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This is somehow the orneriest looking zombie yet. Word count: 35,263

Ah, there’s nothing quite like going back to fill in a gap between two plot points. It’s great — you know where it starts, and you know where it needs to end. The challenge lies in making the two ends meet….. Sitting here atop 35,000+ words, looking down at the 15k I have left to write….and still not sure where the story should go. There’s that whole mass of crap conversation with Ak, and I’d love to do a zombie/human buddy comedy, but, I can’t seem to get them out of that park…. Unless there’s a huge mass of zombies suddenly attacking. Well. There you go. Look forward to hijinx!

It turned out to be a lot easier to find Tim Stimph than either Westy or I thought it would be. Well, I found where he’d been, anyway. First, I went to the grocery store where he’d sneezed on me. In 2016, a law had been passed requiring all food vendors to get full name and address information from all customers in case a food-borne Westphail outbreak popped up. When I got to the store, the windows were broken and the store was dark, like all the rest of the stores I’d seen. The grocery store had been hit particularly hard by looters, of course, with everyone trying to stock up on necessities as they fled the city. The shelves were bare, the coolers empty. I even checked the registers, but even they had been emptied. It wasn’t likely that American currency had much value anymore and it would probably be a very long time before it did again, if that time ever even came. But old habits died hard; even in the face of total annihilation, greed still ruled.

But I wasn’t looking for food or money. I wanted those records. I made my way towards the back of the store to the manager’s office. The door was locked; apparently nobody had thought there would be anything of value in there. The two way mirror which the manager used to spy on his customers and employees was still intact as well. I removed my jacket, wrapped it around my fist and punched through it. It broke with a satisfying smash.

“Shit, that was cool! I’ve never done that before!” I exclaimed as I shook the broken glass out of my jacket put it back on and climbed through the window into the office.

As I jumped to the floor from the window frame, I disturbed a huge cloud of flies which swarmed about my face and then streamed through the window. I feared the worst: a huge pile of decaying corpses strewn about. When I opened my eyes, I discovered that the office was a mess, and it wasn’t just from the broken glass I had just sprayed all over the place. It also wasn’t from looters or Zs or bodies or military action or any of the other messes I’d witnessed so far that day. This was just a straight up mess caused by an untidy, uncaring, unorganized office occupant. Apparently, the manager had a great love of fast food and a great disdain for any sort of cleaning supplies, up to and including garbage bags. There was litter everywhere: half-eaten cheeseburgers molding in McDonald’s cartons; spilled soda turned to hardened syrup deposits on the floor; stacks of pizza boxes came up to my waist. The place was a wreck and looked like it had been for longer than Westphail had been around.

“What a stench!” I exclaimed, then realized that the smell wasn’t really bad at all. To my new zombie nose, I guess, it smelled like dinner. Fuck, I really didn’t want to be attracted to rotting garbage. Not much I could do about that.

If the filth didn’t assault my nose, it did assault my sense of orderliness. My poverty and inability to acquire mass quantities of consumer goods had done me one favor: it forced me to maintain a lifestyle that could be classified as spartan to say the very least. Not having a lot of things meant not having a lot of things to clean up, keep tidy, or take care of, and that had suited me just fine. This office was painful to be in, so I hastened to get in and out as fast as possible.

The computers were, of course, dead and useless. Even if the power had been out, I’m not sure I would have been able to see clearly through the film of grease on the monitor or make use of the crumb-filled keyboard enough to find any files on the machine. Fortunately for me, the manager (a placard on his desk read, “Rob Anise, Grocer”) had apparently not trusted any type of electronic file storage to do its job and had printed out every email, website receipt and computer record that had ever seemingly come across his screen. Besides all the detritus of a life sustained on carry-out food, the desk was covered with what must have been reams of letter-sized paper, covered with everything from an email from a friend (“Rob — Great to see you on Tuesday. Have you lost weight? Just kidding, I know you haven’t. — Craig.”) to a receipt for the purchase from (four workout DVDs: “From Cankles to Ankles”; “Grace Bagby Kills Cankles”; “Cankles: A Historical Perspective”; and “30 Minute Cankle Workout” — I guess the guy had issues with his lower legs.) A few stray customer records with their full info were scattered amongst the pile, but the far wall of the office (and the office was so small that the wall was not so far away) was lined with floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets, several of which were helpfully labeled “Customer Records.” I pushed aside a pile of festering Chinese take-out boxes and, with some hesitation of what I might find, opened the drawer marked “R-T.”

Apparently, Rob Anise, Grocer, had had some assistant or temp worker who occasionally came through to help out with his filing because instead of a huge mess of papers, stuffed into the filing cabinet at random covered with grease and filth piled on top with more papers and garbage (which is what I had assumed I would find,) the drawer opened with ease upon a neat and orderly collection of files, alphabetized properly. I could have sworn I heard a holy chorus sing a single, sustained note as I slid the drawer open.

I quickly rifled through the files until I came to Stimph’s. Just as easy as pie, I had all the information I needed. He lived, at least until June 30th of 2020 which was the date on the printout, just a few block from the store.

“Told you I could do it, Westy,” I said triumphantly.

“Brains.” Yippie.

I could swear this comment was followed by a sarcastic slow clap.