Authors: Harrison Geillor
Tags: #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Humor, #Horror, #Zombie
The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten
Night Shade Books
The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten
© 2010 by Harrison Geillor
This edition of
The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten
© 2010 by Night Shade Books
Cover art by Scott Altmann
Cover design by Michael Ellis
Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Printed in Canada
Night Shade Books
Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, author and philosopher
I think the most un-American thing you can say is,
“You can’t say that.”
—Garrison Keillor, author, philosopher,
and radio personality
A Note to Visitors
ake Woebegotten, Minnesota has changed a bit since the end of the world, of course, but in matters historical and geographical, and to some extent cultural, things are pretty much as they’ve always been. The town is situated near Gahan Hill on the eastern shore of the lake that lends the town its name, a lake that amounts to about 700 acres of water—depending on how you count some of the slushy marshy parts that are half land and half liquid around the southern side—and if you’re not from farm country and don’t know how much an acre is, 770 acres is a little over one square mile (though the lake is more blobby oval than square), and if you don’t know how much a square mile is, I’m not sure how much we can help you here, you might want to start with some other book instead.
The name of the town (altitude 1420, population 1,056 as of the 2000 census, though that’s not too accurate anymore, as you might imagine) comes from the mispronunciation and subsequent Anglicization of an Ojibwe phrase that means either “Well who would have thought?” or “Some weather we’re having, huh?” though the name as it stands now isn’t entirely inappropriate for most of the residents, even if “woebegotten” is a little too highfalutin’ and overdramatic a word for the descendants of Norwegian Lutherans and German Catholics, each group mostly a stoic and occasionally dour bunch in different ways.
(“Woebegotten” is a pretty woebegotten word itself, being a not-entirely-real word that people come out with when they mean to say “woebegone” or “misbegotten” or something similar instead. Still, like “irregardless” and “ain’t” and other such linguistic volunteers, the word seems to fill a niche, and most of the dictionaries in the schools hereabouts have the word scribbled in between “woebegone” and “woeful” just as a show of civic pride.)
Lake Woebegotten was first settled in the 1840s by members of a Utopian society that believed, among other things, that physical discomfort due to temperature, hunger, or sickness were indicative of spiritual shortcomings and best treated by fasting and contemplation of the infinite, so they were pretty much all dead by the middle of the first winter. They’d dug a few wells and tilled a few fields, though, which as existing infrastructure made the spot attractive to a couple of groups of weary settlers who found themselves daunted by the prospect of traversing all the vast prairie that started at the edge of town. The soil was stony but the fishing was good, and there was a lot of timber in the form of birch, alder, red oak, and miscellaneous scrub, so they mostly shrugged, said “Good enough,” and put down their roots, pastured out the cows, slopped the hogs, and started growing oats, alfalfa, corn, and wheat. White clapboard houses popped up, and shops on Main Street, and a couple of churches, and eventually a stoplight. A sand and gravel pit or two appeared, as did grain silos, a bandshell in the park, and a baseball field. Progress progressed, but only to a certain point, nothing to get too worked up about.
It’s still a one-stoplight town, and most of the kids who grew up here and moved away as soon as they were able agree that Lake Woebegotten is a nice enough place to be from.
Given what happened here, but happened even worse everywhere else, some of them probably wish they’d stayed.
Not Too Good A Day, Really, Overall
1. Fish Icing
he winter the zombies came to Lake Woebegotten (and everywhere else on the planet, too, of course, but let’s not overreach here, knowing your limitations is one of the first steps towards having a life that’s not as miserable as it might be otherwise), Gunther Montcrief woke up in the deepest darkest coldest part of the night with a powerful need to urinate, and sat up in his old fish shack with the cracks in the walls stuffed with the crumpled pages from phone books while the wind whistled through the holes he’d missed and his little stove radiated weak heat and the cot springs creaked under him, and he thought about how terrible it was to get old, except being old and alive was better than all the alternatives, which were pretty grim if you dwelled on them, so better if you didn’t. Could be worse, after all, could be worse. Still, the time was he could drink like a fish or a sailor and go to bed and sleep straight through the night and get up in the morning and let loose with a stream that sounded like a roaring river as it hit the toilet bowl and then go out to the bar and do it all over again, but since he hit sixty or so he’d developed what the fellas down at the Backtrack Bar called a girlie bladder and it seemed like he had to pee about fifteen minutes after every time he took in a tablespoon of liquid. He thought about just picking a corner of the shack to let fly, but since he barely had room to turn around in here, it didn’t seem like a good idea to make it any smellier than it already was, and the smell of piss had a way of cutting right through the smells of wood smoke and fish and old sweaty boots and moist coats and making its presence known. He also considered taking a slug from the nice big bottle of bourbon he had tucked in cozy next to his cot, but the thought of pouring even another drop into his bursting bladder was too horrible to contemplate, maybe even as bad as facing down a plate of lutefisk or trying to repair a foreign car where everything was in metric. So he pulled on his boots over his thick socks and wrapped his big blanket around his long underwear and opened the door to the shack and, yup, that was winter out there, the ice on the lake shining under the moon and starlight, but even though the end of his nose went numb right away it wasn’t as cold as the first time he went fishing with his father as a boy, the coldest winter on record hereabouts, when your ears would pretty much just turn to ice and snap right off as soon as you poked your head outside.
Gunther crunched a couple of steps away from the door, the top layer of snow turned into a hard shell of ice, and pulled open the flap of his long underwear, an ice wind taking that opportunity to swoop in and freeze his nethers. He went ahead and did his business, steam rising up from the snow, and thought about the story his father used to tell about his old friend Johnny who went outside to pee one night and got caught in a sudden cold snap, and they found him the next morning frozen through-and-through like an ice cube, his urine frozen too in mid-stream still attached to him, so he looked like a statue or maybe more like an obscene kind of sculptural fountain like they might have in San Francisco, which Gunther’s father always without fail called SanSodom FranciscoGomorrah, though he got a wistful faraway look too when he talked about the times he’d been on leave there during the war, as if for a den of relentless iniquity it hadn’t been so bad.
It wasn’t that cold tonight, not even so cold that your piss froze partway down and hit the ice at your feet with a tinkle, but it was cold enough. Gunther started to put himself away and hotfoot it back to the relative coziness of his little wooden shack on the shore when the sky overhead lit up brighter than noontime, and he shaded his eyes and tilted back his head and there in the great black sky was the biggest fireball he’d ever seen, and he’d seen the every-hundred-fifty-years return of the Whimsy-McKennit comet. This was a streaking meteor that was either the size of a house and up very close or the size of a Midwestern state and very far away, and Gunther felt a dark thrill of satisfaction that the world wouldn’t survive him after all, that it didn’t much matter if he was the last of the Montcriefs, since this was the dinosaur-killer-sized space rock Hollywood had been trying to scare people with for the last bunch of years. Gunther wondered if it would be earthquakes or tsunamis or volcanoes and then wondered if the people in Lake Woebegotten, deep in central Minnesota away from the dangerous coastlines, would even notice the end of the world, apart from the ones who’d lose their satellite TV reception and their ability to order shoes off the internet. Maybe there’d be killer tornadoes as tall as skyscrapers. It was a thought—
But then the meteor exploded silently into dust, pretty much, tiny cinders no bigger than fireflies drifting down, and off on the distant horizon he could see faint glows, and he wondered if this was only one of a bunch of falling meteors, like the giant flaming rock he’d seen above him was just itself a tiny fragment of something much larger, chopped into seemingly infinite pieces like slivers of a holiday fruitcake when you finally couldn’t put off eating it anymore and had to go ahead and be polite. With that big light gone Gunther couldn’t see much of anything, his night vision blown, so he stood there in the snow and thought about the end of the world, which maybe wasn’t tonight after all, but which anybody with any sense had to realize was long overdue. He went shuffling back toward his shack and heard a strange thumping, and paused in the doorway, but it was too cold for caution and he was letting all the heat out. He pulled the door to behind him and waited a minute for his eyes to get adjusted to the dim and saw his big red-and-white cooler shaking and shuddering and twitching like one of those Mexican jumping beans that had a worm inside and that you really shouldn’t eat, as he’d learned as a boy to his dismay.
He went over to the cooler, wondering if maybe a raccoon had somehow gotten in to go after his walleye catch and then been trapped inside, which seemed unlikely, but then most everything did when you thought about it. Gunther popped open the latch and lifted the lid and a dead walleye flopped up over the edge of the cooler and Gunther sat down on his ass hard and it hurt and he started laughing and then just as suddenly he stopped. Turning on his little battery-powered lantern he could see the four good-sized walleye he’d caught, but hadn’t yet cleaned, jumping and flapping and jerking around, their ugly mouths full of little sharp teeth working furiously. Looked like they were trying to eat each other and making some good progress, with chunks of scale and flesh missing out of most of them. Gunther had never known fish to come back to life several hours after death and turn to cannibalism but then he wasn’t some kind of expert, was he, and since it was happening, that meant it was just something that sometimes happened. Probably had to do with pollution. He grabbed one walleye by the tail and flopped it down on the floor of the shack, where it twitched and twisted and snapped at him until he put his boot down on its side and held it still. After some awkward rummaging around and leaning as far as he could without letting his foot up he found his hatchet and squatted down and aimed a chop just behind the fish’s head, but the angle was awkward and it took a few blows before the head was entirely separated. Head removal stopped most things from doing much of anything, in his experience, but it didn’t seem to make much difference to this walleye. The body stopped twitching but the mouth kept opening and closing even though anything it ate now would just fall right out the back of its head. Gunther grunted and thought about how chickens run around with their heads cut off and how cockroaches can get by just fine without their heads and thought this must be something similar, and even though he’d never seen the like before, well so what, there was nothing new under the sun and he wasn’t so full of himself that he thought he’d seen everything.
He took off the heads of the rest of the fish until all four heads were on the floor together snapping at each other, then he sighed and scooped them up in the blade of his shovel and kicked open the door and ran with the shovel full of heads out in front him like he was in a spoon-and-egg race with a shovel instead of a spoon and fish heads instead of an egg until he reached the hole he’d dug for fishing earlier, which was slushed-over and on its way to being frozen again. He dumped the fish heads in the depression and banged down the shovel a few times until he made a hole and then pushed the heads in and watched them sink.
Back in his shack, warmed up with a big gulp of bourbon even though he knew it would send him back to pee again before first light, he curled up in his blanket and thought about falling stars and when he dreamed, he dreamed of fish heads sinking forever down in dark water, mouths opening and closing, opening and closing, chewing up everything they passed, which it seemed to him in his dream was pretty much everything there was in the world.