I dream of a glorious death.
At least, that’s what I’ve been told heroes should dream of.
I am a warrior, and every day could be my last.
The zombies who rule this world may think they have won the battle, but I have killed more of them than I can count. More than any other mammal here. Certainly more than any hamster before me. And I’m not done yet.
I wish I had a cape.
I ignore Diana, the dog with no tail. She’s beautiful with her bright orange coat and fox-shaped face, but she’s a dog. And dogs can only mean heartbreak.
“Emmy, didn’t you hear me calling you?” she asks, bounding up the stairs on her squat legs to where I sit, watching over the battlements of our camp.
“Busy,” I say, not even turning to look at her.
“Pickles has called a full meeting," she says, panting slightly at the exertion. See, this is why dogs are trouble. This corgi is so out of shape, she’s practically a sausage-shaped zombie snack.
“I’ll come,” I say, “alone.”
I don’t have to look at her to know my words hurt. After all, I’ve lived with dogs since leaving the pet store as a pup two years ago. I know dogs have two moods – crazy happy and wretchedly sad. There is no in between. I stare straight ahead, concentrating on the zombie couple slouching their way through the trees just a few meters away. You could mistake them for a pair of lovebirds the way they move in unison. But as they get closer, you notice the greyness of their skin. The bones that poke through their ragged clothing. And the way they keep chomping at the air as if eating a footlong sandwich.
The humans did something right when they built the fences around this compound. I sit ten feet off the ground, above the zombies, safe from their grasping hands and gnashing teeth. And they are safe from me. For now.
Emmy is one of many animals living in The Menagerie encamped beside a group of humans (or ‘pets’) who haven’t been turned into zombies – yet. The Menagerie is controlled by the cats. When the cats announce that some new pets (i.e., humans) are joining those already gathered, they also add that they have decided to admit a weasel and a rabbit who are travelling with the new pets to The Menagerie. Despite reports that the weasel’s rabbit friend is a tough zombie warrior, Emmy feels betrayed. She believes that “weasels can’t be trusted” and decides to leave The Menagerie in order to battle alone against the zombies. When Diana (the Corgi in the excerpt above) catches Emmy sneaking out, she points out that Emmy is leaving behind animals that she has rescued numerous times before even meeting the weasel. But that doesn’t stop Emmy. However, she’s barely out of the compound when she runs into the rabbit and the weasel. One thing leads to another, and, before Emmy has time to kill the weasel, she and the rabbit are attacking a zombie that runs all of them – weasel included – through some trees and off a cliff. Diana happens to observe this event and, in her devotion to Emmy, leaps off the cliff after all of them. Luckily, the zombie is beheaded (one of only two ways to ‘kill’ a zombie) as it falls. Emmy quickly learns that Spike, the rabbit, and Wheels, the weasel, are as devoted to each other as Diana is to Emmy. And, just as Emmy thinks weasels are “the worst”, Spike intensely dislikes dogs. As the foursome’s attempt to survive outside of the compound progresses through a number of enthralling encounters with wolves, more zombies, trickster ravens, and killer guinea pigs, Spike is eventually disabused of her prejudice towards dogs. And Emmy is finally forced to admit the true, worthy spirit of weasels – or, at least Wheels.
Emmy lost her original pet (i.e., human) and best friends (two Great Danes) when the zombies first attacked. In ValHamster, her personal journey – from dreaming of going to ValHamster (the place that dead warriors go) and trying to shut out new friends, to realizing that she would rather live a glorious life “filled with friends and family to protect” – is well worked out, yet felt predictable and somewhat formulaic. The supporting cast – Spike the warrior rabbit, Wheels the negotiating, nervous weasel, and Diana the emotionally mature, caring Corgi – were all well drawn and convincing.
ValHamster, the third novel in author Angela Misri’s animal/zombies series, is an exciting and fast-paced read which makes it clear to readers that one should not judge others either by what they look like or by what one may have heard about them. That is, it’s best to give new acquaintances a chance by getting to know them personally. While this reader found the (twelve-page) first chapter in which a large number of characters are introduced, overwhelming, readers of the previous two novels, Pickles vs. the Zombies and Trip of the Dead would likely not have the same issue.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, Ontario, author and teacher.