Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"On Zombies: An Essay"

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. However, I acknowledge that this isn't the case for everyone. Some people just don't enjoy candy, Boo Berry, slinky costumes or fun in general. For others, Halloween isn't fun because they genuinely don't enjoy being scared.

 My wife, for example.

Her particular fear is zombies. She can't quite nail it down, but they terrify her.  If you're in my position and have to watch The Walking Dead in the other room with headphones to keep from giving your wife nightmares, please direct your significant other to today's post. 

Zombies aren't scary. And here's a ten year old to explain why.

“On Zombies: An Essay”
Aaron M. Smith- 22 Oct 2013

“Ahem,” Caleb cleared his throat in front of his fifth grade class. “I’ve been working on my essay for a few weeks, and I’m really excited to talk about it today. My older brother helped me do some of the research and helped me write some of it. Thanks Matt.”

He glanced at his teacher, Mister Abernathy, to make sure that was okay. Mister Abernathy nodded for him to continue. Caleb took a deep breath, then began.

“Zombies have been part of our culture for many years. They’ve appeared in movies, books, TV shows and music, and they’re almost always portrayed the same way- as terrifying, unstoppable killing machines. Zombies are so awful, in fact, that if there’s even one of them around, it usually means the world is ending. But why?

“Why are zombies so terrifying? Something about a shambling, brain-munching monster that used to be a human sets off an age-old terror so elemental to the human condition that we scarcely bother to consider what it is about them that makes them scary at all.” Caleb glanced at this teacher, who was looking at him from beneath half-lidded eyes. “I did say that Matt helped me write some of it,” Caleb explained.

“Let’s look at some other predators and consider what makes them scary, and compare their behavior to zombies.” Caleb flipped to the next slide on the PowerPoint presentation. The slide showed a screen print of three wolves howling at the moon. 

“Consider the wolf. They’re fast, strong, and hunt in packs. But zombies are none of these things. They can’t work together to isolate prey. At best, they move slower than a normal person can run.”

“What about fast zombies!” Shouted a girl with pigtails in the front row.

“Those don’t count,” Caleb answered. “Those are Rage-infected, a whole different subclass from regular zombies. I won’t get into those today.” Caleb clicked the slideshow forward, to a scene of a huge animatronic shark eating a boat- by far the scariest shark picture Google could produce.

“Consider the shark. Sharks will follow the smell of blood and attack already wounded prey. But zombies can’t do this either. They don’t know to go after weakened prey before attacking strong, fighting prey. They just go after whoever happens to be nearest at the time.”

Some kids looked like they wanted to argue, but nobody interjected. Several heads nodded. He clicked to the next slide, showing a cartoon lion picking its teeth with an antelope horn, a look of utter contentment on its face. 

“Consider the lion,” Caleb plowed forward. He was on a roll now. “The lion uses stealth to sneak up on unsuspecting prey and attack it. Zombies don’t seem to be able to tell day from night, and even if they could, zombies don’t sneak. A shuffling stroll is as good as any of them can seem to manage, and even then they’re usually growling or spitting. Not a good tactic for sneaking up on your meal.”

Several of the kids chuckled.

“My last example: Consider spiders,” Caleb said, changing the slide dramatically. Several kids gasped at the scene he’d taken from the climax of Arachnophobia, where the guy finds the basement full of spiders. “Spiders are tiny, and easy to accidentally stumble across. Given a limited food source, they can reproduce almost indefinitely. Also, they’re poisonous; they have a natural weapon. Spiders are the scariest thing I can think of that’s least like zombies.”

“Not bigfoot!” Shouted a jerk named Timmy at the back of the class. Several kids laughed. Caleb waited until they were finished before resuming.

“Nobody’s afraid of bigfoot, Timmy,” Caleb said. Timmy looked like he wanted to argue, but a look from Mister Abernathy silenced him. Caleb continued, “Zombies are big and easy to spot. The only way they can reproduce if they bite somebody and then don’t eat them- they have to give up their own food source for reproduction. Also, they have no natural weapons, beyond fingers and teeth. They can’t punch or kick, and they can’t use weapons like normal people can.

“In conclusion,” Caleb said, scrolling to the final slide. It contained a cartoon drawing of a zombie with a red circle with a slash through it, “As far as zombies go, there is nothing to be scared of. They’re slow, big, dumb, loud, and wimpy. You’re more likely to die of a moose bite than from a zombie attack.” 

Mister Abernathy started clapping, prompting the rest of the class to join in. After a moment the applause stopped and Caleb returned to his seat.

“Thank you Caleb for that enlightening essay. Very informative,” Mister Abernathy said, stepping up before the class. He turned and glanced at the clock, then out the window into the playground yard. 

Several shambling corpses had begun lumbering through the yard toward the school- as he watched, one of them stumbled and fell over the edge of the slide and landed face first in the mud at its base. A handful of others had gotten tangled in the swingset. One or two of them had actually managed to clear the playground equipment and were within stumbling distance of the front doors.

“Alright kids, it’s Wednesday, so that means it’s our turn to clear the yard. Everyone, get your weapons from your cubbies and follow me. And no, Timmy,” Mister Abernathy called, anticipating Timmy’s question, “Firearms are not allowed. You have to be in sixth grade to use a gun, those are the rules.”

“Aw, man!” Timmy cawed as everyone hurried to the back of the room. Soon each student had a weapon in hand- Caleb was extra proud of his cricket bat, which his dad had used to defend their home four nights prior. 

“Alright everyone, find your buddy,” Mister Abernathy said, readying his own aluminum baseball bat. “Remember, aim for the heads. If you can’t reach the head, aim for the knees and let your buddy take him out when he falls. We’ll have juice boxes when we get back. Jodie,” he said, pointing with his bat, “spit out that gum. Okay, let’s go.”

Monday, October 14, 2013


First, I have to apologize for a few things. 

Number one, for those readers that are fans of Pigeons, it's going to be a couple weeks until the next installment. I know, living without finding out what happens is going to be tough, but please bear with me. 

Next, I have to apologize to my long-time fans. October is always a special month for me- I love scary stories, and typically October on my blog is the time when my macabre side is given time to shine. I've been neglecting my horror-loving readers this season due to other projects and commitments. 

No longer!

This is the first scary story I've written in a long time (the first short story period I've written in a long time actually), and it felt great to be back in the saddle. I've been watching scary movies all month in preparation for my favorite holiday of the year. I finished the four Scream movies last week. They may or may not have influenced this story. A little. 

Aaron M. Smith- October 2013

My phone dinged. One new text message. 

I paused the video I was watching on my computer and rolled the chair back from my desk so I could reach my phone on the bed. I unlocked it and read the message.

Hey hot stuff

I glanced at my phone again. Not a number I recognized. Not even an area code I recognized. Somebody must have texted me by accident. 

I stared at the text, thinking. I’ve seen a couple of these on the internet before- someone gets a text from an unknown number, they text back, the original texter has no idea, they keep going, hilarity ensues. 

I smiled. What the hell, let’s have a little fun. Not like I was doing anything tonight anyway.

Hey what’s up?

Nothin what r u n 2?

I received the response almost instantly, like whoever’s texting me is waiting to reply. 

Might go out for a drink, I reply.

Naw, u should come party with us

Oh, hello. This was getting interesting. 


Me and the girls, duh.

Oh hell yes. 

Cool, where u guys at?

The apartment, came the reply. 

Whose apartment?, I wrote.


Aw crap. I might have to give myself up after all. I decided to take the gamble.

Where’s that again?

No immediate text back this time. Had she realized that she’d been texting the wrong guy?

1440 Broadway, #136 god ur forgetful 

Haha I know, I wrote, breathing a sigh of relief. 

Bring booze, she wrote back. 

I found a sweatshirt in my closet and pulled it over my head. I was already in my sock drawer taking out some of my personal stash when I caught myself. 

Woah. You don’t even know who this person is. For all you know this apartment is full of huge dudes who are going to rob you, beat you and leave you for dead. 

I slipped a little glass flask into my jeans pocket as I opened my dorm room door.

Nah. Nah, nothing’s going to happen. It’s going to be fine. 

And what are you going to say when you get there? An annoying voice in my head chimed in. Oh hi, you texted me accidentally so I thought I’d crash your party, by the way here’s some cheap tequila.

Actually, that might be exactly what I say. Beat sitting at home on Netflix on a Friday night.

1140 Broadway was only a couple blocks away, so I decided to walk it rather than walk to the student parking lot and get my car.

It only took about ten minutes, but by the time I got there I was cold and tired of walking. The flask of booze in my pocket was making my butt freeze in the November evening, and every step seemed to be one more reason to turn my frozen ass around and finally finish season six of Buffy.

But here I was, a crappy looking apartment complex on a not-great end of town at nearly midnight to meet… who? Some disembodied voice.

I could see the building where apartment 136 was when I stopped in my tracks. I stood there in the darkness for a minute, watching my breath cloud in front of my face. 

My phone buzzed in my sweatshirt, making me jump and making my phone tumble out onto the concrete. I groaned and picked it up.

Where u at?

I hesitated, then wrote Outside.

I watched as a tiny diamond of yellow light appeared in the venetian blinds of one of the apartments in front of me. Then a silhouetted head briefly blocked the light before it vanished.

There u are. Come on!

I walked to the door of the building, my mind spinning. Okay, time to think up a plan. Hi, no, sorry, I’m not the guy you were looking for, but I did get your text, and uh… look! Tequila! Yeah, that might work actually. Girls love tequila. 

That idea started to look less appealing as I climbed the stairs. For all they knew I was some serial killer who stalked and killed girls who accidentally texted his number. What if they maced me as soon as I walked in? Well might ruin my evening. 

No need to jump to conclusions, I thought as I reached the top of the stairs. For all I know these are perfectly nice people who’d love to meet someone knew. Someone who just happened to have a pocket full of tequila that he was willing to share. 

Number one-thirty-six. I walked up the door and knocked. Nobody answered for a moment. I tried the knob- locked. I pulled out my phone and tapped out a quick text- hey the door’s locked.

Oops, came the reply. I heard the knob click, but nobody opened the door. I waited a second, then tried the knob myself again. It was unlocked this time. 

When I opened the door, I was initially surprised to see that nobody was in the living room. There was music playing from a stereo in the corner, and some chick TV show was playing on the television on mute. I could see the kitchenette from the door- the door of the fridge was standing open. 

“Hey,” I called out. “Hey, I’m here!” 

I hadn’t anticipated this- would I freak them out if I walked into another room? At what point did the probability of getting maced outweigh the potential to meet a bunch of girls?

Determining I hadn’t met that threshold yet, I let myself in and walked through the apartment. There was only a short hall that led to a back bathroom and probably a bedroom.

“Hey, I got your text,” I said. “I, uh, I brought tequila!” 

I walked into the bedroom. 

The girl hanging from the ceiling fan was obscuring the light from the single fixture, silhouetting her body against the harsh yellow light. 

I screamed and backpedaled right into the door frame, then slipped and fell on my butt on the carpet, bruising my tailbone on the glass flask in my pocket. 

The girl had probably been beautiful once- short blonde hair cut in a bob framed her face, which had turned purple-gray in asphyxiation. Her grey-blue eyes were wide opened and nearly bugging out of her head. The whites had been stained red from her blood vessels rupturing. 

I finally managed to tear my eyes off of her and turned to the bathroom, which was adjacent to the bedroom. I barely made it to the toilet before I completely emptied my stomach. I wretched until I dry heaved and could only taste the bile. 

I spat into the toilet until I was sure I wouldn’t puke all over the carpet. Then I stood and walked back into the bedroom, carefully looking at the dead girl’s feet instead of her face. She was wearing a light blue nightgown. I carefully touched one exposed ankle with two fingers. She was cold and clammy- she’d been here a while. A stool was on its side a few feet away.

That was when I noticed it. Something else on the floor, near the stool, a little black rectangle. Her phone. 

I couldn’t look at it. I knew what I’d see when I did, Instead I took my phone out of my pocket to call the police. 

My thumb slipped, and I accidentally dialed the last number I’d been texting. 

The phone on the carpet at the feet of the dead girl began to buzz. No. No, no no this was impossible. I was going crazy. I couldn’t even be here right now, could I? 

A creaking noise made me jump, and I turned back toward the living room. I could just make out the voices over the sound of the stereo. I tiptoed back toward the entry.

Someone was talking, just on the other side of the door. Two voices, one man and one woman. 

Five heavy thumps on the door nearly made my heart stop. I held my breath, sure that my fevered mind had just imagined them, the sound of my heartbeat in my own ears magnified a thousand times in the apartment of a suicidal girl. 

“Police, please open the door,” came an authoritative man’s voice. 

Oh, shit.

The prospect of opening the door didn’t even cross my mind. I ran to the second bedroom. It was painted light pink with a pink-and-brown patterned bedspread. A guitar and some books and a cheap desk filled the tiny room. I looked out the window- it overlooked a different side of the parking lot than I’d come from, and in the darkness I could make out a little patch of grass beneath the window. 

I opened the window and looked down. The drop was probably fifteen feet to the ground, maybe less. Five more heavy thumps sounded on the door, followed by more authoritative shouting.

“Police, please open the door.”

Who the hell had called the police? I didn’t have time to consider it- I had one leg out the window when a thought struck me. I ran back into the other bedroom and kept my eyes locked on the floor until I saw the girl’s phone. I snatched it off the carpet and crammed it into my pocket before I could think twice about the idea. 

Then I slipped out of the small bedroom window.

Something popped in my ankle when I landed, and I cried out as I fell onto my knees and rolled before ending up on my back in the grass and dirt. 

I gritted my teeth- what if another cop had heard that? I stayed low to the ground and listened- nothing. I winced in pain as I started to walk, going as quickly as I dared without looking too conspicuous. Hot lances of pain raced up my leg with each step. I could taste metal- I must have bit my tongue when I landed. God, I regretted ever opening that stupid text message. 

That reminded me about the phone in my pocket. I fished out the girl’s phone and unlocked it- it didn’t have a password. I opened her text messages and saw, right at the top, the conversation she and I had been having. 

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I read back through the text message conversation in reverse, staring with the most recent. It was dated ten minutes ago. How the hell was it dated ten minutes ago? That girl had to have been dead for… hours. Days, maybe. After a moment I realized that my feet had stopped walking- I had to force myself to keep moving, get back to my room.

Wait. Something was wrong. I scrolled back through the messages, all the way to the first one she sent me on accident. 

Or, it should have been the first one. There were others, sent from my phone.

Nice meeting you tonight

Hey, let’s hang out

Don’t you know I love you?

Just who do you think you are?



I’m not going away

I’ll show you

Two weeks. The conversation went back two weeks. As I walked I removed my own phone from my pocket and compared them. Of course it was in my phone, too. The timestamps matched up perfectly. 

I hadn't written those messages. I couldn't have. They sounded crazy. 

You've been getting texts from a dead girl all evening. You just walked into her apartment, stole her phone, then broke out when the cops arrived. Are you absolutely sure you aren't crazy?

What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t call the cops. How could I explain how I got this girls phone? Oh god, the cops. They were going to find my DNA and fingerprints all over that apartment. Who was this girl, anyway? Had she told anyone else about me?

No, she couldn’t have told anyone about you because you’ve never seen her before! A hysterical voice screamed inside my head. 

I needed to get back to my room. Get back home, go to sleep, and maybe this whole nightmare would be over when I woke up. Yeah. Clear my head, get everything straight. This had nothing to do with me.

I put the foreign phone back into my pocket as I idly scrolled down to the end of the message on my own phone. 

The last line of the text was different this time. There was another message from the other phone, sent… oh god. Just minutes ago. It said,

Why r u leaving? The party just started.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Pigeons", part 8

When assaulted by pests, sometimes the best course of action is to seek council with those you trust. In a case like this, my brother will have to do.

(I've heard from several people who read my previous posts that the story doesn't make much sense. It's like walking into a movie when it's halfway through- you probably need to start at the beginning. That said, here are the earlier posts. Each is only one page, they're quick reads. Chapter one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.)