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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Excerpt: Empty Graves: Tales of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry

Empty Graves: Tales of the Living Dead
by Jonathan Maberry
September 1, 2021
341 pages
“A big, meaty feast of classic zombie thrills.”—Isaac Marion, New York Times bestselling author of Warm Bodies

From the New York Times bestselling author of Ink, the Rot and Ruin series, and the creator of V-Wars.

The undead walk. Vicious, relentless, and never tiring.


And the dead have their stories.

Bram Stoker Award winner Jonathan Maberry is a master of the zombie tale. Empty Graves: Tales of the Living Dead is emotionally charged and disturbing. These stories range across the genres of horror, science fiction, and biological thriller without ever straying from the fascinating humanity at the core.

Together in a single action-packed collection, these 15 gritty tales of the living dead span Maberry's career, including an exclusive never-before-published short story.

Read them now. If you dare.

The soldier lay dead.


But not entirely.

And how like the world that was.

Mostly dead. But not entirely.

He was buried.

Not under six feet of dirt. There might have been some comfort in that. Some closure. Maybe even a measure of justice.

He wasn’t buried like that. Not in a graveyard, either. Certainly not in Arlington, where his dad would have wanted to see him laid to rest. And not in that small cemetery back home in California, where his grandparents lay under the marble and the green cool grass.

The soldier was in some shit-hole of a who-cares town on the ass-end of Fayette County in Pennsylvania. Not under the ground. Not in a coffin.

He was buried under the dead.

Dozens of them.

Hundreds. A mountain of bodies. Heaped over and around him. Crushing him down, smothering him, killing him.

Not with teeth, though. Not tearing at him with broken fingernails. That was something, at least. Not much. Not a fucking lot. And maybe there was some kind of cosmic joke in all of this. He was certain of that much. A killer of men like him killed by having corpses piled on top of him. A quiet, passive death that had a kind of bullshit poetry attached to it.

However Sam Imura was not a particularly poetic man. He understood it, appreciated it, but did not want to be written into it. No thanks.

He lay there, thinking about it. Dying. Not caring that this was it, that this was the actual end.

Knowing that thought to be a lie. Rationalization at best. His stoicism trying to give his fears a last handjob. No, it’s okay, it’s a good death.

Except that was total bullshit. There were no good deaths. Not one. He had been a soldier all his life, first in the regular army, then in Special Forces, and then in covert ops with a group called the Department of Military Sciences, and then freelance as top dog of a team of heavily armed problem solvers who ran under the nickname the Boy Scouts. Always a soldier. Pulling triggers since he was a kid. Taking lives so many times and in so many places that Sam had stopped counting. Idiots keep a count. Ego-inflated assholes keep count. A lot of his fellow snipers kept count. He didn’t. He was never that crazy.

Now he wished he had. He wondered if the number of people he had killed with firearms, edged-weapons, explosives, and his bare hands equaled the number of corpses under which he was buried.

There would be a strange kind of justice in that, too. And poetry. As if all of the people he’d killed were bound to him, and that they were all fellow passengers on a black shipping sailing to Valhalla. He knew that was a faulty metaphor, but fuck it. He was dying under a mountain of dead ghouls who had been trying to eat him a couple of hours ago. So…yeah, fuck poetry and fuck metaphors and fuck everything.

Sam wondered if he was going crazy.

He could build a case for it.


He heard himself say that. A word. A statement. But even though it had come from him, Sam didn’t exactly know what he meant by it. No, he wasn’t crazy? No, he wasn’t part of some celestial object lesson? No, he wasn’t dying?


He said it again, taking ownership of the word. Owning what it meant.


I’m not dead.

No, I’m not dying.

He thought about those concepts, and rejected them.

“No,” he growled. And now he understood what he was trying to tell himself and this broken, fucked up world.

No. I’m not going to die.

Not here. Not now. Not like this. No motherfucking way. Fuck that, fuck these goddamn flesh-eating pricks, fuck the universe, fuck poetry two times, fuck God, fuck everything.

Fuck dying.

“No,” he said once more, and now he heard himself in that word. The soldier, the survivor, the killer.

The dead hadn’t killed him, and they had goddamn well tried. The world hadn’t killed him, not after all these years. And the day hadn’t killed him. He was sure it was nighttime by now, and he wasn’t going to let that kill him, either.

And so he tried to move.

Easier said than done. The bodies of the dead had been torn by automatic gunfire as the survivors of the Boy Scouts had fought to help a lady cop, Dez Fox, and some other adults rescue several busloads of kids. They’d all stopped at the Sapphire Foods distribution warehouse to stock up before heading south to a rescue station. The dead had come hunting for their own food and they’d come in waves. Thousands of them. Fox and the Boy Scouts had fought their way out.

Kind of.

Sam had gone down under a wave of them and Gipsy, one of the shooters on his team, had tried to save him, hosing the ghouls with magazine after magazine. The dead fell and Sam had gone down beneath them. No one had come to find him, to dig him out.

He heard the bus engines roar. He heard Gipsy scream, though he didn’t know if it was because the hungry bastards got her, or because she failed to save him. Impossible to say. Impossible to know unless he crawled out and looked for her body. Clear enough, though, to reason that she’d seen him fall and thought that he was dead. He should have been, but that wasn’t an absolute certainty. He was dressed in Kevlar, with reinforced arm and leg pads, spider-silk gloves, a ballistic combat helmet with unbreakable plastic visor. There was almost no spot for teeth to get him. And, besides, Gipsy’s gunfire and Sam’s own had layered him with actual dead. Or whatever the new adjective was going to be for that. Dead was no longer dead. There was walking and biting dead and there was dead dead.

Sam realized that he was letting his mind drift into trivia. A defense mechanism. A fear mechanism.

“No,” he said again. That word was his lifeline and it was his lash, his whip.


He tried to move. Found that his right hand could move almost ten inches. His feet were good, too, but there were bodies across his knees and chest and head. No telling how high the mound was, but they were stacked like Jenga pieces. The weight was oppressive but it hadn’t actually crushed the life out of him. Not yet. He’d have to be careful moving so as not to crash the whole stinking mass on them down and really smash the life out of him.

It was a puzzle of physics and engineering, of patience and strategy. Sam had always prided himself on being a thinker rather than a feeler. Snipers were like that. Cold, exacting, precise. Patient.


When he began to move, he felt the mass of bodies move, too. At first he thought it was simple cause and effect, a reaction of limp weight to gravity and shifting support. He paused, and listened. There was no real light, no way to see. He knew that he had been unconscious for a while and so this had to be twilight, or later. Night. In the blackness of the mound he had nothing but his senses or touch and hearing to guide every movement of hand or arm or hip. He could tell when some movement he made caused a body, or a part of a body, to shift.

But then there was a movement up to his right. He had not moved his right arm or shoulder. He hadn’t done anything in that quadrant of his position. All of his movements so far had been directed toward creating a space for his legs and hips to move because they were the strongest parts of him and could do more useful work longer than his arms or shoulders. The weight directly over his chest and what rested on his helmet had not moved at all.

Until they did.

There was a shift. No, a twitch. A small movement that was inside the mound. As if something moved. Not because of him.

Because it moved.

Oh, Jesus, he thought and for a moment he froze solid, not moving a finger, hardly daring to breathe, as he listened and felt for another twitch.

He waited five minutes. Ten? Time was meaningless.



Another movement. Up above him. Not close, but not far away, either. How big was the mound? What was the distance? Six feet from his right shoulder? Six and a half feet from his head? Something definitely moved.

A sloppy, heavy movement. Artless, clumsy. But definite. He could hear the rasp of clothing against clothing, the slither-sound of skin brushing against skin. Close. So close. Six feet was nothing. Even with all of the dead limbs and bodies in the way.

About the author:

Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times bestselling author, 5-time Bram Stoker Award-winner, anthology editor, and comic book writer. His vampire apocalypse book series, V-WARS, was a Netflix original series. He writes in multiple genres including suspense, thriller, horror, science fiction, fantasy, and action; and he writes for adults, teens and middle grade. His works include the Joe Ledger thrillers, Ink, Glimpse, the Rot & Ruin series, the Dead of Night series, The Wolfman, X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate, Mars One, and many others. Several of his works are in development for film and TV. He is the editor of high-profile anthologies including The X-Files, Aliens: Bug Hunt, Out of Tune, New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Baker Street Irregulars, Nights of the Living Dead, and others. His comics include Black Panther: DoomWar, The Punisher: Naked Kills and Bad Blood. His Rot & Ruin young adult novel was adapted into the #1 comic on Webtoon, and is being developed for film by Alcon Entertainment. He is a board member of the Horror Writers Association, the president of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, and the editor of Weird Tales Magazine. He lives in San Diego, California. Find him online at

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