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…


*

Welcome back to Extreme Sports with your Utah correspondent, Chill Winters. This has been the most extreme of extreme competitions, and the contest hasn’t even started. And have we got the pre-contest exhibition for you!

Extreme Ski fans will remember the team, Slay Bells, that disappeared while skiing in an avalanche zone. Talk about extreme death! Well, Slay Bells has returned for the comeback of the century. And I do mean come back – as in "come back from the dead." The zombiefied team managed to dig themselves up just in time for the contest and have taken over the slopes. Contest organizers tried to cover it up, but we acquired this footage of an extreme rekill by the Salt Lake City Z-Mat team. Take a look!

See that wire they’re stringing across the picnic table? It’ll cut through anything. Don’t believe me? Watch as Flanelette Sewenge comes in…nice, easy jump, very relaxed. She’s just warming up. Do zombies need to do that? The Z-team backs away fast as she hits the table and – Oh! Right through the calves. Slice is nice! The body topples and gets dispatched by Z-Mat member Brook Bridges. Oh, my heck, is that an AX? This woman is extreme! Panning now to the legs. They hit the mogul and fail the 360! Too bad for Flanelette.

All but one of the rest of the Slay Bells team have been similarly dispatched by SLZ-Mat and the drool-worthy extreme exterminator team of Neeta Lyffe and Ted Hacker. With only World Cup winner Tom Spars left, they’re hoping to entice him into the open by letting him compete – and we get to watch.

People, this is extreme danger! But don’t worry! The crowd is behind safety glass in case of attack or spoor from his extermination. And of course, Neeta Lyffe herself will do the dispatching.

Oh, and there’s Neeta at the bottom of the slope. Doesn’t she look amazing? Is she really going to do the rekill in a tank top and cut offs? That’s extreme! People, don’t try this at home unless you’re auditioning for the Darwin Awards.

Wait. I’m getting a text. Yes! Spars has taken the bait and is in the starting box. Look at him prepping. You’d think after a year under the snow he’d be nervous about his first competitive run, but he’s cool as ever. What a professional. A joy to watch, living or undead.

Speaking of cool, joy to watch, and extreme, click on our icon below to see Ted Hacker’s extreme footage of the entire team hamming it up for the helicam, right before a hunter spooks them. But do it in another window. Spars is about to make his run!
Transparent Kevlar did not hold in heat.
Neeta hadn’t expected Roscoe’s gift to be a skin-tight bodysuit, either…although, knowing Roscoe, she should have suspected. With a pair of cut-off shorts she borrowed from Mandy and a Zombie Death Extreme tank-top as the only coverings over it, she felt ridiculous as well as cold. Her head, which bore a heavy scarf to hide the helmet she wore, was warm, at least. Beside her, a huge trophy sat on a short table. Her sword sat beside it. She wished she could have it hanging on her arm, but they didn’t know how Spars would react if he saw it.
Between Roscoe’s gift and her dream, she’d realized that the best way to trap the zombie skier was to make it come to her. Spars had died before finishing the contest. They could let it run the course, whereupon they’d declare it winner and she–the buff blonde babe–would present it with the trophy. Chill Winters got into the Extreme Sports archives to show her video of Spars winning other awards. If his zombiefied self acted true to form, it would give her a once-over, take the trophy, and then turn its back on her to shake the trophy at the crowd and crow. She’d grab the sword, drop her face shield down, and take off its head.
Of course, in order to make the charade as convincing as possible, they had to have an audience. Tim found that when his guests were given the choice, more than a few were only too glad to stick around and watch the spectacle from the bleachers. They’d put up some hasty barriers and plastic shielding in case things didn’t go well and got messy. The front row was filled with Z-Mat members. She just hoped that if any deaths got witnessed, it was be limited to hers.
Don’t think like that! You’re getting married in three days, thanks to Mandy. You can die after the honeymoon!
Ted’s voice came over her earpiece. "It’s in the box, babe. Get ready. Once it starts, it’ll only take a couple of minutes to make it down the slope."
"Good, because I’m freezing. I may never leave SoCal in the winter again."
He chuckled, but she could hear the strain in his voice. He’d insisted on checking out of the hospital to take part of the op. The doctors had resisted until accounting informed them that a coding error had classified him as a routine C-Section, which under the Government Standard policy only warranted an overnight stay. Rather than face two hours of refiling online, they’d given him some painkillers, the mandatory pamphlets on Breast Milk vs. Formula, and sent him on his way. On the bright side, the painkillers allotted for a C-section were superior to those for a chopped-off finger. Unfortunately, they seemed to be wearing off after the trip and the cold.
Nonetheless, he said, "Well, you look amazing. That’s a totally hot outfit. You’re going to keep it, aren’t you?"
"Roscoe was right," she murmured.
"What?"
"Nothing. Is it ready yet? I’m so done with this job."
"Me, too. We’ve got wedding guests to invite! Hey, Mom texted. She’s met this guy who’s a pilot, so maybe… Here it comes!"
Neeta couldn’t see the whole course from her vantage point, so she pinned her eyes to just above the highest point while Ted narrated. "It’s coming to the jump. Whoa! Triple flip and a twist! This guy’s awesome. Too bad he’s dead. Okay, through the slalom flags. See it yet?"
She strained. Nothing. Nothing. There–a figure in fuschia and turquoise catching big air as it crested the hill. It slammed down in a spray of powder. She thought it had wiped out, but then, there it was halfway down the next hill. "It’s fast! Ted!"
"Get ready! Smile!"
The course took it behind the last hill, then another jump. No wonder they couldn’t catch it. What if it was going too fast to stop? She pasted on a smile but edged closer to the table.
It came to a sudden stop only a foot from Neeta, sending up a spray that splattered her to her chest.
She shrieked. "Scheibe*! That’s cold!" She brushed the snow off her shirt.
"Babe, smile. Act like it’s funny!" Ted warned.
"Funny?" But Spars was looking from her to the audience, who, now that it stood mere feet from them, no longer saw it as a skier, but a monster. A year of freezing followed by two days to thaw had not done its features any grace. One side of its face had flattened, while the other swelled and discolored. Somewhere along the line, it must have hit a tree; the skin tore away to reveal its teeth to the molars.
What got Neeta, however, were the eyes. Dead eyes should not show so much vexation.
Neeta laughed in what she hoped sounded vapid and beguiling, and did her best game show girl pose, pointing to the scoreboard. "Ted, get that score up there!" she said through grin-gritted teeth.
"It is. Our corpsicle’s not looking. Plan B, babe."
Dropping her facade, she reached for her sword. Her hand hit a pile of snow.
Spars let out a roar and swung its ski pole at her.
"I knew I should have held onto that sword!" Neeta yelled as she ducked. She lunged behind the table.
She didn’t see her sword. Had it fallen in the show? She grabbed the trophy to use as a shield. Over her earpiece, she could hear Ted calling out hasty instructions to the Z-Mat team, but she couldn’t pause to see how they were responding.
Spars, true to its temper in life and lacking higher brain functions to remind it that homicide was not good form while being filmed for TV, was having a full-blown zombie meltdown. Roaring, it raised both poles and slammed them down toward her. She raised the trophy to block them.
The cold plastic of the trophy cracked with a sharp retort. The impact jarred her muscles, but she didn’t waste any time. Thanking Altimeter for being a cheap giftzwerg**, she pressed the two halves of the trophy against the poles and yanked hard. She felt resistance, and then they came free. So did its right hand.
"Yipe!" She ducked her head as the torn flesh flew over her, just in time for the infested flesh to strike her scarf and not her skin.
"Babe!" Ted yelled.
"I know!" She threw herself back on the snow and used her legs to upend the table in Spar’s direction. Her sword was lost to her now, but at least she could slam down her face shield. She threw the broken trophy at the zombie. It deflected it easily, but the jagged edge caught one sleeve. Howling with rage, it slapped at it with his handless arm.
That gave Neeta enough time to fling off the scarf and snatch the poles. She flicked the hand from the one, and held them like dual short swords–thin, weak swords with a bend in the middle and a basket on the end, but anything was a weapon in a pinch. Never taking her eyes off the corpsicle, she stepped upslope, away from the audience, hoping to buy time until the Z-Mat members in the audience slapped on their helmets and protective gear and got to her. With any luck, she could maneuver Spars so its back was to them for a nice easy decapitation.
The zombie pulled off the trophy, ripping its sleeve. It waved the torn fabric in her direction. "Paaaaay!"
It pushed off with its skis and rushed her.
No way could she run in time. She braced herself and held the poles firmly before her, one in front of her chest, one over her head at face height to it. Time to test the metal, and she already knew hers. Would the metal of the poles match?
Spars never slowed. The first pole struck its chest and sank in to the basket. The other jammed into its mouth.
Neeta twisted hard, shoving Spars to her side before it hit her. Its skis smashed her shins. She flung herself away, but the poles were torn from her hands. One of the zombie’s skis popped off. The other snapped. Even titanium had its limits, apparently.
She scrambled to her feet. Where the hell was that Z-Mat team? She chanced a look toward the stands. The Z-Mat team was out in front of the stands, holding back a crowd of spectators brandishing cell phones or ski poles. Idiots. Didn’t they have any fear?
In front of them, a clothing line logo was emblazoned on the pop-up fence. No Fear. Figures.
She couldn’t go back that way for help, not with all those civilians.
Both embedded poles had snapped when Spars hit the ground. It had rolled onto its back and removed the one from its chest, but kept pulling at the pole whose basket had lodged itself in his mouth. Still, she didn’t trust it to forget its mission. It could still grab her if she got close enough to snatch the other pole.
"Ted! I need backup!" she hollered into the mike. She heard crackles in reply. "Ted?"
The zombie dislodged the pole, taking most of its teeth with it. Holding the pole like a club, it rose and hobbled toward her. She ran up the hill. Her boots sunk into the powder, slowing her and making her legs burn with each step, but she jogged on the beach just for this reason. If sand couldn’t slow her, neither would snow. The broken ski on the zombie’s foot hobbled it. She managed to get a small lead on it by the time she hit the nearest slalom flag.
She stopped and tried to yank it out. Whether it was permanently set or the alternating warmth and cold had encased it in ice, she didn’t know, but it stuck tight. She gave it one last yank as she heard a growl. Spars had caught up to her. Without a better idea, she bent the pole back as far as it would go. When the zombie was almost on her, she let them go.
Thwack! The flagpole rebounded, smacking him directly on the face. The zombie bent backward at the knees and started sliding back down the hill on its single ski. She could not make out what it howled, but she got the idea it enjoyed the trip.
She didn’t care. It had dropped the broken pole. She snatched it up and ran downhill, trying to outpace it but staying wide of its trail in case she slipped. The last thing she wanted to do was fall in zombie spoor three days before her wedding!
Panting and sweating under her Kevlar, she caught up just as it slammed into the upended picnic table. While it struggled to get its bearings, she raised the pole and jammed the broken end into its hand, pushing as hard as she could to pin it to the base under the powder. It thrashed and struggled, but without its other hand to grip and both its feet pinned under itself, it couldn’t gain purchase. She had it stuck, but not for long. What she wouldn’t give for her sword–or an ax!
"Brook!"
Suddenly, Captain Lars was beside her. He pointed his gun at the zombie’s head. Double-tap. The sharp cracks made her wince, but the zombie stilled, its brain matter leaking into the snow behind its head.
"Twenty-twenty hindsight, we probably should have given you a gun." He gave her an apologetic smile. Gradually, she realized the crowd was cheering.
"I don’t know how to shoot…but I’d love to learn." Exhausted, her legs protesting the climb and run, she hobbled to the edge of the table and leaned against it. "Ted, babe, can you hear me? ‘Cause I think the headset’s broken."
Lars pulled his phone out of his pocket, snickered at the text, and handed it to her. It was from Ted: Boss. You. Are. So. Hot!!!!!! <<<333
*
Altimeter griped about postponing the contest yet one more day in order to decontaminate the slopes, but Neeta and Captain Lars stood firm. Peterson comforted him with news that the Ute2 Hotdogger Competition was making the Extreme Sports Channel’s "Top Ten Most Extreme Events of the Year," guaranteeing next year’s event would be even more popular. The weather did its best to mollify him as well, with a huge snowstorm that dropped 18 inches of powder the night after the cleaning, then cleared into a perfect day. The publicity of Neeta’s battle against Spars drew in record crowds, both for the competition and the special event afterwards.
Peterson wanted them to hold the wedding outdoors to accommodate the spectators, and Mandy waxed poetic about the mountain view backdrop making the perfect temple, but Neeta was done with cold. Instead, the hotel staff filled the great hall with folding chairs draped with white fabric and blue ribbon, and the TV screens from the contest were used so interested visitors could watch from stadium seating outside.
Ted’s mom’s new friend was not only a pilot but owned a small charter company; he commandeered his biggest plane to ferry their most important guests in a day early, just enough time for Neeta and Min to go dress shopping. Remembering her dream, she chose something as far from snowsuit as possible. She felt like a princess walking down the curved staircase in a gown of silk with short sleeves and a lacy bodice. Jason walked her down the aisle, and even Roscoe had flown in and was dabbing his eyes as he blew kisses to both her and Ted.
Mandy gave a nice opening commentary about how Neeta had surprised her. "Neeta never knew our father, and I’d always pitied her for that. I expected her to be damaged somehow, unable to form relationships because she never had a father’s love. But instead, I discovered my half-sister was a beautiful, confident woman, strong physically and emotionally. She’s surrounded by friends who are her family–and she chose the most perfect man for her to make a new family with."
They said the Exterminator’s Vows. "I take you, Ted, as my husband, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part. And should undeath bring you back to me, I vow to return you to the peace of the grave." The words were even more poignant to her as she carefully slipped his wedding ring onto the fourth finger of his damaged hand.
When Mandy pronounced them husband and wife and they kissed, they could hear cheering from the crowd outside.
Even though Neeta had finally gotten used to the idea that she was a celebrity, posing with Ted while news crews snapped their pics and called out questions made her feel self-conscious regardless of Mandy’s glowing words about her confidence. Still, she was too happy to care. Today, she was Mrs. Lyffe-Hacker, and nothing could wreck that.
From Ted’s pocket, their phones started squawking, "Neeta! 9-1-1!" "Ted! 9-1-1!"
Giving her a confused look, Ted, pulled out the phones. Unearthed graves had been discovered at a cemetery near the LA BottomsUpDome, where a political rally was planned that evening. The attached text said the governor had a helicopter waiting to ferry them.
"9-1-1 for a potential outbreak?" Neeta clenched her fists against the urge to text words that would not look so good in print. She didn’t think she could spell the German, anyway.
Ted took her phone and swiped it to send a "Not Available" message. "We can go rekill things another day. We deserve a vacation."
"And a honeymoon!"
He stuck the phones into his pocket. "Definitely a honeymoon! You and me."
She wrapped her arms around him, "A couple of boards by day."
His eyes sparkled, "Romantic fire by night."
They chorused: "And no zombies!"
They kissed on it.
*
*"Shit." Sorry. They can’t all be silly.
**Evil little devil/bastard. Rosetta Stone won’t teach you this stuff, but the Internet is such a gold mine. If you wonder how the author learned such shocking language, it’s all right here. Incidentally, she does not endorse profanity, but if you have to swear, it’s just more fun in another language.
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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