Monday, November 1, 2010

A Cook's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse: Chapter 1 - Updated

This is what I wrote this morning from 6am-7am Central and on my lunch break from 12:30-1pm for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I will write again tonight so I can meet my 1,700 words a day goal. Also, all of the content here and every single day in November is protected by a Creative Commons' license. You can share this with others, but there are to be no derivatives or commercial use of my emerging culinary arts-zombie story (grins).

Chapter 1
Mona Swicegood let Chainsaw and Zelda outside like she normally did when she first woke up in the morning. It was 2:30 a.m. in Austin, Texas in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood – a place with sunny little bungalows, herds of cyclists who swished through the roads at night with tinny bicycle bells and strobe-light-esque headlights, and an occasional bag lady or man, wandering the road with bags of essentials – flannel shirts, eggs, and a dog named Bandit. Mona’s bungalow was painted a sunny yellow like her favorite breakfast – a poached egg atop a freshly baked English muffin and served with chamomile tea and clover honey. Mona loved food almost as much as she loved her oddly named cats. Chainsaw was a plump little beast – short and squat with a belly that swayed back and forth when he walked. Zelda was lithe, a feral cat until Mona adopted her at two months. Zelda’s green-gold eyes and tortoiseshell coat made her blend in perfectly with her central Texas surroundings. Like most cats, Zelda and Chainsaw were serial killers of birds. It wasn’t unlikely to find a blue warbler or migrating cardinal at the foot of Mona’s yolk-colored home.

As soon as Mona opened the door, the cats raced out the door. The morning was pitch black and clear with a half moon overhead. Zelda zoomed toward the nearest tree and scurried up it to claim her usual stalking spot. Chainsaw ambled over to the garbage bins – he was fat for a very good reason; he loved to scavenge week-old pizza, goat cheese, bits of chicken, and, if he was really lucky, an old can of tuna with remnants of fish and the savory water.

Mona breathed in the still chilly air. She knew that in a few hours the sun would bake and people, despite the fall month of September, would still seek relief in air conditioning, cold beer, and the indoors. She yawned, stretched, and turned her back, bolting the door.

Had she kept the backdoor of her bungalow open a moment longer, she might have heard what was going to be the yowl heard around the world – the proverbial starting point for all of this mess, what no one really wanted to believe was possible from a purely logical standpoint.

Just as Chainsaw found the holy grail of dumpster diving – a half-eaten can of albacore – he felt something pull him back by the scruff of his neck. The pull was vicious, the hands rough and slightly damp, smelling of copper pennies or maybe blood. As Chainsaw turned his pudgy calico head toward the hand, he saw a ravaged arm and smelled a ripe, festering odor far worse than any songbird kill he and Zelda coordinated. That was all Chainsaw would remember before the garbage-dwelling creature stroked Chainsaw’s head in a cursory, clumsy, almost robotic manner and then twisted and broke Chainsaw’s neck. The rotting maw of this early-morning creature closed down on limp, lifeless Chainsaw.

Zelda saw this from the treetops and tapped into her feral origins, but not before whatever it was started to eat the head of what used to be poor, portly Chainsaw. Zelda flew into the air like a flying squirrel and landed directly on top of the zombie’s head.

She did what any self-preserving animal did with the undead: She scratched the zombie’s eyes out and then ran away to the adjoining park, waited a moment, heard hard, lurching footsteps, and then scrambled into the nearby botanical garden, assured that the high stone walls would hopefully keep whatever it was away from her feline heart. What she didn’t understand then, but would quite soon, was the zombie had no interest in her heart.

Because today was one of Mona’s scant days off she went to meet Gigi Hernandez at the coffee shop. The smell of espresso and sour cream coffee cake permeated the air. Redolent of brown sugar, Costa Rican dark roast, and Sammy, the surly yet sweet barista behind the counter, who shouted greeting at Mona as she opened the stain glassed door:

“Mona, baby. Where have you been? You’ve been holed up in that bakery of yours since last Sunday.”

“Hey, Sammy! Yep. What can I say, fellow Texans crave my goods.”

Sammy eyeballed Mona’s sassy response. He made a note of her light mood and countered: “Well, I wouldn’t mind sampling your goods, Ms. Swicegood.”

“Oh, Sammy,” Mona said. “You know I would crush you in the act.” Which was true, Sammy was definitely Mona’s Jack Spratt who could eat not fat. Sammy lived in white v-neck t-shirts, skinny jeans, and black Converse low-tops. Occasionally, for total effect, he’d roll a pack of cigarettes into the sleeve of his t-shirt like it was the 1950s and not the 21st Century, which it was. Mona, on the other hand, lived off of Plugra butter, Belgian cocoa, and zucchini muffins made with dark chunks of Callebaut chocolate, buttermilk, sour cream, and sunflower seeds. Her zaftig heft was womanly, shapely even, but she definitely weighed well over 200 pounds, and if she was really honest with herself, she knew she weighed more than her father’s golden college-football days when he played on the offensive line with uncharacteristic grace for a such a large Midwestern man.

“Baby, you’re beautiful,” Sammy said, “but you’re wasting my precious, precious barista time.” It was true – a line of three people were queuing up behind Mona as she and Sammy bantered. “What do you want this morning?”

“A medium chai latte, Sammy. Make it with soymilk, okay?”

“Gotcha, beautiful. One soy chai latte coming up!”

“A mug, Sammy, please. That jade green one with the thin lip that I love to drink from.”

“Yep, yep, yep.” Sammy turned to stream the soymilk and brew the chai. Mona sighed. She wished that Billy – her silent bass player boyfriend – would spend half as much time flirting with her as Sammy did, but that wasn’t going to happen. She shrugged her shoulders, made a mental note to make time to take a swim at the Barton Springs pool, and then scanned the room for Gigi.

Gigi Hernandez was stunning. There was no other word for it. Dark black hair cut into a pert bob, wide Audrey-Hepburn eyes with heavy lids and long lashes, and a slim, gamine physique, which seemed to be perfect for pedal pushers and tailored shirts. She was a 30-something Gidget with the style sense of Coco Chanel. She routinely smelled of patchouli and peonies and had the affection of snapping her fingers whenever she saw someone whose attention she wanted, and wanted now.

Snap. Snap, snap, snap.

Mona turned.

“There you are!” Mona shrieked. It has been months since Mona had last seen her best friend.

“How was Paris? Tell me everything.”

Gigi smiled, her pale pink lips spread evenly over her white teeth, and then twisted the red silk scarf secure at the nape of her neck. She looked a little paler than usual, Mona thought, but nothing that couldn’t be explained away by jetlag and a fashion photographer’s schedule.

“Paris was exquisite,” Gigi crooned. She looked at Mona and felt as though she were staring at a face made of milk, translucent, warm, and welcoming. It was really hard for Gigi to focus while looking at Mona. Her vision was somewhat blurred and the fact that Mona looked like something drinkable, edible even, was disturbing to Gigi. She snapped her fingers.

“You totally have my attention,” Mona said, giggling. She loved her fashionable, waif-ish friend. Gigi had always protected and loved Mona as-is since the two women had sat next to each other in art glass in sixth grade. Gigi had nailed 3-D perspective in a manner of minutes; Mona had needed help with drawing perspective, but Mr. Graves was busy preparing his sermon for the upcoming Sunday. Why he doubled as an art teacher-preacher was something many of the kids at Franklin Smith Elementary School had wondered. When the art lesson went too quickly or she didn’t understand the nature of the assignment, she would draw little sketches of Mr. Graves with devil horns and a pitchfork. One class period, when Mona thought Mr. Graves was preparing yet another homily, he stood behind her silently as she drew her best Mr. Graves’ parody yet: Mr. Graves as a zombie. As she was about to put the finishing touches on his face – a flap of cartilage removed from his nose so the bone peeked through – Mona heard Mr. Graves clear his throat directly behind her.

“Ms. Swicegood,” Mr. Graves said icily. “What have we here?”

“Portraiture,” Gigi said, interrupting. “Wasn’t that today’s assignment?”

“Why yes, Gigi, it was, but this looks more like a cartoon.”

“Can’t styles be different?” Gigi asked sweetly, batting her heavily lashed eyes.

“They can be,” Mr. Graves said. “Definitely. But Mona, seriously, why are you drawing this filth? Your mind needs to be elevated, positive, and far, far away from the perils of pop culture.”

“Um, sure, Mr. Graves. I’ll draw a picture of my mom.”

“Much better, Ms. Swicegood. Much better.”

So, Mona really had no problems with the snapping of Gigi’s fingers, though Mona knew that others did. Billy, for one, couldn’t stand it.

“Why does she do that to you?” Billy once asked.

“Ah, it’s just a cute habit,” Mona had replied. Mona snapped her fingers at everyone – her adorable mother, Sammy, and Gigi’s girlfriend Pamela, who, if anyone was going to protest, it would’ve been Pam. Pam was a no-nonsense blonde with an up-turned German nose, quick attention to detail, and above-board at all times in terms of manners and decorum. Both Pam and Mona saw Gigi’s snapping as an idiosyncrasy that was pretty easy to live with.

Billy had shrugged his shoulders and said he wouldn’t put up with friends who snapped their fingers as a way of getting others’ attention.

“You don’t have to,” Mona replied quietly. “She’s my friend.”

“Gigi,” Mona said, snapping back from the memory. “Do you hear me?”

Gigi re-focused her eyes and stared at Mona, her milky white, meringue-shaped friend, and brushed her bangs out of her eyes and smiled.

“Of course I hear you, babe,” Gigi said. “Sorry about that. I’m just tired from the trip.”

“I bet you are,” Mona said. “How long was the flight from Austin to Paris?”

“About 12 hours, maybe a little more when you consider the layover in Amsterdam.”

“Wow. Well, how was the fashion shoot? Where did you go to take your pictures?”

“Ah, that’s a very interesting question. Betsy wanted to do this really funky All-Souls-Procession-type promotion for this new line of tights she has out – you know the ones, with sugar skulls, ornate Virgin Marys, and those pretty little cut-out flags that hang throughout the rafters of Mexican weddings?”

“How cool!” Mona said. “So, where did you showcase these designs? Someplace with a lot of light?”

“Actually, no,” Gigi said. “We were in the Catacombs – l’Ossuaire Municipal – and it was so surreal – these leggy, slender, living models in brightly colored tights and short leather skirts against the backdrop of walls made of human bone and skulls. In some ways, to be perfectly honest, it felt a little – okay a lot – crass to be having a fashion shoot in an ossuary. I felt like I was disrespecting the dead somehow, but that’s what Betsy wanted...”

“So how did you light the cemetery?” Mona asked. “Did you have to wade around all of the tourists?”

“That was the cool part. A lighting designer and I were able to go down to the catacombs in the early morning hours before the tourists to prepare for the shoot. While he went to check out one section of the catacombs, I wandered back into the narrow spiral stairwell to go up for air. It wasn’t yet dawn – maybe ten minutes before sunrise - and I saw a homeless man running near the Barriere d’Enfer city gate.”

“Whoa. That sounds a little creepy, Gigi.”

“But it wasn’t. I just felt like he was running from something or someone. I felt bad for him. So, I shouted for him to come to where I was. He did. He ran so fast. He mumbled something in French, and then shoved me back down the stairwell. He slammed the door once we returned to the ossuary. He looked really scared.”

“Oh my god” Mona said.

“When he was shoving me down the stairwell, I could hear something running after us. After we made it back into the catacombs, I could hear something pounding on the door.”

“My French is pitiful. I would say, ‘Je voudrais this or that’ and then point. The man was so dirty and so terrified – his face looked lined with motor engine oil and his eyes were bloodshot and brown – that when I went to the door and attempted to open it, he slapped me hard and grabbed my neck; he actually scratched me pretty bad. Definitely drew blood.”

“What the...” Mona said, stopping short of the expletive on her tongue.

“I know, right? But he was very worried, very apologetic, even though I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. He took his hand and touched my neck and then my cheek. He kept staring at me and then at the ossuary entrance. He kept repeating what was inscribed there: ‘ArrĂȘte, c'est ici l'empire de la Mort’ or ‘Stop, this is the empire of Death.’

“Did you go to see a doctor after all of this, Gigi? You look a little pale.”

“No, no, no. I’m fine really. The only thing I was worried about is that the homeless man’s hand, the one he touched me with, looked ravaged. It was bloody and shredded. I wanted to open the door, but he stood before it and he blocked my path. I could still hear something on the other side, so I didn’t bother. I called to Gregoire, the lighting designer, to come quickly, which, thank god, he did.”

“He took one look at me,” Gigi said, continuing, “and gasped. Gregoire spoke French with the homeless guy and nodded his head. Gregoire told me it was probably just another homeless man chasing this guy off of his turf. He then told the homeless man something else in French and told me that we’d go up in a little while when it was light.”


Just for fun!
  1. For a fun zombie gingerbread cookie recipe, click here.
  2. Plus, yesterday in the car ride back from my granddad's NPR played this: "8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Zombies." Pretty awesome.


Anonymous said...

what a great start! Totally impressed with your versatile vocabulary

Kella said...

Thanks, Anonymous! I hope my characters become as developed as my vocab, though. I know this is a silly story, so I'm hoping my foray into fiction (crazy fiction at that) can improve and build throughout the month. Thanks for your feedback. Take care!