Elliott Serrano, for Redeye
2:53 PM CDT, July 16, 2013
I'm a big fan of the television show "The Walking Dead." (Geek confession: I have not read the comic books by Robert Kirkman. I know, I know, that's as big a sin as not reading "Game of Thrones.") I am an even bigger fan of "Breaking Bad." If there is any show on cable right now that I consider "appointment television" it's BB. The show is just so well written, the characters so compelling, that I just need to know what's going to happen next.
So you could imagine my cynicism when someone pitches the book "FIEND" to me as "Breaking Bad meets The Walking Dead." That's a pretty high bar you've gotta reach in my opinion.
And then I read the book. And while the comparison to the 2 shows in question may give you an idea of what to expect in "FIEND", the truth is that this debut novel by author Peter Stenson really does stand on its own. As a recovering addict, Stenson is intimately aware of how your life is turned upside-down when it's spent in the dogged pursuit of your next fix. In looking through the eyes of Chase Daniels, the protagonist of "FIEND", the reader gets a look into the mindset of the junkie. And then Stenson adds the zombie apocalypse. Pret-ty clever if you ask me.
Here's an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from the book to give you an idea of what this world Stenson has created is like. Then let me know what you think about it in the comment section, or even hit me up on Twitter:
Sometimes when I smoke shit, I reach the perfect balance of motivation and concentration. This is one of those times. I create a list as we drive north. A list of things we need to do,and of things we know or think we know. I’m writing on the back of an El Sombrero single-slice box.
1. We have killed two people things today (self- defense).
2. These things are zombielike.
3. Zombies don’t exist.
4. There are at least two other people (perv on 18toplay, and Tibbs) who aren’t dead.
I stop making the list and pull out my cell phone for the first time. Why the fuck haven’t I tried to call anyone? I hit speed dial one, KK. It goes straight to voice mail. I think about her being Svetlana, naked and skinny and laughing a demonic laugh. I picture her as Rebecca, alone and dead, being eaten by greedy cats. Then I picture her as me, trying to make sense out of everything, terrified. I call again. I tell the machine I love her, it will be okay, to call and let me know she’s alive.
Then I call my parents. It’s been at least a year since I’ve talked to them. The phone rings and I’m picturing them sitting around the kitchen table, my dad with his graying hair, his readers resting on the bridge of his nose, holding my mother’s hand, maybe brushing her dehydrated-piss-yellow hair away from her eyes. They’re sitting there worrying, waiting for the call that tells them their son is dead. It goes to voice mail. Guns and shit, Typewriter says.
Supplies. Weapons. The list. Cabela’s is ’bout twenty miles away.
5. Weapons. Food and water.
And dope, Type says.
You fucking serious?
As hepatitis, he says.
I look over the list. My fleeting sense of accomplishment fades. The list is retarded. It gets me no closer to understanding what’s happening. I light a cigarette. Typewriter asks for one. He tells me to put cigarettes on the list. Fuck the list, I say. I look out the window and it’s dark now, like really dark, an hour and a half north of the Twin Cities, nothing but an abandoned two-lane highway. Where is everyone? Like, if things really were the way they seemed—people were either
dead or walking dead— then where was the panic? Movies showed that shit all the time. Some dude getting bit in a shit box of a country, then flying back to the US, chewing up his family, and from there the plague shit spreading with the speed of herpes on an Ivy League squash team.
But people panic on TV. They break into stores. They board up houses. They run out of gas. And here we are, driving eighty, not a single car in the way. I mention this to Typewriter. He looks over, a Newport dangling from his swollen lips. He says, How the fuck do they know?
Hollywood and shit.
Like there’s rules to the fucking apocalypse? Bro, this shit here, whatever is going on, you can bet your ass it’s never happened before. Not in some movie. Not in a book. It’s some dinosaur shit, you know?
I tell him I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Extinction, man. The end. Finished. Us. Humans. Thanks for playing. Better luck next—
Yeah, got it, I say.
Typewriter starts to chuckle—like real live chuckles, like he’s playing a part in a B movie. I think about those scratches on his back, if something could be transmitted that way. I think about him turning, his face even paler, him ready to tear my throat like the little girl did the rottweiler. I don’t write it down, but I put it at the top of the list in my head: Typewriter might become one of them.
He finally quits with the staged laugh. He says, Just kind of weird that we’re the motherfuckers chosen to last. We’re quiet after that and I’m chewing on his word chosen.
I’ve already peaked and am coming down and we’re out of shit and I can’t stand the silence, so I turn on the radio. Static. Typewriter pushes in a CD. It’s techno. I hate the shit, like it’s so stereotypical that baseheads listen to trance, but at least it’s a distraction. I call KK. My parents. Nothing. I picture them all dead. I know my parents would be lying in bed together, both of them in Christmas Carol flannel night-gowns. I wonder if Jared is next to KK.
Typewriter pulls off Interstate 35E. Cabela’s, a giant Lego-shaped hunting and fishing store, sits in the middle of a sea of asphalt. I can’t see any cars in the parking lot. Typewriter turns down the music. The energy in the car shifts, and neither of us says anything. This world shouldn’t fucking exist. We park right in front of the entrance. Through the glass windows we see the store is pitch black. Typewriter takes the keys out of the ignition but I stop him. I say, Maybe we should leave them in the car.
Then he understands. He says, I’m not trying to get left in—
Neither am I.
We get out. We’re nothing but swiveling heads, spooked by every gust of wind. I try the door. Locked. I give the plate glass a kick. It hurts like shit. Typewriter slams into it with his shoulder. He yells, Fuck.
Shut up, I say.
We look around for what could have heard us. Somewhere an owl cries and I think this is about the worst omen the world could possibly give us. Typewriter kicks the door again. The glass won’t budge. This makes sense, a store housing guns having fortified security. I keep kicking. I feel useless, my efforts, my inability to break into a fucking store. And it’s with this refrain of failure that my idea to smash the car through the door is born. I tell Typewriter.
Not smart, he says.
We need the guns, I say. And the car. How else are we going to break—
Not with the one car we have.
I tell him I’m not talking about the whole car. Just enough to crack the glass. That it will be a little damage to the front bumper. That’s it, I say, I promise.
He shakes his head.
I get into the car and back it up, maybe fifty feet from the entrance. Fifteen miles per hour is all I need. I give it some gas. I’m closing in on the entrance and it’s a brilliant idea and I hit the curb and bounce and then I’m at the door and there’s a solid thud. My head hits the wheel. My ears ring. I look up. The glass is smashed, the door cracked. Perfect. I get out and the ringing’s even louder and Typewriter’s yelling something I can’t make out and I realize the ringing
isn’t inside of my ears, it’s a siren. I’ve set off an alarm system.
Red lights flash inside the store. Type’s practically shouting into my mouth. He points to my head. I wipe my forehead and feel it’s wet with blood but I tell him I’m fine. I point to the doors and we climb over the hood and into the store. I don’t know what the fuck alerts the walking dead to their victims—light or sound or smell—but I know that flashing strobes and piercing alarms can’t be helping us. The cut on my forehead fills back up. I wonder if it’s maybe the smell of blood that attracts these motherfuckers.
In and out, I shout.
The scene alternates between sheer darkness and flashes of emergency red—a rack of raincoats, sleeping bags, camping stoves—pulsing every second, maybe quicker, and I’m just waiting to see decapitated Svetlana naked and ready to tear into my jugular. We’re making our way to the back-left corner and I barely notice that my hand is holding on to Typewriter’s T-shirt and we’re inching forward during our milliseconds of red, still and flexed during our breaths of blackness.
The strobes remind me of my short time being a club kid, all about watered-down Minnesota raves, abandoned ware-houses along the Mississippi, grams of ecstasy, techno, filthy red couches, and reach-arounds from random girls/maybe guys— basically my nineteenth year on this earth. I’m remembering one night in particular, Halloween, me dressed as a slut in fishnets with a run up my inner thigh, having smoked more scante than I’d ever done before. I’d stumbled through that warehouse, knowing I was going to die. I could feel it at the base of my throat, death. I knew that my only chance at redemption was fresh air. The strobe lights and my heart pounding and my dick practically hanging out of my mini-skirt costume and everyone I saw some gross perversion of people who had once said they loved me.
The sirens are so fucking loud. Both then and now. I’m swallowing spittle thicker than come. That night, inch by inch, I’d made my way to a steel door, the flashing Exit sign like pure love. I’d pushed with all of my might. It wouldn’t budge. I crumpled there in my miniskirt and pumps. My left stuffed tit had fallen out. I cried because this was the end and I was dressed like a slut and I felt better than I’d ever felt before.
Typewriter says, Right there, the guns.
I can barely make out the glass cases of guns. I’m hoping for machine guns and grenades like Call of Duty and I just want the siren to stop and the lights to pick a side, red or black, and I’m still holding Typewriter’s fat arm like a life preserver. He hands me a canoe paddle. I ask if he sees something. He doesn’t respond. I’m about to cry because this isn’t my life and there has got to be something so bad coming our way and I tell myself in and out, then back to the car, back to the deserted highway, but then where?
Typewriter smashes the case full of handguns. He shouts for me to do the same with the shotguns. I run behind the counter. The first display holds shotguns, that much I know, mostly because the barrels are fatter than the butt plug from Svetlana’s arsenal. I swing the oar into the glass and it shatters, bits raining down on my hair. I reach in and grab the first shotgun, some Terminator short-barrel number. It’s heavy like a motherfucker, but I love it, the weight. It’s the first gun I’ve ever held. I scan the store, giving it a pump. I’m almost hoping for some walking dead piece of shit to charge me.
Something lands at my feet and I scream like hell, jumping toward the wall. It’s a giant green duffle bag. Typewriter already has one full of the pistols. He walks to the other case, presumably full of rifles. I take the shotguns out one by one. I wonder why we could possibly need this many guns. I’ve loaded ten into the bag, with six or seven still to go. A bag of pistols. Another bag of rifles. Like what are we expecting? Then I think about us being the only ones left. Just us— Typewriter and his B cups, me and my forehead tic—driving around, breaking into stores, killing fictional characters. How long can this really go on? A week? A month? A year? And then I’m thinking about that Halloween again. About wondering how long the shit I’d smoked would
last. About how long it would be until the rave was over and I could get out of my whore getup, how long until everything got back to normal. How fucking badly I’d wanted things to go back to normal. It’s funny, you go through your whole life thinking everything sucks, that if only you had this, said that, then things would be better. But when shit happens, like real shit, say smoking enough scante to kill a village or choosing drugs over KK or the world dying and reanimating, it’s only then that you pray for the rewind, when you realize your life had been just fucking peachy before.
I have no idea about ammo. I just take boxes of everything. My duffle bag is ungodly heavy and I struggle to put it over my shoulder. Typewriter waddles over, a bag in each hand. He yells something about camping gear. I tell him we need to get out of here. I hear sleeping bags and tents. I say, Right fucking now.
We get back to the car and throw the duffles in the back. The parking lot is still vacant. Typewriter takes the wheel and throws the gearshift into reverse. I’m breathing a little steadier now, not quite believing that we accomplished what we set out to. The back tires go over the curb, then the front. I think I hear a hiss. It feels like my side is sagging. I keep quiet because
I’m not going to change a tire in the middle of all this noise.
Fucking flat, Type says.
Just go, I say.
He keeps driving. I look out of my window, half expecting sparks to be shooting out.
No spare, anyway, Typewriter says.
You know that.
Shit, I say. I think about the space in the bottom of the trunk where a spare normally sits, the space we fill with the ounces of shit we get from the Albino and transport back to the city. But part of me is glad that at least we won’t be fucking around changing the tire. I ask how long we’ll be able to ride on it.
He shrugs. I ask again.
He says, Just pretend the shit isn’t happening.
I like this line of reasoning. It’s been my motto before I even knew what a motto was. None of this is happening. We drive thirty-five on the highway. I ask where we’re going. Again with the shrug. I’m not sure why I even asked, because we both know damn well we’re going to see if the Albino is still alive. That’s the only reason we’ve been driving north. Maybe we didn’t say anything, but it’s one of those things that is understood.
You think he’s still alive? I ask.
Typewriter tells me it doesn’t matter.
A week’s gone by since we last paid him a visit.
I smile. He’s right. It’s Monday, our normal pickup day. And I think about our ounce of methamphetamines waiting there like an ice pack for a sore knee. Normally, it’s us having to sell at least enough shit to smoke for free, which is hard as hell, breaking it down into teeners, Typewriter taking the bars along West Seventh, me spending a weekend at the clubs over
in Minneapolis. And this selling isn’t to make money, since neither of us owns a TV, a computer, even a headboard. It’s selling twenty-dollar bags, each one a felony possession, our pockets accumulating to felony intent to distribute, in order to support our habits. I laugh. We can’t call this shit a habit anymore. That stopped years before, back when crystal was for special occasions or to fuck all night.
What’s funny? Typewriter asks.
Kind of messed up, I say.
Like the world’s ending or whatever, and here we are . . .
Tryin’ to get our heads straight, Typewriter says.
He pulls his fat lips in on themselves. The fuck we supposed to be doing?
I have no idea. Driving to our cook’s house with a flat tire and thirty guns in our backseat is about as logical a reaction to being attacked by a little girl with umbrella socks as anything else.
No, really, he says, I’m asking you, what would anyone else be doing?
I don’t answer. Instead I pull out my phone and try KK and my parents again. Nothing.
Probably fine, Typewriter says.
I’m quiet for a second. For some reason, I know my parents are dead. Know might be a bit strong, but I just have this feeling, an image, them together, not breathing. I tell Typewriter I doubt it. Typewriter tells me to keep the faith. I wonder what faith he ever kept. Maybe he’s heard somebody say that in a movie. I say, Yeah, I guess.
He reaches over my legs to the glove compartment. I notice the tears in his shirt, the bloody scratches from Svetlana. I need to keep an eye on him, need to get a loaded gun in my possession. Typewriter rifles around in the glove box and I tell him I’ve got the pipe and it’s cashed anyway. He pulls something out, turns on the dome light. It’s a photo. He hands it to me. Typewriter as a pudgy grade-schooler. He’s standing next to an Italian-looking woman, short and dark, her hand resting on his shoulder. Both he and the woman are smiling. I don’t know what to say or how long I’m supposed to look at the picture. I don’t know what the fuck he’s showing this to me for. Then I realize he thinks my parents are dead and this is his silent vigil, his burning candle, his feeble attempt at keeping the memory of his mother alive. Miss her, man, Typewriter says.
I hand the picture back. Typewriter studies it. I don’t have a picture of my parents. He puts it back in the glove compartment. I find this whole thing uncomfortably touching, this sharing and opening up. I need to get high.
FIEND: A Novel, Peter Stenson
Crown Publishers * On sale: July 9, 2013 * ISBN 978-0-770-43631-5
Hardcover * Price: $22.00 * 304 pages
Also available as an ebook: 978-0-770-43632-2
PETER STENSON WILL BE APPEARING AT SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON JULY 18-21, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC