Bob and I attracted a pack of zombies when we stopped to fuel up at the Texaco in Buffalo Springs. I hoped we’d lost them, but hope was all I had. Bob said they were the fresh remains of a high school football team who’d been drowned and de-souled by water daemons at a lakeside party. 

Young, strong corpses have the speed and stamina to run down a deer.  Until the sun and wind finally turned their flesh to stinky jerky, they’d be dangerous enough to make a vampire crap bats.  And fresh zombies are persistent as porn site pop-up ads. If they take a shine to the smell of your blood, they might track you for days, stopping only if live meat falls right in their laps

It’d be months before they got the Dead Man Shamble and could be taken out with a well-placed head shot.  Of course, with the right software and hardware, you could kill even the most problem zombie, but that was some fairly arcane stuff, even for experienced hackers.

If my editor was right, Bob was one of only about five genuine cyberspiritual experts in the U.S.  But so far he seemed more like a second-rate grease monkey than a computer guru.  I had my doubts.

“Maybe we should go back to the gas station,” I suggested.  “That guy Bubba said he had a sick badger in one of his pens. Wouldn’t this work better with a fresh animal?”

More important, Bubba had plenty of guns and ammunition; all I had was a small 6-shot Beretta in the thigh pocket of my cargo pants.  Bob had a small deer rifle in the gun rack of his cab.  Not nearly enough firepower if the zombie teen squad showed up.

“’Taint no challenge, little lady,” Bob said, his voice dripping with scorn and tobacco juice.  “Any fool with a copy o’ Red Hat and a pair of pliers can put Linux on a live badger, or even a fresh-kilt one.”

Bob hit a pothole, and I nearly lost my grip on my old iPhone.  My nice shiny new Nokia phone had fallen out of my pocket when the dead kid in the tattered Nickleback tee shirt was chasing me through the parking lot by the gas pumps, and I’d be damned if I was going to lose anything else on this trip.

I was going to kill my editor for sending me on this Texas Hellride.  Absolutely kill her.  Or at least demand a paid vacation.  I could still hear Wendy’s simpering wheedle: “The highway patrol says the Lubbock area is all clear; you’ll be perfectly safe, Sarah.”

Safe, my butt.

Bob was warming to his rant. “This zombie business is war. War, little lady, the kind Patton never dreamt of.  We are fighting the gall-darned Forces o’ Darkness.  We gotta use some serious finesse, and there ain’t nothing that spells finesse like installing a home defense system on a dead badger. You write that down, little lady. The readers o’ MacHac need to know this stuff if they’re gonna keep them an’ theirs safe.”

I dutifully typed it down on my iPhone. I’d gotten pretty quick with the screen keyboard, but as a precaution against being dropped in the mud I’d stuck the it down in a sandwich bag, which added an extra layer of challenge to note-taking.

“Hot damn, come to papa!”  Bob abruptly swerved over onto the shoulder and slammed on the brakes.  The Ford slewed to a stop in the caliche beside a stand of mesquites.

In the glow of the headlights was a dead badger, all four legs stiff in the air.  It was on the large side, maybe close to twenty pounds.  Bob hopped out of the truck and ran over to the badger, turning it over and feeling around in the blood-matted fur.

“The legs and spine and skull are in right fine shape,” he yelled back to me, as excited as a ten-year-old on Christmas morning.  “I can’t feel nothing but some broke ribs.  This’ll do!”

He tossed the badger into the bed of the truck, and soon we were speeding back to Bob’s shop.

Bob’s Computer Shack was wedged in between a hair salon and a Subway sandwich shop in a little roadside strip.  The big storefront windows on all the shops had been boarded up with plywood sheets and reinforced with two-by-fours and rebar; all the shopkeepers were relying on neon “Open” signs to tell passersby that they were carrying on with business in the face of the zombie apocalypse.

I followed Bob into the shop and he locked and barred the door behind us.  The air smelled of dust and plastic with a faint metallic stink from a burned-out monitor he’d hauled in for parts.  Soon, it was all going to reek of rotten badger.  Bob carried the carcass over to a work table he’d already cleared off and covered with a long sheet of butcher paper.  He wiped his hands off on his overalls and pulled out an ancient tangerine iBook, which he set on the other end of the table.  I pulled out my phone to take notes.

“Okay, first the easy crap: puttin’ the Duppy card in the iBook so’s we can get OSX to talk to the badger,” Bob said. “I already downloaded a copy of FleshGolem from the Apple site—it’s in the Utilities section.”

Bob pulled what looked like a wireless notebook card out of a drawer of the table.  It had a hinged lid and a clear cover over what looked like a small, shallow ivory box inlaid in the card.

“Next, you take some hair and blood from the critter and put them in this here compartment.”  He popped the cover open and smeared a hairy clot into the box.

Bob lifted the keyboard off the iBook to reveal the Airport slot.  He slid the Duppy card inside, replaced the keyboard set the iBook aside.

I heard a thump and a shriek from the hair salon next door.

“Marla, git yer shotgun!” I heard a woman holler. 

The woman sounded a little like Wendy, though the only time I’d ever really heard my editor scream was when a college intern lost an entire set of page proofs.  Mostly she just took on a fakey-sweet patronizing tone when she thought you’d screwed up: “Well, we’ll do this better next time, now won’t we, Sarah?” She talked down to practically everyone like we were preschoolers.  No wonder she’d been divorced twice.

Damn her for sending me out here.  If I survived this, I was gonna demand vacation and a shiny new workstation

“Okay, now we gotta install the Duppy security antenna,” Bob said, apparently oblivious to the shouting next door.  “You can run your badger without it, but it’d be pretty easy for someone to hack him if they could get some blood and hair offa it.”

I jumped as the shotgun boomed twice in rapid succession next door.  A chorus of zombies roared in pain

“I told them they need a better lock on their back door,” Bob grumbled.  He got a penknife and made a small incision at the nape of the badger’s neck.  He picked up a long, thin, coppery wire and shoved it down into the incision like a mechanic forcing a rusty dipstick into a car engine.  “You gotta get this to lay as flat on the spine as possible, or your security won’t be good.”

Now somebody was firing a pistol, the pops punctuating the zombie roars.

“Shouldn’t we go see if they need help?” I asked.

“Those gals know how to handle themselves. Opening the door right now’s kinda a bad idea.”

He wiped his hands off and pulled out a bright yellow software box with a cartoon of a witch doctor on the cover. “Now we get to the fun part. We’re gonna install VüDü; it’s a wicked little Linux distro.  If your badger’s got some kinda brain damage, you can do a modified install, but it’s a real bitch.  And rabies makes the whole thing a crapshoot.  Read the frickin’ manual before you try it.”

My heart bounced as dead fists hammered the plywood protecting the computer shop’s front windows.  I couldn’t hear anything from next door; I hoped that meant the women inside had driven their attackers away.

“Don’t pay that no nevermind; even if they got through the wood, they still got to get through the window bars.  We got plenty o’ time.” 

Bob pulled a small, rolled-up piece of parchment out of his desk.  “This has the system config info, spiritual program components, and your password.  You gotta write it all down on blessed parchment in something like Enochian or SoulScript.  Write neatlike.  Roll it up, and stick it down the badger’s throat, all the way into the stomach.”  He demonstrated with the aid of a screwdriver.

The zombies were still hammering the plywood. A couple of them had found a loose edge and were wrenching one panel away from the bricks.  One shoved a gray arm between the bars.  The pane fractured and fragments shattered to the floor.

My hands were shaking too hard to take notes, so I set my IPhone aside and dug my Beretta out of my thigh pocket. Not that I was in much condition to shoot straight, either.

“You ain’t gonna need that yet,” Bob said sharply, apparently irritated I’d stopped taking notes.  “Them bars’ll keep ‘em back better than that little peashooter you got there.”

I reluctantly stuck the pistol in my waistband and picked up my phone.

He opened the VüDü box and pulled out an herb-scented scroll of paper.  “This is the entire code behind VüDü.  Fold it up into the shape of the critter, and put more blood and hair inside.”

He unrolled the scroll and started folding it up into an origami badgerlike shape. “It’s real hard to make your own paper, so don’t lose it. Open-source only takes you so far with this stuff.”

The zombies had wrenched the first plywood sheet clean off the window.  Three of them were growling and rattling the bars while the others hammered and yanked at the remaining boards.  My stomach was twisting itself into an acidic knot; the bars really didn’t look that sturdy.  With every good pull, I could see the steel bolts in the cinderblocks giving, just a little. I wondered how far I’d get if I made a run for the back door.

I cursed Wendy a thousand ways.  A vacation and new computer wouldn’t even begin to make up for this trip.

Bob was studiously ignoring the zombies. Finished with the origami badger, he smeared a foot-wide pentagram on the paper using the badger’s blood. He set the carcass at the top point, and put the origami badger in the middle.

“Now, burn the paper an’ do your incantation.”  He got out his lighter, opened up the VüDü manual, and started chanting while he lit the paper.  Bright green flames erupted, and the smoke curled around the badger’s carcass.  We watched as the smoke flowed into the badger’s mouth and nose.  It shuddered as it took a breath.

“We got badger!” He pulled out the tangerine iBook and started typing furiously.

The badger was trying to get up, its rigor-mortised legs jerking like Harryhausen stop-motion.  It got its head up and growled at us, baring long canines.  It sounded more like an angry grizzly bear; I didn’t think something that small could generate such menace.  I took a step back, just to be safe.

“An’ that’s why they call them badgers, little lady ... when they get mad, they’re real bad news!” He laughed.  “Nothin’ pisses critters off like bein’ woke from a good dirt nap.”

I was feeling sicker by the minute. I’d had my doubts about the reanimation working, but it had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t have the thing under control.  The zombies had pulled the rest of the plywood off the window and were heaving hard on the creaking bars.

Bob opened a Telnet window and started tapping in commands.  “Junkyard dogs ain’t got nothin’ on badgers.  I seen a 15-pound badger send a 60-pound pit bull mix yelpin’ and bleedin’ back to his mamma. I mean, lookit the claws on this sucker. This bad boy could dig his way through highway pavement—”

The badger abruptly lurched to its feet and leaped on Bob, chomping down on his left forearm.  Bob hollered and fell backwards into a table of disassembled PCs.  The badger worried his arm furiously as it tore at his belly with its clawed forelegs.

I started forward to try to help Bob, but he waved me back frantically with his free hand.

“No!  Git the iBook!  Type in ‘kill 665’!”

I did.  The badger froze, still latched onto Bob’s forearm.  His tee shirt was soaked in blood from the deep slashes in his belly.  He awkwardly shook his arm, but the badger wouldn’t budge.

“Well that’s a helluva system bug,” he said weakly.  “This little bastard’s bit me right down to the bone. Launch FleshGolem, would ya?  It’s in the Dock.”

I spotted a dock icon that looked like Frankenstein’s Monster and clicked it. A program opened that looked a lot like the Mac port of the old DOOM first-person shooter game. Instead of a game screen there was a pixellated black-and-white image of Bob’s face.

I was seeing through the dead badger’s eyes.

“Cool,” I whispered.

“Yeah, it’s real cool, get this critter offa me! Hit the ‘escape’ key!”

The badger unclenched its jaws and fell to the floor with a heavy thump. The screen told me the badger was resetting itself. Bob clutched his bleeding arm, wincing. The badger righted itself and sat like a dog, awaiting new commands. The blood on Bob’s shoes shone like tar through the eyecam screen.

“Dang, this stings,” Bob said. “Where’d I put that medical kit, I gotta—”

The bars hit the pavement outside with a tremendous clanging crash. One zombie was pinned beneath the bars, but the other four poured in through the shattered window.

“Aw, dangit! Can’t a man finish a presentation ‘round here?”

Bob pulled a shotgun from a shelf beneath the work table and fired it at the rushing zombies. My ears rang from the boom. The blast hit the lead zombie squarely in its chest, but it barely slowed down.

“Git back an’ get the badger running,” Bob called loudly, apparently a bit deafened. “An’ don’t forget to initialize NecroNull in ‘options’, or he ain’t gonna be much use.”

Clutching the iBook, I ran to the back of the shop and spotted a closetlike restroom. I ran inside, flipped on the light, and locked the door behind me. The lock wouldn’t hold for more than a minute or two, but I hoped Bob could keep the zombies busy long enough to figure out what I was doing.

Amid the roars and shotgun blasts, I set the iBook on the sink and moused around, trying to get the badger up and biting

While the basic controls were indeed fairly simple and DOOMlike, there was menu after menu of advanced controls for a mindboggling array of behaviors. There was even a Karaoke menu so that you could hook up a microphone and attempt to speak through the primitive vocal cords of the creature you’d reanimated.

Pushing aside the mental image of a frat boy drunkenly singing “Louie Louie” through a dead Pomeranian, I found the NecroNull combat option and clicked it on.

The eyecam screen shuddered and turned technicolor. A new menu of fighting commands popped up for regular Kombat mode and IKnowKungFu mode, the latter of which came with a warning that it was only good for five minutes before your golem spontaneously combusted.

My inner 15-year-old giggled: Spontaneous combustion? Fire is cool! Fire fire fire!

I told my teen to buzz off and set to kicking some zombie hiney in Kombat mode.

All I could see was a mass of legs, so I hopped the badger onto a nearby chair for a better view. Bob was leaping from table to table, trying to dodge the five zombies as he reloaded his shotgun. He’d blasted away parts of their limbs, heads, and bodies, but he’d only just slowed them down. Even the one who’d lost both its lower legs and all of one arm was hopping around on stumped thighs, gamely trying to grab Bob’s ankles.

Bob turned his head toward the badger. “A little help here?” he called. His voice came through the iBook’s speaker a half-second after I heard it through the door.

I leaped the badger onto Runs On Stumps. As the badger bit into the back of its neck, the zombie went rigid, and its skin went white and ashy. The zombie’s NecroNulled flesh crumbled like clay beneath the badger’s teeth and raking claws.

“Good one!” Bob said. “The others won’t go so quick ‘cause they ain’t hurt so bad.”

I attacked the next zombie, which had only a superficial shotgun wound to its shoulder. As the badger’s teeth sank into its neck, the zombie roared and punched the badger into a pile of empty computer cases. I heard a dull snap from the speaker, and the badger shuddered.

The screen flashed:



Kombat mode not possible. Continue via IKnowKungFu? (Y/N)


Fire! Fire! Fire! my inner teen chanted.

I hit the “Y” key, and the screen went red. The badger rose up, up in the air and floated against the ceiling, scanning for targets. The zombie who’d fractured the badger’s spine was flaking apart like asbestos, and the remaining three had cornered Bob, whose shotgun had apparently jammed.

Then Bob looked up, saw the badger, mouthed Oh crap and dropped to the floor, covering his head.

The badger screamed down on the zombies, jaws snapping and paws clawing faster than the computer could track. It went clear through one zombie’s head like a fuzzy buzzsaw and ripped through the others. I caught a glimpse of Bob crawling desperately for cover at the back of the store. The badger dove in and out, faster and faster, like a small furry dead Superman.




I gave the iBook the four-finger salute, but the program was locked.  I was just about to hit the power button when the badger exploded.

You know how matter can turn into energy? I found out later that the reason NecroNull is buried in FleshGolem’s options is that when IKnowKungFu sparks a spiritual overload, it causes all of the still-living matter in the golem to become energy.  A few bacterial cells, usually, or maybe a dying roundworm.  Not enough to match the power of a nuclear weapon, but plenty to create one hell of a bang.

Is it a bug, or a feature? I guess it depends on how many zombies you have to kill, and how badly you want them gone.

The boom rocked the entire building, and I was knocked flat. The iBook clattered onto the dirty floor, its keyboard popping free and its screen blacking out.

I got to my feet and cautiously opened the door.  Bob lay in an unconscious heap against the back door.  The computer shop was a complete wreck. Smoke and zombie blood hung in a thick, rust-red mist. The remaining windows were shattered, and the front door had been blown off its hinges. There was not a single zombie in sight.

Two middle-aged women in pink beautician’s smocks stood on the sidewalk outside, squinting into the dark shop. One clutched a Mossberg shotgun.  Though their faces and smocks were smudged with soot and blood, their bouffants were immaculate.

“Are you okay in there?” the older of the two women called.

“I’m fine, but Bob needs an ambulance,” I replied. “Does the phone in your shop still work?”

“Shore does. I’ll go give the boys at ’t VFD a holler,” she said.


It took me three days to get back to civilization.  I didn’t end up killing my editor; when I got back we had what diplomats call “a frank and cordial exchange” and, well, we parted ways.  After that, I did what any good American would do: I sued.

But all's well that ends well. I used my settlement proceeds to start up the Critter Karaoke Club, and the college kids can’t get enough.

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