Experiencing Max Brooks’ World War Z During World War C

Back on January 7, 2022 and in his Fangoria Terror Teletype “Monstrous Musings Column,” Phil Nobile Jr. asked for freelance pitches in his article “Things to Do in 2022” with the observation that most pitches have become “repetitively autobiographical,” and that many more readers are getting to the point where they “want to read informed, smart content about the genre, not about the writer.”

It’s something I’ve been mulling over ever since, and I will admit that it felt personal, though Nobile also added that it is his opinion, and perhaps even that of Fangoria’s Digital Editor Angel Melanson. Certainly, I would imagine that this sentiment would not apply to horror figures such as Barbara Crampton with her “Scene Queen” column, or the various interview that luminaries such as Jordan Peele and Ari Aster have given to each other, but even then while their lives definitely figure into their discussions, it is often more the insight into their already established careers that have the most fascination for a horror readership. It also makes me wonder if Nobile is referring specifically to digital content itself (with a majority of Fangoria’s print edition being filled by veteran writers and figures in the genre), as you will find many articles in which the writers involved attempt to relate their life experiences to different horror media. 

I know I’m not different. Many of my articles on The Horror Doctor and elsewhere are specifically focused on how I relate to something. I think it’s a very human thing to do, especially in the face of uncertainty, trauma, and fear. I’m also different in that while genre is important to look at, as opposed to merely my own life experience, I think that the stories told within that genre are equally – if not even more – important. 

This is a long segue into being reintroduced to Max Brooks’ novel World War Z during this Pandemic. The first time I read it was back in 2009, and the second time I exposed myself to this specific brain-virus again is the year of this writing, 2022. However, World War Z was published in 2006, and the audiobook that I listened to this year was released in 2013. Let’s look at these years. In 2006, several years passed since 9/11 and the War Against Terror. But more specifically, we have the SARS epidemic in China back in 2002, and then H1N1 spreading in 2009. This is around the point, at least in North America, where we began to see hand sanitizer dispensers crop up in public spaces outside of hospitals. The fear that a Pandemic could happen in our generation thanks to poor governmental organization, and global ennui was really prevalent, and the spectre of it never disappeared. And look at the zombie films, as unliving, walking, representatives of what a Pandemic represents truly coming to the fore: You have your 28 Days Later, Quarantine, Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and a whole other host of cinematic, slavering, creeping, infections.

The era when I first read World War Z was long after I read Dracula, and I’d become very aware of epistolary narratives, though definitely before I’d truly come to appreciate the horror subgenre of found-footage films. I recall reading it as I traveled from Go-Train between Toronto and Oshawa to visit the partner that bought it for me. H1N1 was still a fear, so much so that in a horror writing contest called “Dark Idol” I attempted to be clever and write a story called “Hypochondriac” where the main character is terrified of getting a vaccine that ends up turning patients into zombies, only for his girlfriend to turn right when she’s giving him oral sex. Yeah. I made the themes relate back to one another much in the way I circle back to a point in my current writing, but between the awkward gait of the prose that would have made a zombie frustrated, and a “just a dream” hallucination from the vaccine he actually had leading up to that point, I didn’t want to think about it.

But it all circles back for me, now.

In 2009, World War Z was just a pseudo-historical narrative of different people’s stories being affected by the spread of the zombie virus, and watching how civilization almost dies, and then radically changes as a result of surviving the waves of its Pandemic. It also makes each source of – shall we say – An Oral History of the Zombie War, very compelling, and incredibly human in both how it depicts suffering, fear, hope, and a grim determination. I absolutely love how Brooks manages, or at least attempts, to encompass a variety of cultural and individual experiences in dealing with the unthinkable: almost the ridiculous. I’d heard about the 2013 film loose adaptation, that focuses on just one story and seems to lose the point of the entire human experience by altering the slow, creeping Romero nature of the zombies and cutting out all of those stories. I’ve said for a long time that World War Z would have benefitted much from being made into a miniseries, or webseries for streaming: which Netflix could have easily done as it created original programming in 2013. At the time the only other work I can think of that attempted to bring together so many stories into a world surviving the undead is The Walking Dead released in 2010: and adapted from Robert Kirkman’s 2003-2019 comics run of the same name, the Cable-televised version starting off strong before eventually succumbing to its own inevitable melodramatic rot.

However, after bemoaning this (I am sorry, but not sorry for these unintentional zombie puns), a friend of mine reminded me of the audiobook which I listened to now, again, in 2022: the closest thing to a multifaceted audio, oral history of a zombie apocalypse, or at least a global disaster. The World War Z audiobook, narrated and voiced by luminaries such as its creator Max Brooks, then Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg, Nathan Fillion, Denise Crosby, Alfred Molina, René Auberjonois, Bruce Boxleitner, Henry Rollins, Jeri Ryan, even Martin Scorsese, and other all-stars, feels like the vocal equivalent to different episodes of a series about people that saw, survived, and look back on different human facets of a zombie pandemic. Their voices reanimate the conflict between life and death, society and chaos, in a whole other way – these eye-witness accounts, recollections, and reflections, feeling more ever-present, more vital: especially after existing several waves of our own global Pandemic, and its effects on our world, and lives. 

If reading World War Z came at a time in my life, and in the world, where it became apparent that global health was letting itself become vulnerable to a superbug or virus, and North America was exhausted by various wars in the Middle-East, along with wondering how I was going to get my own work done in Graduate School and what I would do from there, listening to the audiobook is something that comes with its own existential angst. Aside from freelancing jobs, I have been long unemployed after Graduation, isolating at my parents’ house even before the Pandemic, and watching an incompetent government reign in America, and waves of sickness deciminate people and overwhelm medical systems. They are similar places, but while the former was an abstraction of something that could happen, and was going to, the latter is an experience which it has – and it still is.

It’s eerie. While Max Brooks used Studs Terkel’s The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two as the inspiration for his narrative, as well as the zombie films and tropes of George Romero to create the solanum virus – the disease that creates the zombies that he introduces in his Zombie Survival Guide of 2003 in which he actually outlines an infection scenario that is expanded on in so many ways in World War Z, he might as well have predicted many of the events of 2020, and even some that preceded it.

The parallels are fairly clear. At one point, set presumably after the Bush Administration – though Brooks seems to be intentionally ambiguous about this – a new Black President and his running mate, nicknamed “The Whacko” are elected into office, the comparisons between Barack Obama and Joe Biden being fairly clear: though I can definitely see some Duane Jones in the little characterization we are told of that leader and his mannerisms. There is so much misinformation and denial about the zombies, even when the governments of the world are warned about the virus in advance. There are interviews that cover the terrible socio-economic conditions of North America, how the Pandemic is changing how everybody works, and what is important in a world attempting to survive, and then rebuild. There are tensions with Eastern Europe, especially Russia: even though as far as I know, it isn’t attempting to become a theocracy yet. There are accounts of people fleeing with items that will not help them in the long run, and taking all essential products from others, and falling for poor advice. Hell, even the false zombie cure or vaccine called Phalanx has some disturbing ties to all the debate circling around Moderna, Pfizer, and the like: though Phalanx is a placebo to prevent international, or at least American panic, while the vaccines of our world actually work. 

You also have constant reports of a death toll, and seeing how bureaucratic structures simply can’t – or aren’t willing and able – to change fast enough to combat this virus, and many people choose to remain ignorant, or even see it as a sign from God, or at worse even try to appease and embrace it. There are obvious differences. While the threat of societal breakdown was, and is, possible if medical infrastructure is overwhelmed by the vast numbers of infected in our world, Brooks’ universe is one where civilization takes a major hit. But Brooks’ world also has stages where the change of seasons will allow for the virus to spread again through its carriers, and has lulls and waves: though ours tends to happen in Winter and Flu-Season, while Brooks’ occurs during Spring and Summer thaws. 

I think there is something that The Whacko, who became President after his running mate, says that sums up everything that we have been feeling. While he is talking about America, and its idea of the “fair deal”: of doing honest work and be rewarded for it, he also mentions: ”The numbers are declining, thank heavens, but it doesn’t mean people should let down their guard, We’re still at war, and until every trace is sponged, and purged, and if need be, blasted from the surface of the Earth, everybody’s still gotta pitch in, and do their job.”

And make no mistake, what we have gone through – what we are still going through – is a struggle akin to a war: a world war. And this isn’t even talking about Russia and Ukraine and the spectre of atomic conflict, or the environmental damage that has created longer winters in World War Z (due to a nuclear confrontation between Iran and Pakistan) and our own pre-existing behaviour.

COVID-19 is heavily infectious. And while it isn’t incurable like the solanum virus, it mutates and if people take unnecessary risks it will continue to persist and remain a potentially deadly adversary. Like zombies, COVID-19 isn’t an opponent you can negotiate with, bomb (The Whacko’s comments not withstanding), shoot, or intimidate into surrender. It is definitely not something to ignore. While solanum spreads through bites and fluids passed into cuts or openings in a person, COVID-19 is airborne in enclosed spaces. And while you can’t survive solanum, it is possible to beat COVID, though it can have its price and potentially overwhelm our social structures if left unchecked. Despite their differences, take away the symbol of the zombie and what you get is our twenty-first boogeyman made manifest: our fear of plague and contagion every bit as frightening as the terror that makes the herd instinct do some incredibly stupid things.

I don’t know if anyone, beyond health professionals and zombie hunters, wears thick and almost cumbersome gear. I am not sure if masks are a part of Max Brooks’ World War Z, or what effect the virus has on fashion and social interaction. Ours is insidious. See, The Walking Dead likes to focus on how “the walking dead” aren’t the undead, but humanity as it struggles with a force greater than itself, trying to wipe it out completely. Who maintains their integrity? Who rises to the occasion in extraordinary times? Or who will resort to foolish actions? Who will be selfish? Who will have incredibly rash and irrational moments that can mean not only the differences between life and death, but between questioning their morality, or losing it completely? Who will admit they were exposed to something that made them sick as they stay in places, with people, that are vulnerable and don’t want to become sick?

The people of World War Z and their responses are different. With solanum, some people have attempted to isolate if they have the infrastructure and the resources to hunker down, or to keep moving and migrating and always being vigilant to whom they spend their time. With COVID-19, it is isolation that is both the greatest boon if you can manage – if you aren’t an essential worker – but a major killer for a herd-based species like us. I can’t even begin to tell you how being separated from my friends and loved ones for two years has affected my health and sanity. And how many relationships of mine ended, in one case terminally.

The thing is, we do our part too. We take the vaccines that now thankfully exist for a year. We put on our masks in this grim Halloween game, something we need to keep doing despite many governments and organizations relaxing those mandates. There is something absolutely soul-killing about seeing people attempting to return to business as usual, to parties and gatherings as though they can’t get sick again, as though they can’t die, as if you are the one that is mentally sick, and perhaps you are: maybe you do need help – and if so, you should seek it out.

Many of us, like the people in World War Z, will never be the same again. Some persevere, now working from home, or having new jobs and mobility they didn’t have before. Others lost everything, and they still have to struggle to get something akin to stability back. Their favourite places no longer exist. Many have larger families. Some have no families at all anymore. There is a story of a shut-in, in his case a self-identified otaku in Japan, who feels a lot like I was before our Pandemic, and I know I couldn’t have improved as much as he had done.

For me, and this is where it is personal again, I struggled to get out of the house before COVID-19 and I was in the process of rebuilding my life before the virus destroyed all of my plans. It is a major event for me to even go to the movies with my brother, or see my small group of friends, or go on a date. There are places I can never go back to. People I won’t see again. And there is so much trauma I haven’t even begun to process yet.

I am a freak. I watched Cronenberg’s Rabid and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse in the midst of the Pandemic. It is always on my mind. The day I visited my partner in the respiratory ward of a hospital before the virus officially hit, where I had to put gloves and a mask on felt not only like the dress rehearsal of her death and isolating myself from all other people, seeing them from a distance, but the beginning of this grim Halloween harvest that never seems to end.

It reminds me of something in the novel. Actually, it reminds me of two things. At one point, Max Brooks as “Max Brooks” is interviewing a filmmaker who created movies during the Zombie War for morale. And to give you a strange feeling, at one point the filmmaker refers to “Marty,” you know: Scorsese, who also does voice-acting in Brooks’ audio adaptation. Anyway, this movie-maker mentions how “Marty” created a film called Avalon: in which the residents of a college of the same name fight valiantly against the zombie hordes. The version that most people see is the one where the heroes are valiant, brave, and those that die presumably go out tragically, if not with nobility. But then the filmmaker tells “Brooks” that there is a longer version of that film that “Marty” chose not to release during the height of the Pandemic: a cut which shows the worst of humanity, the lows, the despondencies, the vilest and cruelest excesses, and even the despair of the heroes, or protagonists in question. “Marty” wanted to show the best of humanity in the worst crisis of their world, to prevent depression and even suicide rates. It is only after the worst of the Pandemic is over that “Marty” releases the longer cut to show the multifaceted nature of the human condition in the crucible of life versus death itself.

Right now, after several waves and quarantines, I think this is my longer cut of my own observations between COVID-19 and World War Z. At the beginning of the novel, “Max Brooks” is supposed to be working for the UN: to create a report on the event, only for it be greatly paired down for its consumption. It is only after he gets furious over many of his testimonies getting cropped out and his interviews ignored, that his boss tells him that what he should do is something else: that he should write a book.

I think back to Phil Nobile Jr. and Angel Melanson talking about how they believe horror readers, at least of Fangoria, are exhausted by autobiography as opposed to facts and genre details. And maybe where The Horror Doctor, and my writing in general, shines is precisely in looking at those emotional and personal elements. And while I can examine other considerations, perhaps I should do something different with my writing: with my experiments. Because while I can say something about the genre and tropes of World War Z, how it is just as much a world-building serial extension of the ghoul mythos created by George Romero and John Russo as Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, and how the cinematic adaptations of both Brooks and Kirkman do not do them justice, I think it’s important to say something about people – and even horror fans and creators’ minds – during this time.

When you compare World War Z to COVID-19, the novel reads like the past two years of our world accelerated and condensed into something of a four year singularity, or a potential implosion. Brooks’ fictional pandemic lasted from 2004 to 2008, but ours began in 2020 and still continues now in 2022. But our War, our World War C isn’t over yet, but I think that despite this fact, this is a timely article to write. We are all feeling it: the C, for cyclical, nature of this conflict and how literature and horror imitate and even anticipate the timelessness of our struggle, and the stories that we live and leave behind in its wake. 

Journal of an Olympian

Yo, Chris. Like we said, they were going to wrap up that Armitage Racist Sex Cult shit faster than DJ Jazzy Jeff getting thrown out of a Bel-Air Mansion. I still can’t believe the depths of this evil, crazy shit. It’s almost literary levels of what the fuck. How I get these? Groundskeeper Grandpa’s shack built more solid than that fucking house of horrors. Damn, man. I told you not to go in there. And hey. I’m TSA, remember? I got friends. Just, Jesus Chris. This fucking title too. Made a whole fucking memoir. Like Mein Kampf. Kind of glad most of it got burned in your fire. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

— Rod

It won’t be long now.

I’m afraid, of course. Any sane man would be, even at the cusp of an achievement like this. If there is even the slightest margin of error, I …

Marianne is worried too, but I’ve assured her that I will be all right. We will be all right. 

I’ve taught Dean well, and he already has a fine family of his own. They know exactly what to do. I see all of the issues now, in retrospect. The mind has to be prepared for the process, both parties to form the Coagula. It isn’t just the host, but the brain — the mind — of the pilot as well. I am so glad that I detailed that video recording while I still could, before this vessel fails, and I can finally get a new one. I hope it will be comforting to those who will join our Order. Perhaps, even our family. That Missy, she is a fine woman for Dean, and the rest of us as well. 

There were mistakes, I will admit it. Perhaps some hubris on our part. On mine. The Doppelganger Experiment was supposed to make this process easier. After all, while they did fail to have any influence over the populace despite what we might have promised that Administration, I still think they would still stand to be fine donors for those of us who are more fortunate. It was a stepping stone, certainly, to gaining the resources that we’ve needed to make this Transmutation possible, and the friends and allies to keep us strong and focused. The poor coloured Doppelganger already lost his original counterpart. I still think it’s unfortunate that the initial process was messy, at best. I suspect that that brain had been too damaged, even with Dean’s brilliant hands and the teachings of our Order such as we established them. Again, we didn’t account for the psychology of the mind, or needing another mind as a foundation to bolster the parts of the brain required to function. Or Missy. We really needed a Missy, back then. Even so, the subject survived with a few of his memories intact, though not enough to grant us — or our allies — any other leverage. If only we could have told the world that we saved such a man, such a politician. 

I’m so sorry, Mr. President. 

That had been our first real experiment. And it was a long road. Up until my time, the Order had pursued Transmutation, immortality, the Holy Grail, through spiritual means. There were so many leads. We had people, family even, in all different branches of endeavour, especially our greatest and most prominent American institutions. We even had a family member in the Orne Library itself, at that University in Massachusetts. We regained so much lore from him, back when we were the Knights Templar. He did a fine job, keeping out the … undesirables, the riff-raff, the dilettantes, and the unclean, while leaving the choicest morsels to us, and our friends. Recommended scholars only. Unfortunately, he was never the same after the Late Spring of ’27. He’d already been a fierce opponent of miscegenation, but that business in that village of inbred hicks broke him. He couldn’t see what needed to be done. It’s a shame, what happened to him in the 1930s, but he’d already been a shadow of his former self. He’d have been horrified at what we’re trying to do now, at what we are transforming into out of pure necessity. But we never had time for short-sightedness. We had to move on.

The Manuscripts were too fragmented, and only hinted on ways to do what we had to bloodlessly. Transcendence and a simple exchange of minds would have been nice, but we are still not evolved enough. It would have been too wasteful to let those other minds, and their skills die. Or worse, allow them to exist in our old shells without proper guidance. No, the body is still the only thing we have to work with, and the more sophisticated, if crude the better. No, two things from the University encouraged us, and me once I took over. I’d heard the stories about the coloured boxer in Bolton, and it was easy for those doctors to revive him. Even if my time in Germany hadn’t happened, even if I didn’t see the future in blood and muscle overtake me, I already knew achievements like these would be possible. That strength. That endurance. That resiliency. But then, there were the records. From Pluto. To think the world doesn’t believe it is a planet anymore. If only they knew the extent of it. Those records were incredibly useful. Only, we don’t want canisters. 

Flesh and blood is the key. Flesh and blood are the tools to ascension. 

The coagula is the way, the merging of Lower and Upper Egypt into the body of an eternal empire. The gods knew this, in any culture. They could cleave themselves together. And like Aristophanes’ story, that is exactly what we will do as we find our other, better halves, and guide them into perpetual life. Adaptation is the key. It always was. Artificial selection, cultivation, and a gentle guiding hand is all that’s needed to shape the perfect form to marry towards the perfect minds. 

Dean and Missy are a part of that in a more metaphorical sense. Hands and mind. Jeremy is a little rough around the edges, but he will come around. He favours the body, just like his Grandpa. I can respect that. Hell, I will be able to keep up with him when this is all said, and done. But the true prize is Rose. My darling granddaughter. She’s saved me. In some ways, she’s saved me more effectively than her parents. She has a new friend. She’s bringing him here soon. And I can’t wait to meet him. 

I’m tired. It’s been a long couple of decades, and there were a few times that I doubted our path. That I doubted myself. I am afraid, but it is just a shadow of the adrenaline I used to feel when I ran those races. When I sprung down towards that finish line. It was the fear of failure, of being left behind, of collapsing under my own weight. It was the terror of being humiliated, shown up, used up as someone better than me took my place. Because I was too slow. Because I wasn’t fast enough. 

But soon all our hard work will pay off. Everyone: the Greenes, the Kings, the Wincotts, the Jeffries, the Waldens. Even Tanaka. They will all profit from the fruits of our labour, and the discoveries of our alchemy. Baser elements transmuted into gold and platinum.  From mud into marble. 

From Black to White.

And they will always remember that it was the Armitages that brought them these gifts. And we will always lead them, and the Order, well. 

I can’t wait for Marianne to feel my strong, dark arms wrapped around her, and a stamina that will never tire. And virility that will never end. And she will have her time as well. Rose already has a new friend for my darling. I am so proud of her.

And I feel so fortunate to you too, Walter. Hopefully we will get a chance to talk before the procedure. You deserve far more than just an impersonal video tape. You will be my new lease on life. You will be my ascension to a new space that was barred to me. Titans need to be protected, and restrained. Centimanes will guard our gates. And Cyclopes will create our lightning. And you will be my lightning, Walter. You will let me strike faster, and harder than I ever did before. I will be able to start again. 

Yes. Thank you, Walter. Thank you for volunteering to give me this new chance. 

Because I haven’t forgotten Berlin. I’ll never forget that day. I will finally do it. 

I’m going to beat you, Jesse. 

I’m going to beat you.

Holy supervillain rant crazy rants, Batman. Pretty sure fucker was talking about Cthulhu shit, bro. Cthul. Lu. Shit. And the Clones around America too. Damn, dude. Not sure what we’re going to do about that. Kind of above my pay grade.

But there’s a whole list of names here. All those old white families. Cocky sons of bitches. And a bit about what they were going to do to you. And what these asshole sons of bitches did to so many others. Don’t worry. We’ll find them, Chris. We’ll get them. One name at a time. 

Lost Cause

For Mia Chainsaw

I know what you did. 

Oh, it was clever. Those kids came in, on their fancy bus, with their millennial friends, and they were going to take away what was rightfully yours. Ssh. Don’t speak. You can’t speak now anyway. I always had a suspicion, you see, about this town. About Harlow. But I never had proof. I never had proof about this place, or the areas surrounding it. They came into that homestead, you know, to that window into hell, and they found all the toys. All the “art.”

But they didn’t find them. Any of them. 

That’s when this town started to die. Oh, I bided my time Ginny. Can I call you that? I feel like we are connected somehow, you and I. Viscerally. No no. They had you on that ambulance too long. I know the distances. The heat. We’re in Texas, and many people just die on the way here. This town never dreaded sundown, or maybe that’s not accurate, is it? No. See, this small place here? Right. This place, where you were born, where you grew up, and where you are going to die soon — very soon from what the doctors tell me — is more of a sundown town. I guess it makes sense. I had of time, and some contacts here: like the one who phoned me up. It figures your family came here from East Texas after the Civil War. None of you like outsiders, of any kind. 

I guess that’s why it took so long for people to go to that property when my friends, and my brother were slaughtered by your local heroes. Your unsung boys. Your glorious dead.

No no. I know. The time they got there, the whole family was gone. A regular old Sawyer Adventure, am I right? 

And Tom Sawyer is running around again.

You’re probably not one for liberal Seventies culture, right Ginny? My friends and I were. We just wanted to see if my grandfather’s remains were safe. The irony, or the poetry I guess, is that I did have family here. In this land. In this place. I took it over again. Refurbished it. I came all the way over from the old Hardesty place, from my land, and I waited here. I wanted you all to be nervous. I wanted to be patient. I was wanted you to slip up. 

The problem is, I found the others. Seventies counter-culture. One was an easy rider, but he got run over. The other, Sawney Bean, was a cackling, mean son of a bitch. Not surprised you don’t understand the reference, but he liked to cook too, and trick people off the road. And that old man .. you know, he was apparently one hundred and thirty-seven years old. It reminds me of a short story I read in college. “The Picture in the House,” even heard of it? By Lovecraft. No. You probably think he was a queer, but anyone was Grandpa, the character in that story would’ve been him while he was still up and about.

There were few other freaks, too. But I’m not interested in them. 

I want Tom Sawyer. I want Ed Gein. 

The Moonlight Killer had a sack over his head like some of your great-grandpappy’s friends, I’m sure. But that … piece of shit had many faces. I studied about him, after I got my mind back, such as it was, as it is. Austin University had a good Law Enforcement Program. I studied all kinds of killers too, and how they work. The problem is, Ginny, is that I never saw his face. He was large. Tall. I never doubted for a second he could still be a threat in, what his seventies, like us? He’s not like us. His whole inbred cannibal family of killers are mutants. His fucking Grandpa lived over a century. No. I know he’s going around, killing those kids. 

You told him to go into your room. 

They didn’t get all the evidence. He’s the only one that came back. He had no where to go, after his whole family was gone. I know. Between me and Lieutenant Boude Enright, my Uncle Lefty, we exterminated those sons of bitches. My uncle didn’t make it, but I continued what he started. 

And he is the only one left. 

I’ve been by the old place. Oh, I’m sure you never had a tacit deal with the Sawyers. You just looked the other way. It was silent. Implicit. Strangers came into town, or undesirables, and they’d just disappear. I don’t need to go into who they are, or were, right? I think it’s pretty clear. 

Your last boy. The one in the orphanage. I can’t believe how many teeth I had to pull, to find anyone who’d talk about someone so large. So easy to see. He was in that house. Wounded. You took him out. You brought him to town. Got him as your ward. Adopted him. The town found him “mentally incompetent,” or nowadays developmentally delayed. He was nothing without them. I remember that now. They always bossed him around. Beat him. Told him what to do. I’m sure he enjoyed it, but he couldn’t so much as take a shit without their approval. He played when left to his own devices. We went into his playground, and we had no idea we stepped into hell. And then his family unleashed him and hell on a DJ named “Stretch” Brock. She’s a hard-ass now, despite them. Told me a lot more about that son of a bitch than I knew. 

How long did you keep his chainsaw in that room? Oh when those kids came in with that deed, you were already planning it, weren’t you. How long did he have, to take those rusted pieces out, oil them, put them together again? Putting the gas inside? Does he have some kind of workroom under your house? 

It doesn’t matter, really. Because, you see Ginny, you did me a favour. Before all of this, he didn’t have his mask anymore. It, and the rest, probably rotted away ages ago like all the corpses of all his family’s victims that were left. He’s been killing those city kids, and anyone in his way. He’s fast now. Cunning. Playing. But he’d never do it himself. He’s just an empty, blank thing on his own. A whimpering animal. He was all docile and placid for you, for years, taking care of your kids, and you. No one knowing who he is, but suspecting. No evidence. No proof. 

But then these fucking kids come in. Poor kids. I knew their grandparents, too, you know. We all know each other here now, don’t we, around these parts. They should’ve listened to their grandma. 

I’m not a grandma, Ginny. I am the last Hardesty thanks to your ward. And he is the last Sawyer. And you are the last McCumber. You could’ve handed him into authorities. You could’ve avenged the lives he and his family had taken. You could’ve made up for all the people you turned a blind eye towards as they went to their deaths. You could’ve saved young lives. 

Oh I know. I followed the paperwork. They didn’t have the deed. Yes. They fucked up. You could’ve come here. Challenged them in court. Even won. They didn’t have a chance, even with that fancy city money. But you got angry. They threw your sweat tea right in your face. They disrespected your great-grandfather’s memory. They intruded into your home. Into his lair. They woke him up, out of that puppy docility, out of dormancy. They brought him out of hiding for me.

You brought him out of hiding for me. 

You know, I think he loves you. The sick thing is, I think despite you using him as a killer, you treated him better than his entire family ever did. I’d almost feel sad for him, pity if he weren’t a mad beast that needs to be put down. 

No. Don’t struggle. You’re done. Your heart is too weak. Broken. He’ll find out. He’ll know what’s happened. He’ll lose his cool, and he will rage like a wild animal. More people will die, like those city kids, I expect. But they were going to die anyway. But then he’s going to get sloppy. Careless. He’s going to want his “Moma’s” body. Sawyers honour their kin by mummifying, or wearing them. But I got you first. 

I got you, and I will play all Little Red Riding Hood but, this time, I will be the Big Bad Wolf. And that sick bastard is going to suffer a long time before I’m done with him. Maybe he’ll really know what it’s like when someone takes away the only people you love left. Go to sleep, Ginny McCumber. The South’s not going to rise again.

Doctor! Doctor! Come quickly! Her heart stopped! I don’t think —

*

Yeah, she’s gone right? I’m sorry to hear that Doctor. Yeah, this letter is legit. I have custody of her body, and I will take charge of the autopsy. Yes, it is part of the continuing investigation into the killings. Is the suspect her ward? He ran when the ambulance picked her up at the orphanage, yes? 

Right. 

I’ve been reactivated for this case. Thank you for your time, and cooperation. I will do my best to find this killer for the State of Texas. 

I promise.