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Word count 48,047

It’s real weird, once you get to 48k, just how quickly the whole thing gets done. Or at least, that’s my hope. I mean, it’s a mere 2000 words. That’s nothing.

Today’s bit is, I realized, kind of what I’d hoped to write when I first had this idea a year ago. A sort of zombie society where things like Zombie Digest (which I think is just a hilarious name for a zombie publication) actually exist. And zombies have conversations about which types of humans have the tastiest brains. And the Amish are just constantly terrorized what with their unadulterated-by-technology gray matter.

Anyhow — glad to get a little bit of that in this.

Crossing the room, I opened a door to find a gigantic walk-in closet, full of clothes more expensive than I had ever worn from floor to ceiling. I could tell just by feeling them that they were of the highest quality. The labels were of designers I’d only vaguely heard of, never having paid much attention to fashion. Seven empty hangars amongst his shirts and four more amongst the pants provided further evidence that Stimph had planned and packed for a trip away from home.

“Nice duds,” I said.

“Brains.” Nicer than yours.

“What do you know about fashion anyway?” I asked, defensively.

“Brains.” We are learning.

“That’s just adorable, Westy. Maybe I can show you some old episodes of Project Runway or America’s Next Top Sweatshop Workers. You’ll love them, I’m sure.”

“Brains.” We believe that you will find, once you get around to actually fulfilling your end of the bargain whereby you eat some brains, the brain matter of one who watches less than four hours of television per week are of much higher quality in terms of size, taste, and tenderness than those who watch more than four hours per week. One who watches more then 20 hours per week will have a brain that is very nearly inedible according to a recent survey.

“‘According to a recent survey’? Who conducted this survey? Where were the results published? Zombie Digest?”

“Brains.” We keep track of these things. Four out of five zombies agree that reality television has the most adverse effects on brain quality. Those who partake in video games (particularly puzzle games and adventure games), crossword puzzles, and reading are reported to have higher quality brains.

“Wild.” I considered the results. “Where the hell do you find someone who watches less than four hours of television a week anyhow?”

“Brains.” We admit, it is quite the rare delicacy. Amish country is a popular zombie destination for food holidays.

Word count: 45,503

It’s not even 1PM and I’ve already written 2500+ words today, putting me 500 words past today’s minimum, on pace for an on-time landing. Goodness gracious, November is almost over.

Today’s excerpt is a grand discovery of the true nature of the evil that is Tim Stimph. You might not remember that when Zach and Westy tried to go to the library, they found it had been completely destroyed — Anti-library terrorism had become a problem. People equated books with book-learning which had led to the science and research that led to the cure for cancer that led to the zombie problem. So….people started blowing up books. Anyhow, upon discovering the rubble of the one remaining library in Chicago, Zach blames Stimph. Not for any real reason. It was just the sort of thing that he would do. So, Westy and Zach have gained access to Stimph’s apartment and discovered a locked door within. Undeterred, Zach puts his foot through it, and that is where our story picks up…..

I wrestled my foot from the door, an endeavor which took more time than I’d like to admit, and provided Westy with no end of amusement. Finally free, I shoved my hand through the hole I’d made and found the door knob on the other side.

“Brains.” Careful now.

“Nonsense. Just a simple twist of the wrist, et voila.”

“Brains.” Wait —

Westy’s warning was cut off as the door swung open on oiled hinges followed immediately by an explosion, which though it was, in terms of explosions, small and controlled, still rocked the apartment and slammed me against the wall behind me.

Had I been knocked out? Was it possible for a Z without a nervous system to be rendered unconscious? It was some moments, or minutes, or hours later that I opened my eyes again. I checked my head and limbs — habitual self-diagnostic — and found everything to be in the right place. The only thing amiss was the foot long piece of a Masonite Palazzo Series interior door sticking out of my chest.

“Holy fuck!” I exclaimed. “Would you get a load of that?”

“Brains.” The door exploded.

“Must have been booby trapped.”

“Brains.” Would someone go to such lengths to protect his porn collection?

“I don’t know — I might. Not that I have a porn collection. Really.”

“Brains.” Right.

I rose to my feet, yanked the splinter from my chest and tossed it aside. Why would Stimph booby trap a door in his own apartment? And how had it been rigged? And how was it possible to disable the defense system to allow for safe entry by authorized personnel. A quick examination of the wall to the right of the door revealed the remains of a keypad that had previously been hidden from view by a sliding panel.

“Crap. Should have thought of that first.”

“Brains.” We did.

“Well, you could have said something.”

“Brains.” We tried.

“I suppose you did,” I admitted. “Well, no matter. We’re still in one piece, I think.”

“Brains.” Your shoe is on fire.

I looked down to see that Westy was right — my shoelaces were smoldering. I stomped on one foot with the other, putting it out.

“Good looking out, Westy.”

“Brains.” No problem.

I peered through the smoke into the bedroom. Apparently the trap had been designed only to kill or maim someone breaking into the room, and not to destroy the contents of the room itself. I guess that spoke to Stimph’s confidence that the bomb would do its job, and a lack of foresight that a mostly indestructible member of the walking dead might be curious about what was behind that door. I supposed that had I been your every day run of the mill human being that I might be in worse shape. If the splinter through my chest hadn’t done me in, there were plenty of other dangers that would take care of an ordinary homo sapien: the shockwave of the explosion forcing al the air from my lungs; the resulting fire; or the smoke. Whoever had made this bomb knew what he was doing.

As the smoke cleared, I took stock of the bedroom. There was no bed — where one might have gone, there was a large table that had been covered with beakers, test tube and other lab equipment. The glass, of course, had all shattered, and anything sturdier had been thrown aside, but it was still clear that this was a work table of some sort.

“Was Stimph cooking meth?” I wondered aloud. But I immediately knew this wasn’t the case. I’d watched Breaking Bad and knew that even the smallest meth labs required more space, security, and ventilation than this room could offer. Still, it appeared as if he was making something that required chemicals; something that required the greatest secrecy.

Smoke still obscured much of the room, but I could make out a closet to my right. The doors had been thrown off their rails by the explosion, and they had absorbed some of the blast, but they were still mostly intact — the blast really was designed to blow out of the room. I pulled the doors down and threw them aside. Inside the closet were two large drums — one of ammonium nitrate, the other of some sort of sulfate. Bomb making stuff. It appeared as if Stimph had rigged the bomb himself.

Word count: 43,020

Once again, praise be to Erica for today’s title, and the line.

About a thousand words today, mostly due to Morseland interfering, and also to seeing Muppets (manamana!)

Come to think of it, last year during NaNoWriMo there was that time that the alarm siren at Morseland just kept blaring on and on at 4AM and I had to go over there and cut the damn thing. Today was computers. And printers. And etc.

Sorry. I don’t mean to prattle on.  Over 43K. <7K left. That’s exciting.

“Son, maybe you haven’t been around much lately but  I can tell you ain’t stupid, so I hope you won’t get offended if I give you a piece of unsolicited advice.”

“Not at all,” I said.

“You gotta always be on your guard these days. I ain’t sure how you lived before Westphail fever swept the nation, but you can’t be livin’ any other way but this. You traipse about like you’re still in the good ol’ days, you won’t last long. Just strollin’ along, mindin’ your own business and then bam! –” he shouted this; I didn’t flinch “– zombie got yer kitten.”

“‘Zombie got yer kitten?’” I asked.

“Yep,” he said, as if no further explanation was needed, and I suppose one wasn’t. “Zombie got yer kitten.”

Big-eared zombie! Word count: 37,427

Was looking over last year’s progress report and discovered I’m about at the same place this year as I was last year, which is heartening. Don’t see much writing time over the next few days, and have only written 1227 words today, mostly due to being really, really tired. Need to push through a few hundred more to try to at least hit 38k (11/22/10: 39,700. 39! Almost 40! Imagine where I’d be if I was at 40k….)

Anyhow. Here’s a little piece of a bit:

There was about a tenfoot gap between the roof I was on and the roof of Tim Stimph’s building. I’d never been involved in a rooftop chase which required me to leap from one building to the next, but I’d seen a lot of movies, and it looked like a lot of fun, so I was eager to get going. How often do you get an opportunity like that?

I gauged the distance, estimating how much of a running start I’d need. Ten feet isn’t a whole heck of a long jump (the men’s world record in long jump is almost six time as far) but when you’re ten stories above ground, it tends to make you extra cautious even if you’re certain (or at least the voice in your head is certain) that you’d survive the fall. Jumping from roof to roof was something I wanted to do. Experiencing a 100-foot drop with a sudden and violent conclusion was not.

“This is so bad-ass,” I said, psyching myself up. “I’m a fucking action hero.”

“Brains.” You’re a zombie with a human complex.

“And you’re a wet blanket buzzkill. This is going to be so cool.”

I stepped back about 30 feet, and did a couple test runs of the running start. When I was confident I could manage the jump, I took a couple deep breaths (unnecessary, of course) tore ass across the roof and leapt into the air.

“Yippie-cay-yay motherfucker!” I shouted.

“Brains.” Why is it that David Hasselhoff was killed in a riot in Berlin? I thought he was really popular in Germany.

“Guh?” I asked. And then, as I slammed into the side of the building whose roof was my target, I said something along the lines of, “Oof.”

I’d caught the lip of the building’s roof right in my midsection. I think I felt (and heard) a couple ribs crack. If I still had a functioning circulatory system, I’d have a hell of a bruise. As it was, I was just really annoyed.

“Dammit, Westy,” I shouted, “you did that on purpose!”

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.

Word count: 33,923

Went back to pad out the first emergence of Zach from his apartment. Realized that I couldn’t exactly have him go back later to take out Tim Stimph (something I was committed to, certainly, not only because Zach wrote earlier that he did it, and also because of my strong desire to write a Tim Stimph death scene) so between coming to as a zombie and taking the walk up north to meet the Zombie Hunter, Tim Stimph Must Die.

“Brains.” Indeed. Now, should we go find someone to eat?

An idea formed in my head. I was like Dexter. I could go around eating the brains of every asshole that ever did me wrong. No, that’s no good. That’s just a mad dash for revenge. I could go around eating the brains of every asshole that ever did the world wrong. I could be a force of justice. I could be the flaming sword of God’s archangel Gabriel. Right? He was the one that dished out vengeance? I had no idea. It didn’t matter. I had purpose and focus, for the first time in my life. Turning into a Z might have been the best damn thing to ever happen to me.

“Brains.” I’ve been trying to tell you that. Now, who’s first?

I hadn’t a clue where to start. “I bet all the bad guys are already dead or zombified anyway, huh? Probably not a whole lot of serial killers left in the world.”

“Brains.” Just pretend the next living person you see is a serial killer.

“Hah, Westy, it doesn’t work like that. But, you’re my dark passenger. It’s your job to make me kill and my job to focus that into something productive. So, ok. How do we find someone who deserves to die?”

“Brains.” Next person you see. Doesn’t matter if they ‘deserve’ to die or not. Everyone deserves to die. And you deserve to eat.

Westy was good at his job. It was going to be tough to resist that urge to feed. It was pressing in my mind, harder and harder the longer I went without eating. Had to be like Dexter. Find a deserving victim. Find someone who didn’t care about human life, didn’t care about who he hurt, didn’t care about…. I had it.

“Who’s the one person we know of that obviously just doesn’t give a shit about how he affects the rest of the world? Doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions? Goes around just sneezing on people without even apologizing?” I cried out. It was like the Shaft theme song, but far less funky and not about the coolest guy to ever grace the silver screen. Who was it about? It was about “Motherfucking Tim Stimph! That’s who!”

“Brains?” Who?

“Oh you’ll just love this, Westy,” I said with a grin. “He’s the guy who brought you into my life!”

What better way to start my rampage of justice, my righteous murder spree, my saccage tuent-fou as the French say than by taking out the bastard who turned me into this monster in the first place?

“Brains.” It’s been three years. A lot has happened. You won’t find him. Let’s just go get the next person we see. Enough of this nonsense.

“I know you’re just doing your job. I respect the division of labor here, I really do. You’re trying to get me going. And I don’t know why I’m resisting. From what I can tell, I should be just another mindless, killing, eating machine. Hell, that’s pretty much what I was before Stimph sneezed on me. Minus the killing part. I think.”

“Brains.” You’re making things too complicated. Why not just let go? Relax? Everything can be so easy if you just stop struggling.

“Yeah, that’s what they always say about everything. Resisting just makes it worse. Just go towards the light. Everything will be fine. You know what? I’m done with that. I’ve been doing that my whole life, and now that I’m technically dead, it’s time I took a stand. It’s time I made things right. It’s time I killed the prick that made me turn into a zombie!”

“Brains.” Whatever. As long as there’s some killing involved.

Word Count: 32689

The line about the zombie chicken is courtesy of Erica, who has contributed more to this month’s effort than I’ve given credit for in this blog….

Today’s excerpt continues the conversation with the Zombie Hunter.

Ak was lost in thought again. “My family, man, they’re all…”

“…dead? Zombies? What?”

“What? No. They’re all at the Oklahoma City Reanimiated Human Defense Zone Relocation Center. Mom and Dad. Wife. Kids. My cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandma. Yeah, they’re all fine. Got ‘em set up real nice, thanks to the ZH beer people and my Red Bull sponsorship. I saved Senator Pitt’s kids from certain death during a Z outbreak in DC back in ‘16 so he owed me one. They got a big-ass house, nice car, a pool. Everythin’.”

“How come you’re not down there with them?” I asked.

“I’m a Zombie Hunter. Sorry, the Zombie Hunter,” he said. “Zombie Hunter gotta hunt. Never mind the sponsors and the contracts and the TV show, it’s in my blood, son.”

“TV show?” I wondered.

“Hell yeah, son, I got me a TV show. Realest reality show you ever seen. Cameras followin’ me around watchin’ me kill Zs wherever I go. Big hit. ‘Course, God knows how many people got TVs or ‘lectricity such as they can watch anymore.”

I peered out into the night, wondering if I’d missed a camera crew that had been shadowing Ak. This conversation would have been an editor’s nightmare — long, action-free, mostly devoid of plot development or pertinent details. I felt bad for the guy.

“Where’s the camera crew?” I asked.

Ak shook his head again. “That’s something else only God knows, I guess. Lost them a few days ago. Zs came outta nowhere, outta the sewers, outta everywhere. I saw a few of ‘em go down, yeah, did what I could to help, then we got split up in the chaos. Spent the last few days lookin’ round for them, but haven’t had any luck.” He brightened. “Say, you ain’t seen nobody carrying a big-ass stupid camera, running around scared like a zombie chicken with its head cut off, have you?”

“Sorry, Ak, I can’t say that I have.”

“Didn’t think you would have, figured you’d’a mentioned that one already, but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. Sure hope someone made it. I’d really like to see the footage from that fight. Boy, I pulled some shit that night I thought I was too old to do. Was killin’ Zs with everything I could get my hands on. Killed one Z with a pitchfork. Never held a pitchfork before in my life. No idea what a pitchfork was doin’ in the middle of the suburbs. Just lyin’ there on the side of the road. Pinned that Z to the wall. Got another one with a boom mike. Just grabbed it out of the sound guy’s hands, he’s still holding it out, recording, I don’t know, me gruntin’ and fightin’ and swearin’. I just grabbed it from him, knocked a Zs head clean off with it. Smack. Plop. Dead. Good stuff.”

“Man, I would love to see that. Hope the cameras were still rolling.”

“You and me both, son. That could really make the season right there.” Ak sighed at the thought of lost quality footage. “Anyhow, I interrupted again. You know me long enough you’ll realize that every story you tell, I’ll butt in with my own thoughts each time. Bad habit of mine, I guess. The wife keeps tellin’ me it’s something I gotta work on. I figure only thing a man’s gotta work on these days is keepin’ dead critters from eatin’ his brains.”

I laughed. Westy said, “Brains.”

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.”

Mirror zombie. Word count: 26436. Word 25k: guttural

Photo of Westy courtesy of Erica

So, Zach now has this voice in his head, which he has named “Westy.” Debated about translating Westy’s words (Westy only ever says “brains”) and decided that A) It would be more clear what the conversation was and B) translation = words. Always go with the word count, says I. Zach and Westy step out on the town, dressed in Zach’s Sunday best…. And we have our first interaction with zombies! Scaaaaary!

The streets were emptier than they usually were; in fact, there wasn’t another soul around. Even late at night, this part of town remained pretty busy. With several night clubs, late-night bars, and music venues all in a three block radius there was plenty to do and see and people would come to do and see it. But not tonight. The windows of the bars and restaurants were dark; the marquees of the clubs were unlit and devoid of the names of bands that usually graced them; the liquor store was closed.

The liquor store never closed.

“How long was I out?”


The voice — no, it wasn’t a voice. It was just a guttural growl, a low moan, an angry, hungry groan. And it hadn’t come from inside my head; it came from the shadows, from a dark alley to my right. There was movement there: a slow, awkward shuffling. A figure emerged from the darkness. It was a Z, shambling out of the night. Slumping forward, arms slack at its sides, it lurched towards me.

It was instinctual fear that froze me in place. I’d never come face to face with a zombie before, never seen one this close (unless you count my own self examinations in the mirror) and though all the zombie preparedness videos and pamphlets had told me exactly what to do in case of a zombie encounter, the tips and tricks all left my head and I was rooted in place, unable to move.

It walked right past me and on down the street.

I stood there, in shock. I had just had a close encounter with a Z and it hadn’t attacked me! I watched as it walked into the distance, just shuffling along, uttering the occasional growl, not a care in the world (save for the constant, never ending acquisition of brains.) So absorbed was I in my observations that I didn’t notice the group of 30 more Zs which subsequently emerged from the alley and streamed around me as they followed the lone scout before them. They passed me close enough that some even bumped me as they went by. At the contact, they would utter the occasional grunt or groan but there was little reaction to my presence beyond that. They all seemed driven and focused on something at the end of the road, something beyond my sight or knowledge.

    I realized that while some part of my brain that was still rooted in the past had felt fear, had caused me to mentally panic at the sight of the walking dead, I hadn’t actually felt it. There was no chill up my spine. No goosebumps or hair standing on end. No physical fear response. And no emotional fear response either: my life hadn’t flashed before my eyes, I hadn’t begun bargaining with God for my life. Whether this was a product of my dead nervous system or that I had just known that the zombie wouldn’t harm me in any way, I do not know. What I did know was that I was the best-dressed zombie in town.
And that made me smile.
“Westy. Seriously. How long was I out?”
“Brains.” You took some time. Longer than we expected.
“‘Some time?’ ‘We?’ Can you elaborate?”
“Brains.” Three of your years have passed since we entered you.
“Three years?” I managed to muster up some righteous indignation, just out of sheer habit. But I wasn’t really feeling it. The thought depressed me — if I couldn’t work up a sweat getting angry about something, was there any point in living anymore? But then, I didn’t really feel the depression anymore either.
“I’m like Dexter!”

“He is…or was?… a character on TV.” I sensed confusion. “Television. Little box. Moving pictures. That’s not important right now. What is important is… well, I couldn’t say this is important either, but it is the point, and that should count for something. Dexter is this guy who’s got what he calls the ‘Dark Passenger’ riding with him, and it makes him kill people, but since Dexter has a conscience, he follows the code that his father showed him, and he only kills people who need killing, like serial killers and rapists and stuff. But his whole deal is that he’s a monster and he’s pretending to be human and pretending to have feelings and whatnot. Like me!”

“Brains.” Except that you have no code to follow. You will kill the next living thing you see, eat its brains, and be done with it.

“Well, we’ll just see about that, Westy.”

“Brains.” Indeed. Now, shall we see where those fellas are going? The voice in my head somehow nodded towards the group of zombies who were just now disappearing into the night.

“Fine. Yeah. Whatever.”

Catching up to the Zs wasn’t hard. They don’t walk all that fast unless they’re chasing food, and there wasn’t much in the way of food on the street. I was tempted to stop in the Taco Bell, but it looked as if it hadn’t been a functional food source for quite some time. The rest of the fast food joints on the street were all in the same state. Windows were either boarded up, or broken, doors hung loose on their hinges, lights were off, nobody was home.

The Zs were headed north, which suited me fine. I didn’t really care where we went, was just along for the ride, there to see what I could see.

The commercial zone gave way to a residential area, but it was just as empty. Houses were boarded up, barricaded however the owners could imagine to do it. It looked like everything had come on in a hurry, like people were a bit rushed when trying to build their fortifications. This zombie thing had been going on for years and it still took these folks by surprise. It didn’t look like these fortifications worked all that well — windows were broken, doors torn down, worse….

Here and there,  you’d see it. A lone Z, or maybe a couple of them, on hands and knees, tearing at entrails, feasting on a kill. What was left of my humanity caused me to wretch. What was left of my stomach was completely empty, so nothing came out.

“Brains,” said Westy. C’mon kid. The first one’s always the hardest. Like this was a murder scene and Westy was the grizzled veteran homicide detective and I was the young rookie looking to prove himself. Except that here, proving myself meant finding some living thing, preferably a human being, and eating it. I wasn’t all that eager to get that first notch on my belt.

Hourglass face/Harry Caray glasses zombie. Word count: 22454

As long as I get to 25,000 tomorrow, I’ll be on track. Haven’t been this close to the minimum-count line during a Nano….ever? Life is too distracting anymore to do these things. Of course, I create most of the distractions myself, but this is beside the point.

So we finally get to the good stuff: Zach Graves is turning into a zombie. Stage III of Westphail described in detail. Take heed: graphic grossness and lots of swearing follow.

The mucous ran like a river out of my nose, down my face, and onto the floor. And I could see, by the light coming through the window, that the snot was tinged with red. Tinged with red. Blood. All the fluid in my body was trying to evacuate. Flee the sinking ship. Get the fuck out. Dimly, my mind realized what was going on. I’d seen and heard and read enough about the stages of Westphail to know that I had somehow jumped to Stage III. The virus was carving out space in my body to make room for whatever nefarious purposes it had in mind. I’d done so much reading and research that I’d become something of an expert on the subject and so I experienced a sort of clinical detachment of my own, a kind of out of body experience, hovering over my pathetic body: feet together, pointed back towards the bed; knees together; sitting back on my feet; body somehow upright, my hands outstretched towards the sky, towards my out-of-body floating mind’s eye, appealing towards something I didn’t even believe in, knowing there was no heaven, no help, no hope.

Even with all the reports I’d read — the Wikipedia articles; the autopsies; the newspapers — there were still surprises in store for me. Not one to make things boring, Westphail was a real champ at keeping everything interesting even as it was busy running its course. The runny/bloody nose was well documented, as was the bowel evacuation (details of which I am repressing for my readers’ benefit; you’re welcome) and the vomiting (like a fountain, I watched as my last two meals were violently ejected from my stomach) but nobody had ever mentioned the high-pitched ringing in the ears which was nearly drowning out the noises that all these other activities were making.

I felt strangely calm, thankful for the rational thoughts going through my heads, without which, I’d surely have been panicking up a storm, freaking out, knowing exactly what fate was about to befall me, screaming — if I’d been able to, what with all the vomiting — my head off. As it was, I felt surprise. Nobody mentioned a high pitched ringing! I’ll have to edit the Wikipedia page. Would this count as first hand research though? Would that make it an ineligible edit? Not to get too deep into my thoughts, but I was so far gone and so deep in my head that I was, in another layer higher, examining the layer of my brain which was observing the war taking place in my body. Look at me, being so calm. I’d make a great scientist. I missed my calling. Is there anybody else in the world who could be so rational and detached as they were going through this shit as I am? Above all that, I will admit, there was another train of thought going: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU NOT FREAKING THE FUCK OUT? BE MORE CONCERNED.

Conversation between the layers was limited, but there was some discourse, namely the other, calmer layers, telling the layer that was, to use its own words, “freaking the fuck out” to calm the fuck down. The scientific, rational layer was pissed that the freaking-out layer was making so much noise as to make its observations difficult to carry out. The self-conscious layer which was observing my rational observations adopted a somewhat more rational tone tapping into a heretofore unknown hippie-ish, peace-loving, flower-picking side of me. Come on guys, it said, can’t we all just get along?

Explaining this all now; finally writing it all down in one clear narrative, I have discovered that I am unsure as to how much time elapsed between my coming to realize that Stage III was in full effect and when I went down into Stage IV. As I recall these events, and remember all the various tracks of thoughts that went through my head, all the inner dialogue that went on, it seems like it went on for hours, and yet the strongest memories I have tell me that it all happened in an instant. Had a movie been made of my life to that point, the long boring years leading up to this moment would have filled reel after reel of film while the sudden violent transformation from normal, unproductive human being to freak of nature would have taken place in a series of tableaus, flashes of me at various stages; short, frantic images, hinting at the various disgusting moments which I was at that point experiencing, accompanied by some appropriate music like a moderately heavy Nine Inch Nails song or maybe that cover of “Mad World” that was so popular around ‘05.