Zombie Apocalypse Forthcoming…Seriously Speaking

Yes, that’s right. I believe we’re headed for a zombie apocalypse down the road. I may or may not live to see it, but it’s coming. And I’m as serious as Parkinson’s Disease.

The apocalypse won’t be supernatural as it was in City of Brotherly Death, or the short story trio, Trilogy of the Dead, where the dead have major scores to settle with the living. In my forthcoming book, Steel Rose, and its sequel, aliens inject a chemical into live humans, turning them into flesh eating zombies. Sometimes the aliens implant microchips in the dead to make them walk and attack. However, I doubt aliens will have anything to do with real world zombies. I acquired a taste for zombie fiction, having read Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, and other books by Jonathan Maberry. He’s a brilliant writer, but I don’t foresee viruses causing zombie-like behavior either.

Jim Gurley touched on my suspicions about zombies in his book Hell Rig, which opens with Global Oil Rig #13 claiming twenty-one lives during Hurricane Katrina. When Ric Waters, the half-mad sole survivor, return with his restoration crew, they discover the presence of vengeful Voodoo Loas on the haunted rig. Now I don’t believe people will use Voodoo to make zombies in the future, but the weather will cause the dead to rise. I’m thinking about Katrina, Irene, and now Sandy. These monster storms seem to be our new normal. Ditto for the extreme winters where you get two feet of snow or more.

Sandy left behind many battered trees that fell on live wires and property. My local buddies and I have had to change driving routes to avoid the live wires and detours. I got to thinking what if some of those live wires landed near a cemetery. The thought takes me back to Frankenstein, where electricity gave life to a dead body. We’ve just gotten through Sandy, with another nor’easter coming in a couple of days. As the years pass, all of that rain and flooding will cause graves to open up. Lightning and live wires may electrocute the bodies, and cause them to move…and walk.

The zombie’s behavior will depend on how long it was dead before reanimating and the condition of the heart and brain at the time of death. In a recently deceased person who died of say, a gunshot wound to the stomach, the heartbeat might resume, delivering blood to the vital organs, including the brain. Such a person might be able to think, make decisions, and recognize people. They might speak clearly, know right from wrong, and be able to express affection.

A close relative or friend might feel wonderful about being reunited with his Uncle Joe, enough so that they bring the person home with them. And that’s where trouble begins. Basically, we’re talking about a crapshoot. By the time the person reanimates, the brain has sustained moderate damage, and resumption of circulation doesn’t guarantee that deterioration will stop. The first signs of brain damage include agitation, combativeness, and confusion. In the newly reanimated, family members may not pick up these signs in Uncle Joe. So after a couple of days, the “happy reunion” ends when the person fails to recognize his family, acts out, and bites. The bitten may not turn into zombies, but they will pick up a nasty infection, perhaps the kind that kills without timely treatment.

Most of the newly reanimated won’t be able to think because their brains have decayed so much. Their voices will sound like pebbles lodged in the windpipe. I picture them shuffling the streets like the fictional zombies, but not necessarily tearing up and chewing on people. They may become agitated and bite without provocation. If the bitten dies from the infection, they won’t rise from the dead unless another storm comes along, and lightning strikes the grave.

By the time our apocalypse happens, most people will own generators. I pray they do. I pray that someone comes up with a battery-powered generator because many landlords and homeowners’ associations won’t permit residents to own gas-powered generators. That stinks because when the dead rise, a power outage is inevitable. Howcumzit? The dead might go after people who run the power plants, and a plant can’t run itself. Also, if the dead break into a plant and start batting at the buttons and controls, the power from the plant will become history. I’m optimistic that given our track record of storms, most people will pony up the money for a generator and keep it hidden.

These zombies are not going to be strong brutes that can tear down telephone poles and transformers, so we may have electricity in some areas. Again, a crapshoot.

If the zombies come during my lifetime, I’m going to look over my shoulder wherever I walk in case one of the reanimated heads my way. As for my balloon stories or photos, I might share them with a friend who just died and reanimated, and thus able to appreciate a good balloon tale. At the first sign of agitation or confusion, though, I’m running as if King Kong were after me. I’m hoping by the time this apocalypse happens, science invents plasma guns, like the kind in Steel Rose. The kind that’s user-friendly for delicate hands.

How do you feel about zombies? Do you think we’re headed toward an apocalypse? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Aliens injected a chemical that turned Barbara Custer's characters into zombies in Steel Rose.

If live wires or lightning strikes a grave, we’ll get a visitor like this zombie.

“Discrete” Use of English

Night to Dawn features zombie tales among other horrors.

During my current WOP, I ran into major problems with the word discrete, and my fellow scribes called me on it. My manuscript read: “People so we have to be discrete with our conversation.” Wrongies. “Discrete” pertains to separate or distinct, and the appropriate word for caution is “discreet.” The noun version for discrete is discretion. For “discreet,” you’d write “discreteness,” which causes more confusion.

Example: I bought a discrete number of balloons for my home, but if there’s a zombie invasion, I’d better be discreet.

Here is an oldie but goodie verb, lie versus lay, one that confuses writers. I see it in my NTD tales all the time. Yes, Yours Truly has gotten caught on this one, too. If you’re talking about someone who’s reclining, “lie” is used for the present tense, while “lay” is used for past tense, and “lain” for past participle. If you’re setting something in a given place, choose “lay” for present and “laid” for past and past participle.
Examples of reclining: The zombies are gone, so lie down and rest. He lay in the tree all afternoon. He’d lain in bed all morning.
Examples of placing something: Lay the balloon tree on the table. I laid my watch on the drawer. She’d laid her clothes out on the sofa.

“Lead versus led” can cause confusion and frustration. Lead, rhyming with bead, means to be in charge or in front. The past tense is always “led.” Confusion arises because “lead” when you’re referring to the metal is pronounced “led.” So to make it simpler…lead rhyming with bead means taking charge or being in front. Lead rhyming with bed is a toxic metal element. Led is the past and past participle of the verb “lead” (rhymes with bead).
Examples: He leads the soldiers on a quest to capture the zombies. She led her soldiers to the cemetery. They stole the lead from the church roof to pay for the guns.

Do you find yourself stumbling over words like this? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Balloon Ambush

It was Staples’ fault. Granted, my balloon purchase happened at the Giant, but my fall from grace began with Staples. I started my week with the most frugal intentions. For one thing, the book trailer I’d like for Steel Rose will cost a few dollars, and so will the editing services I’ll need for my WOP’s. That, and the price for winter supplies.
Why winter supplies? Every fall, I try to purchase enough dry and frozen goods to last me through the winter. I’ve grown tired of shopping during the winter months only to find that the store has run out of the items I need. Worse, during a severe winter, the snow piles up so high around the sightlines in the parking lots that I can’t navigate safely. Besides, two weeks ago, I’d acquired ten balloons so I decided to hold off balloon purchasing for a while.
At the Acme, I took advantage of strategic sales on tomato sauce, and left the store sans balloons. Two days later, I headed to Staples to purchase CD envelopes, and that’s when the balloon decorations caught my eye. Multiple trees with huge latex balloons in rainbow colors sprouted in every aisle. Shiny ones, no less. I stopped to admire the balloons, paid for my purchase, and asked if I could buy a balloon. “No,” the cashier said, smiling, “these balloons are for our Columbus Day promotion sale.”
Hmmmm. I wonder if I should display balloon trees when I have a book signing.
Those shiny balloons made an indelible imprint in my mind. The next day at work, I briefed everyone on Staples and its balloons. Happily, my peer workers have a great sense of humor.
Yesterday, I went to Giant with a long list. Baking season is upon us with the holidays and Halloween coming. I was in a hurry to get through the shopping as I needed to get to the car repair shop before 5:30. So I moved fast. No time for balloons. Besides, it was bitterly cold outside, not the ideal weather for hauling balloons.
At the self-checkout, a Mylar green seahorse caught my eye. “No,” I told myself, “I’ve got no time.”
Still, a look at the seahorse wouldn’t take long. So I went behind the register to peek. Capital mistake. A dozen Halloween balloons leaped out from behind the seahorse, ambushing me. So much for my good intentions. One of them, a smiling pumpkin, made it into my cart. He’s in my living room now. After all that, I made it to the shop, and my car passed inspection.
It’s never too cold to buy balloons!

Mylar balloons and zombie fiction go well together for Barbara Custer

Forming an LLC requires close attention.

What Would You Do in a Zombie Invasion?

In June, 2012, I posted a blog titled “Healthcare Workers and Zombies” in Charles Wellston’s Grits n Gravy page. My anthology, City of Brotherly Death, called for a reality check when I considered how modern-day people would respond to a zombie invasion. Eternal Press has slated Steel Rose for publication in February 2013. I anticipate more editing before the book goes to press. Another reality check.

The Kryszka aliens of Steel Rose, at least the bad guys, make zombies by injecting captured humans with a chemical to alter their brain function. The renegades starve their prisoners, gauge out their eyes, cut them, etc. When they’re through, the victim resembles one huge gaping sore. Afterwards, the soldiers will soak the prisoner with cadaverine and putrescine, chemicals found in decaying corpses. All the torture, brain damage and cell alteration strips away judgment and thinking, leaving behind an angry specimen starving for human flesh. At that point, people had better look out.

Unlike traditional zombies, the ones in Steel Rose breathe and have a pulse. They look and smell many days’ dead, but when they’re awake, they’re deadly. The chemical administered incites aggression, anger, and a craving that won’t quit. They only know hunger and will kill to satisfy it. Kryszka natives who ingest this chemical experience the craving, too.

Let’s revisit the hospital I mentioned in Grits n Gravy. Suppose our respiratory therapist is caring for someone who’s been “doctored” by the Kryszka renegades. Our doctors examine him, treat his wounds as best they can, and keep him sedated. The chemical coursing through his blood will never show in his lab reports. Our equipment, primitive by Kryszka standards, cannot isolate and identify the mysterious chemical. Keep in mind that hospital personnel are overworked and burned out as it is. When the patient wakes up and tries to bite people, most caregivers will label it “change of mental status” and restrain the patient. That’s the best case scenario.

Worst case? Our patient is sedated, breathing through a tracheotomy tube with mechanical ventilation. His respiratory therapist must suction his airway and mouth. This goes doubly so if his EEG fails to show brainwave activity and the doctors expect to harvest viable organs. No one will suspect aliens or zombies, even when he wakes, yanks out his tube, and bites the hapless therapist.

Let’s backtrack to possible events leading to the patient’s admission. Perhaps an innocent Joe gets into a fight with a Kryszka renegade, and manages to shoot and kill him. Alas, many aliens travel in pairs. At least the Kryszka do. The renegade’s backup injects our citizen with the chemical and carts him off to aliens’ underground compound for the zombie treatment. Later, someone finds his body in an alley and calls the police. The paramedics put him on a ventilator and rush him to a hospital. The doctors may appreciate the severity of his injuries, his emaciated state, and then blame a wild animal for the attack.

The hospital in Steel Rose has an advantage because a refugee Kryszka doctor works there. He trains the other doctors well, and they learn to detect foreign chemicals in the blood. Treating casualties by Kryszka renegades becomes a routine event. Still, traditional rules prevail; guns are banned. People dumb enough to obey the no-weapons rule become a Blue Plate Special for the invading zombies. Administration hates spending money for competent officers, and the security guards employed pick up their marbles and run home. They might be able to handle one Steel Rose zombie, and I repeat one. Not a whole slew of them.

Then I started wondering. What would I do if a horde of zombies broke into the hospital where I worked? In my fantasy world, I’d run to the gift shop and hide behind the Mylar balloons. That might not be so bad. The helium in those balloons is lethal to the Kryszka soldiers who lead these zombies. A few inhalations from a punctured balloon will kill them. As for the zombies? Different story. Reality check: adrenaline enables people to do surprising things – either speed run or fight like hell. No one can predict what they’d do until the zombies show.

Our staff therapist could run. He could try to fight back. As I mentioned in my other post, his tools, like scissors and a screwdriver, won’t get him far with zombies. If he’s lucky, he will get underground employment by a zombie squad. That’s probably the only way he’ll survive.

Steel Rose portrays a scene where our protagonist shoves an administrator into the path of the zombies. Uh, oh.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien.

The helium in these balloons is lethal to the Kryszka alien.


WordPress.com versus WordPress.org: a First Time Experience

I did it! I changed the CSS on my website to make the body text larger without balling up the rest of the website. This was my first time using CSS, and I did a LOT of reading before attempting the change. I’m feeling good about this, but now I’m thinking I want to change other things, like the font size on the headers, and the fonts themselves, at least on the body. But I made a start.

Last month, I signed on with www.godaddy.com, imported two plug-ins, and purchased spam filtering from www.askimet.com and backup services from www.vaultpress.com.  Every so often, I check my website for updates and install when one is available. www.typekit.com was offering free services to spare me the learning curve of CSS, but their instructions on how to install their proffered fonts went over my head.

Up until last month, I did my website through WordPress.com. They gave me the hosting, the spam filter, the backups, and for a small fee, fonts of various sizes that I could pluck and use on my website without bothering with CSS. Since I switched over to WordPress.org, I’ve had to do these things myself. It’s kinda like growing up and putting away my toys.

WordPress.com made a great site for my blog and Night to Dawn magazine. So why then did I make the change? Because Night to Dawn is much more than a bi-yearly magazine now. The Night to Dawn books, including the ones I write, demand a more genre-specific theme than the ones provided by WordPress.com. WordPress.org has a lot of nice plug-ins, including search optimization that I couldn’t get with WordPress.com. Ditto with genre-specific themes. As it was, I did a lot of tweaking with the background of the theme before the transfer. Also I found that a lot of public places used web filters that blocked my access to the WordPress.com and other blog sites. Not so with WordPress.org.

For me, the worst part was the transfer. I used WordPress.com guided transfer. They were great. In addition to the transfer, they provided two weeks’ worth of guidance. Al Sirois, my webmaster, demonstrated a lot of good humor during the process, including sitting beneath two enormous balloon trees while poring through the labyrinth of WordPress.com code.

I’m going to keep my background the way I have it for the next couple of years. But my writing mentors have suggested that I alter my theme every two to three years. Hopefully by the next theme change, I will have more than a nodding acquaintance with CSS.

WordPress.com was very good to me, and I strongly recommend it for a blog and beginning website. Since I’ve gotten into publishing and more writing, I had to move on. One thing has not changed, however. I still get waylaid by the Mylar balloons at the supermarkets.

Have you ever thought about trying WordPress.org?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Night to Dawn 23 features zombies, vampires, and dark fantasy.

When the Balloons Call

These lovely balloons came from the Giant.

These lovely balloons came from the Giant.

Lately, I’ve been watching my budget; I’ve set my sights toward a Kindle e-reader or tablet. That means working overtime hours at my day job. My downfall came when I went food shopping this morning at the Giant and got waylaid by an enormous pink butterfly balloon.

I’ve already got two pink Mylar butterflies at home, but that’s not the point. I’ve got a weakness for Mylar balloons in general, and every time I shop at any supermarket, more balloons call to me, tempting me to buy. At my usual haunts, the cashiers have gotten to know my tastes, and they will lay out a huge assortment, knowing I will succumb. At the pharmacy where I get Mike’s medicine, the Mylar assortment goes out in the aisles as soon as I call in for a refill. So I wind up leaving with something in addition to the medicine. One cashier assured me that they had plenty more of balloons with which to tempt me.

As soon as the pink butterfly flew my way, it squatted on my head, marking its territory. There was no point in running because all the aisles were riddled with balloons–Mylar flowers, insects, Disney characters, roses. They popped up in strategic places. I walked in, thinking about a fruit platter, and then those butterflies swarmed my way. All thoughts of fruit and anything else left my head. The last two visits to the Giant have matched me with pink butterflies, and now the inside of my car has taken on a pinkish tinge. In the interest of conserving resources, the Mylar butterflies hold their helium well.

Because it was getting near 90, I turned on the AC as soon as I got to the car. This enables the balloon to keep cool while I stowed my groceries. I must be the only person this side of Pennsylvania who will cool down a car to protect a balloon.
I’m still planning to get that e-reader, perhaps sometime in August. I’m thinking along the lines of Kindle Fire, or something that I can use for reading and sending email, as well as reading eBooks. But the balloons will always lure me into buying at the store. Always. They don’t call me Barbara of the Balloons for nothing.

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