Hey everyone. I will have some exciting news on the Scourge trilogy in the next few days, but for now I want to talk about a new short story of mine, published as part of The Fairfield Scribes horror anthology: Z: Tales from the Zombieverse.
Some of you know the story of The Scourge. It was once a short story that was supposed to appear in the above-mentioned anthology. But 47North asked me to turn it into a novel, which I did. So I wrote another short story, and you can find that one in its rightful place: Z: Tales from the Zombieverse.
Z is an anthology written by people who have fought by my side, some for more than five years. We have slogged through the battlefield of our literary struggle. We have stood shoulder to shoulder in the skirmish against mediocrity. We have shed blood and ink together and I consider them not friends, but brothers and sisters. I ask all of you to buy this anthology, if not to read my short story, then to honor the bond that I share with these writers. For many of them, this is their first published piece, but they have honed their skills for years. The anthology is the result of three years of work, and encompasses a wide range of genres, from science fiction to fantasy, to historical fantasy, contemporary literature, and even a children’s story (um. Sort of.).
My story, The Mightiest God takes place during the first Crusades, in the Muslim city of Ma’arra. An undermanned garrison of hungry Norman soldiers tries to keep order in a city of angry Muslims. Below is an excerpt from the story.
We were hungry when we captured the city of Maara, so we didn’t bury the bodies of our enemies. A group of us dragged the corpses into piles and left them there, bleeding and limp like carcasses at a slaughterhouse. Our commanders didn’t give us much guidance; they were too busy arguing among themselves over who would get to keep the city. I think we were supposed to give Maara to the Greeks in Byzantium, but nobody was doing what they were supposed to in that Holy War. So we stacked the broken bodies and listened to the rumble in our stomachs and didn’t talk about the link between those two things.
I am called Ancel of Brionne and I’m from Normandy. Ten years ago, in the year 1097, I was told I would be forgiven of all sins if I fought against the Muslims. That I would have eternal salvation if I marched on the Holy Land. There aren’t many things that would have brought me to that mad, scorching, filthy place, but I needed forgiveness. So I went. I waged war in hell so I could find peace in Heaven. But once you’ve seen Hell, you have lost peace forever.
Hell crawls under your eyelids so you can’t even blink without reliving the horrors. What good is eternal salvation if the devil haunts your dreams for eternity?
I suppose it doesn’t matter. After what happened in Maara, none of us deserve to go to Heaven. God took his light from us that day. It’s been ten years, and I can hear Death’s footsteps in the evening silence. I try to hide from him, because I know where he will take me. He will take me to Maara, and I will be shackled there for eternity.
I remember Thomas of Moyon holding a Muslim corpse in his arms that cool winter’s day in 1098.
“I’m dancing with the devil!”
He dragged the corpse back and forth across the cobblestones. Thomas was always odd, but I think he went mad during the siege of Antioch. The other soldiers of my company watched him dance, there in Maara, and laughed. They thought he was trying to be funny.
An ancient, white-bearded pagan, crying beside one of the bodies, shouted at Thomas in a dirty, furious French. “You no! You no! The punishment will punish you, my friends! The punishment will punish you!”
The soldiers laughed at the man and mocked him. “The punishment will punish us! Mon dieu! The punishment will punish us, my friends!”
Thomas danced closer to the old man, swung the carcass at him so one of the cold hands struck the man’s face. “I’m dancing with the devil, grand pere! I’m dancing with the devil!”
“You’ll be dancing with me if you don’t put that body down.” Sergeant Alain said it without raising his voice. Some sergeants shout every word. Like they’ve forgotten how to speak normally. Sergeant Alain hardly ever shouts, but soldiers always listen.
“One dance at a time, sergeant,” Thomas called back. “There is only so much of me.”
The sergeant touched the hilt of his dagger and took a step toward Thomas. “There’ll be a lot less of you, soon.”
Even madmen listen to Sergeant Alain.
The body fell to the cobblestones with an empty clunk and Thomas danced by himself for a time. One of the other soldiers whistled and Thomas pranced like a girl and giggled. The men whooped and laughed and tugged at his trousers and Thomas pretended to bat them away. It was the first time I’d heard laughter since we reached Maara.
The siege had lasted two weeks, which isn’t a long time for a siege unless you have no food. The Muslim warlord Arslan burned all of the fields and orchards around the city and we had just about run out of supplies on our way down from Antioch. The hunger was like a venom. We shivered and clutched at our roaring stomachs and tortured ourselves with talk of suckling pigs and venison. Every soldier was given a half-cup of broth each day. Some of the men supplemented this with cut-up leather straps. I tried it once but the briny, swollen thickness nearly made me retch. Sometimes someone caught a locust and there would be a fight. After eating leather straps you can shove a writhing locust into your mouth and smile. We were Christians and we were fighting Muslims but I say to you, the mightiest religion on this earth is Hunger. There isn’t a soul alive that doesn’t bow to her.
Interested? Then pick up a copy of Z: Tales from the Zombieverse and let other know about this wonderful new anthology.
I’ll be back soon, with news about the Scourge trilogy!