Human Waste by C.M. Saunders
George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, the progenitor of the modern zombie horror sub-genre, opened the door on those canny, clawing, rapacious flesh-eaters. And, for this horror fan at least, he closed it too because whenever I find myself needing a zombie fix—not too often, maybe every few Halloweens—I pop in my old NOTLD DVD, sit back, and enjoy. My appetite sated.
But since Romero’s cult classic and subsequent franchise, the proliferation of zombie films, comics, graphic novels, television shows, and city-wide zombie crawls have proven that I am in the minority. Fans can’t get enough. Zombies are hot, zombies are funny (many of the most successful offerings are black comedies in the vein of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland), and sometimes, as in the case of C.M. Saunders’ new novella, zombies are not what they seem.
Human Waste begins from inside Dan Pallister’s council flat (a form of UK public housing). As he peers out his ninth-floor window, he sees that they are everywhere: “Fucking zombies…horrible, shambling, rotting husks of humanity shuffling around, looking for brains to eat.” He’s not sure what exactly has brought on “the end of days”, but the world has been going to hell for a long time now. Now at last it’s here in the form of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.
But fortunately for Dan, he’s been preparing for this moment. He’s a prepper, a survivalist. It’s not just an American thing (lucky us). For the right price, even a Brit can amass a small arsenal consisting of a black market Ak-15 (modified to full-auto for an additional cost), a few flash bombs, handguns, knives, and plenty of ammo. But in his haste to stock his armory, dapper Dan neglected to get extra food supplies, not to mention his bottle of Jack Daniels is suddenly empty and that is a big problem. Jack happens to be Dan’s best friend, his only friend it seems. Looks like Dan has more than a few problems.
But he’s excited, making plans for the future. In the face of disaster, the world has suddenly opened up to him, and because he’s prepared (unlike those other suckers already turned into walking dead), he’s no longer an average loser whose wife left him, but a superman in a chaotic new world that will find him victorious, perhaps even attracting a cute female, if he can catch her before she turns. In this new Eden of complete annihilation, he’ll be fruitful and multiply. He will be king!
But for the present moment he needs to replenish some basic supplies, and there just happens to be a supermarket across the street. If he can somehow maneuver his way through the growing throng of zombies, some of whom he recognizes from the neighborhood—his stuck-up neighbor, a local hooker—he can reach the food shelves and get the hell out of out Leeds. He might have to pick off a few flesh-eaters on the way, but he is prepared for that. All that video game playing and DVD nasty action movie watching has honed his shooting skills. Locked and loaded, he’s suited up and ready to go.
Let the non-stop, gory action begin.
C. M. Saunders’ tight-prose and vivid descriptions take the reader along with his protagonist on his zombie-killing rampage and it’s quite a ride, quite a rush. I had to remind myself to breathe a few times. The story only ventures into the black comedy arena when a kill becomes so gross it’s laughable. Or maybe that’s my own defense mechanism rising with the victims’ gore.
Zombie stories often veer to the ridiculous which is maybe why I tend to avoid them. They don’t scare me, just gross me out. But without giving too much away, Human Waste has a reveal that is truly scary because, tragically, it is all too true.
I have absolutely no interest in guns, survivalists, and I can’t remember the last time I watched an action movie, but this author’s skillful wording kept me engaged and appropriately horrified.
C. M. Saunders is a good writer, and definitely one I will keep in my scope (no pun intended). The companion short story and other excerpts are thematic complements to the novella and worth checking out.
I sent the author an email telling him that I had read Human Waste (not wild about the title but I suppose it fits) before I went to sleep and woke up to horrific news of the Las Vegas shooting. Reading it for a second time, I searched the lines for reasons why.
Tell me why!
The old Bob Geldof Boomtown Rats song, a radio hit before these mass shootings weren’t so commonplace, comes to mind. Other than the usual loner paranoia, there are no reasons, which makes it that much more terrifying.
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