Two years after a freak electrical storm somehow kicked off a zombie apocalypse, a man named Calvin has managed to carve out a relatively safe, if inherently sad and lonely existence in the town of Mud Creek. His house is fenced in and fortified, and he's secured himself exclusive access to the town's grocery store, plus a few other businesses essential to his survival. For a guy riding out the end of the world, he's practically got it all – except, of course, for his wife and daughter, the two people he'd have given all to protect…except that he couldn't.
There's no disputing that Joe R. Lansdale is a master storyteller, and his talents are fully on display in Christmas with the Dead, a story published in 2010 by PS Publishing as part of their line of chapbooks. Lansdale's tale has all the ingredients you expect to find in a good zombie story: a little gore, some gallows humor, moments of unbearable tension and lots of corpse killin', mixed together and presented in Lansdale's signature, down home style.
What you might not expect is the emotional punch this story packs. I certainly didn't expect it, and I should have known better; one of the things that has always drawn me to Lansdale's work is his ability to create characters and situations that feel real. In Calvin, we've got a guy who suddenly decides he wants to celebrate Christmas despite the tragic memories the day now holds for him, and we want him to succeed so badly that we'll forgive him for taking huge risks just to find a new Christmas tree and a few lights. He deserves this, and you'll want him to have it just as bad as I did.
It's a quick read, but it's not fluff; I want to go into more details, but it's better to go in blind like I did and discover the power of this little story for yourself. Whether you are familiar with Lansdale's other work or not, this is a must-read for fans of good fiction – zombie or otherwise.
It should also be noted that Lansdale is not done with this story – it has been adapted into a movie which was shot over this past summer. The author served as executive producer, his son Keith scripted the adaptation, and his daughter Kasey has a role in the film, which is in postproduction now and headed for a 2012 release.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.