The Zombie Sheriff Takes Tucson: A Love Story is the absurd, tongue-through-cheek horror/Western that tells the tall tale of the zombie sheriff as he tracks down law-breakers. And eats them. It’s what might come about if George A. Romero, Zane Grey, and Douglas Adams were locked in a dingy basement together for a month.
Perched on the border between civilized ghoulkind and the chaos of the barbaric slickskins, the zombie sheriff must rescue his kidnapped friends from the dastardly McFarland and his notorious gang of outlaws.
He assembles a posse of the most talented zombies around, including Mungo, a zombie chef interested in locally sourced ingredients, Bub, a barber whose enormous strength somewhat makes up for his complete lack of intelligence, and Dr. Callahan, a would-be pacifist who reattaches misplaced limbs with gusto.
As the posse tracks McFarland, they soon realize that they themselves are being pursued. The ever-courteous Abernathy Jones, as quick with his business cards as he is with his deadly cane, is out to settle an old score from the sheriff’s pre-zombie past, though exactly what he wants is anyone’s guess.
Even more troubling, the sheriff begins to hear rumors that the true reason for his friends’ abduction is to provide test subjects for the sadistic experiments of the mysterious Dr. Gimmler-Heichman.
The Zombie Sheriff Takes Tucson: A Love Story is the absurd, tongue-through-cheek tale of reanimated cowboys, undying love, and the lengths to which one zombie will go for justice. And for brains.
1. Double Ambush at McGurley Pass
Surprises have been known to lead to heart attacks, early labor, and being hit by an eco-friendly bus. This is why many people don’t like surprises.
Some surprises, on the other hand, can lead to pleasant results. A winning lottery ticket, extra bacon with breakfast, the sudden death of one’s enemy can all be surprises that brighten one’s day.
The key, of course, to creating pleasant surprises is to expect the absolute worst from life. Did an article of clothing cost two times as much as it should, instead of three? Surprise! Did a loved one make it to fifty instead of forty before dying? Surprise! Did you make it to the final round of interviews before being turned down for a job, instead of being discounted outright? Surprise!
The toughest part about riding a horse is overcoming the urge to eat it. Many a reanimated cowboy has succumbed to the siren’s call of fresh meat readily at hand without considering the unfortunate consequences, not the least of which is being stuck in the middle of the wilderness with only one’s broken ankles for transportation.
While the sheriff, daring do-gooder, wily warrior, charitable champion of the oppressed, currently found himself without a horse, it wasn’t because he had eaten it; he was much too smart for that (when he was first getting the hang of horseback riding, he had eaten his first three horses and had learned a hard lesson). The sheriff was horseless because a gang of slickskins had ambushed him at McGurley Pass, spraying bullets everywhere. Luckily most of the bullets had hit the sheriff in the upper torso, lodging themselves into his heart, lungs, and stomach. None of them had penetrated his skull and damaged his brain (which, as any knowledgeable ghoul-killer will tell you, is the only way to kill a ghoul; these were not knowledgeable ghoul-killers).
But a few bullets had hit his horse and the bundle hogtied across her rump. Chestnut, not being undead, promptly collapsed with a mournful neigh. The sheriff only had time to gnaw on her thigh a little before he found himself surrounded by slickskins, their guns raised to their shoulders like macabre fiddles.
“Now hold it right there, you devilish son of a bitch,” said a man with a grizzled gray beard. “We’ve got you surrounded. Just you stay put and we’ll make this quick.” The man hadn’t had a decent wash in weeks, nor had he gotten much sleep. He was grumpy.
“Pa, how many times do I have to tell you,” said a younger man, “they ain’t got no sense of understanding. Just shoot him and have done with it. We got bigger fish to fry.” He spoke with the hard assurance of a man who had identified the current threat and felt he had it firmly in hand. Unfortunately for him, he was an idiot.
“What’s that on him? There, on the pocket of his vest.”
“Well, it looks like a tin star. Reckon he was a lawman before he turned.”
“Damn shame. We could use a few more lawmen nowadays.”
And just as the men carefully aimed their weapons and the sheriff silently mouthed his final prayers, salvation came. Over and around the surrounding hills, quietly at first, but then gaining in intensity, came the sound of dull, heartless moans.
The slickskins looked over their shoulders almost as one.
“Where are they?” said one.
“Anybody see them?” said another.
“Sounds like dozens, hundreds maybe,” said a third.
Where before they had surrounded the sheriff in a loose circle, now the gang of men formed up a tight block, each looking this way and that, trying to spy the source of the moans and also to avoid wetting themselves. The sheriff was more or less ignored as he slowly raised his arms and took a few shuffling steps toward the closest of his assailants.
“There!” cried one of them.
Cresting the hill was a deathly black shadow, cast by the full moon in the distance, that slowly spread down the slope toward the men. There were only ten of them.
“Fire at that shadow!” one of them called, and they all turned to the hill and shot at the ever-widening darkness. But rather than retreat or even hesitate, the shadow seemed to redouble its efforts and spread, a tidal wave of black blood. The terrible moaning grew so loud the men could hear nothing else, and though they yelled at one another to concentrate their shots to a single point in a vain effort to break through, their calls were unintelligible.
The shadow, now so close that its members were identifiable, yet still quite faceless, swarmed over the men, who were able to dispatch a few of the horde before they were promptly eaten.
2. Chester’s Brigade
What is a community? A community is a group brought together by a common bond. Friendship can form communities. Fear can form communities. A ravenous thirst for blood can form communities. I know it has in my case.
Whatever their cause, communities enable their members to accomplish things they wouldn’t be able to accomplish alone. Examples include raising children, building houses, and catching and eating the elderly. In each of these cases it is possible to accomplish the task by oneself, but it is advisable to enlist the help of others to avoid fatal errors or stomachaches.
Communities were first formed in ancient times when people became afraid of imaginary monsters. These monsters would prowl about at night, eating the weak and vulnerable, and they were only defeated by gangs of fearless warriors or by clear, rational thought. Clear, rational thought was at a premium back then. It was safer to go with the gangs of fearless warriors.
Not much has changed.
It was the well-known western philosopher Bronk Sylvester who said, “Brains are the clouds of the mind. He who would seek the heavens need only look inside himself. And he who would eat the heavens need look inside others.” Truer words have never been spoken.
The sheriff would often daydream about the lusciousness of gray matter: its seemingly infinite folds, its airy, doughy goodness. Sometimes he wished he could get a look—and maybe a taste—of his own brain, but he knew that was ridiculous.
One of the great things about brains is that you don’t need a campfire to prepare them. Just pop the top and enjoy. Some who would call themselves civilized use cutlery to enjoy the delicacy. Some even use napkins. The sheriff wasn’t that high and mighty. Why confine yourself to the trappings of civilization more than is needed? One of life’s great pleasures is to go out into the wilderness, catch your dinner with your bare hands, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
After an hour or so of chomping and gnawing and slurping, the sheriff turned to address his rescuers. “Thank you, gentlemen and ladies. I believe those wretched men meant to do me harm.”
A figure that had been munching on the cartilage from the grizzled old man’s unwashed knee straightened itself and looked at the sheriff. The sheriff noticed the ghoul was missing his left arm below the elbow, where the stump still leaked a little blood. “You are very welcome, sheriff. And we’re glad we found you with those slickskins. We haven’t had a true bite to eat in nearly a week. Armadillos and rattlesnakes hardly provide the strength for an honest day’s work.”
“Well, it profited all parties involved, then. Except for the slickskins, of course. But you’re wounded,” said the sheriff, gesturing to the man’s arm, which was still dripping blood onto the ground. It had begun to pool around his leather boots. “Do you need medical attention?”
The man used his right hand to bring his left up for closer inspection, spraying some nearby feasters in the process. They didn’t mind. “Oh, it’s nothing, sheriff. I’ve had much worse, really.”
“If you’re sure.” The sheriff extended his hand, and the man took it in a firm grip. “Pleasure.”
“Mine. Name’s Chester, and these are my friends and family,” said Chester, leader of legions, terror of townspeople, gesturing to the mass of feeding beings. “Most call us Chester’s Brigade, for want of a more creative title.”
“A wholesome bunch if ever I saw one.”
“Mighty kind of you to say, sheriff. What do you go by?”
“People tend to just call me sheriff.”
“Ah, I see. Sort of like a ghoul-with-no-name kind of thing. Very tidy. What brings you to these parts?”
“Well, Chester, I’ve been tracking a no-good slickskin by the name of McFarland. He’s been terrorizing the people of this region for longer than I’d like to say, and it’s high time someone put a stop to it. The law’s the law.”
The sheriff produced a well-worn scrap of paper from inside his vest. “I’ve been interviewing people for months, and I’ve come up with this composite sketch of the bastard.”
Chester examined the drawing for a long time. “It’s so life-like,” he said. “With this amount of detail I’m sure you’ll catch the scoundrel in no time. And I can’t think of anyone better suited to the job than you, sheriff.”
“Too kind,” said the sheriff, returning the paper to his pocket. “This McFarland is a mean one. Seems he takes particular pleasure in dispatching ghouls, and he’s a crack shot to boot. One morning a man showed up at my door looking like he’d gone up and down a chimney. When I’d sat him down and gave him some stewed slickskin thigh meat, he told me a man named McFarland had killed his whole town. The whole thing—just wiped them out.”
Chester gave a low whistle through two of his remaining teeth.
“Apparently McFarland and three of his friends—”
The sheriff cut off at the appearance of a small old woman. She seemed just barely able to walk, and there were only a few wisps of hair remaining atop her head. The muscles in her face had worn down so much that she appeared to be a talking skull. She had no teeth.
“Please, sheriff,” she said, offering a cup of something with both hands. “After bringing us such a meal, it’s the least I could do.”
The sheriff took the cup and removed a small bundle of intestines that had been steeping in it.
“Blood tea,” he said, blowing lightly into the cup. “My favorite. Much obliged, ma’am.”
The old woman was overjoyed at his response and left to brew more tea. Old women tend to do that.
“Anyway,” continued the sheriff. “McFarland and his friends had gotten mighty drunk one night and decided the world would be a better place without the town of Georgian Junction. So they made a wager: whichever one of them killed the most ghouls that night would get ten dollars from each of the other men. Didn’t take them two hours to clear the town. No one saw it coming.
“I had been hearing stories about McFarland for years, but always from out west, too far for me to look him up, since he’d more than likely be gone by the time I got there. But he’s here now. In my jurisdiction. And I’m fixing to do something about it.”
“You’re doing God’s work, sheriff, God’s own work.”
“I had just apprehended one of McFarland’s gang when I was waylaid by those heathens you rescued me from. But”—the sheriff gestured to the remains of Chestnut and her cargo—“as you can see, the slickskin was killed by one of his own kind. Have to start from square one.
“Enough about me, though. What’s the story with your group here, the Brigade, as you call them? Why don’t you settle down? You’ve got more than enough here for a decent settlement.”
Chester’s face fell. The sheriff had the impression Chester had been through unendurable hardship, and he felt an instant connection to the man. It was totally platonic, though. “We’ve been driven from our home,” said Chester. “We’re no Georgian Junction, mind you, but it sure felt like it. We lived in a handsome village, a bastion of civility and grace, for generations.
“Then they came. They didn’t attack the town—I have the feeling we would have been too much for them. But they settled damn close to us. And any ghouls they saw wandering in small groups they’d pick off as thoughtlessly as shooting a bird or a deer. Their town grew and grew, while ours shrank. It got to the point where we were afraid if they had a mind, they could have wiped us out all at once. So we left.”
“All of you?” asked the sheriff.
“All of us. What you see here, perhaps several dozen in number, is all that’s left of the hundreds that made up the great city of Charon’s Gate.
“But don’t pity us too much. We don’t pity ourselves. We get by. As I said, snakes and desert creatures aren’t much of a meal, but they get the job done. When we’re lucky we come across a decent piece of meat, and we take in all our bodies can handle.” He gestured with his remaining hand at the corpses on the ground. “This is a banquet we haven’t enjoyed in quite a while. My heart breaks for the little ones.”
With the back of his hand the sheriff wiped one still-functioning eye. “That is a sad tale if ever I’ve heard one.” And the sheriff had indeed heard his share of sad tales, so this wasn’t a hollow declaration. Chester started to walk, and when he picked up his boots, a stringy trail of congealed blood followed after him, as did the sheriff, listening attentively.
“But we do what we can to survive. Our dream is to one day reclaim that fair land that we once called home.”
As the sheriff followed Chester through the feasting horde, he saw the men, women, and children of Chester’s Brigade, refugees from their rightful land, as part of his own family. After all, wasn’t he a man without a home, just as they were? And he saw the slickskins as the evil menace they were—preying on his people, shooting on sight, unmerciful even toward women and children. The sheriff’s resolve hardened. He would make a difference for these people.
He would find and kill McFarland, and after he’d done that, he’d see the people of Chester’s Brigade got the home they deserved.