Kage Baker burned with a constant high fever. She was like the Ghost of Christmas Past: capped with a flickering flame, like a torch. You couldn’t literally see it – but if you spent some time with her, that flame could burn you.
It was contagious, too. A writer’s flame is contagious by its nature – readers catch it eagerly when they read the writer’s work, though the infection is low-level and (sadly) often temporary. Luckily, you don’t develop resistance, so the fever can be caught again and again.
Sometimes the fever is of a more durable nature … it burns deep and makes itself a nest of embers, from which it can leap to life again and again, like a phoenix. That was Kage’s flame, her especial fever; and I lived within singe range for most of my life. I never doubted that Kage’s fever had made itself a niche somewhere in me – but lately it has woken up to extraordinary ferocity, and I have spent the last two days and most of the night writing.
My back aches. My butt is numb. My hands are stiff. When I get up, I hobble until my knees remember how to move. My hips don’t like to re-engage: I swear I can feel my trochanters grinding futilely against my acetabulae, trying to find the next gear.
I haven’t had this much fun in a long, long time, Dear Readers.
What will come of this slow-motion frenzy, I do not know; though I’m hoping to actually finish one of the 4 stories I am working on simultaneously … they task me, they heap me*, and it’s all I’ve been able to do to pick one one which to work. So I’m taking them in turns. Sharing bits of them with you all helps me, gives immediate value to my work. Also, it’s fun for me. I hope it’s fun for you.
I can’t find that I have shared this next bit before, and dear Tom Barclay tells me I haven’t done so either. (Moombies may show up later, though.) So – here are the first 3 pages of The Zombie Story.
A ZOMBIE STORY
It started with a rain from space, of course.
That’s stereotypical, but there’s a reason for stereotypes. It’s because they are all too often true. If some enormous change is about to alter Life As We Know It for the worse, people look retroactively for signs that it was coming. It doesn’t help much, but it gives most folks a feeling of being more grounded if they can say to themselves: I knew something bad was coming. That rain of frogs/blood/crowbars was a sure sign.
When the spring plantings fail, people remember that the winter storms were especially fierce. Or especially mild. If a cattle murrain happens, people remember those weird mushrooms that came up in the woods last October and embarrassed all the milkmaids by looking like glowing, well, you-know-whats.
If, in more modern and urban settings, the entire roster of Presidential candidates turns out to be drooling morons, people nod wisely and blame it on the meteorites over Washington DC. Or maybe the fluoridated drinking water. Cartoonists and late night television hosts just send up thanks to God.
The point is, a rain from space is a good way to begin what turned out to be the zombie apocalypse. It’s traditional. It’s familiar. And if there’s ever a time when you need to feel that things are still a little traditional and familiar, it’s during the zombie apocalypse.
The signs began in the early 2000’s, when there began to be reports of cannibalism in odd places – Canada, for instance. Canada had its share of cannibals during the settlement days, of course, but these new cases were not due to being lost in the wilderness. One of the first attacks happened on a Greyhound bus, for God’s sake. When there were several reports of people eating other people – especially their heads – a lot of horror and giggles began making the rounds after each story. But it happened rarely, and people forgot.
There were recurrent reports of face eating from Florida, too. But, it was Florida! Lots of new recreational drugs were always cropping up there, and unlikely invasive animals – though no one really thought bath salts or capybaras could make you eat someone’s face; but, you know, Florida … and then storms began to get bad and the seas began to definitely rise, and sinkholes developed all over the place like the Mole People were attacking; and it just seemed like more of the normal apocalypse you expect in the Gulf states. And people forgot.
The bottom line: probably zombies had been cropping here and there, now and then, for years. But urban violence, and drugs, and weird weather – especially storms and floods – kept obscuring the signal. The conditions that produced zombie-ism just sort of smoldered, in back alleys and small towns, until they built up enough to erupt in several places at once. That’s my theory, anyway.
Which brings me to – well, me. My name is Rosemary Leighton, and I witnessed the Great Zombie Apocalypse. Mostly on the news at first, it’s true. This is the 21st Century, and – all respect to Mr. Heron – everything gets televised. But eventually it spread. I got a close-up personal view of the parts in Los Angeles.
I work for a plant company, the people who provide greens for films; they also send those weekly ladies in pastel overalls who ghost through offices watering plants and clipping ficus runners. But it was August, and I was on vacation, which probably saved my life. I was just lazing at home in the Hollywood Hills, which undoubtedly prevented me from being eaten by someone in Accounts Payable somewhere. Or a gaffer with nothing to do on a shoot.
Anyway. I was watching the news in my living room that August morning, when I looked out my window and saw one of my neighbors walking down the street carrying a cat. I recognized the cat; it was gray and lived down the street. I recognized the neighbor, too, a woman who also lived down the street (though not with that cat) and who usually wore more clothes and both shoes when she went out.
Not today. Today, she was wearing one shoe, a nice classic Salvatore Ferragamo Vara flat, in red patent leather. And what appeared to be seersucker pajamas from Vermont Country Store. And she was carrying the very limp cat with one hand around its middle, like a clutch purse.
Which was quite a shock, since Stephanie Ruhle was chattering away on my television right then, giving a half-snarky, half-solemn report about reports of zombies in St. Louis:
“ … said that her next-door neighbor came to her front door in a confused state, asked to come in for coffee, and offered her a dead dog,” said Stephanie. You could hear her eyes rolling in her tone of voice.
The woman on my street had serious bed hair, suggesting she had, in fact, slept in a sock; maybe with that cat on her head. Her eyes were so wide it looked like she had stapled them open. She stood a moment on the corner, turning to look at all the nearest houses – then she turned into my front yard and began to climb the front stairs.
That looked like absolutely nothing I wanted to encounter. My house is on a raised lot, above street level; you have to climb a dozen steps to reach my porch. Before she emerged between the retaining walls of my front garden, I was crouching on the floor behind my couch in a state of pure instinctive funk.
I saw her shadow on the wall as she crossed in front of the windows. I heard her knock – heard her call out “Are you home? I brought over a present!” and then knock again. She knocked twice more, kicked the door once – I locked my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming when she did that – and then left. “Catch you later!” she called cheerily as she went. I saw her shadow again, crossing the porch, and then heard the flip-flop of her one Ferragamo on my stairs.
On the television, Stephanie Ruhl was now talking about yet another face-eating incident in Florida.
It was probably 10 minutes before I stopped shaking enough to go check the front door, and that was only because I heard a faint miaow. When I cracked the door, the cat was sitting up, looking absolutely terrified – as soon as the door was a few inches open, the poor thing ran in and straight under a chair. I thought seriously about joining it.
That was my first zombie sighting. Of that first morning, anyway.