If you’ve been curious about my recent blog silence, it’s because I’ve been furiously typing away for National Novel Writer’s Month – 50,000 words in 30 days. (I’ve also been moving across states, transferring to a new job, and adjusting to the related changes, but I digress.)
I’m happy to announce that, as of yesterday, I had 50,000 words laboriously typed out within the month of November, and together they make a more-or-less complete first draft of this year’s novel: [uh, still don’t have a stellar title for it].
I was a little anxious at first, but the story finally picked up, and I now have one more first draft in my collection than I did in October (plus a cozy sense of achievement).
To my other NaNoWriMo writers: CONGRATULATIONS! And to everybody: here’s the first chapter of my latest work, T&T: Zombie, a Christian post-apocalyptic.
Is it publishing ready? Surely you jest. Is it better than vague concepts floating through my head? In a word: YEAH!
Tommy glanced up and down the empty street, listening for any sound besides the light wind whispering through the ruined buildings. As far as he could see, the block radius around him was deserted.
He bent to the combination safe hidden beneath an old slab of asphalt. Zipping the dial back and forth, he popped it open and slipped his water bottle in, followed by his gun belt and watch. Where he was going, he couldn’t afford to have anything that couldn’t be gotten in the scavenge of the city.
Tommy snapped the safe closed and straightened, running his fingers through his hair. He still felt a little undressed whenever he had to disarm himself the last few blocks before he reached the border of the New Republic. Glancing down at the knife strapped to the inside of his boot to reassure himself, he headed onward up the street, stepping over potholes and undergrowth as he went.
Coming to a crossroad, Tommy slowed down, hesitating. He was sure he’d heard a footfall. Sliding behind a nearby tree that had pushed up through the pavement, he eyed the dark spaces of the buildings and foliage that could conceal someone.
A flash of arm showed. Tommy wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d seen the [Bigshot] gang sign on the forearm. This shouldn’t be their turf – it was too far north.
Well, if this was the only gangster, Tommy shouldn’t be delayed too long.
He started creeping through the bushes growing out of the sidewalk, trying to come up on the stalker’s flank.
“I know you!” a voice boomed, echoing on the tall, empty walls on either side. The gangster straightened, stepping forward into the open space down the middle of the road. “Come fight like a man. The boss will give me something good for bringing in your hide.”
“Is he still stewing on that little spat?” asked Tommy, drifting forward. So it was the [Bigshots] – and [Bigshot] himself was still sore from the time Tommy had bluffed his entire gang out of kidnapping his friend. “Just like a baby kid!”
“You don’t have your weapons this time,” snickered the gang member, and pounced.
Tommy dodged, grabbing him as he passed. With a spin, the gangster landed flat on his back, hauling in air.
Tommy grinned. “Go back home.”
His opponent snarled, lashing out at Tommy’s feet. Tommy skipped over the blow, watching the gangster struggle to his knees.
Tommy kicked, and the gangster’s head snapped around as he crumpled backward. Tommy worked his shoulders, drawing deep breaths to ease the adrenaline buzz. The man should be all right…in a few hours. Tommy would be far away by then.
He turned his back on the scene, loping around the ferns that spilled out of a nearby sewer grate. He was still on schedule, assuming there weren’t any other unforeseen delays.
* * * *
Tommy hugged the wall of a building, throwing glances this way and that. Getting into the New Republic shouldn’t be too difficult – he’d done it several times before. They weren’t like the other gang groups, however; they patroled their border. They even had uniforms for their enforcers – a specific class called Security.
Tommy darted across the border road and dropped to his haunches beside the fence: a combination of chainlink, barbed wire, and metal sheeting. The sheeting – quite possibly steel from a metal roof – was wired to the outside, to prevent intruders climbing over the barricade.
There should be a hole in the corner, where he’d crawled through before. Pulling back the stiff sheet, Tommy put his head down – and paused. Someone had repaired the fence, and wired together the chainlink Tommy had previously snipped.
At least they hadn’t re-welded the joints he’d cut in the sheeting. Perking his ears for any sound of patroling guards, Tommy slipped his wire cutters out of his pocket and clipped through the fencing where he had before. In another moment, he was wiggling through the opening, getting a scratch on one of his hands, but nothing worse.
He pulled himself to his feet, brushing at his clothes and stowing his cutters again. He was in.
Diving across the street, Tommy scoped out his surroundings, searching for anyone who might be watching. He held his breath with the strange feeling that someone was watching. Not a footstep sounded, nor the creak of shoes, or the creak of someone leaning against a building.
Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling. If someone had repaired the fence, they would know where he had snuck in previously…and they might well be watching for the intruder. But where were they…?
Tommy spun around. A teenage boy appeared out of the shadow of a boarded up doorway — his unruly black hair shadowed his dark eyes, but not the broad grin stretching his face.
“Danny,” Tommy breathed in relief.
“You gave me a heart-attack. Have you been watching all morning?”
Danny smiled wider, if that were possible. “Mostly.”
Tommy shook his head. “You’re not supposed to watch where I come in.”
“Why not? I might want to leave the fence sometime.”
Tommy could only shrug. At least he didn’t feel so bad being snuck up on by his friend – Danny could stalk a black cat at midnight (or so said Danny).
“Shall we go?” he asked.
They headed down the streets, Tommy soaking in the familiar sensations of the New Republic — the rat-roasting over trash-barrel fires; the shop keepers standing in front of their doors, shouting the benefits of their wares; the occasional group of two to four “Security” strolling down the street, watching the bustle of people and carts.
There were many more people within the bounds of the New Republic than out in the streets of the city. Many people, it seemed, had fled the chaos of the gangs and the hard-scrabble life of scavenging for the stability and shelter the New Republic offered. Danny’s mother was one, according to him, bringing him there when he was just a child.
Danny tugged at Tommy’s sleeve. “Come on – I wanna show you something.”
“What?” Tommy followed his friend, glancing around at the buildings and people they passed, trying to guess where they would be going. “I thought we had a plan, remember? I need to see where the goats live.”
The food supply wasn’t as varied in the New Republic as at White Mesa, but it was steady. Danny had shared some of what he got with his ration card – dried beans, potatoes, venison, and a little goat cheese – and what he got from other sources – chicken, cat, pigeon eggs, and other things.
Danny nodded. “I know. I just wanna show you something quick.”
They ducked into an alley that smelled like a latrine and emerged next to the door of Danny’s building. With a hand gesture, Danny halted Tommy while he ducked in to make sure none of his roommates were at home. As Danny said, they “wouldn’t get” Tommy’s presence, or his desire for anonymity.
“Come on in,” Danny hissed, sticking his head out the door.
Tommy ducked through the opening. Two doorways opened off the entry: one led to the main floor of the apartment, where “Rock” and Con-er lived. The other door let onto a staircase, that climbed to a landing. The path farther up was blocked by rubble and old belongings.
Tommy followed his friend up the stairs, where the shadows got progressively darker, until they reached the turn of the staircase that Danny called his “room”.
A massive heap of old clothes and fragmentary blankets formed his bed, giving off the atmosphere of countless sweaty summers and musty, cold winters.
While Danny burrowed in the junk ferreted among the pieces of building material that walled off the upper stairs, Tommy spotted the calendar Danny had scraped into the plaster over his bed. Tommy had taught him that; it was a row of seven boxes, side by side, and with a piece of chalk Danny had marked off all seven of them. That’s how Tommy was used to working: spend one week in the New Republic (seven boxes), spend one week at home (seven boxes). That’s how Den knew when to expect him.
“Here it is,” said Danny, rising and holding out his find.
Tommy blinked. “Oh?”
“Yeah. What is it?”
Tommy took it and turned it over. “It’s a compass.”
“Does it keep you from getting lost?”
“I don’t think so. Where’d it come from?”
Danny shrugged and dropped onto his “bed”. “I was out scavenging with the Group some day, and found it. Truck thought it was for giving medicine, or something, but I said that’s dumb, since there’s no place to hold medicine, and he said I’m dumb ’cause I’ve never been to the hospital. But he hasn’t, either.”
“It’s not for medicine.”
“What’s it for?”
Tommy drew a breath and knelt on the floor. “It’s for drawing circles. Do you have a pencil?”
“I have chalk.” Danny leaned back behind his pile and came back with a stub of pale chalk. Tommy had never asked him where he got it.
“I’m not sure that’ll work,” Tommy mused, taking it and holding it next to the metal object. Sure enough, the chalk was too thick to fit in the clasp intended for a pencil or pen.
“Well, just pretend there’s a pencil in this end,” he continued, pushing aside some wrenches to clear an open space on the floor. “You hold it like this.” He pinched the tab at the top and adjusted the angle with his other hand. “Then you put the sharp end in the middle of your circle.” He chose a point on the floor and pinned it with the pointy metal end.
Danny crawled off the bed and knelt by Tommy, leaning forward to see better.
“Then, you can draw a circle that’s round.” Tommy twisted the compass, drawing in the air with the nonexistant pencil.
Danny reached out and took the tool, trying it out for himself. “Then if you squish it smaller,” he murmured, pinching the legs together to reduce the angle. “You would get a smaller circle.” He pulled the legs apart, and traced a larger circle through the dust of the floorboards.
“That’s right,” Tommy smiled. Danny was exceptionally quick; that, or he was just excited to see new things. Tommy thought back to when the officer candidates in the militia were learning [things], and how few of them seemed to even pay attention during a lecture.
“So, what would you use this for?” Danny asked. “Why would anyone need to draw this many circles?”
“It’s useful for when you’re doing math –”
“Adding things together, and then taking them away?”
“That’s part of math.”
“There’s more of math?”
The light in Den’s eyes was almost physical. How could Tommy hope to satisfy him in these little trips of a few days — and without breaking the security protocol?
“A little,” he evaded. “Anyway, I think you could use it when working with maps –”
“Right. If you were trying to figure out how far away something was, you could use these little numbers here…” Tommy squinted at the top of the compass to find the angle markings. “And use math, to figure out where something was on a googlemap.”
“Can you show me? I have a googlemap somewhere – Orange was getting rid of it, so I –”
“Den? You home?”
Den froze. He snatched the compass from Tommy and dove behind his bedding, shoving it into some secret hiding place.
“Stay back,” hissed Den, flapping his hand to usher Tommy behind the turn of the stairs. He skittered down the steps, grabbing the doorframe at the bottom to swing his head around the corner.
“Wha-at?” he called.
“Hey, watchya doing?”
“Nothin’. Why you home, Rock?”
“Hey, need you to run something quick. Can you?”
“Uh…” Den slid a glance over his shoulder, then checked himself.
“What, like you got something business to do instead?” laughed Rock’s voice.
Den shuffled his feet. “Uh…course not. Like what?”
Something thumped in the other room. “It’ll be quick; just over to the Snake Pit.”
Den fingered the doorframe, eying what his hands were doing. “Can’t Con-er or JJ run it?”
“No idea where Con-er is – like usual. You’re not doing anything. Are you?”
Rock laughed again. “Tell her you’ll only be a sec. Come on; you’d be back already.”
Den’s face paled, as he glanced once more at Tommy. Tommy winked at him. Den heaved a sigh and leaned up the stairs.
“I’ll catch up,” he breathed.
Tommy briefly considered doing something in a falsetto, and abandoned the thought with a supressed snicker. He nodded at Den and winked again.
Den rolled his eyes and disappeared around the corner into the main room. He and Rock said a few more things Tommy couldn’t quite catch, and then Den’s shadow flitted across the entryway as he darted out the front door.
Tommy waited a few moments, and crept down the steps, creaking as little as possible. He’d never thought of Den as the kind to have a girl, but it was as good an excuse as any. Unless, of course, Rock decided to see just what Den had brought home. That would be trouble they didn’t need.
Hugging the wall, Tommy paused at the bottom of the stairs, leaning cautiously around the frame to peak into the downstairs apartment. Rock stood at the table, stuffing little cloth bags into bigger bags.
Two steps later, Tommy was outside. He scanned the area quickly, and saw no one was nearby. Holding his breath to duck into the rancid alley, he found a street that should take him north, toward the green spaces where the food apparently came from.
If he could find where the goats, horses, and other livestock (like chickens) were housed and grazed, he should be able to take a census, which would give him an idea of the strength of the New Republic’s food system, and the growth potential of their supply.
Since the breakdown of cross-regional trade, the domestic animal populations were facing some of the same issues the human populations were: genetic isolation. Whether the New Republic had fifteen goats or one hundred fifty would make a big difference in their long-term survivability and resiliance.
Not that he could use those words to explain it to Den.
* * * *
Tommy looked up at the structure from the safety of the other side of the street. The skyscraper apartment building rose above the surrounding greenery, its windows dark and empty, occasional breaks in the walls showing black and jagged along its sides.
Blue-uniformed Security personnel moved around the door of the building, and a stream of people flowed contantly to and from the entrance, carrying what looked like buckets. It was hard to see exactly what they were doing from this distance, but Tommy wasn’t sure he could approach any closer without being noticed.
Maybe if he crept on the blind side of a nearby hedge, he could get close enough to see the details.
“Don’t get near them,” whispered Danny’s voice.
Tommy spun around. “Do you have to sneak up like that?” he gasped.
“I thought we were being sneaky.”
“You are being sneaky; I’m just being panicked.”
Danny shrugged. “Sorry. I thought you would hear me walk up.”
Tommy heaved a sigh. “It’s all right. Why shouldn’t we get a closer look? The guards aren’t looking this way.”
“That’s the Afflicted. They’re sick, and if you get too close, they could give you their sickness.”
Tommy glanced back at the building. “The Securitymen don’t seem worried.”
“Right now they’re quiet, so they can do work,” Danny said. “But sometimes they go feral. The doctors are working on medicine to cure them.”
“Those are ferals?” breathed Tommy. “That’s impossible.”
“They’re not feral now,” answered Danny, tugging on Tommy’s elbow. “But sometimes, they turn. They’re all sick because they got bit when they were outside the fence, or a feral got through a knocked-down part of the fence. That’s what the Security say. That’s why they work to keep the fences nice.”
“What about the Group? Do they ever get attacked by ferals?”
“I never saw it,” Danny mumbled, as he led Tommy away. “But it can happen, if you aren’t careful. That’s why the fences are there – to keep the ferals out. Come on – the goats live this way.”
“You must have finished that errand.”
Danny shrugged with a toss of his head. “Rock just wants me to do more for the Group. He wants me to get the test and do the mark, too, but if you do that, Security can know what you belong to. I think it’s dumb.”
Tommy nodded. “That makes sense. Why would Rock want you to have something that Security would be able to pick you out with?”
“Rock don’t think about these things. He just thinks it’s cool, like being with a group is cool.” He slid his glance up to Tommy’s. “You don’t have no marks, either.”
A smile crept across Danny’s face. “You don’t want people to know what you belong to, either.”
“Not like that. It’s part of being sneaky.”
Danny nodded. “I like sneaky. Rock doesn’t get it.”
Tommy smiled. “Show me the goats.”
Kimia Wood has been making stories since she was little, and loves bringing imaginary people to life. You can find out more about her works under the “Books” tab, and/or subscribe to the mailing list (where we explore books from a multitude of genres and maybe get an exclusive excerpt from later in Zombie).