KEZZIE OF BABYLON … the new novel from Jamie Mason
The zombie apocalypse begins the same night your stripper-girlfriend skips town with that $5,000 you owe your drug dealer. Fortunately, you know a place you and your best friend Frankenstein can hide out - a marijuana grow-op in the hinterlands of rural BC run by a psychopathic evangelist who believes she is the Angel of Death. Go on, take a toke and relax. Everything's going to work out fine ...
- Excerpt -
For a list of Jamie’s published works, click here.
“When the going gets weird ...”
I am ransacking my mind for any details I can remember about going to church with my parents as I trail Kezzie, who is picking her way along the dark flagstone path back to what she calls the Mother House. Frankie remains behind in the Quonset hut on the ground right where we left her. Because I am determined not to rejoin her there I want to remember everything I can about God and stuff from when I was a kid in case Kezzie raises the subject, which she definitely seems inclined to do.
“Where are your people, Zack?”
“Your kin. Your family.”
“Oh? Um. Well, Langford. My mom threw me out when I wouldn’t quit doing drugs and–”
“Ha!” Kezzie turns and punches at the sky with a fist. “Gather unto me the outcasts, the untouchables... all those who are poor, tired, and hungry. Who did my little brother Jesus gather around him, hmm? Priests and politicians? The generals of great armies? No, he counseled with the poor and the outcast. The tax collectors and the prostitutes and the street people. These are God’s chosen people! As I am chosen.”
She grasps the door handle and twists. “Chosen for this time!”
The door swings open onto a dim living room. The shadows flooding the walls are impenetrable, but a few silhouettes are visible in the light of a portable TV near the woodstove. The images on screen are what I see most clearly as I step into the room.
A crowd; a cameraman at street level; a few streetlamps still unbroken; and there are ghastly, hissing clouds of light thrown by flares that appear to have been pitched into the midst of a panicked mob. One at a time, gunshots trickle through the screams and pounding of feet. The camera pans and swishes and fixates on one figure, moving very slowly through the crowd.
“That’s it?” Tyler, ensconced on the couch beside a black man, jabs a finger. “That’s one of them?”
“That be one, mon.” The black man’s broad dreadlocks pendulum back and forth with each shake of his head. “See how I be walking all slow-like, mon? Not in no hurry for I-person.”
Sure enough, onscreen there is an individual walking slowly through the crowd, shuffling more like, head down, hands dangling limply in front of him. The crowd parts, keeping its distance from the weird slowpoke. The cameraman zooms in on the figure, now backlit by flames from a burning car.
“It seems…” the female newscaster sounds rattled, “it seems one of our roving correspondents has one of those mysterious casualties, what many are now referring to as a walker, in sight now! These walkers have been appearing suddenly in urban areas, apparently incoherent, shuffling around. At first police thought they were dealing with a rash of extreme intoxication until–”
On camera, two policemen step into the frame, raise their sidearms, and fire point-blank into the shuffling man’s skull. He starts, coming high on his toes. Just as I expect him to pitch forward, he rounds on one of the cops. When he takes a step, the cop’s partner comes up from behind and unloads the remainder of his clip into the man, who falls.
Silence from the assembled group. Then, softly, from Tyler, “Da… a… amn ...”
“Damn is right!”
Kezzie crosses the room in two quick steps and snaps off the television, leaving only the firelight to paint the room in creeping fingers of orange and black.
“Damnation lies at the very heart of this, amen. Panic? Riots? Anarchy? You know boys and girls what this means, DON’T you? It is at hand. The seals have been broken and the wine has been poured from the cup of the angel of vengeance and the dead walk free of their graves, amen! The Resurrection is accomplished.”
Uneasy silence. Everyone is intent on looking elsewhere. Slowly, the weight of attention in the room tilts toward a couch set against the far wall where two older men sit, the bearded giant from earlier, and a second man, bald, goateed, wearing a sleeveless leather vest and leather braces around his wrists. They consider Kezzie’s words in silence for nearly a full minute before the guy with the goatee speaks.
“Kezzie, they don’t even know for sure what this is yet. Could be it’s some neurological phenomenon. Like poisoning of some kind. It makes people look like they’re–”
“Those people are dead, Deacon. D – E – D, DEAD! Can’t you tell the difference between a live person and a dead one when you see ‘em on teevee?”
Kezzie’s anger is like a volcano in the tiny room hurling liquid heat in every direction. No one seems eager to touch it. Tyler and the black man exchange a look the same time Indian Sarah exchanges one with the dark-haired woman who brought the food. Something appears to be at stake here, something bigger than a news story on TV. Like the room itself is the fulcrum of a power struggle and at this moment, everything is in play.
“Kezzie,” says the bearded giant, “would you do me a favor? Would you put your gun away for the night? Stow it in the locker like everyone else does when they come back inside? I think it would–”
“Buzz, I need to protect–”
“I NEED TO PROTECT YOU AGAINST THE LEGIONS OF DARKNESS!”
There is sweat on Kezzie’s brow, and circles deepening beneath her eyes. She may be manic, but she’s mortal and these outbursts tire her. It could be Deacon was waiting for this chance to step in and push her like he did. Whatever his motive, he clearly doesn’t approve of the way Kezzie runs things. If indeed she runs things, because the man called Buzz seems to hold a measure of authority as well. His power is softer, and wielded subtly. He doesn’t confront Kezzie, he woos her, unlike Deacon, who challenges her directly, which seems more dangerous.
And Kezzie, the most dangerous of all of them, is armed and refuses to give up her weapon.
“C’mon, Kezzie.” Buzz’s voice is a soft rumble. “Stow your gun and take a break. Let the… angels watch over us a while.”
Kezzie’s jaw is working, flexing the way it would be if she was trying to squash a walnut with her molars. Rather than explode, she appears intent on easing herself down from the teetering brink of whatever rage now has her swept up in its grip. She starts to speak. Swallows. Then turns and crosses the room to a long, military-style footlocker against the far wall. A chain hangs from a nail above the locker. Kezzie pulls it down and uses its key to open and resecure the unit once she’s stowed her weapon and holster inside. Then, wordlessly, she turns and marches down the hall. A door slams behind her, deflating the tension in the room.
“You gotta check that,” Deacon says to Buzz. His tone is soft, though also one that will brook no argument. “She’s gettin’ worse.”
American, I think. The hard R’s, the clipped consonants, the slang ... Yes, Deacon is definitely a Yank.
Buzz sighs. “We gotta be patient with her, Deacon. She’s got issues.”
“We’ve all got issues, man. Hers might end up killing somebody one day. How the fuck can you let her have access to the weapons locker?”
“Deacon, we all have access. We all contribute to protecting Northland. You can’t just leave one person out. Besides, Kezzie has, well, a gift... she’s special.”
“I’ll say!” mutters Deacon.
“No, I mean–”
Buzz’s words terminate on a hard gasp. He closes his eyes and sips a slow lungful of air in through pursed lips, sealing the breath hard every few seconds to wince and sit forward.
“Hey, bro...” Deacon lays a hand on Buzz’s shoulder. “Need your pills?”
“Yeahyeahyeah,” croaks the big man in a stringy whisper. Deacon clomps to the bathroom, returning quickly with a small glass vial. Buzz waves away the cup of water Indian Sarah offers and dry-swallows two pills before leaning back against black leather and smiling at me.
“Dilaudid.” His soft voice, through a smile, is a dreamy whisper. “Pharmaceutical heroin. I never popped, not even once, although I did chase the dragon that one time. This shit? It’s the Cadillac of painkillers. What’s your name, my man?”
“Zack. Are you sick, Mr. Buzz?”
“Heh! Mister Buzz.” He turns to Deacon. “You get a load o’ that? Mister Buzz!”
“Sounds like bullshit,” Deacon mutters, eyeing me bitterly.
“Hey, hey!” Buzz elbows Deacon hard enough to make him wince. “Maybe I ought to start getting you to call me that. Shit, we’ll call everybody mister!” Buzz laughs. “You just call me Buzz, Zack. This asshole here is Deacon. Indian Sarah and Tyler are the two that stopped you at the roadblock. That guy sitting next to Tyler is Rasta Bob. And that pretty little princess over there is Ronda.”
The barefoot woman turns to meet my eye, accompanying her smile with a little nod.
“That… the woman who just left? She’s Kezzie?”
“Yeah, that’s Kezzie.” Deacon’s eyes narrow. “Did she hurt you? Or your friend?”
Remembering the importance of distancing myself from Frankenstein, I snap back, “She’s not my friend! She’s this fucking loser who’s been following me around for like the past two years. I didn’t even want her coming with me. Any more than I wanted her rooming with me and Krystal! Or me and the girlfriend before that. She’s like a cling-on. I don’t give a shit what happens to her!”
I realize, when I finish speaking, that I am panting a bit and everyone is looking at me strangely. Fighting down a sting of embarrassment, I answer Deacon’s original question, “Uh, yeah. Kezzie pistol-whipped her.”
“What’s her name?” This from Ronda, the cook.
“Frankenstein. Uh, Francine. We call her–”
“Frankenstein, yeah I get it.” Buzz smiles tiredly. “You wanna’ get high, Zack?”
Relief floods me. Through a widening grin, I chuckle: “Thought you’d never ask!”
# # #
Ronda speaks softly, sitting cross-legged beside me on the rug in front of the open woodstove. Smoke from the joint we’ve all shared clouds the room, and although everyone else has scattered, the TV is still on, volume turned down.
“Stage Three. Terminal. Buzz is dying.” Ronda’s words stumble on a lengthy pause. “You know, that’s the first time I think I’ve said that out loud. I’ve never, ever thought about Buzz leaving us. He’s only been here, well, forever. He’s the heart of this place.”
“No.” Ronda chuckles. “There are no leaders. We’re all here for the experience, really. I wouldn’t say anyone is terribly ambitious, although Deacon is American and you know how they can be ...”
“Him and Kezzie don’t seem to get along.”
“Ah. Kezzie.” Ronda shakes her head, causing the big silver hoops in her ears to dance in the firelight. “Yes, she’s very troubled. They say that about shamans and religious mystics, how they tend to seem a little strange to the rest of us...”
“She’s a mystic?”
“If you ask me, she’s dangerous.”
“Kezzie?” Ronda gives a brief, musical laugh. “Dangerous? No, she’s pretty harmless I think. She spends most of her time in her room, reading the Bible and talking to God. Or at God is more like it. Deacon says she’s dangerous but I’ve observed he can be kind of intolerant. They butt heads because they’re an awful lot alike, Deacon and Kezzie. I think so, anyway. If it wasn’t for Buzz being around to smooth things over, there’d be a lot more conflict than there already is.”
“But you said Buzz is dying.”
“I know.” Ronda stares into the fire and is quiet for a long time before repeating very softly, “I know.”
“Hey wake up!”
Deacon’s voice percolates into my dream. One minute I am out cold and the next I am struggling awake. It’s still dark, and the TV is turned up loud in the next room.
“C’mon you gotta’ see …”
I roll out of the sleeping bag and follow him.
“…most difficult decision a Prime Minister can face. Only once before has the War Measures Act been invoked, and when Prime Minister Trudeau did so on October 16th,1970, he appealed to the rule of law to preserve social stability. As your Prime Minister today, I can only say this: that the troubles faced in his time may have been of a far simpler, and a far more straightforward, nature, though the challenge remains the same. Law and order must be preserved at all costs.
“Here is what we know. The outbreak of the virus that turns people into semi-coherent beings given to sudden fits of psychotic rage appears to have been centered in Victoria. Our best medical experts assure me it is related to the introduction of a street drug known as L. Apparently this L–”
A tide of nausea floods me.
“... has been the cause of riots in Hong Kong. The drug, originally synthesized as a highly-concentrated antibiotic for use by the Chinese military, was abandoned due to unintended side effects. The drug was then copied by black market chemists, who ...”
I reach out and grab the arm of a chair to steady myself.
“You okay, Zack?” Ronda wraps an arm around my shoulders. Her voice buzzes in my ear as her side warms mine. There is a sudden rushing in my head followed by a dizziness that destabilizes me.
“Ministry of Defense scientists are working now to isolate the cause of psychosis, as well as the reason for victims’ increased resilience against truncheons and bullets. We are also working to understand how the virus has spread beyond those who have ingested the drug to infect wider segments of the society. The following …”
“This is a real shit show,” Deacon mutters.
“Got that right,” Buzz wheezes, wobbling on his crutches.
Kezzie slams shut her eyes, bows her head, and clenches her hands in prayer.
“… currently under military occupation. Victoria. Burnaby. Sections of downtown Vancouver. Fort McMurray. Edmonton …”
“Holy shit,” I hiss. “It’s gone that far in only a few days? How is that even poss—”
“What has?” Ronda turns, frowning.
“The drug. The L that –”
The L that we picked up for Alan to sell, I almost say. Of course, that would be an insane admission. Yeah, you know this whole national-emergency-cities-in-chaos-and-nationwide-freak-out-with-raging-psychos-who-are-bulletproof? That’s on me...
Not a piece of information I particularly want to share right now.
“What about the L?” Ronda grips my hand. “Zack, do you know something?”
Of course I do. The faces of the others suggest they sense that, too. Deacon and Buzz, Indian Sarah, Rasta Bob and Ronda are all watching me. It isn’t until Tyler bursts in through the kitchen door, panting and sweating, that I recognize he has been absent.
“Something’s wrong with the girl in the shed!” He looks terrified. “Someone come!”
# # #
It’s Deacon who hustles out there beside me, carrying a small red canvas bag with a white cross on its side.
“She got any medical conditions?” His tone is brusque, unemotional.
“Yeah, well … psychological, I suppose. She’s given to rages. Depression …”
“She on any meds?”
“Yeah.” I laugh, a jerky, nervous sound. “Lots and lots of cocaine.”
Deacon twists the combination lock dial, yanks the mechanism from its hasp and shoulders open the door.
There’s still blood on the floor from Frankenstein’s sneeze though it’s obvious she recovered from that, at least long enough to build herself a little nest from what is available. I can see insulation, a discarded sleeping bag, and some towels she’s dragged together to form a kind of bed. Her stash is out on the floor beside it – coke vials, spoon, pills, cigarettes. She is on her knees several meters away, bent over, making the strangest sound I have ever heard come out of a human being. Sort of a whuffling grunt, similar to pig snorts. She pauses, pants heavily, and then unleashes a long, low groan that sounds like a bull moose in heat. She bows her forehead to within a foot of the floor and retches a weird black substance onto the cement.
“Hey...” Deacon kneels down and lays a hand on her back. “Hey, Frankie. My name’s Deacon. I was a Marine corpsman. That’s a medic. I’d like to examine you.”
Frankie peers up, her eyes a sickly yellow color. She says nothing, merely wheezes. Seized by pain, she bends forward again with a long, anguished groan. Grits her teeth. Spits out more black stuff.
“What’s happening?” Deacon rubs her back. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“I – I …”
“Yeah?” He bends in to listen. “What is it?”
“I need –”
“What do you need?”
“I need you to get the fuck out so I can talk to Zack in private!”
Deacon doesn’t flinch. “I’ll be outside. Call me if anything happens,” he says, then rises and steps out the door.
I move into Frankie’s field of vision. “What’s up?” I ask.
“We. Need. Alan!” She squeezes her eyes shut and groans. “Need to call him! Tell him! About…”
“Frankie, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“The L! Fuck. I grabbed a few pills when you weren’t looking. And I –”
“Wait. You took L?”
“Y-yes.” She leans forward and exhales another tar-colored river then gags on her indrawn gasps, hacking, spotting the cement before her with dots of black goo. “I-I took about a half dozen of the little fuckers and stuck ’em in my pocket when you went in to pay for gas. Had ’em on me when they locked me in here. Zack… why the fuck did you leave me here?”
“Because you’re a fucking pain in the ass! You fucking draining me! I’ve had it with you!”
“FINE! Okay. But please! Please … take me to a hospital.”
“I’m fucking dying! I took one of the pills an hour ago! Had a nice high for about twenty minutes and then my insides caught fire!”
She’s begging, face upturned, mouth wide, her teeth stained black from whatever it is she’s been vomiting. The sickly yellow of her eyes is deepening to near green.
“Look, Frankie,” I kneel beside her. “We’re, like, three hours away from a hospital. Deacon is here. He was a medic in the Marine Corps for God sake! Let him take a look at—”
“I DON’T KNOW HIM!”
“Why the fuck did you take that pill?” I grit my teeth. “You didn’t know what it would do!”
“Because I wanted to get high! And I–”
She is seized by another fit of vomiting so I run to the door and haul it open. Deacon, standing a dozen paces away and smoking a cigarette, turns.
“You better get in here!”
He slips past me and approaches Frankenstein. I am impressed when he pulls a pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket. Swiftly and competently, he assesses her pulse then folds back the rubber cuff to touch her forehead with the bare flesh of his wrist for signs of shock before taking a look inside her mouth with a flashlight. Abruptly, he shuts off the light. Sits back on his heels. He remains still for a long moment, then takes her pulse again, as if doubting his initial reading.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
His eyes flick from her wrist to her face.
“Okay, no problem.” To Frankenstein, he says: “I gotta run to the house for some medicine. We’ll be right back.”
“Zack, can you stay with me plee-e-e-ease?”
I am on the point of a yes when Deacon catches my eye, gives his head a quick shake.
“I’ll, uh, be back with him, Frankie. Promise.”
Once we are on the path back to the Mother House, Deacon grasps my elbow.
“That shit she’s throwing up? That’s her insides man!” His voice is an urgent hiss in my ear. “They’re going necrotic.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means rotting flesh! Her insides are rotting away and she’s vomiting them up.”
This makes me so nauseous I feel dizzy.