Adam Mansbach has written some acclaimed literary novels, as well as the hit satirical children's book Go the Fuck to Sleep. And now, he's publishing a zombie novel called The Dead Run. We've got an exclusive chapter excerpt, plus a glimpse of the graphic novel prequel. Check it out!
First of all, above is a panel from the Dead Run prequel graphic novel, The Dead Run: The Legend of El Cucuy, which will be available for free at some point soon. Here are a couple more peeks:
And here's an exclusive chapter from the book:
C h a p t e r 4
For Galvan, the key to surviving prison was ritual. Routine. Break the months down into weeks, the days down into hours. Anticipate any small pleasure. Ignore anything and anyone that wasn’t on the schedule.
At six thirty, he woke up. Half an hour before the rest of the population—because he could, because it was a decision he was still allowed to make. He savored the quiet, then dropped to the cement floor for fifty close-grip push-ups, fifty regular, fifty wide. Two hundred sit-ups, a hundred dips. Shave. Wash off in the sink, kiss the picture of his daughter hanging over it, where the mirror would have been if this were the real world. It served the same purpose a mirror would have: it confirmed his existence.
Get dressed. Notice that he was hungry. Relish the thought of the meal to come, unappetizing as the food might be. Pick a song.
The song was crucial. He had to have one by seven, when the door opened and the march down to the cafeteria began. The song was the theme music for the day. He’d play it in his head again and again, really get to know it. Sing it in the shower, run to its beat in the yard, use it to tune out trouble. In eleven months and twelve days, Galvan had never picked the same song twice.
They’d hit him with attempted murder, five counts. Given him ten years on each, to be served concurrently. If he could keep his head down, he might be out in five. He had another four years’ worth of songs in him, he was pretty sure.
But not another nine.
There was a radio in his cell, a cheap transistor another American had passed down to him when the guy got out last summer—dude name of Jimmy, closest thing to a friend Galvan had made in here. The only stations it got played narcocorrido, a kind of Mexican country music full of stories about drug runs and robberies, murders and border crossings. Plenty appropriate for this place, but fucking unlistenable. He would’ve given anything for some music that meant something to him. Some Johnny Cash, some Run-DMC, some War. Something.
A rap song got you the furthest. More lyrics to recite, a good tempo to run to. But Galvan had pretty much exhausted all the tunes he’d grown up driving around L.A. to—and besides, all those so-called gangsta tunes were softer than baby shit compared to the reality of life in here, where vatos slit each other’s throats over disrespectful eye contact and the Barrio Azteca and Federación Sinaloa occupied the yard, the cafeteria, even the library at different times of day to minimize the likelihood of their killing each other.
Where the stink of corruption lay heavy over everything and justice was something you bought, if you wanted some. Where cartel bosses sitting in steel cages commanded armies whose firepower the police, the army, couldn’t match even if they wanted to.
Which they did not. Instead, one hand washed the other, and everybody else stayed dipped in shit.
Kodiak Brinks, Galvan decided. “Welcome to the Ruckas.” He only knew the first verse, if that. But the rest would come. It had all day.
I’m kickin’ the illest shit / Surrounded by wickedness . . .
The bars opened, and Galvan walked down the tier, toward the stairs, eyes darting left, right, left. Who’s in front of me? Who’s in back?
I slide through the drama / Use my eyes as my armor . . .
The only reason he was still alive was that the men who mattered had been slow in deciding what to make of him. Galvan kept to himself, worked out like mad. A gringo, but not here for drugs. Showed respect but wasn’t weak. Knew how to handle himself. The first thing Galvan had done when he arrived was quick-study the population until he found a guy as much like himself as possible, a hard-ass loner. Then he’d picked a fight and kicked the piss out of the dude, as publicly as possible.
Best thing he could have done, but it was wearing off. And doing it again, Galvan knew, would not help. Prison was boredom. Violence was relief. Alone was vulnerable.
The last month had been buildup: taunts, catcalls. Nothing so direct that the code of the prison dictated he had to fight over it. But closer and closer. It was the weakest members of both gangs who tested him, skinny eighteen-year- olds with bad teeth, little more than court jesters. Or pawns. Expendable flesh, the kind of vatos whose life expectancies had doubled on the day they’d been arrested. Their superiors wanted to see how far Galvan could be pushed before he snapped.
Galvan wondered that himself.
Known as fair and square throughout my youth / Kick the truth, uncouth but I’m livin’ proof / Eye to eye, man to man I never blink / The last motherfucker with a pail when the ship sinks . . .
They smelled something on him, Galvan thought. Not fear. Innocence. These men, from the rank-and- file to the bosses, were here because they broke the law for money. That was who they were, and they were proud of it. Galvan was here because he’d failed to mind his business. Because he’d seen something he couldn’t stomach and reacted.
It wasn’t a mistake he planned to make again.
After breakfast was the yard. Some people lifted weights. Others played soccer. The old men and the higher-ups smoked cigarettes, ate candy bars, talked business.
Galvan ran wind sprints. He didn’t know why, exactly. It was the one risk he took, the one thing he did that drew attention. Scorn was a better word. But he had to move, had to exhaust himself. In some vague way, he suspected that running would be important when he got out of here. In chasing down his old life and making things right.
That, and outdistancing whatever memories he took with him.
Galvan was ten minutes into his workout, his breath coming in jagged gasps, when a skinny kid they called Payaso broke off from a cluster of inmates and joined him. He was a low-ranking member of Barrio Azteca, an errand boy. A loudmouth. A catcaller. Top five on the list of people Galvan would have liked to pound into the ground.
“I got a message for you, pendejo,” he said, already panting from the effort of catching up.
Galvan didn’t break his stride. “What’s that, pendejo?”
“El Cucuy wants to see you.”
Galvan snorted. “Tell him I already got a lunch appointment with Santa Claus. Seeing the Easter Bunny after that, but I might be able to squeeze him in before drinks with the tooth fairy.”
He accelerated, left Payaso in the dust. El Cucuy. Shit. The mythical boogeyman of Ojos Negros Prison. Supposedly, he lived in the bowels of the place, las entranas de la tierra, half inmate and half god. Half monster and half mastermind. Some said they’d built the place around him. Others claimed he was the leader of both gangs, that each was an instrument of his bidding and he played one against the other for reasons known only to himself. His appetite for women was said to be prodigious; the families of inmates left their young daughters at home on visiting days in case the tales were true.
No one ever saw the guy, of course. The guards had made the whole thing up: Better not give us any trouble, or we’ ll take you downstairs and hand you over to El Cucuy. Decades ago, probably. Now the fable had a life of its own.
Whatever this message meant, it couldn’t be good. El Cucuy wants to see you—loosely translated, it became You’re going to disappear. They’d gotten bored with taunts, and now it was time for threats, intimidation. Mind-fuckery.
Galvan threw on a burst of speed. He had to save his aggression for the man who’d put him here, and that meant surviving long enough to rejoin the world and find him.
Sink and more / never get caught on the ropes through / The devil threw low blows / I ducked ’em in slow mo . . .
Galvan never saw the rock, or the arm that threw it. “Órale, gringo!” he heard somewhere behind him, and then pain exploded against the side of his head and Galvan dropped to the ground, clutching his temple. Blood slicked his hands. His vision went spangly.
Easy prey, if he stayed down, and so Galvan forced himself to stand, wiped away the scarlet rivulets cascading down his forehead, turned in a tight circle like a cat chasing its tail. Two men were coming at him from the right, the weightlifting area. He pretended not to see the first one until he was close, then ducked the man’s swing, came around his back, and dropped an elbow onto his kidneys. He crumpled. Galvan kneed him in the face as he went down. He wouldn’t be getting back up.
The other guy was bigger. One of the biggest. Gutierrez. An enforcer, brutal. Famous as a rapist. He was on top of Galvan before the gringo knew it, shockingly quick for his size. He went right for the neck, with both hands—no nonsense, get it over with fast.
If he’d pushed Galvan down, choked him from above, used the leverage his body supplied, it would have been. Instead, all that practicality went out the window, and he went for the glamour shot: lifted Galvan off his feet, like Homer Simpson when he strangled Bart. Galvan reared back and kicked him in the nuts with everything he had, and the behemoth dropped him, doubled over. Galvan hit him with a right cross, snapped his head sideways, then followed with a left.
All that bought him was time to breathe. Gutierrez was built for this; he wasn’t close to done. A circle had formed around the three of them, the noise cacophonous. Galvan had seen this before. The circle was a joke. You thought you were fighting one man, two men, but the truth was that every inmate forming that perimeter was a potential combatant.
The sport was to deliver the knockout blow unseen.
He heard somebody running at him, whirled, and cracked Payaso in the jaw, sent him spinning into the dust. The crack was bullwhip sharp, and for an instant, it hushed the yard. Then Galvan was on the ground next to him, with no idea how he’d gotten there except that it seemed to involve getting hit in the face. He scrabbled to his knees. The noise crested. This was when the shivs came out.
Then the sound everybody was waiting for ripped through the air: three warning shots from the riflemen stationed in the watchtowers overlooking the yard.
The buckshot kicked up flares of dust, and the circle loosened, dispersed. Galvan staggered to his feet, only to be laid flat on his back by a guard’s baton. They were everywhere, sticks flashing, taking people down.
Galvan caught a blow to the head and felt himself go limp. The cries of the other inmates reached him as if from far away, the sounds swimming through the fog that filled his head.
Payaso’s voice cut through it all.
“Please, please, I’m begging you,” the kid wailed through his busted face, the words distorted by pain and panic, as the guards rained down blow after blow.
“Kill me if you want. Just don’t take me to El Cucuy.”
Welcome to the Ruckus.