A Very Zombie New Year by Nancy Holzner
It is finally here!
The day…ur…night (had to wait until the sun had fully set for the Zombies to come out), we have all been waiting for when we finally get to ring in the new year and party with the Zombies! Or for those of you, ‘Norms’ out there who are to scared to actually party with the Zombies you get a voyeuristic peek at how they celebrate the beginning of a new year in their undead lives.
I am really excited about this guest post, by Nancy Holzner. I was expecting a fairly short post about how the Zombies in Deadtown would party on New Year’s Eve, but what I got far exceeded my wildest expectations. Nancy written a short story, prequel to her debut novel Deadtown, that can be found exclusively here at Book Obsessed!!! (For awhile – I’m not laying a permanent claim or anything.) How awesome is that? Pretty damned awesome if you ask me!
The story takes place on New Year’s Eve, 1 year prior to the events that take place in the novel. I hope you enjoy the party as much as I did. (Giveaway information at end of post)
A Very Zombie New Year
by Nancy Holzner
Nobody should be alone on New Year’s Eve. Not a human, not a zombie. Not even a shapeshifter who’s been abandoned by everyone she knows.
Feeling sorry for myself? Yeah, okay, maybe I was a little. Hard not to when I was sitting alone in an empty apartment, holding a mug of cold coffee in one hand and the TV remote in the other, clicking through channel after channel of Nothing That’s Any Damn Good.
My sister Gwen had packed up her family and gone to spend the holidays with Mom in Florida. Juliet, my vampire roommate, was out hunting, looking for norms who were drunk enough that their blood alcohol level would give her a buzz. Champagne, especially. She says it tickles her fangs.
Even tonight’s client had canceled. New Year’s Eve, he said, was the one night he wasn’t going to worry about the personal demons that infested his dreams and tormented him with nightmares. Instead, he was going to party until dawn and drink until he passed out.
Great. Maybe the guy would hook up with Juliet.
And then there was Kane. Well, no, there wasn’t, and that was the problem. He wasn’t sitting here beside me, where I could snuggle against his warm, muscular chest and inhale his scent of moonlit pine forest. Where I could see the smile glow in his gray eyes as we clinked champagne glasses at midnight and kissed under the mistletoe. Well, maybe not mistletoe. Kane was allergic. It was a werewolf thing.
Anyway, it was hard to do those things when he was nearly three hours’ drive away, in western Massachusetts. Kane was a lawyer, and he was working on a landmark paranormal rights case making its way through the appeals courts. He’d had to go to Pittsfield this afternoon to take a deposition. The weather forecast had predicted flurries, but a surprise blizzard blew in and closed the turnpike from West Stockbridge to Ludlow. Which meant Kane was stuck in the Berkshires overnight.
I sighed, wishing I could run my hands through his silver hair, thick and coarse like a wolf’s fur. I wished I could loosen his tie and lean in for a deep, never-ending kiss as the clock struck twelve.
Not tonight. Kane’s work as a civil rights attorney was important. And not only to him, but to all the paranormals who were struggling to gain legal recognition throughout the country, standardizing the state-by-state patchwork of laws that gave us limited rights in some areas and absolutely none in others. Important work. I knew that, and I admired Kane’s passion. It was just that, tonight, it would’ve been nice if he’d reserved some of that passion for me.
Not his fault, I reminded myself. He hadn’t called up a blizzard.
But here I sat, alone on my living room sofa, flipping channels on Juliet’s big-screen TV and trying to decide what to watch: an old black-and-white movie, mediocre pop singers lip-synching to corny songs, or a bunch of norms screaming and whooping and milling around Times Square waiting for the ball to drop.
I lifted the coffee mug to my lips, but the liquid was cold and bitter, and I set it down on the end table. The hell with it. I clicked off the TV and tossed the remote aside. I wasn’t going to sit around the apartment feeling pathetic. I grabbed my jacket and stuffed my arms into the sleeves. Nobody should be alone on New Year’s Eve. I was going to find a party.
And I knew just where to look for one: Creature Comforts, my favorite monster bar in the New Combat Zone. It was only eleven thirty. I could be there in ten minutes.
As I hurried through my building’s lobby, I waved to Clyde, the doorman, who was sharing munchies with a family of zombies from the second floor. A minister before the plague, Clyde was the most prim and proper zombie in all of Deadtown. Tonight, though, he sported a shiny green party hat and twirled a noisemaker in response to my wave. Even Clyde was in the mood for a celebration.
I stepped outside and got a fistful of snow blown into my face. The blizzard that had shut down the Mass Pike to the west was now whiting out Boston, but that didn’t slow things down here. Why should it? Zombies don’t feel the cold, and most of them don’t have cars to slip and slide around icy streets. Since zombies couldn’t leave Deadtown unless accompanied by a permit-carrying norm, there was nowhere for them to drive.
But tonight was different. The Council of Three, the vampire-werewolf-zombie triumvirate that governs Deadtown, had declared New Year’s Eve a holiday and issued an order that residents would not be required to produce a permit to leave the area. All that really meant was that they could pass through the Deadtown checkpoint and wander the New Combat Zone—the block between the checkpoints to Deadtown on one side and human-controlled Boston on the other—without being hassled. But to most zombies, that was unheard-of freedom.
Now, as I hurried toward the Tremont Street checkpoint, my collar turned up against the snow, zombies filled the streets, laughing and shouting. Many were dressed in gowns or tuxedos accessorized with pointed party hats, tiaras, plastic leis, beads. Odd to see black ties and satin cocktail dresses on folks who had gray-green, spongy skin; crimson eyes; and various body parts missing or decaying. Still, the dressed-up zombies gave Deadtown’s streets a festive atmosphere. Some were headed to neighborhood parties, but many were taking the opportunity to go through the checkpoint, maybe just to see what it felt like to be on the other side of those gates. Or else, like me, they planned to celebrate in one of the monster bars that lined the New Combat Zone.
The checkpoint line was long, but with no permits to scrutinize, everyone shuffled through quickly. The zombie guard swiped my ID card, sang out, “Happy New Year,” and pressed a button to raise the gate. Even through the heavy snow, I didn’t have to squint to see the cop car lights strobing away near the checkpoint at the other end of the block. The clear message: No one enters human-controlled Boston without paperwork. I guess the norms weren’t in the mood to party with zombies tonight.
Too bad. Because the zombies were ready for fun. New Year’s Eve was shaping up to be a major holiday for the undead. For one thing, it’s the only holiday that’s celebrated in the middle of the night, which is the middle of the workday in Deadtown. More important, it comes after what everyone else calls “the holidays.” Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa—whatever they celebrated before the plague, Deadtown’s zombies pretty much ignored those holidays now. They were family times, and most families didn’t want a zombie sitting by the Christmas tree, chugging eggnog by the gallon, scarfing down handfuls of Christmas cookies, and fumbling with stiff fingers trying to unwrap presents. I mean, what do you even buy a zombie for a present?
That’s how the norms rationalized leaving the zombies out of their get-togethers. And it meant that those holidays were quiet, even somber, in Deadtown. But New Year’s Eve was like a relief valve, letting off all the emotional steam that had built up since Thanksgiving, during the weeks that zombies tried not to think about the families they weren’t hearing from, the families that didn’t want them any more.
Outside Creature Comforts, a hulking figure hunched on a stool by the door, next to a hand-lettered cardboard sign:
$20 Cover Charge
I pulled out my wallet. “What’s the cover charge for?” I asked the bouncer. “Did Axel book a band?”
He raised his head. In the depths of the hood I could make out small, round, yellowish eyes and a big, hooked nose. A shaggy beard covered the lower half of his face, balancing the bushy eyebrows. He looked like something that chased children through their worst dreams, snapping his teeth as he tried to catch and eat them. This guy had to be related to Axel, the bar’s owner. The two of them looked like a pair of bookends—the kind of bookends you’d use if you didn’t want anyone going anywhere near your books. Ever.
“No band,” he said. “Glass of champagne at midnight. And snacks.”
OK, the snacks made sense. For zombies, there’s not much point in drinking—their metabolism burns off the alcohol before they can catch a buzz—but they do eat. And eat. And then eat some more. With Creature Comforts taken over by zombies, Axel wouldn’t be selling a lot of booze tonight, but he’d have to keep the bowls of bar snacks filled or he’d have a riot on his hands. Axel’s a big, scary guy. No one’s sure what species he is, and even the vampires are a little afraid of him. But a few dozen hungry zombies climbing over the bar and ransacking the storeroom in search of more potato chips might be too much even for Axel to handle.
Still, twenty bucks seemed steep for a shapeshifter. It wasn’t like I’d eat my weight in beer nuts or anything. But there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be tonight. I pulled out two tens.
The bouncer demanded to see my ID before he’d take my money. For a second, I felt flattered at getting carded, but then I realized he was checking my species, not my age. A lot of paranormals would love to pass as human, but tonight the message was you don’t look like you belong.
For a minute, I kind of knew how the zombies felt.
The bouncer gave me back my ID card and turned his attention to the zombie couple behind me. I pulled open the bar’s heavy oak door, and warm air puffed out with that unmistakable Creature Comforts scent. I took a deep, happy breath. No other bar in the Zone has quite the same aroma—a combination of spilled beer, smoke, a faint undernote of decay, and the slightest whiff of human blood. Some say that Axel pumps artificial blood scent through the air vents to give Creature Comforts an edgy feel, but I don’t believe it. Not tonight, anyway. Not with all these zombies. Zombies have this little problem called “frenzied blood lust”; the smell of human blood drives them wild with hunger. And with no actual humans around to gnaw on, they’d eat Axel out of business, twenty-dollar cover charge or not.
The place was packed. I spotted a group of werewolves sitting near the back, but otherwise it was wall-to-wall zombies. (No vampires tonight. They’d be wherever the humans were.) I turned left and shouldered my way through the crowd toward the bar. Axel had gone all out to decorate the place—if you call “going all out” taping some tinsel garlands to the wall and tacking up a Happy New Year sign over the bar. Still, since Creature Comforts’ usual ambiance came from forty-watt light bulbs, cracked linoleum, and duct-tape-patched vinyl seats, tinsel garlands were downright festive.
I snagged the last stool at the bar. Axel loomed a few feet away, emptying two giant bags of pretzels, one in each hand, into a bowl the size of a washtub. He looked up, saw me, and nodded. He handed the pretzel tub to some eager zombies, and then walked over to me, wiping his hands on a bar towel. He raised his shaggy eyebrows.
“Club soda, please.” I rarely drink—I don’t like the taste of alcohol. A sip of champagne at midnight would be enough for me. Axel brought over two glasses—my club soda and a plastic flute of pale-gold champagne with bubbles skittering up the side. “Almost midnight,” he said. The clock behind the bar confirmed it; less than fifteen minutes to go before a brand-new year began. At least I wouldn’t be alone. Not with several dozen zombies cramming the room.
Axel put a tray on the counter and filled it with champagne glasses, and then he began pouring. The liquid foamed up quickly in each glass, and he had to go around a second time to fill the glasses more than halfway.
“Where’s Kane?” he asked, keeping his eyes on his pouring.
“Stranded in the Berkshires,” I said. “This blizzard.”
He nodded without looking up.
“So is that bouncer a relative of yours?”
He nodded again. “Cousin. Why?”
“Nothing. There’s just such a strong resemblance.”
He looked up at that, a sudden grin splitting his beard to show square yellow teeth. I couldn’t recall ever seeing Axel smile so widely. Just as well. Those teeth were frightening. “Thanks,” he said. “Everyone says he’s the good-looking one in the family.”
Looking pleased, he set up more glasses on another tray. Axel’s not what you’d call talkative, and I think he’d exhausted his quota of words for the night. The zombies on either side of me were deep in their own conversations. Feeling antsy, I slid off my stool and grabbed the tray of filled champagne glasses. “I’ll go hand these out.”
It’s not easy winding through a tight crowd of partying zombies. Axel doesn’t have a sound system, but over in the corner someone was strumming a guitar. Barely audible over the buzz of voices, the music sounded mellow to me, but all around zombies were managing to dance to it. Some stood and swayed; some clutched each other and turned in slow circles, like couples at a high school dance. One guy in a Celtics jersey and baggy shorts pirouetted like an undead ballet dancer, his eyes closed, wearing a dreamy smile that, on his face, looked more like a death’s-head grimace. But he seemed happy. Maybe he was one zombie who’d been able to pour alcohol down his throat faster than he could burn it off.
I spent the next few minutes making sure everyone in the place had a glass of champagne. One zombie offered me a ten-dollar tip. I was tempted—it would offset that cover charge—but I told him to keep it. “Spend it on something fun in the new year.”
He raised his glass to me, but didn’t sip.
“Here we go!” someone yelled.
All eyes turned to the TV over the bar, which was tuned to the celebration in Times Square. Lights flashed and shimmered as the ball began its descent.
“Ten … nine … eight!” The crowd chanted in one voice, loud enough that an echo probably reached Times Square. I took the last glass of champagne and stood among them, the empty tray dangling at my side. Zombies leaned forward, intent on the ball’s progress.
“Seven … six … five … four!”
The zombie standing next to me, a woman who’d probably been about thirty when she died, adjusted her tiara and bounced on her toes in anticipation.
“Three … two … one …” A lonely feeling passed over me, like I might as well have stayed home. Cold coffee, warm champagne—what difference did it make? I was alone in a roomful of strangers. This was the zombies’ party. I shouldn’t have intruded.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
The guitar player struck a chord, and everyone launched into Auld Lang Syne:
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot—”
The guitar stopped.
“And never brought to mind?”
The voices faded out, until only two or three ventured into the next line.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot . . .”
The final voice cracked. Cold silence settled over the room like the snow covering the streets outside. Zombie faces looked pensive, some stricken, like they were thinking about all those old acquaintances who’d forgotten them.
“Hell, yeah! Forget ’em!” Someone yelled, echoed a second later by another voice, and then another. A roar went up, growing in strength until it shook the walls. Confetti rained. Horns blew. Noisemakers whirled. The guitarist started again, this time playing something fast and Spanish-sounding.
All around me, zombies were grabbing each other, kissing, thumping each other on the back, kissing some more. Shouts of “Happy new year” ricocheted around the room.
A hand grabbed my arm. I turned fast, bringing up the tray as a shield. Um, no. I was glad the zombies were having fun, but there was no way I was locking lips with one.
But it wasn’t a zombie. It was Kane, gray eyes smiling, melting snowflakes and confetti dotting his silver hair and the shoulders of his coat. He folded me into his arms and I breathed in deeply. Snow. Moonlight. Pine.
The champagne glass slipped from my fingers.
“I thought the turnpike was closed,” I murmured against his coat.
He stroked my hair. “You think a little thing like that could keep me away? I can be very determined, you know.” He pulled back an inch, and I looked up into his eyes. Something sparked in them that set off corresponding fireworks in my chest. “And I was determined to start the new year with a kiss.”
Our lips met, his warm but a little rough from the night air. His tongue darted against my lips—just a touch at first, then more insistently. I opened; our tongues met. Time slowed, and sounds of the room grew distant. Shivers of pleasure rippled through my belly. I pressed closer, wanting more. Going deeper. Tasting him, breathing him in.
A dancing zombie jostled us, and we broke apart. “Oops,” he said, flashing a sheepish zombie grin/grimace. “Sorry ’bout that. Happy new year!” He twirled his dance partner and they spun back into the crowd.
Kane grabbed my hand and twirled me in a similar move. Maybe it’s my natural inability to dance—or maybe I was still a little light-headed from our kiss—but I stumbled in a way that made the zombies look graceful. Or maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe it was the zombies themselves. Something lit them up, an energy coursing through the room. They’d decided not to look back. And if they didn’t have much to look forward to, either, they weren’t letting that bother them now. They were living in the moment. From where I stood, the moment looked like the perfect place to be.
I clutched Kane’s tie and pulled him closer. “Happy new year, Counselor.”
His smile lit up the room. “Happy new year.”
He moved in for another kiss. Yes, the perfect place to be. And no mistletoe required.
To enter all you have to do is leave a comment telling us your favorite New Year’s Eve Memory.
Open to all!
Ends: January 2, 2009 at Midnight.
Zombie New Year Prize Pack:
1- Signed copy of Deadtown with bookmarks
1- Set of Zombie Champagne Flutes
1- Package of Skull-and-Tombstone Confetti
Plus, some party favors like the ones described in the story.