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…

Read previous episodes: Episode One, Episode Two.
Hambone bounded through the snow, the wide pads of his stubby legs leaving heavy footprints. He ignored the cold seeping into his belly. Girl was missing, and Master had tasked him to find her! He raised his head, seeking Girl’s scent. The air stung his nose. Cold air brought the best smells.
He struggled up the snowdrift and paused, mouth open and panting, his breath making tiny clouds. His ears dragged in the snow, and he shook them, annoyed at the cold tips. He could hear his owner calling Girl, but he ignored it. He’d heard something else in a pit just ahead. A moaning, kind of like Girl’s when she smelled so interesting and spent a lot of time in bed, eating chocolate and crying, or yelling at Mistress.
Speaking of smells…
He galumphed to the open hole, thinking about the last time Girl pulled him into her lap and wrapped him in blankets while crying about how everyone smothered her.
Wowooo. He wished he could dig such a magnificent pit. Someone dug inside it, making it bigger. Maybe if he tilted his head and whined beseechingly, they’d let him help. Very few could resist his basset powers of persuasion. He crept forward.
Look! Girl!
He tilted his head to howl his discovery, then caught a new smell and stopped. It was Girl. It looked like Girl. It moaned like Girl. It smelled like Girl. Yet, it didn’t. Girl didn’t have pieces missing, or gurgle. Interesting, but not Girl.
And the scent was of dead meat.
He tilted his head, whining in confusion. Girl/Not Girl stopped clawing at the side of the pit and twisted slowly. "Haaaam!" She/Not She held out her arms.
Hambone skittered back, a snarl rising to his lips before his doggie brain registered. Definitely Not Girl! Not alive!
Master should not see this. Master wouldn’t like it. No, no. And Master was not fun when he was mad. If Hambone couldn’t find Girl, he needed to find something else for Master. He left the moaning Not Girl and headed up the hill.
Find a something, find a something…
There was a new smell! What could it be? It was kind of people and kind of rotten hamburger… Definitely not of Girl. Oh, he had to find it! It would be good, he just knew it.
He stretched out his nose. It was close, maybe even under the snow, close. Find the smell. Find the smell. He moved further up the hill, sniffing, ignoring the exasperated cries of his Master. He always came back, and when he brought something new and interesting to present, the Master was happy. The Master would put it on the Mistress’ sewing table and laugh while she shrieked. The more she shrieked, the better Hambone’s reward. He’d get something grand this time, for sure! Then Master wouldn’t get mad about Girl/Not Girl.
He heard another sound, a muffled moan from under the snow. Aha! Found it! He tilted his head back, baying, and was rewarded by a sharp, commanding call of his name. Now the Master knew! He ignored the call but galumphed toward the other sound. The smell came from that direction. The snow moved. He paused, head tilted, then perked. Something blue was under it. Blue and moving. Hooray–toy!
With scurrying legs, he dug up the prize and grasped it with his teeth. It resisted at first. Tug-of-war! Hambone loved tug-of-war. He braced his legs and pulled. The toy’s groaning turned to growls, and he growled back. Mine, mine!
A rip and a wafting of rotten hamburger smell, and it was his. Just in time, too–the gentle snowfall had started to get icy. Now that he had discovered the Not Girl and won a prize for the Master, he wanted to curl up in front of the warm fire and get belly rubs. He turned his back on the groaning creature, spread his legs, and piddled so all the world would know of his victorious presence.
He trotted back toward his master, his mouth full of his prize–a partly rotted arm in a blue jacket sleeve, its blue-gloved fingers curled with the middle one extended in a universal symbol of anger and defiance.
He didn’t find Girl, but he had something to present the Master. Wouldn’t his master be proud?
Neeta bolted upright in bed, a scream choking her throat, her heart pounding. She blinked her eyes furiously to remove the vision of Donald Eidelberg’s severed head popping out of the trophy she was presenting the winning skier. When she could see the shadows of the hotel room around her, she released the breath she held. Bringing her legs up to her chest, she leaned her head against her knees.
It was ridiculous! He wasn’t the first person she’d seen die on the job. He wasn’t even the first person she’d beheaded. Why did he have to keep haunting her dreams, and why now? She hadn’t dreamed about him in months, not since she and Ted got engaged.
I have got to get past this before I get married. I am not having a screaming nightmare on my honeymoon!
In the meantime, it was 4:30, and she knew from experience she wouldn’t get back to sleep. In the next room, Ted snored. Something else she’d have to get used to, although her mom had snored loud enough to be heard throughout the house. In fact, it had taken Neeta a couple of months to get used to the quiet after she died.
"Oh, Mom, I wish you could have met Ted. You’d have loved him." She hugged her knees, feeling just a little alone. She was the only child of a single mom who herself had grown up in foster care. With Mom gone, she didn’t have any family…
Where’d that thought come from? She had the Lees; they’d treated her like a daughter since she and Min had shared a playpen. And the Hollermans. Jason always called her his little girl. And Ted’s family was…odd…but it was huge.
"It’s Bergie," she said aloud. "All that family at his funeral. And the wedding. What did you always say, Mom? You can sit around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can look around and see all the good things, and then get up and do something about what’s bothering you."
She wiped her damp cheeks and let out a cleansing breath. She’d had the best mom in the world and she was marrying the best guy ever. She loved her job, and–she laughed–she got a free ski vacation to Utah because of it.
And yeah, Bergie had become zombie food, but the other Zombie Death Extreme plebes* survived, and even thrived. LaCenta had just scored her sixth re-kill, and Lacey and Pip’s twins were already crawling. "They’re never still. They take after their mom that way," Pippin had told her, and he hadn’t stuttered once their whole conversation. Gordon and Nasir received medals from the Afghan government for their work against the undead there, and Ted–well, she had a partner in more ways than one with Ted.
Feeling better, she took a hot shower, and sat in front of the fireplace in her favorite white bathrobe while she read up on the charity she was helping promote with the event, Operation Homefront.**
Mom loved this charity. She’d been injured when a mine blew off half her arm. She never told Neeta the details, even when she was dying of cancer. All she’d say was, "I didn’t even know I was pregnant. Thank God you were all right." Nonetheless, she’d needed extensive surgeries, complicated by the fact that she refused to abort Neeta. Even with the military paying for the new arm, it added up. It was Operation Homefront’s help, combined with an anonymous donation, that let her manage her bills and purchase the cottage in Inglewood where Neeta still lived and ran the family extermination business.
Neeta felt a little closer to her mom for being there to talk up the charity.
A knock interrupted her studies. "Babe, can I come in? You decent?"
Her mouth opened to automatically invite him in; then she remembered she didn’t have anything on under her bathrobe. "Give me a minute to get dressed."
"Okay, but dress warm. We need to go eat, then it’s snowboarding lessons time!"
Sheriff Rourke played the light of his snowmobile over the avalanche site. The sun had crested the mountains, bathing the area in brilliant light, but he couldn’t stop a feeling of foreboding. "Winter wonderland–right. Where’d you say Hambone found the arm?"
Gunther dismounted his own machine, but leaned against it, arms crossed, scowling. "I didn’t. Hambone and I were looking for that no-good daughter of mine, and he ran off after a smell. But it was obviously Flip’s arm, so it had to have come from here."
Rourke swore under his breath. "You didn’t show it to Connie, did you?"
"Cut me some slack. Even I have my limits."
"Miracles never cease."
"Shut up. We were looking for Jessica. She still hasn’t shown up at home."
Rourke paused in mid-dismount. "And you think she might be around here?"
"Hell if I know. She and Connie got into it again over that doping boyfriend of hers. For all I know, they’re heading to Vegas for a quickie wedding." Gunther’s gloved hands clenched and unclenched against the desire to strangle someone.
Rourke hoped he was right. He’d rather deal with a domestic problem than a zombie any day. Angry dads could be reasoned with. "All right. We’ll keep an eye out, and I’ll call in an Amber Alert when we get back. At least it hasn’t snowed heavy up here yet. Those look like dog tracks. Let’s see where they head. We probably should walk from here on out. You go that way, and we’ll cover more ground. Take this walkie-talkie; the last thing we want to do is yell. Still, keep in sight."
"Oh, no. We are not splitting up." Gunther ignored the walkie-talkie Rourke held out to him, heaved himself off the snowmobile he’d been leaning on, and pulled his shotgun from the case strapped to the side of the vehicle. "Ain’t you seen that Marcel Chelemas video? ‘If you ain’t severed the head…’"
"’Don’t assume it’s dead.’ Right. Good point."
"He also says, ‘If you think there’s a zombie around, stick together…’"
"’…unless the other guy is some coyoon who’ll get you killed.’ Yeah, yeah. We have it at the office. You a coyoon?"
"I don’t even know what that means, but I do know you won’t get me killed. Don’t worry about me. I did six months in the Spratly Islands. I know what a human looks like."
Rourke gave the expected chuckle at the joke all Spratly Island War veterans shared. In 2037, America joined France and several Pacific nations to protect the various Spratly Islands against invasion–not by a single nation, but against an international environmental terrorist group, Sea Turtles and Friends. SeaTAF had been determined to drive all humans off the islands and kill those who refused to leave, all in the name of protecting the endangered species in the area. In the world’s first war against an environmental group, the allied nations were as concerned about protecting the at-risk animals as they were about securing the islands. Hence, the joke: Shoot the humans, not the turtles.
"Fine, but just remember: zombies can look human until they bite you. Be careful."
Gunther loaded two shells and pumped the gun with a firm jerk. "I’ll do a warning shot at the feet if I have any doubts."
They made their slow way up the slope, following the tracks, Rourke taking lead and Gunther following, mostly looking back and to the sides. The crunching of the snow under their feet sounded too loud in the still air, but at least that was the only unnatural sound. Still, how well did zombies hear? Would they be drawn to their footsteps?
Gunther had similar thoughts. "You know, I’m wondering if watching some zombie defense video is really the best training for this. Maybe we should call some exterminators?"
Rourke was tempted. But that would take a lot of time, and even though he didn’t want to say it to Gunther, he didn’t think Jessica would run off to Vegas. He’d known her since she was in diapers, and she was more level-headed than her parents gave her credit for, despite her wild side and idiot boyfriend. A run in the woods was more her style. "Nearest one’s Salt Lake. It’s not like we ever had a problem ’round here."
"Great. You see anything? This place is creeping me out." Gunther scanned the horizon.
Me, too. Rourke didn’t voice the thought, but his back itched with the surety that a one-armed, blue-suited corpse of a skier was heading their way, intent on a breakfast of brains. He fought against the urge to shout Jessica’s name. If she was out here, he could only hope she’d found some hole to hide in.
He thought he saw a disturbance in the snow and headed toward it, gun out and ready. Nothing alive or otherwise leapt out at him, but there was a large messy hole, some ripped flesh, and a circle of yellow snow.
Rourke swore. He’d hoped he’d find a half-trapped corpse he could treat to a double-tap and be done with it. "Yeah, that’s where Hambone got his prize. Careful where you step now; there’s gore uphill and to the left. Looks like Flip dug himself out and headed that way. Come on, let’s see if we can find him."
"He’s moving downhill? Let’s go back, get the snowmobiles."
Rourke chewed his mustache as he did a slow 360, surveying the surroundings and straining to hear anything out of the ordinary. Silence rewarded him.
Meanwhile, Gunther was focused on the edge of the woods. Rourke could guess what he was thinking. His house was always full of conflict, with a teenage daughter and that hormonal boyfriend of hers causing trouble, and his wife, Connie, going through The Change. Walks in the woods with Hambone were all the peace Gunther got. Now that had been taken from him, too. Rourke wished he had some words of reassurance, but he never made promises he couldn’t keep.
He found some tracks leading away from the mess. "I think he headed this way." Without waiting, he started forward. Downslope and to the right was a circle of rebar, half of which had toppled. Something to the left caught his eye. He picked up his pace, praying he was mistaken.
Behind him, Gunther said, "Know what? I take back what I said. We’ve got guns, and we’re both good shots. Let’s get the snowmobiles, call in a potential zombie, and go hunting ourselves. It’s a half-frozen zombie–it can’t have gone far. Hey, wait up!"
Rourke spun fast and sprinted to his friend, stopping him before he took too many steps downhill. He grabbed Gunther’s arm and propelled him back the way they came.
"Gunther," Rourke commanded, his voice low and hoarse, "I want you to take your snowmobile and head back down. As soon as you’re in cell phone range, call the sheriff’s office. Tell them to call Salt Lake for a Z-Mat team ASAP, then you send some deputies back here to the Slay Bells memorial."
"Who’s the coyoon now? We’re not splitting up."
"Gunther! Do what I say, and don’t look back."
"Oh, hell! Why’d you have to say that? What do you see?" He broke away and was down the hill before Rourke could stop him. "Oh, shit!"
A white jacket with a tan faux-fur trim lay on the ground. Uphill of that, blood darkened the snow in messy splotches. They could just make out two trails of blood leading toward the woods on the other side of the clearing. They didn’t go very far before the snow had covered them too thickly to see.
"Jessica!" He lunged forward, but Rourke snagged him.
"Hush!" he hissed. "That might not be hers. Listen to me. I’ll keep searching, but one of us has to get down the mountain and warn people. Look!" He pointed past the carnage.
At the shrine of skis and snowboards, only a single ski remained.
*Learn more about Neeta Lyffe and her plebes in Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator.
**Operation Homefront is a legitimate, existing charity that helps service members and wounded warriors with financial help, food assistance and repairs. Learn more at
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."