4 out of 5 stars.
Appearing in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran, this short story really comes out of left field. Our narrator, David, is a few months into his first Vietnam tour and finds himself deep in the jungle under the watch of a racist, sexist, homophobic, hard-nosed Sergeant Reister that always forces the only Asian-American in their unit, Tosh[iko], to explore every potential VC tunnel. On this particular day, the sarge also forces David and his closest buddy, Collins, into the tunnel-system due to Collins’ smart mouth.
David is rather spineless and suffers from a lack of sleep which compromises his reliability as a narrator in a completely organic way. The three unit outcasts think they have been forced down a dead-end empty hole, much to their relief, only to discover a false wall and further tunnels branching out with noises emanating from them. Armed with little room in narrow tunnels and too few flashlights between them, the psychological factor of the story ramps up quickly as the guys need to split up to check the branching tunnels.
I really liked the intense psychological stress of this story long before a single zombie makes an appearance in this story. With the guys split up, sounds of gun fire and screaming coming from other tunnels and David pissing his pants and vomiting out of fear, his spotting of a corpse crawling toward him in a narrow tunnel can be either dismissed as a psychotic delusion or accepted as a sudden drastic turn in the story. Finding a buried room and a cave of cobras are also experienced as half-delusion.
Not wanting to reveal spoilers, I feel constrained in this writing, but I will say that I really appreciated the first person POV throughout, but especially from the cobras to the end of the story. This was a truly unique perspective for me to read, which is a rare and precious find.
[Check out my other reviews here.]