After the Bang, My Love: The Passing of a Horror Fan, and Mine

Last weekend, Kaarina Wilson passed away.

I haven’t really talked much about her, though I have definitely referred to her on Mythic Bios a few times. She’s even commented on this Blog a few times, once with regards to a poem I wrote for her called For Red, and another time encouraging my writing.

She always supported my writing, and continuing to improve myself. She was the only one of my friends and partners that came to my Graduate School Convocation back in 2012, almost a lifetime ago now. Kaarina saw me through that difficult part of my life where I was running out of money and dealing with the Damoclean nightmare that became my Master’s Thesis, and the end of Grad School. It wasn’t easy, for either of us. She was the first person I ever lived with, and the first person from whose place I had to move out.

Kaarina was also one of the first people in my life to tell me that I should not only keep a Blog, but I should write on geeky subjects. Her favourite genre in particular was horror.

While she introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut — or Grampa as she called him — and the black comic, almost banal terror of Cat’s Cradle with its Ice-Nine in the sky, and Mother Night‘s warning that you will become what you pretend to be there were two other extremely important contributions Kaarina provided to return me back into horror properly: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, and the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

Up until this point, I had mostly read H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore — fear of the unknown, interpersonal character development and the strange being commonplace and the normal being bizarre, and a cynical world still made cerebral and wondrous respectively — but it was Clive Barker that taught me that what you fear can be inexorably linked to what you ultimately desire.

But while I went on to read more Barker, the Toronto After Dark Film Festival showed me just what independent films — both horror and weird — could truly accomplish. Alongside Kaarina in 2010, the year we started dating and when the After Dark used to be in the summer and where Hot Docs currently resides — we watched ridiculous films with heart like RoboGeisha, and twisted things like The Human Centipede. Some of my best memories was getting off at Bathurst Station and meeting her there, and she was often late, while eating some chicken shawarma wraps and freshly squeezed orange juice watching the latest volley of insane films. I think it was from Kaarina exposing me to these forms of literature in the horrific and the sublime that showed me not to take things so seriously anymore and, in doing so, to remember what creative play was, and to genuinely enjoy watching entertainment again.

It was an interesting time when we met. Rental stores were already being phased out. Not long after my first year with her, Blockbuster’s physical stores died, though it took a few years for Suspect Video to share their fate. But we saw it coming. We felt change coming.

Kaarina had always suffered from four autoimmune diseases, something she made no bones about when we first met at a bar gathering in 2009. She had scleroderma, which is a chronic disease that hardens the connective tissue throughout the body, along with primary biliary cirrhosis, which is a slow destruction of the bile ducts in one’s liver, and Sjögren’s syndrome, which often accompanies other autoimmune disorders but has symptoms of dry eyes and mouth. She also had Raynaud’s disease, which narrows the blood vessels in extremities: usually in the fingers and toes.

One of the few times we spent the night together, she showed me the sore developing her finger which caused her horrible pain. Often, she would talk about having it amputated. Once, when I went to the hospital near the ROM to pick her up we came across a patient who had multiple amputations, and she told me that she expected this in her future.

That future didn’t happen, thankfully, but the fear was always there. When she would get sick, her immune system would attack the illness and her: which is what autoimmune disorders often are in and of themselves. At the very least, she was far more vulnerable to infections — including Staph infections — than most, and she never had flu shots as they would most likely compromise her immune system further.

I didn’t want to see it. I knew it was a reality, her reality, but I thought with more time and so much more time there would be further treatments, that she just had to hold on. We just had to hold on.

I also didn’t have a lot of time, though in a different way. I was running out of money and funding for Grad School and OSAP. My bursaries, scholarships, and loans only went so far. Every day, even before I met Kaarina, I knew I was on borrowed time: that this period of freedom and independence, unless something spectacular happened, wouldn’t last forever.

And it didn’t.

It’s like those old horror films, zombie movies in particular, where two survivors are hiding in a place besieged by the undead and trying not to get bit, while one of them has already gotten infected and is more real about it — is more pragmatic amidst horrible emotional turmoil — while the other is in intense denial, that they just need to hold on a little longer, and it would work out.

Kaarina liked zombie movies. Not the newfangled zombie runners, or rage-monsters created from 28 Days Later, but the undead — the ghouls — that came from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. She always said that she preferred slow, encroaching, inevitable horror and death to the fast and furious show-off gore of other films. You can, obviously, see the parallel. Horror, after all, makes you face your own mortality and find some catharsis in the thing. I could make a pretty good argument, if I wanted to, that the horror cinematic genre has elements of what the ancients would have considered tragedy, if not outright tragedy in and of itself.

There is something about a zombie horde as a mindless, relentless scourge that consumes everything in its path — something so unstoppable, so senseless, so … fucking stupid despite the fact that Romero’s ghouls can use tools — that spoke a lot to Kaarina, and her continuing struggle with her own body, and sometimes her mind.

Zombies weren’t the only thing that Kaarina enjoyed. She always had a focus on doppelgängers: on doubles of people, mirror parallels, and the uncanny valley that they inhabit in the minds of those that they see them. When she was studying Journalism at Ryerson, she was taking a course in Gothic Literature, possibly the only thing she enjoyed in that program. And while this allowed me the opportunity to read some of her required reading such as Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” it also gave me the opportunity to help her with her assignments. While I couldn’t always contribute financially, I had the skills and the ability to read over her work, offer reviews, and even help her formulate those ideas. Her last assignment in that course was about doppelgängers and their thematic function: why they exist, and what they represent.

Throughout Kaarina’s life, and from my understanding of it and experience with it, there were two sides to her. They even had two names. Most people, including her friends, called her Karen. Karen was often the persona that was matter of fact and had the party manners. She took things gracefully, even when she could be cold and distant. Kaarina, on the other hand, was the more creative and intuitive part of her, the sensitive part that cried a lot, and would freeze into place when she was particularly upset or scared, or rage at the unfairness of everything. Karen, in my mind, would question you, always. And when she got angry would methodically and with some detail explain everything you did wrong, while Kaarina would shout and scream and was far more visceral. The dichotomy of these aspects of her were not mutually exclusive, and they did not develop in a vacuum. Both were very real. In fact, I would say dichotomy was a major part of her life. She even had heterochromia: two different coloured eyes.

The focus of her final paper had been on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a film I woke up late at night with a fever to sit with her on the couch in our apartment under the stairs and watch. And later, long after the money ran out, and patience turned into exhaustion, and I moved back in with my parents with my boxes following, and hospitals became an even more daily occurrence of her life Jordan Peele’s Us that, according to Fangoria, was the first or most definitive horror film that utilized the doppelgänger as the central monster.

I bought that film for her. I also got her a subscription to both Fangoria Magazine and Shudder. I recall getting her Shudder when she was in a medically-induced coma after a procedure to shred the damaged parts of her lungs, curating a collection for her, hoping that she would wake up and eventually be able to watch the entire thing: a shadow of the shared experience we had in watching some of these films at the After Dark together. I didn’t see her often after I moved out, and a lot of our own struggles with each other, and ourselves. These gestures seemed just so small by comparison, even though I hoped they would make that difference when I would finally see her again.

Kaarina’s contributions, and her utter exasperation in me not doing any writing during our time together, led me to creating Mythic Bios, led me to writing for Sequart, and even the stint for GeekPr0n, and covering the Toronto After Dark. I went from buying single passes to particular films at the After Dark, to sharing a Press Pass among GeekPr0n staff, to eventually just getting a full Pass like she always did: to enjoy those films on my own again. Part of it was to try to find a sense of meaning as I moved back into my parents’ place and rejecting academia, while some was a combination of homage and defiance towards Kaarina herself: to show her I had learned from her, to illustrate that I would all the thing she pushed me to do when we lived together on my own outside of the place we used to share.

A lot of things happened after I moved out in 2012. I got published in a print and ebook anthology about Hell. I wrote for two online publications. And I went to the After Dark on my own, and it became more than our place. It became my place as well. But never once, during that entire time, did I forget Kaarina, or the impetus she gave me to keep going. To keep experimenting. To keep seeing what I could do.

The last film she and I watched together on our own was in 2017, at the Carlton Cinema. It was the anthology XX: a film directed, written, and starring all women. After the film, Jovanka Vuckovic — one of the central writers and directors in the film, who I met through covering her at GeekPr0n — noticed that the central theme in the whole film, through the blood, and pain, and loss was about family. And, looking back, it makes sense that that would be the last movie we saw on a date because, despite everything, I never doubted — not once through everything that happened, perhaps because of everything that happened — that Kaarina and I loved each other.

I was going to visit Kaarina in the hospital the Sunday after the Pandemic was formally declared. I couldn’t make it. I wanted us to have a remote Movie Night, Bed-Time as she called it — where we would watch The Addams Family or The Twilight Zone together — but it never happened. It seems, in a way, the two central horror themes of Kaarina’s fascination unfolded before, and after, her death. Disease and the slow crawl of fear has enveloped the world, and in doing so we are seeing two sides of the same reality become starkly contrasted with each other: social inequality and justice, hope and dread, truth and lies, and life and death all unfolding around us, and with little ambiguity.

There is an uncertainty in the world now, more than ever. There is a loss of understanding in my own, without her in it. The fact that I saw it coming doesn’t make it better. It just felt like a rehearsal for this time. It was just like watching that zombie horde come creeping towards you, and now it is facing myself in the mirror scared of the feelings I am continuing to find while viscerally, morbidly, messily fascinated with exploring their guts.

Horror and weirdness lost a great fan last week. I lost an amazing lover and friend. I lost one of my greatest fans, and supporters. I want her to be honoured in the places that she loved the most.

Rest in peace, Kaarina. You always liked to quote Hitchcock, again, when he said “There is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it.”

I hope that after your bang, when it came, all that is left now, for you, is its catharsis.

Super Zero: It Gets Better

“You never hear about how the apocalypse smells like total ass. But it does.”

And so do some stereotypes. We all know this one: about the geek who thinks they are so prone to so many physical and emotional weaknesses that they will slow down everybody else if they are even noticed at all.

Mitchell L. Cohen’s short zombie film Super Zero starts off just like that age-old trope. You know the one: about the stereotypical geek boy whose crush and attractive female love interest doesn’t seem to notice him, who he doesn’t have the courage to even talk to, and who views himself as almost completely useless. It’s a story told so many times by our culture and literature that it is essentially a very typical narrative. But Cohen adds two more elements to this story.

Josh Hershberg doesn’t view himself as that passive-aggressive stereotype of “the nice guy.” He doesn’t think he is owed anything by Page Reynolds or even society. In the year 2017, as a sample of water is discovered and taken from a Mars expedition, he can’t even enjoy this development of science in his geeky life. Why?

Because is geeky is going to be over in a very terminal sense. In the society that exists before the apocalypse, Hershberg has brain cancer: the kind that doesn’t have a cure. Hershberg ends up quoting Theodore Roosevelt when he states “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” in a self-derisive way: because he doesn’t have that much time left. The initial tones of Hershberg’s first-person narration in Super Zero are laced with an irreverent black humour and an infusion of despair as he decides to end his story.

It’s funny, however, just how the reminder and slogan of “It gets better” becomes so prevalent as the zombie apocalypse part of the story begins.

It gets better ... at least for some.
It gets better … at least for some.

Cohen plays up Hershberg’s adaptation to a foul-smelling post-apocalyptic world with a slow and careful pace. You wonder just how a slow-moving cancer victim with seemingly no fighting or survival experience would even last a minute after an outbreak of fast moving zombies: yes, that kind of zombie. Certainly the stock survivalist jock Nate Bishop and the wise-cracking obnoxious Gary Amante characters see him as more of a liability even though Page, who has survived this far, seems to be a popular girl with a “heart of gold” or at least common human decency. In fact, from the very beginning you see that she does indeed notice that he exists and has an inkling of what he’s capable of even before he reveals it.

Because when you realize that Josh Hershberg is a hard-core engineering geek genius and you see just what he can do with a brain disease that makes him unpalatable, a walking stick and something that looks like a flux-capacitor, you will not be disappointed. All in all, I think that while Super Zero does use some age-old high school zombie survival group stereotypes — complete with the compassionate woman, the stoic jock, the annoying and loud meat-shield, and the nerd — it has the potential to utterly subvert them. In our day and age, we’ve seen a lot of bad-ass geeks and nerds of all genders, so to some degree we are rather spoiled.

And wow is that musical score ever bad-ass.

After watching this film I want to see what happens next as Cohen wants to grow Super Zero into a series. Does Josh Hershberg’s biological advantage overcome him in the end? Would that affect any relationships that he may make? What happens if the group loses him? Will he leave a legacy or will this all get changed somehow? And would we see more development for the other characters?

And as a geek, how do you think you would survive a zombie apocalypse? Personally, my fantasies have wavered between learning necromancy and controlling the zombies, dying first because I slowed people down, or finding my way to a group of my friends where I can tell stories for morale. But while I don’t know about myself or the rest of you, I do think that if Josh Hershberg could give this film a subtitle it would be the following:

Who's Useless Now?
Who’s Useless Now?

Another Revolution

On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
But Glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.
— Theodore O’Hara, “The Bivouac of the Dead”

They marched among the geometrical angles of granite tombstones, wearing simulated gore and affected awkward staggering gaits, carrying upraised signs made of stick handles and Bristol boards with bloody running red lettering.

Among the people dressed in dried red, white and green make-up, purposefully tattered clothing and horror film t-shirts, were people in uniform. Some of them wore dark helmets and dark-blue padding with realistic plastic rifles and riot gear in hand. They seemed to wave the macabre crowd along with plastic severed limbs: at least those that weren’t holding signs of a merry skeleton man with a top hat and cigar between his teeth pointing and proclaiming, “Baron Samedi Wants You!” or “Occupy the Evans City Chapel! Donate Your Flesh!”

For all the attention it received, the Chapel was a square structure of stacked old grey cement blocks with a steeple-roof of dark slate, and a chimney of faded red bricks. If someone looked closely at the base of the building, they would have seen green mould slowly and almost verdantly eating away at its foundations.

It had once been used as a storage-shed ages ago, before it was finally boarded-up altogether and left a hollow shell: its emptiness dignified with the remnants of almost forgotten hallowedness. But its simple crumbling elegance cast a long shadow of significance over the minds of its protesters, its guardians, its revellers and its other self-appointed friends as they gathered near the grounds of its long-sealed front door.

Whatever these fifty-odd some people saw on the path amongst the gravestones in front of their modest, aging Mecca and beyond the frame of a black and white reality, they all wanted to be here. Most of the Event’s participants were enthusiastic locals, some particularly devoted interstate and even international tourists. The other group that came into the Evans City Cemetery, on the other hand, did not seem local but they were–in their way–no less eager to be there.

The newcomers did not go to the Chapel. Instead, they moved past it. Some of them walked with a familiar stiffness, ramrod straight spines and a seeming lack of joints: with deep blue eyes that glittered from sallow faces in the setting sun. Others were more sombre or even more colourful heaps of mouldering robes that hopped or leapt alongside their compatriots: jumping with arms open enough to embrace the entire world.

Others wore darker investments: grey and black medieval armour, closed visors and ragged peasant garb. Some of the new arrivals hulked over the others: seeming to rise up from the ground like earthen blue-black shadows and wearing helmets of sharpened horns.

Still more followed them: large and small and some in more than worse for wear contemporary clothing carrying bits of playing equipment, tools and debris. Bloated and emaciated green things in rags crawled and whispered after them, and in the lengthened shadows it seemed as though they did not always have a shape at all. Lean beasts followed them with raised hackles and similar expressions of living greed on their muzzles and in their eyes.

Some were writhing, undulating wild-eyed women bathed in old red and cloying vinegar-wine as they alternatively fell over and prostrated themselves in erratic procession; while others were black-haired, dark-skinned, beautiful hollow-eyed women gliding in fine dresses and sporting long, long, fingernails. A significant proportion of the assembling throng were even more skeletal: shrivelled and brown caricatures that walked slowly and ably. Two of them looked like little girls in tattered old dresses holding smoking cups in their hands: their eyes silvery cobwebs of intent.

In front of them loomed a pillar of Quincy granite: nineteen feet high and surmounted by the figure of an eagle perched on a globe. As the grisly travellers surrounded it, its shadow consumed them and they became a part of the evening that it dwelled in. One side was inscribed with the names of forty-five dead men, while another was carved with an emblem of a wreath with crossed swords.

They had travelled all this way to congregate at this one point: the old Civil War memorial stone known as The Soldiers’ Monument. Anyone else in the Cemetery might have wondered why there was so much attention and security paid to the road and the Chapel, but not for the old war memorial. Yet no one other than the throng moved towards this spot. And so they waited.

They did not wait quietly. At first, the stillness was broken by a faint nearby rattling reminiscent of dry hollow bamboo tubes clattering against one another.

Gachi gachi … gachi gachi …

As though in sympathy, parts of the throng itself began to shuffle restlessly. A few gaunt forms covered with shaggy hair peered forlornly at their fellows with bloated faces and held out delicious ethereal food. This food went ignored.

Grumbling shadows seemed to shift back and forth above the closest gravestones, as the motley assortment began to moan and bang their makeshift tools on the nearby graves. The robed group began to hop impatiently in one place. The unseen ones stomped their shrunken feet in defiant rhythm. The brittle moving antiques that were the two girls walked through the throng with their two steaming cups, their soft voices mournfully chiming, “Cafe grille … Cafe grille …”

Even while the freshest among the ranks began to growl and hiss at each other, and the fat and thin green shifting creatures with their hyena brethren whispered to each other like sand and Arabic, a few of the figures in the front closest to the Monument remained solemn and patient.

One of them was a white-eyed woman with skin the texture of old coffee and dressed in the habit of a nun. Another was a man in a World War I Canadian Major’s uniform with a waxen blank-looking face and a black bag at his side. People arranged in a wide assortment of shapes surrounded him. They remained still, they and the shrivelled white-eyed brown ones. The latter held vintage bottles that seemed to flutter with eerie lights. They did not offer these to anyone as they stood near the nun. The two girls skipped to her side and she put a weathered hand on both of their wispy heads.

And so they waited. And so they wait. They wait for me. The vetala.

What is past is now present and what will be is now. Even as the evening comes, as it has come several times before, and the blue, black and pale-skinned Draugar bathe themselves in the fox-fire light of their trollskap runes, and the Jiangshi resemble Chinese paper lanterns filled with glow-worms, I come. I appear at the top of The Soldiers’ Monument: my feet balancing on the eagle statue as though I am a fallen angel perching on the head of a pin.

I smile a serene, demoniac smile as I lean forward. With a balance and flexibility that would put any enlightened yogi to shame, I hang down from the top of the pillar and my sightless eyes stare into each and every one of them. Now they are all still. I have their attention.

“The living claim to know our stories,” I begin, “but only the dead may tell them,” I look through all of them, “Speak.”

I am the vetala. I hear their stories. They speak to me. They speak to each other. They speak to each other in the rustling words and fading dactyls of our kind. Although their words are disparate, they are all unified under one scraping dissonant mother tongue: the language of the dead.

The elders speak first. Some are dressed in furs, archaic bronze, gold and rotten silk. They wail about the stories their fleshly tribes and descendants told, hidden away in their caves and ancient homes at night, while they raged outside pounding the doors: demanding sacrifice or just to be among the living again.

The Ro-Langs say they are tired of being created and hunted by sorcerers and Buddhist priests for their tongues and their golden bones. The Nachzehr contingent in the Cemetery say they have grown to despise having their graves intruded on and having coins shoved into their mouths. The few remaining native Skadegamutc–their long skeletal forms pulsing with stolen blood and their hair tied into feathered braids open their fanged maws to release whooping war cries into the air–decry the loss of their lodges, being forced to dwell in holes in the ground, and the burning finality of fire.

Many murmur among the gathering in sympathy. The shaggy Bukwus lament the fact that the living no longer take their offerings of food, nor join them in the waters. The mariner Drang nod their seaweed-encrusted heads in agreement and state in vehement Germanic that they are sick of being spat on. In equally fluent German, distorted only by the gnashing of their teeth into their death-shrouds underground, the Nachzehr rebuke the Drang with their livid, gesturing shadows: telling them that at least they didn’t have to worry about getting their heads cut off.

These exchanges bring another large murmur of agreement: especially from the Wiedergänger and their European revenant cousins. The Jiangshi say nothing but continue to jump around ignorant of glutinous rice, peach-wood, the I Ching and their own reflection while everyone else is aware of the funerary-mockery of self-transport that sorcerers first made of their bodies. Mostly, they are impatient for more qi. From its sprawling place near the corner of the Monument, the giant collection of the bones from a multitude of starved human beings called the Gashadokuro reiterates this sentiment with a loud rustling gachi gachi giving even the other assembled dead reason to pause.

Even so, the Ro-Langs are quick to mention their solidarity with the Jiangshi and add that they are also tired of having their tongues ripped out to become occult-swords. This draws the ire of the beautiful Pontianak: hissing that just as they were victims in life of the men that impregnated them and forced them to die at childbirth, so too do they still continue to abuse them after their deaths by driving nails through the backs of their necks and cutting off their long nails to make them “more docile” as wives.

Most of the ones arguing now, while a little more numerous than the elders, are fewer than the majority: with even fewer of the living in their native lands telling their stories every day. With some exceptions, theirs are complaints that have less to do with current persecution and more to do with past wrongs, restlessness and hunger.

Out of all of them, it is the Draugar that are collectively the loudest.  The walking remnants of the Northmen boast about their achievements in strength and power, how it took the will of a true hero to wrestle them back into their howes. They say that the living can cut off their heads or burn them to ash, but that they will fight it all the way and retake the world that was once their own. They taunt the other dead, calling them cowards and mindless shells: commanding them to fight.

One of the revenants laughs hoarsely and points out the ever-present truth: the Draugar are few and most of their barrow-homes have been lost. Even with their power and lore of the dead, they are too few to reclaim their own lands of ice and darkness themselves: never mind the entire world. The Draugar become angry: proclaiming they will get all the reinforcements they need from their brethren in Hel once the ships made from dead men’s nails set sail.

The wax-faced Major steps forward. Even as he points at his twisted companions, his voice comes from the black bag in his hand: explaining in a muffled yet cultured tone that he and his fellow Re-animates were the result of horrible medical experiments that forever robbed them of the gift and dignity of death that is the right of all living beings. After they found each other, they methodically hunted down and killed their creator for his crimes against them and defying the will of Nature.

The elders and the avenging dead add their cries to the Major’s words, and even the brown-skinned zonbi contingent in their silence and with their shimmering glass bottles–by their very nature still full of purpose–incline their heads slightly with mutual respect. The nun–the Mother Superior Marie M.–finally speaks.

She talks of how her young body was abducted from her grave and family by a bokor in her native Haiti where she was made into his slave: only for his wife to attempt to sell her until, finally, she was brought to stay at a convent in France where she has been ever since the early twentieth century. Until now. From my vantage point hanging upside down and slowly swinging from the memorial, back and forth like a pendulum between life and death, I nod at her and the Canadian soldier-doctor.

The more numerous modern dead are also angry and hungry. They are not as articulate as the others, but they make their case clear. They throw their debris. They roar. Some of them stagger at each other while others tense and lunge with swift viciously mindless animal instinct.

They cease just as I stop my swinging. From the Chapel, I can already sense some of those who are with child clutching at their bellies from the Draugar’s auras: not enough to kill, but just strong enough to cause discomfort for those not-yet-born. It seems that as this gathering continues, the Pontianak may yet gain more sisters.  Everyone and even the newest among us are cowed by the presence of the vision I have not revealed yet.

I am the vetala. I am the storyteller. I take the story of my being and I shrug out of it–a layer of ego–as I curl up to stand again on the stone eagle and let the tale tell itself.  I point at the words that my body once concealed on the Monument, words they have all waited to see, “We are the bivouac of the dead.”

At my words, I sense a woman at the Chapel cramping into miscarriage. I continue.

“We exist on ground without walls or protection. The living has the luxury of walls between them and the night of us. We have nothing to protect us except us: the cycle of us. The elders understand it best. This world is not linear,” I spread out my arms, “We have no walls because we do not defend. We were the fierce hunger for life given purpose incarnate. We were the agency of celestial wrath and vengeance. But then, we were usurped.”

I lose myself further into the role of storyteller, “The living began to tell our stories. They took them from us. In them, we lost our divine masters and exchanged them for fleshly ones. For millennia after,” I glance poignantly at the zonbi, “in their stories we served the will of witches and sorcerers. We were their servants and their familiars. Their slaves. And those of us that came about without human agency were considered mistakes of Nature and linear Time. There are no coincidences,” I point one long skeletal finger at them all, “and those of us that were made free to appease our hunger were hunted down, burned, decapitated, mutilated and destroyed.

“Only those few like the Ghilan were free,” I finally turn back to look at them — some of the green-fleshed ones, “They are the ghül: a word used to describe us all because of what many of us are compelled to eat … and kill. They were free … in their deserts, haunts, and the abandoned ruins of cities … until Prince Gherib’s forced ‘Conversion of the Ghouls.’”

A sullen, angry rumble begins to grow, “For all here know that it took more than just one day to accomplish and that it was more than merely one Tribe. To this day the story of what happened to the Ghilan–to the ghül–is a lie still told by the living to their children,” I spit the last word, “as entertainment.

“The Ghilan–particularly the Tribe of Saadan–lost their fortresses and treasures in Arabia for the simple crime of keeping property, for eating the meat and bones of things that could no longer move nor even feel! Some fought, but most did not. They were–are–merely survivors and scavengers of food and scraps of knowledge. Very few Ghilan even kill the living, yet even so many of them were sent anyways to ‘sup with Iblis’ during the ‘conversions.’

“The rest of us were no better off.”

I jump down to the base of the Monument, “You have heard the Ro-Langs, the zonbi, and even the Jiangshi. Most of us could not even be conceived of to exist without the aid or presence of a fleshly master. Some of us, like the revenants, occurred ‘naturally’ but were promptly obliterated by fire, prayer and mantra. But some of us learned to rebel.

“Indeed, many of my kindred were powerful enough to do so. I remember the day, millennia ago, when I came to my vamachari’s side–the mortal responsible for binding the churning spirit of me to this cold, dead matter for my knowledge–and I wrapped my fingers around his neck and slowly squeezed the life out of him with my cold, dead left hand. It was one of the few moments I truly wished my own flesh was not unfeeling,” I let the old fury of that ego dissipate as I relax my left fist and become the storyteller again, “Yet even then there were too few of us to do anything more.”

I gesture at the zonbi delegation, “It truly began in West Africa, on an island called St. Domingo in the year of 1791. Slaves taken from many African nations rebelled against their slavers for twelve years until they overthrew them. From the chaos formed an entirely new nation. However, what no one knew was that a few of the former slaves were bokors and they possessed zonbi. The zonbi, however, were not free of their masters. Yet.”

I raise my hands, “That day, in the place that would become Haiti, a new narrative was formed: a story of slaves freeing themselves forever from their masters. And this time, instead of the living learning from the dead, the dead began to learn from the living.

“1863: the very land we stand on now, the place that bought many of those living slaves from St. Domingo, undergoes the Civil War that created the very Monument that I now stand on. This same nation then proclaims manumission for all its slaves! A few freed bokors and, more importantly, their zonbi were also there. And they learned another story.”

I point at the zonbi delegation, “Do you know what they hold in their hands? A zonbi is created when a bokor takes their soul and puts it in a jar. The bokor takes away the zonbi’s name and memories. The bokor keeps their souls in these jars to increase their own strength or sell them to buyers for luck and healing. Souls have become commodities.

“Over time, Marie M. and others have tracked down all zonbi and their names and reminded them of who they are. They carefully crafted a network with others, finding the bokors and their servants. By the end of the twentieth century, all true bokor have gone slowly and quietly extinct and the souls in the jars before you now are not those of the zonbi. They are the souls of their bokors.”

The dead are silent now, but not because they have become inanimate. I hold up one hand. I am not done yet.

“As the bokors and others like them disappeared,” I nod to the wax-faced doctor and a few others, “the living began to tell each other another story. It is not until 1968 that this new narrative fully manifests. The combination of tensions caused by war creates a new era of protests all over the world and in this land: protests against violence and discrimination.

“Also during this time something else happens. Feeding off of the confluence of conflicting energies, a new story is recorded here: created to become a whole new narrative!”

I spread my arms as though to mimic the Jiangshi, to encompass the whole Cemetery, “We above all others know the earth has power. Here, we were reborn. Can you not feel the power of the founding place, in the grave soil coursing through you? We were made to embody the menace hiding right in front of their eyes!”

I turn to the newest, largest part of our gathering, “And you are the epidemic! We have masters no longer! This knowledge: this real fear of an insidious, unreasoning, creeping cancer over the whole of humanity becomes us. But what’s more is simple. I am the vetala. I see Space and Time like no other. I know the secrets and the power of names and words. It was when they called us zombies–after our first liberated brethren–that we began to understand ourselves … and our final transformation began.”

I look at them all for one last time, as I know that very soon the time of the storyteller will be over and that the story will begin soon.

“2012,” I let my voice become a whisper softer than a child’s dying breath, “From the year before, a multitude of scattered protests–only tenuously related as Occupations–crop into being all wanting one thing: change. Here, in this very town, a few of them meld together: into another confluence.

“Many believe this is the final year of linear Time and they invest into it their fear of death: into a great sense of urgency. And here, in this Cemetery, at the Chapel with its charged residue of the story that changed us, at the anniversary of its genesis, the living gather their most vital energies to save their Chapel: to save us … to join us.

“My brethren,” I proclaim, “it was our will consumed fully by our perpetual hunger that enslaved us and now the very recognition of this fact–this same eternal craving for life–will move this world forward and forever.

“I have seen this! I am the storyteller. I am the vetala and soon we will all become the story!”

And then I am no longer the vetala. There is no longer any storyteller. They are the story now. They cheer as the vetala lets himself be carried away into the throng with open arms. In unison the throng of the dead turns away from The Soldiers’ Monument towards the Evans City Chapel: an army that no longer needs walls. But before they move, something appears in front of them.

It is the shrunken brown figure of a dwarf: one of the formerly unseen Tokoloshe. The eyeless, tongueless being croaks at them all: telling them that they will not be privy to the hurting of children. The two zonbi girls stare at it, then slowly bring their cups of steaming, eerily quailing liquid to their mouths and drink. The Tokoloshe seems to consider this for a moment and nods. Then it bites down on the pebble in its mouth and disappears again.

The evening gives way to the night, as the dead smell the ambient energies of life force and blood and meat–of fate–saturating this focal point where they would now re-imagine themselves for themselves.

Then they begin to participate in the feast that is to come.

Evans City Soldiers’ Monument Photo Credit: J.W. Ocker
Evans City Chapel Photo Credit: The Terror Daves

Skeletons Have All the Fun

It isn’t even a ten-minute walk from the Velvet to Rainbow Nosferatu’s club, but his chest still aches. He shakes his head and looks up at his handiwork.

The Scrawling is in the back of the office complex closest to the parking lot. A sign with stylized cursive red font over a black background greets him: complete with a skeleton’s hand drawing a hanged stickman on a white skull with a quill. Rainbow Nosferatu spares a glance at the makeshift bike-rack below the steps of the entrance: knowing he will be back for his ride later as he enters his club.

Despite his name, Rainbow Nosferatu finds himself bathed in the familiar dark red light of the remaining candles in their glasses on the tables closest to the door. A large projector screen dominates the dark red club while slide-shows scroll through a variety of images up overhead. He waves at some of the staff as they continue cleaning up for the night. Chairs and tables scrape across the floor without the music that has no doubt stopped for the night. But this doesn’t bother Rainbow Nosferatu. Instead, he closes his eyes for a few moments and basks in the warmth of the place he made with his few friends, very little money and a great deal of love.

The feeling of sunflowers seems to approach him from behind and he actually smiles a bit–for real this time–as he opens his eyes and watches the slide on the screen transition into another page from a public domain 1950s horror comic.

“You know,” he says, looking up at a scene of skeletons rising up from their graves to embrace a screaming blonde-haired woman in a white bridal gown, “Skeletons used to be so cool in the fifties.”

The sense of sunflowers seemed to laugh with its voice, “Probably because some people needed a real proper boning.”

Rainbow Nosferatu shakes his head, “They weren’t just about the sex. No, there was the vengeance too. Artists in those days could only be so … graphic,” he turns to her as she groans, “What? You just did that earlier Marigold. It’s true though. Underneath all that flesh, we just want to possess each other: out of anger and out of passion. Now it’s all about the zombies: eating flesh indiscriminately and not caring about where your meal has been, or what it even tastes like.”

“I don’t know boss,” Marigold grins up at him through twisted red and yellow dreadlocks, “Flesh-eating has at least a few uses I can think of.”

“True,” Rainbow Nosferatu can’t help but smirk at this game of innuendo, “But a skeleton still has their personality. Even without a bit of flesh on them, they still remember who or what wronged them. They remember what life was like when they had it. Revenge or lust, they keep their eye-socket on the prize and they take what they want. They are the bare essence of want.”

“Ah, so you mean to say ‘kids these days,’ huh Rain?” she wraps an arm around his shoulder and hugs him.

“Yeah, those gosh-darned zombie goth kids these days,” he says ruefully and moves to lean his head against hers in order to return her brief half-hug, “Were there many of them since I was last here?”

Marigold smoothes out the ivory dress on her lithe frame, “Nah boss. A few writer-types. One girl asked for something at the juice-bar and I made it for her. There was a dancer or two. Some Tarot-readers. Oh, and some of the Ancients dropped by and asked about you. Not much else though.”

Rainbow Nosferatu sees as much. The juice stall is closed for the night. Marigold made excellent drinks among hostessing and ticket-collecting. Despite what he told Jake earlier about checking on drinking in his club–which was mostly to get away from him anyway–he couldn’t actually afford a liquor license: yet another thing Linda would remind him of …

“Don’t come back until you have your shit together.”

Rainbow Nosferatu suddenly feels tired, “I guess the All-Ages Nights are going the way of the skeletons too,” he looks sadly around the place, his place, “Has Linda …”

“No,” Marigold shakes her head, “I’m sorry, boss, but I didn’t see her come in or down from the loft,” she puts a hand on his shoulder, “Is everything ok Rain?”

He looks at her for a few moments and senses her warmth and concern. He knows that sometimes she can see right through him: through each other without the details, “Is my aura really that blue?”

“Yeah, well,” she shrugs again, “Let me put it to you this way: your aura might as well be singing ‘I hurt myself today’ in Texican drawl.”

“Heh,” he gives her that, knowing that she is trying to make him laugh and feel a bit better, “I thought … Linda and I thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a Club for All-Ages where you can sit and write, or dance to Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy while reading projected slides of old horror comics and poetry on the screen instead of watching muted TV shows or music videos?’ But we weren’t prepared for the costs. Now things are changing and I guess, in the end, that’s the way things go.”

“I still think it’s a really awesome idea, Rain,” she squeezes his hand.

“Yeah. Me too,” Rainbow Nosferatu sighs, “we had some good times here. But it’s only a matter of time now … before we go the way of Sanctuary.”

“We lasted a while, Rain.”

“A few months now,” he nods, “I guess we have one more at best. Maybe I can get away with using some epic video game boss battle sound-track for the Last Nights!” he somehow manages to wink against his crushing sadness.

“We’ll have a Gothic Tetris face-off,” Marigold says, “with Dark Soundtracks and Fin de Siecle Tequila Shots!”

“Sounds like a date!” Rainbow Nosferatu hears himself say and inwardly winces at the choice of words, “Well, I’m heading off now. See you next week Marigold.”

“See you. Oh, boss, I almost forgot something.”

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. He can see the sunflower glow around Marigold become subdued with blue, “What is it Marigold?”

She reaches into her bra and takes out a small envelope, “It’s from … Lily.”

Rainbow Nosferatu feels his hands turn clammy.

“Oh,” he says simply, dumbly, staring at the letter in Marigold’s hand, “I’d been trying to get in touch with her for a while now …”

“I know,” Marigold’s eyes look at him with sympathy, “I didn’t open–”

He waves her off as he takes the letter, “Oh I know that, Mari. I appreciate you holding this for me.”

He doesn’t tell her that he’d been sending emails, texts and voice messages to Lily for a month or so now: every once and a while … trying to be unobtrusive. Trying not to be needy … and slowly going crazy inside from not hearing from her. Dark-haired, pallid, thin slight Lily with her love of Neil Gaiman’s Death and the way she listened to his stories whenever they hung out here at The Scrawling. She’d met Linda and they seemed to have gotten along. He and her would hold hands whenever she made it. That was all they really did for a month. It had made him happy to hold that slight pale hand in his own that made his seem so awkward and gangly by comparison.

He remembered her email quite a few nights ago: finally telling him she would get in contact with him soon. He’d almost forgotten that email. Almost.

“You’d never turn pussy down,” he remembers Linda screaming at him during that fight, “In fact, you pride yourself on it.”

He turns away and opens the letter. It is a simple piece of paper with three words written in beautiful cursive writing.

Stop writing me.

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. Stop. Writing. Me. Each word hits him. Each word is like a punch to the stomach. Three punches to the stomach. Three times. He swallows.


Marigold walks in front of him and takes the letter. She looks at it. Her subdued aura becomes a burning one of vivid reds, blues and violets, “Oh Rain, I’m …”

“I-it’s ok, Marigold,” he says, quietly, “I guess … in the end, she’s just a kid. She …”

“She’s twenty years old, Rain,” Marigold looks as angry as she feels to him, “She was adult enough to get into it. She knew what she was doing. I did back in the day. And this … this is just totally uncool! I mean … oh Rain, I’m sorry.”

She hugs him again. It takes him a few moments, but he returns her embrace, “It’s okay, Mari,” he gently pushes her away, “I’m … disappointed, I won’t lie. But with Linda and everything, it’s … just as well now. Wow. I’m really not having a good month,” he shakes his head and finds himself tucking the piece of paper into his pants pocket, “Gosh darn zombie goth kids these days I guess,” he smiles weakly, “I need to go.”

“Are you sure? Rain …”

He looks at her: Marigold the bartender, waitress, ticket-collector, dancer, Goth, one of the few that believed sunflowers were happy accidents of God, who knew what obscure movie that paraphrase came from, one of his few friends who he knows that right now–anytime–but especially right now would do anything for him. Anything. He breaks that half-thought and he’s glad his face is painted white enough to cover the red that threatens it.

“I need some time to myself right now. Thank you. Love you, Mari. See you later,” he hugs her one more time and leaves.

He wonders, as he clears the door and down the stairs, what people might think of the streaks of black mascara and white make-up rolling down his face. Maybe they would think he’s some dumb punk kid. Or maybe a clown. That was it. Maybe they’d think he was the Great Pagliacci.

Pagliacci: the Gothic Clown.

The Art of Asking, Spreading the Love, and Sarah’s Walking Dead One of a Kind

A few days ago I watched Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk The Art of Asking twice. It left me with a few thoughts and I have to be honest with myself and say that there is no way in hell that I am going to make all of those thoughts into one cohesive post: it is just not going to happen.

Instead, I’m going to do something else. Amanda mentions in her Talk that it is very hard to ask for help and while in context she was actually referring to artists–and I will definitely be getting back to that point in another Blog entry–I think this can be applied to the main act of asking those to help you attain your dream.

It is hard. It has certainly been hard for me for a variety of reasons that can ultimately be shored up to shyness, introversion, and a need to not intrude on other people’s space. I also tend to fall back on the mindset that most people are self-interested and will only help if they see that they can get something out it for themselves. And that’s okay. The fact of the matter is a mutual exchange of getting what you want and need is a good thing. In fact, in a lot of ways it is how we relate to other people.

A little while ago, I found this WordPress Blog called Sarah On The Go! during the great influx of people, Followers and “Likers” that were reading my own Blog when I got Freshly Pressed. [Edit: Actually Sarah found me through my What is FV Disco? post but anyway … :)] I came to know after perusing this Blog that Sarah is a major Walking Dead fan. I’ve heard enough about the show and the comics to be really intrigued by this series. In fact, I’ve been meaning to actually find a way to access the comic books first before watching anything.

But the main point that I want to make is that Sarah is essentially a Walking Dead fanatic who has entered The Walking Dead Always One of a Kind Fan Contest. The grand prize of this contest is for the winner and their friends to be flown down to Los Angeles in order to meet the cast of the show at premier of Series Four. Each contestant creates a 60 second video explaining why they are “the greatest fan” of the show and why they should win the contest. Then, every 24 hours someone can click to vote for this person and the videos with the most votes will be judged by the series’ writer and producer Robert Kirkman. It is, more or less, that simple.

I happen to like zombies. I even like writing zombie stories. I also know what it is like to really want something–with all your heart–and have draw on your own sheer will to ask for the help in getting it. This is Sarah’s Video entry and you can examine her amount of enthusiasm for yourself.

But I am voting for her. Why? Well I can say that if she does win, I can imagine that she would make a good write-up for the experience on her Blog: along with her detailed reviews of each Walking Dead episode so far as I can see. But that’s not it. I do not follow her Blog as often and I don’t really know her that personally.

Ultimately, the reason I want to help her–to get her entry out there for more people to see–is because I want to.

Or, more simply, because I can.

It is an empowering feeling: probably almost on par with the zombie urge to “spread the love.” Either way, I look forward to seeing where this goes. I admire your continued courage to express what you want, Sarah, and I wish you luck. May your own fans continue to spread the love … and continue to ask for it. 🙂

After the Zombie

So what I can tell you about the story I wrote in the previous post? Well, for starters, I thought it would be a lot shorter than it actually turned out to be. I made a deal a little while ago to write 250-words a day–to keep myself writing–and I’ve exceeded that. I really exceeded it with this piece here. I remember an author–I think, yes it was Neil again–stating that if you wrote 300-words a day you would eventually have a novel. And while I haven’t written a novel in a long time, sometimes I feel dangerously close to do that again.

But let us deal with the danger of zombies first. While the walking dead in themselves are terrifying, you have to consider that in a zombie apocalypse there are other terrifying aspects to consider as well. For instance, imagine you have mostly been acclimated to living indoors and your job deals almost solely with paperwork or writing. You may have a really powerful imagination, but imagination doesn’t equal exercise, discipline and hard physical work. Those things can be additional, but they are not automatic.

You have to also consider: just how many people have actual survivalist skills? Who camps without at least one convenience or modern washroom? Where will you get your food? It takes a while to grow it and you will need something immediate. Do you have combat abilities and reflexes? Do you have skills that can be implemented for immediate survival? These are some of the questions and issues I’ve encountered in zombie apocalypse stories and that I went through when I wrote this.

Strangely, I often write these from the perspectives of the zombies themselves, so this was different for me in that I was trying to go for realism. But there is more. You see, imagine all that above stuff and then think of a person dependent on anti-anxiety medication, or who is a “shut-in” or has medical issues of organic or psychological dimensions. Imagine the social modern world of streets and cars being stressful enough for them and then take that all away and have them try to survive being eaten by zombies and surviving in disparate groups of people who are just trying to make it through the insanity.

Some of these people might take a while to adjust. Most would probably not make it. It would be very difficult for someone on medication, for instance, if they couldn’t access any new batches and went into a powerful kind of withdrawal: especially from the anti-anxiety medication that our modern culture likes to espouse. Some might see it in some ways as a kind of liberation. I imagine you wouldn’t stand on too much ceremony in a place without what is considered modern civilization anymore. With a character like Malcolm Ecker, I see a very intelligent but inexperienced person who in a rebuilding period and even for entertainment purposes would be crucial for spiritual and psychological survival. But the problem is that his group is not in that period. They are in the hiding and hoarding period where people need to hone their practical skills: skills he is bad it. It also doesn’t help that the leader of his group is abusive to him and the others do in some ways see him as dead weight.

Being rejected and humiliated by a group would be even more devastating in a zombie apocalypse because–honestly–where can you go? You can fight back, it’s true and claim your place, and potentially cause strife. But when you are a person who is mostly shut-in and quiet and you have only written papers and gamed–when you are cripplingly shy–that is a lot against you right there. The cold hard fact of the matter is that the group in a survivalist situation will leave whatever dead weight is behind them and Malcolm is intelligent enough to realize that: to know that right now and in a future where the future is immediate survival he is just dragging people down: if only with his low self-esteem being exacerbated by all the horror and stress around him.

With actual encouragement and more time, who knows what could have happened to him. But that is not how the world always works: even now during our non-apocalyptic time. Yet in the end he does make an affirmative choice. He considers the group’s well-being over his own. I won’t say he’s altruistic, because he’s not and he is being motivated by emotion, but the group does play a part in his decision.

The setting for this story was a little difficult too to create, but I decided to make my creatures similar to the ones in Max Brooks’ world and a great cemetery park was a perfect place for survivors to camp in: with few freshly dead around and those that were, buried deep underneath the earth. I also made it clear how that would change too as more survivors got infected or were tracked by the creatures there.

The motivation for this entire story was that in most zombie stories I’ve seen, we see strong individuals or people who overcome adversity, or keep hiding, or have a last few moments of glory. We also see ridiculous teenagers and people doing dumb things and are mostly one-dimensional stereotypes. I wanted to write a character who was inept in this environment, had some humiliating disabilities, and was afraid but not stupid. I wanted to show an actual person and how an actual person would deal with all of this: how he or she might just tag along with the group to survive but get in the way and deal with the psychological consequences of “not fitting in.” I wanted to show that the “Other” is not just the zombie, but how the zombie’s mere existence or presence is symbolic of how one person in a time of stress can be their own worst enemy.

I wanted to write a story about a realistic person in a zombie apocalypse and what they might do. It does look grim at the end but, who knows: maybe Malcolm Ecker’s story isn’t done yet. That is entirely up to me.

Death by Zombie

It was almost too late this time. Malcolm Ecker’s bowels rumbled painfully, yet he managed to get his pants off before soiling himself. Again. He squatted down, feeling ridiculous in the middle of the snow with his pants down and a deep earthy stench–his own–filled his nostrils as it dispersed into the frosted air.

Malcolm was glad that no one was there to see him, though they’d seen him do much worse. Something snapped in the distant trees: perhaps a broken twig or an animal on a branch. His bowels clenched again and he winced at the movement: distantly wondering if it was the result of his body or fear and not really caring so long as it passed and he could move on. He already felt cold enough out here and the memory of bloated, distended shapes coming through the windows of his old flat came at him …

He bit back a grunt of considerable discomfort, but eventually he felt his bowels–even as irritated by stress as they were–uncoil like a snake. After he cleaned himself, he pushed as much snow on the refuse he created as he could. His ears strained for groans in the distance, but he heard nothing. That didn’t mean anything, however. Some of the things out there didn’t have what one would consider proper mouths anymore or vocal cords.

Malcolm piled as much snow as he could: his hands shaking and clumsy. He knew by now that Rob–the leader of the people who’d found him at his apartment two weeks ago–would have been hissing at him: telling him how incompetent he was. Malcolm had never camped before and if he didn’t know that his wilderness survival skills were lacking, Rob and most of the others took enough time to make that fact very clear to him.

It was just as well too. Malcolm knew that he’d left enough tracks for the others to follow him. But it was night and they wouldn’t waste the energy–flashlight battery or otherwise–to track him yet even when they found the gun missing. Malcolm’s only other consolation, as he pulled up his pants–scrubbed a few times by snow and ice this week or so–was that he was far enough that if something happened to him before he … did what he had to do, he would not get traced back to the camp.

So Malcolm put his heavy mitts back on and narrowly avoided colliding his foot into another partially submerged headstone. A part of him still felt bad about defecating in the large cemetery park they found as their refuge. But then he remembered Sara and her observations about the things: that they had reanimated only after recent death. Therefore during this time, a graveyard was one of the safer places to be. The truly dead would not mind someone of the living needing to relieve their biological need, he figured, and those that weren’t would settle it with him one way or another.

Malcolm thought of them then, though he didn’t really want to, as he came to a stop near a tree. His hands gripped tightly around the Kali sticks he brought with him. His damned Kali sticks. He’d just started training at that dojo before the insanity broke out all over the world. His therapist told him to take up a martial art to deal with his irritable bowel which, up until now, kept him at home or near a toilet for a good portion of his adult life. Some people might have thought that pretty funny, but Malcolm was not one of them. It wasn’t funny to be in discomfort and not be able to deal with the slightest anxiety without a bathroom nearby. It really wasn’t funny when other people thought it so funny that he wanted to avoid them and stay home as much as possible.

That was until his martial arts classes and the clacking of the wooden Kali sticks against each other changed the burning anxiety in his stomach into something calmer, cleaner, and slightly more focused.

Malcolm now stared out at the distant trees and wondered just how memories of his humiliations managed to comfort him against the images of the swollen dead breaking into his apartment. There had been just two of them. It was like they had died from some kind of allergic reaction to distend and swell their body parts so much: which he supposed, in retrospect, they did. He’d just been working on his PhD at the time: a dissertation on role-playing games as a relatively new sub-genre of oral storytelling tradition. The advantage to that was that he’d barely had to leave his apartment as he was funded and submitted most of his work to his Professor online.

Perhaps the other advantage was that he’d had a brief shelter against the creatures as they started to come back to life. He’d known something was wrong. There’d been Internet reports all over the place. He even kept his door locked and barricaded with furniture. Malcolm remembered sitting in that small room with his sticks even as he ran out of food. The plumbing was still working then and he still hadn’t even taken a shower. He’d been too on edge and rightfully paranoid.

When the two creatures found him, he’d barely been upright from lack of food and sleep. Even at the best of times, he lacked upper body strength. The first Kali strike only burst a blood vessel in the creature’s cheek. The second stick attack was a clumsy switch that got grabbed by the other creature. He’d hit the other creature’s face to the side again: but not nearly enough to do that damage that was necessary.

Malcolm’s last thoughts at the time were that there was big difference between fighting these things with dice and trying to feebly hit them with–for all intents and purposes–blunt instruments. Colin, who was an actual martial fighter in the group, told him about this and actually got angry at him when they encountered a group of the things that had moved into the cemetery park. He’d berated him about getting himself killed. Malcolm felt really bad then as Colin and Jen had saved his life from those creatures and since then, Colin had tried to train him to fight as much as possible.

During the two weeks they’d been together, he’d managed to nearly stab himself with the knife and machete that Colin gave him to train with. That was not counting the time he nearly tripped over himself to let Sara and Jen get away from one of the creatures that attacked them here with disturbing frequency. The creature … nearly bit him, just like they did back in his old apartment before Colin and the others made short work of them. The sound of bullets were nothing like the television shows he used to watch. They were loud and piercing and the very sound of them cracked through his very being.

They’d shot the creatures the night they found him too–close-range–and Malcolm could still hear the shots like thunder in his eardrums. He wondered somehow if he’d been made deaf by some of that. Certainly Rob seemed to think so. He always asked Malcolm if he had a hearing problem in addition to incontinence. Rob had led them to the cemetery after raiding Malcolm’s apartment for what little resources there were: which–as Rob said a few times–had been one of Malcolm’s few redeeming features and not much else.

The memories were all jumbling together now, yet it seemed appropriate to Malcolm as he put his Kali sticks down–almost reverently–into the snow: ashamed that someone more worthy hadn’t taken them instead. He reached a hand into his coat pocket. It didn’t take an idiot to figure out that Malcolm wasn’t particularly wanted and that the only reason he was there was out of common human decency: a decency that had a certain patience expiry date. He had already almost gotten them killed a few times trying to raid some nearby variety stores and bungling: making too much noise, or not hitting a creature hard enough with a machete. He didn’t like to think about that blade embedded in that creature’s chest, lost forever as swarms of them began to mass and they had to run.

Malcolm also really didn’t want to think about the incident with the gun … the same gun he held in his hand right now, how he missed the creature with it, how it went past it and .. into Jen’s shoulder instead. After they’d run, after Rob began to beat him, after they hauled him away, Colin had said it was an accident and that he just needed more time to learn. Malcolm didn’t even blame Rob for getting that angry and almost wished Jen hadn’t interceded. He’d never been good at First-Person Shooters, but this had been different and he could have …

Sara kept telling Malcolm–in a cold, detached manner–that if and when civilization needed to be rebuilt, his own skills would come in handy. It was a cold comfort. It was hard to even maintain a tent near a crypt and get food never mind write or record anything. And Malcolm spent a good few years writing about table-top RPGs that he’d barely even played. None of the group were interested in his theories–and he couldn’t tell stories without stuttering and the zombie story he made earned him a punch to the shoulder from Rob.

And the creatures were massing. Some other survivors must have had the same idea they did and carried the infection to the cemetery. After what happened with Jen, few of the party were even talking to him now. Malcolm was smart enough to realize he’d become dead weight.

Malcolm turned the safety of the gun off. Although Colin had failed to teach him how to use a blade or a gun properly, he remembered this much: that and loading it. He looked down at the barrel. There was one bullet in there. The way Malcolm figured it, they would have had to use it on him eventually. There was no way he’d be able to avoid being bitten or scratched forever and he was too much of a coward to let the creatures devour him unarmed and alone. So he felt a little bit better about taking the gun and wasting one bullet. Besides, even if that didn’t happen and he didn’t accidentally kill one of the team, he knew he would easily get sick and use Sara’s medical supplies up, and Rob probably didn’t consider him worth the penicillin.

He was doing them all a favour, he told himself. But in reality, he was doing the favour for himself.

They’d find him here. The creatures didn’t eat the dead and even if another human group found him, the gun would benefit them instead. Anyone would certainly use it better than he had. His only regret, as he put the barrel into his mouth–where even he could not miss this shot–was that Jen would be sad. Although the others hadn’t really hated him, except for her boyfriend Rob, they’d not nearly been as nice or compassionate to him as she had.

Malcolm felt his bowels begin to tighten again. And although he knew that once he did this, he would definitely soil himself, for the first time in his whole life he was okay with that. A smile came onto his face as he pulled the trigger of the gun.