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 sped down the hill, her snowboard bumping on the moguls, jarring her knees and her teeth, the cold air biting through the hazmat suit she’d tossed on over pajamas. She kept herself pointed downward and tried to keep her turns tight as possible, but she still could not catch up to the zombie that was chasing a child downhill. Behind her, she heard the roar of an avalanche gaining on her.
If she was going down, she was taking that corpsicle with her! She reached for her belt and grabbed a napalm grenade.
"Whoa! Neeta. That ain’t gonna help Global Cooling, you know!"
Beside her, Doug Eidelberg appeared, dressed in board shorts and plastic wrap, ten toes hanging off his surfboard as he rode a wave of snow beside her. One dead arm stretched out past the board, holding his severed head before him, although it faced Neeta.
"Dude, we need to talk."
Neeta bolted upright in bed, gasping against the urge to scream. She shivered in her silky pajamas; she must have kicked off the covers in her dream. No wonder she was so cold. In her hand, she held, not a napalm grenade, but a small round bottle of Bottum’sUp Rejuv she hadn’t drunk last night. She twisted the cap and downed it, then rested her forehead against her knees until her breathing slowed to something resembling normal.
She jumped when Ted knocked on the adjoining door. "Coming!" She swiped her hands over her face, donned her white robe, and went into his room.
He stood by the open sliding door snapping photos. "You gotta see this!"
In the distance toward the lift, kids and a couple of teens were adding snow to a snowman someone must have built the night before. A ski pole hung loosely from its outstretched arm, a Powerbar made a long, flat nose, and a hat with a yarn pom-pom adorned its head.
"Look at the T-shirt!" Ted pointed to the Zombie Death Extreme T-shirt pasted to its body with snowballs.
Neeta leaned against the threshold, admiring. "It’s pretty good. You can even see a hint of motion–see how the knee bends? Very natural. Quite a sculpture for snow."
Ted shrugged. "That’s nothing. You should see the ice and snow sculptures they do in Canada. Intricate stuff. Still, there is something about this one, isn’t there?"
He spun and snapped a photo of her.
"Ted!" She shrieked and shoved her hands in front of his lens. "Delete that, now! What time is it, anyway?"
In answer, her alarm clock started shrieking in the next room.
She sighed. "Playtime’s over. Time to get dressed and take out some undead so we can get back to vacation."
Ted shooed her back to her room, but she heard the click of his camera, followed immediately by "Deleting, promise!" She locked the doors between them, but at least he’d taken her mind off her nightmare.
Unfortunately, another nightmare awaited Neeta at the planning meeting.
"What do you mean, you won’t close down the slopes? Your guests aren’t safe until we clear out those zombies!" Neeta stepped toward the lodge owner, but Ted grabbed her arm, holding her back. On her other side, Deputy Benjy, whom the sheriff had put in charge of the zombie problem, stepped closer, but did not touch her.
The lodge owner, Altimeter Brown, a slick black man in designer turtleneck and jeans, spread his hands. Behind him, the lodge manager stood, looking small and helpless. "I have absolutely no proof that they’re any threat to my business."
"Your business?"
"Calm yourself, Ms. Lyffe. SLC Z-Mat said they were skiing miles from here. In fact, their captain is prepping the helicopter to go check on them as we speak."
"You mean he hasn’t checked yet? Yes, they were on the mountain. Ten hours ago. They could have made their way here by now–and you’ve started the lifts without anyone securing the slopes!" How could this guy be so oblivious? No, so calm. Neeta wanted to squeeze that calm right out of his eyeballs. Beside her, Ted must have noticed because he put his hand on the small of her back. It might have looked like a gesture of support, but she knew it was so he could grab her sweater if she got the urge to leap across the desk at oh-so-calm Brown.
"I called in all our ski patrol personnel. They’re monitoring the slopes."
Oh, it gets better! Civilians out on the slope thinking they’re authorities. Calm, Neeta. Calm. "What have you trained them to do about zombies?"
Benjy cleared his throat. "They were told to keep an eye out and report. We’ll shut down lifts if anyone sees anything suspicious."
"There, you see?" Brown crossed his arms. "We’ve got it under control. After all, you don’t want to ruin these poor people’s vacations, do you?"
"I think they’ll consider it a lot more ruined if someone dies." When he merely shrugged, she snarled. And she’d thought the director of Zombie Death Extreme had been obstinate. With the deputy there, she couldn’t threaten him with a chainsaw like she had Dave, either. She looked to Ted for support, but all he offered was a shrug.
"Fine! Then I want free rein of this lodge and all its facilities. If Ted or I need to get somewhere to take out some corpsicle having a vacation on your slopes, I do not want to wait more than a second before a snowmobile, a lift, or whatever is taking us to it. If I say clear an area, it gets cleared immediately. I want your lodge employees armed with bottles of bleach, and I want to talk to all of them about the best things to do if a zombie is sighted indoors."
Brown smiled at her as if he found her cute and amusing. "Shouldn’t you be out there finding the–what did you call them–corpsicles?"
Before Neeta could strike out, physically or verbally, Ted stepped between them. "Boss, why don’t you go meet the SLC Z-mat guys and come up with a plan of action, and I’ll get Manager Witherspoon here to call together all the employees for a crash course on zombie basics?"
Neeta pushed past Ted and pinned Altimeter Brown with her glare. "If anyone gets hurt by a zombie, I swear I will cut off its arm and use it to smack some sense into you." With a nod of dismissal to Ted, she spun and swept from the room, Benjy in tow. The door closed as Brown said something about his mother-in-law being right.
"Where’s the Z-Mat team?" Neeta asked.
Benjy looked pale, but impressed. "You’d really smack him with a zombie’s arm?"
"Yes!" She took a calming breath. "I’d wrap it first. No one deserves to be infected. Let’s get these undead before they infect anyone themselves. Z-Mat?"
"They’re prepping the helicopter. They’re taking up a sharpshooter from the Ogden SWAT team. Figured the best bet is double-tap, like Ted suggested. They tried yesterday, but didn’t have any luck. Problem is, the zombies are fast; between their gnarly skills and the motion of the chopper, the Z-Mat shooters couldn’t get a bead."
Neeta exited the lodge, but paused on the porch, thinking. She’d never gotten to use guns. California had banned all firearms in the Guns Do 2 Kill Act of 2025. Now only criminals were lucky enough to defend themselves that way against the undead, although most were too stupid or freaked to aim for the head. Not a problem here, however. If only they could get the zombies to slow down…
Skiers were already out in force: kids headed for bunny slopes, older teens giggling and wrestling as they crunched through snow toward more thrilling runs, adults of all ages and skill levels. She longed to shout out a warning, but without any plan of action, she’d probably only start a panic. Besides, she wouldn’t put it past Altimeter Brown to sue her for loss of business. She had enough trouble balancing her mortgage against her other stupid, expensive lawsuit.
But they were so innocent, building snowmen, learning to ski, taking photos. She watched as some skiers paused to mug it up for a news team getting footage of the pre-race activities.
Suddenly, she grinned and did a sharp rear march back to the lodge, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket. "Ted, did you bring your big camera–the professional one? Awesome. I have a plan."
"See, babe? Interesting! I mean, when else would I have a chance to film while hanging out of a helicopter?"
Ted leaned out the helicopter’s door, to be grabbed by the two Z-Mat officers securing his rigging. "Please, sir, hold still." He already had his camera tied to himself with a safety line.
Neeta crossed her arms and regarded her fiance with mixed feelings. She loved how he could make lemonade out of the lemon their vacation had become; yet his risk-taking gave her unpleasant butterflies in her stomach. The peaceful mountain view of the lodge’s heliport didn’t offer any comfort. "Just don’t take any chances. You’re there to distract the zombies, not to record."
"But if I do get some good digital, we are so selling it to the news! We’ll offer it to Extreme Sports first."
"That’s fair."
On the tail of the chopper, four members of the Z-mat team were covering over the police markings with banners that advertised the channel’s sponsorship and coverage of the event. Neeta had used her agreement with Brown to commandeer them. She didn’t know how the ski team had felt about the authorities in life, but if the current competitors were any indication, they’d be glad to pose for the cameras, offering the SWAT sharpshooter a chance to take them out easy.
The officers working on Ted declared themselves satisfied and smacked him on the back. Attached to the pulley that would secure him to the helicopter’s floor, Ted hopped out, trailing cable to where Neeta stood. He wore his ski clothes, and a headset replaced his helmet. She didn’t like it. She wanted him in a nice, safe hazmat suit, but if he didn’t play the part of a cameraman, the ruse might not work. Ted put his arms around her. "You’re the one that needs to be careful, wandering through those woods looking for ARM*s on foot. Will you take the chainsaw?"
She shook her head. "It’s too close quarters. I’m more likely to get it stuck in a tree."
He held out his sword. "Take Enigo.** I can’t use it in the chopper, anyway."
She hated the idea of him being disarmed, but he had already slapped it into her hand. She attached it to her belt. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and he did have a point. Besides, she kind of liked it when he got all protective. "Just don’t fall out. I don’t care how good you are at it."
His expression grew thoughtful. "I’ve never jumped out of a helicopter before…"
Before he could finish his thought, she grabbed him by the lapels and kissed him. He stiffened in surprise, then wrapped his arms around her and returned the kiss until the Z-Mat team got tired of waiting and reeled him into the chopper. She stepped back as the rotors started. When he started filming her, she waved until the helicopter had pointed itself toward the avalanche zone.
He was probably safer in the air than she was on the ground…if he didn’t decide to jump out the helicopter, of course. That didn’t keep her from worrying. She turned back to the parking lot, already planning for her hunt, and nearly ran into a woman standing right in her path.
"Well, Neeta Lyffe. I am disappointed."
"Mandy Culver?" Neeta gaped. She still recognized that lush blonde hair and the perfect turned-up nose, even though it had been over a decade since she’d last seen Mandy. Mandy had treated Neeta to such a miserable weekend that she still ranked in Neeta’s private list of people she’d like to see die, then come back as zombies so she could rekill them.
Sadly, Mandy was very much alive, and just as gorgeous and well dressed as she’d been as an adolescent. She also still had that tilted head that said, "I had a Daddy, so I’m better than you." Despite her inner 12-year-old’s sudden urge to come out with a screech and bared nails, Neeta pasted on a professional smile. "Well. Mandy. This…is a surprise."
"I’m Amanda Brown now, and is it, really?"
Of course it was, but as usual, Amanda seemed to know more than Neeta. "Oh! So, you married Altimeter Brown?"
"He prefers ‘Tim,’ and obviously, I have." She looked pointedly at Neeta’s bare hands. "I see you haven’t been able to make a similar commitment yet."
Neeta almost protested she was engaged, but her ring was in the room safe. It wasn’t this woman’s business, anyway. Why was she letting this childhood annoyance waylay her when there were corpsicles on skis to worry about? "I’m rather busy at the moment."
"You should be busy promoting this event." Her bossy, know-it-all tone made Neeta wish again for claws. "We took a chance with you, you know. Despite our past, I told Tim you should do this event. I extended the olive branch of Christian peace and charity–and instead of accepting it, you try to close down the competition and then steal banners?"
Neeta crossed her arms to hide how her hands had curled into fists. She was trying to save lives that this woman’s husband only saw as profits–and Mandy was going to waste her time accusing her of theft? "I didn’t steal them; I borrowed them, with purpose. You do realize there are zombies on the loose?"
Mandy tossed her head; her hair, which stuck out from her hat in perfect curls, flounced. Neeta wondered how long she’d spent primping in front of the mirror while wearing the hat to get that effect. "They’re in the hills, Neeta, miles away."
She found herself mimicking Mandy’s exasperated tone. "They’re not like coyotes or bears, Mandy. They will go after humans, kill and infect them if given a chance, a hundred percent guaranteed. And they’re on skis."
Mandy held up a hand in front of her face, dismissing Neeta’s words. "I thought Operation Homefrontwas something we had in common. I know Dad chose me…"
Even a decade and more later, Neeta still didn’t know what that meant. "Look, I came here to promote this contest and to snowboard with my fiance. I didn’t ask for your zombies to interfere with my working vacation, but since they are here, and since I’ve been asked for my expertise, I’ll do my best to get rid of your little infestation so that you can go on with your contest, and I can get back to my fun."
She walked past, just avoiding brushing Mandy with her shoulder. When she was 12, they’d been fairly even in size, but now, Neeta knew she could easily knock Amanda Brown over if she wanted to. Because she wanted to, she was careful not to. She still shuddered remembering when she lost her temper and went after Marcel Chelemas with an activated sword.
"Neeta!" Mandy called after her. "I forgive you! You are my sister, and I love you in the name of Jesus."
Neeta raised a hand in both acknowledgement and dismissal, but didn’t turn around as she headed to the snowmobile. She had things to rekill.
Neeta loved the Bluetooth installed in her helmet. Even with the roar of the snowmobile, she could still hear the splashing of a swimming pool and the squeals of kids in the background of her friend Min’s house in Malibu. Meanwhile, a chilly wind blew snow sideways at her as she headed up the mountain. The warm sounds of a California winter made her feel colder still–or would have if she still hadn’t been so hot about Mandy.
"That’s so quaked," her friend Min said in that careful voice that said she was holding back full judgment until she got all the facts. "I remember how your mom made you play with her that whole weekend. ‘Course, that was right after Dad died, so I wasn’t up for playing, anyway."
"I’d have rather been with you." Jerry Lee was Neeta’s mom’s business partner and the closest thing to a father Neeta had had. He’d died on an extermination job gone bad. "I didn’t want to play, either."
"Yeah. So, she got you this gig?"
"She approved me for this appearance or suggested me or something, she said," Neeta corrected. "HumVans arranged it–and to hear her talk, I personally resurrected those skiers from the dead just to ruin her husband’s contest."
"Resurrected? That’s an interesting choice of words. Hey, I’m Googling her now."
"Oh, you should have heard her: ‘Jesus has commanded me to love you!’ I mean, am I that hard to love?"
"How come you’re not talking to Ted about this?"
"I tried, but he’s in a helicopter, hoping to take out some zombies from the air. He could hardly hear me, and all I could hear was whuppa-whuppa-whuppa."
"Well, helicopter blades are loud." She paused to yell something at her youngest.
"No, that was Ted." She imitated his voice. "’I can’t hear you, babe; I’m in a helicopter! whuppa-whuppa-whuppa.’ How’d I fall for such a clown?"
"You need the laughter in your life. Found her! Amanda Brown, wife of Altimeter Brown. Oh, get this–she’s clergy!"
"What?" In her surprise, Neeta gunned the engine. The snowmobile hit a bump in the road that sent her airborne for just a minute. She gave an involuntary shriek.
"No, seriously! Parson Amanda Brown of the New Fellowship of Christ Parish. So she was dead serious when she said she loved you in the name of Christ. That’s kind of cool, actually. She was such a troll when we were kids."
"I guess. Glad I kept my temper. Hey, I’m coming to my stop. I’ll talk to you later."
"Okay–and Neeta? Do be careful, because I really do love you like my sister, and I don’t want anything to happen to you."
"Don’t worry! I’m not dying until I’m legally Mrs. Neeta Lyffe-Hacker, and all our kids are grown and maybe married to each other. Oh, I didn’t even tell you about what Mandy said about that. Never mind; I’ll call you when I get done and we can snark about Parson Brown some more, okay?"
Still, Neeta swallowed down a lump in her throat as she pulled up beside the snowmobile of the Z-Mat officer she’d be working with. She should have known better than to call Min before going after the undead.
*ARM: Animated Rotting Meat. The language of zombie extermination is full of fun and colorful euphemisms. And profanity. In multiple languages. There just aren’t enough swear words in the English language to do the job justice.
* *Ted and Neeta purchased their monofilament swords at an exterminator’s convention (in I Left My Brains in San Francisco). Ted’s bought the Enigo model, named for a Guatemalan exterminator. Even so, if Ted he can find a six-fingered zombie in a banquet hall, his life will be complete. Neeta has the Buffy, but she just calls it a sword.
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."