Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

From the blog of Brian Keene: “My death, as Jack Haringa’s death before me, benefits the Shirley Jackson Awards. Sometime today, while you’re reading of my various demises, please consider purchasing a copy of Jack Haringa Must Die. All proceeds benefit the SJA. If you already own a copy, please consider making a donation instead.”

There Is No Substitute For Victory
By Martel Sardina

“Write what you know.”

I’ve been giving those four little words of advice a lot of consideration in the last few days. But not because I want to write a story. Because I think those words are going to tell me what I need to know in order to kill Brian Keene.

Brian Keene likes to write about zombies. I used to think that it was because he had an abnormal preoccupation with monsters. But now I know that’s not true. He’s just following that old adage. Brian writes about zombies because he is one.

I’m sure some of you are thinking that just because Brian is zombie doesn’t mean that he has to die. He’s a nice guy. He’s got a wife and a kid. Couldn’t we just overlook this zombie business and let him be? It’s not like he’s out there trying to eat people’s brains or anything…right?


What you may not have realized is the vast conspiracy in the horror community to keep Brian’s status a secret. He’s got his own army, for Christ’s sake. I used to believe that he was one of those authors who traveled the convention circuit in an attempt to really make a connection with his readers. But none of that was about self promotion or selling books. It was all about his ingenious plan to create a pandemic infestation of the undead.

I first became suspicious of Keene at a little convention near Providence, Rhode Island called NECON. Some say that stands for the Northeastern Writers Conference. I say it stands for Nocturnal Ecologists for Corpse Observation and Necromancy. Within moments of my arrival, Keene made his attempt to indoctrinate me.

“It’s your first NECON?” Keene said. A sick smile crept across his face.

“Yes,” I said.

“Here,” he said. His fingers were closed around the neck of a nearly full bottle of brown liquid. He took a swig and offered the bottle to me.

“What’s this?”

“Just take it. I’ve only got five minutes.”

“For what?”

“To get rid of it.”

“I’m not really big on hard liquor.”

“Have a sip. You’ll like it. Trust me.”

“Don’t do it!” A voice called out. “You take that bottle and you’re going to die.”

A woman rushed toward me. She had short blonde hair, and dark framed glasses. “Shame on you, Brian.” She scowled and then pushed me away from him.

“I’m really sorry about that.”

“It’s ok. He was just being friendly.”

“That’s what he wants you to think.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

The woman shooed me to a safe distance and said, “Just watch.”

Brian approached a young man. He was tall with a freshly shaven head. Brian smiled when the kid affirmed that this was his first NECON, too. Brian handed the kid the bottle. As soon as transfer was made, Brian gave the kid a hearty handshake.

“Time’s a wasting,” he said.

The kid took a pull and swallowed. A strange yellow glint appeared in his eyes as he wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve. He tried to give the bottle back but Keene wouldn’t take it.

“You’ve got four minutes,” Keene said.

“For what?”

“To get rid of that bottle,” Keene said.

“And what if I can’t?” The kid wasn’t just nervous. He was starting to panic.

“Do you really want to know?”

The kid nodded and Keene whispered something in his ear.


Keene scoffed. “I couldn’t make shit like that up.”

The kid ran off, intent on finding others who could drain that bottle dry before time ran out.

The kid didn’t make it.

I don’t know exactly what happened to him or the woman who saved me from the five minute bottle. The other NECON campers are in cahoots with Keene on this. Some claim the woman cracked her head open in the quad and had to be taken to the hospital. No one talks about the kid. For all I know, he wound up being crab bait in Mt. Hope Bay. They all claim Keene had nothing to do with it. But I’ve noticed the rest of them have that same look the kid had. With all the questions I asked, I’m surprised I made it out of there alive.

Which is why I have to take Keene out now. I don’t know if I’ll be as lucky next time.

You may be thinking, “If Brian Keene is a zombie, how is it that we haven’t noticed? Surely, he should be decomposing by now.” I think I’ve figured that out. He drinks Knob Creek to preserve his flesh and smokes cigars to cover the smell of decay. What threw me for a loop was the notion that he owned guns. Wouldn’t a zombie be afraid of such things? And that’s when I realized that he’s bluffing about the guns. He tells stories on his blog to make us all think he’s a card carrying member of the NRA. It’s an attempt to not only throw people off the zombie trail, but also to dissuade the conspiracy theorists such as myself, from trying to take him out.

Which is why I’m not going to fool around. I’m using every trick in The Zombie Survival Guide and every voodoo curse before I depress the plunger on a motherload of explosives that should make the entire state of Pennsylvania wonder if George Bush even knew what “shock and awe” really meant.

I know that Brian Keene may not be the only casualty of my attack.

I apologize in advance for any “innocents” that are killed as a result of my actions.

I am prepared to give my life in order to save humanity from the Zombie Apocolypse.

Brian Keene must die. Today.

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

My entry to The Great Chicago Ghost Story Contest, “The Wraiths of Roseland,” is available online for a limited time. If you read the piece and like it, please leave a comment on the site. The winning entry will be published in the Chicago Tribune on November 1st.

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Got word this morning that three stories from Hell in the Heartland (which I co-edited with Roger Dale Trexler) made the Honorable Mention list for the Best Horror of the Year Volume One edited by Ellen Datlow.

The lucky authors were:

Richard Chewdyk for “The Ambiguities”
C.S.E. Cooney for “My Body Your Banquet”
Nikki M. Pill for “Shadows on the Pews”

Congratulations to all!

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Every time I think I’ve got this writing thing figured out, someone throws me for a loop. I’ve heard of flash fiction, twitter/tweet fiction, but hint ficton? What’s that?

Here’s the definition according to Robert Swartwood:

hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story

Robert is looking for stories that meet this criteria for an upcoming anthology to be published by W.W. Norton. Guidelines can be found here.

Now, excuse me while I give this form of storytelling a try :)

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

For those who missed it, here’s the story I read at The Chicago Comic Vault‘s Zombie Con. Enjoy!

One Step Ahead Of The Dead
By Martel Sardina

“Zombies are not scary,” Trisha said as she turned off the TV.

She flopped back down on the couch next to me.

“Bullshit,” I said. “They’re re-animated corpses. They want to eat your brains. If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.”

Trisha yawned. “Zombies are boring. They’re so slow. The problem with idiots in horror movies is that they seem to forget that. The victims always wind up being sitting ducks. They get themselves trapped in a building. If they were smart, they’d just outrun them. Anyone who can’t outrun a zombie deserves to be devoured.”

“Ok, maybe I’ll have to give you that,” I said. “But what about when you can’t run anymore?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if you’re outnumbered? You know, the Zombie Apocalypse?”

“Might I remind you that zombies aren’t real?”

“But what if they were?”

“You and your landlord mother would be in trouble. This apartment’s not up to code. You’ve only got one way out. Good thing they’re not.”

“Admit it. You’re scared of zombies.”

“I am not.”

“You noticed the weakness in my floor plan.”

“I was just pointing out the obvious.”

“You notice things, but you don’t want to dwell on them. Are you really that afraid of thinking about what you’d do in case of the zombie apocalypse?”

“Why should I waste my time thinking about something that’s never going to happen?”

“How do you know it’s never going to happen? Scientists have made zombie dogs. Drained their blood, electro shocked them back to life. How long do you think it will be before they start testing that out on people?”

“Why would scientists want to create “real” zombies? It’s not like they’re useful or anything.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Movie zombies might not be useful. But think about what you could do with a “real” zombie. The military applications alone…”

“You spend way too much time thinking about this stuff. I’ve had enough hypothetical discussions about zombies for one day. By the way, how’s the job hunt going?”

“I’ve got a few leads,” I said.

“Maybe you should spend more time focusing on finding a job and less time watching Romero’s masterpieces.”

“You’re starting to sound like my mother,” I said.

“Can you blame her for wanting her nearly forty year old son to become a productive member of society?”

“That hurts.”

“Truth does sometimes.”

“I write horror,” I said. “I get paid to think about zombies.”

“Five cents a word, if you’re lucky. Remind me, when was the last time you sold a story?”

“You know the market is tough these days. Magazines are folding. It’s not like I’m not trying to sell something.”

“We’ve been engaged for three years now. We dated for six years before that. How much longer do you expect me to wait before you give up this dream of yours so we can actually have a life together?”

“You want me to give up writing?”

“No. Of course not. You can still write your zombie stories. Just do it after you come home from a job that actually pays enough to get you out of your mother’s basement.”

“You know I can’t do that,” I said.

“If you can’t do that then I can’t do this,” Trish said. She took off the engagement ring I’d given her and set it on the table. She pushed it across to me. “Call me when you’re ready to grow up.”


I never made that call.

Oh, I got a job three days later. But I wasn’t about to tell Trish or my mother or anyone else about it. They’d find out soon enough.


“Welcome to the Center for Resuscitation Research. We’re glad to have you on board.”

“Thanks, Doc,” I said.

“I have some paperwork for you to sign,” he said as he handed me a large stack of forms attached to a clipboard and a pen. “Don’t forget to name a beneficiary.”

“I want you to send all of the money to my mother,” I said. “Should buy her a nice retirement in Florida, once she forgives me, that is.”

“I’m sure it will,” the Doc said.

I handed the stack of signed documents back to him. He flipped through them.

“It looks like everything is in order. Are you ready to get prepped for the procedure?”

“You’re going to do me up right, aren’t you, Doc?”

“Of course. We treat all of our test subjects with the utmost dignity and respect.”

“No bullshit, Doc. You can’t turn me over to the military until after I see Trish one last time. That’s our deal. No bait and switch.”

“Of course not. After the procedure, you’ll be given the opportunity to say goodbye to the life you had. It’s an important part of the process. You won’t be able to fully acclimate to your new life without a clean break.”

“Ok, then I’m ready.”

“I must warn you, our research with human subjects is limited. There is no certainty that you will retain your memory or your ability to speak for that matter. Your cognitive functions may be severely limited. We will still take you to see Ms. Evans but if there’s anything you want to say to her, you might want to write it down.”

“Just seeing her will be enough.”

“Let’s get you down to pre-OP,” the Doc said.

“Lead the way.”


I woke up to blinding lights in the OR.

The Doc pulled the paddles off of my chest, set them on the crash cart and wiped the sweat from his brow.

“Kevin? Blink once if you can hear me.”

He looked at his watch.

I blinked.

“Time to response: forty-two seconds,” the Doc said. “That’s average. You’re doing fine.”

“Can you try to say something?”

I tried to say “Sure, Doc” but it came out all garbled and left my cheek wet with drool.

“This is even better than I’d hoped,” the Doc said.

“ISH,” I said. “ISH.”

“Tomorrow, Kevin. You’ve got to rest and build up your strength. Then we’ll go see Trish.”


A well-balanced zombie diet consists of three to five servings of brains per day. I’d missed three meals due to the procedure. But the Doc hadn’t forgotten. A fresh tray had been brought to my room within a few minutes of being brought down from recovery.

They did not taste like chicken.

Death can really take a lot out of you. Bulking up on protein did help with the weakness. By the next morning I felt much better. Moving took a lot longer than I remembered. But the Doc said the sluggish feeling was to be expected.

We arrived at Trisha’s apartment just before dinner.

The Doc rang the bell for me.

“I’ll be waiting in the car,” the Doc said.

“ANKS,” I said.

Trisha opened the door. She gave me the once over. “This is a joke, right?”

“ISH,” I said.

“I know you’re upset that I dumped you, but you could’ve at least showered before you decided to put on your Halloween costume and drop by.”

“ISH,” I said as I shambled toward her.

“This isn’t funny, Kevin.”

I wasn’t laughing. I grimaced as I felt the first twinge of hunger pangs.

“What’s this?” She gra
bbed my arm and looked at my wristband. “Where you in some kind of accident? Are you ok?”


“Center for Resuscitation Research?”


“DOD: 6/21/09?”

As I locked my fingers around her wrist, she screamed.

“Let me go!”

I pulled her closer.

She shrieked.

I pushed her back across the threshold.


She jerked away from me, skittered backwards and fell down near the closet door. She jumped up, opened the door, scurried in and slammed it shut.

Oh, Trish, I thought. Whatever happened to anyone who can’t outrun a zombie deserves to be devoured?

Revenge should always taste this sweet.

I pulled open the closet door only to be surprised by the cold steel of her sawed-off Browning pressed against my forehead.

I never considered the possibility that Trish had actually spent some time thinking about what to do in case of a zombie attack.

“Call me when you decide grow up,” she’d said.

She’d never said that she didn’t share my passions. Maybe she really loved me.

This changed everything.

“ON’T…OOT,” I said.

But that’s exactly what a zombie would say to lull his victim into a false sense of security.

I couldn’t blame Trish for not listening.

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Thursday, 6/11/09

Arrived in LA just after 9am. Made it to the hotel by mid-morning and waited for my roommate, Angel Leigh McCoy to arrive. She is a writer from Seattle and we hit it off from the get go. I had to laugh when we ordered the same lunch and both proceeded to pull the tomatoes off of our sandwiches when they arrived. We killed a couple of hours in downtown Burbank, did a little shopping, and had a nice cab ride to and from the hotel courtesy of George, our driver. We met up with Hal Bodner for a tour of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The grounds were beautiful. If only I could afford to be buried there.

Later that evening, I attended the signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Thank goodness there was a large crowd gathered in the store. If there hadn’t been, I surely would’ve maxed out my credit card. I managed to escape financial ruin, leaving with only (1) book, a shirt and a new skull hoodie.

The signing was followed by dinner and drinks with the Dark Scribe Press crowd. (Thanks, Vince!) Their anthology, Unspeakable Horror, won the Stoker for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

Friday, 6/12/09

Highlights included panels featuring: Mick Garris, John Farris, Richard & RC Matheson. RC talked a bit about his band, SMASH CUT. I had the pleasure of hearing them play a couple of years ago in NY and was happy to hear that they have a CD out. I’m sure it will be in high rotation on my iPod soon.

Saturday, 6/13/09

More panels. Supported my friends at Dark Arts Books by manning their table in the dealer’s room and talking up their latest release, MIGHTY UNCLEAN. This four author collection features great stories by Cody Goodfellow, Mort Castle, Gemma Files, and Gary A. Braunbeck.

The evening kicked off with Dark Scribe’s pre-Stoker party featuring 80′s hits and feather boas. Jeff Strand was the MC for the banquet, a job that he must never give up. I love his sense of humor. After the banquet, I was on hand at the HWA/WHC2010 post-Stoker party to answer questions about the Reading Cafe in Brighton and convinced a few more people to start saving up for the trip.

Sunday, 6/14/09

Hit the HWA meeting and Closing Ceremonies in the morning. And then it was time to head back home. The weekend came to an end too quickly. Had a great time with old friends, made a few new ones and can’t wait to see everyone again soon.

Many thanks to John R. Little and Lisa Morton (and all the other volunteers) for putting on a great show.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I’ll be attending the 2009 Bram Stoker Awards this weekend.

Here’s my tentative schedule:

Thursday, June 11th – Signing books at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA from 7 to 9pm.

Saturday, June 13th – Dark Scribe Magazine Pre-Stoker Awards party from 5 to 7pm. Come get your feather boas here!

Saturday, June 13th – WHC2010 After Party. I’ll be available to answer any questions you may have about the Reading Cafe in Brighton.

If you don’t see me there, check the dealer’s room. I may be spending some time at the Dark Arts Books table helping them sell copies of their latest release, MIGHTY UNCLEAN, featuring stories by Cody Goodfellow, Gemma Files, Gary Braunbeck and Mort Castle.

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

My Only Defense

He held my daughter’s hands
as she took her first steps.

I smiled,
how he smelled of baby powder,
his toothless grin,
the first time I held him.

Twenty odd years passed

Where’s the little boy I used to tickle?
The kid on his skateboard?
The Marine I was so proud of?

Gone in a split second.

I keep asking myself
Why him?
Why now?
Even though knowing the answer wouldn’t change a thing.

Believing a greater good will come
is my only defense.

I mourn the loss
of the man he was
and the man
he had not yet become.

A husband.
A father.

Though I saw a glimpse of that man once…
the day he held my daughter’s hands.

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

I wrote this story last June in response to a challenge by John Skipp on Storytellers Unplugged.

The assignment was to write a death scene that was emotionally connected, not just blood and gore. It was a topic that I knew something about. Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. This piece would not have been written had I not had the experience of being there when he lost his battle with cancer.

No Cure For The Open Wound
by Martel Sardina

“So,” my daughter says to my nurse, “do you think he’s going to make it through the night?”

She thinks I can’t hear her, that the morphine has knocked me out. I can’t open my eyes anymore, but I’m still here.

I don’t care what these damn doctors say. I don’t have cancer. I’m not dying.

“If I were you,” my nurse says, “I’d say whatever I have to say before you leave. If you decide to leave.”

Great. Now the waterworks are on. I can hear her crying. Though I can’t understand why. Before the doctors told her I was sick, I hadn’t seen her in over a year. She had no problem saying goodbye to me then. I wonder what she finds so hard about it now.

“Okay, thanks,” my daughter says. She sits down in the chair beside my bed.

The nurse is fiddling with things. Must be adjusting the oxygen machine again. The air doesn’t seem to be coming as fast. Then she packs up her things. Her heels click-clack against the tile floor as she walks out of my room.

My daughter puts her hand on top of mine and squeezes it gently. Her hand is sweaty and I want to pull away but for some reason my arm feels heavy, too heavy to move. I’m expecting her to say something. Perhaps to make a pathetic attempt at an apology. But the room is quiet, save for the buzzing of the blood pressure cuff that turns on every fifteen minutes. When I could still talk, I told the nurse to take the damn thing off. Same with the oxygen sensor that’s on my index finger. If I’m really dying, why would they care about keeping track of such things? If I’m really dying, shouldn’t they just let me be?

“Dad,” she says. “I told them to shut the oxygen off. I can’t watch you suffer like this anymore.”

Suffer? This isn’t suffering. I’m not in pain. If she wasn’t so stupid, maybe she’d know that this is bliss compared to the way she hurt me.

I notice that the blood pressure cuff has gone slack. And that thing on my finger, it’s not there anymore either. I can still hear the beeping that indicates my heart’s still beating. It’s getting faster now. I’m having a hard time taking in air. I can feel my chest getting tighter with each labored breath. My heart’s pumping hard.

Click-clack. The nurse is back.

“Is this normal?”

“Yes. His breathing will become more erratic as things start shutting down.”

“What about his heart rate? It seems really high.”

“The heart is trying to compensate for what the lungs can’t do.”

Things are sort of going in and out now. I know they’re still talking but it sounds garbled, like someone talking on a cell phone from inside a bathroom stall.

And then it hits me…my daughter, my own flesh and blood just pulled the plug on me.

I’m angry now. She has no right to make that choice, to play God. I want to scream. I try to move but nothing is working the way that it should.

Goddamnit. I don’t want to die here. Not in this place. I wish she would have just left me at home. Let me die in my own goddamn bed.

I’m going to tell her that. If it’s the last thing I do.

I heave for breath, then open my eyes.


I can’t remember what I wanted to say.


I’m just going to rest my head on this pillow now.

She grabs me, hugs me. Her tears trickled down my cheeks. They’re warm.

I wish I’d told her that I loved her.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Just saw Bob Freeman’s wonderful cover art for Death In Common Edited by Rich Ristow. I’m really proud to be a part of this project and can’t wait for the anthology’s release. More information on the release date coming soon.

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