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Fat lookin' zombie! Word count: 29394

Written 2500+ words today, putting me almost ahead of tomorrow’s minimum count. Amazing what I can get done when I sit down to do it, leave the distractions behind, exercise some actual willpower. Oh, also having stuff to write about helps.

Just read the pep talk from Jonathan Lethem (who’s written a couple of my favorite books, but whose work I’ve fallen behind on reading) and was pleased to note that he offered a tip I used way back when writing Illinoir. That one was a noir-inspired detective story, so for inspiration I read a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammet. Chandler said: “When in doubt, have a man come through the doorway with a gun.” It’s good advice, and never fails…. So enter the stranger. His identity is yet to be revealed, and this isn’t exactly the best dialogue I have to offer, but it is today’s excerpt anyway.

I didn’t exactly go to sleep. I was pretty certain at that point that sleep was something I’d never do again — something that saddened me because I really did love to sleep. It was one of my favorite activities. I guess I’d say that I spaced out for a while. Entered the zone. Meditated. Shut down. I was dimly aware that the sun was moving through the sky, time was passing.

I was roused from my mental slumber by the sound of footsteps, quietly and carefully approaching. They were quiet, made by someone who was used to — and damn good at — walking without making much noise. I probably wouldn’t have heard them had it not been so quiet both outside and within. I reached up to lift my hat.

“Move slowly, friend,” said a voice. It was a man’s voice. The voice of someone who had seen it all and survived to tell the tale in his gruff, raspy voice. “Don’t go doing anything that might make me nervous. I don’t like being nervous and you definitely won’t like making me nervous.”

My hand halted in midair, my other one came up to join it, palms facing out towards the source of the voice, a gesture of deference and good will.

“No need to be nervous,” I said. “We’re all friends here.”

“Brains,” Westy said, and of the three of us, I could tell that Westy was the most nervous. There was apprehension there. Fear.

“It’s alright,” I said, more to Westy than to myself or to the stranger.

“Go ahead and lift your hat,” the stranger said. “But you should know I’ve got my scattergun trained right at your head and I won’t hesitate to take your hat off for you, if you catch my meaning.”

“No need for that.”


“Just stay calm,” I urged.

I lifted my cap, holding it out to one side. The sun had set; what little moonlight there was came from spilling out from behind clouds which had rolled in as night fell. I could see the man standing 20 feet away, the scattergun he’d mention held up to his eye as he sighted down the barrel at me. Slowly, I put my hat back on my head, hoping he hadn’t noticed my zombie-pattern baldness. I kept my hands in the air, hoping it would make the stranger at ease.

He stepped forward, keeping the gone trained on me, his eyes darting in all directions, seeming to take in everything around him while still keeping me in focus. He stopped at about 10 feet; close enough to have a conversation, far away enough that I couldn’t make a move for his gun without him getting a decapitating shot off first. I got a better look at his face. He looked young; younger than his voice sounded. He also looked familiar but I couldn’t place where I knew him from. He let a duffel bag that he carried over his shoulder fall to the ground. It landed with a heavy thump.

“What’cha doing out here?” he asked.

“Just taking a break,” I replied.

“A break? From what?”

“Well, from walking I guess.”

“Walking where?”


“Ain’t nothing up north but more of this.” He jerked his head towards the littered road.

His way of talking was infectious; I quickly picked it up and made use of it myself. “Ain’t nothing south but more of this either,” I said.

“Well now, that’s the truth,” he said, chuckling. “What’s yer name?”

“Zach. Zach Graves.”

“Well, Mr. Graves, I hope you’ll excuse my impoliteness but it does seem awful strange to find a man out here all by his lonesome. Makes me ask questions.”

“I was thinking the same thing about you. What are you doing out here?”

My effort to derail the line of questioning was futile. The man was unflappable. “I guess I don’t have to remind you that I have a very powerful gun pointed directly at your head.” He was right; he didn’t. He tapped the barrel of the gun with his right hand anyway.

“Since you’ve got the gun, I guess you don’t have to answer my questions,” I allowed. “That’s how it works in the movies, anyway.”

He chuckled again. His laughter seemed to come much easier than I would have expected for a gun-toting lone wolf. “The movies. That’s rich.” He eyed my suit. “Speaking of rich, that’s a mighty fine suit you’re wearing. Haven’t seen finery such as that in a long time.”

“My dad bought it for me,” I said without thinking.

“Your dad. Well, wasn’t that sweet of him?” he asked without a trace of irony. “He didn’t see fit to buy you a warmer jacket though, huh? Ain’t you cold, Mr. Graves?”

Of course, I hadn’t felt the temperature drop, hadn’t felt the cold that came in with the night. I realized that with each word the man spoke, I could see his breath forming steam in the air. Mine had no such effect.

I faked a shiver. “Now that you mention it….”

He knelt to the ground. While still holding the gun on me, he managed to get the duffel bag open and rooted through it. “Ah. Here we go. I can spare this, I think.” His hand came out with a black hooded sweatshirt, the back of which bore the embroidered logo of the local women’s roller derby league. He tossed the hoodie to me. I tried it on, finding it to be at least two sizes bigger than I’d normally wear. In my emaciated state, it was at least a third size too big. It fit nicely over my suit coat, however.

“Isn’t that better?” he asked. I assured him that it was. I made enough grateful noises of new found warmth to set the man’s mind at ease. Not so much at ease, though, that he felt he could lower his weapon.

“Is this how you greet everyone you meet?” I asked. “A gun in their face and a warm sweatshirt?”

The chuckle again. “It’s what’s kept me alive this long. Can’t ever be too careful. But,” he said, “you don’t want to be so careful you stop being human, know what I mean?”

“I do indeed.”