Kage Baker loved coloured glass.
I think she saw it as a combination of fire and candy – safe to pick up and handle, inedible so you never used it up, beautiful and rare. She was especially fond of marbles in what she called sea-colours: blue, green, lavender, silver. She kept jars of them where the sun could shine through them, and I think the sensory effect was a tactile one; the light through the coloured glass was a clear touch on her skin.
Kage always appreciated an apt use of synesthesia.
In her mother’s house, Kage and Anne both lobbied for (and installed) stained glass here and there, to wonderful effect. There was a weird little dove grey and mauve window set in the wall above where Kage’s bed had been before she moved up into the Tower. Kage designed it, though she said the glassmaker got the design wrong; she loved it, though. The door at the end of the upstairs hall was made of Mondrian-style panels of red, blue and amber glass, and the afternoon light through it painted the floor with lozenges of colour.
I don’t know what happened to either of those pieces. They were wonderful, and I have no idea what was done with them. The house has been torn down for years now, and fancy townhouses stand on the site. I don’t think they have any stained glass, except the sunlight shining red through the remaining eucalyptus trees.
In our many little houses, Kage hung stained glass panels in the plain clear windows: a road winding dark through sea hills, flowering branches, prisms and globes and medallions. Rainbows bloomed all over the house, at all hours, as the sun found the various ornaments. When she didn’t hang special panels, Kage lined up coloured vases and glasses, and marmalade jars filled with bits of sea-glass harvested off the beach. She segregated them by hue – blues and greens were pretty common, red and purple much rarer. But there was a lot of all of it, because Kage never stopped hunting for the glass.
That’s been on my mind all day – the play of light through the coloured glass, the swathes of ruby and amethyst and emerald, the rainbows that filled our rooms. Kage sat there, all the colours of heaven playing over her, and wrote all of them into whatever story was also pouring through her. If she could have written in colours, she would have – and then no one would have understood her stories except for chromatophore-using cephalopods from Space …
Luckily, she wrote in words. We can all be grateful for that, Dear Readers.
And in the merry meantime, for your amusement, here is what I have been writing.
When last seen, our heroine was discovering that Fox 11 in Los Angeles is playing a marathon of zombie movies: topical, if in bad taste. So here’s the next 1900 words/3 pages or so of the Zombie Story:
Reports of lights in the sky and weird rains were still being pulled out of the archives on CNN, apparently to give the live anchors time to wash, eat, shave and hit the bathroom. No one seemed inspired to run for home. There were no live reports from the Man In The Street, not from Atlanta or New York.
Strangely, coloured rain really was falling all over the place, around then. It had been all Spring. Red, green, blue; featuring snakes, frogs, starlings, giant hailstones and mysterious bits of plastic confetti. It eventually turned out that the rains of ‘blood’ in India (as well as Los Angeles and Miami and St Louis, to mention a few) were not responsible for the zombies rising; despite what Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe kept speculating.
But they were a subtle clue. Our problems were in the clouds, and blowing in the wind.
I hadn’t been awfully worried about all that freaky rain; not when it originally happened. It was all East of the Rockies. I live in Los Angeles – what worried me were brush fires, gas prices and decreasing tourism. I was amazed, though, that were so many reports over the last few months – CNN just kept finding them. I mean, I was aghast and amazed at the videos, but it had just not registered that it was so widespread.
But going through their archives – probably a make-work assignment to keep someone from hysteria – yielded some strange correlations. CNN began building a sort of time line of weirdness as that second morning wore on. Murphy and I watched it all.
The first reports of whole neighborhoods going nuts and eating people had been pretty much lost in the shuffle. After all, this was America! Reports of door-to-door salesmen and pollsters getting attacked and gnawed on by housewives were initially treated as jokes – they sort of expected African insurgents to go old-school and use cannibalism as a form of terrorism, but not in the US suburbs.
The first really seriously reported incident, in the CNN retrospective, was about a month old; from a nice neighborhood near Eden Isle in St. Tammany Parish, in Louisiana. Some poor guy went to his Home Owners Association meeting to complain about a notice criticizing his shrub selections, and they attacked and ate him. It was discovered when the dazed, blood-stained HOA members started wandering around the neighborhood, knocking on doors to admonish residents for unmowed lawns, and then devouring them. The residents, not the lawns.
It was blamed, just like the Florida incidents, on drugs. But with the entire HOA board in jail and under observation, there were other changes noticeable. These people seemed actually sick. They had low fevers; and the ones who still talked said their joints hurt. They were dazed and generally unresponsive. They were seldom wildly violent, and even sometimes lucid: they just had an uncontrollable appetite for living flesh. It didn’t have to be human – a few dogs and cats were consumed in the HOA’s ramble – but humans mostly meet other humans during the course of their day, so it was mostly humans who got eaten.
It took barely half that second day before anyone left broadcasting was calling them the “HOA zombies”.
The late night hosts were mostly still around the first night – I think the Apocalypse may have begun on the East Coast in the wee hours, and none of them had left their studios. I don’t know how Stephen Colbert managed, in the Ed Sullivan Theater; or what any of them did about audiences. But nobody got eaten live on television.
I do remember Jimmy Fallon that first evening – when it was still kind of horribly funny if you hadn’t been out on the streets – saying he was surprised they’d turned out to be zombies, as he would have expected HOA people to be vampires. But he got jumped and eaten outside the NBC studios the second week, so … anyway, within a week of the HOA attack, there were reports coming in from all the Gulf states, most of the East Coast cities, and they were beginning to surface in every big river or lakeside city in the Midwest.
Nobody connected them all until that morning when LA went critical. So what I – and whoever else was hiding at home with their telly saw – was a hastily assembled montage of recent reports, and the real violence that had commenced that morning in August.
Noon of the second day, and the streets up above Highland Avenue were quiet and empty. I hadn’t noticed anyone on the street since the anonymous walker had fallen down last night. As far as I could tell, all of the cars that had parked last night, when their owners had scurried indoors, were still there. None of my neighbors had evidently left for work – I didn’t blame them; I’d be unwilling to chance being jumped, or not being able to make it home again if I left. I guess people just called in undead …
Armed with coffee and Fig Newtons, with mackerel for Murphy, I sat by the front window and watched the street for a couple of hours. The sun came out and the day got warm. I kept the drapes drawn, just watching through the slit where they met and gave me an archer’s view of the intersection below my house. Now and again I’d sneak a wider peek up the street or down: nothing moved but the wind in the branches of the trees.
The television continued to mutter alarmingly beside me. I kept the sound down to prevent – well, zombies, I guess – from hearing sounds of life in my house, Which was a good thing, when the civil defense alarm began a subdued shrieking from the telly. If I’d had the sound up, I would have died of fright, whether or not a passing zombie heard it. As it was, Murphy yowled, leaped straight up into the air, and then ran back under his chair.
On the screen, the CNN newsroom gave way to a black screen with a continuous crawl. It was obviously being broadcast from somewhere in Los Angeles – the old missile site up on Mount Hollywood? The Army Base in Burbank? Universal Studios? I couldn’t tell and there was no live announcer. Instead, the crawl just advised that there was a dusk to dawn curfew throughout the L.A. Basin, and martial law had been declared. All law enforcement personnel should report to their places of employment. All civilians were advised to stay indoors and do what the authorities told them to do. Stay safe, and please do not loot.
“I assume this is if we can even find any authorities,” I said to Murphy. He meowed faintly and came crawling out from under the chair again. I think he was considering giving up life as a quadruped as a bad deal.
I sympathized, but … I really wanted to know a little of what was happening in my own neighborhood. I didn’t want to go knocking on doors – it felt like a great way to get shot by a terrified homeowner – but I was sure some of the houses around me were empty. And I wanted to assess what was in them, and see if it would be happier in my house instead. The Civil Defense had reminded me that this was probably the best possible time for a little discreet looting.
“We’re gonna go looting, Murphy. Well – I am. I somehow don’t think you’d be a lot of help in hauling things home, little guy like you … “ I chattered to him as I got dressed in something suitable for looting; he followed me anxiously into my bedroom, stropping my ankles and looking up at me. “You’re good company, Murph, but why aren’t you a nice ferocious Rottweiler? That could pull a cart? If I had a cart …”
Long sleeved t-shirt, and a photographer’s vest with a million handy pockets, yeah. Jeans I could run in; hiking boots ditto. I remembered the cat lady jumping the mailman and shuddered – I wound a muffler around my throat and tied in it place. A watch cap and a kerchief over my lower face and fingerless driving gloves, so as little bare skin was exposed as possible to zombie bites.
I went out through my kitchen into my garage, collecting my garage door opener and half a dozen cloth shopping bags along the way. When I began to open the door, Murphy promptly vanished back into the living room. I guess he was going to hole up until and if I returned. I’m not sure that cat ever intended to go outside again.
I dithered about locking the door behind me. What if I came back at a run, pursued by zombies? Well, this door did go right into the garage: I could lock it behind me, then close the garage door when I ran in and have enough time to get the door open and locked again behind me. Or so I figured.
I took my machete from my gardening bench. It was the closest thing I had to a weapon. With the bags over my shoulder and the machete in one hand, I carefully hit the garage door button until the door slid up a bare yard or so. Thank God it didn’t squeal! The creak it did make sounded like the Trump of Doom to me.
So I lay on the garage floor for awhile, just staring out at the hot white street. Bougainvillea petals were drifted up against the line where the door had met the ground, paper thin and bleached hot pink, smelling of dust and incense. It was so quiet out there that I could hear a mockingbird and jay screaming at one another up the hill.
The guys next door were my chosen victims – I was pretty sure they had not come home last night, and I made it out of my garage, around the corner of my back wall and into their tiny back yard in maybe 15 seconds. I shut my garage door from behind their wall, and crept up on the French doors into their dining room.
There was no security keypad by the door, or stickers in the windows, which was good – there was still power, after all, though I was willing to bet that no no one going to answer a silent alarm even if I tripped it. Anyway, I was prepared to break the glass if I had to, or to lift the latch with the edge of my machete: but to my appalled amazement, the door handle turned and the doors opened at once.
Oh, jeeze, the doors were open! This did not thrill me. Who knew what was in there? On the other hand, I had not heard anything from over here in more than 24 hours, and the house stretched dark and silent in front of me now. So I tiptoed in. I was so frightened, my ears were ringing and there was a good chance that if a zombie had jumped out at me, I would have just puked on it and fainted.
But no one was home, nothing at all lived in the dark rooms except me. Not that I explored – I made sure the blinds were down in the living room, and made for the kitchen. In the hallway leading to it, I found their answering machine – blinking red in the gloom, with the message number reading 8. Obviously, no one had been home for some time.
I searched their fridge and shelves as quickly as I could. It took very little time to fill my bags with can and boxes of easy-to-store goods; I reserved one bag for things from their freezer, and what produce they had. There was more than I could get in one trip, even filling my bags full. But I had a good idea I could come back and find it just the same as now – empty, silent, the phone blinking scarlet.
When I had as much as I figured I could carry next door (Some practical looter I was. Not.), I went to check out the front window. They had fancy blinds, so I peeked round the edges rather than raise them and signal the houses across the street.
Their steps up from the street were open and exposed, but there was a little enclosed patio below their porch as well. The gate was open to the street. I could see down into it. It was painted thickly with drying blood. And there was – an arm. And a leg. Most of a leg.
My head was spinning, with a loud high hum which was all I could hear. I was frozen, which was very lucky indeed: if I’d fallen down right then, I would have pulled the blinds down with me and made it obvious to anyone with half a brain that someone was in here.
Do zombies still half a brain? Of their own, I mean? I was never sure how intelligent the infected were, but it never seemed as though they had many smarts once they turned. And they certainly only got worse as time went on. But if I’d fallen down instead of going tharn like a rabbit from Watership Down, I’d have been sighted for sure. Because, brains or not, there were two zombies in a yard across the street, and they sure as hell had eyes.
Also hands, and teeth. They were eating what was probably the rest of whomever’s limbs were on the patio below me. The pretty little Spanish style house they were crouched in front of had its door standing open, and a dark stain that was probably not mud puddled over the low steps.
I really have no idea how long they enjoyed their lunch down there in the shade of a loquat tree. The shadows had time to change, as the sun began to pour down the street from the west. Their shadows stretched out black behind them as they finally left the garden and walked unsteadily – and thank you, all you gods and goddesses of the silver screen! – west, up the rising street and out of sight.
As soon as I could no longer see them, I fled. I was hung all about with tote bags, but I think I was counting on the purloined rice, coffee and frozen peas to act as armour if I was attacked. Machete in hand, I scurried back out and around the corner of my wall, and under my rising garage door: I had it creaking down again as soon as I was under it, nearly braining myself in the process.
I slammed through the door into the kitchen, dropping all my bags and myself in a heap on the floor. I scrabbled up far enough to lock the door, and then sat on the floor sobbing – as silently as I could – until Murphy soft-footed in to climb on me, purring in relief at my return.
“Beginner’s luck, Murphy,” I whispered, crying into his soft little head. “Beginner’s luck is all that saved me. I suck at looting. Good thing you stayed home.”
We stayed in the house for 5 days after that. Things got weirder, and wilder, and noisier. We watched it all, Murphy and me, through the darkened front windows and the magic screen of the television. I finally recovered enough of my wits to try my laptop, and lo! The power stayed on and whatever had knocked out the cell phones didn’t effect my modem or the servers. I got an even better, closer view of what I didn’t want to see but did not dare not watch,