seconds and as high as ten minutes for arenas with a lot of obstacles between the field and the gates.

COLOR: Definitely adds some spice to the game. Looks like Masterson is up again for Chicago.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Yes, he’s in position to make the kick for the final down. Detroit has got themselves set up with Tennison again…there’s the snap. Masterson is through! He’s on the 20, the 15…Tennison struggling to catch up.

COLOR: Aaaaannnnd here come the zombies!

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Three of them between Masterson and the endzone, and two on the field to his right. He pirouettes, goes wide, can’t shake them. Clipped by Tennison, still behind him and, zombies closing in…he’s down! Masterson is down!

I count a minute thirty on the clock since the warning siren. One of the better performances by the “third team” in terms of hustle so far this season.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Masterson is down and the ball is fumbled! Looks like Tennison’s going for it while the zombies finish up with what’s left of the Chicago offensive line. He’s got it, but the zombies are on him now…and he’s out of bounds.

COLOR: Looks like he decided to play it safe and settle for possession and twenty-five yards. The refs are clearing the zombies off him with shotguns and putting up the plexiglass. Looks like Chicago just took a time-out, stopped the clock, probably trying to regroup. Tennison’s on fire today.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Isn’t he?

COLOR: He got that interception for the touchdown earlier, and here he’s got the zombies all over Chicago’s best offensive lineman without a scratch himself. I smell an NFC defensive player of the month.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: The month at least!

COLOR: That’s what every defensive lineman wants. Lots of sacks, lots of interceptions, lots of zombie-kills. Sack numbers, interceptions, those are good. But then, when you start getting into the zombie-kill numbers, and the opposing-players-zombified, now you’re talking.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: Oscar Earle is back to punt for Detroit. He’s done well against the zombies in other games. Any word from the field on Masterson?

COLOR: Well, to judge by the blood stains he’s probably…yes. Yes, you can see him rising from the grave right there, with that distinctive shambling gait. Masterson is taking the field again as a zombie, no doubt about it.

PLAY-BY-PLAY: One of the better draft picks by the “third team” this season. Looks like he and Tennison get a rematch.

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This post is part of the October 2012 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “otherworldly”.

“Look if you’re going to zombify me you’ve got to ask if I’m worth it. I’m all skin and bones and weak knees and pasty freckles and no good at all to any invincible army of the undead. Also I’m all gristle if you try to eat me and as I’m sure you noticed even with all my zomcom nerddom and meeting or exceeding the zombgeist of my generation I can’t hit the broad side of an undead barn.”

“Shhh.” Fext pressed a bony, decaying hand to Dessie’s lips.

She mumbled in reply, unwillingly swallowing her words.

“Do you think,” Fext hissed, “that this was all some sort of an accident, that you keep slipping into this world simply because of all those ridiculous movies you watch?”

“Either that or the fact that I’m also mentally ill and hallucinating at a postgraduate skill level, which has been put forth by more than one acquaintance and trained psychologist not just now but even before the episodes began.” Even the iron grip of an undead master zombie wasn’t enough to keep Dessie from babbling, it seemed.

“Listen. There are no mistakes, no coincidences. My thralls and lieutenants sought you out because you are the nexus point between your wretched world and this glorious paradise of undeath.”

Dessie’s eyes widened. “You mean-”

This time, Fext slapped his entire hand over her mouth; the rubbery texture and stench (to say nothing of the taste of spoiled olives) were almost enough to make Dessie barf. “There are innumerable worlds, Dessie, and the only connection they have is through the human mind. All of your zombie authors, actors, comic book writers…they have shared a deep and primal connection to this world or one much like it.”

“So you want to keep me from warning anyone, to silence my voice-”

Fext’s necrotic brows knitted as he added a second hand over Dessie’s irrepressible word-hole. “More than anything, yes. You see, Dessie, as a nexus between this world and yours, you are a conduit between them. This existence is used up; through you, we can break into an entirely new reality to conquer. And, regrettably, you must be alive–not undead–for the process to begin.”

“That’s it?” Dessie said, easily breaking through Fext’s latest attempt to muzzle her. “That’s why you’ve been chasing me mercilessly? I mean it’s kind of cool and all to be a nexus between a freakin’ zombieworld and my normal boring mundane ‘shut-up-and-eat-your-peas’ world, but it’s not the most original evil plan.”

“I got the idea from a cartoon,” Fext said offhandedly. “But if anyone asks–and they won’t, not after I’ve zombified your world and captured its nexuses to still other worlds–I came up with it myself.”

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
dolores haze
Linda Adams
Damina Rucci
Lady Cat

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Are you a member of the living dead looking for a world-class dining experience? Is the bother of chasing down victims interfering with your enjoyment of their still-living entrails as you tear them to shreds? Do the John Qs and Jane Does you catch lack the cachet of truly classy meals?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then the Zombie Cafe is for you. Conveniently located in the heart of the tri-state area, the Zombie Cafe offers everything from quick meals to full top hat and tails dining experiences. Our crack staff of zombie chefs and terrified thralls inedible due to disease or infirmity hunt down fresh living victims daily and prepare them to order. Everything from fresh cadaver for older or newly risen zombies to free-range humans hamstrung to make pursuit and capture a breeze!

And if you’ve the cash or the clout, Zombie Cafe offers a choice of gourmet off-menu meals kept on premises. The rich and famous of the human world are kept alive and succulent for your dining pleasure as a whole meal. Or why not split the check and carve up a star with a group of interested friends? Why, just last week Zombie Cafe staff served Kanye West to a consortium of powerful zombie politicians. And the couple that took Nicole Kidman’s severed arm home last week agree that it’s her best part yet!

The Zombie Cafe: Bite Into a Legend™.

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