Friday, August 22, 2008

Playing for Keeps

No, I'm not posting a new entry early, this is a totally off-topic post (sorry to dissapoint both of you). The reason for this post for anyone who happens to stumble upon it is to talk about another story.

Mur Lafferty is quite possibly the hardest working woman in podcasting, she is/has been connected to virtually every podcast I listen to on a regular basis, but not only is she a podcaster, she's an author. Last year she released the podcast novel "Playing For Keeps", a superhero tale about a woman who just wants to run her bar in peace. The novel was, and is, available in a serial podcast format as well as having been released in PDF format, and now it is being released as a trade paperback.

Now I know what you are wondering, "what's in it for VOID?", well immediate, but the possible rewards are long term. I do not know Ms. Lafferty, and she certainly has no clue who I am, but the reason I care is because she is doing something that I hope to do somewhere down the road (no, not work hard), she's making a run at the charts when her book comes out on Monday, August 25. The more authors that succeed at taking non-traditional avenues toward publishing, the easier and more likely it is that someone like me can do it in the future.

I listened to PFK back when it came out, and have been listening to all the tie-in stories that have been coming out as the release draw near, and it's a really good story. If you have not checked out "Playing For Keeps" yet, I suggest you do so this weekend, and then on Monday order yourself a copy at if you liked it.

While you are at it, you should check out some of the other free audio novels out there on the net. JC Hutchins' "7th Son" trilogy, Scott Sigler's "Nocturnal", and Chris Lester's "Making The Cut" are all great stories, and they are all free.

I would like to join the ranks of these podcasting gods someday, but the only way my shiftless self will stay motivated to do it is if I see people like them succeed, so do me a favour, and order your copy of "Playing For Keeps" on Monday, August 25th, thanks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Eleventh Entry: ...And Bad News, And Good News, And Bad News

July 21st

Okay, now that I’ve had "dinner", where was I?

So there I was on the roof, trying to figure out how Sharon was getting in and out (I was assuming the whole time that she was indeed coming and going from the hotel, which in hindsight was kind of stupid of me). Entry was eluding me.

I checked out the large pieces of machinery, thinking that if they were air conditioning that maybe I could get into the ventilation system (it works in the movies), or if they were for the elevators that I could maybe gain entry to the elevator shafts. I couldn’t find anything, or at least nothing that did not require me to have some tools.

I examined the skylights again, and saw that they did in fact open. There were large rusted hinges at the apex of the skylight’s slope. They did not look like they had been opened in years, and I could not see anything like a ladder for getting up and down from the skylight, but maybe Sharon just didn’t leave it set up when she was not using it.

After ten minutes of trying to pry open each skylight I considered another option; maybe she isn’t using the skylight as an entry point. I then considered just breaking the skylight, and jumping down, after all, it’s not like the zombies could get up here and get in that way themselves. Then I considered what I would do if I impaled parts of myself on broken glass, and needed to be rescued myself.

I finally decided that the roof was not the way in, and that there must be another entry point. This means climbing all the way back down the ladder, exposing myself to any zeds that might happen to look in my direction (assuming that they can even see that far), and searching around again for a way in.

Before descending the ladder, I looked down to make sure that there were no hungry ghouls waiting for me at the bottom. I saw nothing threatening down there, so I started my descent, cursing my stupidity the whole way.

As I was passing the second floor the window on my right got my attention. There was no screen on it, and it was just slightly ajar, only about a half an inch. How did I miss this? I guess I was just so determined that the roof was the way in that I wasn’t even looking for anything else.

I leaned sideways on the ladder, and hooked my fingers into the opening of the window. The window slid open quietly and easily, and I pulled myself through, sliding to the floor face first with a thud.

I found myself in a hotel room. It was a nice, but basic; queen size bed, bedside tables with lamps on them, an digital clock radio with a blank face, a phone, and armoire which presumably contains a TV and maybe a mini-fridge, a table, a couple of chairs, and a dresser. The carpet was a slightly lighter shade of beige than the building itself, and the bedspread was one of those nylon (polyester?) jobs that every hotel, no matter how nice it seems, has, this one had a wild flower pattern that looked sort of out of place in such a basic and dignified room.

I let myself out into the hotel’s hallway, which had a deep red industrial carpeting, and was quite dark with no windows to let light in. I tried to catch the door to the room I came out of as it closed, but wasn’t quick enough I was plunged into darkness, and I would need a keycard to get back into the light (do those even work without power? Are the solar panels on the roof enough to power the system?).

I pulled my handgun from its holster at my waist, and started moving slowly down the hallway. I would much rather have been using my rifle as a comfort, but I was keeping one hand on the wall as I walked.

The hallways seemed endless, my hands slid over wall, and over doorways. I tried each door I came to, hoping one would be unlocked so that I ccould get some light into the hall. At one point I ran into a table, knocking the vase of long dead flowers and a telephone to the floor. The noise the vase made as it broke was deafening in the silent darkness.

I moved across to the other side of the hallway from the table, and my hands came into contact with the cold metal of the elevator doors. For laughs, I found the buttons to summon the elevator and pressed them. Nothing happened of course.

The whole time I was creeping through the pitch black, I was wondering exactly what sort of an idiot I was to have forgotten to bring a flashlight. I should have grabbed one of the headlights out of the van before we split up. Oh well, live and learn, right?

In the darkness I heard a noise. I brought my Beretta up, and pointed it in the general direction of the noise. It sounded like a heavy door opening, and then closing. I could hear the hiss of one of those hydraulic door closers as it shut.

My mind panicked, what if a zed was here in the hotel with me? I couldn’t see to fight it off if there was. I thought about shooting, and hoping I could spot the thing in the flashes. It was a stupid idea, but I was all out of good ones at the moment.

I thought I could hear it moving, coming closer. I heard the sound of something metallic shifting. Was it armed like the one outside? It surely could not see me, but could it smell me? Hear my heartbeat? Hear my breathing? Was it stumbling around as blindly as I was, or was it coming right for me?

Then it spoke my name questioningly.

Suddenly it was on me, its arms wrapped around me, pulling me to it. Something hard hit me in the face as it brought its face to mine. The hard object slid away from its face and thumped softly on the thin carpet. It brought its mouth up to my face, and kissed me full on the lips. I was quite frankly shocked. It is a moment that will live on in my mind as long as I live.

“It’s really you! I knew Alex would send you guys to get us!” squealed the woman’s voice. Sharon’s voice.

“Sharon?” I asked stupidly.

“Well it’s certainly not Jimmy.” She replied.

Sharon pulled away from me, and a small but incredibly bright light bloomed in front of me, cutting away the darkness around us. Sharon was holding a small LED flashlight in her hand. She bent down to retrieve the object that she had hit me in the face with, causing the flashlight to project her shadow onto the ceiling.

Even in this light, I was struck both by how beautiful Sharon is, and how much I’ve missed her. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail, and she was wearing a pink t-shirt that probably would have been too tight for her when she left Mallville, but it looked like she had lost some weight in her time away. She was not really skinny to start with, but she was getting there now.

On her hip, Sharon was wearing a large revolver, like something out of Dirty Harry. When she stood upright again, I saw that the object that had been on her head was a set of night-vision goggles,” Where did you get those?” I asked, motioning to the handgun and the goggles.

“Sports store across the street. It’s not a T-Mart, but it has enough stuff in it to survive for awhile as long as no one else comes to loot it. So are the others outside?”

“It’s just me,” I replied.

“What do you mean ‘just me’? Alex sent you alone?” her smile faltered.

I’m sure I have no reason (or at least no right) to be jealous, but why does she keep mentioning Alex? I told her I would come get her; shouldn’t I get some of the credit for this?

“Yes and no. Kaur said we couldn’t waste the manpower to save you, so we worked out a plan for a run to go past here. Once we get Jimmy to the car, we’re going to meet the others at the Bianco’s a couple of blocks away. We’ll all go back as one happy family, and Kaur won’t be able to do shit about it,” I explained.

Her smile returned,” Sounds like a plan. Let’s go get Jimmy then.”

Sharon led me around to the side of the hotel she and Jimmy had been hiding out in. She let us into a hotel room with a keycard, so I guess the solar panels must be enough after all. Entering the room I was greeted by the sight of Jimmy Chen sitting on one of the room’s two queen size beds pointing a shotgun at me, a book casually sitting open on the bed next to him.

Upon seeing that it was me and Sharon coming through the door, he put the shotgun down on the bed next to the book,” Are we being rescued at last?” he asked cheerfully.

Jimmy looked well, but I noticed what looked like the handle of a hockey stick being used as a splint. The piece of wood was fastened to his right leg with a number of Ace bandages. I figure that Jimmy has probably been on that bed most of the time since they got to the hotel.

“Yup,” I replied.

I looked around the hotel room; it was basically the same as the one I had entered through except that it had two beds, and the gaudy bedspreads were gone, leaving just rumpled blankets and sheets. The room’s table and chairs had been moved to the window, and on it were bottles of water, and pouches of freeze-dried foods as well as some plates, cups, and silverware, presumably all appropriated from the hotel’s kitchen. There was also a police scanner and a powered-down laptop computer with a cable running from it across the floor to the wall jack under the writing desk.

On the floor between the beds were a stack of books; camping, hunting , and survival books probably taken from the sporting goods store, but also paperback novels and even a few mangas in the mix. There was also one of those wind-up emergency radios with the built in flashlight, and a couple of boxes of ammunition of different types. There was also a pair of crutched leaning against the nightstand with its disused phone and alarm clock blinking “12:00” over and over.

Over on the room’s dresser it looked like something out of a Punisher comic. Every inch of space was covered with boxes of bullets, handguns, a couple rifles, and large survival style knives (you know, like the kind Rambo used). Leaning against the dresser was a hunting bow, and a couple of pouches (quivers?) of arrows.

“Looks like quite the cozy set up,” I commented.

“It’s not much, but its got running water, and some electricity; we call it home,” replied Sharon as she quietly shut the door.

“Not anymore we don’t. Let the others in so we can get out of here,” said Jimmy, sliding to the edge of the bed and grabbing his crutches.

“There aren’t any others,” I said somewhat sheepishly.

“You came on your own?” asked Jimmy

“No, Alex sent him,” commented Sharon, again talking as if I had nothing to do with this.

“Hashmir said no rescue, so the main group is going on to a scavenging target. We’re going to meet them there, and act like we just happened to pass by here on the way back and pick you guys up. What’s Hashmir going to do once you’re already back inside Mallville?”

“Have us shot?” Jimmy asked in reply.

That sent chills down my spine because it was at the point that I realized that Jimmy did not know about Sara yet. I know someone would have to tell him eventually, but that didn’t mean I meant to volunteer.

“That’s ridiculous,” snapped Sharon.

“Is it? He sent those bikers after us.”

“You have no proof of that!” replied Sharon, and even though I thought Jimmy was right, I said nothing to contradict her. I didn’t need to.

It was at the point that the police scanner on the table crackled to life, reminding me that I had stupidly left my walkie talkie in the car. Mikhael’s Russian accented voice coming through, “I think we may have a problem guys, there’s a group of motorcycles coming up the street towards us.”

“Towards us, or just in our general direction?” responded Gerry McElroy’s distinctive cartoon voice.

“I’m going to say towards us, they’re about two blocks away, and approaching fast,” ask Mikhael finished speaking there is a firecracker pop before he released the talk button; a gunshot.

“Get back in here now!” cried Maria’s voice.

“They’re shooting at me!” yelled Mikhael.

“I see them! There’s at least a dozen of them!” called the voice of Karen Hummingbird,” They’re splitting up. Some are going around the side of the building, the rest are coming to the front!” this statement was punctuated by a rapid series of pops and the sound of shattering glass,”They’re shooting!”

“I’m hit!” shrieked Mikhael.

“Olivia, Daryl, Redd, take the front of the building,” ordered Maria,” Gerry and Josh cover the back door with me. Stay in the building, do not let them lure you out! Stay behind cover!”

“They’ve got fucking Uzis or something!” yelled Redd Waxman, the sounds of more gunfire coming through with his voice.

“Olivia’s down!” yelled Daryl MacGuire.

“Shut up and fight!” commanded Maria.

“Someone help me!” came a pained shriek that I barely recognized as Karen’s voice. More gunfire came through the speaker of the police scanner, but no more words.

After a few minutes the gunfire stopped. A couple of minutes after that the signal from Karen’s walkie stopped; There was just silence after that. It was over.

That was about seven hours ago now. The sun is down, and the power from the solar panels is gone. I am sitting in the hallway outside of Sharon and Jimmy’s room writing this by candlelight.

Sharon made dinner with the hotplate before it got too dark, according to the bag it was Swedish meatballs, but I think that is debatable.
We thought about just getting back to the car and heading for Mallville, but we don’t know if the bikers are still out there looking for us. Could they know the plan? They knew where we were supposed to be going, or was that just coincidence? Could Hashmir Kaur, a mall security guard, really have sent a group of bikers to murder us all?

Sharon does not believe that Kaur could be behind this, but Jimmy I sure of it. Sharon has not been around for the last few weeks, she does not know about Sara, or about that woman in the park. I know she's wrong, but I don't want to get in a fight with her about it.

This is not how this was supposed to happen. This was supposed to be simple; I was supposed to swoop in, save Sharon and Jimmy, and we would all go home victorious. Instead of celebrating back at the mall, I’m sitting here in a dark hallway writing this, and pretty much everyone I’ve come into contact with since lunchtime is dead.

I need to figure out what our story is when we do get home. How do I explain not being killed by the Hell’s Postmen? How do I explain the car not even being damaged? I guess we could maybe take one of the cars in the parking lot, maybe whoever owns them left the keys behind.

I’m going to sleep on it… on the floor. Sure I could stay in one of the other rooms, but I think we should all stay together. Maybe that’s just me being afraid. Maybe it’s just me not wanting to be away from Sharon so soon after finding her again. That’s pathetic.

I smell smoke.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tenth Entry: Good News, and Bad News, and Good News, and Bad News...

July 21st

I’ve got good news, and bad news, and good news, and bad news.

Today was the day we put Alex’s plan into action. Our target for scavenging was the Bianco’s Pharmacy over on Leigh Street to load up on drugs for the med center. This particular Bianco’s is just three blocks from the Hotel Majestic. The idea was simple. I would split off on my own from the three main cars of the caravan, pick up Sharon and Jimmy, and continue on to Bianco’s. Sure we would all catch hell from Kaur, but it’s not like he could refuse Jimmy and Sharon entry once we brought them back, right?

I don’t have an answer to that yet.

Things started out exactly as planned. Alex assembled a team of just his most trusted scavengers; myself, Maria Perez, Josh Sterling, Mikhael Beratz, Olivia Munchausen, Daryl MacGuire, Redd Waxman, Karen Hummingbird, Gerry McElroy, and Harris Patel. We took four vehicles instead of the usual three, I had a car to myself, a beat-to-shit Oldsmobile from the 70’s, and I followed behind the two SUVs and a minivan that the others were in.

The drive out was totally uneventful. We saw a few zeds, and someone did shoot one from one of the other cars (probably Maria), but that was it. When we got to the Hotel Majestic, the others kept driving as planned, leaving me alone.

The Hotel Majestic is a five story tall building that occupies a large lot on the corner of Utopia Parkway and Red Dragon Way. It’s an older hotel, but still known as a nice one even though it looks like a plain beige box from the outside.
The big sign at the edge of the parking lot still read “WELC ME MAVERICON GUES S”; MaveriCon was a big comic/anime/sci-fi/geek convention that was scheduled a couple of weeks after that day. I guess someone at the Majestic was determined to keep business going as the world descended into Hell.

I could not see any zeds out there, but that did not mean there weren’t any. I pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of the hotel, the passenger side of the car facing the building. I got out of the car, looking around me for any signs of movement, but there was none.

I went up to the front doors of the hotel, and found them locked. It was dark inside, but I would expect that. Looking at the other doors inside the airlock (you know, that space between the doors to the inside of the building and the doors to the street outside that is meant to cut down on noise inside, or keep the air conditioning from escaping or whatever) leading into the main lobby I could see that they had been barricaded with couches and tables that had once made the lobby a welcoming place.

I quickly went back to the car, and slowly started to circle the hotel looking for another access point. I drove through the parking lot on the street side of the building. The lot was mostly empty, and the few cars there were covered in so much dust that it was obvious they had been there for quite some time now.

Across the street in front of an Apollo’s Coffee shop I saw the burnt out remains of the SUV that Sharon was riding in when her team was attacked. Seeing it made me feel sick to my stomach in a way I haven’t felt since Mitchell and the others returned a month ago.

At the back of the hotel was a large fenced off area separating the pool and back wall of the hotel from the parking lot. The tables and chairs set out there for the use of guests remained, waiting for customers who would never sit in them again. There were glass doors that lead to the inside off the hotel, but even from here I could see that it had been blocked up.

Aside from the barricade inside the glass door, there were two things in this picture that reminded me the state of the world today. The first was a body floating on the surface of the pool, the water of which had turned a sort of greenish color. The other reminder was the person standing by a ladder that leads up to the roof.

The ladder was fastened to the wall, and had a door on it to keep people from being able to climb up about the first seven feet of it. I could see that there was some sort of sign on it, but I could not red it from that far away. At a cursory glance, one would think that the door on the ladder was still locked, but I suspected that it wasn’t. This was to be my way in. The only problem was the “person” “guarding” it.

Of course it was not a person at the ladder really, it was one of the undead standing there staring at the covered ladder looking like a monkey trying to do a quadratic equation. The dark hair on the male zed made its skin look even paler, and he was wearing blue jeans and a torn Oakland Raiders jacket caked with dried blood and filth. There were what I assume were bullet holes in the back of the jacket, probably related to this man’s first death.

I had a dilemma here. How should I take out the zed? There did not appear to be any other roamers around, but the noise of a gunshot could easily attract some, and that would make getting back to the car a problem, especially if we have to carry Jimmy (and as far as that goes, I hadn’t even though about how we were going to get him out in the first place if that ladder was the only way in and out).

The zombie seemed to have not heard the car, so I got out as quietly as possibly. I grabbed my Mossberg and a large machete off of the car’s passenger seat, and slung the rifle over my shoulder. I didn’t slide the machete into its nylon sheath hanging from my belt though.

I crept up on the zombie as quietly as I could. I slowly opened the gate to the pool area, thanking God it didn’t creak, and approached the zombie, machete raised. I know I did not make any noise, but damned if it didn’t smell me or something, because I was almost within striking distance of it when it quickly turned to face me, and that’s when I got the surprise of the day.

In the zombie’s left hand was a large aluminum baseball bat. This was a first for me, even online I’d not seen anything about these creatures using weapons. I would love to say that it probably just randomly picked it up and did not know what to do with it, but it knew alright.

The former Raiders fun lunged at me, swinging the bat awkwardly. I dodged in what must have been a most un-Matrix-like way, and felt the wind as the bat missed my head by mere inches. The weight of the bat caused the zed to pivot and lose its balance, sending him stumbling into a pool lounger.

The zed tumbled forward, and hit the plastic straps of the lounge chair hard, causing them to snap under the weight. He hit the cement under the chair face first with a wet thud, and started struggling to free itself from the broken straps and metal frame of the chair. In his struggles he let go of the bat which clanged on the ground, and rolled for a couple of feet towards the pool.

This thing looked absolutely pathetic caught up in the chair so I decided to put it out of its, and my, misery. I swung at the back of its neck, but between the odd angle its head was pushed back at, and its thrashing about I only hit its back. I heard a loud crunch, so I think I may have split a shoulder blade or something, but I did not get the spine. This was evidenced by the fact that it was still trying to get free of the chair.

As I raised the machete again, it managed to roll over onto its back. It would be really dramatic to say that its face was a mask of fury, but, aside from being a bit smashed from its meeting with the cement, it was pretty blank. If there was anything that could be described as emotion to the thing, it would have to be in its eyes. There was this mix of hunger and sadness there, or that could just be me attributing human emotions to something inhuman.

I brought the machete’s blade down again, this time striking the zed right across the front of the throat. As I yanked the blade free, a spatter of black crud dribbled out of the gaping hole in the zed’s throat, but I still did not get the spine as it was still trying to get up.

As the zed got free of the chair’s frame and sat up, I brought the machete down again, this time aiming at the center of its head, hoping to split his skull and destroy the brain. In the movies this would have worked perfectly, the machete burying itself deep into the skull of the zombie; it’s too bad that I do not live in a movie.

The machete did crack the zombie’s skull open, but did not go deep enough to damage the brain (or at least not enough to put this thing down once and for all). That’s bad, but worse is the fact that the blade was now firmly lodged in the creature’s skull, and in the process of trying to pull the machete free, I ended up pulling the flesh-hungry former football fan to his feet and towards me.

Realizing what a colossally stupid thing I had just done, I then got the hell out of its way as momentum brought it towards me. It staggered for a few steps, almost joining the other body in the pool, which would have made finishing it off a real joy. Luckily it regained its balance before going into the water… unlucky, it now turned back towards me.

I started to back away, getting ready to dodge as it lunged at me, and nearly fell on my ass as I stepped on the baseball bat that was still lying at the side of the pool. I stooped down and snatched the bat.

The handle of the bat was sticky with I don't want to know what. At the time I was more interested in the end of the bat that was pointing away from me than with the handle

The zombie moved towards me, and I swung in the awkward way that I swing a bat (you may not have realized, but I'm not really much of an athlete. Regardless of what my coach in high school would say about me form, the swing did its job.

The bat connected to the side of the zed's head with a crunch and a clang (the clang coming from the bat hitting, and bending slightly, the machete), and the zombie staggered. I hit it again, and it went down, and flopped over onto its back.

Once it hit the ground, the zed didn't stop moving. It wasn't trying to get up exactly, but it was sort of flopping around like a fish or like someone having a seizure. I raised the bat above my head, and brought it down on his. The entire head split open at the crack the machete had made, and a spray of gore hit me in the face. The machete dropped to the ground as grey brains starting to turn black oozed free.

When I was finished vomiting, a combination of adrenaline and disgust (there's something a lot more personal about bashing a zombie's skull in compared to just shooting it, even at close range), I set the bat down on the ground, wiped my face on my shirt sleeve, and retrieved my machete.

The machete was not bent badly, but I would never be able to straighten it. I decided to keep it though, as I had no way of taking the bat with me up the ladder easily. I rinsed the machete off in the pool water. The water was cloudy and green, a combination of lack of maintenance and the dead body rotting in it, but it was still a lot more pleasant than the crap that was all over the machete. I sheathed the machete, which did not hang right due the bend in it, and went over to the ladder.

I went over to the swinging metal door which covered the ladder to the roof. There was a sun faded sign stuck to the door which read:


As I had hoped, there was no lock on the ladder; Sharon must have read the sign. One not-so-quick climb up the ladder later (have I mentioned no being athletic?), and I was on the roof.

I surveyed the roof for a way in, but found only machinery (air conditioning, or maybe the elevators, I don't know), some satellite dishes, a number of solar panels, a couple of skylights that looked down into the penthouse suites, and no obvious way in. No doors, no hatches, nothing. I guess it makes sense that there would no be an internal roof access if there was a ladder on the outside of the building like that.

“Well, crap!” I said to the no one there.