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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.

JOSEPH by Vincent L Cleaver
April 15, 2010  Short stories   Tags:   

‘No matter how strong I get, I can’t protect them. The realization cuts my heart like cold steel… If fate is a millstone, then we are the grist. There is nothing we can do. So I wish for strength. If I cannot protect them from the wheel, then give me a strong blade, and strength to shatter fate.’ -Ichigo Kurosaki, BLEACH vol. 23



Joseph paused, mid-stroke, and put the knife and whet-stone aside. He knew the sight of himself, with a knife in hand, made most people nervous. He turned in his seat at the work bench, his hand not far from the weapon, and said to Kowalski, “Yes, ‘sergeant’?”

James Kowalski winced. He could hear the quotation marks, because he was listening for them. The self-serving brevet ranks of both himself and the lieutenant were necessary. He would gladly face a courts-martial, if and when things ever returned to ‘normal’. A world where the dead didn’t go shambling down the street, and he could take a date to the movies, or get this man some help.

“Look, Joseph,” for no one called Joseph simply ‘Joe’, “I wanted to apologize, for saying, ah…”

“That I’m a sociopath, and that we need a psychiatrist, stat?” Joseph’s lips skinned back from his teeth, but the smile never got anywhere near his eyes, and Kowalski saw that, once again, Joseph was trying. Trying so damn hard to be normal, to be human, to put his fellow survivors at ease.


“Don’t be. You’re right.”

Kowalski found that his hand was on his pistol, and moved it away. Joseph, with an effort that cost him, turned his back to his knife and sat, leaning back against the bench, with his hands together, in front of him. He willed his muscles to relax, and sighed.

“What do you mean by that?” Kowalski asked.

“I am what I need to be, but it’s not easy. If I could, I would… stop.” Joseph’s eyes were bright. “What little we have, I love, and I will protect what I love, but I won’t pretend that I’m right, just… Righteous.” This time he did smile, and it made it all the way to his eyes.


“It’s good that you’re making a new life for yourselves,” Joseph went on, looking down. He was referring to Kowalski and Barnes’ sister, Susan; they had announced their engagement at dinner, the night before. “I’m happy for you and Suzy. You two should get married as soon as possible.” He looked up, again. “It’s a good match, the sister and the right-hand man of our two main leaders, and it’s something normal, something hopeful.”

Joseph turned back to his work. “I was talking to ‘Little Jay’ about it, and she agrees-”

“Joseph, are you jealous?”

The man at the bench chuckled. “No! She’s a nice woman, pretty, too, and she deserves to be happy. So do you, Jim.”

Kowalski started; Joseph had never used his first name before. It was always ‘Kowalski’ or ‘Ski’, ‘corporal’ or, now, ‘sergeant’.

“I know that people have been saying that I’m marrying her because she’s got a claim on the ranch…”

“And people are saying that she’s with you because you’re a big macho soldier, ‘him kill heap many zombie!’ Don’t listen to idiots, and take their jealousy with a grain of salt. I know that you love each other, are in lust with each other, but security has got a little something to do with it, too. Accept that, don’t deny it. Safety is one of those ‘need’ things…”

“What’s that?”

“Food and shelter, you know the hierarchy of needs? In our case, freedom from getting munched by zombies…” Joseph examined the blade, seeing his bleak eyes reflected there. He wiped it clean, sheathed it, and turned around on the stool, holding the knife and sheath tightly.

“Mother Constance is the leader of that group, the so-called Army of God. She’s responsible for over a thousand people, I hear tell, and we know how she maintains order in her flock, Jim. She exposes the ‘sinners’; thieves and rapists, maybe, but also the dissenters and unbelievers and the odd homosexual? She puts them outside.” His knuckles were white from gripping the knife in its sheath so tightly. “She’s mine.”

“Jesus, Joe…”

“That’s the first time you’ve ever called me that,” Joseph said, sadly. “I’ve exxed out my share of zombies, put Zeke down for good, and helped more than a few people who’ve been bit; but this is a straight up assassination, and I’m you’re man. If the snipers get her, fine. But I’ll make sure of her. She’s got unclean death inside of her, Jim, and she’s too dangerous to let live.”


Joseph crept up on the enemy sniper in the little flat roof-corner. The snipers’ lookout was already staring sightlessly up at the big West Texas sky. Joseph had complete surprise, and put his gloved hand over the man’s mouth, the knife to his throat, a knee in his back, and said quietly, “Sorry,” drawing the blade sideways. Life spurted, hot and very red in the pale morning chill.

Andy was the replacement sniper for the home team. He looked from the body, to Joseph, and then got into position without a word. He made approving noises, clucking happily at the found sniper rifle, a better rig than he had brought along. The bitter complaints about going back to his gun-shop for his own monster of dubious legality and provenance, supposedly a Vietnam-era souvenir, were forgotten. Andy put down an air mattress and sleeping bag, wiped the rig off, and set to work, talking quietly with his spotter, his teenage daughter.

Veronica, Ronnie, spared the body a briefly look of pity, and gave Joseph an unabashed blank stare, so he dragged the dead man back around to where the stairs came up to the roof before he made doubly sure of him. There was always the possibility he had just been bit, or that Zeke had changed the rules, again. He did the same with the lookout.

Someone else was taking care of the other enemy snipers nest, and Barnes’ neighbor was set up over there. There were two prisoners, who had been camped out at the Baptist Church; they had decided not to cooperate, so the word on the snipers nests was simply, ‘kill them’. Joseph got down to the little welcoming committee, where his job was to wait, be mildly intimidating, and watch the Lieutenant and Rancher Barnes’ backs. If things went very badly, which they probably would, he would be within yards of Mother Constance, and he tried not thinking about all of that.

“Joseph… are you with us, Joseph?” Lt. Marshall asked. Joseph nodded, and then remembered to add, “Yes, sir. I am.”

The Lieutenant eyed him, sighed, and walked over to Barnes. They talked quietly, and Joseph did his best not to eavesdrop. He heard most of it, anyway; about Suzy and Ski, the second, fully functional tank and crew of two survivors that that-bastard-Smith had located and gotten back to their base in the wee small hours of this morning, somewhat redeeming himself, plus contingencies. They didn’t, or felt that they couldn’t, talk about Joseph, which left a big hole in their planning. Joseph helpfully switched off with Gomer, saying he needed to relieve himself.

Zeke was out there, of course, so Joseph didn’t wander far. What was more worrisome this morning was how many more living, breathing hostiles might also be out there. Mother Constance was due, coming to make a deal sweetened by the tank. A very simple deal; join the Army of God, or die. Their foraging parties overlapped, and competition would not be permitted.

Bill, Not-Bit, came along and did his business at about the same time, and they wordlessly agreed to stand back to back, eyes scanning all around. A question nagged at Joseph, and he asked, “Why are you out here?”

“I asked if I could volunteer. Bob,” Bob-the-Electrician, and one of the ‘heads of state’, the representatives of the survivor groups that had joined over the last three weeks,” talked to Barnes.”


They finished and made their way back. Joseph took the lead, and found that an ankle-biter had crawled into their path. It was a truly pathetic example of zombie-dom, and Joseph motioned for Bill to crush its skull with his bat, which he did, while Joseph cast around. Where there was one… but they moved on, unmolested.

“I suppose… I thought that I had something to prove,” Bill said, quietly.

“Stupid. You’ve got vital skills-“ Joseph shook his head. Why was he giving the man a hard time for doing what he had to do? It made no sense; it just was. “Look, do us all a favor, will ya? Don’t catch a bullet, don’t get bit, and don’t die.”

“I’ll try-“

“You will damn well do better than try, damn it. Do you hear me?”

Bill looked startled, and would have said something, but they heard the sound of approaching vehicles. Joseph’s belly did a slow, sickening roll, and then the uneasiness passed away, and he was centered, in himself and in the world. Ready. He nodded.



There were roamers, and ankle-biters, Zeke-in-a-box, Kenny’s and Kay-Zee’s. It was the specialized vocabulary and jargon of the zombie-apocalypse. Joseph reviewed the list after somebody from the A-of-G side of this little shindig mentioned ‘gut-busters’; that was a new one by him, but apparently, when Zeke fed a little too well, well…

The tank rolled up, and the little group from to the South oohed and ahed appreciatively. His opposite number rolled his eyes, and Joseph found himself imagining sinking his knife up to the hilt, right under the big guy’s chin.

He had definitely been doing this for far too long.

Mother Constance was suddenly by his elbow, and Joseph felt the raw power of her personality. She was definitely mad, but it was the sort of madness that comforted you, held you tight and made you feel safe. It took you up, took you out of yourself, and made you part of something. To belong, to not be alone.

“Very impressive, friends,” Mother Constance said, “But be not led into the sin of pride, of vanity. This, too, is God’s Plan,” and she held her hands high, turning towards their vehicles. “Look upon the power and glory of The Lord, Our God!”

“Behold, a Mystery…” she added, almost as an after-thought, and one of her acolytes, the one with the Japanese sword over his shoulder, opened the back door of a police car. A zombie lurched out of the back seat. It turned to the next nearest human, Bill-Not-Bit.

“No! In the name of The Lamb of God, hold fast!”

And Zeke stood still; not happy, if it could be said to be happy or unhappy, but agitated. It turned to Mother Constance.

Joseph looked down at the knife, in his hand, and wondered how it had gotten there. There would be time enough later, to piece together what he had done wrong, if there was a later. He advanced on the old woman. Then he watched as, in his peripheral vision, his knife hand moving far too slowly, the katana blurred towards it, and made a bias cut that separated it from his lower arm, leaving blood, pain, and two pointy bone ends.

“Sorry, friend, can’t have you ki-“ The man with the sword said, and was cut off as Joseph swung up and under his chin, but off-center, opening a jugular, stabbing up all the way through the back of the man’s tongue, and just barely reaching the brain.

The pain was a blinding white-out, and when Joseph came to, lying by a car, the acolyte was just about finished. He had voided himself, and was drumming his feet in the gravel. Mother Constance was trying to hold him, stricken and in shock. The snipers took her, one bullet in the shoulder so that she spun around, and then her head exploded.

It was glorious, and Joseph basked in guilty satisfaction. Once more, proof that he was not a good man. Then a shadow fell across him. Zeke had wandered close, looking confused. It staggered against the car and fell onto him as a bullet buzzed through the air where its head had just been. It bit him, deep, before Joseph could knock it away, and he sat up, looking in wonder at the big chunk that the zombie had just taken out of his thigh.

This was embarrassing; a clumsy, stupid-Zeke trick, and he laughed. “Damn.”

There was a sickening pop, as Bill’s bat connected, and Zeke was ‘outta here!’ Bill looked down at Joseph, and Joseph winked up at him. “That’s the high cost of living, Bill; an arm and a leg!”

“What if we-“

“No; just bring me my knife, will you? I guess-“ He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “I guess that I won’t be adopting Little Jay, after all…”

Bill’s hand was shaking when he handed him the knife. Joseph took it with his left hand; held it up and looked at his reflection in the blade. His eyes no longer had a haunted look. Just so. At least now he didn’t have to worry about becoming a monster, either because he’d given up his humanity or because some zombie had ‘shared the love’; that would inevitably happen, if he didn’t take steps. Freedom is… nothing left to lose.

“Don’t you want to wait around a bit and talk to the Lieutenant or… Little Jay?”

“I’ve never wanted to burden anybody else with this shit, Bill, and it’s not going to get any easier, if I wait. Say my goodbyes for me, please?” Bill nodded.

Joseph took a deep breath. It was understandably awkward; left-handed, under the chin and into the brain, so that he would not rise and join the restless dead. Unfortunately, he needed a little help, or he would have botched it. Afterwards Bill pulled the knife out, wiped it and sheathed it, and placed it on Joseph’s chest, next to the severed hand.


  1. Not sure of this story’s premise. What was the purpose of killing Mother Constance? Was she to much of a zealot? The story also did not delevop her “control” of the Zombie. I did likle your writing style though…keep it up.

    Comment by Rob C (NYC) on April 15, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  2. I really liked the premise of a sociopath’s inner struggle in the background of the Z-apocalypse. The writing was a little choppy though, which made it a little difficult to keep up with the plot. All in all, a very good story that would be even better if it were lengthier.

    Comment by John J. on April 15, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  3. It’s more of a slice of life (and death) in the zomb-apocalypse. I really should have ‘showed’ more of the bad, and that Mother Constance was really crazy and dangerous. Plus made it a bit longer, too.

    I had a reason for her power over the zombie, but I didn’t want to come out with it- I thought the ambiguity would work better than it did. ‘By their works, you shall know them…’

    Which applies to Joseph, too. He is not well, but functions, is useful and not a danger to the group. Under the circumstances, this makes him one of the good guys, even if he’s not sure of himself.

    This is based on the second-to-last play session in my West Texas Zombie Game, and a confrontation was inevitable and bloody. There were some other NPC survivors that I’d like to write about, maybe.

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 15, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  4. I did like the story but would love a little back story on it too. Good job.

    Comment by Chris on April 15, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  5. Nice execution (no pun intended). Dark but just enough light in there to keep it real. I’m diging the “damaged” individuals perspective. It’s similiar to the show Dexter. Shame Joseph died. I would have liked to know him better. Don’t stop with this one, give us another!

    Comment by Barrett S on April 15, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

  6. My thoughts are the same I think. Some great characters, I really liked Joseph and thought he showed his sociopathy well. The story just needed more context and needed to be a bit longer in my opinion to get a bit of texture.

    She’d get on well with The Minister tho. I can see them sat in the vestry over a couple of macaroon and a pot of Earl Grey Tea……..FILLED WITH BLOOD!!

    Comment by Pete Bevan on April 16, 2010 @ 2:03 am

  7. really enjoyed the story. But as others said it is a little thin, if you say make it a part of a series like the minister, giving back story to the characters like little-jay, Joseph and how he got there, and of course Mother Constance. it would make a superb idea for a novel. again I very much enjoyed the story. thanks

    Comment by Rick on April 16, 2010 @ 5:19 pm

  8. Thanks for all the encouragement, and especially the criticism! I get a lot of ‘that’s nice’ from folks who read my stuff, and they mean well, but it drives me up the wall… what did I do right, what did I do, wrong?

    @ Barrett- Loved Dexter, it being on regular TV for a while was kewl. I’m interested in heroes, dark and complicated heroes. Utterly rotten bad guys are also kewl, but they have a short life-expectancy, when I right. I’m not opposed to a happy ending, but the heroes have to ‘earn’ it!

    @ Bevan- I haven’t read about The Minsiter, but now I must! I beleive I read your last bit, about the guy on a roof, with the gun, and the other guy who took out a quarter mile of Zees? Loved it (and I hope it was yours, that would be sad, iff’n I got that wrong).

    Tired and goofy, sad coz I didn’t get to run my two games today at Relaxicon, had to work…

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 17, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  9. I’ll write something more, but this is what I wrote last night (a little melodramatic, but, hey) in my ‘A Character A Day’ folder for the little girl-

    Little Jay waits for them. Not literally, no. Her family is dead, all of them, including her big sister. And now, so is Joseph, a study in contradictions. Who was a sharp and true steel weapon and a fragile, tormented, human being.

    Little Jay has faith, not in God or in Man, but in individuals. Who, on their own, in the midst of terror and despair, can choose to rise to the occasion. Who give meaning to our random meaningless accident. Who consecrate the divine spark and fight for that last inch of self.

    She waits for them and does not turn her face hopefully to death. She waits for them to be returned to her, in a hundred strange new faces, and in the newborns’ cry. She will live until she dies.

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 18, 2010 @ 8:15 am

  10. This is what I write, when I do an Alternate History/ SF War Story-


    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 18, 2010 @ 8:26 am

  11. Technically, the writing is good. I buy the characters. The imagery is easy to imagine. I like the idea of the mentally-unstable main character. I don’t think I’ve seen that before in this genre. Good job.

    What I have seen before is the evil religous leader, and this one brings nothing new to the table in that regard, from her persona to her over-the-top dialogue. Since you did a good job of having a different hero, why not try to have a different villain, as well? That would elevate this story a great deal.

    Also, I don’t like the opening verse. When I read “the realization cuts my heart like cold steel” I wanted to quit reading right there. Starting with something that high on the Purple Prose Meter is generally a bad idea.

    Otherwise, like I said, it’s a solid enough concept worth exploring, and I think you did a good job writing it. I would like to see more.

    Comment by Wrenage on April 18, 2010 @ 9:21 am

  12. I liked this one, but I read Zombie fiction. Someone who doesn’t would have a hard time getting this story. They would wonder what happened to the previous chapters in the story, and would want to know what is to come.

    Now, leaving the reader wanting more is a good thing. This had a “satisfactory” ending in the short term, but needs more in the long.

    I look forward to more of your stuff, because, as was mentioned above, the imagery is quite good. This is another one that is easy to see while reading.

    It left us a little lost on the ranking system. Who instituted it? How is it regulated? How is a newcomer supposed to understand it? Maybe 150 words on that.

    Would have liked a couple hundred more words on Mother Constance. Who, how, and why? I will say, though, that I liked the question of controlling the Zombie remaining unanswered. That could be a wonderful plot point in a second story.

    Write some more, and I’ll read it.

    Oh, and the game you play? Is it just based in Texas, or are you there, too? I am!

    Comment by cdugger on April 18, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

  13. (whines) But I loved that Bleach quote! I can see your point, tho, Wrenage.

    @ cdugger- Ranking system? I think you’re talking about corporal-sergeant-LT., which is just a dodge for the squad of Army guys. They are all noncoms, and the ‘LT.’ was a corporal, on the day.

    They’d be in lots of trouble, when the real Army shows up, except that the Army of the Rump USA would probably look the other way, as long as they can do the job.

    I got a kick out of calling Dan’s PC ‘Leftenant’, when one of the important NPCs, an Oxford or Cambridge Professor who was visitng the states, was talking…

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 18, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  14. Actually, I kind of like the fact that the “villain” is a stereotype. It lets the reader fill in all the necessary blanks while the author gets on with the focus of the story, Joseph. (I also know how it feels to tell a story about a night of gaming that was only a fraction of a much longer campaign.)

    On the other hand, I disagree with his characterization as a sociopath. From what I have seen and heard, sociopaths suffer from a near total lack of empathy. They cannot see other people as being on par with themselves and have trouble relating to others and society. Functional sociopaths invent complex rule systems based on observing others and try to live within those rules in order to “simulate” normal relationships. When other people deviate from the patterns those rules define/predict, the sociopath becomes confused and disturbed. That is when they can become potentially dangerous.

    Joseph seems to question himself and his own motives more than anyone else. While he dose berate someone (Bill-Not-Bit?) for risking skills valuable to the community, he doesn’t show any confusion or doubt about Bill’s motives — only a healthy concern for what his loss will do to the community. His primary conflict is with what he has had to do to survive and what that might mean to his humanity. I think that sounds more like PTSD.

    Then again, I understand that people with the “1000 yard stare” can be pretty frightening to the rest of us.

    Comment by zombob on April 21, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  15. Thanks. Joseph is probably more afraid of Joseph, of what he is capable of, than anybody else is, which is saying something. There is a degree of ruthless practicality and dedication that makes him a great survivor, but hard to live with. He learned the rules of the new lifeboat situation very early on, and since he’s not ever going to be the leader, he has a little more freedom to look around, take stock and think the group through.

    At least, that’s what I think. In any zombapoclypse scenario I can think of, I’m strictly rear-guard, but I’d like to make it count. A lot of times a character is me thinking, “What would life be like if I was more of a coward, or a woman, or a daring hero?” Empathy is all.

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 21, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  16. Good story, easy read. I like that some stories are comming out of Texas. Hill country repesent!

    Comment by Hazzard on April 25, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  17. Somebody asked me if the WTZG was just based in Texas, or did we live there- No, I run in Newark, DE, and I’m from sLower Delaware. We just like to go to other places and smash ’em up real good. We’re currently doing a number on Los Vegas, an urban fantasy about a detective agency, Frank Stone and his Wizard partner, Magnusson.

    A zombie story set in S DE would be a little too close to home, and I’m a craven hack. I do like to write about Texans, though. I’ve got a space captain named Hannah Clinkenbeard, in an SF series, named for the anime voice actress and reversioneer (is that even a word? 8-).

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on April 25, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  18. I imagine Texas would be a good place to hide out from Zeke. Lots of space and old nuclear bunkers.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on April 25, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

  19. @pete
    Couldn’t be more right. My fallout shelter is my grandparents old house, sits on 260 acres on top of a hill, 10 foot deer fence, a 20×40 underground wine cellar. And all decked out for at least a month stay totally locked in. Paranoia or boy scout preparidness(?), ill let ya’ll decide

    Comment by Hazzard on April 26, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  20. If its only kitted out against Zombies, then I would worry. If its to prepare against any eventuality then it may be sensible.

    I just love the fact you have a fallout shelter. The closest thing I have is a shed with a particular vicious mower in it.

    Anyway my plan involves getting to the coast and then North to the Western Isles of Scotland. No cities in the way so its doable. not that I’ve traced the route on google maps of course. That would be silly.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on April 26, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  21. Its pretty much a “lay low and chill out for 30 days” shelter. Great thing about it is it’s hidden behind a book shelf in the living room. The hinges for it are on the outside, but how often do you think to look behind bookshelfs for anything? Long term stays are pretty much bulit in to the property, ham radio tower, acres of fertile land, surrounded by other ranches with live stock and supplies, at least 30 miles out of the way. Oh and the maps thing, there is a website(can’t remember it right now? Give it time) that will print you off a topo map for any region you want, and laminate it. Pete give me a shout aol: biohazzarddragon

    Comment by Hazzard on April 26, 2010 @ 11:53 am

  22. Not that you’ve given it much thought eh? I’m not on aol but you can get me through the link in my name below.

    Comment by Pete Bevan on April 26, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

  23. I am sorry sir, I don’t use the facebooks, if your a mod for site(which I think you are) just send me an email, I’d like to bounce an idea off of you

    Comment by Hazzard on April 26, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

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