What do you get when you cross gambling and zombies?
T. N. Payne's Dead Man Hocking, that's what.
Since I've been in a couple of Xchyler Publishing's anthologies, I've gotten to know several of the other Xchyler authors. I've never read anything from this author before. Shame. Her story was a lot of fun.
Don't get me wrong--the story's not based on a lot of "fun" things. It's about a guy named Kyle who is a zombie. We first meet Kyle as he's digging up a corpse in a graveyard, and he's doing this because he made a deal with someone. That deal turned him into a zombie.
When Kyle was alive, he had a gambling problem. The problem was so serious, it ended up destroying his family. When Kyle lost a couple of grand during a losing streak, his wife took their small child and left. Before he could make it up to them with a big win, he was murdered.
Payne's story was "fun" to me because of how we get to learn about Kyle. The first-person narration is crisp and conversational. We learn about the flawed man and his struggles. The story's beginning sentence expertly sets the tone for the entire tale: "Every sinner must pay a price for the foolishness of their choices. I was paying mine now." Kyle says this as he's digging up a grave. As the story continues, we're introduced to several colorful characters, a black market cad, a witch willing to strike a bargain. I never knew what was coming next.
This story differed greatly from the others in Beyond the Wail. But I liked this change. It was the first zombie story, a less-than-perfect undead creature trying to do the right thing, trying for redemption. Chances are you've not read anything like this either. And, chances are, if you like stories about gambling and zombies, you'll definitely like this one!