To see Lucas’ Inquiry 2 paper, click here.
Craft Reflection: How to Mold a Zombie
Creating a world overrun with the dead is by no means an easy feat. A lot of components have to be thrown together in a proportionate mix to bring to life a realistic tale of horror. When writing any type of story, one must be aware of specific guidelines to follow and know when and where they can deviate from the standard normal. Looking into the realm of zombies, there are unique limitations and allowances that I have to keep in mind if I wish to create an effective story.
Writing in the zombie apocalypse genre has several, but not an overwhelming amount of restraints that I had to keep in mind when creating this new realm. One thing that I had to do was refrain from the allowance of long-term safety and periods of low action. I demonstrate this right off the bat, as my story begins with James and Lewis outside their house trying to clear zombies in order for them to make a get-away. In order to make an effective zombie story, there needs to be a balance of low action and high action periods, but be careful not to over stretch the length of either one, especially times of peace and quite. The audiences are desperately looking for exhilarating action, hence the zombie attacks, so if the sessions in between zombie attacks is too long, then the audience will lose interest. Just as if the story is all action and no down time, the audience will be accustom to the fast paced action and won’t know how to handle downtime, and again will lose interest. It is the balance that is key.
Another thing to keep in mind when crafting this type of tale is the fact that the characters can’t be safe indefinitely. Even when it comes to the main characters, they must be able to be harmed, physically and emotionally, in this new world. Doing this creates again, that sense of fear that at any moment any character could be killed or mortally wounded. To prove this fact that even the main characters aren’t always safe, I have James being shot in a later scene. He isn’t killed, but rather out cold for several days while the rest of his group watches after him. Another reason for doing this, besides the refraining of peaceful times for the characters, is to create the realization that no one is safe. This plays into the ‘safe’ fear aspect that I have mentioned in several other papers of mine. This is where readers get the sense of horror and terror from the safety of their imagination. How this plays into harming main characters is the fact that audiences typically assume that main characters are these heroic antagonists that save everyone, where in reality they are just the focus of the stories. Having them vulnerable shows the human side to them and the dangers that are prevalent in this world ruled by the damned.
One last thing that I can think of that typically is frowned upon when it comes to zombie tales is the fact that they are fictional other than the zombies of course. Refraining from the use of special powers and fanciful weapons that give the survivors an edge over the dead take away from the threat that they face. I will say one of the exceptions to this rule is the realm of videogames, but as far as story writing goes, it is best to stay away from this. Audiences tune into these stories to see what perils the characters will face and what difficulties will befall them. If they manage to do everything with ease, then there is no excitement, no thrill and the loss of attention will be sure to follow.
Now on the other side of the spectrum, these types of stories allow for a unique blend of many components that make this genre what it is today. First thing that comes to mind when talking about zombie stories is the lack of civilization and rules or laws. This allows me to create a world where people have no regard for anything except for their survival and wellbeing. How I do this is introduce the concept of ‘psychopaths’, which is something found throughout the zombie realm. These ‘psychopaths’ are people who have been mentally warped from the aftermath of the outbreak causing them to either become power hungry maniacs or just cold-blooded killers. The use of psychopaths allows me to create a threat that is not only different from zombies, but that is more dangerous, as the psychopaths retain the ability to think, plan, and deceive the survivors. Psychopaths, I think, represent people that would not be able to coop with the world falling to zombies. They bring in the concept of lost humanity as well as the lack of law since they attack other humans without regard for their safety.
My first introduction of this concept doesn’t take place in the chapter that I will be submitting for grade, but rather much later in the story after we have established the group of survivors that will be traveling with the Wood brothers (James and Lewis). How this is introduced is when the brothers along with four characters that come into play later, Malcolm, Cooper, Natalie, and Rico all travel into the town of Centerville and find a gun store. They decide it would be best to gather more ammunition and firearms, so they cautiously enter. Once inside they look around and find no one insight, however, that isn’t the case. As the group looks for guns they like, a man named Tony shoots Malcolm in the back of the head. The rest of the group come running to see what has happened and find Malcolm’s body with Tony laughing in the background. I won’t go too much into detail as not to give anything else away, but this is the first encounter with a psychopath that I have within my story.
Now another thing that these stories have, and pretty much focus on are the groups of survivors traveling the wasteland. Stories have always revolved around a small group of characters that readers come to be enveloped in their past and present. However, the genre of zombies allows for different character building. Theses stories have a consistent if not constant change of characters going on, as survivors can die, get lost or new ones can be stumbled upon. The constant rotation of characters not only allows for new relations to develop between survivors but readers as well. In these horror tales, characters are revealed for who they really are; the decisions that they make show their true character. Another thing this allows the writer to do is create characters that audiences can sympathize with and make them want to read on to learn the fate of that character. Killing off fan favorites or even just someone’s favorite character adds a lot of drama to the already dramatic story.
I do this quite constantly in my story as well, which as I stated above is a good way to keep an audience’s attention. Having new survivors come in keeps the dynamics of the group constantly changing and helps keep the story fresh. It also allows for the audience to connect with new faces and to allow them to become attached to these people in a way that no other story does. These stories tug at the heartstrings of the audience with these characters. People become attached even when they know that a certain survivor may in fact not survive. It creates that sense of fearful attachment, knowing that you can’t help to become attached to a character yet you know that they may face a cruel fate sometime in the near future. Doing this is a key to zombie stories, as it is the death of people and fear of death that drives these tales.
A third thing that comes into play in these stories constant threat of death that follow the survivors around like a shadow. With this constant danger, the characters are, as I said before, are at risk for being killed off. However, something that some people don’t realize about these stories is that zombies aren’t the only way to kill off a character. The elements along with lack of resources such as food, water or medicine are all other ways that death can claim lives. This also ties into the realism that was mentioned early in the paper. The key to a good zombie story is having people in a world lacking in resources and running rampant with well, zombies. The lack of resources creates more problems for survivors, as they must make life and death choices when it comes to rationing out food and water or whether they are willing to risk their life for everyday supplies we take for granted. I do plan on doing this early on in the story, but this needs to be a reoccurring theme. Death needs to come from multiple sources, making everything that the survivors do affect the life of others.
Now, there are plenty of other elements that go into a solid story, but most of them are learned through experimenting, which is how I learned. By reading other peoples work and trying out new things in one’s own story, you learn what works and what makes your story fall into chaos. By taking little pieces of all the elements, and placing them in an appropriate recipe, you can become an effective storywriter.
Chapter 1: First Contact
“James, behind you, one more!”
“I see him”, James acknowledged. Armed with a metal baseball bat, he tightened his grip and clenched his teeth as the creature limped towards him. As it inched closer, James lifted the bat above his head and brought it down with a skull shattering force. The creature grunted as it fell to the ground lifeless. Looking around for more, he bent down and wiped the blood off with his victim’s clothing. “This is ridiculous, where do they keep coming from?” James panted.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to get out of here.”
“I know, now get back inside and get Mom and Dad” James barked at his brother while scanning the area one more time for anything suspicious.
Rushing back into the house, James slammed the door shut and braced himself against it. He looked over to his brother who tossed a small drawstring bag at him. “Lewis, did you get everything packed?” James asked, rummaging through the bag.
“Yes, I even got that stupid dagger thing you had in your drawer,” Lewis assured.
Pulling the blade from the bag and unsheathing it, James turned to Lewis, “You guys always made fun of me for collecting these things, now who’s laughing?” he teased.
Suddenly, they heard a scream and a loud thud. Shooting each other a nervous look, the brothers grabbed their belongings and raced through the house towards the master bedroom. Reaching the door of the bedroom, they heard crying on the other side. James dropped his possessions and reached for the doorknob with both hands, but it was securely locked to prevent entry.
Repeatedly slamming his open palm against the door James shouted, “Mom! Dad! The driveway is clear for now but we need to get moving!”
The door clicked as the locked released and the door flew open. “Kids, take your mother and get to safety,” their father shouted, pushing their mother out of the room. Looking James in the eye, his father said, “I still need to grab the gun, get outside and I’ll meet you there!” He tossed James the car keys. Glass shattered in the background. “Go! Now!” his father ordered.
Pulling the door shut, James stopped it with his foot. “We aren’t leaving without you!”
Trembling, his father pleaded, “Listen son, I love you. I need you to do this one last favor for me, watch over them, okay?”
“Dad! I’m not leaving you!” James cried, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Placing his hand upon his son’s shoulder he said, “You’re in charge now son, I need you to watch out for your brother and mother when I’m not around anymore,” giving a feign smile. He leaned in and kissed James on the forehead. Another loud crash sounded in the distance and he pushed James away, slammed the door shut and locked it.
“Get them out of here James! That’s an order!” yelled his father from behind the door. The sound of a window breaking came from within the locked room followed by a drawer sliding and a gunshot.
“Dad!” James screamed. “Dad…” he wept, falling to the ground crying.
“James,” Lewis bellowed from behind James, who was comforting their mother suffering from shock. “Take Mom and get to the car, I’ll go in after Dad.”
“No, here,” James said holding out the keys. “Give me three minutes, then get out of here!” Lewis looked to his older brother, and sighed.
“You better get your ass out there soon, I can’t take care of her on my own,” Lewis smiled as he grabbed the dangling keys from his brothers hand.
“I know,” James smiled. “Now go, get out of here!”
Clutching his mother’s hand, Lewis led her back through the house towards the garage. Upon reaching the door leading into the garage, a foreign figure stood in the way, growling. Lewis dropped his mothers grip and tightened his own around his favorite lacrosse stick as he bashed it into the figure’s head. His stick broke through the figures skull, sending blood spraying. Jerking his stick from the dead creature’s now depressed skull, chunks of decaying flesh and clots of black blood spurted onto his clothes. “Nasty bastards aren’t they?” he joked turning to his mother.
“Lewis that’s disgusting,” his mother gagged.
Lewis proceeded to open the door leading into the garage. He checked for any signs of danger then motioned for his mother to follow. They hurried into the darkness and climbed into the family vehicle. Starting the engine, they both heard a thud and looked out of the windshield. A pale, bloodied arm gripped the hood of the car as a rotting figure emerged from the shadows.
Lewis’ heart stopped as the creature proceeded to climb onto the hood, snarling. “Move the car, move the car” his mother nervously spoke as she repeatedly tapped Lewis’ shoulder.
Throwing the car into reverse, Lewis turned to his pain stricken mother who was now as pale as the figure on the car. He slammed on the gas, propelling the car through the garage door as it was ripped from the figure’s grip causing it to stumble forward. Once outside the garage, Lewis’ eyes widened as he surveyed the area and witnessed hordes of mutinous corpses closing in on the house. Quickly putting the car into drive, Lewis turned to his mother, “Grab ahold of something, I need to draw them away.”
Lewis slammed on the horn and revved the car’s engine to draw the attention of the creatures heading towards the house. As the bloodied figures turned towards and approached the car, Lewis pulled the car out into the street in front of the house. Looking back at the devastated house his attention wandered to the rear view mirror, which showed the creatures limping towards the car. Lewis threw the car into reverse and ran over several of the approaching creatures while knocking others to the ground. Finally hitting the breaks, he admired his line of carnage before pulling the car back up to is original position.
“What are they doing in there?” Lewis said gritting his teeth and smacking the steering wheel. Screeches and moans grew louder as the creatures circled the car. “Mom, we need to get out of here,” he sighed, “We can circle around for them a few times but we need to leave.” He plowed through the wall of creatures in front of the car, crushing their bodies to pulp as the car mowed them down.
Turning the street corner and proceeding down the road Lewis turned to his shaking mother, “Mom, it’ll be alright. They can handle themselves, Trust in them!” he assured her.
She looked over to him, and noticed his white knuckles hugging the steering wheel. She nodded, wiping away tears, “Okay, just pull around the block.”
Back inside the house, James looked out a window, which had been busted out and watched as the family car drove off taking many creatures with it. Turning his attention back to the locked bedroom door, he pressed his ear against the door and closed his eyes to hear any signs of life from within. Concentrating closely, he could make out some small snarls. James opened his eyes and stepped back as something slammed itself against the door.
“D-Dad?” James stumbled as he reached for his dagger lying on the ground. Nearing the door a scratching noise could be heard, James shuttered at the thought of what was going on in the room. Suddenly the scratching stopped and James stood there listening, silencing his breathing to hear anything else. He cautiously walked back up to the door and pressed his ear against its cold surface once again.
Suddenly something burst through the door, knocking James to the ground. Scrambling over to where his dagger had landed, he grasped it. James stood up to look at the creature that was hanging halfway out the splintered hole. A decaying figure with flesh hanging from its outreached arm, blotted with blood and patches of missing flesh. The creature had a pale complexion accompanied by a foul odor and a face torn apart by the shards of wood embedded in it. The creature’s teeth dripped with bloodied saliva as they snapped and snarled while it’s glazed over eyes followed his every movement.
Regaining his stance, he batted the arm away and drove his dagger deep into the creature’s skull, rendering it lifeless as it slumped in the splintered hole. Retracting his dagger and carefully pushing the creature back into the room, James grabbed up his belongings and reached through the bloody hole to unlock the door.
“Dad! Are you in here?” James yelled entering the room. Stepping over the dead corpse, he kept his back to the walls to avoid an ambush. As he made his way to the back of the room through all the wreckage, he saw a broken window with another body hanging in it. Examining the body with caution, he lifted up the head with his blade and noticed a gunshot in the center of its forehead. Searching the room for anything other signs of life, James heard gunshots coming from the backyard.
James turned his attention to the other side of the room where a door was swaying open. He hurried over knowing his father was in danger but stopped when he noticed a bloody print on the handle. He panicked at the thought of where that blood could have come from. Another shot sounded and James came to, remembering he still needed to get to his father.
Flinging open the door he saw his father surround by several creatures closing in on him. Keeping them at bay with nothing more than a broken plank of wood, he knocked back their arms and swung at their heads.
“Dad! Let’s go, Lewis is around front with Mom and the car! C’mon!” James yelled as he fought his way to his father, barely managing to avoid being bitten. Reaching his father, James took his place next to him and started to swing at the approaching creatures with his weapon sheath.
“James, I told you guys to get out of here! What the hell are you doing?” his father demanded, stunned to see his eldest son fighting by his side.
“I told you I wouldn’t leave you didn’t I?” James grinned as he surveyed the surroundings. “Okay, we have three coming from the right, four on the left and two from the house. Take out the two nearest us and make a run through the neighbor’s yard to the street behind us,” James huffed as he again swung at the approaching creatures.
“Got it,” his father said raising his gun to the oncoming creatures. Firing off several rounds, three of the approaching creatures dropped to the ground lifeless. “Move it!” he ordered his son as he again fired his gun.
James leapt over the picket fence separating his yard from the one behind it, and then turned back to his father, “Dad! Let’s go!”
His father fired off two more rounds, turned and hoped the fence to isolate himself from the aggressive creatures. He turned to his son who hastily motioned for them to keep moving.
“What are these things? James what is happening?” his father asked as they quickly ran from the sluggish aggressors. Rushing through a neighboring yard, the two came to the main road running through their subdivision. Approaching the street and seeing no car in the distance, James frantically began to look around as more and more creatures came into sight. “Answer me dammit! What the hell is going on!” his father demanded.
“Well, you know those games I play?” James asked, still looking around.
“You mean those stupid shooting games?”
“Well…sort of, the zombie games were what I was referring to.”
“You know, the living dead come to back to threaten the human race. Rotting flesh, animalistic behavior, major case of the munchies…and not the good kind either.”
“So…these things are zombies?” he asked, firing another shot into the surrounding crowd.
“Sure as hell looks that way. The news station used some other names I’d never heard of but they look and act the same way a zombie does.”
“So what do we do?”
“We find Mom and Lewis,” insisted James as he peering around to see the hordes of undead encircling them. “Shit. Dad, follow me, this way!” he hollered as he ran towards the only clearing he could see, a nearby cul-de-sac that branched off the main street. James’ father quickly followed.
Side by side, the two ran down the street dodging obstacles and zombies alike. Nearing the clearing, James tripped over a dead body lying in the street. Scrambling to his feet, he turned around just as a figure toppled over him, snapping and clawing at him. Kicking the creature off of him, he stood up and looked as it staggered and regained its footing. Its hollow eyes starred into his, sending a chill down his spine and rendering his movements. The putrid beast lurked towards the panic-stricken James as he tried to slowly backed away.
“James!” his father screamed, realizing his son was no longer tailing behind him. Whirling around, he saw the creature staggering towards his petrified son. Pulling out his gun, he took aim and blew a hole through the zombie’s brain. “Come on! Get to your feet!” he screamed as he shot off a few more rounds into the approaching horde.
“Nine…ten…eleven.” A few blocks away, Lewis was counting the shots as he weaved through the neighborhood. “He should be out of bullets soon…we need to hurry,” Lewis turned to his mother who was shaking uncontrollably.
“Mark, James…please, please both of you…” she muttered to herself.
Lewis sighed and began driving in the direction of the shots. Driving through yards and over countless zombies, he made his way towards his brother and father. Turning back onto the pavement, Lewis saw bodies scattered along the road with a horde of undead tailing his brother and father. Stepping on the gas, he sped up and wedged the car in-between the carnivorous creatures, knocking many out of the way.
Hearing a familiar noise, James looked behind him to see the car approaching from within the horde. He motioned to his father and they picked up their pace to further their distance from the zombies. Lewis sped past the zombies, unlocked the doors and pulled up along side the two running.
“Get in, hurry!” Lewis screamed. The two piled in as Lewis pulled the car around to face the staggering horde of zombies. He turned to his brother who was situating himself in the backseat with his belongings.
“Get us the hell out of here!” James yelled in terror as bloody hands began to bang against the car windows.
Turning his attention back to the large mass of undead ahead of them, Lewis pressed on the gas as the car slowly pushed its way through the horde of zombies. “What? You don’t want to enjoy the scenery? Look they’re dying to see us! Get it? Dying? Because they are dead?” he teased as they watched in fear as once friendly faces now covered in rotting flesh snapped at them.
“Lewis! Now!” Mark demanded as he smacked Lewis in the back of the head. “Sue, your son is ridiculous,” he laughed as he embraced his wife over the car seat, kissing her passionately.
“I’m so glad you two are alright,” she said shedding as tear as arms were wrapped tightly around Mark.
“Ahhh…really? Save it for later!” Lewis whined, disgusted by his parents as he broke through the horde to the open road beyond.
Making their way around obstacles and weaving through the neighborhood streets, the family watched, mortified, as they passed all the carnage and debris. Houses that once warmed the heart now sent fear into the soul. Seeing streets lined with bodies and houses painted in blood sent chills down their spines.
“Son,” Mark said as they neared the entrance to the neighborhood. “Turn on the radio, maybe there is someone still on the air.” Lewis turned on the radio, but all they heard was static. Their hearts sank, “Change it. Try another channel!” Lewis changed it a few more times, but every time it produced the same response.
“Mark…what’s that mean?” Sue panicked. She looked around to her sons, “What’s that mean? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know Mom,” James sighed. Peering back out the widow he noticed a woman being chased by several zombies. She was covered in blood with scrapes and bite marks all down her legs. James shuttered as she fell to the ground, turning his head in sorrow as the zombies disemboweled their new meal.
“Well,” Mark started, “two days ago the news stations said to head into Columbus. They said the military had an outpost there,” he said rubbing his forehead in thought. “I say our best bet is to head downtown.”
“Wh…what happens if the roads are blocked off or…or they aren’t there anymore or…?” Sue asked, still shaking.
Placing his fingers over Sue’s lips to silence her, Mark looked into her eyes and said, “ Honey, calm down. It’ll be alright, I promise.” He kissed her on the forehead and sat back in his seat. “Anyways, I’m sure they still have a camp somewhere. They can’t just leave civilians unprotected, that’s just not right!” Mark shouted as he slammed he fist against the car seat. Noticing his frustration has upset his wife; he took ahold of her hands and said to her, “Sue, everything will be alright. We got out of there alive, all of us. We have each other and that’s all we need.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said wiping away a tear.
“Alright Lewis, head for downtown Columbus. We need to find that camp,” Mark said turning his attention to Lewis.
“Ay-ay captain,” Lewis responded in a French accent. He turned onto the highway leading towards downtown.
As they neared the city, more and more abandoned cars were lining the highway. Fires dwindled in makeshift pits and clothes were scattered around the ground. Bits of burned trash drifted through the air, illuminated by the sun as it lowered into the horizon. Lewis piloted the car through the debris, careful not to disrupt the sleeping dead.
“What is all of this?” Lewis asked as they passed a truck with dismembered limbs hanging from the windows.
“A mass cemetery…” James answered in disbelief. The car slowly crawled through the wreckage as the family watched in disgust as they passed piles of burnt bodies and countless grave markers.
“This is unbelievable…” Mark said in astonishment.
As they continued through the maze of carnage, a strange sound came from behind them. A helicopter emerged from the shroud of the city. Heading straight for the car, the helicopter flew directly over them and headed in the direction in which they had just come.
“The hell was that?” James asked as he watched the helicopter disappear into the night sky.
“Looked liked a military chopper. Guess they’re still holding out,” Mark said with a sigh of relief.
Continuing down the road, a sign posted over a street sign reading ‘Military Outpost, Keep Right’.
“Lewis, over there.” Mark pointed out.
“I see it Dad,” Lewis said as he steered onto the exit ramp. Following more signs posted along the road, Lewis dodged more wreckage. Coming to a long stretch of road with trees lining both sides of the road, Lewis slowed down. “I haven’t seen any signs in several minutes,” he said concerned. He turned to his brother and father, “Should we head ba…” Just then gun shoots sounded in the distance.
“No,” Mark said, “Just keep going. Those sounded close by, and those were automatic guns shooting. Most likely from a military personnel.”
Driving a little further down the road, they saw a tank and lines of men in uniform. Behind the men was a fortified gate that creaked open to reveal an armored truck within. Lewis slowed the car to a stop as the truck approached them. He looked back to James who gave him a confused yet concerned glance. Pulling up along side of the parked car, a man wearing a suit and tie stepped out from the truck. He walked up to the driver’s side window and motioned for Lewis to lower it.
“Hello there folks, you here for the evacuation center?“ he asked leaning into the window to get a good look at all of the passengers.
“Yes, the radio said you were offering protection to anyone not yet infected,” Mark answered.
“Looks like you came to the right place,” the man smiled. Stepping back from the car, he pointed towards the open gate, “Follow the arrows to the clinic for blood work and registration, after that you will be shown to your camp site.”
“Thank you sir, thank you so much,” Mark said relieved.
“Don’t mention it. Now you get a move on, night’s coming and we need to close the perimeter soon,” the man said.
Turning to his family Mark smiled, shedding a tear, “We’re safe now.” Lewis took the car down the path that the suited man had instructed.
The man watched the car as it drove down the road and towards the clinic. He chuckled to himself, “Yes, you’re safe,” He turned to face the long road from which the family had come. “Safe for now.”