Every time that Sirens Call Publications releases an anthology, we ask each of the authors to provide us with a guest post; something that speaks to the inspiration for their story that you will read. With the release of Carnage: After the End – Volume 1 &Volume 2, our inspiration series may run a little longer than our other anthologies. But that’s okay, we love Post-Apocalyptic Horror and both volumes have a fantastic mix of tales. Continuing on with our inspiration series, today we feature Zachary O’Shea, author of Jaundice in Carnage: After the End – Volume 2.
Zachary O’Shea was born in the refinery belt of California and lives in the neon desolation of Nevada. When not trying to avoid one armed bandits and the tides of tourists he enjoys various activities: running and occasionally playing table-top RPGs, reading, writing, war-gaming, and eating out too often with great friends. While he has been writing for several years now ‘Jaundice’ is his first published story. He maintains a writing blog at www.lastslicestudios.com, can be found on Twitter, and on Facebook as ZacharyW.O’Shea.
Jaundice: The Inspiration
Where did the inspiration for Jaundice come from? Like anyone else with affection for horror and weird fiction, my tastes have always been, well, a bit off. I’ve always had a fascination for molds, fungi, and slimes. To me they hold an alien quality. In my imagination they straddle the line between animals and plants. Normal plants take nutrients from the soil around them. Fungus, on the other hand, behaves like an insidious carnivore, or rather the ultimate omnivore. It sprouts from soil, infests living plants, devours man-made structures, and implants its spores in animals of all sorts. A simple black fuzzy patch on a windowsill can be deadly, or simple mildew; an inconvenience. In a way, it is just like us, but thankfully not intelligent— though I’ve met a few people that are close. What if mold was as smart as us, or even as cunning as a wolf?
This idea took root in my imagination, and festered over the years. Now, just like everyone else who likes horror, I have a love for stories of the Zombie apocalypse. There is something so very primal about not only the absolute disintegration of civilization, but the corruption of what it is to be human as well that tantalizes me. Unlike most other monsters of popular fiction, the animated dead represent the full surrender of personhood. They are nothing more than rabid animals, bent on devouring. Worse yet, they have the potential to drag the rest of our species down with them. Usually the zombie outbreak is caused by some sort of super-virus, the gates of hell opening, strange toxins, or cosmic radiation. As a horror writer I’ve always tinkered around wondering what other ways this sort of incident might occur. What other agent could reduce us into mindless eating machines? Besides burger wars anyway.
Lastly, there was a short story I read in my teenage years I wish I could recall the name of, or the author. It was tucked away in the middle of a weird fiction anthology that happened to have an H. P. Lovecraft story I hadn’t read in it. The tale centered around a giant lizard-looking alien who was desperately trying to find a way to communicate with the earthling soldiers before they killed it—a la the stop-motion monster movies of the 50’s. It had accidentally been brought back to earth along with a ‘beautiful flower’. The humans automatically assumed this T-Rex like creature was the threat, when all along it was actually the blood-red bloom which had already wiped out the reptile’s planet. Of course, in the end the poor creature fails and is slain before humanity is warned. The plant blows out its spores and the Earth’s fate is sealed. The story stuck with me all these years, the vision of a world smothered to death by fields of crimson flowers.
These three inspirations meshed together into a single cohesive idea with Jaundice. This was thanks to a few articles I had read about Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis and similar species. The parasitic fungus family attacks various insects in the world’s rainforests. It essentially zombifies them into hosts for spreading its spores, which eventually erupts from the victims’ carapaces. The pictures of bugs done in this way are truly chilling. What if a super-mold of the same sort was discovered in the Amazon? Worse yet, instead of using insects for hosts, it attacked mammals—which includes humans. This became the kernel of the world my short story is set in.
The narrative itself took a bit more time to hash out. I wanted a story where the reader understands the motivations of the characters involved; feels the peril of the ruined world they live in. I sought to show how people would survive in a world overrun with sinister mold and shambling horrors. I feel rather confident I was able to do that with my story for this collection. I certainly hope readers enjoy digesting the tale as much as I did crafting it. After all fiction should be like fungus, once it gets into the imagination, it just keeps spreading.
The ten stories in Carnage: After the End – Volume 2 tell of the frighteningly horrific and cruel lives the survivors must face. Each one takes us to a place where humanity’s stragglers are forced to battle for their very existence against their own grim reality; creatures from different worlds or times, individuals or groups of miscreants who feed on the fear of the weak, and even the terrifying threat of unknown bacterial organisms. Their will to go on diminishing among the tatters of the civilization they once knew.
In a world where society has collapsed and terror lurks around every corner, no one can be trusted and nothing can be taken for granted.
The Apocalypse has come, leaving in its wake small pockets of survivors battling to stay alive; each carving out a new beginning for mankind…
Contributing Authors in Volume 1 include:
Kimberly A. Bettes, Shane Cashman, Shane R. Collins, Laura Diamond, Rodney James Galley, Michael Griffin, Russell Linton, Adam Millard, Christofer Nigro, and Julianne Snow.
Contributing Authors in Volume 2 include
Angel D. Callido, Charlie Fish, Harper Hull, Magda Knight, Jason Lairamore, Harry Manners, Zachary O’Shea, Wednesday Silverwood, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and L.E. White.
Interested in picking up a copy of both volumes?
Here’s an excerpt from Zachary’s story Jaundice…
Cara nearly lost her footing as she stumbled backward into the hallway. Even after two years of working salvage she still couldn’t ignore how slippery every surface was in the infected zone like the crew’s veterans. At least she didn’t really hear the squelching under boot anymore; had become deadened to the stench of rot. The lost second was almost enough time for the Yellow lurching after her, but she managed to level her shotgun at its center of pulpy mass and fire. The clear plate of her helmet was spattered with jaundiced viscera as the muzzle flash faded. She’d become numb to the horror of hundreds of ropey spores squirming inches from her eye. On reflex she aimed blind a few inches higher before shooting again. Only then did she wipe off the faceplate with a sleeve, and confirm the kill.
Not that one ever killed a Yellow just by gunning it down. The lumpy masses festering in what remained of a corpse rolled pitifully back and forth trying to stand. The first shot had caused enough mechanical damage to what muscle and spongy bone remained, rendering its arms useless. The second vaporized a good portion of pilfered skull. Spilled like a rotten egg, the ruptured head was little more than fuzzy gunk and half-severed shoots. The animate wore tattered jeans and a t-shirt. Its fingers, covered with hundreds of thin yellow cilia, writhed knowing that warm flesh and fresh marrow was near.
Cara suppressed the urge to pump another few rounds into the ‘man’ as an act of mercy. Yellows weren’t human anymore; rather corrupted meat. She took a quick scan of the room for other shamblers. Another Yellow dragged itself around the edge of a corroded table. Its lower half had sloughed away long ago leaving a tangle of putrid intestines and fungal growth trailing behind. One of its eyes had been replaced with a ruffled flower. The other eye stared out at a fresh nest for its spores with an almost canine hunger. The scavenger erased all that with a well-placed slug. The desecrated dog kept slithering so Cara spent another shot taking off an arm. That would be enough to make the space safe.
She pulled back to the door, brushing her shoulder along the deteriorated frame. “Clear.” Then Cara waited for a response that never came and worry curled its fingers around her heart. Jerry had been covering the stairway up while she found cover. The two of them had gotten separated from everyone else when things went to hell. The power station ended up having unexpected pockets of Yellows – like everywhere else. That was why salvage crews were sent out heavily armed to get what the Casino needed to stay alive. Cara hissed under her breath. If Jerry was playing another damn joke she would shoot him.
Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow when we’ll feature Christofer Nigro and his inspiration for The Scurrying in Carnage: After the End – Volume 1!