Dec 31 2009

End of year summary (plus, a story!)

Published by at 7:29 pm under collaboration,short story sharing,silliness,Writing

This year has been full of grief, change, healing, recovery, and much more. I know 2009 has been a year of upheaval for many of you out there reading, as well. Hopefully as the calendar year closes, more of you than not are seeing the light around the bend before the end of the tunnel, at the very least. We’ve got a few more rocky months ahead before our own smooth sailing here, but we’re an awesome family with wonderful friends, which makes the turbulent journey easier.

As I mentioned, it’s been a long, slow, recovery year, which has meant a fairly lean year for new words written. Still, I’m 3 chapters into the novel’s new draft, and the work is still going on that, enough that I have hope someday (perhaps even in 2010!) it will grow into a finished draft. I missed being in this year’s Arse Elektronika as planned due to the double whammy of major health issues and a crashed computer with lost files. However, I still managed to get two short stories written in 2009. One is still out circulating, looking for a published home. (That would be “The Entirely Explainable Expiration of Elmer the Cat”.)

The second is actually co-authored, and contained below in the remainder of this post for your viewing pleasure. This is actually still in its second draft, as I’m waiting to hear back from my co-author on which parts need to change to suit his vision. He was the idea-man on this particular story, and probably the only other relevant piece of info to help you understand this story is that my idea-man is coming up on his 12th birthday in April. It was certainly a writerly challenge to fit all the various pieces of ideas into a semi-coherent narrative. (I strongly suspect we’ve “borrowed” from several recent movie and videogame plots for many of these ideas, given my idea-guy’s preference for large amounts of television.) I think it turned into a fun story, though perhaps one that may borrow a bit too heavily from others to be publishable elsewhere… (Note: Neither author had seen “Shaun of the Dead” when the story was written, but I understand there are some similar plot points there as well.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy our collaborative effort as you enter into 2010 — may it be a better year for all of us than 2009 was.

A Jolly Zombie Holiday
by Reesa Brown and D. Eliot

Christmas just isn’t the same when you have zombies shambling around. I’m sure you understand, your holidays were messed up by the arrival of the walking dead, too. And no matter who tries to explain it to them, the zombies just haven’t seemed to get the whole “unwrap the presents instead of eat them” concept. So it’s definitely been the most interesting holiday I’ve lived yet.

Not that I’ve lived all that many, only 13. But I was the one in the family who reported on my half-sister becoming a zombie, and I rode with her as they took her to the quarantine zone, so that’s how I knew where to go later on. But wait, I’m skipping ahead; I bet you want to hear more about the zombies.

Black Friday is what they call the day after Thanksgiving, a shopping holiday where everyone goes to the stores and fights each other for the best prices for Christmas presents. At least that’s how Mama ‘Nita explained it to me, and she’s really smart so she should know, although Dad did give her a funny look when she was telling me that. Anyway, this year it was a Really Black Friday, since that was the day the zombies first showed up. Some people in the checkout lines apparently got too hungry from the long waits and started trying to snack on their neighbors instead of the mall food. Dad says that was an understandable choice given what the food there is like, but he still doesn’t approve of the walking dead.

At school they say zombies are afraid of glass. I say they’re idiots, since why would zombies be afraid of anything? It’s not a mirror, and they aren’t vampires. Smart kids know the Truth, which is that zombies can no longer see glass, so it becomes one of the signs that you can tell someone is a zombie. You know how birds can’t see glass very well, so they’ll try to fly past a building by way of flying through the window? Zombies are more like that. They’re much sturdier than birds, so they take a much longer time bumping up against the window and usually don’t break themselves doing it, though some of them are strong enough to still break the windows. Also, zombies hate water, though I’m not sure exactly why. They can’t drown, and they don’t melt like a wicked witch when you throw water on them; I think it’s because zombies like being gross and dirty, and once you’re a zombie no one is ever going to make you take a bath again.

Anyway, the glass thing is how I figured out my half-sister, Amy, had gone to the zombie side. I was visiting her and Mom for Thanksgiving, and we’d gone out that weekend to the mall to see where the zombies had appeared. There was a really tall, funny-shaped man with a squished-looking head going around the crowd selling purple candied apples. I don’t like candied apples, so I didn’t want any, but Amy screamed her head off until Mom bought her one. Amy always liked purple things.

Back at home later that day, I watched Amy while Mom took a nap, and in the middle of playing hide and seek I found her when I noticed a curtain moving back and forth; she was trying to hide behind the tree on the other side of the window…by bonking up against this side of the glass over and over. She also had a really funny look in her eyes like she couldn’t see me very well. I’d been watching the news ever since the zombies appeared a couple of days before, so I knew not to put my fingers too close to her mouth; I didn’t want to get bitten. Mom was never any good at dealing with these kinds of things, so I left Amy — still trying to hide behind the tree — while I went and called 911.

They let me ride in the ambulance to the zombie camp, I think because they wanted to ask me some questions about Amy. They’d put the camp in a park near the library, and said that they were using the biggest parks in every town to set up zombie camps until they could figure out what was happening. They told me that they weren’t sure but they thought it might be contagious, and had Amy sneezed on me any, or bit me? I said no I didn’t touch her, she had cooties most of the time anyway, even if they weren’t normally zombie cooties. I didn’t realize ambulance guys talked so much; I learned a lot from them on the ride.

They kept me at the camp for a while, asking a lot of boring questions over and over. They finally let me go after I passed the final test, where they sat me in front of a plate with a gross, oozing raw cow brain and waited to see if I got hungry. I made sure to aim for the guard guy’s shoes when I couldn’t hold my stomach back any longer. He was mad about his shoes, but the vomit convinced them I wasn’t a zombie.

I knew I had to get back to my regular home quick, to The Lab, if I was going to help bring the zombies down. And since they’d turned my sister undead, now it was personal. I mean sure, she was really annoying, and I didn’t much like her, and often wished she’d go away, but you know, not really. At least, not zombified. She’s annoying, cootie-filled family, and you gotta stand for what’s right. Brains belong in your skull, not on a plate or in zombie guts. So I called Dad and Mama ‘Nita and took the next flight back home to St. Louis.

Mama ‘Nita and Dad were both scientists. I asked Dad once if they were mad scientists, and he replied that he didn’t think they were angry most of the time, so perhaps they were not-so-mad mad scientists. Anyway, it meant that I had all the tools and widgets and doodads and wacky machines that a 13-year-old could dream of wanting to play with, and which would probably come in handy as we took on the zombie menace.

Dad said they’d been following the latest updates on the news, so we could jump right into the planning. Mama ‘Nita didn’t think it could have happened all at once like that, with the zombies showing up multiple places at the same time, without there being some kind of plan, or even a plot, behind it. Dad was pretty sure that this time it wasn’t the government, since they seemed as surprised and unprepared to deal with it as everyone else. Mama ‘Nita said that didn’t automatically disqualify the government from being at fault, as they weren’t very efficient even when they did know about something, but she agreed that this time it probably wasn’t the government. We spent some time talking about it, with Dad deciding it was probably an actual mad scientist whose experiment had gone horribly wrong, while Mama ‘Nita voted for it being probably another evil overlord attempt to enslave humanity under the zombie yoke.

We’d defeated an evil overlord just last year who had tried to take over the brains of all the household pets and turn them against their owners in an attempt to take over the world. Dad tracked the guy down electronically, Mama ‘Nita analyzed his plan and found the weak point, and I held the mirror that we used to turn the mind-control beam back onto the guy’s own German Shepherd to take him out. Our family is a good team.

I thought about everything I knew so far about the zombies, and remembered that weird-looking guy selling the purple candy apples at the mall. What if he’d been there the day before, when the zombies started? What if there were more of him? I thought a little more about this and said that I thought it was aliens, creating the zombies for their own alien reasons. We talked a little more and concluded that we would have to go out on a mission to observe more zombies before we could figure out who was behind all this.

We made a quick detour to the Locker Room to get our zombie expedition gear on. Dad and Mama ‘Nita strapped on their viewing and recording electronics and grabbed sampling and analyzing kits, while I took care of collecting enough zombie-whapping sticks and other important mission stuff for the three of us. We then listened to the news for long enough to hear where the closest clump of zombies had been sighted, and we were off!

One channel on TV had reported that the zombies could turn into rats to escape capture, and we were really interested in finding out whether this was true, since transmogrifying zombies would be even worse news than the regular kind. We headed to the local mall (the zombies seemed to like gathering at malls and movie theaters) to do some walking dead investigation.

Zombies are pretty disgusting, all groans and rotting body parts and wandering around randomly looking for snacks. It’s a myth they only eat brains; really, any body part they can get their rotting hands on will do, but brains are like the filet mignon of humans for zombie palates. Even though you can’t really taste much, as a zombie. When we got to the mall, there was a large group of zombies that had been herded into a corner of the food court by police. One of them was still gnawing on an arm that it kept having to yank away from the other zombies who wanted to share its snack. As the police got ready to grab the zombies, we finally saw what the TV report had been talking about. One of the zombies was pretty far gone, mostly tendons and bones held together with not a lot of skin. It moved strangely, swaying back and forth even more randomly than most zombies and with weird bulges under what was left of its skin and clothes. As the police pushed forward, we saw that the bulges were actually rats that had started living in the zombie. It looked like they had eaten it from the inside even as the zombie was busy eating other people. The rats, fifty or more of them, exploded away from the remainder of the zombie in all directions as they ran from the capture. It was really yucky to watch but it meant we didn’t have to worry about an actual zombie changing its shape as long as we checked it for ratmobile status first.

We waited for the cops to leave with the other zombies then moved in to see if there was anything we could learn from the exploded undead. Mama ‘Nita and Dad took out their scanners and started them up; Mama ‘Nita walked slowly around the area perimeter while Dad concentrated on the pieces of zombie parts scattered everywhere. The first thing I noticed was movement near the zombie torso, and I moved to get a closer look.

A rat was still there and moving, wrapped around something that looked like it had been in the zombie’s stomach before it fell apart. I noticed two things at once: one, that the rat was acting funny, not moving like a normal rat at all; and two, the thing it was chewing on looked just like the purple candied apple Amy had eaten the day before she zombified.

I ran back to Dad to tell him that I thought the purple candy apples were somehow part of what was turning people into zombies. He listened and nodded, then showed me what he had just found. A microchip with an active radio signal still broadcasting was stuck on what was left of the zombie’s neck. Dad showed Mama ‘Nita, who immediately got out sample bags and put the microchip in one and the candy apple in another. I herded the rat into a third bag Dad held open, by poking it with a stick I’d brought along; I was pretty sure that it was now a zombie rat, but we’d be able to tell more back at the Lab.

Mama ‘Nita analyzed the candy apple while Dad tracked the signal back to its source. My job was easy; organize the rest of the supplies we would need to finish the job, whatever the zombie job turned out to be. I decided to load up a backpack with the new explosives my folks had recently gotten a shipment of; you never know when explosives will come in handy, and when zombies were part of the mix, well you could probably expect explosions to follow.

Mama ‘Nita finished her preliminary tests and I was right! The purple candy apples were how the zombie virus was being transmitted. Digestive juices activated the zombification. Right as she finished telling us that, Dad’s tracking program finished. The signal was coming from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I always liked driving by the bridge, but I was a bit nervous this time. We could see bunches of zombies wandering about, more of them the closer we got to the bridge. We were able to pass pretty easily through them by walking unevenly, like we were a group of zombies ourselves. We were in much nicer shape than those around us, but zombies aren’t the most observant folk.

When we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, we found something we hadn’t expected at all: the signal Dad was tracking was coming from a 20-foot-tall robot, obviously not made of this world. We hid and watched for a few more minutes, and saw a group of zombies lined up in front of the robot (well, zombie lines aren’t really lines, more like messy zigzags). The zombie at the front shambled forward, and the robot extended a probe toward its neck and looked like it injected something into it. That must be the tracking microchip that we’d found on the rat-eaten zombie. I guessed that the robot was probably able to use those chips to control the zombies as well as track where they were.

“Well, Tom, I guess you were right about the aliens,” Dad said.

“Good work, Thomas! That definitely isn’t an Earth robot,” said Mama ‘Nita.

We stayed hidden to one side while Dad scanned the robot. He found another signal, this one broadcasting into outer space. Dad started trying to figure out where that signal was going while Mama ‘Nita and I crept closer and closer, trying to shuffle our feet and sway from side to side like the zombies were doing. Finally we were close enough to start laying the explosives around the robot, still moving like zombies so it wouldn’t notice us. We figured that if we blew up the robot, we would stop whatever evil alien plan was at work. The robot was near enough to one end of the Bridge that we put some explosives there too, just in case.

We waited for what seemed like forever, until Dad finally told us he’d gotten enough of the scan to figure it out with the computers back at The Lab. Dad set up a special recording device to catch what happened next. They let me push the button to set off the explosion, and goodness was that boom big! Dad orders good explosives. The robot was sturdy enough that the explosives only knocked it over but didn’t destroy it, and we were worried that our mission was doomed when the robot got up and started scanning the area for us. It found Dad’s scanner signal and took two steps toward us, but thankfully the explosives on the Golden Gate Bridge worked just fine, and right then a huge piece of the bridge came crashing down, knocking over the robot and the signal it was sending and burying them both under a ton of concrete and rubble. The zombies didn’t fall apart when the robot’s signal went offline, but they all just sat down where they were and stared into thin air, groaning occasionally and swaying back and forth. Our family had again saved the Earth, this time from both robot and zombie menace.

We learned a lot more, afterwards. Dad figured out the signal had been broadcasting toward Neptune. After some talking with NASA and waiting while they checked some of their scans, we learned that a plutonium-rich meteor had crashed into Neptune, and it seemed like the aliens had been after this rock, blasting through Neptune to get at the plutonium on the meteor. As far as we could tell, the zombies had been set up by the aliens as a big distraction, so we wouldn’t notice them taking the plutonium from Neptune. It’s too bad they didn’t just ask us instead of sending the zombies, we would have probably just told them they could have the old meteor. But since they didn’t ask and attacked us instead, we couldn’t let them get away with the plutonium theft. Dad used the recordings he made of the explosion and the scans to do some crazy mad scientist electronic modification to the signal that he’d found being broadcast back toward the alien ship. He then sent out the modified signal to the aliens, and two weeks later we got confirmation from NASA that the alien ship had tried to take off from the remains of Neptune with all the plutonium, but a strange miscalculation in their flight trajectory caused them to run straight into Triton, one of Neptune’s moons. The video of the explosion was really popular on TV for months after that. Dad got a nice thank-you letter from both NASA and the president for taking care of the aliens.

The zombies were a messier problem (as well as being messy). They didn’t just go away when the robot was destroyed, or when the alien ship on Neptune blew up, so it seems like the zombies are here to stay. Dad and Mama ‘Nita rebuilt the giant robot, with some changes to the signal it broadcasts to better control the zombies. Now the zombies only eat what we tell them is ok to eat (though they still try to chew on Christmas presents when no one is looking), and they don’t try to snack on their neighbors or family any more. That means my half-sister Amy can go back to Mom’s place just in time for me to see her during my Christmas visit there. I bet she’s just as annoying a zombie as she was a little sister, but I’m still kinda glad she’ll be home for Christmas anyway. I wonder what you buy a zombie for presents?

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