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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

ZOMBIE ZERO by Clay Dugger
April 7, 2010  Short stories   Tags: ,   

Brian was aware that the brain he was dissecting was donated by a man who had suffered from an exotic necrotizing virus. That was nothing new. After all, nearly every brain he dissected came from somebody who had died of something.

He laughed at that thought. It was a running joke around the lab. It had started when a rookie assistant in the University Pathology Laboratory had absent-mindedly wondered where they got all of the dead brains that they studied.

Brian had been that assistant, two years previously. His supervisor, Mr. Leans, had responded with the now-famous joke.

“Son, nearly every brain in this place has died of something. What did you have?”

Something he saw brought him back to the present. Under the bright, white light, Brian noticed a small, dark line on the back of his right hand examination glove.

“Oh, shit!” He yelled.

As he dashed over to an emergency wash station, Mr. Leans approached, attracted by the exclamation.

“What happened, Brian? You alright?”

Pulling the gloves off, one tucked inside the palm of the other, he said, “No, there’s a freaking tear in my glove.”

“You’re on the necrotizing virus, right?”

Elbowing the hot water lever, Brian replied, “Yes, sir. Could you get that light for me?”

Mr. Leans placed a hand on Brian’s back and reached past him.

The emergency wash basin was shiny stainless steel. At eye level, there was a placard describing graphically how to properly wash hands and eyes. Just to the right of the sign was a small metal toggle switch. It had a small line drawing of a light bulb above it, little lines radiating out from the bulb.

When Mr. Leans flipped the switch up, the short circuit in the switch sent a burst of voltage through his body and into Brian. Brian’s hands were under the flow of hot water.

Sparks flew from the switch and from Brian’s hands. Mr. Leans jumped back, stung a little in the fingertips on both hands. Brian jerked and fell, striking his forehead on the rolled edge of the stainless steel sink.

The necrotizing virus had not been completely eradicated from the brain by the cleansing and preserving process. When the preservation fluids flowed through the tear in his glove, many individual viruses were carried onto his skin,

The viruses were able to penetrate his skin, entering several capillaries on the back of his hand. This happened long before he reached the emergency wash basin. They went to work on the first cells they encountered, his blood cells.

These blood cells had already delivered their payload of oxygen to the tissues in his hand, and were on their way back to his heart and lungs to gather more. The few of them that were attacked produced more of the viruses, but they were not quite identical to their forebears. The preservation process performed on the brain had damaged the DNA of the original viruses.

The new generation did not destroy the blood cells by lysis, or the rupturing of the cell’s membranes. They released by budding, being released by the victim cell. Thus, the blood cells would continue with their duties, but with the additional ability of providing a host for more of the necrotizing viruses.

Several blood cells were birthing new viruses when the electric shock coursed through Brian’s body. One of these new viruses had budded out of a blood cell carrying methemoglobin, which binds with iron, not oxygen. This iron present in the virus conducted the electricity, mutating the virus’ DNA.

This third generation virus had several unique characteristics.

First, it carried a small electric charge, which was imparted to the cells it conquered. Any virus budding out from one of these cells also carried the charge.

Second, when the virus infected a cell, apoptosis, or the process of natural cell death, was eliminated. In order for an infected cell to die, it now had to lose its electric charge or be physically damaged.

Third, the telomeres on the end of the cell’s DNA molecule were eliminated. Similar to the ends on shoestrings, these cap off the DNA, and determine how many times a particular DNA molecule can replicate itself. Every time the molecule makes a copy of itself, this cap gets shorter. When the virus removed the telomere, it prevented the cells from multiplying.

Fourth, every affected cell no longer used oxygen to power its processes. They all used mineralized iron.

Soon, the newest generation of the virus would outnumber the original. They would assimilate the brain, easily penetrating the blood/brain barrier. The heart would take a while longer, but when it succumbed, it would stop.

It took twelve minutes for Brian to be transported to the University Hospital’s Emergency Room, due to the storm which was blowing. The first storm of the year had blown in the day before, on the the third day of the new year. His fever had escalated to an unbelievable 109 degrees by the time the Ambulance arrived.

By the time they had him in an examining room, his heart had stopped. He did not respond to defibrillation, nor to manual Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation.

A nurse closed Brian’s green eyes with her fingers. They covered Brian with a sheet and called for an attendant to take his body to the morgue.

The heart, once it had been completely assimilated, was unable to beat. The electric charge present in each of it’s cells prevented it from doing anything but contracting in a final clench. Thus, on it’s last beat, it squeezed most of the blood from it’s chambers, making it nothing more than a congealed lump of dead muscle. It was now only a junction for blood to pass through.

The brain now craved mineralized iron instead of oxygen. Starved of this supply, it started sending out pulses of electrical current. These pulses flexed muscles.

This flexing of muscles created a hydraulic pressure in the circulatory system. This pressure caused blood to flow throughout the body, including into the brain.

The attendant, Henry, nearly screamed when the corpse thrashed its arms and legs, throwing itself off the gurney. Henry crossed himself and moved to aid the man, thinking there had been a horrible mistake.

“Oh, my God, sir! Are you alright? Here, let me help you. Sit up on the gurney.”

The man stood. His body jerked and spasmed, as if being shocked by electricity.

His skin was grey, as if covered in ash. There was a small cut above his left eye. The cut was open and black as night. His sweat matted hair was brown.

The man’s face was slack, slimy grey saliva dripping from between his teeth, which blackened visibly as Henry watched.

What caught Henry’s attention, though, were his eyes. The orbs were the same ash grey as the skin, but the pupils were a brilliant green. There was no intelligence behind them.

Henry reached up to the man’s shoulders in order to assist him in sitting on the gurney.

The man grabbed Henry’s right arm with both of his hands and tore out a mouthful of flesh and muscle with his teeth. Some of the tendons and muscle fibers remained attached to Henry’s arm and pulled out from the man’s teeth, like gory floss.

Henry screamed. He jerked his arm free of the man’s grasp and punched the grey form in the face. The nose flattened, and a thick black tendril ran down.

The strike caused the man stumble back and fall down. Taking this opportunity, Henry bolted up the hallway, yelling for help.

Brian was no longer Brian. He was a simple machine.

The brain occupying his skull now subsisted on mineralized iron. This was provided by the flow of blood now black with the mineral.

The brain may have lost the higher functions which made up the man who had been Brian, but the lower functions were still present. The creature knew how to stand up from the ground. It knew how to walk.

It knew hunger. It did not know what it craved, just that it craved.

Even though the lungs had collapsed, no longer able to process gases, air still entered the nostrils. The movements of the body compressed and expanded the chest and neck enough for this.

The creature detected the smell of something. Something desirable. It turned in the direction of the smell and started walking.

A few moments later, it came to a closed door. An echo of a memory sounded through the pathways of the brain, and it put up a hand and pushed.

The door to the morgue opened.

One doctor and two University police officers ran down the hall toward the morgue. They found the gurney, but there was no sign of the man who had been dead. Henry was being tended in the Emergency Room.

In this last portion of the hall, there were no doors except those which opened into the cold storage facility. They pushed open the swinging doors and gasped.

The dead man had located a woman’s body which had not yet been placed in the locked refrigerated storage room. Henry had been called away to retrieve the man which now stood over the woman, whose corpse still lay on a gurney.

The dead man had been feasting on the only exposed flesh. The left side of the dead woman’s face had been ravaged, exposing bone and teeth.

The dead man looked up at the sounds of horror behind him. He turned and started toward the men, growling.

Blood and tissue dripped off his chin as he walked. He reached both hands out for the doctor, who was closest. His hands opened and closed, grasping air, searching for something to drag to the mouth.

The officers both reacted. One stepped to the side and drew his sidearm. The other stepped forward to intercept the approaching man.

“Hold it right there, bud. We can help you, but you gotta calm down.” This from the officer who did not have his weapon drawn. “Just take it easy and we’ll take good care of you.”

The man shambled two more steps and then lunged at the officer. The policeman had been ready for an attack, and smoothly grabbed the man’s arm and pivoted the man right down to the floor, twisting the arm severely behind the man’s back.

The other officer placed his gun back into its holster and knelt down beside the struggling figure. He went to place his hand on the man’s neck to hold him down. Before he could accomplish this, the man turned his head and snapped his teeth together with a loud clack, neatly removing the officer’s right pinky finger.

Jumping to his feet, the officer yelled, “Son of a bitch!”

He cradled his hand to his chest as the doctor stepped forward, removing his white smock.

“Let me see it, Bob. Let me see.” The doctor said, pulling the injured hand to him.

He wrapped it tightly with his smock.

“There. You’ll be fine, Bob. We’ll get you back upstairs and take care of you.”

The other officer twisted the arm a little more. “Hey, prick! You just lay nice and still, I won’t have to hurt you.”

To his surprise, the man rolled over on his back. The captured arm snapped at the shoulder, twisting the skin taught. The man on the floor grabbed the officer’s foot with his unfettered hand and reached with his open mouth toward the ankle. The pinky finger fell out of the man’s mouth, chewed and bloody.

“The fuck? Get offa me!” The officer yelled as he jumped back. He drew his pistol and aimed it at the man.

“Just stop right there! I will shoot you if you continue to attack!”

“Just shoot, him, Tom!” Bob yelled. He grabbed the radio off his belt and spoke into it.

“Dispatch, we got a crazy guy down here, eating corpses, trying to bite us. Shit, he did bite me! Bit my fucking finger off! Send somebody down here to help us! We’re in the morgue.”

There was a response, but it went unheard in the chaos.

The doctor had stepped up behind the man on the floor, his hands raised in a placating manner.

“No! Don’t! He’s just sick! There’s no need to shoot him!”

The doctor kneeled down behind the man and put his hands on the twisted shoulder.

“Doc, don’t! This guy’s psycho!” Tom said.

“No, he’s just urrkkk…”

The man turned suddenly on the doctor and bit out his throat. He jerked free, mouth full of blood. He was chewing hard and quick.

The doctor’s body convulsed and he raised his hands to his ruined neck. Blood flowed freely down his shirt and gurgled out of his neck.

Inhaled blood was coughed up to the ceiling, where it dripped a red rain back down on the two.

Tom fired his weapon three times, directly into the grey man’s back. The doctor was already dead, he knew, so there was no fear of injuring him.

The body jerked from the impact, but did not fall. The grey man swallowed forcefully and leaned in for another bite on the doctor’s throat.

A final shot from Tom’s gun exploded the grey man’s forehead, and the body fell. Black ichor oozed from the wound, only to solidify quickly.

The man who had been known as Brian was, finally, dead.

Henry was starting to feel very hot, like he was running a fever. The Emergency Room doctors were busily sewing up the gaping bite wound in his arm.

Within a few minutes, long before his arm was sutured, he passed out.

And died.

An unidentified homeless woman, who had died earlier in the evening, stood.

One side of her face was stripped to the bone and muscle.

Bob had retrieved his finger from the floor, but was burning up by the time he walked into the Emergency Room.

The blood on the stump of his bitten finger had turned black, and it did not hurt anymore.

Doctor Andrew Taylor had been laid on a table in the Hospital’s morgue, where he had died. A grey skinned woman stood over him, looking at him with her head tilted to one side, like a dog.

Doctor Taylor twitched, then his arms flailed and legs kicked, and he was off the table, laying on the floor. He stood, his head flopping forward. With an effort, he raised it to look at the woman.

She didn’t smell like food.

“Food?” He thought to her.

“Food.” She agreed.

They walked out of the morgue, the woman in the lead.


  1. Wow, this was a great story. I liked the explanation on how the virus worked, makes me think you actually put some real research into this. Do you have a background in biology or something? I’ve seen movies and read stories on how the Z virus works, but you’re explanation of it made the most sense to me.

    I hope to read more!

    Comment by sdot on April 7, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  2. Great read. I love the whole patient zero thing. Good scientific description of the virus works.

    Comment by Rob C on April 7, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  3. Nice one Clay, good story and well paced. I like the single scene endings a lot.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on April 7, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  4. I loved this story because I like to know how things begin. This was a very practical and reality based beginning which makes it all the more scary to read. I agree with sdot it sounded like you did some research. Very cool.

    Comment by Chris on April 7, 2010 @ 1:15 pm

  5. Great story!

    I did have one question: are we to understand that the already-dead woman on the gurney re-animated after being partially eaten by zombie-Brian? If so, that brings an entirely new element into all of this

    Comment by Noel on April 7, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

  6. FANTASTIC. I love this story. Great job!

    Comment by Christine on April 7, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  7. Wow! 2 stories up! I must have done something right in a previous life. Can’t imagine what that could have been.

    Thanks for the good words, readers. They mean a lot.

    As to the dead woman, my reasoning was that she was VERY freshly dead, and the wound was close to the brain, so re-animation was relatively easy.

    In my version of Z-day, the already dead won’t usually be rising, but I have to keep some of the ‘classic’ Zombie, or nobody will be interested.

    Anyone catch the play on words with Brian’s name?

    Comment by cdugger on April 7, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

  8. I absolutely love it! You managed to thoroughly and effectively explain the virus without being tedious. You described the characters in a way that I could envision them and sympathize with them in a very brief time frame AND you put together a fast-paced but complete short story that left me craving for more but also nicely satisfied. Whew! I need a cigarette and by the way, I think I’m in love with you.

    Comment by Cherry Darling on April 7, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  9. Gentle writer: You can imagine what the comments of a practicing molecular pathologist would resemble…

    Comment by DLE on April 8, 2010 @ 3:29 am

  10. Nice one Clay! Really really good detail and you’ve got me sold on the reanimation process. Presumably those who are infected (who survive an attack) turn quicker as the blood pumps the virus round the body. Those who die from their wound immediately or are already dead turn much more slowly as the “budding” process spreads through their soft tissue. Love the concept that their bodies are calling out for mineralized iron.

    Comment by Ben Grove on April 8, 2010 @ 6:46 am

  11. WOW!!! i liked this story! great detail.

    Comment by kim on April 8, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  12. 2:CD — Your technical jargon may not have been exactly right but it sounded good enough to, if not ‘fool’ then at least ‘help along’, any laymen that were reading.

    2:DLE — It’s a ZOMBIE story. Do you really WANT him to get it right?

    Comment by zombob on April 8, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  13. amazing story. the scientific stuff about how the virus works…..it really does sound like u did your research. and the play on words, Brian=Brain, very nice!

    Comment by anarchy112 on April 9, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  14. *claps hands*

    Great work!

    Comment by taylor on April 9, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  15. I had to do the dyslexic Zombie joke. I’ve got some more meager attempts at humor in a current project. When it’s done, I’ll send it in. If it’s good enough, you’ll get to read it.

    Comment by cdugger on April 9, 2010 @ 9:25 pm


    Comment by TASHA on May 17, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

  17. If the infected cells can only die when physically damaged or losing their electrical charge – does that mean a wide scale EMP could prevent any infected individuals from continuing to function?

    Good story – I admire how it explains how the virus works to complete detail…

    Comment by Cameron on July 11, 2010 @ 4:32 am

  18. Excellent story. I really enjoyed learning how the virus actually started. Thanks for the entertainment. Please keep writing.

    Comment by Pete on August 6, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  19. great details, really captivating! it seems so real, nice story! 🙂

    Comment by Ehatsumi on January 31, 2012 @ 6:17 am

  20. Nice. I loved how you explained the story and made it seem real, rather than just saying the people turned into ravenous zombies and giving the readers their own ideas and confusing them further on how one turns into the walking dead. It makes alot of sence. Loved it man.

    Comment by Makayla on February 5, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

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