Shambling in a Winter Wonderland is a serial adventure story from Karina Fabian, one of Liberty Island’s favorite authors. The story features her badass character Neeta Lyffe, whose earlier adventures can be found in novels Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator and I Left My Brains in San Francisco. Shambling follows Neeta and her fiance as they take what is supposed to be a vacation to a Utah ski resort, but zombies, a blizzard, and a startling revelation about Neeta’s past all converge to make this trip anything but relaxing…

A scream echoed across the mountainside, tearing through the peaceful, winter air. The trees at the edge of the wood shook, dislodging their snowy burdens. Jessica Zwelleger burst through, screeching as she dashed from their grasp. She ran full out, her boots sinking into the inches of newly fallen snow, arms pumping. She headed roughly in the direction of the shrine made of old skis and snowboards and Christmas-decorated mini-trees that memorialized the death of the Team Slay Bells, but she zigged and zagged, her hair flying as she whipped her head about, causing the fur-lined hood of her jacket to drop.
A figure staggered after her, his breath coming in ragged gasps.
She chanced a glance behind her, lost her footing and fell. By the time she’d rolled over, the other was nearly upon her. Arms outstretched, he leaned toward her and moaned. She held up her hands.
"All right! All right! I give up. You win again." Her shrieks turned into laughter, and she rolled in the snow, clutching her stomach and making no effort to calm her hysterics.
Ethan Pike flopped on the ground beside her and panted. That was an awesome run. He probably had enough stored energy to keep him warm for days. That was the awesome thing about his ski suit. It absorbed the energy of his moving and used it to keep him warm when he stopped. It converted sunlight into heat, too. He was like a walking solar panel or something. Which was totally cool, except for being warm. Anyway, the way Jessica was sweating, she would get chilly on the way home, and he’d be able to unzip his suit so she could warm her hands under it.
Yeah. Good run.
Once he got his breath, he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a fat twist of leaves and a lighter. He inhaled deeply, and spoke with a hoarse voice. "See? Told you."
"Yep–a good run and a good toke. Better than Canablis." She sat up and pulled off her jacket, rubbing the fur over her sweaty neck before tossing it aside. Ethan watched in hormone-filled fascination.
He passed her the joint. She took a long drag, swaying slightly with pleasure. He tried not to drool.
She sighed. "I’m gonna pay for this when I get home. I’m supposed to be grounded for yelling at Mom. I wish she’d just let me buy this stuff instead of that over-the-counter shit."
"Anything’s better than that over-the-counter shit. This shit is, like, pure, and you should always strive for purity because it’s, you know, pure. Plus it’s sexier." He sat up and leaned toward her, eyes closed, lips puckered.
She gave a little gasp and spun away from him, and he toppled. "Did you hear that?"
He pushed himself up, spitting out pure snow, and saw her hands were empty. "Hey! Where’s that joint?"
She made vague waving motions in his direction as she headed toward an area blocked off with rebar and neon ribbon.
He, too, could hear the moans, but dismissed them as he crawled around, swiping his gloved hands in a messy search pattern. "You lost it in the snow? Jeez, do you know how expensive those have gotten since the government started taxing them? My mom won’t file an insurance claim for them for me, either. Stupid government with their stupid regulations and their stupid taxes… Wish it was illegal like in my dad’s day…"
"Ethan, come here!" Jessica waved him toward the barrier. He grumbled as he rose, slipped, and finally got his footing. She laughed, but not at him. "Come on! You gotta see! This guy’s like the abdominal* snowman or something."
He trudged to where she stood looking into a ditch, his mind still on his joint. "You know, a good blunt is like a good man. You shouldn’t… Hey, what’s that guy doing?"
A lean, snow-covered guy in a torn ski suit stumbled around the small, deep hole, bumping into the sides. He’d clawed at the frozen walls, but only succeeded at fraying his gloves…and the skin beneath. The walls bore bloody streaks.
Ethan couldn’t take his eyes off the bloody walls. "Whoa, look at the lines. They’re all, like pink. And awesome. Makes me want to paint. Do you want to paint the snow–you know, like Moab, but snow, not rocks? Still, like Moab. The colors, all streaky and pink… Moab in snow, you know?"
Jessica giggled. "Later, maybe. What’s he doing, anyway? Hey, you! Stupid! What are you doing, anyway?"
The man stopped bumping himself against the wall and looked up and moaned, "Braaaiiins!"
"Yeah, you do need brains. How’d you get in there?"
Instead of answering, he began to claw at the snow under Jessica’s feet. Distracted from his visions of Moab in Snow, Ethan laughed. He couldn’t help it; the guy moved so slowly. What a moron!
"How’d you get in the hole?" Jessica kept asking. She stepped closer. The orange ribbon strained as it tried to hold her back. She accepted its implied authority and bent over it instead. "Did you fall? Did you ski?"
"Oh, hey, that’s a good idea! Ethan, be a good blunt and get a ski from the shrine. We can pull him up."
"Why should I?"
"Please?" She turned to him with big eyes and pouty lips, and for a moment he was mesmerized by how beautiful the red lines in the whites of her eyes were, like the pink lines in the snow. He should paint her, all pink in the snow…
"Pretty please?"
"Yeah, yeah."
He spun on his heel and almost lost his balance at the edge of the hole. He clutched at the nearest rebar. While it kept him from falling into the pit, he still hit to the ground, pulling the rebar down with him. It pushed out of the snow, causing part of the hole’s wall to collapse. Jessica pealed with laughter.
He tossed the rebar aside, or tried to; the safety tape caught and it flopped to the ground beside him. Jessica grabbed it. "Hey, yeah, we can use that!"
Ethan sat up, dusting snow off his jacket, and caught a glimpse of ash downslope. He cheered. "My joint!"
While Jessica giggled and called encouragement to the trapped dude, Ethan crawled to his lost treasure. He brushed it off, relit it, and put it to his lips. Then, remembering how Jessica had lost it once already, he turned his back to her to finish his smoke in privacy. "Yeah, that’s good stuff. Hey, that guy out yet?"
Jessica squealed, then screamed, "Help me, Ethan!"
There was a thump.
"You fall in? Klutz. Give me a minute. Almost done." He took another drag while she screamed and gibbered. The other guy moaned.
"Hey, don’t mess with my Jess!" he hollered without turning around. Yeah, better not to turn around. He could sound heroic and protective, but he didn’t want to fight the guy or anything. He was a lover, not a fighter. Besides, what’d they teach them in school? If someone is being harassed, take decisive action by finding someone in authority–and there wasn’t anyone in authority for miles around, so… Anyway, they’d moved on to slurpy noises. Guess she’d decided she liked it after all. Figures. Women were like joints. Fun for awhile, then you had to get a new one. Didn’t his grandma say that? And she’d had her hips replaced and everything…
He heard a rasping hiss and a moan, "Ethaaaan…"
Wait! Was that an…invitation? He nearly choked on his joint. He paused, took another toke and forced his voice into casual agreement.
"Fine. I’ve got an open mind, but save it for a hotel, all right? Come on. I got munchies. Nachos! Don’t nachos sound awesome? Let’s, like, get a room, order some nachos. You guys hungry?"
The Ute2 lodge was a huge, log-cabin style hotel and ski resort that nestled against the slope of the mountain, its A-frame portico opening to a ski lift mere yards away. With the room balconies draped in evergreens and lights and the feathery snow falling, it looked to Neeta like a scene in a snow globe.
"Oh, Ted, it’s delightful," she whispered with a breathy laugh. She could not bear to break the magic of the scene with the garishness of normal chatter.
Ted understood, and replied only by squeezing her knee. The moment was broken as they came across a life-sized doll of a skier smashed face first into a pole, its arms and legs sticking straight out on either side. The sign above it said, "Ski Aware!" They burst into loud laughs.
Ted said, "So, want me to drop you off at the entrance with our stuff?"
She pointed to a spot not far from the doors. "There’s the VIP parking. It’s not far. Besides, I want to walk in the snow."
The chill air stung her cheeks, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as she expected–less, in fact, than air conditioned restaurants before the California Carbon Footprint Reduction Act. She said as much to Ted as he pulled out their luggage.
He laughed. "The air’s drier, so the cold doesn’t stick. It’ll bite when the wind picks up or when we’re ‘boarding down the slopes. We should buy ski masks, first thing."
The desk clerk gave them their keys and a note from the event coordinator to meet him at breakfast. The evening was theirs.
They had adjoining rooms with a door between them. Ted’s opened to the slope, but Neeta’s had the fireplace–and a Jacuzzi tub. She would definitely enjoy her vacation now! She opened her suitcase and started placing her clothes on hangers and in drawers.
Ted, naturally, tossed his bags in his room, then plopped down on her bed to watch her nest. "Wanna do mine next?"
"Maybe when we’re married."
"Sounds good to me." He hopped off the bed and put his arms around her. She leaned against him, eyes shut with contentment. "This is going to be an awesome vacation."
"Mmm-hmm. A couple of hours showing off the van while we watch the ski contest."
He kissed her hair. "Otherwise, it’s you me, some snowboards–"
"–the fireplace."
"And no–"
"Stop!" Neeta spun in his arms and pressed her fingers against his mouth. "Don’t jinx it. We agreed not to mention the you-know-whats. We’re here to advertise the van, not exterminate."
He chuckled. "Yet the van is fully loaded. You checked. Twice."
"After San Francisco, I will not be caught unprepared again. But we don’t look for trouble, either."
"Trouble finds us no matter what, but I’m glad you’re getting the idea, boss." He gave her a long kiss. "So, future Mrs. Lyffe-Hacker," he said when they’d pulled away. "There’s still some daylight left. What say we get our jackets on and go strolling in a winter wonderland before dinner?"
"I think that sounds wonderful, future Mr. Lyffe-Hacker."
Ethan ran out of the meadow and into the woods, dashing around trees that, to his panicked and drug-addled mind, leaned toward him, branches reaching out to snatch him into their grasp. His eyes widened, but he couldn’t make sense of the twisting shadows. When he saw a clearing, he dashed toward it. An upraised root caught his foot. He tumbled down the rocky hill until he landed in a ditch and lay on his back, panting.
What had happened? Memories made a confused blur. Everything had been fine–he’d been toking, Jessica was getting it on with that guy. He’d suggested a hotel and nachos. Then someone put arms around him and he’d thought it was Jessica, kind of warmed up or something, but it was the guy and he couldn’t pull away and then he–
Ethan put his hand to his neck. His glove came away bloody. What kind of perv..?
No matter. He’d gotten away. He had to be safe by now; the trees would have gotten the guy, right? Trees hate pervs. He’d heard that somewhere, hadn’t he?
"Trees hate pervs." Yeah, sounded right.
Or maybe this was all a dream. Maybe he’d gotten some bad stuff, and this was just a dream. He lay against the bank, arms spread, and stared up at the falling snow. That was soothing. Yeah. He’d just wait ’till he was calm, then head down and get some help. Grandma wouldn’t let him down.
"Ute2," he muttered so he’d remember. "Just get up, go to the Ute2, get some quality Ace. And nachos. Yeah."
He was still repeating it when his pulse at last stilled. The snow continued to fall, watched by dead eyes.
*Yes, that’s the word she used. Seriously, she’s been toking for hours, and you think she’ll get the word right?
Thanks for reading Shambling in a Winter Wonderland! If you enjoyed this, you may want to check out Liberty Island’s other Fabian zombie story, "Josie’s Last Straw."