I have a real soft-spot for zombie apocalypse and dystopian future fiction. While on one of my frequent Let’s Trawl The Internet for upcoming books information, I stumbled across David Towsey’s debut, Your Brother’s Blood, which seems to offer something a little different to your typical zombie-horror novel. Perhaps this will be a nice contemporary of Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall? Regardless, here is an excerpt from the novel, one of my Most Anticipated of 2013…
‘Patterns are most pleasing to the senses. Man is a creature of pattern; he understands them, seeks them everywhere, longs for them even when he dreams. They occur naturally and are thought to be beautiful. In literature, a narrative pattern gives a reader a sense of self-importance – he or she is sharp-witted and astute for finding and understanding it. In music, the repetition of notes speaks inherently to the primitive nature of the tribal self.
‘I argue that every action – be it day by day or century by century – follows this preoccupation with patterns.
‘At one time, humanity lost a great deal of its intellectual power and dominance over the world. Some historians place this event eight hundred years ago, others only seven hundred, more suggest closer to a thousand. I mean no offence to any historian present when I say: that argument is irrelevant.
‘At one time, there were tools, devices, and mechaniks everywhere. They influenced every element of life, and even death. Science was the shining spear humanity thrust into the dark. But this light would only last so long. This period of history, of the pattern, we refer to as the Automated Age.
‘Debate continues over the cause of Automated Man’s fall from scientific grace. War would be an obvious cause. Regardless of man’s level of sophistication, time has proved him to be an aggressive creature. We can only imagine what kind of weapons would have been at his disposal.
‘Perhaps man outgrew this world and journeyed to the stars? Leaving nothing but scraps – both human and otherwise – behind. Abandoned by science, those remaining lived as best they could, resulting in the societies of today. A neat and possibly even correct theory.
‘Yet, despite finding no obvious flaw in this hypothesis, my personal preference leans towards another explanation:
‘The resources that fuelled man’s domination ran out.
‘For all his subtleties, he was finite. It is the pattern of humanity: like the moon, their influence waxes and wanes. Mechaniks, magic, the power to fly, are all hollow trinkets; nothing can escape the pattern.
‘Before I take my seat, and allow a mind no doubt superior to my own to take the floor, I will venture one more point. Throughout my argument, I have deliberately used the words “man” and “humanity”. Brothers and sisters, this is because patterns are the realm of man. We Walkin’, whose origin is just as inexplicable as the disappearance of Automated Man, are infinite; and thus beyond this concept.’
– transcribed from Time to Walk, an open forum in the Black Mountain Common Consensus of Winters 2917 – Councilman Cirr speaking
Pastor Gray scorched the church and the congregation. He was the noonday sun burning down on pale and ready skin. Behind him was the altar, covered in plain cloth, and the whitewashed walls. His hair was a tangle of red knots; as a married man, he was allowed to let it grow. The Pastor’s marital beard was just as striking. It covered the sides of his face, his chin, and his upper lip in fiery curls.
Mary McDermott played with her two fat braids. She’d gotten up early before church and her mother had cut her hair. It was so long it had almost reached her waist. She didn’t mind, but Sarah said she’d soon be sitting on it and that would be strange. She watched the bent, old scissors in the mirror. Sarah had brought water from the well and filled a clay bowl. Mary washed her face first and then watched as long, shiny black hairs covered the top, wriggling like croaker spawn.
‘We will begin today with a reading from Proverbs – Wisdom and the Foolish,’ Pastor Gray said, his voice shaking the eaves.
Mary’s family were sitting all along the bench, her mother next to her. She could see the two thick braids of Auntie Hannah, then Peter, Samuel, and finally Grandma and Grandpa.
‘Tuck your shirt in, Samuel,’ Grandma hissed.
Her big uncle fumbled at his shirt. His fat fingers struggled to get the white cotton into his trousers. His shirt looked itchy.
‘“Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding. Give instruction to the wise man, and he will be yet wiser.”’ The Pastor paused, adjusting his black cassock. Mary imagined it would be a very hot and uncomfortable thing to wear.
‘“Teach just a man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the know - ledge of the Holy is understanding.
‘“But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and are in the depths of hell:
‘“Murderers. Deceivers. Those who act in defiance of the Good Lord. Hell is their home; a fiery and torturous embrace.”’
Something tickled Mary’s nose. It was dusty in the church; she could smell it. She squeezed her nostrils together with her fingers. Now would be a bad time to sneeze.
‘Damnation awaits the bearer of any arm. So we ask forgiveness. Forgiveness for those we sent to war.’
Grandma had her eyes closed and was mouthing a prayer. Everyone else stared down at their laps.
‘For those we sacrificed for our own safety: Jared Peekman,’ the Pastor said. ‘For those we lost from our own flock: Daniel Harris. For those we shall remember for ever: Thomas McDermott.’
Her mother raised a hand to her mouth.
‘“For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of your life increased.” Amen.’
The congregation called ‘Amen’. The Good Book closed like a peal of thunder.
The soldier woke coughing. His throat was on fire. Dry and spluttering, his body lurched. There was no air, only ash.
The coughing stopped. His eyes felt gritty. Blinking was an effort; he could feel sand scratching his eyelids.
He tried to move, but nothing happened. He was lying down. Darkness surrounded him. He couldn’t hear anything, not even the sound of his own breathing. His mouth was dusty and tasteless.
Pain raced across his forehead and he cried out. A thousand fingers pressed behind his eyes. A pool of white washed across the darkness, like oil thrown onto water. He began to panic. The white was blinding. He screamed, not a word, but a childhood fear.
‘Learning. What is it we mean by learning?’ The Pastor threw his arms wide.
Mary knew the answer, but didn’t want to speak up. She didn’t like the idea of the whole church looking at her.
‘Is it numbers and letters?’ the Pastor asked.
Mary wished it was. She liked letters.
‘And what is wisdom? Or knowledge? Is it how to plough a field, or knit a hat? The Good Book says the fear of the Lord, the fear I say, is the beginning of wisdom. Open yourselves to the fear, and what follows is his love.’
Mary listened to the words. They did make a kind of sense. She was always afraid of the Lord; of someone watching her.
‘We meddled. We poked and searched and then we ate from the tree. Fearless. The Good Lord saw our lack of fear and punished us as only He could.’
Mary had questions, many questions. But, like the other people in the church, she ignored them. She couldn’t help but watch and listen only to the Pastor.
‘He took it away. He took away the only thing mankind had. He took away paradise.’
The congregation was silent. Nobody fidgeted on the hard wooden benches. Nobody coughed or cleared their throat.
‘This, our Barkley taught, was the First Fall. Exiled from paradise. Lost to walk a harsh world. But, we did not learn.
‘Again we forgot our fear, children, we forgot our fear. Once more we meddled.’ The Pastor stepped in front of the altar, the Good Book thrust at the roof. Mary licked her lips. They felt so dry.
‘A thousand years ago we poked and searched. And once more He took away paradise,’ the Pastor cried. His words crashed around the eaves of the church and back down onto the congregation.
Women gasped, the men grumbled. The Pastor grimaced as he waited for quiet.
‘So clever. So much learning; the people of the past. Mechaniks. Magical items of all kinds and shapes. Our ancestors ate again from that forbidden tree of knowledge.
‘The punishment was the same and we live with it today; here in Barkley, in Pierre County and all over the world. The gates of heaven are closed to the kin of those damned souls. They are left to walk the earth; abominations; foul creatures of the night. Twisted husks: they fester instead of finding eternal joy.’
The white faded, lurking at the edge of his eyes as unshed tears. He adjusted to the dark. The pain became a numb ache. He couldn’t remember where he was, or who he was. His head felt woollen.
Something tickled against his hand. A carri-clicky crawled onto his chest, its feelers frantically swaying. He looked at it, and it looked at him. Carri-clickys were never alone. There would be hundreds. He tried to move his hand, swat it away. Nothing. The clicky circled, a mocking dance, and then found a gap in his uniform. The bulge in his shirt moved down his chest. Its feelers stroked his skin.
Why can’t I move my hand? he thought. This is my hand. This is my hand.
He screamed silently.
The bulge disappeared.
It’d been near his bellybutton. Then, gone. He couldn’t feel it anywhere. He couldn’t see it.
The sound echoed and crashed. His ears were going to burst. The insect was still there.
There was a twinge. Not painful, more like a stitch in his side, where he’d lost sight of the clicky.
Click. Another twinge, this time harder.
The insect was inside him.
His body suddenly tensed. Cramps rippled across his back, along his arms and down his legs. His toes curled. He bit down, his jaw locked. Then, like an overstretched rope, the tension broke and he felt the weight of his limbs again.
He clawed away his shirt. A hole three inches wide, edged by dull red skin, gaped up at him. Layers of his insides: purple and yellow and red – colours drained but still vivid. The carriclicky emerged and didn’t move as he slowly picked it up. He thought about squashing it, but put it down instead. He didn’t see the insect go.
With a tentative finger he explored the wound. It didn’t hurt or sting. It felt spongy, like overripe fruit. He pulled his shirt back down.
He tried his legs. They moved, but something was in the way. There was ground beneath him; he rubbed the warm dirt between his fingers. Whatever was above him, it was soft. He pulled and pushed. He wriggled and squirmed.
A face fell from the dark.
Its nose stopped just before his. Its mouth hung slack. From the eyes up it had no skin, just dirty bone.
Flailing, he pushed as hard as he could. He felt scraps of cloth and bone. The face dropped away and he sat up. More bodies tumbled above. Layer upon layer sought to drown him, to drag him under. Panic shook him. He climbed, tearing through the corpses.
A mist of rain touched his parched skin and he sucked hard at life. It was too sweet – he almost choked. The sky was a brilliant grey.
For a moment he lived, there in a pit of the dead.
‘Will you walk with the dead?’ The Pastor pointed at Mrs Turner in the second row. Her face lost all colour; she shook her head.
‘And you!’ Pastor Gray turned to the bench in front of Mary and glared at Mr Gregory. ‘A father in this community. Will your family feel the taint of your blood? Does Satan spill from your loins?’
‘The Good Lord, no!’ Mr Gregory shouted, standing up.
The Pastor rushed forward.
‘Do you carry the evil of the past?’
Mary was warm in the rays of the Pastor’s fury.
‘The Good Lord, no!’ Mr Gregory cried again.
‘Will you burn on a pyre to save your soul?’
‘The Good Lord, yes!’
‘And well you would,’ the Pastor said. His voice cooled, like a smithy’s iron put into water. Mary felt as if she’d been dropped into the same bucket.
Pastor Gray looked across the congregation.
‘In His infinite wisdom – as the Good Book says – He found forgiveness for our sins. We found our fear again, and we found the Lord’s love there. We burn on a pyre, as His son taught us after the resurrection; we burn for our sins and the sins of our ancestors. We will find paradise in His forgiveness.’
‘Hallelujah,’ the congregation cried.