In a dystopian future where the animated dead reign, the few remaining living are feared and pursued. Conrad is a Hunter. He's one of the best. But when he hesitates one night in killing a living child, he soon finds himself in a desperate fight to save his son — and the entire world.
Previously released as The Dishonored Dead, Robert Swartwood's groundbreaking novel has been re-released with a new title.
Praise for Land of the Dead:
“One of the smartest, most exciting zombie novels in many years. I absolutely loved it.” —Brian Keene
“Land of the Dead is one of the most original and gripping zombie novels I have ever read, offering a glimpse into the life of a zombie in a world turned backwards, where zombies live and humans are feared. Highly recommended!” —Jeremy Robinson
“Land of the Dead is simply brilliant, and its telling a superb achievement. Robert Swartwood has given us a wonderful twist, not only on the zombie novel, but on the dystopian tale as well. It's like Brave New World meets Logan's Run, but with a bite all its own. Strongly recommended!” —Joe McKinney
“Robert Swartwood gives the word ‘zombie’ a new meaning.” —Swedish Zombie
“One of the most unique zombie novels I've ever read ... a must-read.” —wezombie.com
“A definite page turner with lots of action, tension and suspense.” —buyzombie.com
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Read An Excerpt From Land of the Dead
Conrad was no stranger to living blood.
Ever since he was ten, had begun his training, he understood that blood was the final step in every hunt. A zombie ran, you chased it, and once you cornered it, walked right up to it, you raised your broadsword and took its head, releasing blood. Even when his father, the greatest Hunter to ever exist, had passed down his own broadsword to Conrad on the day of his graduation from Artemis, he had embraced him and whispered in his ear, “Make sure every time you hunt, this sword tastes blood.”
And it had tasted blood, so much living blood over the past twelve years. Mostly children, sure, because that’s what most of the zombies today were: boys and girls no older than ten years old, always running away from him, always crying and screaming until he stopped their tears and silenced their screams forever. It was his job and he was good at it, great at it, and he always made sure every time he hunted he followed through with his father’s wishes.
He made sure every time he hunted, his broadsword tasted blood.
He made sure it was covered in it.
But tonight something had gone wrong. Tonight his sword should have tasted blood, but it hadn’t, and this, Conrad knew, was bad news. Very bad news.
Sitting alone in the locker room, an irregular dripping coming from the showers, Conrad stared down at the broadsword in his hands. He just didn’t understand it. He didn’t know what had gone wrong. Never before had he hesitated, never once, but this morning he had, and with no way to explain it even to himself, no way to rationalize this egregious error.
The locker room door opened and in walked Philip, the second lieutenant still wearing his uniform but not his mask. Without looking at Conrad, Philip went to his locker, opened it, started to take off his uniform. Conrad continued staring down at his sword until Philip had slammed his locker shut and walked toward the showers, a towel now wrapped around his waist. He paused before entering, turned back, and Conrad shifted his gaze up from his sword to Philip.
The man was well built, his shoulders wide, his chest expanded. A tattoo of his broadsword was etched over his right pectoral.
Philip glared back at him, his black eyes intense. He opened his mouth, started to speak, but then shut it, shook his head and entered the showers.
When the hiss of water started up a moment later, Conrad got to his feet and went to his locker. He raised a fist, meaning to smash it into the panel, but stopped himself at the last moment. He opened the locker, intending now to slam it shut again, and found his family staring back at him, his wife and son smiling in the gray pictures taped there: one of Denise, one of Kyle, one of the two of them together, Denise in a hospital bed holding a newly-animated Kyle in her arms.
He thought about everything he had been able to provide for his family, how they had never been forced to go without, and how his simple mistake this morning could change it all.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to them, closing his eyes and touching his forehead to the pictures. “I’m so sorry.”
* * *
Captain Norman Rydell’s office door was open when Conrad made it to the top floor. He knew it was an invitation but still he waited just outside the threshold and knocked on the frame. Norman didn’t even look away from his computer monitor when he motioned him inside.
“Shut the door, too,” he said.
Conrad sat in one of the two chairs facing the captain’s desk. Aside from the humming computer on the desk and the ticking clock on the wall, the room was silent.
After a moment Norman turned away from the computer. He looked at Conrad and tapped the stack of papers in front of him. “Do you know what this is? It’s your file. Every single thing about you since your time at Artemis until this very moment is in here. Every kill, every commendation, everything, I’ve printed it all out and here it is. And unfortunately today I have to add something to it. So I’m going to ask you just once. What happened this morning?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
Conrad shook his head.
“Would you like to know what Philip told me?”
“He said you froze. That you approached the zombie and raised your sword but did nothing else.”
Conrad shifted his eyes away. He thought about the day he’d graduated. About how up until that point nobody knew who his father truly was—not even Denise—and how on that day his father had embraced him for the very first time in front of the world and told him to make sure the sword always tasted blood and now today for the very first time it had not.
“Well?” Norman said.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“That’s not an acceptable answer.”
The computer on the desk continued to hum, the clock on the wall continued to tick.
Conrad said, “Sir, if you would like my resignation, I would be more than willing to—”
“Stop. Just stop right there.” Norman leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “Yes, what took place this morning shouldn’t have happened, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re my first lieutenant and I have never questioned anything you’ve ever done. But what happened this morning, I want to know why.”
Norman was fifty-two, twenty years older than Conrad. He had short gray hair and a thin gray mustache. He came from a line of honorable Hunters—his father a Hunter, his father’s father a Hunter—and the fact that the line would end with him had always been a sore point. Norman and his wife (Beth, who’d expired three years ago) had never been able to conceive after their first child, a boy who’d expired when he was two, and though nobody had ever come out and said it, the truth was always there: Norman had let his family down.
“It’s Kyle,” Conrad said.
“What about Kyle?” An expression of worry creased the captain’s decayed face. “Is he okay? He hasn’t …”
But Norman didn’t continue. He didn’t have to. The unspoken question was whether Kyle had become infected with some kind of parasite. It seemed children were most likely to become infected, and it was almost impossible to extract a parasite once it had taken hold. That was why children were given more shots and vitamins than adults, who took half the amount. That was why parents were encouraged to give them the proper lotions for their decayed skin, to keep flies from laying maggots, to keep any other parasites at bay. Because when a child became infected its body began to decay at a very rapid rate, first the hair falling out, then the skin, until that child expired completely, leaving a very fat and well-fed parasite.
Norman and his wife had witnessed this firsthand with their own child, watching their son withering away and not being able to do anything about it.
“No,” Conrad said, “nothing like that. It’s just that, well, his animation day is coming up. In two weeks.”
“It’s his tenth, isn’t it.”
“Yes, I can see why that would make you worry. But it should be okay. Kyle’s a good boy. Nothing’s going to happen to him.”
“I hope so, sir. But when I went to kill that zombie this morning, I looked at the boy and for some reason it made me think of Kyle.”
“Speaking of the boy”—Norman glanced at his computer monitor—“it appears the zombie managed to infect him with a parasite. It doesn’t look like he’ll make it through the day.”
Conrad closed his eyes, placed a hand to his head.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it. You did everything you could.”
Conrad knew the captain was right. An anonymous tip had come in, giving them the location, and they had made it to the suburbs in record time, managed to track the zombie’s trail into the woods, and as far as Conrad had seen the zombie hadn’t once touched the boy. Still …
“Has the boy been questioned?”
“You mean regarding the hole?”
“He said he and his friends had buried something there a year ago, some money, and he wanted to dig it back up. Then he said the zombie came out of nowhere and tried to attack him.”
“Are you sure? Because it sounded like the zombie had been talking to him for a while.”
Norman squinted at the computer monitor again. “Well, yes, the boy did say the zombie said some things, but he couldn’t remember much of it. You have to keep in mind, the parasite in his body is already eating away at him, and he … he wasn’t very lucid when he was interviewed. Awful, awful thing for his parents.”
“What about the adult zombie?”
“What about it?”
“There hasn’t been an adult zombie attack for months.”
“We’re looking into that, too.”
There was a silence.
Conrad said, “Are you sure you don’t want my resignation? The other men, they …”
“I don’t think they can trust me after this.”
Norman didn’t answer right away. He sat there a moment, watching Conrad closely. Finally he said, “You’ve always been fighting a losing battle. It’s because of your father, who he was, what he was. Henry the Hunter, the world’s greatest Hunter, who will forever exist in movies and TV and video games.”
Norman grinned at the absurdity of it all—he knew Conrad saw it as an embarrassment, his father selling out so that nobody would forget him when he expired—and then quite abruptly the grin faded.
“Everyone’s expected so much from you, and believe me, you’ve delivered. Over nine hundred kills since you became a Hunter, and that’s not counting all those you killed when you were training. Not quite up to the five thousand on your father’s belt, but I’d say you’re the best Hunter in the world right now.”
“If you don’t want my resignation, sir, then why did you call me here?”
Norman closed Conrad’s file and set it aside. He picked up another, held it up for Conrad to see. “Can you read what’s written on this?”
The words TOP SECRET were printed on the white folder.
“Not very conspicuous, I know. But this is the real reason I wanted to speak with you. I think … well, I think it’s time for you to move on.”
Conrad shifted in his chair. “Move on?”
“To whiter pastures. It’s a program that’s been around for decades. Only those men who are Hunters can do what this job entails, and it’s not just any Hunter. They have to have honor, integrity, intelligence. Your name actually came up a few years ago for this program, but there was no way we were going to give you up. Now”—Norman shook his head sadly—“now it looks like I have no choice.”
Norman placed the file on the desk, tapped the two words with a decayed fingernail.
“But this right here? This isn’t a joke. Even before I show this to you, I must have your word you will never tell anybody about it. You can never tell Denise, you can never tell Kyle, you can never tell anyone. I’ve been involved in it for nearly twenty years and never once told my wife, even when she was on her expiration bed. Do you understand?”
Conrad, staring at those two words on the file, nodded.
“I need to hear you say it. I need you to say you understand.”
“Good. Because if you think being a Hunter is the most important job there is, I’m sorry to say you’re wrong.” He tapped the file again. “It’s this. This is what truly keeps the world safe. So if you’re prepared to take on that responsibility, take the file. But keep in mind that if you do, there is no going back. If you have any hesitation at all, it would probably be best that you do resign right now, leave this building, and never look back. Understand?”
Conrad did. His fears of losing his job, of not being able to provide for his family, had quickly left his mind. Still, as he kept his gaze level with Norman, as he leaned forward to take the file, his thoughts returned to his son. Kyle would turn ten in less than two weeks, and it was at that age when children were the most susceptible to turning.
And despite Norman telling him he had nothing to worry about, that Kyle was a good boy, the simple truth was this: if his son turned, Conrad would have no choice.
He’d have to kill him.