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…


*
Now that everyone had been reassured that Ted would not die and come back, a nurse hustled Neeta out of the room while they worked on his hand.
"It’s okay, babe," Ted said when she hesitated. "Go take care of the actual undead. I’ll be here, alive and waiting, when you get back."
Alive. She liked that word! She gave him a quick kiss and left, her heart light.
Mandy and Benjy waited outside the door.
"Tim’s got the chopper warmed up and ready to take us home," Mandy said and led them down the hall. Neeta hung back with Benjy to thank him for standing watch and to get an update on the zombie situation.
"Last call I got was about half an hour ago," the deputy said. "They’d managed to take out the two females using a modified version of Ted’s original idea. They’d set wire traps. One got tangled and they took it out, but the other apparently sliced off its own legs. Wish I could have seen that!"
Neeta laughed along with him. These were good people, and for having no practical experience, they adapted quickly. "So two left?"
He nodded. "Ethan–the boyfriend who was probably bit by one of the team–and Tom Spars. He’s avoided every obstacle so far. He’s world class–or was when he was alive."
"Sounds like it still is. We’re going to need a better trap. Did anyone know him alive, even by reputation? Also, what are the chances someone else has been infected? Have you checked missing persons?"
"No one we can associate with the zombies. We got lucky so far."
Neeta nodded. "How about the zombies themselves? Any indication any of them has eaten other than the one who got Ethan?"
Benjy’s brows knit in thought, then he paled. "I don’t think we looked!"
She set a reassuring arm on his shoulder. "It’s okay; they’ve been on the slopes, mostly, but have someone check before they dispose of the bodies. There’d be fresh blood on their faces or outfits. Swab the mouth for multiple blood types; check the stomach contents. The one I’m most concerned about is Ethan. Who knows where he’ll show up."
She felt a sudden foreboding. She was missing something, something about Ethan?
Benjy saw her frown. "Don’t worry. We’ve alerted his hometown. People know to stay away from him."
*
"This is Chill Winters with Extreme Sports. Even though the Ute2 Hotdoggers Competition has been put on hold due to Utah’s most extreme zombie outbreak in history, we are here to catch the action–and right now, that action is at the lodge with an extreme rescue being led by LinnAnn Pike, known locally as Grandma."
Chill pointed her mike at the septuagenarian in an imported snowsuit with marijuana leaf patterns and "Grandma Grows Best" embroidered on the pocket.
LinnAnn grinned uncomfortably at the camera while trying to keep an eye on the crowd behind her. People took turns pointing hair dryers at the frozen man. A couple of folks started to dig and chip at the snow around it. They’d managed to get the hand thawed, and it grasped at the air, fingers and wrist working.
People had gathered around them, both spectators, other news crews, and a small group bearing signs protesting Global Cooling. When the noise of the crowd lulled, they could hear a low moan coming from the snowman.
"It’s just happenstance that I saw him this morning," LinnAnn said. "I have no idea why he’d have been out in the storm – probably ran away from home. After his parents got divorced, I’m the one he turned to. I just hope we can save him now. Hey!" She yelled at the boys with shovels. "Are you nuts? He’s frozen in there. What if you take off a toe? He’s probably got hypothermia or something–let’s just do this slow and easy! Aim for the face! Let’s help him breathe!"
She excused herself to oversee the zealous idiots thawing out her boy. She heard Chill use that as a segue to talk about how her grandson could possibly alive. Chill’s interviewee, a handsome, swarthy man from WalkWarm Outerwear of Patagonia. In perfect English with just enough Latin accent to be sexy, he told Chill how fortunate Ethan was that his grandmother had bought him a WalkWarm ski suit.
The rescue group had stopped chopping and was concentrating on warming Ethan for the moment, so LinnAnn turned to listen. That guy was so sexy. Even a couple of the protestors–two girls and a gay guy if she was any judge–were edging closer to him.
If she was just 20 years younger…
"The suit is more than stylish," the sexy spokesman insisted. "The nanofibers absorb kinetic and solar energy, convert it to heat, and gradually transfer that energy to the interior of the suit for the body to absorb. We’ve done extensive tests, and WalkWarm is used even by science teams in Antarctica as well as by Chinese taikonauts, but never had we expected a situation like this."
Chill nodded. "Talk about extreme conditions!"
The spokesman laughed. "I can only guess the suit had gathered a great deal of energy. Even with the sunny days Utah has enjoyed, our friend here must have been skiing hard or running."
"So why don’t we see these amazing suits in ski boutiques or on Bellerophon?"
Suddenly, the protestors pushed the spokesman aside.
"The technology is banned! Don’t let him fool you!" The boy declared. LinnAnn sighed. Not gay, then. Just an idiot.
"The suit steals energy from the sun–just like solar panels did in the turn of the century!" one of the girls added. "Our misguided attempts at cheap, fast energy have caused Global Cooling. We should be banning it."
"Ban WalkWarm! It Causes Global Cooling!" the third one chanted, and the rest joined in.
Sexy Spokesman spread his arms and declared to no one that the US had already banned WalkWarm sales.
"His mouth is clear!" Someone behind her hollered, and she turned from the spectacle and back to her grandson. As the cameras focused in, the man scraped at the snow around the mouth.
The defrosting zombie snapped at him. The man yelped and jerked his hand away, ripping his glove. "Oh, my heck! The dude tried to bite me!"
Grandma LinnAnn pushed him aside, and reached into her pocket to pull out a fat joint. "He’s panicking. Here, Ethan, honey. This will help you relax."
He snapped his teeth, just missing her hand.
"Quit clowning around, boy. This is Christmas blend–some of my best stuff. " She lit it and waved it under his nose.
"AAAaaaaaaii…"
"Yes, Ace, dear. The very best. Relax and take it in; there’s a good boy." Carefully, she set the joint into his mouth. Reflexes forged in life took hold in undeath and the zombie stilled, puffing and cooing to itself. Cloves and cinnamon added to the smell of pot and decay.
"Naaa…"
"That’s right. Nonnny nonny nana…"
In LinnAnn’s pocket, her phone sang out, playing, "I didn’t mean to break your heart (Actually, I did)." She ignored it. It was her ex-daughter-in-law. The woman hadn’t talked to her in years, and she chooses now to call? Anything that awful mother had to tell her could wait while she took care of her grandson.
*
Neeta and Mandy emerged onto the helipad to find a crowd of reporters and cameramen aching for quotes about the infestation and Ted’s prognosis. Years of PR work for Zombie Death Extreme and HumVans took over, enabling Neeta to give a quick interview as they hustled to the waiting chopper. She even managed to plug for Operation Homefront, asking folks to check their website* and donate through there. That earned her a hug from Mandy and praise from the competition organizer, who was waiting for her in the helicopter. Altimeter, however, just glared.
"Don’t expect gratitude from me until you’ve cleared out those zombies and I can get back to business," he snarled.
That worked fine for Neeta, but Mandy snarled back at him and told him to show some respect, and the organizer chimed in that Neeta had an interview with Extreme Sports first, and soon the noise of their arguing drowned out the sound of the chopper blades. In fact, Neeta would have loved a nice calming whuppa-whuppa-whuppa to Mandy’s harpy shrieks, Altimeter’s roaring, and the Peterson’s overstressed rational tones. By the time the helicopter came in sight of the Ute2 lodge, Neeta was looking forward to a nice, relaxing day of chasing zombies on skis and removing their heads. Despite her trepidation concerning heights, she looked out the window and noticed a crowd not far from the lodge.
"What’s going on around the snowman?" she asked. The feeling of foreboding returned.
"That’s what I’ve been trying to say!" Peterson said. "Turns out it’s a frozen man!"
"Frozen man? Can someone survive that?"
Peterson crowed. "They say he was wearing WalkWarm. That’s one of our sponsors. See, Tim? I told you bring them in would work in our favor."
Mandy handed Neeta binoculars.
People were pointing–were those hair dryers?–at the frozen man while an old woman with a walker stroked his head. The outstretched hand had defrosted to the elbow and moved in short, jerky motions that set Neeta’s hackles rising.
Peterson continued, "It’s amazing publicity. Extreme Sports is filming; they’re calling it the extreme rescue. He’s puffing a joint while they thaw the rest of him out."
The druggie boyfriend. Neeta’s stomach gave a lurch that had nothing to do with acrophobia. "Tim! Tell those people to get away from him. That’s not a man–that’s a zombie!"
*
Melted snow flowed in rivulets down Ethan’s face, tracing little rivers in the snow still holding his body imprisoned before spreading in a wide puddle at his feet. Grandma LinnAnn noticed one side looked a little pinkish.
"Is one of you idiots chipping away at my grandson?" she shrieked. Two skiers with screwdrivers jumped back guiltily.
"Idiots! You broke his skin!" She pointed toward his neck where the trail of pink started.
"What? No way, ma’am. We’re not even working over there. We’re being careful."
"Get away from him! You could take off his ear or something, and he’d never know!" She advanced on them, poking at them with the walker. They backed off hastily, hands up, eyes on the spikes that gleamed from the rubber pads of the feet.
She jabbed once more, and they ran. She heard the blades of a helicopter overhead. She hoped it was a news crew and that they’d caught her chasing those boys off. Idiots! How oblivious can anyone be?
A screech returned her attention back to her grandson just as a blond girl with a purple blow dryer jerked away from where she’d been melting his arm. The ice had cracked as far as the elbow and he was snatching in her direction, arm wiggling, fingers opening and closing spasmodically. The pole that hung loosely from his hand slipped off.
"Easy!" LinnAnn hobbled over, spiked walker splashing in the slushy snow. She grasped the flailing arm, holding his gloved hand in both of his. "Easy now. We’ll get you out."
"Ouuuut." He started coughing and the blunt fell out of his mouth.
"Hey, now! Don’t be careless. That’s my most expensive blend, you know." He answered with coughs and grunts. He started straining against the snow. Cracks started to form.
"Don’t panic, honey. What is it? Are you not getting enough air? Quick, concentrate on his neck and chest! He needs air!"
As if in answer to her pleas, the helicopter moved closer.
*
Neeta watched in helpless horror as an elderly woman–with a walker, no less!–grabbed hold of the zombie’s hand and comforted it. She could see its head straining toward the woman, its mouth opening.
"Tim, you have to warn them. Don’t you have a loudspeaker?" she shouted.
"No! I’ve called the lodge. I told them be subtle, get folks away calmly."
Subtle? Whatever.
"Kevin is going to tell them to get back to the lodge."
"Kevin?" Mandy’s harpy shriek returned. "Kevin’s an idiot!"
Altimeter shot back, "He was about ready to announce lunch. He’s at the loudspeaker. Do you want this done fast?"
"Just get me in close." Neeta hollered over them both.
Below them, people started running.
*
Grandma LinnAnn pushed the fat joint back into her grandson’s mouth. "Now, you just chomp down on that – but don’t bite my finger!" She jerked her hand back, a piece of her glove tearing. "Listen to me, boy. I know you’re freaked, but we’ll get you out in a minute."
The lodge loudspeaker came on with a computer-generated whine of feedback, causing people to wince. She bit back her irritation. That Altimeter and his need for retro. The person making the announcement cleared his throat and stammered. It was that cafeteria boy, Kevin, probably announcing lunch. Couldn’t he wait until they’d saved her grandson?
"Um, excuse me? People by the snowman-person…uh, thing? Listen, so, don’t panic or anything ’cause I might lose my job, but you guys really need to back away from that snowman-person-thing."
"His name is Ethan!" LinnAnn hollered.
"Because he’s not actually a person or alive or anything. That’s a zombie. So, you know, back up."
What was he going on about? People around her were looking from the lodge to her grandson to each other. Some started to edge away, but most lingered, unsure. Even so, and more important to her, hair dryers had lowered, blasting warm air at Ethan’s legs rather than his chest.
"Seriously, guys, he’s dead meat, come back…"
She was never selling that Kevin anything again, even if he did get a doctor’s order. "Ignore that bumbling fool!" she cried, but almost overtop her words, one of the nice young men aiming a blow dryer at her grandson’s neck gave a shout.
"It’s true! He’s bit." He pointed at Ethan’s ear…or what was left of it.
Ethan and snapped at the man’s outstretched hand. The man yelped and jumped back, dropping his blow dryer. It landed at the zombie’s feet, the large safety tag on its cord floating in a puddle.
A woman screamed. "Oh, my heck!** Blow dryer in the water!"
Suddenly, the crowd that had been milling uncertainly around them bolted into panicked action, running, screaming, and snatching up children as they hurried to the wood steps.
Meanwhile, the automatic failsafes in the blow dryer kicked in and its power snapped off with a zap. A canned voice announced, "Attention: Moisture detected around blow dryer electrical system. This blow dryer is not to be used in bathtubs or showers. Please unplug the dryer at the source before handling. If you have questions, tweet the California State Department of Safety at #helpmydryerzwet or go to helpmydryerzwet.ca.gov."
Zombie Ethan twisted his head around, confused at the fleeing crowd. Then, he caught sight of the blonde, purple dryer still in her hand, and his face twisted into a macabre grin. "Chaaaase!"
He strained against the ice. It cracked around him.
Horror spiked LinnAnn, freezing her momentarily, but anger quickly overcame fear, and she hefted her walker before her like a lion tamer’s chair.
"Dammit, the one thing I did like about leaving California was no zombies!"
*
In the helicopter, Mandy gave voice to the alarm Neeta felt. "Tim! You have to get closer!"
"And land where, woman? There are people running around everywhere."
Brown was right; after the initial exodus away from the zombie, people seemed to have forgotten what they were running from. Some dashed about seemingly aimlessly, while a few actually ran back toward the zombie. Neeta thought she saw cell phones in some people’s hands, but at least two held ski poles. They ran to the old woman, who had her walker in front of her like she intended to single-handedly fend off the zombie. The camera crew was still filming from a safe distance…for now. That was Chill Winters reporting. She never backed down from an extreme reporting challenge.
The corpsicle had nearly broken free of its icy prison.
I have to do something! Neeta’s stomach flipped, because there was only one thing she could do. Didn’t she just that morning warn Ted against it?
She pointed at the copilot’s helmet. "Give me your helmet! Tim, hover as close as you can. Mandy, I need rope. Sturdy rope."
Mandy’s face went pale, but she nodded and leaned forward to dig in the storage bin under her seat. Neeta pulled on the helmet and prayed that she could wait to throw up until after the cameras had stopped filming.
*
*Yep, it’s a real charity. Click the link in the story to learn more. Even better, show some appreciation for this story and give them a donation using the link in the sidebar.
**Yes, they say this in Utah.
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."
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