The undead rule the world, except for Aaron.
It didn’t take long for the world to die. The dead rose with no explanation and only one purpose . . . to eat living flesh.
Born on the day everything died, the world of the living dead is the only world that Aaron knows. Kept in relative isolation from the walking corpses, his family teaches him how to read and write, how to survive on his own. After a tragedy hits close to home, he discovers he is different than any human left alive.
The undead want nothing to do with him.
The survivors of the old suburb of Lexington call a high school their home. They survive day to day, without any of the luxuries mankind used to enjoy, and surrounded by the living dead. Samantha is a product of the new world. Alone, cold, looking out only for herself. She and the other residents of Lexington feel their hope dwindling. They need change. They need someone who isn’t afraid of the walking corpses. They need someone who would rather live in a city of the dead.
They need Aaron.
Joe Thompson lowered the prongs on his forklift and set the crate near the end of the trailer. He backed out of the thick heat and wiped a bead of sweat from his head. The loading dock itself was much cooler. It was beautiful outside, a cloudless seventy-five degree day. A great day to be anywhere except at work loading freight.
It was the Saturday before the last week of the month, always the busiest shipping week. Someone had to draw the short straw, and it was Joe this weekend. He tried to use his pregnant wife as an excuse, but she was still a few weeks from being due. The excuse didn’t fly. He knew they needed the money. He shot his supervisor Danny a dirty look as he climbed off the forklift. He knew he should feel bad for Danny too. He had to work every single weekend. But Joe was having trouble being sympathetic.
Anthony, the driver for the trailer Joe had just loaded, called his name. Joe was lost to the sounds of the warehouse. The hum of air compressors was always in the background, along with grinders, welders, paint sprayers. His plant made industrial driers for plastic. It was his job to crate and ship them.
“Hey, Joe!” Anthony yelled. “You awake over there?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. All done. Just some paperwork. Over here.”
Joe had known Anthony for almost two years. He was one of the regular drivers. Joe noticed he had a bandage around his arm as they walked back to the desk.
“You alright?” Joe asked. “Your wife beat you up again?”
Anthony shot him a look. Anthony’s wife was an amateur bodybuilder, who was nearly two times his size. Secretly, Joe felt bad for him. Joe was still head-over-heels in love with his wife Sarah, even after seven years. He couldn’t wait to add to their little family in a few weeks. At least half the time he was excited. The other half he was terrified. Anthony, on the other hand, didn’t have many good things to say about his wife.
“No, she didn’t beat me up, wise-ass,” he said. “A homeless guy bit me.”
“Bit you? Are you serious?”
“I’m dead serious. The bastard was drunk or something. Bit me while I was getting in my car.”
Joe laughed. “You should get your wife to bend him in half. Teach him some manners. Did you call the cops or anything?”
“You want me to call the cops on a homeless guy? And stop talking about my wife, or I’ll get her down here to smack you around.”
Joe watched him as he signed a few forms. His hand shook slightly and he looked pale.
“You might want to go to the hospital. You don’t look so good. I mean, worse than usual.”
“Ha ha, you little bastard. Wait till you see how you feel in a few months with that newborn baby. Wave goodbye to sleep now.”
Joe smiled. “I’ll just wake Sarah up.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.”
They shared another laugh, then Joe became serious as Anthony left through the shipping door.
“Seriously, man. Go to the hospital.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m gonna take my nap in the truck, drop this load off, then I’ll head over.”
The door closed behind Anthony. Joe heard the door to his truck open and shut.
The break bell rang. Saturday was only a six hour shift. Sometimes Joe would skip break and punch out early. Not today. He wanted a coffee from the break room.
Their break room was simple enough. Vending machines, water fountain in the corner, some microwaves scattered around. They even had a little television on a stand against the wall. More people were gathered around than usual. Joe grew curious as he took a sip of coffee.
“What’s up guys? Cartoons on?”
They didn’t answer. It took a good ten seconds for anyone to notice he even said anything. Finally, his friend Brian turned around.
“Man, check this out. There’s some scary shit going on.”
Joe stepped forward and looked over everyone’s shoulders to see the TV. It looked like a riot, filmed from a helicopter. Sadly, the scene didn’t shake him that much. It seemed like every other day there was some kind of violence on the news.
What did catch his attention, however, were the words New York City at the bottom of the screen.
“A riot in New York? What are they fighting over?”
“Not just New York,” Brian said. “Everywhere.”
Joe kept quiet and listened.
“There is speculation that this is a biological terrorist attack. However, reports are now coming in that the mass outbreak of violence is happening in London, Tokyo, Sidney, on every continent. Authorities are advising everyone to stay in their homes.”
“This is un-fucking-real,” Brian said.
Danny the supervisor walked into the break room. Joe felt an eerie sense of deja vu. The last time everyone gathered in the break room to watch a life-altering event was on September 11th, 2001.
“Guys, I just caught some weird ass stories on the net,” Danny said. “What the hell is going on?”
No one answered. They were hypnotized by the news.
It almost didn’t seem real. Joe actually thought, just for a second, that this was some kind of joke. Someone had made a gag tape and put it in the VCR. But the mood of the break room told him this was no joke. He turned around and grabbed his cell phone from his belt. His first thought was to his wife Sarah.
Her voice calmed him. Sarah had that effect on him.
“Hey baby. It’s me.”
“Joe, you won’t believe this. There’s fifteen cop cars down the street. Someone ran a car into a house! I think it’s on fire. Can you believe that?”
“Listen honey. Are you watching the news?”
“There’s something really weird going on. I’m gonna cut out early today, soon. You stay at the house, alright?”
“Sure. Me and Margie are just watching what’s going on outside.”
Margie was Sarah’s best friend. They were in high school together and were always close. Joe liked her. She helped with Sarah’s pregnancy a lot, especially with Joe working extra hours.
“Okay, I’ll be home soon. Tell our son I’m leaving now.”
“You mean our daughter.”
Joe smiled. Eight months into their pregnancy and they didn’t know the sex of their child. They wanted to be surprised. They still hadn’t picked a name out for the baby, and Joe was getting nervous. He didn’t want their first child to be in his mother’s arms for the first time without a name. But Sarah had rejected every name they’d come up with.
“I’ll see you when I get home.”
“Okay, love you sweetie.”
“Everyone,” Danny said behind him. “I think we’re just gonna close up shop for the day. Let’s all just go home and take care of our own.”
Some relief passed through the break room, before the television spoke again.
“The Center of Disease Control is now issuing a public health warning. They believe whatever is causing people to exhibit violent behavior could possibly be spread through a bite or direct contact with open wounds. Again, you are urged to stay in your homes.”
- Dead Living was originally self-published until it was acquired by Permuted Press.
- Originally, the novel was meant to take place in an abandoned stadium. The inspiration was Baltimore’s Camden Yards, home of the Orioles. Camden Yards is surrounded by a huge fence, which gave me the idea of shelter. However, I needed a more “dreary” setting. Camden Yards would offer way too much comfort in a zombie ridden world. So I changed the setting to something smaller, and thought of a high school.
- I use the terms “walker” and “corpse” to describe zombies in the novel. “Walker” is now closely associated with The Walking Dead, but believe it or not, the show wasn’t on the air yet when I wrote Dead Living, and I hadn’t read the source material. I actually took “Walker” from George Romero’s Land of the Dead. I’d like to think that Dead Living could exist right in his universe, with my own little spin of Aaron Thompson, able to walk with them.
- I visualize the character of Richardson, the leader at Lexington High School, to be Morgan Freeman.
- The setting of Lexington High School is inspired by a road not far from BWI Airport. It is a long road with not many side streets, and takes about 5 minutes to drive down. On both ends is quite a bit of civilization, but that road feels so out of place, with not much on it. If you were to camp out on the middle of that road, you’d be safe from zombies for quite a while. There’s simply not much there.
- From what I can see, most zombie entertainment enjoys showing the darker side of humanity. I think everyone agrees by now that humans would be just as much, if not more, of a threat when the zombies come. I wanted to show that, but not have that be the mainstay of the novel. Aaron is a good person, and makes the people around him better. I wanted to show that side of a zombie apocalypse. (Although I did love the violence Aaron could cause by manipulating zombies)
- I took a different path than most in Dead Living, and I’ve been dinged for it a bit, but I stand by it. Aaron is the main character, and he’s not introduced until a few chapters in the novel. I tackle that “first day” and short time after for a while. I purposely threw together a makeshift family, gave them a few chapters of time, all with the intent of killing them.
- The SHA facility where Allister holes up is based on a real location along the BWI bike trail. There’s a SHA facility there, surrounded by woods on three sides, off the main road, almost invisible. I know all zombie fans will occasionally look at a place and say “Now that’s a good place to go when the zombies comes.” This is one of those places.
- Favorite scenes: Aaron and Sam’s first meeting. Aaron using his “ability” to thwart the villain.