Thanks to everyone who shared their creativity with us concerning the challenge I issued in the begining of the month. I asked that you use the photo above as your muse, and we had several takers. I would like to share a few of them now.
This story comes to us from Regis -
Jacob W. Hoover of West Union and the Gun That Killed the Zombie
My name is Hezekiah Hoover and I want to tell you the story about the bravest man I ever knew. As you may have guessed from the title of this tale that man was my grandfather Jacob Hoover. At the time of the Undead Upheaval or Zombie time as it was called it was 1906 and Jacob was pushing 75. I was the eldest of 6 children and I was 12.
We began reading stories in the Decorah paper which we got once a week about these creatures that seemed to come back from the dead. The first mentions that I can remember were about a town in Norway where the “draugen” had come out of nowhere and slaughtered the entire population. The next week there was a story about an entire province in China that had been destroyed by something called jiang shi. From the description it was obvious that it was the same kind of creature.
Finally in Spring of 1906 an article appeared that placed the creatures in San Francisco and New York. Nobody was able to pinpoint how it got started in California, but a tramp steamer was found adrift in the Atlantic near New York and this was blamed for the East coast infections. I say infections because that is the word that the scientists had used. When the steamer in New York was towed in, and the hatches were opened, a “stench like that from the gates of Hell” was emitted, and a hoard of bloody half eaten corpses descended on the would be rescuers like the locusts on the Egyptians. It didn’t take long before the entire city of New York was in panic as the plague grew.
Now I don’t know what year it might when you will read this. Maybe you still have zombies, but perhaps not. I know that a lot has been written about their behavior I just want to tell you what zombies were like in the time of my youth. Zombies are people you know. They can be your mother, or your sister. The fact is that once they are bitten they are infected; there isn’t any cure. You have to think of them in this way because it makes the killing that much easier.
Zombies are slow moving creatures. I read one account of a young man who thought of it as sport to run around leading one of these creatures. He kept it up for an hour and finally called out to his friend hidden safely in a tree that the one problem with this game was that the zombies just kept coming. Three hours later the young man, by now exhausted, was caught in the open when two additional slow mover appeared. After that it was just a matter of time.
The creatures do not tire, at least not in 1906. It was quickly discovered that the only way to “kill” a zombie is to destroy its brain. A bullet in the head works well as does a large rock in a pinch. Most anything that scrambles the brain has been shown to be effective. There were early tales of soldiers firing volleys into large numbers of the undead only to find that even with arms and legs missing they would continue to advance. A Boston newspaper reported that such a sight was so frightening that a group of 50 zombies was able to spread so much panic that 300 soldiers went running like school girls. One man later told the paper that the “sight of a little girl with only one arm and no legs clawing her way across the turf with her teeth all the while snapping together was more than any should human being should have to bear.” It was the week after this article appeared that we read about destroying the brain.
By this time my father started buying the Decorah Chronicle twice a week so that we could keep up on the progress of the “Undead Upheaval.” From what we read it appeared that the Rocky Mountains were a natural deterrent from the West so our eyes looked East for news. “The Undead are coming!” rang the headline, and come they did. New York to Philadelphia, to West Virginia and into Ohio and Kentucky west and south they spread. The day we got the paper with the headline which read, “Undead Overrun Chicago” we knew it was time to fully prepare.
Now I know that you are wondering whatever happened to Jacob Hoover, and now it is time to tell that part of the story. Jacob was a veteran of the Civil War. He enlisted because he believed in the Union of States, and he hated the Rebs because of something they did just to the south of us in Missouri. The Union Army was pleased to have him enlist, but because he was near 40 he was kept at Fort Atkinson in Iowa helping to “maintain order in the Midwestern frontier” as he would say with a wry grin. I always took that to mean that he didn’t do much and never got a look at a Rebel soldier or the waving of the Stars and Bars. He was always bitter about this, and when the chance came to fight Zombies I could actually see the life return to his features.
Plans were laid for our defense. My father and some of the farmers in the area decided against making a run for Decorah or Fort Atkinson. They reasoned that the zombies were following main roads for the most part because that is where the people were. Rarely did we read about little homesteads being attacked and father felt sure that they might even pass us by on their way West. He and his friends agreed to set up a bonfire, soak it with oil, and in the event of trouble they would ignite it and all the neighbors would come running. All of us kids were to climb into the loft of the barn and pull up the ladder and wait. Grandpa Jacob was assigned to be in the loft and keep the children in line. After the fact Jacob would say to me, “Boy, that is what really pissed me off. I sat out the war of the Republic and I wasn’t about to sit out the Zombie conflict.” The term Zombie Conflict gave the entire situation a comic tone in my mind. Some conflict! This was a massacre.
We got one more paper before we were introduced good and proper to the “Zombie Conflict”. My father read part of the article about a town in Illinois called Oak Bend. It was actually a village and was populated by an ultra religious group of crazies as dad called them. There were 250 souls in that village when the Zombies came a calling. One of the few survivors recounted how the elders had decided that zombies were the work of God’s hand and like Sodom and Gomorrah they were willing to suffer the retribution of turning their backs on God. And they all raised their arms and eyes to heaven and began to sing as they were slaughtered one by one. All the neighbors who had gathered at the farm shook their heads in amazement that these people just gave up, but I understood. I remember thinking that as true believers we needed to be responsible for neglecting god’s commandments. Those people probably thought of themselves as sinners and they took their medicine. I thought of myself sitting in school all day looking at the Olsrud twins and the things that I thought. Was I any better than the people of Oak Bend I wondered?
We practiced our defense a number of times. Someone would yell, ZOMBIES, and we would swing into action. My father and his brother Rob would take up positions on opposite sides of the pine stand in front of the house. There were small elevated platforms from which we would shoot venison, and they offered a good view of the area in front of the house. The creek in the rear of the property we hoped would protect our back. Jacob and mother would heard the children into the barn and up the ladder to the loft. Oh, and I forgot, I was the guy who would light the fire.
Finally the day came. It was October 31, 1906. The harvest was mostly finished. The cornfield was bare and the early mornings were beginning to have that frosty feel that precedes winter. If not for the anxiety we felt about zombies it would have been considered a good Fall. My brother Nathan and I were in the upper orchard near the house when I heard him mumble, “Zombie.” He was up in a tree pretty far, and I wasn’t quite what he had said when I saw the entire tree begin to tremble he was shaking that hard. I looked in the direction that Nathan pointed and saw two of the creatures. They looked so horrible. Covered in blood, big chunks of flesh missing, and I will never forget the vacant look in those dead eyes. I helped him down and we began to run for the house. Liberated from our temporary fear we were screaming at the top of our lungs, “Zombies! Zombies!” The plan went off without a hitch. On the way to the barn I stopped to set flame to the oil soaked wood, my dad and his brother Rob mounted their platforms with guns and extra ammo, and mom and Grandpa Jacob made sure that all of us children were up the ladder into the loft. With his help we finally got the ladder secured and then went to the loft door to watch.
Jacob pointed to the east where another column of smoke stood out against the blue sky. This meant that the Thorsons were in trouble as well and wouldn’t be sending help. Looking out towards the orchard we could clearly see that there were at least twenty zombies heading towards the house. “This situation calls for the US Calvary”, said Grandpa Jacob. He tied a rope under his arms and had me lower him to the ground in front of the barn. Once he had landed he cut the rope and made for the house. He turned, looked at the six of us huddled in the doorway, pointed the knife our way and said, “You young ‘uns stay there no matter what happens.”
The platforms worked perfectly for gunning. Both dad and Rob were armed with Winchester Model 94 saddle rifles and calmly went about taking careful aim and firing. Down the zombies went one by one as they came through the orchard and across the empty field. The plan would have worked completely if it hadn’t been for a sizable number of the undead who had somehow managed to ford the creek behind us. I screamed at my father as soon as I saw a group of about 10 come around the side of the barn. Father looked up in astonishment and cried, “I didn’t know that these demons could swim!” There were now too many of them and the shooting gallery was quickly becoming a desperate situation.
A group of 8 surrounded Uncle Rob’s perch and through some process of trial and error literally stumbled upon the steps which led forward. Rob fired, cocked the lever, and fired again and again. For what seemed an eternity he repeated this process until the last of them dropped nearly at his feet. Dad took but a moment to look at his younger brother so cool under fire , a look of love and admiration, and then father’s eyes looked at the bloody sleeve of his shirt. Uncle Rob looked down and although he was trying to speak, no words would come. “John, John, I’ve been bitten. I can see the marks on my arm!”
“Take me John. Don’t let me become one of them.” It was only later that father was able to relate that they had made a pact one night as they discussed the stories they had read in the paper but had not shared with the children. These were the stories of families watching in horror as their loved ones turned into the undead. They promised each other that if one were bitten the other would end their misery before they changed.
“John, do it John! I beg you!” I looked up to see the tears streaming down my father’s face. We had never seen him cry so this disturbed us greatly. My father cried and was now full of rage as he jammed shells back into his empty gun. He raised the rifle to his shoulder and only hesitated for a split second before firing the shot which left its mark on Rob’s forehead. I swear to you that as he fell I saw a smile on his face.
The zombies continued to come. I had lost count. My mind was whirling. All of the stories which I had heard from the newspaper were just that, stories that happened to others. This was happening to my family and I understood quite clearly that we might not survive the day. In that instant I heard mother scream. My little sister Kate had left her doll on the steps of the house and as mother watched in horror Kate leaped, as only a nine year old can do, from the loft into the wagon which was loaded high with hay. This was part of a game we’d play, but clearly this wasn’t the time to jump the wagon even if the purpose was to rescue her favorite doll. I clearly remember mother screaming for her husband to do something, and I saw the confusion and fear on my father’s face as he realized how helpless we all were.
Without giving it any thought I found myself sliding down the rope that Jacob had used when we lowered him to the ground. In mere seconds I covered the distance to where my sister now stood. She was protecting her doll, I was protecting her, and the yard, it seemed, was covered with zombies. I saw no way out. I cradled little Kate in my arms, asked god’s forgiveness for my sins and awaited the end.
What happened still seems unreal. My father was furiously firing, first taking down one and then another of the fiends in the area directly around me, and then he ran out of shells.
Several of the undead continued to move in my direction. Abruptly I heard grandfather Jacob bellow, “I thought I told you to stay in the loft!” This brought me back to some semblance of reality and I saw that we were in serious trouble. Just as abruptly Jacob Hoover was standing there in front of us with his old civil war rifle. The gun was a Springfield 58 caliber that although old looked as though it had just come from the factory. Jacob stood there in front of Katie and me placing a powder charge in the old musket. “Pffffffft” went the powder and then nothing. The old man had nerves of steel, I will say that much for him. He pulled the hammer back and primed another charge. “Pffffffffft”. Same result. Things were dire now as the closest zombie was a mere 15 feet away. “Hold your ground”, Jacob roared.
He calmly reached into the old Union army pouch which hung from his shoulder and pulled out yet another of his powder charges. I remember thinking how old these things were and no wonder they don’t work. With the zombie now closing the distance Jacob Hoover raised the rifle, shouted, “Take this you stinking corpse”, and squeezed the trigger. The gun went off with a deafening boom. As the smoke cleared I saw what was left of the head atop the shoulders of the form which was now toppling into the dust. “Got the bastard” Jacob said. By then father had reloaded and began the job of taking down even more of the monsters in the area around the barn. Then horses came into view as the McCrae family, who lived to the west arrived to help turn the tide of battle. Within 10 minutes all of the zombies were stopped, the dead once again dead and the battle was over.
We buried Uncle Rob that night out in the middle of the orchard. He loved to sit out there and enjoy the smell of the trees so dad thought it a suitable place to let him rest. We forced the horses, who wanted no parts of the undead and their stench, to drag the zombie corpses into a field of rocks where we burned them and then scattered the bones to the four corners of the earth. That was the last of the zombies that we ever saw in West Union. They say that once winter came the zombies froze, up north anyway, and the time was well spent eradicating as many as possible while the opportunity presented itself. Let me tell you about Jacob W. Hoover. He finally found the peace that alluded him all those years following the Civil War. He had finally had the opportunity to fight his battle and he performed brilliantly. Jacob also saved my life and for this I will be forever grateful. A year later, when I asked him how he wanted to be remembered he had me take this picture of him and his gun. He wrote on the back of it and instructed me that whenever I told the story of Zombie Time I should show the picture and the words he had written, Jacob W. Hoover of West Union and the Gun That Killed the Zombie.
And this story comes to us from Bartholomew Kester Beauregard, Reverend-Doctor (Retired)
Jacob W. Hoover of West Union and the Gun that Killed the Zombie
As told by the Reverend-Doctor Bartholomew Kester Beauregard
Reckon we stared at the zombie pert near twenty minutes. It didn’t notice us none, bein’ as it was stupefied by the Reckonin’ Plague – folks round here know alls ‘bout the Reckonin’ Plague, if’n you need hear more ‘bout it, there’s always Jim Lovegood down at the livery supply, or Esau Conway over’n Eureka County, they’ll tell ya all ‘bout it, seein’ as Jim’s wife and Esau’s son both fell victim to the scourge-a-God last month – durn shame too, as they was fine country stock.
Anyways, that’s aside this here story I’m relatin’. We musta stared – we bein’ Eustace Thompson, Jacob Hoover (and that’s Jacob W. Hoover, mind, of the West Union Hoovers, not Jacob T. Hoover, of the lyin’, cheatin’, scoundrelin’ Hoovers over’n Tipper’s Junction – an, if’n you ain’t aquainted with him, this here Jacob W. Hoover is ‘bout as fine a citizen an neighbor as I’ve known in all creation) an a’course misself, who’s narratin’ this here story. We musta stared neigh upon one half hour at that there zombie, an we watched it shamble ‘round in the field out back a Eustace Thompson’s house, an it had that empty look in its eyes, all clouded over like they was two shooters from little Curly Choatum’s marble set. Now this was one a them slow movin’ ones, one a the type a the original Reckonin’ Plague, not one a them gentrified runnin’ zombies from the city. So’s, point bein’, Eustace, Jacob, and misself could afford standin’ round lookin’ at it, makin’ note of its movements an habits an inclinations, like as if we were a set a regular scientists and all. Pass that bottle ‘round here again, will ya? Thank ya mightily.
So’s at any rate we watched that zombie close on thirty-thirty-five minutes, tryin’ a guess who all it could be the zombie of. Course it’s a hard thing to do, as all y’all are prolly well aware, tryin’ a figger who they was once’n they’ve turned. We jawed out a few possibilities an finally decided it had a be Old Doc Stubbs, seein’ as the zombie was wearin’ Old Doc’s harmonica ‘round his neck, with that special neck fastener Old Doc uses – or used, supposed I should say – and twasn’t no other explanation we could square with, than it bein’ Old Doc, cause why else would it a been wearin’ Old Doc’s mouth organ ‘round its neck unlest it was Old Doc hisself. One more sip off this bottle an I’ll pass it ‘round to ya. Got a kick to it, ain’t it? A bit a Silas Wolcott’s white lightnin’. Help ya grow up big an strong.
Well now, we can’t say twasn’t a downright shame to see Old Doc in a way he was. But we knew it was no good lettin’ him keep shamblin’ round inna state like he was, seein’ as he might go infectifyin’ others unnecessarily. A zombie ain’t like yer skunk or yer coon or yer possum, which’ll be mighty bothersome but which’n you can just set free out in a woods an let bygones be bygones, no sir, yer zombie’s gonna go out on a streak a eatin’ something’ terrible, even if it ‘twas Old Doc Stubbs, justabout the kindest sawbones this’n parts have ever known. After all, that shambling glass-eyed creature twasn’t no Old Doc Stubbs no more, and thinkin’ that any part of Old Doc remained in the critter, thereby treatin’ it aspecial and the like, well, that’d be a plumb easy way to get oursselves good and killed, and zombified real good. So’s we decided the neighborly and Christian thing’d be to put Old Doc outta that glass-eyed misery once’n for all.
Just so happened, by a stroke a luck, Jacob had his gun with him (or, as he took to callin’ it, the “Flintlock Jezebel”), for protection and all – oh, not from zombies necessarily (although they are a heap a trouble ‘round these parts, after that brimstone-meteor crashed down from Hebben with fire and fury out in Joshua Oldbrook’s field), but more for protection from bears, cause this all occurred in a heart of bear attack season, when the bears a the woods just sorta get it in their minds somewhy to just start hurtin’ people. It’s a dangerous world out there, I’ll tell ya that as one a the Lord’s Honest Certainties, like a Good Book says it.
Any rate, Jacob raised up his gun with his right hand, crost to his left eye, like he holds his gun a typical, on account a the right eye bein’ generally dead from the regrettable incident at Mrs. McCall’s Dance Social pert near ten years ago now. So’s anyways, Jacob aimed his gun, an with a few words of apology on the side to Old Doc – indicatin’ how it’s a durn unfortunate sitiation, an it’s too bad that Providence had a go an take a turn like this – well, Jacob let loose with the full fury a the Flintlock Jezebel, an sent the zombie a Old Doc to the gates a Zion. An sure enough, we ain’t seen Old Doc ‘round these parts a since then. Durn shame, that. An that’s the exact story a how Jacob W. Hoover killed that zombie, an the Devil take me if I’ve stretched or exaggerated any of its truthful details. I’ll have that bottle once again, an I thank ya mightily.
Thanks for sharing your zombie stories and radio dramas with us.
Happy Halloween, Shuffle Functioneers! Keep your eyes open for those damn zombies!