Posts Tagged ‘zombies’

Friday has rolled around again, so it’s time for a little flash fiction to celebrate the weekend!  This week I am going to begin a small experiment.  Recently I’ve read about a resurgence in popularity of serialized fiction, and how eBooks are making that increasingly possible.  As a kid, I loved serials, especially that old television show Cliffhangers from the late 1970’s (which featured, incidentally, Dracula in one of the stories, and aliens in the other).  With the ever-increasing demands on our time and attention, it can be difficult to carve out a half hour or more to settle in with a lengthy short story or novel (although eReaders are vastly increasing the portability and accessibility of stories for readers). 

 Serialized fiction such as that featured in pulp magazines, dime novels, and the penny dreadfuls was once extremely popular.  The concept of serials is enticing; it allows for stories to be told in manageable portions while retaining continuity, sets the stage for cliffhangers, and perhaps most importantly, leaves the reader wanting more, leaves them hungering to find out what happens next.  Forcing that delay of gratification  leads to an eager anticipation of the next episode.  In that spirit, I would like to share my first serialized short story, The 50 Minute Hour.  Please let me know your thoughts as readers and writers about serialized fiction, and in the meantime, enjoy!

Part One: The Hollow Men

Greg Farrier swung from his heels; the Ping graphite and steel driver he was gripping connected solidly with the side of the thing’s head.  It exploded in a macabre confetti of brackish blood, brain matter, decaying skin, and thin fragments of skull.  The thing collapsed at his feet.  He had only seconds to survey his handiwork before another one shambled around the corner of the Walgreens they’d taken refuge in the day before.  Greg allowed it to approach, listening to it hiss and moan as it stumbled forward, and dispatched it with a single swing of the golf club. 

Until now, the closest to golf he’d ever come was playing putt-putt with his twin sons.  All that had changed two weeks ago.  Greg was still trying to figure out how to manage the mess his world had become.  He was a therapist, a clinical psychologist, not a killer and certainly not a gun-toting survivalist.  His sons had been students at Franklin College, one with a dual major in journalism and theater, the other in political science. 

Purgatory, he thought, this is a trip through purgatory, and we’ve all been invited along for the ride.  He wondered if his ex-wife was still alive.  Things could only be more hellish if she was, he decided, and swung the club at a corpse that had clawed its way across the parking lot, missing its legs, intestines trailing behind it in filthy grey streamers. 

“Dad!  Up here!” his son Aiden called.  Greg looked up to see Aiden and his brother Andrew on the roof of the Shell service station across the street.  The walking dead milled about below them, circling the fuel pumps ceaselessly.  Andrew carried a Mossberg pump-action shotgun.  Andy held a muddy aluminum softball bat in his left hand and a scoped rifle in his right.  Both wore identical expressions of exhaustion and concern.  The time for fear had passed; now Greg and his sons were concerned only with the most pragmatic aspects of survival.  They had left the drug store in search of a more defensible location, but had not gotten far before the undead had converged on the gas station across the street, forcing them to take shelter on the roof.  As far as Greg could tell, the dead had only gross motor skills and basic locomotion.  They staggered around with an insatiable determination, but it appeared that more complex physical tasks such as climbing ladders or trees was beyond their ability. 

“There’s a ladder around back.  Follow the alley.  We’ll cover you Dad,” Andrew shouted.  Greg watched Aiden cross the roof and reconnoiter the area behind the store.

“Clear,” Aiden shouted.  Greg didn’t hesitate.  He sprinted across the parking lot toward the gas station on a diagonal, dodging a pair of dead women sitting in the middle of Jefferson Street who were consuming, with a ferocious intensity, the remains of an older man in a Vietnam-era army jacket, hair tied back in a graying ponytail with a piece of leather.  Greg tried not to look too closely; he knew the man.  He knew most of the dead who now walked the town, and he knew many of the corpses who littered the streets, bones stripped clean of flesh, unable to rise, unable to walk, unable to join the army of the living dead that now populated the city. 

Attracted to his movement, a large group of dead detached themselves from the mass stalking the fuel area and stumbled toward him.  Greg ran harder, heart pounding in his chest.  His backpack shifted awkwardly on his shoulders with every stride, throwing him off balance, slowing him down.  He considered ditching it, but it held a bounty of supplies from the drug store, and he was reluctant to give it up so easily.  Rounding the corner, he lunged down the alley and spotted a pair of dumpsters and a ladder extending halfway to the ground from the roof of the store.  Greg was so focused on the ladder that he only half heard the crack of a rifle, but he sensed something thud to the ground several feet behind him.  Another shot rang out as he watched Andrew lean over the roof with one hand extended.

“Throw me your pack,” he shouted.  Greg didn’t hesitate.  He slipped the backpack from his shoulders and heaved it up toward his son with all his strength, feeling something give in his right upper shoulder and lower back in the process.  That can’t be good.  Something brushed the back of his head and tangled in his hair as he scrambled on top of one of the dumpsters.  He balanced on the rim like a tightrope walker, putting as little weight as possible on the plastic cover.  A snarl emanated from inside the dumpster.  Greg Farrier lunged for the ladder and closed his fingers around it in a sweaty but death tight grip.  He felt a tug on his boot.  Dead fingers sought purchase around his ankle.  The reek of decay from something unspeakable filled his lungs and he choked back bile as shook free of the thing’s grasp and frantically pulled himself up the ladder. 

“Dammit,” he heard Andrew shout.  “Ade, shoot that fucker!”  Greg heaved himself over the edge of the roof and stared up at the cloudless blue sky, feeling the warm sunshine on his face as his son put a bullet through the head of what had once been a person, but was now nothing more than a reanimated hollow shell.

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Or more properly, do the undead dream?  What horrors lurk in the quiescent minds of the walking dead, or of the writers who breathe life into those decaying corpses shambling about, stinking of the grave and hungering for the taste of human flesh? 

Just in time for the holidays, Dark Moon Books has released Frightmares: A Fistful of Flash Fiction Horror, an anthology of “delightfully squeamish short fiction” which offers a glimpse into a nightmare world of the undead and other denizens of the dark. 

I am especially excited about the release of Frightmares, as it includes Dead Reckoning, my first published flash fiction piece.  Now I can cross that off my bucket list.  Or maybe it should have been on my undead bucket list?

I’ve nearly finished reading my copy of Frightmares, and if you are hungry for a grim and glorious collection of bite-sized and easily digestible (mmmmm, braaaaiiinnnssss) tales of the macabre and horrific, this is the book for you.  It weighs in at a hefty 258 pages – all of which makes you shudder – then eagerly turn to the next one.

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a professed horror junkie, an avid and enthusiastic writer of horror who is unable to write anything that doesn’t feature some denizen of the darkness hungering for human flesh, and yet after midnight when the lights are off and the house is dark, I watch documentaries.  That’s because my imagination likes to run rampant when given just enough fodder.  I watched Paranormal Activity on Halloween and I am still vaguely spooked by it.  I hope that none of my cats get up in the night and stare at me for hours – oh wait, they do.  And that incessant scratching sound at the door?

This week, however, I’ve been substituting some of my favorite B horror movies for the documentaries, and I’ve been having a blast.  It’s been a little like hanging out with old friends.  Although there are many more modern movies, I keep gravitating like a junkie back to my favorites from the 60’s through the 80’s.  Some of these are pure cheese cinema, but there’s a lot that can be learned, even from the schlocky ones, about how to establish mood and ambience, how to create and maintain suspense, how to develop characters, and how to visualize and describe fast action.  Even though it is predominantly a visual medium, movies help stimulate my thinking about how to tell better stories – or in other instances – what to avoid.

Some of my favorites, which have graced my computer screen over the last week as part of my B Horror Extravaganza, include:

Carnival of Souls (1962). This gem, in lurid black and white, was written and directed by Herk Harvey of Lawrence, Kansas.  He spent his career making educational and industrial films, and Carnival of Souls was a significant divergence for him, but it is an exceptional movie.  Although the pacing can be slow at times, the movie is moody, atmospheric, and disquieting.  The sequences shot in the abandoned Saltair Pavillion are spooky, well-done, and surreal. 

Burnt Offerings (1976).  The first time I watched Burnt Offerings as a kid, I avoided the public swimming pool for most of the summer.  This is an outstanding haunted house story, in which the house itself draws its vitality from the unsuspecting occupants.  I’ve always loved the vampiric aspect of this story.  The family station wagon, attire, and hair styles are a time capsule for any of us wishing to revisit the 70’s.  Bette Davis does an outstanding job portraying Aunt Elizabeth, and the end, although anticipated, is surprisingly dark.

The Last Man on Earth (1964).  This is the first horror movie that I remember absolutely terrifying me; I probably watched it first  on our tiny black and white television on the Friday Night Frights when I was seven or eight years old, but it still creeps me out today.  Vincent Price did an excellent job as Robert Morgan, and although I never could discern if he was battling vampires, zombies, or some plague-derived hybrid of the two, it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is the almost stifling sense of isolation and monotony Morgan struggles with on a daily basis, fighting to keep the hordes at bay, to replenish supplies, and to conduct his reasearch.  This movie is the most faithful adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, although the Omega Man with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend with Will Smith are enjoyable movies in their own right.  The ending is dark and poignant.  What I learned as a second grader after watching this movie: burn ’em, or they’ll knock on your door as a vampire a few hours later.  This might be why I write horror.

Race with the Devil (1975).  As a kid, the first thing that struck me about this movie was how much I would love to have an RV and a dirt bike; the second thing that struck me was the importance of not inadvertently interrupting a Satanic sacrificial ritual in Texas.  The third thing that struck me was to avoid swimming pools at RV parks where Satanists hang out.  This is why I don’t swim, I think, between this and Burnt Offerings.

Hell House (1973). Oh, no, I was wrong, there is another reason why pools creep me out.  The basement pool and sauna sequences in Hell House still remain some of the spookiest I’ve encountered in books or film.  The movie, featuring Roddy McDowell, is engaging and suitably creepy, but the real treasure is the book the movie is based on, Richard Matheson’s Legend of Hell House.  A skeptical physicist and a team of psychics are isolated in Emerich Belasco’s mansion – the Mount Everest of haunted houses – on a mission to establish the existence of “survival” after death.  Rich with suspense, with some horrific moments, this is a romp of a ghost story.

The Exorcist (1973).  Proving once again that inviting Captain Howdy over to play Ouija board with a pre-adolescent girl is not a stellar idea, the Exorcist offers a great storyline, quite a bit of pea-soup flavored heresy, and enough contortions to horrify a chiropractor.  I would love to believe the story circulating in my family that a relative fainted while watching this movie at a theater in Times Square when it was originally released.  Although the sequel, Exorcist II, is forgettable with a hokum bio-rhythm hypnosis machine and a meandering plot, all of William Petter Blatty’s books, including Legion, are excellent, creepy reads.

Phantasm (1979).  Perhaps one of my favorites, Phantasm is genuinely imaginative and unnerving – there’s just something about the Tall Man that shrieks malevolence.  Replete with cemeteries and mausoleums teeming with the shrunken, reanimated dead, and deadly silver orbs (never mind that the alien aspect is never really satisfactorily explained or resolved, just go with it), Phantasm is a relentless, clever, and effective horror movie. 

Tonight I’ll be watching Poltergeist, and perhaps Paranormal Activity II – with the lights on.

What are some of your favorite scary movies, old or new?  What films give you a genuine case of the shivers?  I’d love to hear from you and add to this cabinet of horror!

She heard a crash and spun around in the dark room, barely able to see in the feeble light filtering in through the boarded up window.  The building had been compromised.  She saw the undead, Dick Clark and Richard Simmons.

The Oxford comma will always remain dear to me.  I am supposed to write in AP style at work, but I choose to practice literary passive resistance and sneak the Oxford comma into grants, reports, and guidance documents.  When I don’t use the Oxford comma, my writing feels naked, vulnerable, and incomplete.  When the Oxford comma is not used, it does open the door to some amusing ambiguities.  Here’s some of my favorite examples:

We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.  We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.  I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

The specter of the run-on sentence also rears its head without the Oxford comma:

The restaurant offered egg salad, ham and cheese and roast beef.

Earlier this year the Oxford comma garnered quite a bit of attention when the University of Oxford announced that the Oxford comma (or serial comma) would no longer be used as the preferred style for their press releases.  Big sigh of relief.  That means the Oxford comma will remain part of their style guide, but it is still troubling to me that it has become a grammatical second-class citizen for Oxford’s internal Public Relations department.  Maybe I am over-thinking it, but doesn’t every step down that sort of path lead to, well, decadence?  I wonder what Jacques Barzun would have to say on the issue.  Surely there must be some connection between the decline of Western civilization and comma usage. 

Although I understand that it is a discretionary writing practice, and predicated to some extent on what style you’ve been taught, I feel a kinship to the Oxford comma.  In Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend, he advances the idea that when everyone else becomes zombie-like creatures, it is us – the lone holdouts and survivors fighting for our old ways – that are the monsters in the eyes of the majority.  It’s an interesting idea.  I kind of like the idea that someday I will be creeping about in the dark like Bela Lugosi, cape obscuring my face, spraypainting grafitti using the Oxford comma to the horror of the townsfolk. 

How about you?  Any fans of the Oxford comma, or of not using it?  The issue seems to be a bit polarizing! For those of you not comma-obsessed like me, any other writing conventions you can’t live without?

Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a kid.  It is the one day of the year that is fraught with a spooky kind of transformative magic.  It’s the day when we’re allowed to tug on costumes and become someone, or something, else.  It’s a time for capering about in the darkness, a time for tricks and treats, a time for hayrack rides, apple cider, and spooky tales around the bonfire, a time for monster movies and a waltz with ghosts and ghouls, a time when the line between what is – and what could be – becomes just a little thin. 

Halloween also marks the time of year when we are caught between seasons; not quite within the fell grasp of winter, but a night breeze runs its bony, chill fingers through our hair and pulls at our costumes as we walk the darkened streets.   

I’ve long believed, and Stephen King has often suggested in his stories (such as It), that the mundane and rote responsibilities of adulthood drive away the innate capacity to recognize magic we have as children.  Robert McCammon explored this idea as well in the opening of Boy’s Life.  Halloween is the one day of year that gives us the latitude to let our imaginations run amok, to revel in tales of things that lurk in the darkness and go bump in the night, to sample again – however briefly – the exotic flavor of magic under the orange glow of an autumn moon. 

I write because words possess their own kind of magic.  Words have their own special rhythm and resonance, and when combined in the right order and proportion by those of us who practice literary alchemy with a pen, or a typewriter, or by the glow of a monitor, they transform into a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.  When I was a kid, I loved Halloween.  I loved dressing up and becoming someone else, if only for a short while.  As a writer, I am gifted daily with the opportunity to create and explore other realities and other lives, and to share this magic and these worlds with others.  So enjoy some magic this Halloween night, be it at a costume party, a trip through a haunted house, a stroll past the cemetery gates, a scary movie flickering in the darkness, or a creepy tale read by the pale glow of a bedside light.  Whatever you do, savor the magic, and have a happy Halloween!

Some days the best I can say for myself as a writer is that I am consistent. 

At least stylistically and in terms of narrative voice, I am consistently me, regardless of if I am penning a bit of flash, a short story, or even plugging away at the ground war that on good days I like to refer to as a novel.  Part of what I love about my favorite authors are their unique voices; often immediately recognizable, comfortable, and familiar.  Take Stephen King, for example.  I suspect that he could write a technical manual for assembling a swingset, or for wiring a do-it-yourself death ray using common household objects for under $50, and I would know it was him.  I want to continue honing and refining my own narrative voice, but I am pleased to have developed some degree of consistency in that area over the years. 

On the other hand, sometimes I am frustrated by how my writing always wants to gravitate toward zombies.  It is as if the ravenous undead have some sort of bizarre tractor beam aimed at my temporal lobe, forcing me to helplessly spew out page after page of horror that tastes like braaiinssss.  I appreciate zombies for their metaphorical power, and also for their capacity to horrify.  What could be worse than an existence predicated on a continuous, base hunger for human flesh while you slowly decay into a puddle of putrefaction and tattered clothing, retaining nothing of your former self or of our collective humanity?  But I do sometimes wonder if it is also a bit of cognitive laziness on my part, a way of writing about what I already know (so to speak) and not stretching myself in terms of subject matter.  I have little doubt that I will remain firmly entrenched in the world of genre horror – it’s what I love and I certainly do not have a romance or sordid mystery in me – but I wonder what would happen if I tangoed with some new partners?

This November, as I take on National Novel Writing Month, I am going to challenge myself to engage in a little monstrous diversification.  That is, I will be giving up the oh-so-hungry, cannibalistic reanimates for Thanksgiving.  Part of me wants to take a crack at putting the ferocity and evil back into vampire literature, although I would be equally excited to toy with a few shapeshifters or spirits.  Vengeful, angry spirits.  It may even be fun to poke around and find out what unknown and unnamed horrors lurk in the recesses of my mind.  I’d guess that something is already hiding in a dark corner, scuttling away when I creep around in there with a flashlight and a clipboard.  Throughout October, I am going to be thinking a lot about monsters old and new, and this year, when I trot out a tale for NaNoWriMo, something other than a horde of ravenous zombies will be shambling around beside me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  What are your favorite traditional monsters?  How do you keep them fresh (in your writing, not in your refrigerator)?  What elements are you looking for in a truly terrifying denizen of the darkness?

So here I am, ensnared between two competing priorities and passions at opposite ends of the literary continuum.  As much as I love novel-length works of fiction, I have also been enamored with short stories since I was a kid.  In his introduction to Just After Sunset, Stephen King discusses the art of the short story and describes the process of writing short fiction as a “fragile craft,” a skill that can atrophy or be forgotten with disuse.  I think he’s on to something.  My short fiction, at times, has seemed to suffer from a bizarre version of a literary eating disorder: skeletally anorexic, or feasting upon itself in bloated splendor.  This has resulted in too many of my short stories blissfully blimping their way into novella territory, or worse (perhaps) being truncated to the point that the richness of the potential tale is lost. 

I started exploring flash fiction this year in an effort to fight the battle of the bulge and to improve and hone my writing skills.  It is a challenging and demanding medium to work within.  Flash fiction can be broadly defined, but often it is described as fiction of less than 1000 words, or stories within a range of 250-500 words.  In other instances, it borders on micro fiction: tales of 100 words or less, or is dictated by a wide range of more prescriptive guidelines (often for challenges, contests, or writing prompts) such as fiction of exactly 50 words.  Writing effective flash fiction can be daunting, but it also offers huge payoffs.  Writers really have to bring their A game when trying to weave an evocative tale with word count limitations while paying attention to such elements as story arc, plot, character development, and resolution.  It is a great cure for bloat.  I’ve found that writing flash fiction has tightened up and improved my writing considerably.  Writing flash is not without its frustrations, but when you pen a story that works, it works.

In the midst of my current obsession with writing flash fiction, I’ve also been working on a novel-length work preliminarily titled Scorch.  While Scorch is not, er, blazing along at warp speed, I am making reasonable progress.  It has been an interesting daily juxtaposition, working with one foot in the world of flash fiction and the other planted firmly in a novel length piece.

Complicating matters further – a bit of a plot twist, if you will – is National Novel Writing Month (sometimes referred to as NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo), which launches in November.  Essentially, the goal of nanowrimo is to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and 11:59 p.m. on November 30.  For me, that means cranking out words at roughly Mach 3.  During November, that explosion you hear in the distance is probably someone’s keyboard breaking the sound barrier.

This year I will again seek to complete National Novel Writing Month, most likely letting loose my zombie hordes to sate themselves on the flesh of the living.  But I’ll also keep pushing myself to crank out some flash.  November will be a heck of a ride!

What about you?  Eagerly anticipating NaNoWriMo?  Working on a large scale project or exploring a little flash fiction?  What formats are you currently working within, or enjoying reading?  I’d love to hear from you.  If you’d like to post a link to some of your own flash fiction, please feel free to include it in your comments – I always love a good tale!

I can recall two very distinct moments in my childhood that completely changed the course of my life – at least in terms of my reading preferences and my proclivities as a writer.

The first took place sometime in 1980, when I was about nine.  I’d always been a voracious reader, with a propensity for the creepier stories or the scifi tales in the children’s section of the library.  But truth be told, I have never been genre-monogamous and I read anything I could get my hands on if the first sentence was strong enough to capture my attention.  If I’d been asked on the first day of fourth grade, I would have said that my favorite author was Madeleine L’Engle.  If I’d been asked on the final day of fourth grade who my favorite author was, I would have replied Stephen King. 

At some point in 1980, I discovered my father’s stash of horror paperbacks stacked and wedged against the back wall of a clutter-filled closet in our house.  Books with names on them that included Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, and F. Paul Wilson.  I don’t remember why I was looking in the closet in the first place.  Certainly not because I was seeking reading material.  But I do remember picking the first book off the top of the stack.  The cover art terrified me and I refused to touch the image when I tentatively opened the book.  It was a dark face embossed on a black background.  Blood dripped from its lips.  The book was ‘Salem’s Lot.  The first sentence captured my attention; I wasn’t pulled into the story, I was jerked forward into it headfirst.  With a vague feeling that I was doing something illicit, I grabbed three of the books from the pile and hid them in my room.  I’d taken that book with the horrifying cover art, along with The Stand and The Shining.  My life was forever altered.  I snuck back to that closet many times until we moved, treating it like it was my personal library. 

Of the Stephen King books I devoured that year, my favorite was The Stand.  It was my first exposure to post-apocalyptic fiction.  The very idea that the world’s population could be decimated by a virus that didn’t seem too different from the common cold (at least at first), and that a battle of will and courage could play out in that barren landscape was chilling to me.  As a nine year old, that seemed entirely too real and too probable.  I was, after all, a child of the Cold War and no stranger to paranoia.  I fell in love with King’s use of words, his decriptive artistry, and his ability to develop his characters so quickly and effectively that they may as well have been my best friends.  When I delved into that literary treasure trove, I had no idea that every story I would write over the next thirty years (and hopefully many decades beyond) would be graced by the influence of Stephen King.

The second event that changed the course of my life as an aficionado of horror came two years later, while visiting a friend’s house.  I’ll never know if it was on cable or a video rental (in those halcyon days where Beta and VHS were still battling it out), but I glimpsed George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead on the television and that solidified my calling as a writer.  I collapsed in a heap in front of the TV, mesmerized.  This was another empty world, a post-apocalyptic world like the one I had first encountered in The Stand, but this one was populated by zombies.  Gruesome, shambling, hungry zombies.  I was hooked.  Zombies were now a permanent part of my world.

A few years later I started writing.  When I was nine and ten, I told stories.  When I was somewhere between the ages of thirteen or fourteen, I started trying to capture those stories on paper.  All of those stories were awkward, predictable, and hopelessly juvenile.  But most of those stories, and all my stories since, strove to be character-driven, evocative, and inclusive of an element of the  horrorific intruding upon the everyday world, or of zombies lurching their way into day-to-day living, of characters that the reader (hopefully) cares about and with whom they have established a sense of rapport. 

When I no longer walk this mortal coil, I may leave little else, but at least I will leave my words behind.  And I hope that my stories reflect my profound gratitude and deep appreciation for all that my literary and cinematic heroes have given me.

What movies, books, authors, or events shaped your life as a reader or as a writer?  I’d love to hear your stories!

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been toying with neuroticism.  Not my own, although I’ve got a pretty good stockpile of that.  I’ve been thinking about character development, and the role odd little quirks and psychological peccadillos can play in making a protagonist, or a villain, more intriguing.  This is a bit of a natural line of inquiry for me, as I was a psychologist who wanted to be a writer in my previous life; now I am a writer who was once a psychologist, although my love for the behavioral sciences hasn’t waned.

Most of my characters are average joes, leading average lives with the same fears, frustrations, and concerns that so many of us share, who are suddenly thrust into a situation outside their control or forced to make decisions that are nightmarish in nature or implication.  But what if one of them struggled with attention deficit disorder in a world dominated by zombies seeking to devour the flesh of the living?  What if a recently-turned vampyr struggled with depersonalization?  How would uncontrolled auditory hallucinations and psychosis affect one’s ability to survive in a post-apocalyptic world?

When Chuck Wendig (who’s blog, Terrible Minds, happens to be outstanding)  issued a three sentence flash fiction challenge, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to toy with the concept of introducing a psychological quirk and seeing where it would lead.  As with most of the paths I walk, it lead into a pretty dark place.  This flash fiction piece, Head Count, is the result.  Enjoy!

His undead neighbors shuffled ceaselessly below his third story apartment window and his compulsion to count and touch them had become almost unbearable; at first he’d thought the desire to count was a quirk – annoying, yet harmless – but now he knew better.

As he counted his remaining shotgun shells and adjusted each with meticulous care to ensure that they lined up across his cheap Formica kitchen table in ranks and files with perfect alignment and proximity, he wondered if 27 would be enough.

He loaded his shotgun, inverted the barrel, and stared into its black depths; as it turned out, one round would be sufficient. 

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I launched an inquisition earlier this year.

I’ve been on a bit of a witchhunt to suss out and destroy those insidious adverbs that have plagued my stories for many years.  I have not been able to stamp them all out, but I’ve plunged a stake through many of their wicked little hearts.  This seems to have improved the quality of my fiction; certainly it has challenged me to select stronger verbs, to choose words that are more compelling and deliver greater descriptive impact.  It forces me to write with greater intensity and precision.  It also helped me clean up my dialogue and reduce expository clutter.  My zombies will never again move quickly toward anyone; they will lurch, lunge, or stagger.  No longer will my characters do anything suspiciously, they will lurk or skulk. 

So long, suddenly, really, immediately.  Farewell, nearly, literally, eagerly, carefully.  Scram, defiantly, cleverly, awkwardly.  Be gone, hastily, violently, viciously, and utterly.

This is not to suggest that I have an all-or-nothing perspective on adverbs; I am still learning the craft of writing, and I am certain that a few will continue to sneak into my writing.  In other instances, they may have a very appropriate place.  For now, however, I choose to pound on mine as if I were trying to win the biggest prize on a Whack-A-Mole game.  Or perhaps I am just sublimating some sort of twisted, deep-seated aggression on them unconsciously.

Here’s the thing.  This morning, I read an intriguing post on a Reddit zombie lit discussion thread, exploring the possibility that fast zombies work most effectively cinematically, while slow zombies are better suited for writing.  I had never considered this before, and it sparked my interest.  All considerations of rigor mortis, decay, and basic physiology aside (which tends to render the concept of fast zombies a little more far-fetched for me), the question remains:

Is it more difficult to write about fast zombies?

All of my tales of the reanimated dead with a lust for human flesh have involved slow zombies.  While not a conscious decision, that struck me, especially given the capacity of fast zombies to enable jump scares and terrifying, breakneck sequences that leave viewers and readers gasping for air.  Why haven’t I written about fast zombies?

I’ve commited to giving a fast zombie fiction piece a try in the coming week.  As I jotted some ideas down throughout the day, I noticed an inclination on my part to want to default to phrases such as “immediately, quickly, viciously, rapidly, and ferociously.”  I’m not sure why the adverbs are wanting to crop up again, but I’m going to put every one I find down with a clean headshot.