5 of 5 stars.
This gem of a short story is included in Extreme Zombies edited by Paula Guran. The author, with a background in Horror fiction, treats the readers to a unique take on zombies that veers toward the I am Legend or 28 Days Later part of the spectrum. The zombies in this chilling story are called “Romero’s Children” (ironically) or stinkers (not ironically), and they aren’t dead. Nor is the condition spreading. Twenty years ago, a drug street-named OM (“Old Methuselah”) that never passed FDA inspection became all the rage on the black market for its age-defying properties. The majority over the age of 30 took the illicit drug and paid the price in the form of its nastiest side effect. The users became violent and relentless in their single-minded pursuit of living meat. They attacked each other and the unaffected in the beginning. Many on both sides of the inadvertent battle were killed. The surviving stinkers were smarter and more strategic, hunting in groups, hiding in the day, avoiding well-trafficked areas.
The story follows Jack, an elderly survivor who has shunned joining the settlement a few miles away. Ever since his wife passed away right around the time of the fall of society, he has cherished his solitude. His wife suffered from Alzheimer’s, so they didn’t pursue the life-extending drugs as so many did. It seemed such a cruel joke at the time, for his wife to be trapped in her failing mind. Why extend that existence?
After a night of hearing stinkers, yet again, trying to claw their way into his house, Jack goes out into his relatively clear neighborhood to gather supplies at the Walmart. He aids 17 y.o. Candace from the settlement who’s running up his street with a jammed rifle and two stinkers in hasty pursuit. In return, she agrees to accompany him to the dark, well-pilfered Walmart to see what they can find. This is where they find Lucy.
Lucy has the look and smell of a stinker, but she isn’t acting like one. Like a woman emerging from a mental haze, she is fearful and struggles to speak. Like a scene out of the movie Awakenings, she speaks of nightmares, persistent nightmares. The comparison to his late wife’s condition is poignant. Jack has never witnessed nor heard of a stinker emerging from the condition, but he aims to help. . . .
Maybe I just read this on the right day for me, but I found the tale amazing. It is highly recommended.
[Check out my other reviews here.]