Saturday, September 17, 2016

The story that started a series



One day when I was running, there was a song that came on called RE: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton. I thought that it was great. As I continued to run, I thought about writing a story told from a zombie's point of view.

That story gestated for a long while. Then when I was attempting to write a story a day in September 2015, I finally wrote this story.

As soon as I finished it, I knew that it was something that I would return to at some point. Well, I've decided to expand this story into a book series.

Not just a book, but a series.

These books will come out serialized much like television show. There will be six episodes per each season. They will be sold individually and also as a complete season.

While you wait for the books to be released, here is the original story:


Elliot Boyle told himself that he wouldn’t let zombies nor divorce ruin his summer.  As he stated every year on the last day of class, “What’s the point of being a teacher, if you can’t enjoy your summers?”
But that summer was unlike any other. Partially because of the undead terrorizing pockets of the world, but mostly because he started his sabbatical. He looked forward to a quiet respite from academia so that he could work on his book. When Lisa left him, he never asked if there was another man, why she was leaving or where she was going. It didn’t matter. Much like the zombies, his marriage had long been dead.
There was no denying that it was shocking when the zombies first appeared. And while it was unfortunate that so many people died, Elliot was amazed how quickly people grew desensitized to the violent, gruesome deaths. Eventually, the attacks slowed and the zombies were seen more like wild animals that wandered into town occasionally. People knew that zombies were around, but they simply weren’t a concern for most.
***
Solange Hopkins had already built her bunker when the zombies appeared. Their arrival merely acted as a catalyst for her neuroses, or as she thought of it, a confirmation of her suspicions. Granted, zombies were never something that she had considered as a possible threat, but she was convinced that a nightmare that she had was actually a premonition of doom. For months, Solange’s life revolved around three tasks: eating dehydrated food, a workout routine that was devised for its ability to be performed in a prison cell and watching old videotapes of Sesame Street and porn.  Even though her interest for each duty was cyclical and the amount of focus for each waned, her commitment didn’t. She made up for her radical beliefs with the complete and utter inability to prioritize or plan.
***
After weeks of working on the book, Elliot had only written a little more than the prologue. It had been a while since he exercised his writing muscles, and he was out of shape. He found himself unfocused and distracted by small details and wording. He received plenty of writing advice from colleagues in the writing annex of the English Department. One told him to write what he knew. One told him to write what he didn’t know. A third told him to kill his babies. He wandered around his new house, doing nothing in particular. Most of his things were boxed up and the only two pieces of furniture in the house were his bed and a desk. Subsequently, his herb garden was getting a lot more attention than his laptop.
***
I Teach Brains, Not Eat Them (Prologue)
A friend and co-worker, Lawrence Frink (a Professor Emeritus of Latin) told me, “The way I see it, there are two possible outcomes. Either there’s a zombie apocalypse and the world slips back to a time of hunters and gatherers, or people realize that we don’t live in the movies and the world adapts and moves on.” He was killed a week later. As it turned out, his claim was as ill-timed as it was prophetic. Zombies didn’t mill around in packs searching for brains. Cities weren’t turned into wastelands of stranded vehicles and perpetual trash fires.
Memberships for gun clubs, shooting ranges and zoos went through the roof.  The government created a new security agency: the Office of Undead Intelligence (OUI). Their first official act was to corral groups of the creatures into open areas and perform mass killings. While initially a popular Sunday night football replacement, the Zombie Destruction League was short-lived.
Neither a cure nor a cause to zombism was discovered. The biggest breakthrough was when it was realized that there were different classifications of zombies. The overwhelming majority were dubbed Brainers. These were the typical zombies of horror movies; completely driven by the consumption of flesh and blood. Officially, the OUI renamed this classification to Renals after an analysis showed that the brain was too difficult to access and the kidney was the choice organ for the creatures.
The second classification, Gerries, generally weren’t violent. They merely wandered aimlessly. Occasionally, a Gerry developed a taste for organs, but they usually maintained a slower gait than that of the Brainers. The final classification, Revenant, only had a handful of known members. What made this classification different from the others was that this group maintained the personality and, in some cases, the memory of the person they were before they died.
***
When planning for the zombie apocalypse, the only thing that Solange didn’t plan for was the possibility of it never happening. When she first opened the door to the vault, she was blinded by her first exposure to natural light in nine months. She didn’t expect was the smell of freshly cut grass. She held a hand against her forehead and squinted. The lawns were still being held to the meticulous standards set out by the Homeowners Association of Songbird Estates.
***
Elliot turned compost in his backyard. The only reason that he had the bin was out of habit. For years, he put his food scraps in the tumbler and turned it into plant food. After he died, he continued to eat for a few months, but it was pointless as his body no longer required food. Besides, it just got messy. Despite not needing sleep, he didn’t quit doing it. He loved his naps.
Elliot heard rustling noises behind him. He turned around but didn’t see anything. Simultaneously, Elliot heard a loud sound and felt something hit his chest. He shifted his eyes from the hole in his chest to the craven woman that emerged from under his deck. She looked exactly like one would expect for a woman that had been training in a bunker for months. She was trim, fit and unkempt. She held her handgun with a comfort that can be afforded to those that have supreme confidence and ignorance of their inabilities. He guessed that she had never shot anything alive before. Technically, she still hadn’t.
“You shot me!” Elliot said. “What the hell is wrong with you? What’re you doing under my deck?” he asked her.
“Your deck!?” Solange yelled. “This is my house. I don’t know what…” She furrowed her brow and looked around erratically. “What are you…How…” she lowered her gun and squinted at him. “Are you one of those…” her mouth was agape. “What are you?”
“I’m just new to the neighborhood,” he said.
“I didn’t ask who you were. I asked what you were.”
“That’s hard to explain,” he said.
Solange lifted her gun and took aim at him again. “If you’re not gonna try, then neither will I.”
Elliot held up both of his hands to show that he meant no harm. “They call us Revenants.”
“Revawhat?”
“You know, one of those that only got partially affected by those things.”
“What do you mean, partially affected?”
Elliot looked down at his chest and poked a finger in the bullet hole. It felt like he was sticking his finger in the side of a sandbag. He found the bullet and poked it through his back. He stood quietly for a few moments.
“I was attacked. I guess you could say,’ he said. “I’ve never really said it, but that thing killed me.
***
I Teach Brains, Not Eat Them, an excerpt
I don’t know what made me different. I don’t know why I didn’t turn into a senseless killer or a wandering blank check. I can’t help but believe that it was because of the clean lifestyle that I lived. I never ate an ounce of meat in my life. I was active within my co-op and ate as much organic as I could. Not only did I want to support my environment, and probably most importantly, I never had the urge to kill.
I don’t miss sex. That could be because I no longer have a libido. Or it could be that despite my penis being functionless, I don’t want to lose it. Mostly, I think that I’m horrified with the type of woman that would consider venturing into necrophilia.
I don’t really remember my attack. It was like waking up from a dream. Or more like I woke up into a dream. You find yourself as a more carefree person when you don’t have to worry about pain or death anymore.
***
“You have to understand how bizarre this is for me,” Solange said. She and Elliot sat on lawn chairs in the middle of the yard. She looked around the neighborhood. “Nothing really changed once they came. People just moved on.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that nothing changed,” he said as he poked his finger into the bullet hole and wiggled it. “The last nine months have been pretty weird for me. I got a divorce. I quit my job for the most part. I moved into a new house. Not to mention I died.”
“You know what I mean.”
“It became a buyer’s marker pretty fast. This neighborhood is pretty quiet. Most of the houses came furnished. I liked that this house was sparse.” Solange put her hands over her eyes and leaned towards her lap. “Do you have any sunglasses? Or an aspirin? This light is killing me.”
“Sorry,” Elliot said. “I don’t use any of those things anymore. I’d offer to have you come in and have a drink, but I don’t have any of that, either.”
She sat up quickly.
“I do. I forgot all about it. You want to come down and see my place?”
“I’ve been wondering about that since you crawled out.”
“C’mon, I’ll show you.” They both stood up and walked to the deck. Solange laid down, slid under the wood, but paused. She looked up at Elliot, squinting. “Sorry about shooting you earlier.”
***
I Teach Brains, Not Eat Them, an excerpt
I haven’t chewed gum since I was a kid. It was a deliberate choice after going to the dentist. The visit itself wasn’t memorable. I must have had a cavity worked on that day, because when my father dropped me off at school, I couldn’t feel my tongue. A friend offered me a piece of gum, which I gladly accepted. While my mouth was deadened by Novocain, I chewed a hole in my tongue. Since then, I imagine myself chewing another hole whenever I’m offered a piece of gum.
When I was in college, I got a window garden and started to grow different herbs that I used for cooking. Eventually, my window gardens became a mint patch. I kept a chewing tobacco box filled with leaves and chewed on them throughout the day. When I became a Revenant, I worried about chewing a hole in my tongue again. But then I realized that I could replace any of my physical parts. Plus the mint does a good job of covering up the smell of rotten flesh.
***
Once Elliot managed to maneuver under the porch, down the hatch and into the bunker, he saw Solange sitting on a couch with her head in her hands.
“Are your eyes still bothering you?” he asked.
Solange moved her hands to the back of her head and looked at him. “It’s all a waste,” she said. “I’m not just talking about the last nine months. It took me years to build this place.” she said, scanning the room. “I researched. I read books. I followed prepper websites. They all tell you how to prepare for the end of the world, but what happens when nothing’s changed? It’s like waiting to get into heaven only to find out that it’s exactly the same as here.”
Elliot sat next to her. “You can’t think about stuff like that. You’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about how easy it is for the world to move on without you.” He looked around the room. In one corner, a shelving unit held hundreds of cans of food. He pointed at the corner, “How long were you planning on staying down here?”
She glanced at the corner. “I’ve probably got another three months of food over there. The water filtration system is still going strong. I don’t know. A year is a long time to stay in one place. If I had to do it all over again, I’d bring more movies and books. And a better pillow.”
Elliot shuffled through the magazines on the tabletop. He held up a copy of Playgirl. “So you’re telling me that you can’t survive on instant ramen and dirty magazines without getting bored?”
She gave a half smile and shrugged her shoulders. “Did you know that you can lose your sense of smell from a lack of vitamin D? It only took me four months living away from sunshine before I couldn’t taste any of this stuff, anyways.”
“Why don’t we grab that drink and get out of here?” Elliot said. “Let’s pretend that you’re here on vacation. What do you want to do? What do you want to see?” Where do you want to eat?”
Solange walked around the corner and Elliot followed. She opened a deep freeze. She shuffled around frozen blocks wrapped in white butcher’s paper. “You know what I’d love to do? I want to grill out. I want to sit outside and breathe the fresh air. I would pretty much kill for a good bratwurst.”
“I don’t have a grill, but I think the neighbors do.” Elliot said. “I’ve never seen anybody over there, so they’re probably not coming back.”
“You mean the Joneses? They were probably the first to leave the neighborhood.”
 Elliot leaned down and looked at the food. “Did you really eat this?”
“Not really. I didn’t like cooking in here, it got too smoky,” she said. She grabbed a package of brats and slammed the cover shut. “Let’s go get some fresh air.”
Elliot started to walk away, but realized that his hand was caught in the freezer.
“I’m so sorry,” Solange said, lifting the lid.
“It’s no big deal,” Elliot said. He looked down and saw that his finger had fallen off. “Oh shit.”
“Oh my God,” Solange said. She looked around the room while running in place. “What do we do? What do we do?” She grabbed the finger. “We should put it on ice.”
“It’s fine,” Elliot said nonchalantly. “It happens every once in a while. All you have to do is stitch it back on. Really, it’s not an issue.”
“What do you mean stitch it back on?”
“As soon as I touch another dismembered piece, I can move it. If you stitch or glue it on my body, eventually they mesh together.”
***
Elliot stood in front of the grill at his neighbor’s house. “You want to know something crazy?” he said. “Not only have I never eaten meat, I’ve never used a grill.”
“That’s crazy. You never even grilled veggies?”
“We never had a grill as a kid. I never thought that it was worth paying for something so big and expensive when I would never use it.”
“Don’t worry,” she said, bumping him out of the way with her hip. “When I was a kid, we had big neighborhood parties where we would have a couple grills going at once.” Solange added the brats to the grill, not realizing that she had also included Elliot’s finger. She closed the lid.
“I like them nice and black, so we’ll let them sit on there for a little bit.” She sat down on a lawn chair and opened the bottle of whiskey. “You sure you don’t want any of this?”
“Alcohol doesn’t do anything besides make me drippy,” Elliot said. “I was never really a drinker. I preferred to smoke, but that doesn’t work, either.”
“Serves you right,” Solange said. “For not planning ahead and building a sweet bunker.”
Elliot laughed. After a few minutes, he nodded over to the grill. Smoke was pouring out of its sides. He could hear hissing. “Is that normal?” he asked.
“Yeah. That sound’s juices escaping through the casing. Pretty much, it means they’re almost done.” Solange opened the cover and ducked away from the smoke that poured out. She squinted and grabbed the first thing from the grill. With smoke still in her face, she blew on the sausage and took a bite. For the first time in months, she actually tasted something, but the musky earthy taste was not from a bratwurst. She looked down and saw that it was Elliot’s finger. “So if you lose a body part, it’s as easy as sewing a new one on?”
“Pretty much. I’ve got a few borrowed parts here and there.”
“So the other zombies leave you alone?”
“They do now.”
Solange looked at the finger again. She held it close to her lips and blew on it.
“You mind if I stay with you tonight?” she said. “If you think about it, the house is technically both of ours.”
“That’s fine,” Elliot said. “But I have to warn you, I don’t have any furniture besides my bed.”
“That’s not a problem,” she said as she bit down into the finger.