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…

*
Neeta pulled her snowmobile beside the sheriff’s and spent a few moments studying the area. Not the bloody snow and ruined memorial, time for that later, but the dark blue-grey forests stark against the white, mountains rising to meet a blue sky where clouds had started to gather. This is what she wanted to remember, the rugged beauty of the place, not the mess she and Ted had been hired to clean up.
She inhaled deeply, letting the cool sharp air fill her lungs–then coughed when it stung. That was all right; it just added to the newness of the experience. She heard the sharp cry of a raptor and looked up to see several birds circling overhead.
When Ted pulled up, giving his engine one extra roar before turning it off, she pointed to them. "Bet we find something that way." She dismounted, and dug into the storage area under the saddle of the snowmobile to exchange her ski gloves for the knit ones she could wear under her work gloves. Her fingers might get cold, but she didn’t want to risk taking time to change them when they actually saw a corpsicle.*
While the Sheriff went to check on the deputy who waited by the desecrated memorial, Neeta and Ted loaded their belts with tools of the trade: napalm and antihistamine grenades to take them out at a distance, and cans of Red Bull and some recent ski magazines they’d gotten from the lodge gift shop to draw the zombies to them. Even though bleach water would not freeze in the squirt guns, they decided against bringing any. The snow would make it relatively ineffective on cold dead bodies.
They both had small spray bottles of the stuff, however. In case of an approaching shambler, they could dowse themselves or the officers to repel the zombie. Finally, Neeta attached her monofilament sword to its hook on her belt.
Ted, however, stepped away from the snowmobiles and activated his. The monofilament unfolded at the press of the button, and the electric field around it charged, glowing and emitting a clean hum in the still air. He did a few swings, then pointed it to the ground, causing the snow to sizzle as he swiped it in a pattern.
"Ted, what are you doing?" Neeta walked around her snowmobile to see that he’d drawn a heart with TH +NL in a snowbank.
"Just wanted to be sure it works in the snow itself. You know, just in case." He gave the sword a showy twist, then deactivated it and attached it to his belt in one smooth motion. Even though she watched him practice that move on a regular basis, it never failed to impress her.
The crunching of snow made her turn around. She smiled at the deputy at approached. Dressed in head-to-toe snow gear and a bulletproof vest, he nonetheless looked very vulnerable. He pointed to Ted’s sword. "You wouldn’t happen to have another of those?"
"Oh, no!" Neeta answered for him. "You have a gun. Your job is to keep back and shoot the head."
"But won’t the sound attract the others?"
Ted chuckled. "That’s Walking Dead. Awesome show, but not accurate. Real zombies don’t care one way or another about loud noises, and most will run from gunfire. The habits we have in life are the ones we keep in undeath."
The deputy heaved a sigh. "Good to know. We found the girl. The sheriff’s heading that way now. Don’t worry–she’s trapped. She… You’ll see. If you can, try to follow my tracks; we’re trying to keep the rest clean so we can figure out where they’re headed."
He led them past a white jacket, now marked with a small evidence flag on a spike beside it, and a pinkish-bloodied area that signified a zombie attack. They turned uphill. Now Neeta could hear familiar groaning interspersed with humorless giggling.
"Zombie on drugs," Ted predicted. It wasn’t the first time they’d come across someone who had been bitten while high.
They paused at a pit surrounded by rebar and powder-blue caution tape. On it, cartoon clouds alternated with the words "US Weather Service – Precise & Accurate!" A little ways past, soiled snow told of the reaction by the first deputy to come across the zombie. He now stood back, his pistol out and trained on the creature, while the sheriff looked on. Police tape marked a gore-ridden path from the pit to the attack scene.
Neeta and Ted joined him and looked into the pit. Ted groaned.
The female zombie, young, blonde and newly turned, staggered about the deep hole, bumping into the edges and laughing. It had bites and scratches all up its body, almost as if something had climbed up it using its teeth. Its ear had been chewed off, but its face was remarkably intact. A rebar lay beside it, at an angle to the floor. The zombie tripped on it and smashed into the side of the hole, making Rourke jump back. A tunnel opened in the side of the pit, lousy with zombie spoor.
"Had some university folks here yesterday studying the avalanche. Looks like one of our skiers clawed its way out of that hole, and got stuck in the pit." the sheriff’s voice was detached, professional, but Neeta could hear the undertones of shock. He twisted to point to some tracks marked by evidence flags. "Looks like Jennifer and Ethan came over, most likely thinking someone needed help. Ethan, for whatever reason, goes to sit over there. Jennifer tries to help the guy out, probably with that rebar, and he attacks her. Pulls her in–or she falls. Can’t tell which." Then his voice cracked. "Oh, God! What do I tell Connie and Gunther?"
Neeta set her hand on his shoulder. "Tell them she died trying to help someone." She patted his arm, and turned her attention to Ted. "What do you think?"
"I think a pit fight with a corpsicle is a bad idea. Napalm grenade?"
The sheriff drew his sidearm, but he bit back a sob.
"Wait!" Neeta pulled out one of the antihistamine grenades. She whistled to the zombie, who had become fascinated with the blood on the wall and was spreading it like finger paint. It turned toward the sound, a raspy groan coming from its open mouth. Neeta lobbed the grenade and hit it in the face.
The canister exploded, coating the undead creature in heavy foam. It reared back, growling, then giggling, clawing at the froth, half-playing with it as the chemicals did their work on its brain. After a few moments of jerking, it slid to the ground and was still.
Neeta made a snowball and threw it at the zombie. It bounced off its hair, but the creature did not move. With a nod to Ted, she grabbed a piece of the rebar, walked to the edge closest to the corpsicle’s back, and lay down on the snow. Ted grabbed her legs, ready to pull her to safety. She scooched forward until she could reach into the pit. Using the rebar, she pushed the zombie onto its side. She switched on the sword and with a quick, neat, stroke, sliced the back of its neck, severing the spine. She kept her sword activated and trained on the corpsicle until Ted had pulled her back.
"It’s safe," Neeta said once she stood. "And at least now, her parents have something to bury."
The deputy turned away to puke again.
"I, uh…" The sheriff stumbled over words–of thanks or chastisement, Neeta couldn’t tell, but she didn’t give him a chance to clarify.
"So our original undead came out of this hole. Is it safe to guess this is not the one whose arm you found? Okay. One at a time. We know where this one started, and it’s left a trail. Looks like it came this way to the boyfriend."
Leaving Buttons to secure the area, Neeta started following the red-flecked tracks, flanked by Ted and a deputy.
"Ethan."
"Ethan, that was the boyfriend? Okay. It took a bite out of Ethan, but he managed to run." She used the rebar to kick up the new snow where it covered the trail. It led to a thicket of trees. There were no clear paths, and already the afternoon sun was casting creepy shadows. Neeta suppressed a shudder.
"You’re not going in there?" the deputy asked.
"Listen, um…"
"Benjy."
"Okay, Benjy. If our zombie went this way, there’s a chance the trees slowed him down. If so, we can take him out now, before he gets to a populated area. We need to at least try. If you’d rather go back…"
"What? No. I’m okay. I just really don’t like the idea of the woods."
She chuckled. "Neither do I. I’m a city girl. But we don’t want this corpsicle getting to the lodge or slopes where it’ll find people."
With Neeta in the lead, Ted in the rear, and a nervous Benjy between them, they tried to follow the broken branches and other signs of the chase. The evergreens cut off most of the light from above, bathing the forest in twilight. Dry branches stuck out at face and chest levels. After Neeta tripped for the second time, snagging but not ripping her suit, she called a halt. "We’re not going to find them in here–and it’s too easy to get ambushed." She was surprised at how her teeth chattered. Dimly, she heard the beating of helicopter blades.
"Bet that’s SLC Z-mat. It’ll be dark soon," Benjy agreed. "Maybe they can see something from the air. We should head back to the field, see if we can figure out where the others have gone."
As they retraced their steps, the deputies’ walkie-talkies squawked.
"It’s a good thing we’re heading back. There’s a storm coming in fast–the one we expected last night," Benjy told them. "Chopper is searching the area, and said they see skiers matching our zombies upslope–all of them. Looks like they’ve decided to finish their extreme skiing trip."
"We should go after them," Neeta said.
"Nuh-uh, not with this storm. People die in storms like this."
"Got any sharpshooters in the chopper?" Ted asked as he used his sword to lop off a branch that threatened to pluck at his suit. "Double tap to the brain works as well as a sword."
"I’ll ask. They might have time after we’ve cleared the area to take a couple out and get to safety before the weather hits."
"Then let’s get back fast," Neeta said, and they quickened their pace. Zombies or no, she was going to enjoy a hot bath, warm cocoa, and a roaring fire.
Time enough tomorrow to hunt zombies in the winter wonderland.
*
While Neeta soaked in her tub with the jets on high and Ted called to room service for cocoa and Kahlua, in a snowy ditch not a quarter mile from where they’d turned back, Ethan’s corpse blinked in the snow. Slowly, but without difficulty, it sat up, eyes staring ahead like a sleepwalker’s. Its mouth moved, trying to form clumsy words, as lungs struggled to remember to breathe. Finally, it spoke.
"Aaaace! Naaachooooes."**
It rose, its last thought in life now its first thought in undeath, and made its difficult way downslope to the Ute2 Lodge.
As the storm grew icy, then heavy, then icy again, sleet clung to the shambler, slowing it and covering its features. Long after Neeta had gone to bed, dreaming of headless skiers led by a surfing Bergie, the corpse of Ethan Pike succumbed to the cold, muscles freezing in place and stopping even its moaning.
Halfway between the beginner’s lift and the lodge, it stood, pointing toward its goal, as the sleet again turned to heavy snow and shrouded the zombie in a thick blanket of white.
*
*Isn’t corpsicle a fun word? After the Zombies Are People, Too Movement was squashed, partly because so many of its members were eaten trying to befriend the undead–or trying to herd them to the polls–the sensitivity toward the "mortality challenged" slacked off. Soon, people were coming up with derogatory and often funny names for the undead. Finally, a safe way to be insensitive!
**Nachos are important.
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."