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       Z-Hunt, p.1

           Mark Tufo
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  by Mark Tufo

  Copyright © Mark Tufo 2016

  All rights reserved

  The right of Mark Tufo to be identified as the author

  of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with

  the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters,

  organisations and events portrayed in this novel are

  either products of the authors’ imaginations

  or are used fictitiously.

  First published in 2016 by Infected Books


  Cover design by David Naughton-Shires



















  ‘Hooo WEEEE!’ Steve yelled as the recoil from the rifle slammed his shoulder back. The girl’s neck snapped backwards as her forehead yielded its spot in space and time to a high-speed lead projectile. The back of her skull blew out in a plume of white, red, and dark grey before she collapsed to the ground in a crumpled heap of outstretched arms, her mouth pulled open in a silent scream. ‘Holy shit they’re so fast!’ Steve was still yelling, though no one was shooting.

  ‘And smart,’ Chuck, his hunting partner replied, as he scanned the horizon through the scope mounted on his Winchester .308. ‘I told you this shit was worth the five hundred k.’

  ‘Every fucking penny,’ Steve said. They were sitting on a special hunting rig atop a Land Rover. Steve placed his weapon down on the bottom most rung of the rifle rack and took a large swig of water from his canteen. ‘Who would have thought a podiatrist from Louisiana would turn out to be a great zombie killer?’

  ‘Who said anything about great?’ Chuck also put his rifle away, as he ribbed his friend. ‘Pass me some of that water.’ After a good long drink he spoke again. ‘This would be perfect if it wasn’t so damned hot.’

  ‘I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t allow something like this in the States.’ Steve pointed to a spot far off in the distance. ‘Think I saw movement.’ He pulled his wide brimmed hat off and wiped the pool of sweat that had accumulated on his forehead and under his eyes before replacing it on his rapidly balding head. He grabbed his binoculars to scan the horizon; ripples of heat distorted his view out past fifty yards. Saw grass and scrub brush dominated his sight of the savannah. ‘Fucking antelope,’ Steve said disgustedly. ‘Listen Sturgeons, I didn’t pay half a million to hunt fucking antelope. I paid to kill zombies and I haven’t seen more than a handful in the last few hours. You ever seen the movies? They come in hordes. Zombies aren’t solitary animals like tigers, dickwad. When I pay that kind of money, I want fucking zombies. We clear?’

  ‘I told you before, Mr. Cooper, my name is Zurgens, and this is a wild animal preserve. Therefore, it contains wild animals. On a preserve of this size, one would not expect all the animals to be within our general proximity. We could pen them up for you, but how sporting would that be?’

  ‘Sporting?’ Steve pahed. ‘I’m being driven around on the back of a truck. I’m holding a rifle that can reach out and kill something from half a mile away. Does that sound very fucking sporting? I’ll let you in on a little secret, Zurgs, I don’t give a rat’s fuck about ‘sporting.’ I’m out here to kill shit, plain and simple. And if the little liberal bastards back home weren’t such panty twisters, I’d get these heads stuffed and mounted and hang them on my dining room wall.’

  ‘I’m sure your wife would appreciate that.’ Chuck was smiling. ‘Nothing says ‘fine southern living’ like a mounted zombie head.’

  ‘She’d get used to it.’ Steve had calmed a bit, but not completely. He wondered idly how much Jack’s Taxidermy in Shreveport would charge for a job like that. ‘Now, Fetch me some zombies, Zurgs.’

  Zurgens started the truck. He hated the rich American hunters. They were arrogant pricks who believed they owned the entire world. He daydreamed about grabbing the .50 cal pistol from his holster and putting two rounds in each man before rolling their bodies out of the truck to feed said zombies. He stifled the small grin that crept onto his weathered face.

  ‘We’ve got an hour before we need to turn back,’ Zurgens informed them. Neither man said anything in return. He looked directly into the camera mounted above the radio and furrowed his eyebrows.


  ‘The only thing that makes these men palatable is their money. Don’t these idiots know that we do this for their safety? They see fifty zombies coming at them, they’ll be pissing all over themselves in an attempt to get away.’ Jan Reynolds was monitoring the hunt. As co-owner of Z-Hunt, she felt it was her duty to do so. Her husband, Dietrich, usually sat with her but this time he was at Parliament, arguing for their very livelihood. They were under increasing pressure from civil advocacy groups around the world to cease their activities.

  ‘They are somewhat correct though. We do need more zombies.’ Kinzer, her lead scientist, and the man behind the original zombie plague had come into the room and sat two seats from her. They watched the bank of monitors.

  ‘These creatures don’t just grow on trees, Kinzer,’ Jan said. ‘We have to be careful. Yes, there’re spending half a million. That doesn’t give them the right to hunt more than a couple at a time. I don’t care how much they complain. We’re the only place in the world that offers sportsmen an opportunity to hunt zombies. They start to bag fifty or sixty kills on each safari and we’ll have the UN here in a matter of days. What happens then? How’s it going to look when they discover that these people aren’t really sick?’

  The doctor scoffed. The world knew him as Dr. Hans Kinzer, renowned scientist and the man that discovered zf-24, the virus that caused humans to become ill before finally succumbing to a form of zombieism. What the world didn’t know was that the good doctor had been deliberately working on creating that virus for the better part of his adult life.

  What Kinzer had not been prepared for was how little he would be paid for his discovery. He was nearly thrown out of his apartment for not paying rent. Sure, the military had started sniffing around, wondering how they might weaponise the virus. On a moral level, the doctor had no problem with this. If he made financial gains and was still able to pursue his discoveries, he was fine with whatever the outcome. The practical problem was that the zf-24 virus had to be introduced into his subjects intravenously. That, and it was a volatile, unstable compound that did not so much as take root in its host as it did disrupt the nervous system’s normal operations. The body’s internal temperature steadily elevated to a stifling 106.5 degrees, slow-roasting the brain in its own juices. Cognitive, rational thought within the cerebrum was severely hindered. Primal survival urges came to the forefront as everything that made the subject a ‘person’ was mired under a sea of hallucinations and...suggested imagery.

  Kinzer had discovered early on that, while in this hallucinogenic state, his test subjects were extremely susceptible to suggestion in the form of images. One Friday night after a particularly long and exhausting week of work, his niece, Sindra, had come to visit. She was twelve, and very much into horror movies; she’d brought the original version of Dawn of the Dead for their traditional movie night. At first, Kinzer had barely been watching the film;
he was entirely lost in planning what he would do with his discovery and how to make money from it when the light of an idea began to burn brightly. It was all he could do to not grab the DVD from the player and head down to his research facility right then.

  The moment his niece left Saturday morning, he was off to the lab, George Romero’s masterpiece in hand. The movie worked better than expected. His subjects immediately became violent upon watching it; the pig he had placed in the enclosure with them had been reduced to a pile of bones within minutes. The frantic squeals of the animal only seemed to heighten the subjects’ desire to tear it apart and eat it. He fantasized about throwing a human in among them to see if the response would be the same.

  ‘Who would care about having one less prostitute in the world?’ He could drive down to a red light district and be back in less than an hour. He wondered how long it would be before the locals would begin to recognize him; he’d already taken seven women on which to test his formula. The government frowned upon using live human test subjects without first going through the appropriate animal trials, especially when they weren’t willing participants. But in any case, there was no chance he would ever get approval for a virus that made people psychotic and violent. He’d been given no choice but to go out and collect his own subjects.

  ‘You are doing so much more for society,’ he had told his first, scared victim. Lelu, he believed her name to be. She’d died on the third day, before he had sussed out a correct dosage. Brain matter had begun to leak from her ruptured eardrums and clawed-out eye sockets. He’d gone six more times down to that neighborhood, in three different cars, sometimes wearing a large hat or even in one case, a wig. No one cared. Even the women seemed pleased to be released from their bonds of paid rape to support their lives. At what point was the price for survival too high?

  The reason he’d not gone forward with the military’s lukewarm pursuit of the virus was that it wasn’t ready for them. Not only was it extremely fast acting, but the host could, and would, fight off the infection. No matter the dose, if it did not kill the injected immediately, the virus would run its course within twelve hours. After ridding itself of the illness, the body would immediately shut down, having exhausted itself and depleted its resources in its attempt to kill off the invading microbes. Kinzer couldn’t imagine in what scenario generals would see putting an army to sleep, one ravaged soldier at a time, as an appealing prospect. Until he could solve that problem, he was stuck.

  The doctor finally got his human food tester, but not in the way he’d figured. He had been giving the women their injections for the morning; he’d just finished up on Subject Number Four and returned to his office when an alarm light blared from his security station. What he was doing was highly illegal. He’d taken a variety of steps to prevent getting caught, including having multiple cameras set up around and outside his laboratory that detected any movement. He strode quickly over to the bank of monitors and scanned them, looking for whatever had set off the alarm.

  ‘A dog...probably nothing but a dog.’ He breathed a sigh of relief. ‘I don’t think I need any more coffee, but I’m going to get some. And maybe a lab assistant as well, so I can stop talking to myself. All in due time.’ He poured himself a cup, placed two sugar cubes into the steaming hot liquid, and sat down. He began to look over his notes from yesterday; he had forty-five minutes to an hour before the women awoke and the virus took hold. Today his goal was to show them scenes from the zombie film 28 Days Later, and see if his subjects behaved any differently. He’d finished reviewing his notes and was halfway through the draft of his Nobel acceptance speech, when the first urgent cries began.

  ‘Help me, please help me!’ a woman’s voice begged. The doctor had been so surprised that he knocked his mug off the corner of the desk and it shattered into a hundred razor sharp shards. He looked wildly around trying to discover where the distress call was coming from. A blood curdling scream wrenched his attention to the testing pen. Four of his subjects surrounded the fifth and had closed in tight enough that they were able to take bites of their victim.

  ‘What’s going on?’ Kinzer said excitedly as he ran closer to the cell. He’d never seen anything but cohesion from the group since he’d put them all together. He’d never heard human speech from them once an injection had been given, either. Sure, there were vocalizations from the zombies but they were really just a series of moans in a variety of lengths and pitches—possibly some form of communication that he had yet been able to determine, or perhaps simply random expressions of misery.

  ‘Pleeeeese!’ Test Subject Number Five was shrieking. One of the infected women had lunged in and torn a chunk of muscle from her right arm. The sight and smell of the blood seemed to electrify the other four, they started clawing various pieces of the woman away, starting on her face. Her screams were choked thick with blood as her facial meat was torn from its moorings. The zombies hardly took the time to chew; they ripped pieces of their victim free and swallowed them down their gullets whole, like ravenous pelicans.

  ‘Of course!’ He even imagined smacking his palm against his forehead. ‘I must have forgotten to give Number Five her injection!’ Kinzer was as excited as a high school freshman seeing his first nipple. ‘Fascinating. The subjects care nothing that they are eating one of their own. One, until recently, was a friend of theirs—or at least an acquaintance.’ He could not wrench his gaze from the spectacle in front of him. The injected, infected women seemed to savor the brain of their victim. And was that reverence he detected as they silently ate that delicacy? They did not stop there though; they continued on until they had reduced Number Five down to bone. She was stripped clean, as if she’d been dropped into a vat of flesh-eating acid. Even her hair, which most animals will avoid, was consumed. The blood that spilled onto the cell floor had been lapped up as well.

  Kinzer wasn’t sure how long it had taken the four to finish up, maybe a half hour. He’d not been able to pull himself away even to check the time; not, at least, until they turned their attention to him. His expression of rapture quickly changed to apprehension as the group stood as one and moved to the front of the pen. He backed up, despite his confidence that they could not get out. Still, that knowledge made him only marginally less nervous.

  He returned to his desk and tried to work, but every time he looked over to the pen he realized they had not moved, the entire time he sat there they continued to stare at him intensely, rocking slowly back and forth and moaning occasionally. He decided to call it a day a few hours earlier than he normally would. The gaze from eight shining eyes followed his exit through the semi-darkened building. It was force of habit alone that guided his way. Once he got home, he poured himself a large glass of scotch. The liquid helped to burn the image of the test subjects watching him malevolently from the forefront of his mind.

  He sat down on the couch, grabbed the remote, and absently turned the television on, something he usually only did when his niece came over. The Walking Dead was running a marathon in preparation for their upcoming new season.

  ‘I think I’ve had all the zombies I can take for the moment.’ His finger was on the channel-up button. He pressed it repeatedly to no avail.

  ‘Come on...I just changed out these batteries...I think.’ He stood and was heading to the kitchen to get some fresh power cells when a commercial came on that completely changed his life.

  ‘Survivalists! Do you like zombies?’ came an obnoxious voice from the television. ‘Of course you do!’ the overeager announcer said. He was carrying a large rifle which Kinzer thought might be more suited to elephant hunting. The man was dressed all in camouflage. ‘Wouldn’t you love to shoot some zombies?’ There was no pause from his question to his answer. ‘Of course you would!’ The image panned out to show the actor on a field with twelve zombies approaching him, although anyone watching would have a hard time determining exactly what they were because of the safety head gear they were wearing. Their clothes were tattered and the
ir bodies were covered with blood stains. Arms outstretched, the small horde approached the solitary rifle man, with a slow, halting gait.

  ‘This is so intense!’ the man said to the camera before he turned and began firing paintball rounds at the zombies. ‘AHHHHHH! Die suckers!’ He screamed over the whoosh of air as multiple rounds were expelled from the gun. The ‘whump-splat’ each round made on impact completed the effect as small lights popped up on each side of the shooter’s protective gear, signifying a kill as the pellets found their marks. ‘Dead’ zombies would do a less-than-convincing fall to the ground as the others kept advancing. Ultimately, the hero actor was overrun and presumably consumed; if the various body parts thrown up into the air were any indication. The effects were strictly low budget, yet Kinzer was mesmerized.

  The image switched to an attractive couple standing in front of a large field dotted with various small buildings and barricades. ‘My name is Dietrich Reynolds and this is my wife, Jan. Come see us at South Africa’s newest adventure attraction!’

  ‘Z-Hunt!’ Jan said excitedly. ‘Here you will enjoy all the pulse-pounding action of a true zombie apocalypse.’

  ‘Without all the risk and brain loss!’ Dietrich tossed in. Kinzer could not help but note that their delivery was atrocious.

  There were more pathetic screams from off-camera.

  ‘Call or come on down!’ A phone number flashed on the bottom of the screen. Kinzer called and the phone was ringing on the other end before the commercial was even finished.

  He set up an appointment with the Reynolds under the pretense that he would like to work out a deal to rent out the entire facility over a few days for his fictional employees. They’d been more than happy to meet with him; this could possibly bolster the business of their dying paintball fields. A large, successful party of professional men could bring in loads of other groups. Their business had waned severely with advancements in home gaming systems. No one wants to go out and run around, get dirty, possibly receive angry red welts when they can deliver death digitally. It became clear to Jan and Dietrich fairly quickly however, that the man in front of them had no employees. Not only that, but things were getting weirder by the moment as he began to hint at the real reason he was there. Kinzer had excused himself to use the toilet, nerves had proceeded to move everything through his system at an alarming pace.

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