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…

The next day dawned clear, bright, and full of the promise of snow-melting warmth.
"Typical Utah," Brook told Neeta as they passed around coffee and slices of pumpkin pie she’d brought. "Just when you’re ready to button down for a long cold spell, it gets beautiful again. By this afternoon, you won’t even know it’s January."
"Not with pumpkin pie for breakfast!" Ted commented through a mouthful.
"This is Brook’s idea of celebrating her first re-kill," the Z-Mat captain told them. "Any special occasion warrants pumpkin pie. Okay, if you can direct your attention to the screen…"
They were in one of the lodge conference rooms, a professional affair with a big oblong table and comfortable chairs. The Browns used their lodge for corporate retreats as well as skiing. Neeta winced when she saw one of the Z-Mat team drop a little whipped cream on the carpet. She hoped Altimeter Brown didn’t see it, but his gaze was focused on the wall screen showing a map of the lodge with four blips moving along the slopes. He’d called her room first thing in the morning to tell her they’d found fresh ski trails on the snow where no one should have been skiing, so he had called Z-Mat, brought the ski patrol in, and had closed the lifts "for safety checks." He’d warned, however, that he would not hold that ruse for long.
Captain Lars moved his laser pointer to take in the more advanced slopes. "The local authorities are looking for Ethan. We’ve got all five skiers on the slopes. Two are on Danger Zone, the double-black diamond slope; it’s amazing how quick one’s getting up, even considering that zombies don’t tire. We’re guessing those are the Spars. Another is on Slippery Lip right now, probably Flannelette. According to SkiXtreme, she liked to warm up on the blues. The other is one of our snowboarders, and he’s on the half-pipe park run. We’re not sure about the fifth–the skier who was shot. He was with Flannelette, but disappeared into some trees and hasn’t been seen for half an hour. Incidentally, Mr. Zwelleger has been taken into custody until all this is over, so hopefully, we won’t have any more trouble."
"Any of you good enough to behead a skiing zombie while shredding a double diamond?" Ted asked. When people responded with everything from shaking heads to eye rolls, he sighed. "Yeah, me neither."
Neeta could see him mentally adding it to his bucket list. Before he could suggest something that might make his wish a reality, she said, "We don’t need to catch them on the run. We need to get them on the climb back up… or better yet…"
She turned to Altimeter. "How hard is it to work a lift?"
"See what I mean, babe? Who else gets to operate a ski lift on their vacation?"
Neeta warmed at the glee in Ted’s voice as it came over her helmet headset. He was stationed at the first lift junction. From his point, it split into two lifts, one going to the black diamonds, the other to some higher blues and blacks. They’d decided to try to lure the zombies in with active lifts; what skier would want to waste time climbing the mountain when the lift would get them there easy and fast?
He had Brook and the captain with them, on the hopes of catching the Spars and perhaps Flannelette. Neeta remained on the ground slope, just in case any decided to take a run all the way down. She had crammed her hazmat suit under her snowsuit to look like a boarder instead of an exterminator, and the wrinkled fabric dug into her skin everywhere.
"Well, be careful up there," she said, shrugging her shoulders in a vain effort to set the fabric in place. She looked upslope, following the line of the lift moving slowly with empty seats. She wondered if Altimeter had told folks they were testing the equipment. She saw Ted wave. He had dressed as she had, although he could not get his hazmat gloves on under or over the ski gloves. Instead, he’d given the zombie-certified gloves to her to wear over her ski gloves.
"Sure thing. Hey, how’s your plebe?"
She glanced at the Z-Mat rookie who held the lift throttle in a death grip while he scanned the area with quick, furtive glances. "Green. I’ll talk to you later. Love you."
Once she’d hung up, she wandered back to Rookie, who had focused toward the lodge. "How’s it going?"
He jumped. "Fine! Fine. I just… Does that snowman look right to you?" He pointed downslope to where the snowman stood several yards away, midway between them and the lodge.
"He looked better yesterday, that’s for certain." The snowstorm of the day before had covered all the decorations in a thick layer of snow, which some kids had apparently tried to shake off this morning. The knit cap drooped, the T-shirt hung wrinkled and askew, and the Powerbar nose had slid until it more resembled a blockish goatee.
"No, I mean, there’s something wrong with it–the snow. I just…I dunno…creepy."
Neeta peered closer Now that he’d mentioned it, there did seem to be a darker form under the snow and ice. Could it be Ethan?
She pulled out her sword, set the strap over her wrist, and started toward the snowman. It certainly wouldn’t hurt anything to look–or to take its head off, for that matter. "Rookie, stay with the lift. Ted? It’s me. We may have a dead one. Hang on, while I–"
The rookie shouted.
She spun, nearly losing her balance, and saw their shotgunned zombie skiing to the lift. Rookie backed away, training forgotten. He hadn’t even pulled out his gun or his antifreeze. Neeta ran. "Stop the lift!"
"I, wha?" Rookie paused, confused. "Right! On it."
The zombie whacked the lever with his hand as he sped by. Its glove, which had been hanging free at the wrist, came off along with a couple of fingers. Fingers and glove fell into the mechanism. Neeta overtook Rookie, but hurried past the lever and to the seats. If she could get to the zombie in time, she could chop him from the back before the lift carried him up, smooth and easy. Rookie could take the lever.
He boarded a seat. She ran behind the zombie, her sword activated. She swung.
"Look out!"
The oncoming seat caught her behind the knees, knocking her into the chair. Reflexively, she clutched at the bench with one hand. Her other hand, the one holding the activated sword, swung wide. It missed the zombie, but not its bench. The electrified monofilament sliced through the metal bars like butter before she could switch it off. The long bench tilted and spun toward her, flinging the zombie toward the ground. It reached out and grabbed her by the boot.
Neeta screamed as she slid from her chair. Only her gloved grip kept her from falling. She clawed frantically for purchase, releasing her sword. It stopped short at the end of its strap, swinging and bumping the seat. Fortunately, it automatically turned off when she’d lost her grip. The lift continued forward, rising. The zombie pulled itself up, teeth snapping. She kicked at it with her free foot.
"Neeta!" Ted cried over her helmet.
"I can’t stop it," Rookie said. "He jammed the controls!"
Their voices were faint compared to the snarls and growls of the corpsicle clutching her leg.
"Little busy!" Her muscles screamed from holding double-and-more of her body weight. She thought she felt pressure on her foot, chanced a quick look to see the zombie gnawing her snowboard boot while it clawed at her leg. He couldn’t quite keep his grip on her with his damaged hand. She swung her free leg back, making the entire seat sway, and tried to smash the zombie in the face, but she couldn’t connect.
Swearing in Korean*, she took several quick, urgent breaths, steeled herself, and let go with her sword hand. With a flip of her wrist, she grabbed the handle and triggered it on. The monofilament unfolded, and the electric field charged with a reassuring hum. Her other arm protesting, fingers aching, she forced her legs up. Hours of hanging sit-ups paid off, and she lifted her feet and the zombie enough to arc her sword downward.
She only managed to remove part of its arm, but it was enough. The corpsicle gave a strangled yelp of surprise and fell.
Gasping with relief, she switched off the sword and grabbed the seat. It took three tries to pull herself up, and she clung to the armrest of the lift chair, as she fought to get her breath back. At that moment the lift jerked to a stop, causing the chair to rock. She hugged the armrest tighter and pulled up her knees, trying to angle as much of her weight to the back as possible, although she kept the leg that still bore the zombie’s arm straight from her body to avoid contamination.
"I’m okay," she told herself, and then repeated it so the headset would pick it up. "Ted, I’m okay."
"Okay?" Ted yelped over the headset. "Woman, you are hot!"
After she had collected herself, Neeta peered over the back of the lift chair. The drop seemed to go forever. She pushed the thought out of her mind and focused on the zombie below, apparently still dazed from its fall. Good. Maybe it was too broken to move. Calmer now and grateful that the lift was still not moving, she twisted until she sat properly on the seat, although she maintained her death grip. "Ted, if the kids want to go bungee jumping, you’ll have to take them!"
Ted laughed. "Anything you say, Boss. You were amazing! Just catch your breath while we deal with this corpsicle."
She knew his jubilant tone was for her benefit, but she couldn’t stop herself from warning him to be careful. "I took off an arm, but the rest of it is intact."
"Gotcha. Brook will meet you at the top with a portable decontamination station for your boot."
She examined the leg the zombie had been clinging to. The boot was covered in tooth marks, but it hadn’t broken the fabric or rubber. The part of the arm she’d cut off still clung to her pant leg. What a grip! At least it hadn’t torn the suit, though they’d probably have to cut off part of it to get the arm off. Maybe she’d charge Brown for a new set of ski pants. "When’s my ride going to start?"
Rookie answered. "Sorry. Any minute. Gotta be careful. We have to clear out the fingers."
With nothing better to do, she looked over the side to keep an eye on their fallen zombie. It struggled to stand and right its skis, which had miraculously survived the drop. By the time the lift started moving, the zombie had, too. As she headed uphill, her vantage point let her see another zombie speeding downslope. "Ted!"
"Easy, Boss. I got him."
She tore her eyes off the new zombie just as Ted did a showy twist of his sword and sliced her zombie through the neck. Lars was watching him instead of keeping an eye on the surrounding area. They didn’t know.
"Ted, behind you!"
The zombie whizzed by them, intent on speed rather than feed.
"Whoa! We see it!" She heard Ted and Captain Lars making plans on the fly, and kept her mouth shut against the urge to kibitz.
The lift started, moving with painful slowness. Neeta strained to look behind and down to watch the progress of her fiance, wincing as he caught up to the zombie and waved his arms at him as if to say "That all you got?" and nearly lost his balance. Why did he have to be such a goof? And why did she find it such a turn-on?
Be careful, she thought as he hurried down the slope. The captain, meanwhile, followed Ted’s lead in teasing the zombie before heading toward the jump. Naturally, Ted’s plan worked and it followed. He had that talent–love him or hate him, he knew how to make people react, even dead ones.
Still, she had a bad feeling as he set himself up at the end of the picnic table and hollered encouragement to the two snowboarders. The lift finally came to an end and she jumped off.
Brook pushed the emergency stop button and set the bucket of disinfectant goop in front of her. When Neeta stuck her foot in it, she hit the timer on her watch. "Sixty seconds!" she said and knelt down by her to wrap a Hazmat bag around the zombie forearm. She tried to pull the fingers open, but they would not budge.
Neeta looked back. The captain had stopped on the ramp–but the zombie barreled into him, sending both flying in a tangle of arms and legs. "Hurry! Cut it off! I’ll bill Brown for new pants. Brook, I need your board."
Brook fumbled with the scissors, finally having to use both gloved hands to work them as Neeta held the arm out of the way. She’d gotten her decontaminated boot in the bindings when she heard Ted’s bloodcurdling scream.
*Neeta’s Uncle Jerry was born and raised just south of Seoul, South Korea. She learned a great many colorful metaphors listening to him and her mother talking about work.
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."