Kage Baker tried hard to write through any problem she ever had. She succeeded an amazing amount of the time. Her focus was inhuman, essentially becoming tunnel vision and elective deafness. Stephen King, in one of his excellent essays on writing, called it “falling into the computer screen”. And any half-way serious writer knows that they will need to invoke this kind of fugue from time to time. Because shit happens, you know?
The heat wave in Los Angeles has moderated pretty well and the lovely June gloom is back. But the wet spring and the unseasonable heat have encouraged a particularly heinous spider to hatch out in droves, and it’s decided my house was a BNB. I don’t even know what it is, though the view glimpses I got 2 years ago were of a small grey spider – Ms. Generic Arachnid.
Whatever the hell is it, I react extremely badly to its bite. It itches for days, forms enormous bumps that usually open up and scab over, and the venom of enough bites makes me ill. And there are always multiple bites. It’s some kind of damned foodie spider, grazing widely on the buffet of me. Or maybe there are several of them tag-teaming me. Nothing would surprise me.
However! Despite itches and a bellyache, I did write! I reached that enviable trance state. I hope Kage approves. My general wooziness made it hard for me to pick a story I had neglected lately: I wanted to give every one of my 4 or 5 projects equal time, but the only one that inspired me was the Zombie Story. So here are the next 2,000-odd words of it.
Thank you for your indulgence, Dear Readers. Having an audience is proving absolutely inspirational. But please – don’t read it if it isn’t amusing. Zombie Story, in particular, is being assembled oddly, as I patchwork previously notes and scenes together …
Anyway: here we go. This picks up after the heroine’s first sighting. Any errors are the spider’s fault.
The next one was about 2 hours later.
By that time, there had been some really weird !!! Breaking News!!! out of Tennessee; and between that and what was clearly not a good day in my neighborhood, things were not looking up.
I’d called 911 as soon as my one-shoed neighbor had left – I got that weird cycling wail that means the lines are overwhelmed. I tried 911 again and again, and worked my way through most of the personal numbers on my phone. But I couldn’t get a call out to anywhere, or anyone. After about 20 redials, as I was pausing for breath, I got a call coming in. But it was just a robocall from the LAPD, advising me to shelter in place, as there were reports of “unknown rioters” in the vicinity of the Hollywood Hills.
I wondered who had gotten to select the explanation for that call? Pretty sure zombies were not on the LAPD emergency menu.
CNN had stopped giggling at the reports by then, and was no longer inserting them at the ends of its scheduled shows as filler. In fact, a banner titled “CRISIS?” was running full time at the bottom of the screen, and the reportage had moved up to DefCon 2 – Wolf Blitzer and a full-scale green screen, pulling up every “silly season” report for the last 6 weeks and connecting some pretty strange dots, re-defining them all as a possible terrorism outbreak.
There were a lot of reports. The latest – a report fresh that morning, actually – was from Chattanooga, where tourists down on the Chattanooga Riverwalk were being attacked and chased by “alleged terrorists” costumed as zombies. Chaos reigned supreme. There were reports of tourists trapped in the Tennessee Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of Art; many had had to be rescued from the river itself. Some of those had attacked the rescue crews.
More disturbingly, there were reports of people being devoured right there in the Visitor’s Center and the Riverpark. Mostly it was tourists getting chewed up, but sometimes it was the “terrorists” turning on one another. There was plenty of shaky phone footage, mostly shot by screaming people running backwards … Some of the attackers seemed to come from the sewers that stretched back from the Chattanooga River, but most were well dressed office workers from the nearby Downtown. It didn’t seem likely that it was any known form of terrorism, Wolf reported solemnly.
Still, no reporters were using the z-word. That didn’t matter. Lots of people making amateur videos were, as they ran for their lives and shrieked for help. It’s pretty obvious when you’re being chased by a zombie, even if they’re wearing a 3-piece suit.
I had my drapes drawn by then, all my doors and windows locked and blocked, all the lights out, and the TV turned way down. That necessitated my sitting by it on the floor, but it let me shelter beside the couch. Which was fine with me – also fine with the cat, which had finally crawled out from under the furniture and into my lap. We sat there together for some hours, both of us shivering; I was grateful for the cat’s company, and he was obviously happier inside with me. He had fur like grey velvet, beautiful green eyes, and supermodel cheekbones; also, an elastic red collar with a tag that read “Murphy”.
About 5 PM, I heard a large vehicle draw up outside. I detached a reluctant Murphy and crept to the front window to peek through the drapes – it was the UPS truck. Why the hell was he out here delivering when the LAPD was warning about rioters?
There was no one out on the street at that point. I watched as he got out and trotted over to a house, left a package, knocked and waited a few moments, then trotted back. I was dithering on whether or not I should step out and yell at him to get away as quick as he could, when the ex-cat lady came wandering down the street again.
She hailed the UPS guy – they waved at one another, and then I saw her break into a run toward him. She lost her one red shoe doing that, but she was sure as hell fast: she leaped at him from 5 feet away, landed wrapped around his chest, and was tearing at his throat as they rolled together into the gutter.
I was horrified. I shrieked when he bit off her nose, then grabbed a double handful of her hair and took a bite out of her neck. Then I clapped both hands over my mouth, trying to stifle my horrified yells for fear that they would hear me.
Cat lady squalled and fountained blood. The UPS guy chewed a little more, and her squeals got fainter. When she stopped flailing at him, he got up , dragged her into his big brown truck, and then drove away. Oh, thank you, God!
So. I guessed I knew why he’d been knocking on doors …
I made sure the curtains were back in place and crawled back over to Murphy. He climbed back up me and clung to my neck, trembling.
“They eat their own, Murphy,” I told him. “This is really, really bad.”
We sat and watched television all that day, me and Murphy. I tried local news broadcasts from time to time, but they were even scarier than the Situation Room with Wolf. Some reported wide-spread terrorist attacks – obviously, the official story. Others were showing the same ambiguous footage over and over – what looked like violent protests, crowds being repelled (or protected) by fire personnel with high pressure hoses, or police with clouds of tear gas. The water worked, the tear gas didn’t; but they weren’t showing any more of the ghastly zombie-cam footage I’d seen on CNN.
Murphy and I lunched on tuna and water. I put down papers in the bathroom, because he didn’t seem to want to be left alone. I sure didn’t. So we took bathroom breaks together.
By mid-afternoon, the Apocalypse had unofficially conquered LA: every live television feed went off the air. Nothing but endless loops and emergency warnings. That hadn’t happened in my entire freaking lifetime. Something weird was sure as shit happening, and it was happening fast.
CNN continued to show footage from anywhere they could upload a camera feed. They must have had well-fortified studios. Although, between the cannibal attacks and the fleeing screamers, you could tell that most of this was coming from the same 4 or 5 places. If you paid attention, it was obvious that most of the US was not running around eating itself. Not that that was a lot of relief to Chattanooga or LA or Orlando or New York or Savannah.
A few foreign feeds were coming in; not many. But there were enough to show that 1) Asia and South America were in a mess similar to North America; and 2) Europe was sitting tight and hoping no one noticed it. The world’s press was apparently spending its day like I was: sitting on the floor, peeking through the curtains.
There were never many cars on my street, except when residents went to work and then came home. So the day wore on silently outside my windows, and I only checked when I thought I heard footsteps or voices on the street. There was never anyone I could see, not though the tiny gaps that were all I dared open for a view. But by 6 PM, people began to come home.
Some of them, anyway. The guys next door were usually in by 7 PM; my house would shake when they slammed the door on their garage, which was conjoined to mine. They didn’t come home that night; in fact, I never saw them again. The young mother across the street came home, crow bar in one hand, baby carrier in the other, and scurried indoors so fast I figured she already knew what sort of problems we had. I was glad she hadn’t come home early – her porch was where the UPS man had left his package.
People who could still drive seemed to be unaffected – the few who made it home that night vanished inside as fast as they could, and they all looked normal; also, scared as hell. But all the houses stayed dark. No one wanted to show any lights.
There were a few dazed figures wandering around the neighborhood, but none of them arrived by car. They were either venturing out from their own houses, or coming up from Highland and the streets down below. I saw another confrontation between 2 zombies, but they fled one another after a brief, bloody scrap. They didn’t seem any surer of who was a zombie than I was.
I could hear helicopters off in the distance for awhile, but they were all heading downtown. There was a brief car chase, a police car shrieking after a small truck with two blood-stained people trying to break through the back window of the cab to get to the frantic driver, but that horror show screamed up over the hill and the top of the street into oblivion.
And the fog came down, the way it does in LA in the summer: a ceiling reflecting cold yellow light down over the hills. It didn’t help visibility at all, the few times I peeked out the windows. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t look, wouldn’t take the chance. But when there loud noises out there – or worse, faint ones that might be creepy scrabbling fingers or worse – I just had to look. I never saw much, and never anything I wanted to see.
At one point, after the helicopters had been quiet for awhile, I though it might be a safe time to do some inventory in the kitchen. There hadn’t been a car stopping or the sound of a footstep for some time. I wasn’t about to turn on a light, but when you live in the Hills, you keep candles everywhere – the power goes out a lot. I went to explore my supplies with a candle, and with Murphy doing his best to walk directly under my feet.
The curtains in my kitchen only covered the bottom halves of the windows; the view from the street was obscured by my back wall, that ran along the narrow street behind me. I usually never thought about it, but panic grabbed me as soon as I saw the darkness outside the upper panes of the windows. No candle for me! So I did a cursory inventory in the dark, by the light from the foggy overcast outside.
I knew the power was still on, of course, so I didn’t need to check the fridge. I was afraid of the damned light, anyway, and didn’t know where the button was you could press to turn it off. But I knew I had fresh perishables, meat and milk and veggies, in there, enough for days. Even stuff for Murphy, and he was going to be eating well – I had no cat food, but I had lots of fish fillets and canned tuna. Lucky Murphy.
The freezer was full. The pantry was pretty thin on canned stuff, but far from empty. The water was running – wasn’t that one of the bad problems you had to expect when a city went tits up? – and I had several gallons of bottled water set aside, left over from a vague attempt at earthquake preparedness.
But most importantly, the windows were all locked tight. Since my house sits on a lot that is essentially a 30 degree slope, surrounded by walls, there was no sight-line from the street into any of them, either. The back door was triple locked, and so was the door into my garage; and nothing showed any sign that anything had been scratching at them.
But as I paused by the sink, reaching for the tap handle, I heard footsteps outside. They were uneven, slithery steps – well, the sidewalk outside was at the same steep slope as my lot, and it wasn’t always easy walking down the street. Not that many people did that in the middle of the night.
I snatched my hand back before I could turn on the water, the loud, betraying water! … back down on my hands and knees, I crawled to the window and peered under the curtain-edge.
A man was proceeding unsteadily down the middle of the street. He kept running into cars parked on one side, caroming off them. He was barefoot; as I watched, his foot turned in a pothole – our roads are awful, in the Hills – and he went flat on his ass in the street.