In this zombie apocalypse, the fight for survival begins after you're cured.
"Where were you when you turned?"
The Wormwood Prion infected millions with an irresistible need to chew, demonstrating a distinct preference for human flesh. Allison Rose is lucky. She's one of the fortunate few to wake up in a Recovery Center; cured, but with a head full of monstrous memories intact. Teaming up with the enigmatic Will Taylor, they discover the cure isn't the end of their nightmare—it's just the beginning.
The first thing you remember is the pain—every nerve in your body exploding all at once. The second thing you remember is your mother. She looked at you in a way she never had before, terrified and pushing you away from her. You grabbed her to hold on to because—Mom, I’m scared—but when you opened your mouth to speak, you bit her. And then you kept biting her. You remember the taste of her blood. The texture of her flesh. The mouthfeel of the two together.READ MORE
You vomited a lot in the beginning. That’s normal in Recovery, they say.
You don’t know how long you were an Infected, but you remember a surprising amount about it, which brings you to the third thing. The nightmare thing. The thing that, when the lights are out and everything is still and quiet, you hear all over again—the unrelenting sound of chewing.
You have been saved.
The scientists tell you later that chewing is the only thing that eases the excruciating pain. They explain, while casually standing over you with a circular bone saw, that the act of chewing released a chemical in your brain which neutralized the prion activity, but the pain relief only lasted for as long as you kept chewing. They named the prion Wormwood, which you hate—but not as much as you hate the bone saw—because it conjures images of worms wriggling their way around your brains.
Initially, no one understood what was happening or why. Some people blamed aliens. Some blamed God. Some blamed the Chinese, which always made you wonder who the Republic of China blamed. You?
Follow the instructions given to you.
Anyway, once the prions began activating, everyone was supposed to stay home alone while the government tried to figure out what was happening. Most people experienced a bad flu. Other people felt perfectly fine. Then people started going crazy. They attacked others and ate them like an elegant tartare to be paired with something dry with pleasantly floral undertones.
You’ve just described your mother’s favorite wine, which is what you brought to dinner that day. It was her birthday, and she was sick with worry over your brother because New York City had gone dark the day before. So, you ignored quarantine because, well, poor Mom, but you felt fine. This is important. You were perfectly fine. You’d never have gone if you weren’t.
Do not try to leave.
Your father was there when you turned. One second you were eating cake, and then he was asking if you were okay, and then he was screaming at you to step back. Your father escaped, leaving you alone with your mother.
Whom you chewed. You chewed until there was nothing left of her but blood and bone. You were cracking open those bones and trying to suck out the marrow when they found you.
But enough about that. Congrats—you got saved. You don’t remember receiving the cure, but you remember waking up one day without pain. They had you strapped down to a bed with something hard stuffed in your mouth between your teeth. A female computer voice told you over a loudspeaker to remain calm, follow directions, and recited platitudes about anger and stuff on a loop. You couldn’t tell anyone you were awake or that you were you again. It was hard to cry. Or throw up. That last thing finally brought someone over; when the vomit aspirated into your lungs, making some alarm go off, forcing someone to go through the trouble of saving you all over again. You wish you knew who, so you could hate them personally.
To avoid relapse, manage your emotions appropriately.
Sadness serves no purpose.
Anger is pointless.
Fear is unproductive.
Laughter can be dangerous.
The cure isn’t a guarantee. It is impossible to tell who has a chance of surviving the treatment, so the army shoot tranquilizer darts at any Infected they come across that don’t look too physically damaged. For many Infected, the cure is just a quiet and pain-free death—strapped to gurneys they never get up from again. Not you, though. Eventually, they get you up off that gurney and lead you outside to a giant open yard surrounded by armed soldiers and razor wire. They fire-hose the muck off you and toss you a mostly dry bright-orange jumpsuit to put on afterward.
While violent shivers rack through you, courtesy of your nighttime outdoor shower, you watch as they wheel out the ones who never woke up. They dump them and burn them in a pit close to the yard. They want you to see, you know. The soldiers saved you because they were told to, not because they wanted to. You can tell by the way they cling to their guns and how they never look you in the eye. Eventually, people show up outside the yard with protest signs and angry faces and shout at you to die through the fence.
If only, you think.
Eventually, and probably because of the attention you’re getting from the people outside the fence, they build an indoor facility. When they move everyone, you’re fitted with an anti-bite device that looks like a mask, and they brand you with the letter I on your upper arm, marking you as Infected. The soldier who holds the brand is the first Normal to look you in the eye since you’ve been here. He apologizes and tells you it’s going to hurt. You smell burnt flesh, but you don’t tell him it doesn’t hurt or that he doesn’t know what pain really is because you don’t want to scare him away. He’s not your friend, but he is the first and only Uninfected human who isn’t immediately your enemy.
Scientists come and go. They fit a strange sort of screw tab for the hole in your skull. Researchers need to constantly analyze the fluid that your brain stews in, they explain, and this is less intrusive. They never ask you if having a permanent hole in your head feels less intrusive to you.
They hurt you on purpose; they need to know if you can still feel pain and what your response is. Biters hurt each other, too, and the people in charge just watch with clipboards in their hands. They try to anger you and make you sad. They explain that your feelings could trigger a relapse, and they need to be sure before letting you go.
You have no rights. You have no voice. You are not human. You’re Infected. A Biter, if you want to be politically incorrect. Because of this, and in the interest of science, they’ve done unimaginable things to you, but this is the first time you’ve been truly scared of them—let you go?
Your nightmares immediately take a new turn. Now the throng of Uninfected is attacking and eating you, instead of the other way around.
One day, the regularity of experimentation dies down, which makes you suspicious. Either they are going to finally make good on their threat to turn you out into the world again, or they’ve decided you are of no value whatsoever. At night, when you’re trying to stay awake for as long as possible, so you don’t dream, you’re not sure which outcome you should root for.
They start a program that involves you and another Biter sitting face to face to practice talking about the weather. Not everyone can do that, the Droolers and the Mumblers sure can’t, and the pit—which had been silent for weeks—fires up for one brief afternoon. They begin to serve solid food in the cafeteria, and you lose ten pounds before they take you away and stuff a feeding tube down your throat.
“You have to eat,” you’re told. They expect you to chew? You lie and say you’ll do better, but you mostly do better at pretending. Your waistband says you are fifteen pounds down by the time they take away slippers and issue everyone a nice fresh pair of shoes. You recognize the brand on sight, but the logo is missing because you’re so vile that a soulless corporation doesn’t want to be associated with your feet. Man, that makes you and the others laugh in the yard. You laugh and laugh and laugh.
The army started packing while you were sleeping. The yard is gone; the pit filled in, and the fences taken down. It’s like it never happened. All that’s left is the temporary shelter they housed you in, and they start taking it down before they even usher you out of the building. They line you up and hand each of you a small manila envelope containing exactly ninety-nine dollars in cash and a paper with laws on it, recently passed by Congress, while the country is still under martial law.
Ten Laws of the United States of America and the Emergency Unified Congress
Governing all Prion Infected Humans (Infected)
In force October 25, 2019
1). In the interest of public safety, all Infected must wear their government-issued anti-bite device at all times while they are in the presence of an Uninfected citizen, under punishment of death.
2). No Infected will own or possess a firearm, under penalty of death.
3). No Infected shall gather in numbers greater than four, under penalty of death.
4). No Infected may remove or alter their mark in any way, under punishment of death.
5). All Infected must report to a Recovery Center at the frequency mandated by local or state government, without exception, under punishment of imprisonment. Repeated violations will incur the death penalty.
6). No Infected may reside further than thirty minutes walking distance from a Recovery Center, under punishment of imprisonment. Repeated violations will incur the death penalty.
7). All Infected must contribute to the economy. No Infected will turn down assigned work or suitable employment, under punishment of imprisonment. Repeated violations will incur the death penalty.
8). No Infected shall engage in sexual relations with an Uninfected citizen, under punishment of death.
9). No Infected shall conceive a child unless approved by a qualified scientist in a Recovery Center. Failure to obtain proper written approval will result in forfeiture of the child and possible imprisonment for violators.
10). All Infected must manage their emotions appropriately, as taught in Recovery. If an Infected is feeling excessive emotion, they should isolate themselves immediately and call 911. State immediately that you have a Relapse Emergency and wait for further instructions with your government-issued anti-bite device securely in place.
God Bless the United States of America
You’re one of the last to leave, and by the time they shuffle you out the door, the entire group of Biters is standing in the middle of the desert with no idea what to do next. They dismantle the last of the center while you all watch and whisper to each other about it. It’s all wholly erased; you can’t even tell where the bodies are buried. If you ever wanted to come back someday, there isn’t a single thing to gawk at and feel tortured about. All the twisted mementos of your time there will have to exist solely in your head.
And they do.
The last of the staff drive away in the packed truck. They just leave you there. No water. No food. No idea where you even are.
It’s fucking unbelievable, is what it is.
They mentioned that your surviving family, the ones you listed on a form somewhere in the beginning, were notified about your release and invited to greet and collect you. No one shows up. You try not to be disappointed; after all, you have no idea if your family is even still alive. Your brother could be in Recovery just like you, although you hope he isn’t. You hope he died outright or made it through unscathed. You don’t want this for him; he deserves better.
Not all of you make it. But that’s the way it’d been since you got cured, right? Not everyone survived the cure; not everyone survived the yard, and not everyone survived talking ’bout the fuckin’ weather. It only makes sense that not everyone will survive being let go. Christ, you don’t even have a shovel to bury them. You’re forced to leave them like ghoulish guideposts throughout the desert.
Civilization is waiting for you; the mob is angry and wild. They don’t want you there, and they illustrate this point with guns, knives, and bats.
The girl is maybe fifteen years old. You stand over her as her rail-thin, emaciated body twitches on the ground. Red blood pools under her head and makes a halo around her blond hair. The guy who killed her stood across from you. He grips the murder weapon in one hand, a baseball bat, and regards his handiwork with a smug, satisfied look on his face.
Before she dies, you make eye contact with her. You’re the very last person she ever sees. She survived so much, and—well, it only takes a second before the sadness hurts. It starts in your heart and then spreads like wildfire.
You leap over her body at him; he’s so surprised that he doesn’t react fast enough to throw you off. You have him pinned to the ground. He screams for help while he desperately tries to reach the bat that he dropped, but it rolled too far away.
You tell him what you learned in the Recovery Center. “Remain calm.”
And then you chew.
They met in the yard, up against a chain-link fence, mud tugging at their shoes. Thick black smoke billowed from the pit where the soldiers were burning the bodies. A timely gale swept the ashy plumes in their direction, framing them against a raw pewter sky.
Allison wasn’t sure how long he’d been watching her, but the moment she realized he was, she stole a spoon during her kitchen shift and sharpened the handle. By the time of their meeting, which he would later describe as ordained by Heaven, her small piece of gleaming stainless steel was ready for service.
Without ever actually touching her, he used his body to force her backwards until her spine pressed against the fence at the rear of the yard, the stinking pit smoldering in the field fifty yards behind her. They were alone. No one ever went back there during body disposal unless they wanted to do something that they didn’t want an audience for.
He looked to be at least ten years older than her; crow’s feet around his eyes gave him away. He was taller than her but not remarkably so, maybe 5’11” if she had to give a description. Not that she’d have to—no one in charge concerned themselves with what Biters did to each other.
They had shaved his head during intake just like everybody else, but his hair had grown about a fingertip’s length, coming in sandy blond and hinting that it might be wavy once it really got going. The smoke stung his hazel eyes and gave them an edge of crimson, but his teeth were fully funded, 401(k) straight when he grinned and introduced himself. “I’m Will. Will Taylor.”
He reminded her of a shark. “I’ve been watching you.”
Ashley on Amazon wrote:
So this is my first Vella story I've read, and it also happens to be the author's first publication, if I'm not mistaken.
I don't read zombie stuff, ordinarily. Something about this one got my attention, and when I started, I think I read the entire first season in two days.
It's smart. I'm not saying it's World War Z or anything (which is a pretty scholarly Zombie book, if you've ever read it), but smart in a pulp way, like a great zombie book should be. It also manages to make some great commentary on the state of the world, 2021, intentional or not.
It's dark. The author doesn't seem to hold back on the less savory elements of human nature. I feel this is vital for this kind of book. If you want RomCom, go elsewhere. Having said that, there is humor, and there is romance. She just doesn't shy away from uncomfortable topics or scenarios, and I admire that.
The writing style is also how I like things. No overblown scene descriptions. Just a lot of action and dialogue propelling each other, with enough coloration thrown in to give you a good feel for what's going on.
I sort of like the immediacy Vella gives to writing (and reading). The episodic format is especially well-suited to this kind of story.
I'm giving four instead of five stars, only because the author is damn good, and I want to see her knock it out of the park in future work. If I gave it five, there's no room to grow. ; ) *Edit - Oops, I say four but clicked five. Probably because I subconsciously consider this a five-start book in the first place.
Keep doing what you're doing! I'm going to buy this again when it's a fully published paperback. I enjoyed it that much.
Heather on Amazon wrote:
I was instantly hooked after reading the first episode. I love the writer’s style. I’m a lover of science fiction, so this was right up my alley. I’ve already caught up with all the episodes within a matter of days. I can’t wait for the next episodes!
ZombiePhreak on Goodreads wrote:
OK, First, as much as zombies scare the crap out of me, I am a little bit obsessed with interesting zombie stories. And this is definitely an interesting take on the zombie genre. Doctors and scientists have, apparently, found a way to rehabilitate zombies. Which they do and then they set them free.
I am up to episode six, and I cannot get enough of the story.
The writing is solid.
The characters are interesting and at the same time a little creepy.
I'm holding my breath, wanting the characters to have a happily ever after experience, but knowing that it probably is not going to go down like that.
I highly recommend this to anyone who likes a good zombie story. I cannot say enough good things about the series or the writing.
I do wish that it was in book form If only because I’m afraid that I will get to the end Of an episode and there will be none left.
H.D. Cyr on Goodreads wrote:
This is an amazing horror story! The author made you as the reader care about her characters and she put them in a setting that makes the reader dread having the character go into the next room, or even go around a corner in a hallway. Evoking dread like that in your reader is how you set your story apart from the sea of zombie stories that are already out there on Amazon and on various fiction sights. Not by being shockingly outrageous or overly grotesque and gory, but by making the reader sweat, their heart race, and make them dread what will happen next. Making them be so glued to the book that they just can’t stop reading and they simply have to know what happens next.
Kitty Gulick on Goodreads wrote:
This is a fresh take on the zombie genre.
There are four main characters (at this point)
3 are recovered zombies (two adults, one child)
The fourth character is a doctor who is a sympathizer/advocate for the Prion-infected (aka the ex-zombies).
The story follows the four characters through the daily struggles of a post-apocalypse America trying to get back on its feet. The recovered zombies are sent to clean up the mess that was made because of zombies. People are suspicious of the recovered zombies and many people treat them badly. And while it's kind of understandable that people are wary of them (they did eat people, after all) I find myself sympathizing with the recovered zombies. It wasn’t their fault that they were turned into zombies. AND they have all of the memories of the atrocities they committed while they were zombies, which seems like torture in and of itself.
As season two came to a close some really interesting plot points came to the surface. I cannot wait to see where season three takes us.
This is a series I highly recommend for anyone who likes the zombie genre. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Finally, a zombie story for me!
From the first appearance of the undead in the Book of Ezekiel where Valley of Bones literally comes alive to World War Z, The Walking Dead, and the Santa Clarita Diet, the types of zombies and they way that they are portrayed varies. Some zombies stories aren't my cup of tea, but others are. As a creator and avid reader, I honestly feel that zombies are like suishi. If you haven't found a zombie story you don't like, keep looking. There's one out there for you that caters to your taste and preferred reading tropes. In my case, this is my zombie story.
Welcome to the post apocalyptic world where not only has there been a plague of zombies, somehow they've been cured! If that isn't enough to grab your attention, I don't know what is. I've never seen a well written story that tells us about what happened to those that were turned and healed before and because of that, I'll keep reading.
Chew is currently posting every Sunday and Wednesdays to the serial fiction platforms listed. Readers who wish to read the most current chapters should consider this format, as contests and access to fan sites typically cater to the most current season that is posting via serial fiction.