Friday, October 25, 2013

God Decays has arrived!

My first novel, God Decays, is now available as a paperback from CreateSpace, which is Amazon’s self-publishing company. The book is also available from Amazon and from Amazon Europe (search for "God Decays" in the European site of your choice).

For some reason, I get higher royalties if the book is purchased from the CreateSpace page as opposed to Amazon itself. So if you’re interested in buying the book and you’d like more of the money to go to me, you’d want to buy it from CreateSpace.

I’m very proud of this novel. I wrote the first draft in 4 or 5 months and it was so much fun. But this novel is only the beginning of at least a 4-volume series I have planned. The scope is going to be epic.

The image at the left, of that zombie standing in front of a galaxy/halo was meant to be included in the book. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the resolution to work. (Microsoft Word or some other program kept lowering the resolution, so the printed copy looked fuzzy.) So there's the picture. I'll have to figure out the resolution issues for the next book so I can include more art in it.

Here are the first several chapters of the book, minus the snazzy formatting and fonts. Warning: God Decays falls within the horror genre, so there’s some gore in it as well as coarse language.



Pandora’s Giftwrapped Box

Before knocking, NSA cryptanalyst Howard Rhodes wiped the rain from his forehead and glanced at the homemade cartoons stuck to the office door. One was a crude drawing of a boy picking his nose, the busy hand only partly concealing the boy’s wicked grin. The caption read, “Beware Johnny’s hidden bioweapons.” Not so funny, he thought, but probably drawn by his old friend, the quirky civilian scientist Anton Simonov, who studied bioweapons at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick. Another cartoon showed a caveman who was clubbing a buffalo with an oversized wooden club and shouting, “Fear my bioweapon!” Dreadful. Rhodes wondered why he was in such a foul mood. This meeting was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, concealing, and coaxing, and Simonov had assured him over the phone just last week that all was ready. Rhodes would see for himself before taking the next step.
He knocked. 
Simonov opened the door, a heartfelt smile spread across his bearded face. His office was crammed with the gear of a modern mad scientist. White cabinets lined the walls, the transparent cupboard doors revealing stacks of notebooks, beakers and vials, bright green or blue plastic containers, and various curios. On top were large bright yellow bins, holding a pile of goggles wrapped individually in plastic. Below the cabinets were a window, a large freezer, and a row of shelves bearing larger, plastic beakers, sealed boxes with color-coded stickers across their sides, and a desk on which an enormous flat computer screen was flanked by two oversized, chunky metal microscopes. Secondary and tertiary computer monitors were bolted to the walls and a locked freezer and metal case were tucked under the desk. The office smelled like a new car and the air conditioner sounded like a small helicopter.
“Howie, it’s so good to see you,” Simonov said with a slight Russian accent, shaking Rhodes’s hand. “Come in, come in! I hope you won’t mind my asking you for the hundredth time, now that I’ve got you here in person and not just on the phone—but what’s the latest news on the signal? Any late breaking developments for your old pal Annie?”
“Yes, the little green men have announced that they’ve been spying on you and they want you to stop pissing in the beakers and calling them WMDs.”
Simonov stared at him, blinked, and the two burst out laughing. Rhodes noticed the old tattoos on Simonov’s forearm, beneath his white lab coat, as he raised it to close the door behind them.
“Annie, I don’t know how you keep your sense of humor, as corny as it is—what with you up to your neck in pathogens.”
“Corny? I’d say my taste in comedy is refined. Silliness has its place, you know; just ask Monty Python. But seriously, what’s happening with the signal? The news is full of rumors. Can you at least tell me whether there’s been any progress in decoding it? I mean, you’ve had it for over a year.”
“You know I can’t tell you anything. But no,” he whispered, looking left and right conspiratorially, “there’s been no progress. The message is still alien gobbledygook.”
Simonov frowned and his shoulders drooped as he threw himself into his chair. “That’s disappointing,” he said.
Rhodes turned and looked out the rain-streaked office window, at the parking lots, the lawns muddied by construction, and the squat, flat blocks of USAMRIID which he imagined were huddling beneath the thick, dark clouds. The hidden sun was setting and the fort seemed deserted. Luckily, Anton Simonov liked to work late to avoid spending time with his wife. “You know,” Rhodes said, “I remember meeting you here and wondering why these facilities aren’t more remote, why they aren’t buried miles underground. I mean, the deadly pathogens you folks work on are secure and all. But I used to stand here, looking out this window, thinking it’s obscene to see the same sky above that everyone else sees, while tucked away in these buildings are swarms of world-ending, flesh-eating viruses. Like God was up there frowning at you.”
“Are you saying you lot at NSA just hold hands and sing folk songs?”
“No, of course not. Anyway, I got over it.” Rhodes cleared his throat and stroked his chin, listening to the rain patter against the window and the pavement. “Nature’s a violent place, after all,” he added.
“Yes, I suppose it is.” Simonov squinted at Rhodes’s back as though Rhodes were miles away and obscured by fog.
“But what was I saying before?” Rhodes asked, startling Simonov as he spun around to face him. “Oh right, the signal’s still an enigma. But you’ve got good news, correct? For you, I mean. You may have won ten thousand bucks.”
“Howie, my friend, you have well and truly lost the bet. You said I lack the know-how or the balls to design and manufacture the ultimate zombie apocalypse virus, and I’m here tonight to prove you wrong once and for all.”
What would Rhodes do without Anton’s gambling addiction, midlife crisis, and inferiority complex all wrapped up in one tidy package? “Let’s hear it, then,” Rhodes said. “On the phone you told me this most recent strain is a two-stage solution, is that right?”
“It’s not just the most recent attempt; it’s the final one. I’ve solved it, I tell you. But it’s not a single strain. No, each phase is handled by a separate pathogen. I’ll begin with Phase Two—you’ll see why in a minute. So then, I’ve genetically engineered certain microscopic spores so that after they’re inhaled they lie dormant in the bloodstream until the infected individual dies by some other means. Here, I’ll show you.”
Simonov moved his computer mouse and the topless woman on his screen saver disappeared. He opened a password-protected file and his screen was suddenly filled with what looked like pulsating, wrinkly maggots, writhing blindly in a sea of slime. “Here are the beauties!” Simonov continued. “I shot these with an electron microscope. Now, the lack of brain activity triggers these spores and they grow rapidly into a mycorrhizal fungal network, carrying nutrients to the muscles and taking over the lower brain functions. This allows the fungal parasite to control the corpse like a puppet. Something similar already happens to certain rainforest ants, you know. The fungal network feeds either on whatever the zombie manages to consume or on the zombie’s flesh, which it digests by the kind of osmosis you’d find in a carnivorous plant. And of course the spores are passed on by zombie bite, which starts the process anew.”
“Looks pretty gruesome.”
“Now, now, Howard, that’s just the second phase. If you delivered just these spores, you’d have only a herky-jerky, mini apocalypse on your hands, because the natural deaths in the first generation of the infected could be separated by decades. You see, you’ve got to overwhelm a nation’s defenses so that the doctors don’t have time to study the pathogen and produce a vaccine—before the zombies show up on their doorstep.
“Hence Phase One: weaponized rabies.” Simonov opened a new file and up popped hundreds of furry, bullet-shaped pellets. “I’ve tailored these to rapidly turn people into killing machines. Like the spores, the rabies virus is highly infectious. Were both in the air, the local population would destroy itself and transform into creatures that resemble the fictional monster in all crucial details, and all within a few days, depending on how long it would take for the rabid killers to get themselves killed. That target population would quickly spread the pathogens and that would be the end of the world—straight from the nozzle of my aerosol dispersion system.”
“And you’re telling me you haven’t just dreamed this up or stirred up a batch of prototypes? You’ve actually manufactured enough to infect our whole species?”
“Assuming you were to deliver the payload to highly populated civilizational chokepoints, like airports, then yes. These little babies would wipe us out before we’d know what was happening. Satisfied?”
“Let me see the delivery mechanism.”
            “Have no fear! I wouldn’t cheat you on that account.” Simonov opened the metal case which held a black plastic canister, cradled in gray hardened foam. “This is just your standard reusable aerosol dispersion canister. You’d just set it down, turn the top like so—wearing a gas mask, of course. Then you’d wait five minutes and pack it up.”
            “So where are the munitions and the payloads?” 
            “Well now, the earlier attempts are in that freezer over there. They’ll do the trick alright, although not so efficiently, but the work I’m most proud of I keep in this locked freezer. Let me show you.” He unlocked it and extracted a transparent tube surrounded by metal struts which apparently held the munitions in place in the canister. “These are all loaded and ready to go,” Simonov added, gesturing towards the freezers. “So what we’re looking at here—and I admit I sometimes get the willies just from sitting in this office—it’s the prospect of a full-fledged doomsday smackdown. The end of the world, my friend, in Pandora’s Giftwrapped Box.” Simonov moved to return the munitions to the unlocked freezer.
            “Before you put that away, Annie, I’ve got to ask you: How do I know there’s even anything in there? I mean, that tube looks empty.”
            Simonov sighed dramatically and shook his head. “Oh, ye of little faith! Do you think I’d make all this up just to scam a few thousand dollars from you? No, my honor’s intact! Here, look through this microscope.” Simonov positioned the tube on the microscope stage and sure enough Rhodes saw that it was filled with the pathogens.
            “But, Annie, how do I know these would actually do what you say?”
“I’m a scientist; I don’t fool around,” he deadpanned. “Allow me to show you one of my test subjects.” A few more mouse clicks and Rhodes saw on the screen a living mouse, twitching its nose in a metal compartment behind a transparent shield. Hands in pressurized rubber gloves lifted the shield and used a syringe to inject the mouse. The time stamp in the screen corner jumped forward a day, and the mouse was screeching and racing from one end to the other, banging into the walls and frothing at the mouth. The compartment filled with gas which appeared to kill the rabid animal. Again the time stamp leaped forward several hours and Rhodes covered his mouth with his hand, seeing what he then saw on the monitor. His eyes swiveled to Simonov and he noticed absentmindedly that his lips had gone completely dry. Then Rhodes shuddered and smiled.
“Congratulations, Doctor Simonov. Zombie fans all over the world would sing your praises.”
Simonov guffawed. “Too bad they’ll never know, eh? As soon as we finish our business here, I’ve got to destroy it all. So do you have the money with you?” he asked, eyeing the pocket on Rhodes’ lab coat, which appeared full. “Or maybe I’ll walk you to your car? I’ve got an umbrella in here somewhere.”
“Yeah, it’s in my car,” Rhodes said, watching Simonov turn his head and reach down to return the bioweapon and lock Pandora’s Giftwrapped Box. Rhodes stared intensely at the particular spot on the back of Simonov’s head where he envisioned the bullet entering. He pulled the trigger on his silenced handgun, and blood and globs of brain sprayed from the cavern in Simonov’s forehead onto the vials in his freezer while bone fragments ricocheted off of the freezer’s metal walls.
And so the end begins with an omen, thought Rhodes. Let the blood fall like rain. 

Chapter One

Year 4 AZ

6:30 AM. Today’s the day. Eric’s set on it. Haven’t been outside in a while, but our food supplies are getting low. We cleaned up last time we left our base of operations, our shared King Parlor Suite on the seventeenth floor of the luxurious Omni Hotel, in Richmond, VA. That was weeks ago, when we raided the locked basement of a sporting goods store. We were like phoenixes rising from the ashes: left as rag tag paupers and came back Delta Force ninjas, at least as far as our equipment goes. We scored everything we could need. Before that we’d just plundered the hotel with Eric’s mom’s hunting rifle and handgun, plus kitchen knives, a hatchet, and a baseball bat. Eric’s mom, Louise, was paying for this place while Eric was in town, but the last we heard from her was over three years ago. Can’t imagine she’s still alive.
I used to be Eric’s neighbor a few doors down until we teamed up. I was planning to be here only a week, on business. When we first met just a few days before everything happened, Eric was standing in the hallway in front of his closed door, pulling on the handle over and over like his hand was glued to it. “Something wrong with the door?” I asked as I walked past him down the hall.
“You never know. I’d hate to leave it open by accident.”
“Can’t you see it’s closed?”
“Oh, I see it alright. But it can open on its own.”
I stopped and furrowed my brow. “You’re not talking ghosts, are you?”
“No, but there’ve been times when the door looked closed even though it wasn’t closed all the way. Our eyes can be tricked, you know.”
“Maybe, but even if it opens when you’re gone, don’t you trust your neighbors?”
“Nothing personal, but I’m paranoid. I don’t trust anyone or anything.”
Here was a guy, I thought, who lived in irrational fear that a door or a light switch or an alarm clock could jump up and bite him as soon as he turns his back. So he was more mentally prepared than many when the world actually did jump up and bite everyone.
After the initial chaos and bloodletting which we miraculously survived, we cleared the hallways, throwing the bodies out a window and dumping furniture into the stairwells to give us at least the illusion of security. When we hunted for supplies in the Omni, we’d go door to door, raiding each room and then marking the door with a big red X.
The fucking horror stories I could tell you about those little jaunts!
Once, we’d gone down a floor to hunt for food. There were gun shots and screams from outside the building, but they were far enough away that you could pretend there was just an action movie on TV in the next room. It was raining, too, which helped soothe my nerves. The hall carpet was coated with dust and there were cobwebs everywhere you looked; crusty blood was spattered on the walls and dried in burgundy splotches on the floor.
We came to a door ajar. Place reeked liked rotting meat and raw sewage. I pulled my shirt up over my nose and nudged the door fully open, standing there with my bat at the ready. I heard slurping, the tearing of flesh from bones, and cartilage popping. We walked as quietly as we could into the suite’s short hallway. Blood streaks led past the glass dining table, striped couches and mahogany desk, into the bedroom where we found the one corpse feasting on another. Looked like a father and his two daughters had holed up in there. The father still held a rifle. He lay sprawled on the bed, his stomach torn open and his entrails spilling feces and digestive fluids onto the bloody comforter like polluted rivers flowing into the sea. His arms and legs still twitched, but his head had been caved in. He was like a partially squashed insect with limbs that looked remotely controlled. There were bullet holes in the peach-colored wall behind him, so he’d probably fired wildly when he was served as the main course. As if to confirm that he’d been eaten alive, a grimace was frozen on his bloody face.
And so he’d joined the long line of hapless animals—from insects to fish to mammals—that have been eaten alive. Such a treacherous phrase, that one: “eaten alive.” People used to say that sometimes, without thinking what it really means. Your body, which you’ve identified with ever since you looked in the mirror and knew who was staring back, is now being used as another animal’s food right before your eyes. You have a front row seat as your good right hand—the one you stroked your lover with, the one you signed your mortgage agreement with, the one you used to play with your toys when you were a gleeful toddler running around the house—is yanked into some animal’s maw and chewed on. People used to tolerate the thought that when they die, insects will reclaim every part of their holy temple except their bones, because they knew they wouldn’t be there to feel it. But when you’re eaten alive and your fantasies run smack into the fact that we’re all equally worm food no matter what we do while we’re alive…What a living nightmare! Kill me first, Eric, before that happens to me.
But back to my funny little children’s tale. One little girl lay face down on the floor, her left leg twisted horrifically in the wrong direction. She wore soiled, torn jeans and a sweatshirt that looked like they’d been pulled out of a dumpster. Blood leaked from her neck where she’d been bitten. She went ahead and slowly pulled herself towards us, treating us every now and then to a tilted view of her face just to ensure that I wouldn’t sleep for weeks. Her jaw hung open and her eyes darted back and forth between Eric and me, their enlarged pupils covered in a light blue haze. Not windows to the soul, no not those eyes, but they fed images of us to whatever plant monster they used to say was controlling these corpses, and that monster couldn’t decide which of us to feast on first since we were the same distance away. She wheezed and moaned as she dug her nails into the floorboards. Her sister was being devoured by the corpse that sat comfortably on the bed without a care in the world apart from an exit bullet wound in its back, perhaps from the father’s rifle. The eater was burly and shirtless, his hairy back hunched over and facing us, his tightened, gray skin peeling away in spots from the muscles and tendons underneath. And the light brown, vein-like branches of the muppet master peeked through as well.
It struck me that we’d intruded on this muppet’s base of operations. This mockery of a human body had everything it needed here, namely meat to live on for weeks before it would need to bug out. We all take refuge from the hell on earth, even the monster that lives on the floor below you. Years ago, I heard there was once a serial killer that used to break into his victim’s home and hide under the bed before surprising the innocent homeowners in the night and torturing them. Could there have been a bigger asshole in the world? His ultimate goal in life was to be the literal monster under your bed, to lie there, stifling a giggle as he eavesdropped and peeked at the woman slipping off her underwear, and then waiting until she was in bed, snug and safe beneath her impregnable blankets, before squirming out and surprising the shit out of her.
But how could you stop your skin from crawling, knowing that maybe twenty feet away, with just some floors and walls between you, a cannibalistic corpse has been munching on little girls every minute of the day—literally going from one body part to the next, taking hold of a dirty blond ponytail and biting into the tender flesh, spraying blood everywhere as she screams for her father. Scratch that! How could you carry on, knowing that the whole wide world is full of those monsters, that there’s a horror movie playing out on most street corners, fields, and beaches and in most supermarkets, churches, and boardrooms, that the world is soaked in blood and there are precious few dry spots left?
Anyway, if I had to play Sherlock Holmes, I’d say the mad killer had stormed in, wreaking havoc until the dying father managed to shoot it. But the intruder was reborn first and dined on the wounded survivors.
Eric and I froze when we looked in that bedroom, almost as if we too had lost control of our bodies. But this wasn’t our first time at the rodeo, so we soon got past the shock and I smashed the crawler’s brains out with the bat while Eric shot the eater in the back of the head. At least we never had to see that thing’s face: we turned right around and put a big red X on the front door.
            7:30 AM. Eric’s triple-checking his pack and he’ll probably check it another three times before he thinks we’re ready to head out. For a guy in his early thirties, he’s as paranoid as the old curmudgeon who used to live down the hall. Had that old guy known he was going to be beaten to death by a gang of teenagers a few years ago, maybe he wouldn’t have sweated the little things. But Eric follows his playbook like it’s a security blanket. Every time he eats, it’s the same routine. After he brushes his teeth he always closes the bathroom door with his left elbow and he pivots to the left to avoid the closing door. It’s like he sees a circuit board over everything that’s invisible to everyone else, and he can move only down those paths that have been laid out.
I’m sitting in the living area on the most comfortable leather chair I’ve ever been near, let alone had the pleasure of calling mine. On one of our supply raids a year ago, I dragged it down two flights of stairs from a Presidential Suite. As they used to say when you had to stress yourself out from telephone calls and paperwork at the office, it’s the little pleasures that help you carry on: the chocolate treat, the afternoon nap, the stolen glance at your secretary’s cleavage. Well, I’ve got my chair, by God! In fact, all the world’s treasures—its jewels, sports cars, mansions, holy relics—are mine for the taking, including the Presidential Suite of the Omni Hotel. But few of them work anymore and they’re no fun without anyone else to watch you play with them. So I stick with my chair.
            The suite’s spotless, thanks to Eric’s diligence with cleaning utensils. When it’s fully stocked, a corner of the dining area’s floor would be stacked with canned and junk foods. Besides the water bottles, jugs of rainwater line the glass table, and we run the latter water through a sand filter and boil it before drinking. I’m writing this with a pen on paper in the candle glow. No more music or television, but I replay my favorites from memory. Anything to distract me from the surreal horror outside my oasis. I’ve only to turn my head slightly to the left, to the north and then, through the grungy window, with the taller James Center and Bank of America skyscrapers looming on either side, I’d bear witness to the new world’s flawless proof that all of human history was a freak accident, that we had no business on this planet after all.
As for Richmond, well, picture many of the buildings’ contents thrown in sun-bleached heaps in the streets. Skeletons of those who once tried to make off with the suitcases, backpacks, bags of clothes, and shopping carts of food, camping gear and weapons lie among the refuse, as do more recent, decomposing bodies. Rats scurry freely, deer lope between buildings, and wild dogs hunt in packs. The roads and sidewalks are lumpy with moss and weeds growing in the fissures, but mostly are hidden beneath rows of wrecked cars and the city’s debris. Mangled rears of sedans protrude from storefront windows, while the fronts of other cars are crumpled from head-on collisions; some are overturned, others are parked daintily on a lawn or sidewalk, their doors and trunks open. If I went down the hall to a room with a view to the east, I’d see that I-95, which passes right beside the James Monroe Building on the eastern edge of Richmond and arches south over the James River, is littered with abandoned vehicles. There are places in Richmond where military Humvees and tanks remain behind concrete barriers and barbed wire. The bullet holes and scorch marks from those last stands are still visible in the surrounding brick walls.
Infesting this garbage dump of bodies and eroding merchandise are the stumbling, staggering, crawling corpses that pass through, sniffing for that most prized remnant of the old world, for the living person whose flesh the muppets seem to prefer. Even now, as the sun is just rising, I can see that they dot the cityscape. Some stand frozen for days at a stretch, others speed walk as though they’re late for an appointment but are too embarrassed to run even though they’re naked and their livid skin is peeling from their flesh. Two are trapped on the roof of the lower part of the bank to the north. Somehow they reached that height a day or so ago, but they must be locked out so they sit slumped against the large air conditioner. Soon enough, something will attract them and they’ll walk right off the roof’s edge and plunge about seven floors, only to drag themselves away from where they land. There are corpses that stare at me from windows of nearby buildings.
Then there are the mad-dog killers that sometimes still show up. They were probably survivors like Eric and me, and they were recently bitten but not killed by a frisky cadaver. I saw one maybe two weeks ago. Looked like a soldier in battle uniform but without his helmet, his shoulder bloody. He ran in a disconcerting zigzag formation, hunched over like a T-Rex. I saw him beat the bejesus out of a muppet that was just standing there in the shade; the ex-soldier swung his arms and screeched like a chimpanzee. Maybe the soldier was pissed off that he couldn’t find anyone living to infect.
Worse than all of that, though, is something that’s harder to describe. I remember once as a kid I’d done something bad. I can’t remember what it was; maybe I’d broken one of my mom’s favorite plates or made my brother cry. Something like that. I stood on the driveway, watching the family Buick drive off, taking them to dinner at some Italian restaurant and leaving me “to think about what I’d done.” When you’re in trouble like that, the punishment isn’t just in your rehashing of the memory. There’s a heaviness that comes over you, a stiffening of the throat, a longing for everything to be as it was. You start to cry, but what for? A tear is a signal, like laughing or blushing, but when your mom and dad have stormed out with your brother, who’s sticking his tongue out at you, and you’re all alone, what’s the point of crying? You’re like a radio transmitter, but with no one on the other end to receive you or like that tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it. Does it still make a sound?
Am I still alive when our species is kaput? Can I still be called a human being? If not, what am I?
Well, anyway, that’s life in the big city.
9:30 AM. Two hours later and Eric’s finally ready to go. What an anal freak that guy can be! Still, he’s saved my ass countless times.
Goodbye, leather chair! Be back soon.

Chapter Two

Year 4 AZ

            5:00 AM. Hernando’s still asleep, but I’ve got insomnia. I can’t even think straight. I haven’t told Nando yet, but I’m going to leave Richmond for good. I have business up north. I know it’s imprudent: we have it pretty good here, all things considered. Sure, a wave of dregs could pass through or a wildfire could burn Richmond to the ground. But we’ve gotten used to this place; we know its ins and outs, so trekking into the unknown will be risky. Still, I can’t stay here anymore.
            I’m sure Nando’s guessed by now that I have a bunch of anxiety disorders, even though we’ve never talked about them. But for just that reason I have an insider’s feel for the emptiness of life’s little rituals. Everyone used to celebrate birthdays and holidays to remind us that time’s passing. We’d take a snapshot every once in a while to remember where we’d been. Now we’ve got new rituals to replace the old ones. I smoke a cigar after a successful supply run and Hernando likes to beat his chest whenever he kills a deer or starts a cooking fire. But it’s easy for those customs to lose their meaning; all you have to do to ruin the moment is keep asking questions: Why eat cake on your birthday? What’s so special about your birth? If your birth was so great, why are you going to die like everyone else? And don’t get me started on Christmas! All rituals look foolish from the outside and I know this more than most, because I could see how everyone took me for a freak.
Every night before going to bed, I used to check that I’d shut off all the lights in the apartment. You’d think you could do this remotely just by looking for bright spots in the dark, but you’d be wrong. What if I’d flicked a light switch only part of the way down, so that it stuck out in the middle between On and Off? And what if, from the building’s slight shifting, that switch should pop up overnight, needlessly burning electricity? To prevent that from happening, I’d have to manually confirm that each switch was safely in the down position. Crazy? Yeah, I know, and I’ve got lots more paranoid habits like that one.
But now that society’s gone, I can step back and see that the rituals people took for granted were just as arbitrary as my tics. The thing is, though, there is no ritual I know of that can make sense of the apocalyptic clusterfuck out my window. As hard as I try to lose myself in my daily routines, cleaning this or that or spying on the dregs with my binoculars, nothing feels right here. I’m permanently homeless. Anyway, who would want to feel at home in hell? I need an adventure to shake things up.
I’ll tell Hernando on the road to see if he wants to come along. I want to put off that discussion as long as possible. Good old Nando, though. He’s probably crazy enough to join me. Plus, he doesn’t like being alone. The guy must have made a big splash on Facebook, back in the day. A real social climber. He calls the zombies “muppets.” He just can’t resist the irony, I guess. To me they’re the dregs of humanity, the worst in all of us that’s our true legacy.
But I fear they’re also omens of something even worse.
As for me, my idea of a night on the town was to sit alone in my apartment, eating pizza, playing computer games, and looking at porn. The grown-up fun of socializing was against the rules of my mental disorders. And now the thought of happiness is taken clear off the table, locked in a box, and thrown out to sea. Anyone who tries to be happy now should be shot on the spot; the blood of billions would cry out against him. But aside from the dreg world’s all-out assault on my fears of germs, squishy things, and rotting garbage, this is my kind of life: just follow the rules you set for yourself, do your duty, and let your grim detachment help you take revenge against the world that made you this way.
We weren’t always alone here. Someone else used to roam the Omni’s hallways like a ghost or maybe a rat, except that instead of moaning or squeaking he liked to laugh. He told us his name was Rashad, but we called him the Cackler. The first time we heard him was maybe two years ago. A peal of laughter woke me up. I kicked Hernando awake, grabbed a baseball bat, and we crept into the hallway where we saw him with the help of the sunrise through our open door, which lit up the windowless hall. The man was covered in a trench coat and crawling on all fours away from us, cackling like a hyena.
“You there, what the hell are you doing?” I said, getting no response.
“He’s just a crazy drifter, Eric,” muttered Hernando.
“Yeah, but he’s making too much noise. I don’t like it.” I walked closer to him and thumped the floor with the bat, wincing at the noise. “Dude, can you shut the fuck up?” I told him, sounding a little like an uncool old man warning a kid to get off his lawn. But the bouts of cackling went on.
“How about you at least tell us what’s so funny?” Hernando asked him. “I could use a good laugh.”
The trench coated man’s laughter died down and he sat up with his back against the wall. The absolute silence outside from downtown Richmond was almost enough for me to beg him to start pissing himself laughing again.
He looked up at us. “Why was I laughing?” he said. He broke into a snigger. Then he sighed and scratched his bearded neck. Dead skin flakes fell from his neck like snow. “Why oh why oh why?” he added.
“Yeah, why?” Nando asked.
“What’s so funny, he wants to know.”
“Who are you talking to? We’re standing right here,” I said.
“Everything’s funny now,” said Rashad, the Cackler. “I’ll tell them a story.”
“Who’s ‘them’? You mean us, right here?”
“Damn, that’s annoying,” said Nando. “Guess he hasn’t talked directly to anyone in a long while.”
“Just to pass the time,” continued the Cackler. “The time, like a river that’s dried up, like a train that’s run off its rails. I used to have a desk job, checking computer code, staring at the screen for hours on end, searching for wayward symbols in the magic codes that kept the computers humming along. It made me legally blind. You should have seen the glasses I had to wear. So thick, those lenses. Couldn’t wear just lenses, because I was afraid of going near my eyeballs. My own eyes scared me, disgusted me with their squishiness and the shine on them. Always shining, even in the dark. Light from beyond? The eternal hearth from our true, faraway home? Hee hee! I got laid off, they see. I was hunting for a new job. The army of the unemployed, we were. Tee hee! We descended on the waiting rooms in our suits and ties, although mine were cheap and shabby. Still, had to wear those nooses around our necks; bound by our manners, after all. Oh, we civilized men! Hee hee! One day in the rain I dropped my briefcase by the curb. The briefcase popped open and I saw that my sandwich got squished and it smeared my résumés with hot sauce. I bent to pick it up and got bumped by a car. My glasses fell off and a woman with muscular calves stepped on them—cracked the lenses into a hundred pieces. Just kept on walking, she did, but I took my revenge: I gawked at her rump as she left me in the gutter, blind and with my squished sandwich. Wouldn’t even have cared if she’d turned around to glare back at me: ‘The impudence,’ she’d have thought. ‘That filthy bum, ogling my…filthy bum!’ Hee hee hee! No, I’d have just kept ogling even though I couldn’t really see her. Faded away in the blur, she had, faded away…And where’s she now, I ask them. What are the odds she’s still with us? Ms. Muscular Calves, who ground my last pair of glasses into the sidewalk? Who deprived me of my vision just before the end of all things? What’s become of her posterior and her bulging calf muscles? The sun is up. Oh, delightful! Shall the gentlemen gaze on the Promised Land? There are no more cares in the world, no not even for those who still toil to live another day, another day…Nothing matters anymore. Oh, nothing ever did, but now there’s no denying it. We have our revelation, after all, they see. Judgment Day has come and gone, but it was just another day! There are no monuments to mark the great event, but we know the Truth just the same. The Truth is our punch line: Kapow! Right in their eyeball, that’s where she punched them. Down but not out. Will they get up in time, in time?...But the stands are empty and there’s no referee. No one cares, that’s what I’m telling them. The Truth is all the more hilarious because it’s out in the open now, plain for all to see—even for me without my glasses. What’s the Truth? What’s the joke? Why was I laughing? It was all for nothing! Fathers and sons clubbing dumb wildebeests for barbecues; mothers screaming and drenched in sweat as they give birth, and tucking their sons and daughters into animal skin beds; watching the sun rise over the waters, plowing the earth, building temples and power plants and skyscrapers, and cleaning the toilet bowl and paying taxes and handing her flowers on Valentine’s Day and going to war for God and country and voting for one suit or another and painting walls and mowing the lawn and crying in the Cineplex Odeon theater when Braveheart yells for freedom with his dying breath, but wiping his eyes quickly when the lights come on so he can pretend to be as manly as those warrior poets. All for nothing, the whole chain-gang march through history, every breath they’ve breathed and every heartbeat and fart and orgasm. Who would have thought nothing could be so funny?”
           Rashad let loose with another round of uproarious laughter.
Of course, I can’t remember word for word what he said that morning. He came and went for months, treating us to his rants. Later, Nando mused that this could have been a Golden Age for art: just look out the window and you’re sure to be inspired. Anyway, Rashad refused to stay with us and I don’t know how he survived as long as he did. Hernando asked him once why he preferred crawling to walking. “What?” said the Cackler. “Is he still a man because he can walk like one, as if men still matter? Does he stand apart from the furry herds or from all the feathered or scaly or slimy creatures of the earth because he can stand up and hold his head aloft? I crawl because I’m an animal. My fantasy of belonging to a chosen tribe was crushed about the same time as that Amazonian trampled my last pair of glasses. Did I ever tell them about her marvelous calf muscles?”
And on and on he went. One day while scrounging for food, we found him lying outside our suite in the Omni Hotel, dead and with a maniacal grin on his face. I still wonder whether his last laugh was because he was starving to death and his only friends weren’t home or because he refused to barge in like a wild animal.
            7:00 AM. Hernando’s up and writing something. I just looked over my supplies. I’ll make a list here of what I have in case I lose anything. First, my clothes: I’m wearing brown, heavy duty denim pants and shirt, a tactical cap, combat gloves, windup watch for synchronizing our movements, and leather hiking shoes. Hernando went for the gray camouflage military uniform. On top of that I’ve got knee and elbow pads for when I have to creep around to avoid unwanted attention. I’ve also got a tight-fitting, black snowboarding helmet with detachable mouth guard and goggles over top, so dreg guts don’t splash my bare face. Under the helmet I wear a leather neck protector like a medieval knight would have had on under his armor. On top of my shirt I’ve got a Load Bearing Vest that holds ammunition, a med kit, canteens, binoculars, and my weapons: an evil-looking combat knife and a big, honking machete; a Smith & Wesson M&P9c pistol, firing 9mm rounds, 12 rounds per magazine with 7 backup mags in my vest and backpack; and an AR-15 Semi-Automatic rifle with mounted scope, firing .223 Remington bullets from high capacity magazines (60 rounds x 7).
            In my camping backpack I have extra clothes, a compass, a good map of the eastern seaboard, a metal multi-tool, a crank flashlight, a water microfilter pump, some military Meals Ready to Eat, a small cooking pot and plastic cups and sporks, seed kit, super adhesive repair tape, a strike fire starter and tinder kit, nylon paracord, tarp, solar powered radio, hammock and sleeping bag with Thermolite liner, soap and toilet paper, notebooks for my journal, and pills for pain and bacteria.
Hernando’s gear is similar. Whenever we leave home base, we take everything we can carry in case we get separated or we’re forced to relocate.
            I may want to check everything again before we go.  

Chapter Three

Year 4 AZ       

10:00 AM. We geared up and closed the door behind us. No need for a lock since the odds against a burglar hitting your pad now are infinitesimal and muppets can’t figure out doorknobs. We jogged to the stairwell and I don’t mind saying my heart was pounding. I was already sweating and we hadn’t even set foot outside yet. I had to piss earlier, but that was quickly forgotten—as it always is when you’ve got serious work to do. I’d lost count of how many days since I’d last been out in the concrete jungle and anyway there’s no need to keep track of the calendar anymore. But the moment before the Omni Hotel’s last, most outer door is swung open and you’re on full military alert with real-life monsters around every corner—let me tell you, it’s a rush! There’s the starkest terror, sure, the dread as your heart sinks and you involuntarily bow your head in submission even though there’s nothing there in front of you yet and you’re just imagining the worst. The fear is enough to strip away all pretense of civility and regress you to the mindset of your nomadic forefather who stalked African jungles many thousands of years ago with nothing but a spear, a few buddies, and the pain of hunger—certainly with no supermarket or McDonald’s hand-me-down meats.
But besides the fear there’s wonder. As a kid I used to fantasize about flying in a spaceship to an alien world. Well, the new world is exotically alien; it’s even dominated by a grotesque new species. Yeah, somewhere in the fiery hell beyond the present hell, H.P. Lovecraft is saying, “I told you so, you bastards!” No need to fly anywhere else, the alien weirdness has crash-landed right in our midst. People used to act weirdly if they got their fifteen minutes of fame, when a camera was shoved in their face and they suddenly knew that many eyes were on them. You could tell from all the reality TV shows that reality had little to do with those dramas: most people acted unusually when they were the center of attention, even when the spotlight was so bright they couldn’t see the audience. Now, at the end of the road for human folk, when no one’s paying any attention to you, because almost everyone’s dead or undead, you still feel somehow famous.
I mean, I, Hernando Ruiz, am in fact one of the last humans left alive. So even though I know there’s no fan club out there watching me pick my nose, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m still getting my fifteen minutes. If somehow we do make it out of this and a history book is written about the start of the new world, I may have a chapter devoted to me. And what’s my role in this drama I find myself starring in? Well, I’m the hero, what else! So I’ve got to act like the hero and that’s a rush all by itself. When I raise the barrel of my assault rifle I keep thinking someone must be taking pictures and one will show up on a billboard somewhere, the sun beginning to rise in the photo, with smoke in the background and dust kicked up in front of me as I step on a neutralized muppet and narrow my eyes, looking grimly into the future, with my gun raised to meet the new challenges. It’s all in my head, of course, but that’s where the rush is too.
It’s like these journals Eric and I are writing. They’re not really journals, like the kind a teenybopper would keep under her pillow, the padlocked books she fills with her secrets. No, we’re writing testimonies for the benefit of humankind, assuming we prevent our kind from going completely extinct. We’re like the ancient Jews wandering in the desert with Moses, keeping detailed reports of our journey for posterity, which may well come to revere these writings. There’s hardly anyone left, so I figure everything I say or do has cosmic significance; we hold the fate of our species in our hands.
Goddamnit, I keep digressing. Then again, for the foreseeable future, at least, I’m writing this for literally no one but me, so I’ll write what I like. Actually, I’m trying reverse psychology on the WAZ (World After Zombies, as it was generally called): if I act like humanity’s truly fucked, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. But that joke’s so pathetic that I didn’t even crack a smile writing it.
Like I was saying, we left our suite and jogged down the hall to the stairwell, sliding furniture aside from the doorway. Of course, the elevators are kaput and you don’t want to know the mess we found in one of them when we pried the doors open. Let’s just say several people had been trapped in there when the shit went down and at least one of them brought the zombie curse along as they waited for a rescue. Soon enough, there must have been a frantic struggle in just about the closest quarters possible and every surface looked like it had been painted dark red.
So no elevator for us, and at the top of the stairs we listened intently for the slightest wheezing or banging below, not to mention for any bloodcurdling screech, shotgun blast, or arrival of Jesus Christ on a flaming white horse. The stairwell sounded empty to me and it still smelled like piss. Couldn’t see much in there at first, since there were no windows, but our eyes adjusted to the dark. We reached the ground floor and made a hole in the mountain of pianos, desks, chairs and couches that we’d hurled into this stairwell to prevent a stampede of you know who from trapping us upstairs. We crawled through the makeshift tunnel like worms. As I lay awkwardly on some desks just in front of the door, I turned my head to peep through the small window. I couldn’t see anyone, but there wasn’t much light through the revolving front door and other windows which looked out onto the curved hotel driveway, especially since we’d blocked those windows with yet more furniture. So we waited a bit and I tried to listen while the jumble of fancy furniture shifted and creaked all around us. I whispered, “Fuck it!” as I reached down, opened the door, slithered through, and almost landed on my head as I tumbled into the huge open space of the lobby. Eric soon followed and he landed like a cat.
I crouched and scanned the lobby. Eric had his binoculars out. The marble-looking floor was mostly bare, since the pianos, patterned leather chairs, ornate tables, vases, and lamps were almost all stacked in front of the draped windows and doorways. You probably could have held a full-sized football game in that front hall.
We crept forward and each step echoed. “I’ve got movement outside,” Eric said, still looking through his binoculars. Our plan was to leave through the front doors, turn left, run about fifty feet, hang a quick right, and head down East Cary Street a few blocks until we reached the Wholesale Grocery Store on the right. This kept us out of the thick of downtown Richmond and we could probably run the distance in just a few minutes. Looked like we’d have some muppets to dodge, though.
We reached the furniture and through wedge-shaped gaps I could see snapshots of what was shuffling outside: the knees of something in torn dress pants, stained in mud and flies buzzing in and out of the tear; naked breasts, bruised with dried blood streaking them like zebra stripes; a pale, gnarled, half-skinless hand. “What’s the plan?” I asked.
“I don’t like this. Moving this furniture could attract a crowd. Let’s check the backup window.”
So we turned left and crept to the wall of windows, one of which we’d removed many months ago and replaced with a tall bookcase. We eased the bookcase aside, glanced through the crack and had a clear line of sight to East Cary. And there, too, was the sunlight and the torn-up roads, veined with weeds and moss and buried by a hoarder’s wet dream of discarded stuff.
“OK,” Eric said, stroking the hilt of his machete, “we’ll head out here and if we get overwhelmed we fall back inside the nearest building.” This was always wise, since at least indoors you could fight with your back against a wall and you forced the undead things to come at you in smaller groups.
I nodded and we pushed the bookcase further to the side. Eric stuck his head through and looked both ways, the sun glinting off of his helmet and the lenses of his goggles. “Maybe ten or so, here and there,” he said. I nodded again and we were out of the hotel and I was jogging past a tree, crossing the street and hopping over the remnants of a crashed taxi, tripping on luggage and a pet collar wrapped around bones as I flashed a glance to my right and to the front of the Omni, and looked into the milky blue eyes of a half-naked woman’s corpse, maybe fifteen feet away, that staggered towards me like she was drunk and had her shirt and bra torn from her in a girl fight at a nightclub.
I rounded the corner of East Cary and nearly ran smack into Eric as he swung his machete and cleaved an old man’s skull in half, the clouds of dust and dried-up flesh sailing away in the breeze. Something shoved me and my eyes bulged from their sockets when zombie jaws appeared from nowhere at my side, the teeth black and yellow with scraps of raw meat between them. The inside of its mouth must have smelled like the smiling beluga whale you’d find at Sea World when it surfaced and repelled you with its fishy breath. Those savage jaws were poised to clamp down on my left forearm when my reflexes took over, animating me like I was the zombie abomination. I brought my machete blade up from below, through the top of its neck, its lower jaw, and the underside of its skull until the tip emerged from the muppet’s crown. Its eyes flicked up at me in an accusatory glare as the corpse sank and came to rest, sprawled across boxes of books and other debris.
I looked down East Cary and there must have been fifty hungry muppets staggering toward us. “In here,” I shouted, “The Tobacco Restaurant!” Some of the front window frames were empty, so we leaped over the lower part of the building’s red brick wall, climbing over brass railings and shards of glass and throwing tables and chairs behind us to slow them down. The Tobacco Company Restaurant is a three-story affair, although much of the ground floor is uncovered by the other floors so that from the ground you can see the roof of the building and the sky through large, slanted windows, past the indoor trees, gold mirrors adorning the red brick interior, and the ornate hanging light fixture. We dashed towards a staircase and I hacked to pieces the mumbling, thin husk of a teenager that lurched out of the men’s room. A crippled woman dragged herself across the floor and Eric tipped a table onto her.
We reached the stairs and found an office on the second floor with a window that looked out at the next-door building, which was a wide alley away and that much closer to our destination. We shut and barricaded the office door behind us.
“Let’s wait for them to slowly fill this building, then we’ll climb out this window. Maybe it’ll be smooth sailing from there,” Eric said, reaching towards the paracord in his backpack, the left side of his face performing its familiar twitches.
And so I’ve been writing this for half an hour, listening at first to a distant tumult and then to a chorus of moans and fingers scraping just on the other side of the door. Eric’s tied the rope to the white metal bars in the window, part of which we battered with a chair which landed in the alley, so we could get through.
“OK, let’s get the hell out of here,” Eric is saying now. I tried to smile for him.

Chapter Four

Year 4 AZ

            11:30 PM. I am so fucked! My pen is covered in sweat and my hands are shaking and no one can read these scribbles. I’ve got a pounding headache and my skin is ice cold so I’m wrapped in my sleeping bag. I’m looking out at Richmond from I-95.
            Hernando’s gone.
I can’t bury him, but I can at least say goodbye and send him off by telling how it happened. And if I faint in the middle of this, I’m going to fucking wake up and keep writing. And when that’s done I’m going north to beat the biggest secret there ever was out of this bitch of a world. And that’ll be that.
Where the hell was I? Oh, the hotel. Well, after we left, we got held up at the Tobacco Restaurant. We lured a herd of dregs in there and climbed out a second-story window with my paracord rope. I stuck my feet out the window first, grabbed the rope and slid down, slowing my descent with the tread of my shoes against the brick wall. Nando followed me. We decided East Cary St was too active, so we turned right, down a back alley, and hung a left down another alley, with a multi-level public parking lot on our right. As I jogged by, I heard a torrent of coughing and vomiting from deep in the dark of that concrete structure. The alley led to an open area, with an old-style gray brick road circling a big cement fountain, with brick buildings all around. Weeds shot up in the cracks of the road and a tall tour bus lay almost on its side, propped up by crushed, dusty cars. The inside of the bus windows were smeared with blood.
We dodged or shoved aside the corpses that approached us and cut through one of the buildings, kicking in the doors and hacking our way through the rotting tenants. We emerged just two short blocks to the grocery market and jogged down that old lumpy, gray brick road until we came to an intersection that would have been at home in one of my nightmares. Blackened and blistered bodies lay everywhere, some half submerged in the wall-to-wall junk, others piled up and melted together. Crows squawked and flapped their wings as soon as we showed up, and clouds of flies buzzed and hovered over the masses of seared flesh. Two dried-up corpses hung by their necks from streetlights and as we slowly made our way through the trash and body parts, scrambling under those hanging bodies, I saw them drooling black mucus before they reached for me.
But we were nearly there. Down another alley and we were faced with the back of the grocery store on our left. We tried to catch our breath as we looked around for threats. I thought it best to take cover and hide in case we stirred up a crowd somewhere, so I walked up the cement stairs, past black garbage bags full of rotting food, and put my ear to the door. No sound, but my heart was racing and to me my pulse sounded loud enough for the world to hear. I could smell my sweat under my helmet, and the inside of my goggles fogged and defogged with each breath. Don’t go near the garbage bags, the crazy voice inside me warned. Even with your gloves on, who knows what alien-looking microbes could hitch a ride and burrow in your skin? Be wary and stay pure.
The door was locked, but luckily the lock was old and rusted. I smashed the handle off with a rock and battered the lock until the door slowly opened. This was the drawing of the curtain for the crowd of murmuring extras that piled out, hands outstretched and grasping. I jerked backwards, lost my footing, fell over the black metal guard rail, and landed on my back, winded. Two corpses followed and landed on me. You cannot know the disgust and the loathing I felt then until you too are traumatized by seeing not just the decaying faces of long-dead bodies inches from your face, but their misleadingly lifelike movements. Maggots fell from their eyeless sockets onto my goggles, and worms and centipedes squirmed and hurried along the back alleys of the parched flesh that clung to their skulls. Bless your holy goggles and faceplate, said the voice. They’re all that stand between you and unspeakable filth.
As I was levering them off of me with my machete, I heard explosive rounds of gunfire from Hernando’s rifle, which were shockingly loud in what had been the stillness of the mostly undead city. I heard the thuds of dregs hitting the pavement and the tiled grocery floor. With a final heave, I shifted the pair away from me and hacked at their faces until they stopped moving, as if some invisible power plugs had been pulled from them. I sheathed my machete and drew my AR-15, which was slung around my back. Kneeling, I opened fire on the rotting bodies that continued to file out of the grocery store.
Hernando stopped shooting. I thought he was reloading, but when I turned back to check if he was alright, I saw that we’d drawn a swarm from the building on the alley’s opposite side. They were crawling or falling out of windows. Bloody hands were on Nando’s neck and mask and he was trying to shake them off. “Retreat to the east!” I yelled as I blasted the knees of the corpse that was attacking Hernando. That dreg crashed to the pavement and I saw Hernando nod, but as I turned to run a mad killer screeched and leapt from the crowd behind Hernando. The woman had greasy hair, foaming mouth, and cuts up and down her legs and arms, and when she ripped Nando’s gun away from him I panicked and shot wildly, hitting the berserk woman’s chest but also clipping Nando in the thigh. When he cried out and went down a mob of dead bodies went down after him, some of which I cut to pieces with gunfire before I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder and another around my ankle, dragging me down and causing me to shoot frantically into the sky as I heard Hernando wailing and thrashing from being torn apart and eaten. I never saw it—didn’t have the stomach to look.
Oh God, Nando. I killed you. Your screams will echo in my head until I die. Some screams are worlds apart from others. In civilized life when everything was going smoothly, the most upset you got was when someone stole your taxi or you forgot to file your paperwork or to record your favorite TV show. Then you’d yell a little, maybe throw in some foul language. But none of that compares to the sound you hear when someone’s dying a violent death, when millions of years of evolution are flooding him with adrenalin and screaming bloody murder to bring help from anyone in earshot. The screams you’re capable of—the strangled cries and miserable, hopeless groans as your trusty body is torn into bite-sized morsels and you’re drowning in your blood as your last sight of this inhuman world is of a ravenous corpse hovering over your face and chewing on your still-warm flesh.
I’m so sorry, Hernando. 
            How did I escape? I only remember flashes of what happened next. In a frenzy I beat my way out from under those remains with the butt of my rifle, hacking limbs and heads with one hand and firing holes into torsos with the other. I ran east like a jackrabbit towards the Interstate which towered over some parking lots, held up by massive cement columns and green metal girders. I couldn’t access it from there, so I headed north a couple of blocks until I reached a street that’s flush with the eastern side of the James Monroe Building, which levels off with I-95. I’ve been sitting here ever since, shivering inside a convertible jeep, looking southwest where I can imagine, but can’t see, the Wholesale Food Market and Hernando’s last scraps of meat feeding the horror that killed us all. 

Chapter Five

Year 4 AZ

            Mom told me I should keep up my homewerk by writing in my jernal so I’m writing this now. She had to go away so maybe I should tell how she left. We lived under the ground in a speshal hole to keep out nucleer bombs. We had lots of food and guns and comic books and other stuff for everyday living. The lites stayed on becuz we had a speshal masheen that kept them on. I think she called it a power genrator. The masheen made a lot of noize but Mom told me it was worth the racket to have the lites. But the masheen turned off becuz the gas was no good. So we used candles to keep the dark away.
            Mom told me never to climb the ladder and go outside becuz there are bad men there, so I stayed in our speshal hole and read comics and did my lessuns.
            Then the other day there was nocking on the ceiling door. There was also a racket up there. Peeple were shouting and there were loud bangs and I covered my ears becuz they were so loud. Mom told me to stay here becuz it was dangerous. She stayed too but there was a very loud noize and the ceiling door cracked and I saw sunlite shine down for the first time. Mom screemed and said some bad words and she told me to hide behind those food crates. I ran and hid there but I peeked between food cans becuz I was curious how the ceiling door cracked. Mom got a gun but nothing happened for a long time. We waited and listened becuz there were funny noizes up there. Lots of yelling and loud bangs and also weerd noizes. Maybe from animals, but I learned later it was the bad men.
            Mom screemed and I looked and saw hands coming through the door and the door fell into our speshal hole and a man also fell down. Mom fired the gun and I covered my ears again because it was so loud and the man got up and grabbed her and they fell. He bit her neck and she kept firing the gun. She was bleeding but the man stopped and she moved him away so I wouldn’t see him and she called me over. She was crying and she told me a story and said I should never forget it. Later I wrote it on the wall so I would remember but I should write it here also.
She told me peeple were playing a big game up there. It was a game of Hide and Seek and Tag. She told me she had to leeve soon becuz the bad men saw her and tagged her by biting her. But it’s much better to stay hiding and not let them see me and if they do see me I should run so I don’t get tagged. Becuz when they tag you you are out and it’s much better to stay in the game. She also told me the bad men wear masks so they look like scary monsters. She told me I should stay in the hole until there was no more food and then I should climb the ladder and play the game. There are some good men I can play with too becuz we can play on the same team. But I should deside if they are good or bad even if they don’t have scary masks on. And the winning team is the one that finds the food so I should keep hiding and looking for food and for good men to be on my team.
Then she told me to tell her the same story to see if I remembered it. I started crying becuz it was too hard to remember it all but she told me it again and again and then I did remember.  
            Then Mom told me she had to leeve and I wouldn’t see her anymore and I cried but she said it was just a game so I don’t have to be scared even if I see a scary mask. She did a funny thing then: she whispered “Maybe I should…” as she held the gun against the side of my head. But her face got very red and sad and she shook her head and lowered the gun. She said “I’m sorry Douglas but I just can’t” and she kissed me and hugged me for a long time and then she was shaking and making the weerd noizes. She let me go and climbed the ladder with the gun and the bad man and she covered the ceiling door with something big so the hole was dark again except for some candles. I heard a loud bang and I jumped but I didn’t have to cover my ears becuz I was used to the noize.
Mom was a nice lady. She cooked food for me and tucked me into bed and taught me how to spell and write and she told me about the big game.
My hand is getting tired but I will keep writing in my jernal later. 
            I forgot to interdoose myself. My name is Douglas and I’m 6 years old.
            I’m back again. It’s Douglas and this is my jernal. I was writing about how Mom left. I was sad becuz she never came back down the ladder. I stayed in the speshal hole like she told me and I ate food when I was hungry and I went to bed when I was tired. I stayed there for a long time but even though there was still food there I was curious to see the big game. So I climbed the ladder and pressed on the new ceiling door. It was a big peece of wood and it was heavy but I moved it to the side. It was day time and the sun was very brite. I almost fell off the ladder becuz I had to cover my eyes.
            Outside my speshul hole it was very messy. Mom told me to pick up my comic books and not to make a mess with my food so I was surprised how messy it was outside. It also smelled like garbage and toylets. I looked around and I didn’t see anybody moving so I climbed out of my home and I stood on grass! I also saw lots of big trees and a big house. Mom said we used to have a big house so maybe that was it.
There were many peeple lying on the ground with very big guns and lots of blood on them. Then I saw Mom. She was lying down but her face was very scary so I screemed and closed my eyes but then I remembered about the game and the masks and I thought maybe she was wearing one becuz she was tagged. When a bad man tags you, do you also become a bad man so you have to wear a scary mask? That wasn’t part of Mom’s story and I know becuz I remembered all of it. But Mom’s face was scary. There was lots of blood and white things and it didn’t look like Mom’s face. I didn’t want to see that again so I found a big bag and covered her mask.
            There was a bad man lying beside Mom but his mask was even more scary. He smelled very bad and I felt sick in my tummy. His skin was gray and it had lots of rinkles and there were bugs going in and out of him. His mask was very scary but I kept looking at it and I got less scared and I felt brave like I wanted to play the big game.
But that was enuff for one day so I went back in my home and moved the new ceiling door back and I thought how I should play the game to make Mom proud of me.
            After I went to bed I wanted to hide from a bad man so I climbed outside but there was no one there so I ran to a big bilding that Mom told me was the Waily Elamentry Scool where I was supposed to go for my lessuns. The scool was huge and it had big flat walls made of brown stones and lots of windows. I wanted to hide in there and see the scool I was supposed to go to but to get there I had to cross a wide gray flore with yellow lines and many big things in the way on it. There were broken cars and peeple lying around with blood on them. A dog saw me and got angry and barked reel loud. He showed me his sharp teeth like he wanted to bite me and then I remembered Mom’s story and I thought I didn’t want to get tagged so I picked up a big stick and yelled for the dog to go away and he did. Then I ran to the scool and climbed in through a broken window.
            The scool was dusty and dark becuz the sunlite can’t go through the stone walls and flores. There were spider webs in the corners. I listened for any bad men and I heard someone walking on the other side of the long flore so I ran into a room and hid beneeth a student’s desk. I waited there and I heard the walking get louder and then the man came into the room. I saw that he was a bad man becuz his mask was like the other one. He moved funny like he was hurt or just very slow and he made weerd noizes. He got closer and then he was so close he could almost touch me and I thought he could see me and that was bad so I did a summersalt like Mom taught me and I rolled right between his legs! He fell trying to grab me and I lafft becuz he was so slow. I told him “Nyah, nyah, you can’t catch me!” but then I thought maybe being mean to the bad men isn’t part of the game so I just ran away and went back to my home in the ground.
            Tomorrow I will play the game again becuz I think the bad men are slower than me and I can run away like Mom said. Playing the game is fun becuz I dont have any frends in my speshul home.


  1. Did you write in Word and convert it in a different format for createspace?
    I self-published a book with my wife and there are some illustrations in it.

    1. I wrote it in Word, added the picture in Word and then tried converting it to pdf through Word or by printing the file with Primopdf. Somewhere along the line, the resolution was lowered. I then uploaded the file to CreateSpace. There's a place in Word to check that you don't want to reduce the resolution of images, but that didn't solve the problem. Another issue was that I first drew this picture on a smaller scale and then upped the resolution and redid the details. Next time, I'll make sure to start with a larger image.

  2. If the quality is good in Word, it might be the primopdf. I work with the same program and you can set the pdf to a higher quality there.

    1. Yes, I eventually found where to change the image resolution in Primopdf. At first I think it was set for 600 dpi, which I read was too high, since CreateSpace might then automatically lower the resolution to 300 dpi, which can lower the image quality because of the software they use. So I changed it to 300 dpi, but it still looked fuzzy on the second proof copy.

      One thing CreateSpace has, though, is very good customer service. They have a 24 hour call line and you can get them to call you so you have no long-distance charges. I think next time I'm going to consult with them, because the printing process is very complex and confusing. That's why it's taken so long for me to finally get this book out there.

    2. Sounds like the problem lies with the CreateSpace software. I remember having similar problems. It's really kind of hard to do everything on your own but then you can also print what you want, which is a huge advantage.

      Is the ebook version out too?
      I need to go back to writing myself now, not sure if my character should die at the pirate ship now. We'll see, hehe ;-)

  3. Not sure if you have heard of the author Ann Sterzinger, she wrote the excellent book NVSQVAM. On her blog she recently posted a call for submissions for book reviews. She is very much into a similar philosophy, and is a great writer herself. Just thought I would mention her, in case you might be interested. On her blog she has her work address and email, the blog is below.

    1. Thanks very much for that info, Anon. I just sent her a pdf of the book to review.

  4. Another zombie story by a rich white dude from North America? I'm shocked--shocked, I tell ya! ;-)


    1. Yes, it is a genre convention. I think it's high time someone gets at the deepest philosophical importance of the zombie symbol, by connecting zombies to the undead god (mindlessly creative nature). In my projected multi-volume story arc, the zombies will eventually pass away and the story will shift into the fantasy genre (as defined by Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe) and after that will come science fiction. The genres are like templates or backbones of stories; an author still has to flesh the rest out, including the characters, the action, the description, and so on. You could write an experimental novel, having no connection to anything else, but its potential audience would be even smaller than that for a niche story.

      Oh, and who says I'm rich?