Apocalyptic Creativity

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As readers and writers of post-apocalyptic fiction, we’re all preparing for the inevitable. For some, this means, “I should probably consider buying some bottled water and maybe a flamethrower.” For others, it’s more like, “I have an underground bunker in the woods behind my house crammed full of toilet paper and fifty-pound bags of rice, and I don’t even like rice.”

We all know what we should stockpile. The obvious supplies include food, water, weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, tools, things to make fire (nobody wants to be chilly during the apocalypse, and raw snake tastes terrible), fuel, and coffee—because if the apocalypse starts before ten a.m., I’m going to be at a serious disadvantage.

Everybody knows about that stuff. Which means when some moron decides to hide the fact they’ve been bitten, turns, and eats everyone in their hideout, there’s bound to be a good bit of those obvious survival supplies there for the taking. So I think we should consider the less obvious, but very useful, items we should have on hand to make our zombie apocalypse experience more “hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be” and a lot less “oh, shit, I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be able to see my own intestines.”

To compile this list, I did extensive scientific research, by which I mean I posted about it on Facebook. In no particular order…

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Underpants: This is a no-brainer. Nobody likes dirty underwear, and once you turn your only pair inside out, unless an unexpected lull in the fleeing and head-chopping allows you free time to do laundry, you have a problem. And considering the number of times you’re going to walk around a corner and end up screaming, “Aaaahhhh, zombie herd, and I left my flamethrower in my other purse!” you can assume there will be a lot of soiled undies. You’re going to need plenty of spares.

Icy Hot: What with all the machete-swinging, running away, and climbing ladders because zombies don’t understand how ladders work, you can bet there will be a lot of sore muscles. It’s also possible the unspeakable Icy Hot stench will mask your Juicy Human smell. But if it turns out Icy Hot is like barbecue sauce or bacon gravy to zombies, you’re totally screwed. Further research might be required, though I suspect test subjects will be hard to find.

Note: Under no circumstances should the Icy Hot be used in any proximity to the underpants (see above) unless the whiner in your group really needs to be taught a lesson. It’s also an acceptable consequence for the guy who asks everyone you encounter, “You been bit?” because the zombie apocalypse is no excuse for sloppy grammar.

A Golf Umbrella: Sure, they’re big and bulky, and when a major downpour occurs they’re always in the back seat of the car you didn’t drive that day, but they could be very Umbrella_zombiehandy. Not only would a golf umbrella keep the rain off, it provides shade if your apocalyptic adventure is happening where it’s hot and lacking in leafy trees. You can use the pointy end to stab a zombie in the eye-hole (Pro-tip: Close umbrella first), and should the guy next to you suddenly erupt in a fountain of blood and chunks of innards, you can use the umbrella to shield yourself from the gore as you run away. Hey, he was pretty much dead already; you couldn’t have saved him. The zombie apocalypse is no time for sentimentality.

A Small, Light-Powered Calculator: Life in the apocalypse is essenially one giant story problem, and who has time to sit down and scratch out math problems in the dirt with a stick? Maybe some of you can do math in your head, but I find numbers way too slippery, and possibly evil. When we encounter a swarm, I want to be able to quickly calculate how many zombies each member of my group needs to kill. Why? Because if someone isn’t doing their fair share of zombie extermination, I need to know who to trip the next time we’re forced to make a run for it. It’s called “survival,” people. Don’t judge. Also, it’s important to know how to equally divide seven cans of creamed corn among eleven people, because you know someone’s going to cheat.

Several Whoopee Cushions and/or Cans of Spring-Loaded Snakes: It has been pointed out to me that the zombie apocalypse can be a bit grim and depressing, and everyone could benefit from some laughter. Except me. I hate practical jokes, and I’ll stab you in the neck with a rusty spork, which would make me laugh, but you probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

Disclaimer: They say laughter is the best medicine, but I don’t think that works with zombie bites, so you should probably cut off your hand if you’re bitten, just to be safe. Or, you know, whatever body part is affected. Unless it’s your head. That seems counterproductive.

A Bouncy Castle: This is tangentially related to the items above. No, you can’t be expected to pack a bouncy castle, let alone inflate it, but ever since the second episode of Fear the Walking Dead in which the featured family was peeking through the blinds at the neighbor’s kids playing in a bouncy castle while someone with a distinctly zombie-like appearance approached, I’ve wanted to see a bouncy castle full of kid-sized zombies. I mean, how awesome would that be?

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Bonus points if it’s a zombie themed bouncy castle!

I was woefully disappointed, so if you do encounter a bouncy castle, fill it with tiny-human zombies if it doesn’t already contain some, because that is an opportunity that must not be missed. And if you have a cell phone with any battery left, take a damned picture, because when someone re-invents the internet—possibly Al Gore’s grandson—I absolutely need to see that shit.

Car Air Fresheners (But not the pine tree kind. I hate those.): Despite the abundance of clean undies, assuming you took my advice, bathing is going to be a relatively infrequent thing. Everybody knows from years of research (watching campy horror movies), the instant you take off your clothes, whether to bathe or have slutty teenage sex, that’s when the bad stuff happens, so most people won’t often take that risk. You need these air fresheners—I suggest something like “ocean breeze,” personally—to mask the funky aroma of your travel-mates as you continue your endless search for a safe place to hide out.

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What would zombie air freshener smell like? Do we really want to know?

Yellow Pages (assuming you can find any, because everybody just Googles stuff now): An alert aficionado made this suggestion, and it has a lot of merit, as long as you’re not in a major metropolitan area where phone books are six inches thick and weigh forty-three pounds.

First, you can strap them to your forearms as makeshift armor. Studies show the majority of zombie bites occur on the hands and forearms. I might have made up these studies, but I stand by their validity. Also, if you failed to find someone who got eaten before they used up all their stockpiled toilet paper, pages from the phone book could be a substitute. Perhaps best of all, you’ll have a handy guide to the location of all the liquor stores sporting goods stores.

There are several intriguing variations, as well. If you enjoy, for example, crossword puzzle books, you have a source of entertainment on those rare zombie-free evenings. For younger survivors, consider coloring books (don’t forget the crayons!) or connect-the-dots books, but be sure you get small-sized ones or they’ll be too big to strap to their kid-sized arms. I hear some of you shouting, “Sudoku!” but I’m ignoring you. From what I understand, those puzzles involve numbers, and I’ve already told you how I feel about math.

This list is just the beginning. Be creative! Look around you and imagine how ordinary items, things you’d never think would be essential to your post-apocalyptic survival—possibly with amusing side effects. What would you include in your Z-Day supply stash? I’m going to go look in my junk drawer and that weird box in the hall closet and see what other useful things I can find.

PS: As you see in the header, I wrote a couple of zombie books. If you’re interested, you can find them HERE.

Honor…and Hope

WARNING. Contains spoilers of The Walking Dead season 8 mid-season premiere. If you haven’t seen the episode, steer clear.

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Unless you’re seasons behind in watching and have also miraculously not seen any mention on social media of the season 8 mid-season finale a couple of months ago, you knew this was coming. There were those who held onto the thin thread of hope that it was all another elaborate plot by TWD producers to mislead viewers, but I never believed it.

I knew Carl was going to die.

I wasn’t really upset about his impending death. Carl was never one of my favorite characters, and I’ve hated that damned sheriff’s hat since about season 3. I figured it would be sad, sure, but didn’t expect to get too worked up about it.

And then I spent half the episode ugly-crying. Where did that come from?

While Carl was never my favorite character, I do understand and respect his place in the TWD universe. We now have only three of the Atlanta originals left–Rick, Carol, and Daryl. He was Rick’s prime motivation to fight, survive, and try to build something in the post-apocalyptic world. He was the vulnerable little boy everyone watched grow into a competent young man. The death of the kid they thought would make it, who matured into a true survivor, is going to rock everyone’s foundations.

My apathy toward Carl is in contrast to how I feel about Chandler Riggs. He’s a well-spoken, intelligent, charming, talented, humble guy, and I’m going to miss him. I’m sure he has great things ahead of him, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. And thank goodness, he finally got a big-boy haircut.

A few random thoughts about the episode…

Everyone on my live chat sort of fell apart in the first five minutes when Carl was having his “last normal moments” in Alexandria. He was writing goodbye notes, making blue hand prints on the porch of their house and taking Instamatic selfies with little Judith, and turning his face to the sun and smiling, knowing he’d never feel the sunlight again.

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It was kind of brutally beautiful.

Down in the tunnels, where Carl guided everyone to hide out from Negan’s goons, there were final interactions with those close to him, and we learned Siddiq was a doctor, or at least a resident, meaning Carl brought someone of immense value to the group, at the cost of his own life. Daryl indicates all the people gathered there, and reminds Carl they’re all there, safe and alive, because of him, then goes to take Judith to safety.

But that bleeping hat. I hate that hat. I’d hoped for a ceremonial hat-burning, but my hopes went unfulfilled. He gave the stupid thing to Judith. Please, please, don’t let me have to watch six seasons of little blonde Judith bopping around and dodging walkers while wearing that ridiculous hat.

Each time the episode cut back to a Carl scene, he looked worse. The makeup was amazing, and I was shocked to see him look so…diseased.

Some viewers are angry that his ultimate demise took place off screen, but I think it was appropriate. I really didn’t want to see his skull explode, a la Beth at Grady Memorial. He chose his exit, and I’m fine with it. The whole thing was devastating enough for Rick and Michonne, who had to go back in and remove his body for burial. They didn’t need to witness it.

Also, Michonne was a better apocalypse-mom than Lori ever was.

The message Carl was determined to pass on to Rick before he died was the one thing everyone needs most at this time in their apocalyptic journey. Hope. Hope that they can still build something meaningful in this new reality without completely losing themselves to the darkness. No, it’s not realistic for Rick–or anyone–to go back to his season 1 mantra, “We don’t kill the living,” but Carl wants to remind him it’s okay to show mercy sometimes. To fight for your people, but retain some humanity.

Even though at times in earlier seasons it appeared Carl was “going to the dark side,” at the end, he expressed the guilt and remorse he felt, even now, for shooting that kid who was surrendering to him and Hershel in the woods outside the prison.

So, reluctantly, we bid farewell to Carl Grimes. But another development has me wondering if perhaps there’s a new little-boy badass in the making…Henry.

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Fun note, though most dedicated fans already know…Henry is played by Macsen Lintz, the little brother of Madison Lintz, who portrayed Sophia in seasons 1 and 2.

What do you think? Did you react to Carl’s death the way you expected? How is this void in their lives going to affect your favorite characters?

All I know is…I can’t wait until next week. I hope we’ll find out what’s going on with Enid and the Oceanside gang after she accidentally shot Grandma in the mid-season finale.

Grammar Apocalypse

I have a couple of zombie-related posts planned for this week, in honor of the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead. I’ll discuss my thoughts on the episode tomorrow, I think, since it doesn’t air in the UK until tonight, and it will be full of spoilers.

One small detail that irks the living crap out of me, though, is a common grammar error that’s pervasive in the genre. I can’t help it; I’m an editor. Words are literally my business.

Basic conjugation of “bite” is simple.zombie

Present tense = bite. Zombies bite tasty, slow-moving humans.

Past tense = bit. The zombie bit him on the ass when he tried to crawl under the fence.

Past participle = bitten. Jeb was bitten an hour ago, so it’s too late to cut off his arm to save him. The loud-mouthed idiot got bitten yesterday, and Frank happily shot him in the face. He’d been bitten by a zombie weasel, which was kind of funny. It had bitten him six times before Horace killed it with a lawn dart.

Apparently, past participles do not survive the zombie plague, because nobody uses them. “You been bit?” “I got bit.” “He was bit.” I understand The Walking Dead originated in the rural southeastern United States, and that phrasing is a casual dialect that is accepted in the area. I know it, but I still cringe. Because it’s wrong. Just…wrong.

The rapidly-declining use of proper grammar in our society might be a sign of an impending apocalypse. People so commonly say “he got bit” that it’s accepted, and most people don’t even realize it’s incorrect.

Because of this, even though it goes against every nit-picky bone in my editorial brain, I have to leave it that way in dialogue when I’m editing. That (sadly) is how people talk, so I have to swallow the bitter bile of poor grammar and move on. I still insist on “he was bitten” in narrative, though.

While I have to pick my battles, I refuse to completely surrender.