Community Veggie Soup (Pot of Kansas Sunshine)

Purchase Controlling Dead in the next 48 24 hours (I am late because I wanted to make this a special Mama’s Kitchen Mondays recipe post also), but you can still grab this awesome zombie goodness for the special price of 2.99 and get exclusive bonus content! Hurry once the offer ends the content will be gone forever. I have a recipe in honor of Kansas and keeping healthy so you do not succumb to anything to terribly bad during the Zombie Apocalypse plus how to make your own vegetable stock!

release-day-blitzRelease Day
Controlling the Dead
by Annie Walls

Amazon ~ Goodreads ~ Barnes & Noble


Community Vegetable Soup (or Kansas Sunshine Soup)


Once the greenhouse starts producing fresh vegetables you can think about doing something other than rice and beans. Sure you have all those beans and may want to use them for the added protein but let’s spice it up a bit and make all that work you did taking out the famished and putrid (zombie types for you guys who don’t know of Kansas and the Community). Plus after showering off the zombie goo, “hearty” is what you are going to want! You will have enough for a wrap up dinner with the team or to bring and share with anyone stuck in their room recovering from a fight at the Clap Trap.

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  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or whatever you can get at this point)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped (pun intended)
  • 2 carrots, sliced thick and chunky. (Sometimes guests tend to eat fast and it is better to have it chopped up so they don’t choke on too big of pieces)
  • 3 cups mixed vegetables (again chopped – see my list with the homemade broth. I would add basics, but sometimes it is what is available)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon thyme (dried but if you have fresh 3 teaspoons, same with any fresh, ratio is always 3:1)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (see above if you have fresh)
  • Pepper to taste (whatever kind you like)
  • ½ cup green onions and a handful of chopped parsley to top
  • 12 cups vegetable stock (recipe below – make this while you are out collecting more zombies)
  • 1 14 ounce can tomatoes (if you cannot find any canned tomatoes while looting, the greenhouse discounts the over ripe ones, just stew your own!)
  • 2 cups of canned kidney & red bean mix (or make your own, easy to do also)
  1. Heat oil in a large soup or stock pot. Add onion, carrots and celery. Heat, stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until onions start to get translucent. Add the rest of the veggies and heat for a few more minutes (just enough time to let Dex out for a break).
  2. Add garlic, salt, thyme and oregano, stirring to coat the vegetables well.
  3. Add vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. (If you did not have time to make the fresh brother below and are using water and bouillon cubes, add and stir to make sure they dissolve.)
  4. Add tomatoes and beans, stir, and allow soup to simmer until all the vegetables cook to the desired tenderness.
  5. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  6. Serve with homemade tortillas or some stale bread bits (waste not want not). Top with the green onions and parsley (both will add in digestion. God knows how bad your stomach is after a rather large day of zombie killing).



Controlling the Dead (The Famished Trilogy #2) by Annie Walls


With the help of her new companions, the path Kansas follows leads to more knowledge of the ever adapting famished.

The team finds help in unlikely places, meeting more survivors, and discovers the possibility of a new beginning.

When the team experiences a devastating loss, Kansas struggles to keep her humanity from fading and distorting like that of the surviving society around her. It begins with knowing who to trust and who to leave behind. First, she must trust herself – she won’t make the same mistakes twice.

As the answers to her questions are revealed, Kansas begins to understand the knowledge comes with a heavy price and great responsibility of controlling the dead.

In a trilogy plot thick with twists and turns, this adult dark fantasy is as emotional as it is horrifyingly gripping.

Published: Oct. 27, 2013

Amazon ~ Goodreads ~ Barnes & Noble


Make your own Vegetable Broth while out on patrol

Vegetable broth may not always be available on the road or to have fresh, but if you have a crock pot or some kind of stock pot (you can probably get one of on of your looting missions) you can leave this cooking with 12-14 cups of water. It takes NO time to prep and you can go about finishing your daily runs or whatever work you have for Guido.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour (on the stove or 6-12 hours on slow in the crock pot)

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  • vegablesA variety of vegetables (see the list below for suggestions to make a broth to your taste.)
  • Your choice of seasonings (salt, pepper, thyme.. oregano, whatever your heart desires)
  • Water (fill your pot full)
  1. Place vegetables and seasonings in whatever pot you are using, and cover with water.
  2. Bring to a boil. (if using a crock pot, cook on high for 30 minutes, just enough time to clean your weapons)
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour, (or cook on low till you get home)
  4. Then, strain out the vegetables, and your broth is ready for use. (I like keeping the tomatoes in because I love their bloody red goodness)

What veggies to use and why

  • Tomatoes – acidity and color (when it is cold, and you’re depressed, comfort food includes tomato soup. Adding tomatoes not only gives it some rich flavor but the curative properties are great for recovering from zombie hunting accidents)
  • Mushrooms – perfect for adding a bit of meaty goodness to your stock (make sure you save some for the main soup if making this prior to  your vegetable soup)
  • Carrots, corn – Kansas sunshine and a touch of sweet!
  • Potatoes – body (the longer you cook it the thicker the broth will be)
  • Cabbage, celery, broccoli, green beans – earthiness
  • Onions, garlic – the bam and the natural antibiotic. (Keeps those coughs and colds at bay especially if you don’t have a working electric space heater or fireplace in your room)

Never throw veggie scraps out, make broth, dehydrate or save in the freezer to use in soups, broths and as flavor enhancers.

Once some of the freezers can be powered long enough to keep things frozen,  you can freeze broth in ice-cube trays; then pull out cubes when you need a single serving while waiting on Rudy to come back, or perhaps when the kids come over to play, make them a nice warm cup of soup to sip on. Two cubes equal a quarter cup of broth.



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About the Author

Annie Walls

Author of dark fantasy and sub-genres of horror. Voracious Reader and Googler. Lover of dark humor. Horror Buff. Zombie Apocalypse Enthusiast. Loyal Cracked follower. Pinterest Addict. Wife of adoring husband. Mother of a seven year old Bruce Wayne. Cook. Maid. Kisser of boo-boos. Ultimate Time Waster. Perfect Procrastinator. Lolly Gagger. Trubie. Cake Decorator. Tea Drinker. Sculpey Sculptor. Girl Gamer. Perfectionist in the art of Facebook stalking. And now, God help me, a blogger. Oh yeah, and a twitter, twatter, tweeter. Well yeah, I’m one crafty bitch.

Facebook ~ Goodreads ~ Twitter ~ Blog


Taking on the dead

Purchase Book One on Amazon!



Need more incentive? Read the first three chapters!

Chapter One
 “I never thought my partner in crime would be a little lady like you,” Reece tells me. I’m  breaking and entering in a back alley on the outskirts of New Orleans. The Big Easy. The stench isn’t as bad as the French Quarter’s odor of urine and putrids. With the sizzling sun, it smells like  a horrid shake-n-bake bag concoction.
“Awe, Peanut Butter, you’ll make me blush,” I retort, calling him that because he might  appear tough, but he’s all mushy on the inside. In moments of sobriety my scratchy voice brings  everything to the surface. Needless to say, I hope it goes back to normal and soon. Reece says it  only sounds like a bad case of laryngitis.
“You might be able to get it open if you take off those glasses. You don’t need them in  this alley.”
 I grind my teeth. “No.”
 “You don’t have to hide from me, Kan. Take off the hood at least.”
I ignore him and finally get the lock open. The door screeches on squeaky hinges. A  week ago Reece and I decided to embark on our own journey to New Orleans to see if we can  gather some answers. The rest of our team and Dalton went to Birmingham.  I don’t know if anyone considers New Orleans a dead zone or not. We’ve come across  very few famished, but thousands of putrids lurk about. They make good target practice. That’s  how we spend our down time ? drinking ungodly amounts of pure grain alcohol and shooting  putrids from balconies. If I don’t, I’ll get to thinking and I try to avoid thinking.  The stock of alcohol and food tell us not many looters have been through here. I figure  the first wave of famished hit New Orleans hard. The lack of crashed cars or signs of human  panic surprises the both of us. Reece and I often talk about getting a van to stock ourselves up  before we leave, but I don’t want to leave without what I came here for.  Right now, we’re in a classic Voodoo shop complete with dolls, chicken feet, and gris- gris. Long since figuring out these shops were tourist moneymakers—loads of crap. Even the  books are on making spells for hexes. None have anything to do with controlling a zombie. Some  go as far as communicating with spirits, sending chills down my back. My theory on the person’s spirit being inside the zombie plagues me, and these books only raise my suspicions.  After searching around and seeing the best sellers before the outbreak, I figure out this is  a small bookstore. The Voodoo advertising probably had drawn in tourists to this part of town. A  book catches my eye. Pulling it down from the shelf, I check out the cover. Your Invisible Pain.  My thumb fans through the soft pages to check out common symptoms for emotional and  psychological trauma. My pulse speeds up at words like self-blame, irritability, bad dreams,  guilt and withdrawing from others. I place the book on the shelf.  Still staring at it, I ask, “Reece? Find anything?”
A crash of stuff falling alerts me to his whereabouts. “Nada,” he says in a loud voice  from the back of the store. “Mostly things we’ve seen before. Want me to recite some from  memory?”
Taking a deep breath, I pick up the book and shove it in the front of my jeans. Waving  dust from getting in my face, I trudge to Reece. “I believe I’ve got it down. You think it’s time to  call it quits?”
“We’ve only just started in the outskirts.” He has a point, which is why we came to this  hole in the wall.
  “Julie said Mago spends a lot of time here. We have to find something.” I wipe my hand  across my face. Sweat and dust cling to me. “Well, it’s getting dark. We should find somewhere  to chill.”
A grunt. I take it as a yes when a bang sounds from the second floor. We glance at each  other. The stream of late sun bounces off sweat droplets on Reece’s tattooed head as he glances  toward the ceiling. Neither of us moves or makes a sound as we wait and listen. This time  creaking wood gives way, sprinkling dust from the wood.  I move toward the stairs hidden from view, but Reece’s hand lands on my shoulder.  He shakes his head. “Where are you going?”
“ To kill the zombie.” I point towards the ceiling. Honestly, I’ll do anything to keep from  having any down time.
“Could also be a person, one that knows we’re down here.” We have a stare down before  he sighs, relenting. “Fine, but I’m going first.”
He pushes in front of me taking the stairs one at a time. Half way up a sweet aroma hits  me. “You smell that?” My mouth waters as I sniff.
  Reece breathes deep through his nose and freezes. “Yeah, bananas.” Bananas? Bright  light fills the stairway as I hear the unmistakable sound of a shotgun cocking.
 “Make one move, and I’ll blow a hole in you.” The voice at the top of the stairs is shaky,  but Reece lifts his hands in the air. “I need to see your hands, too.”
 I raise my hands above Reece’s shoulders so the man can see them.  “Walk up the steps.” We do as he commands, reaching the top landing into the setting  sunlight. Getting a good look at the man, I’d say he’s around seventy years old. Sunspots  decorate his aged face and balding head. We’re in a loft full of old furniture, hunting gear, non- perishables, and the baked goody cools on a counter in the corner. My stomach rumbles.  “Marge, search them for weapons.”
A little old woman pokes her head up from behind a couch and scurries over to us,  wringing her hands. She surveys both of us, but her eyes are on me. I start to get uncomfortable  when she won’t stop staring at my face.
Marge finally starts with Reece in her search. “We’re not going to hurt you,” Reece  explains.
The old man’s face turns red. “Only rob us blind!”
 “No, we—” I start, but he levels his gun as if to shoot, and my stomach skyrockets to my  throat.
“I didn’t tell you to speak, wench!”
Marge pops up from Reece’s boots with her fists on her hips. “Bill, that’s no way to  speak to a lady!” She stares him down with a look that can possibly shrivel the rest of the hair on  his head. Bill’s eyes never leave me as his mouth scrunches up like my status of a lady is  questionable.
“Fine,” Bill grumbles. “What’s your business then?”
 “My little lady friend thought there was a zombie up here. She has a thing about that,”  Reece informs Bill.
  “What were you doing down there in the first place?” he questions Reece.
I stay silent watching the two men in their exchange. Marge has a small pile of weapons  at her side. “We are looking for someone and any information we can get on what he does.”
  The old man’s eye twitches in what I will call some sort of recognition.
 Marge finds Reece’s sawed-off, holding it up for all to see. Bill’s eyes widen  momentarily before peering at Reece. “I’ve always wanted to saw off my shotgun.”  Contemplation laces Bill’s voice.
“I’ll show you whatever you want as long as I can put my arms down. They’re killing  me.”
A snort bubbles through my nose as I try not to laugh. Marge smiles as she takes my guns  from the shoulder straps of my new pack. Small hands feel around my waistband, and her brow  burrows. Any humor I have dies, and my face heats.
 She lifts my hoodie, removing the book. “Oh dear,” she whispers.
A long moment passes, and Reece sighs beside me. “There’s such a thing as talking,  Kan.”
 I shoot him a glare and hope he shuts up.
  “For God’s sake!” Bill lowers his shotgun and motions to the couch. “Sit down.”
Marge grins at me. Reece drops his arms like they are putty. Pictures frames sit on every available surface. Bill and Marge have been together a very long time. This realization makes my  chest tighten.
  Reece and I sit on the couch simultaneously. Bill plops down in front of us, laying his  double barrel across his lap. He might have eased up, but he’s still tense with vigilant suspicion.  Marge rummages through the kitchen before bringing slices of whatever had been cooling.
“No,” Bill protests.
Marge ignores him, handing me a piece of bread. “It’s not real bananas, just flavoring,  but tastes the same.”
I glance down at the treasure in my hand. Banana bread is gold in my opinion. I should  get a private room for this experience. “Thanks,” I manage with my rough voice.
 “Don’t get used to it.” Bill glares at us. This whole situation is familiar, and it makes me  sad to see them closing themselves off.
“We won’t over stay our welcome,” I assure him. “But you seem like you might know  something about Mago.” I try to be nonchalant, but I can’t let his flash of recognition from  earlier go.
“I don’t care to know anything about him. He keeps to himself and those things walking  around with him.” He shifts, but claps his hands to cover up any nervousness. “Hurry up, you  need to leave.”
 I glance sideways to Reece as he chews. He shrugs as if content with only getting a piece  of faux-banana bread. Reece might get angry, but I go out on a limb because I’m sure to be right.  One minute he tells us to sit and the next wants us to leave. “I know to an extent you’re happy to  see us. You don’t have to live here in hiding. There’s a community. With people, some are close  to your age. Livestock and fresh produce?”
 “Kan,” Reece starts as Marge gasps in excitement.
 Bill stands up, gripping his shotgun. “Get your stuff and get out.”
Tension thickens in the room as Reece and I comply, and I drop my banana bread in our haste.
 “But Bill!”
 “Shut up, Marge.”
 Tears well in her eyes as the hope she just experienced drains. “I’m sorry,” I tell her. Bill  swings the door open. Reece hands me my Bersa pistols and machete. I follow him, but turn to  look at them one more time. “West side of Nashville?”
 “He’s in the swamps!” Bill roars, slamming the door in my face. Great. That doesn’t  really tell me much.
 When I turn around, Reece peers up at me from a few steps down. His bushy eyebrows  are visible even in the dark stairway.
“What?”  “You had to ruin our banana bread gig, didn’t you?” We laugh, and if he’s joking around  then being mad at my big mouth is far from his mind.
                       *       *      *    *    *    *
    Reece and I decide to check out the map and head to the swamps tomorrow. I’m not sure  what to make of Bill and Marge just yet. I’m sad for them, but seeing them together at such an  advanced age, especially in times like now, makes me feel something I can’t quite place.  We head to this old apartment in a bed and breakfast. We stay here because we can see  out the windows and have a good view of the street in front and the back alley. It’s spacious with  Fleur de Lis patterned wallpaper. Dust covers every surface including the light blue, lace  curtains.
  I open an old bag of white cheddar popcorn going into the bathroom to change my shirt.  Looking at myself in the mirror, my hair’s a tangled mess. My eyes are no longer  swollen, but are still purple with cheeks to match. Sometimes it still hurts to bend over from the  damage done to my abdomen, which is turning a purple-yellowish color. My neck is the worst. It uncomfortable to swallow and of course, my voice pipes are suffering. Being strangled, beaten,  and raped will do this to a person. Considering myself lucky I’m still alive, I put the sunglasses  and a zippered hoodie on, raising the hood.
 Reece scoffs but it hints at laughter. A beer gut pokes out of the vest he sports without a  shirt because of the warm weather. Not that the cold would stop him. His blue jeans are full of  holes over his black biker boots.
  I smirk as he hands me some water. Gulping it, I stride out to the balcony beyond the  kitschy French decorated sitting room.
 We’ve picked up more weapons and ammunition along the way. I liked the Bersa pistols  I had before, so I opted to stick with them. A brand new pack replaces my old battered one that  the base confiscated. A lot of other supplies and goodies rest in a pile in the corner of the  apartment.
 For the balcony, I use my crossbow. I don’t want to draw more putrids to the alley, just  shoot the ones walking around. The only reason I have the crossbow is because someone was  thoughtful enough to bring it to me during the whole army base fiasco. We killed and almost  died ourselves to save someone who didn’t want to leave the base. It inadvertently killed people,  innocent people, I’m sure. My mind drifts to the playground at the base. The belly laugh of a  toddler on a merry-go-round sounds in my ears as if I stand right in front of it. I stuff it down.  Reece sits and crosses his ankles on the cast iron patio table munching on the stale  popcorn. A map of New Orleans, held down by guns, stretches across the table. He watches me  shoot a couple of putrids with arrows. Dead weight hits the ground in deep thumps. The sounds  join in with their moans, resonating through the alley.
  “You shouldn’t be so angry all the time,” he comments, rubbing his tattooed arm before  continuing his munch-a-thon.
 “I’m not angry,” I snap, but I don’t mean it. I’m more than angry. The newly acquired nightmares raises my anxiety level so high, I get easily fatigued. I keep waiting for something to  trigger a panic attack.
  “You can’t fool me, Kan,” he states, and I turn to stare at him. His beaded goatee sways  with the breeze. “I used to be a counselor for a boys home in Detroit. I recognize the signs. I’ve  been watching you rip doors off hinges and take down zombies like the PGA we’ve been  drinking.” Sighing, he continues, “All the while hiding under that hood and those sunglasses.  You came here to hide. Not only to hide, but mostly. I humor you. I won’t ask you what really  happened to you. I get the gist of it, but… I don’t know. I’m not going to push you….” He lets his  thoughts trail off into nothing.
 I close my mouth from gaping. He completely catches me off guard. Reece never talks  about his past life. Maybe if I don’t acknowledge it, he’ll extend the same courtesy and back off.
“Oh yeah, you want me to talk it out.”
 “Better than reading it from a book.”
 Glaring at him, I see something out of the corner of my eye. “Did you see that?” I ask in a  short breath. Reece peers over the balcony and shakes his head. “Someone’s looking at us from  around that corner.” I point. His head whips in that direction. Sure enough, something bobs into  view.
Chapter Two
 “Shit!” A certain anticipation slithers through me like an old friend. It can easily be Bill  or Marge, but I dismiss the idea. I doubt they’d go out after dark. I look around knowing I don’t  have time to take the stairs and swap the crossbow for a gun on the table. Finding a gutter going  down the side of the apartment, I climb over the railing while sticking the gun in the back of my  pants.
 Reece sees what I’m going to do. “Wait,” he says, reaching out at me. It’s too late.  Already on the gutter, I make my way down when the frail metal groans. I look up to see my weight making it pop from the top gutter.
The gutter pitches me backward, and I jerk instantly as it catches on a sturdier bracket. I  let out a breath as my weight pulls at my hands, but I hold tight. The sidewalk is still a good  ways down. I look up at Reece, grinning,
   “Shit, that was—” The bracket snaps and the ground hurtles toward me. I brace myself,  feeling the sharp sting in my feet as my legs jolt from the impact, sending a shockwave through  my body. I stand up and grab my stomach from the discomfort, shaking out my legs.
“Idiot!” Reece calls down to me, but I turn and dash off.
“Hurry up, Reece!” I shout over my shoulder. I round the corner into an alley and don’t  see anything. I slow to listen, looking the dark alley over. A putrid wearing a tattered dress with  half a scalp of stringy hair starts crossing the street toward me, but I ignore it. A ding draws my  attention to our intruder. The sharp sound echoes through the alley. I step softly toward an  overflowing dumpster. The trash is almost five years overdue for pickup. “Hello. I want to talk,”  I call, trying to sound nonthreatening.
 The person apparently doesn’t want to talk. They take off, and so do I, getting close  enough to see a boy around thirteen or fourteen. I grab the back of his shirt and swing him  around.
 “Who are you?” I ask. He stares at me wide-eyed and fearful. Sweat beads down his dark  skinned temples as his chest rises and falls. All of my endurance training pays off, I breathe as if  I’m on a Sunday stroll in Central Park.
 Reece catches up to me huffing. The boy jerks back when he sees Reece. I grab his arm  before he runs away. “We aren’t going to hurt you,” I reassure him. “Are you the only one?” He  shakes his head, keeping his eye on Reece as if he’s the biggest threat. I hold back a scoff and  might sound irritated as I go on, “I’m looking for a man named Mago. I need to talk to him. It’s  important”
Big hands come into my line of sight as they latch onto me in a death grip. I crack out a  scream when I realize it’s a famished. Drool drips from the zombie’s mouth. His skin and lips  are blue with the milky white and bloodshot eyes of the living dead. My hands come up to keep  it at a distance. Reece’s gun cocks as he prepares to shoot it.
  The boy comes alive and screams, “Wait! No need ta shoot ‘em.”
What? He’s not the one Zombie Smurf wants to eat. The boy grabs it as the zombie  releases its hold on me. I gasp as I rub my upper arms. “No, no!” The boy chides the zombie as  he pulls something squirming out of his pocket, feeding it to the eager zombie.
  I notice then the zombie’s clothes are clean and so is the boy. The zombie wears a  sleeveless shirt and cutoff shorts. The boy has on a striped polo with khaki shorts. Neither one of  them wear shoes. The boy’s little afro surrounds his head, neat and tidy.  I glance at Reece and exchange a befuddled look. We know we are in the right place, but  I’m freaking out a little. I will my heart and breath to slow.
  The boy eyes the gun Reece still has on his zombie. “No. I take ya ta Mago. Don’t shoot  ‘em.”
Reece lowers the gun, never taking his eyes off the zombie. He nods to the boy, “Right  now.” Reece uses his scary tone with a side of heavy demand.
 The boy turns to lead the way. The zombie stands in the same place for several blocks.
 “Um… You’re forgetting your zombie,” I mention.
  He looks at it. “Nah, not mine. He make ‘is way befo’ da swamp dog’s eat ‘im.”  Reece and I exchange more confused glances. Lifting a shoulder to Reece, I figure  everywhere has different zombie etiquette, even though this goes against my grain. “What’s your  name?” I ask by way of conversation.
  “T. Paul. ”
                 *       *      *    *    *    *
I don’t know how long we hike, but Bill was right. We go straight out of town and  through some woods. Now we are in a swamp. It smells swampy, like moss, stagnant water and  reptile. The earth squishes beneath our feet and it’s so dark the stars peek through the treetops. I  never take my glasses off, though. My legs ache to stop, and my abdomen hates me. The dryness  in my throat needs something because it burns. Reece huffs a little, and I begin to dread the walk  back. “Where are we going?” The extra hoarseness in my voice makes Reece glance at me.
“Down the bayou,” he answers, which doesn’t reassure me any.
“We could have driven, it would have been faster,” I gripe.
I’m sure this never occurred to T. Paul from his silence. “I git someone ta take ya back.”  That’s a relief.
 More or less than two hours later, a light gleams in between trees and mossy stringy  thingies. Sludge covers my boots, which irritates me. I walk through an invisible wall of gnats,  effectively breathing some up my nose. By the time we come to a small housing development,  I’ve sneezed out half my brain and not in a mood to be friendly to anyone. Especially since there  are numerous guns trained on us by several men.
T. Paul keeps strolling along. He goes to a small house in the middle and knocks on the  door. When it opens, T. Paul says, “I brought ‘em, Mago.”
The light over hanging the porch and yard is bright enough to block out anything beyond  the door. Several long moments stretch out before a familiar voice carries from the darkened  house.
“Oh, it’s you.”
 Chapter Three
I narrow my eyes at the bored tone as his face appears in the light. The all black attire  blends the rest of his body into the background. My neck bends as I follow his height. Mago’s  dark eyes travel the length of me in intense scrutiny. A hand motions us inside. The only color on his body is the gold hoops in his ears, gleaming in the light.
Upon stepping inside, the house is dim and shabby, but clean. A floral sofa is a little  worse for wear and trimmed with wood. An afghan drapes across the back of it. Pictures of  children and smiling faces adorn the wall as oil lamps cast shadows against them.  My stomach flips when I spot his performing zombie, Pappers, sitting on a cushioned  chair looking putridy. A weird altar sits in the corner. The place reeks of incense—not incense,  herbs. Jasmine and sage is all I can make out. Mago leads us across a well-worn carpet to a back  room with more shabby couches and a ring-stained coffee table in the middle of the room. Like  the front room, oil lamps are the main source of light.
 “All right.” He continues in the uninterested manner as he glides down into a chair. I’m  beginning to think his tone is perpetual, so I let it roll off me. He motions for us to sit, so we do.
“What do you want?” He strokes his thin pointy beard with long fingers and tight eyes—the only  sign of skepticism.
I scoff but come up short. Spent all this time looking for the man and I’m not sure what to  ask first. It’s hardly believable we are finally here. Glancing at Reece, he’s no help, only raising  his brows in response. I start with the basics. “How do you do it?”
 “The how is really none of your concern. You couldn’t do it if you tried. I was born to it.  It doesn’t mean I like it.” He speaks slowly as if he is talking to ignorant people.
“But…why? Why do shows at the community and help Dr. Finnegan?”  He steeples his fingers together, “I do what I have to do to be left alone.” His tone implies  we are wasting his valuable time. A sigh escapes him, and he runs a hand along his small beard.  Must be a nervous tick. “I’m really not the villain you’re seeking.”
  “That little boy controlled a zombie and stood up for it.” I point in the general direction  of the front door.  “I would imagine so, since they give great contribution to our family.”
Don’t you worry about anyone getting bit?”
 Mago lifts a shoulder. “It hasn’t happened in a while.”
 “You give your family the vaccination,” I state, fishing for any information he’ll give me.  He narrows his eyes and looks between Reece and me. It takes him a long moment to  speak. Leaning forward, he says, “The vaccination is intended to sway individuals into willing  compliance. It puts them in a state of fallacious assurance.” He rambles without an ounce of his  soft Cajun dialect. He leans back into the couch. “In other words, the vaccine is bullshit.” These  words slip out in a slow method and all other thoughts flee my brain as I fall backwards onto the  couch.
Long minutes pass as this news sinks in. I turn to Reece when he moves. His head is in  his hands, and I bite my cuticles. Our disappointment with this news weighs heavy. This is where  the situation can get tricky. Reece hasn’t thought of the biohazard suits yet, but I have. If those  vials aren’t a vaccine, what are they? Do I trust Mago enough to ask him? After all, he could be  feeding me crap. The light dawns on Reece’s face as he looks at me. I silently communicate we  will not trust Mago with everything just yet. I think he understands because his head inclines a  fraction.
Determination makes a leap underneath my skin as I notice Mago taking in our exchange.  Maybe he wants us dejected, but I sit up straight and press on, “You’re saying you’re helping Dr.  Finnegan by means of zombies, while he lies to…” How many more places live with that false  security? “Numerous people with a supposed cure? Just to be left alone?”
 “Finnegan plays with fire. Karma works in mysterious ways. One must be careful of ill  health and death.” It doesn’t escape my notice he gives me information without outright  answering my questions.
 Surely, he’s aware he does it, as if he’s trying to tell me something  without actually saying it while evading all my other questions.  Anyway, isn’t karma Buddhism? “Funny you say that, since you’re the one with the zombie minions.” I tap my chin and blurt, “How do you know all of this?”
Mago’s eyes slide toward the wall for a brief second, but I notice. “I don’t,” he says  through gritted teeth as if he hates admitting when he doesn’t know anything. The air becomes  thick with things unsaid. Reece audibly swallows. The denim between my thighs scratches  together when I shift. A fly buzzes inside the blinds of the window. Long moments pass as we sit  and watch Mago in a lifeless state. He doesn’t move, nor does he switch his gaze between Reece  and me. His eyes are on me, but his focus is the space between all of us. He is in his own world  or in a room by himself, and we are not here.
  I wipe my sweaty palms on the couch and clear my throat. “Do the zombies know what’s  happening to them? Are they still in there, somehow?” I’ve wanted to ask him this since I  stepped through the door.
 Awareness snaps together in a split second as his eyes dart to me. “In-Sight-Ful. Lit-tle.  Thing.” Mago bites each syllable out, but his gaze returns to the space between Reece and I. “Do  you think I can read their minds?”
“No, but if you’re so worried about karma, you should keep that in mind.”
 Reece peers at  me as if he’s never seen me before.  Mago rubs his eyes with a forefinger and thumb, stopping at the bridge of his nose. “You  have no idea the sacrifices I’ve made. Not only for humanity but also for myself. My deeper,  spiritual self.”
I don’t know how to respond to that.
 “I do what I have to for my daughter, Mya. A Mambo being held and used by Finnegan.”
 I stare at him. “A Mambo?”
 “Yes, a priestess. A female version of myself.”
“You have to help us then. Almost the whole world’s population is gone and he’s taking  credit for it. He said so himself, just not in those words. I don’t comprehend this whole Voodoo thing, but I can help you, too.”
 Rubbing his beard, he stares at me, but not really. His eyes dart around me and he looks  distracted again. “Maybe. They are dealing with the ramifications of your menace. Just as you  are.” His dark eyes scan my face and neck. I zip my hoodie tighter as he continues. “I shall think  about it.” He stands as if dismissing us.
 Reece climbs to his feet too, “That’s it?” he says to Mago.
 I don’t get up yet. Mago peers me. “In such a hurry for things you know nothing about. I  said I would think about it. I’ll be in Nashville when I can.”
 I reluctantly stand up, feeling—well, I don’t know how I feel just yet. As we step out, a  woman with long braids greets us with a smile. Her light brown skin contrasts nicely with a  printed shirt of blue and purple paisley. She blinks at me looking stunned and says, “You should  help them, Mago.”
  He peers at her, his face unreadable. A string of French releases from his mouth. She  looks at me with renewed interest, which makes me uncomfortable. “Do be so kind as to pack  them some N’awlins gumbo, Leila.” Mago smiles widely, and it adds animation to his face. My  mouth waters even though I’ll be picking meat out of it.
 She grins and goes about her business. I look at the grisly looking altar. A little bowl  wafts smoke, but the smoke starts a new hurried rhythm as it drifts in the air. A chill shudders  through my body. For some reason, I need to get out. Now.
 Reece is out the door before me, when I hear rather than feel a snip on my hair. I turn to  find Mago standing behind me with scissors and stuffing the clip of my hair into his pocket.
 “What the—” My hood has fallen, and I snatch it over my head. “Why do you need  that?” My voice squeaks even more abnormally as my heart picks up speed. Thoughts of what he  can do with my hair flash through my mind. A little doll with yarn dreads and needles sticking  out of its eyes takes precedence in my mind. Panic breaks me out into a cold sweat.
Mago looks at me steadily. “Insurance. Miss Moore, do not tell anyone you were here or  that you spoke to me. If you can keep it to yourself, maybe you really will be of use to me,” he  smiles. It’s disheartening. I try to swallow past my uneasiness and understand he’s trying to  develop some kind of trust with me, but I can’t.
 “I don’t care. Give it back.” I step toward him, reaching for his pocket when I fall  backward into a wall. Bloated fingers hold onto my arms, and I’m face-to-face with Pappers.  Only an inch of space is between us, and the smell of his rotten breath overtakes my senses.  Grunting, I push him off and grip my gun as he tries to grab me again. A gunshot sounds,  echoing in my ears, and Pappers splatters across the small foyer and me. Swiping at the blood on  my face and neck, it’s cold and gooey.
  My throat contracts, but I swallow as my body trembles. I just killed a Voodoo priest’s  prized zombie. Mago watches ominously, but makes no move against me. Reece’s eyes are wide  and spooked. “We should go, Kan. Now.”
 “That’s probably a good idea.” Leila speaks up. She’s the only one that does not look  upset. She says something to Mago in French. I back out of the door, not taking my eyes off  Mago as a deep sense of dread settles over me.
Some strange men lead us to an old, rusted Pinto. Reece doesn’t say anything and that  worries me. Out of nowhere, T. Paul arrives and climbs in the front to drive. I gulp and look at  Reece. He shrugs, knowing it beats walking back. Walking will keep us alive, though. This kid is  not old enough to drive.
 We get into the back, and I immediately put on my seat belt only to discover it’s broken.  Great. T. Paul turns to give us a reassuring smile. “Mmm… I smell Leila’s gumbo. She make it  best.” I nod, trying not to show my internal protest. “Hold on to ya knickers!” The pinto jumps to  a go with a loud backfire.
  “Do you really think that was wise? And for a Voodoo priest to have your hair?” Reece whispers. No. No, I do not. My eyes burn, and my brain hurts. It’s probably because my body  has not stopped trembling. Glancing at the house, Mago stands on the front porch in the bright  light looking like a complete shadow. Goosebumps rise on my flesh as a chill sweeps up my  spine.
 Reece’s silhouette shows in the moonlight. His bald head has grown stubby. “If you had  hair, I would have offered yours,” I throw out facetiously. A nervous chuckle escapes him as we  bound our way through the swamp.