Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shoes, Chuds, and Faulty Memories!

As I was doing some writing, I stumbled upon an original draft of stories from my first collection In 666 Words.  I was amused to find a story called The Shoe Collection, which did not make the final draft.  There's an amusing story of why this happened.

Back in the mid-1980s there was a low budget horror movie called C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers or Contaminated Hazardous Urban Disposal – depending on which part of the movie you’re watching – SPOILERS!).  The movie had a fun concept and certainly captured that shitty early 1980s, pre-Giuliani clean-up period for New York City.  The biggest problem, as I hinted at, is the movie has zero budget to back up its’ grand premise.  If this movie had focused on S.W.A.T. troopers entering the sewer systems and battling these man-eating monsters, like Aliens in New York, that would have been so bad-ass.  But, with little funding the movie is basically too much of Daniel Stern working at a soup kitchen and people running around wasting our time.

I was not a fan of C.H.U.D. and one viewing was plenty.  There was never any intention to revisit the movie.

Flash forward almost three decades and I am somewhere in the midst of writing In 666 Words.  While I’m working on that I also have one night a week free from writing where my brother and a friend join me for what we deem Netflix Night.  The goal of this one evening is to choose a bad movie so we can essentially riff on it nonstop like our own personal Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  The kind of movies we aspire to watch are things like Maximum Overdrive, The Substitute, Foxy Brown, and, of course, C.H.U.D.

So we’re watching C.H.U.D. and I have a horrendous twist in my stomach as I realize that a key scene in the movie is essentially the exact same thing I recently wrote for a story in In 666 Words.  How in the hell did that happen?  Was there still a lone memory lodged in my brain from a lousy movies I watched thirty years ago?  Obviously I was not stealing the concept as I had no clear memory of this moment in C.H.U.D., but it’s clear as day that my story and an early scene of the movie are simply too similar.  Now, I’m sure this happens more often to writers than we hear about.  Immediately I am thinking of the plot of The Simpson’s Movie and the Stephen King novel Under the Dome.  No matter, I knew at that point that I had to remove my tale from the book before my initial outing would be reviewed by people shouting, “This guy is ripping off C.H.U.D.!”  Nobody wants that, probably less than they want to realize that memories of C.H.U.D. are still floating around in their subconscious.  However, I’m proud of the little tale I penned, especially when I thought it was 100% original, and even though it won’t make it into any collection I post for sale, I wanted it to live on for readers of my blog.  So included below is the complete story.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s too similar to C.H.U.D. or if my memory lapse isn’t bordering on copyright infringement as much as I think it is.  Granted, you'll need to go watch C.H.U.D. to give an unbiased opinion on the matter.

(a tale in 666 words)

“So, I hear you have quite a shoe collection?”  Jessica jumped right to the point.  It was late, she was cold, tired and uncomfortable in the dilapidated old office building.  The place smelled of urine and worse.  To make matters worse, she was dressed up for a fund-raiser she was supposed to be covering for the paper.  She could only imagine the filth she might stumble into or the odors that would cling to her when she left.

Still, the increasing disappearance of women in the city was the hottest story going.  Every reporter was scrambling for leads, and Jessica’s tips led to her current location where she hoped something would deliver.

Laying on the ground next to her was a bum who went by the name of “Al Pro” because of his love for wearing sports jerseys while panhandling before football and baseball games shouting “Eat ‘em up!” while jiggling a cup for change.

Al Pro looked at her for a minute, his eyes hazy.  “Shoes?  Yes, I gots shooooooeeess.”  Then he started giggling.  He pointed to the next room.

Jessica walked over and was immediately stunned by the sheer amount of woman’s shoes displayed before her.  There were easily over one hundred.  Al had set up make shift shelves to display them.  It looked like a twisted shoe store because the wide variety of shoes only had one of each distinctive style.  Inspecting them revealed little.  There was no blood or evidence on any of the shoes.

From the other room Al was still looking at her, “I likes them shoes.  You got.  Red is my favorite color.”  Then he started mumbling a song.

She took out her phone and snapped a few pictures of the collection.  The lighting and quality were horrible, but for now it would suffice.

Al was still lying on his filthy mattress.  “Sees, all thems shoes!  I love me some shoes!”

“Al, where did you find these shoes?”

He thought for a minute.  “I find them in the street mostly.  When I go walking in the morning.  Loves the colors,  I can look at ‘em all day.”

“Yes, they’re very nice.”

Jessica had more questions, Al had fewer answers.

The street was barren as Jessica walked back to her car.  Her mind was racing in several directions trying to determine her next course of action.  Right now, all she had leading her to the missing people were the shoes.  She was hours late for the party she was supposed to be covering.  Her lead was mostly a bust, and all she wanted was to be out of this part of town.  She picked up her pace, hearing her footsteps echo down the concrete canyon.

There was the sharp ting of metal from the street.

Jessica froze, listening for it to return.

Then she looked down and realized the sound was coming from directly at her feet.

The sewer lid shook.  She was sure of it.

Stepping closer, her brain made the final connections a split second too late.  The metal cover pushed up and a grotesque reptilian claw shot out, snatching her ankle.  It was like a vice.  Jessica fell backwards, sprawling across the cement, clutching for anything to gain a handhold as she felt herself swiftly pulled towards the sewer opening.

Jagged nails scraped over her leg, removing her shoe.

Jessica saw her red heel spiral away into the air and clatter alone in the middle of the street.  That’s when she felt the razor sharp teeth dig into her foot.

“Help!”  She shouted as the full fight-or-flight kicked in.  Then her screams became unintelligible as she was pulled below, into the dark sewer.

The heavy metal lid slammed back into place with a clang of finality.

This late at night, the city paid no notice.

The next morning, while making his rounds around town, Al found a beautiful red high heel shoe sitting alone in the street.  He took it home and added it to his collection. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


A few years ago I wrote a couple articles for eHow.  Back then that site was great and they paid you based on how many hits your article was getting.  My article was about getting ink stains out of your clothes.  Then I wrote one about choosing the best seat in a movie theatre (based on visual, sound, and asshole proximity).  Both of my articles attracted a couple of views and put a few pennies in my pocket.

Then one day the thought hit me that I was writing articles for everyday life and that’s not always the largest generator of hits when it comes to Internet search engines.  I decided to right a funny little article on fortifying your home during the, sure to happen, zombie apocalypse.  Mind you, this was before The Walking Dead hit it big on AMC and everyone in America was frothing at the mouth over all things zombie related.  I approached my article as a simple Ten Step Plan and, although meant for laughs, attached as much realistic advice as I could.  I just loved the idea of Americans scrolling across eHow looking for serious problem solutions to stumble across the ramblings of what they may deem a "maniac".  In truth, if there was a zombie outbreak this is most likely the plan I would follow, depending on alert time available.  The article was a sizable hit for me, so much so that I was shocked when the checks arrived in the mail.  I was then doubly shocked when I forgot to claim the money on my taxes and the government looked me up a few years later for their cut (and late fees).

Anyways, as I started to write some books The Ten Step Zombie Defense Plan found its way from informational article to short story.  For a time it sat in my first collection Late Night Horrors (not available yet and that’s a long story in itself) but I was never quite pleased with that.  The story had a bit of humor laced with it, and Late Night Horrors was certainly not meant to have stories that invoked laughter…except maybe uncomfortable laughter.  So the story languished on my computer…all but forgotten.

This summer I was finalizing my newest flash-fiction collection Horror 101 to send to my editor.  At the 11th hour I realized I was not happy with the overall format of the book and I made some major changes to the story order.  This turned a random assortment of tales into a book more clearly dvidied into two halves where, now, all the stories seemed to flow much better.  Once these changes took place, both in content and story order, I then found myself one story short.

Re-enter: The Ten Step Zombie Defense Plan.

This time the tone of the story fit much better with the work surrounding it.  Still, as I read it I decided that my initial approach was far too limited and the concept could easily expand in scope, humor, and plot.  So here I am writing this final story and trying to get Horror 101 finished before August 1st so it can get to editing and formatting and have a reasonable chance of being available for sale in late September or early October (when horror books have the best chance for some increased sales).

Still, as I found myself toiling away this afternoon, I was browsing through the wastelands of my computer and came across the original eHow article which I assumed was lost.  Now, this 10-Step Plan is nowhere close to the plan that I utilize in both versions of my story, but it was still an enjoyable trip down memory lane looking at some strange idea I fostered some five or six years ago while drinking lemonade and sitting on my well-fortified deck.  So, I present the original article as I return to my daily writing duty and attempt to work out the kinks in the final 7-pages of the latest incarnation of the idea.


There are always a couple goofballs who chuckle whenever the words "Zombie Invasion" are brought up into a conversation.  But, mark my words when the undead begin crawling from their graves, laughter will be at a minimum.  So for those of us who believe that a good defense is better than - dying, I present the following 10-step plan to 100% secure your dwelling against the rotting corpses who want nothing more than to feast on your brains.

Step #1 - Move quickly!  Once the radio reports the first signs of trouble at the local morgue or cemetery, you need to be ready to roll.  The unprepared masses will be going shopping, but since you planned ahead you'll be going - into action!  Star by gaining some comfort around your home with make-shift barricades.  Cars and trucks can be parked at angles or in front of doors for added security.  If you have fences along your property, link chains and extra boards across gates.  Will it hold forever?  No.  Will it buy you time to secure your dwelling?  Absolutely.  In fact, the hordes of the undead will be so busy eating the people down at the grocery store; you'll have at least 24-hours to prepare.

Step #2 - Get those windows covered!  Unlike us breathing humans, the undead don't necessarily go for the door first.  Pull the drapes to prevent inside movement from attracting a hungry zombie.  The last thing you want is for sprinting zombies to make a bee-line to your home before you're ready to roll.  If possible get outside and use long boards (preferably 2 x 4) and screws to cover as much of the window as possible.  Very important to have someone keeping watch as you work, it doubles productivity when you're not constantly glancing over your shoulder in fear.  With the outside secure you'll next want to repeat this process on the inside.  You can never have enough lumber, so be sure to stock up at your local hardware store.  Your less informed neighbors will go for bullets and guns.  You want screws and wood.

Step #3 - The door must go!  Seal this sucker tight and permanently.  If possible weld metal over as much of the door as possible.  There's nothing the undead enjoy more than pounding on a door 24/7, it's their #1 hobby.  After boards (did I mention the importance of lumber) are placed across the doorway you'll want to wedge objects against the door and the doorframe.  I've seen many a homeowner die with the look of shock on their face when the door held fast but the entire frame gave away.  I recommend angling several long boards into place and pounding nails and screws directly into the floor.  The leverage will give you piece of mind.

Step #4 - Design your home's new entryway and exit!  You need rope or a ladder.  Now that the windows and doors are secure you're going to need a way in and out of your fortress.  This will now be achieved by using either a rope or ladder and going from either the 2nd floor or the attic and down.  The undead are poor climbers so you won't need to worry about upper level access hurting your defenses.  This step is extremely important because if you botched Steps 1-3 then at some point the legions of the undead will be inside your home, and you'll want to get out!  It's time to remove the screens in one upper floor window and/or cut a hole in the attic as your new entryway.  Don't draw too much attention to your house with this move.  By now panicking neighbors will be looking for shelter…too bad they should have read this article before things got tough.

Step #5 - Time to lose the stairs!  If your ground level defenses fail then it is still easily possible to survive on the 2nd floor of your home (sorry all you ranch owners).  Sure it won't smell good with hundreds of zombies plodding around the main floor, but as long as they can't reach you, then you'll be fine.  With your sledgehammer let's pound out all the stairs, remember to start at the top and work your way down.  This newly acquired extra lumber can help secure any failing home defenses (by now at least 1-2 windows will be under siege) or if the power has gone out you can build a small fire…keep it small and under control…and away from the shag carpeting.  With the stairs gone your way up and down is now a ladder.  If the doors or windows are breached get the entire family up stairs (ha! There are none so use the ladder and don't forget to carry the dog).  If possible pull the ladder up with you…if not knock it down.  Super-intelligent zombies are a Hollywood myth; none of the suckers attacking your home will be smart enough to put that ladder back into place.

Step #6 - Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink…for your neighbors!  But, you planned ahead and at the first ominous signs of something going afoul you filled up on precious H2O.  By now every Tupperware container, milk jug, sink, bathtub, and toilet bowl should be full of water.  Don't shortchange your drinking.  You and your loved ones need the water to prevent going over to the other team.  Remember still water can go bad over time so use your purifying tablets to keep things as safe as possible.  Bonus points for you if you planned ahead and got that urine-recycling machine (you're hardcore)!  As you empty out a container you'll want to jury-rig a shelf outside an upper floor window (not the one you plan on using for fast escapes) where rain water and dew can be collected.  Be careful, if the government plans to launch a nuclear counter-attack on the hordes from hell, then drinking rain water won't be an option…but until then go with the rain water to help keep your home supply fresh.

STEP #7 - Electricity is over-rated!  The newbie zombie survivalist will tell you to purchase a generator for your home.  BIG - MISTAKE!  The electricity won't fail for at least 1-2 months (unless you forgot to pay your bill) so at least you and the family have time to read at night or watch Superman IV on DVD for the fiftieth time.  When Edison's dream truly does vanish, well then it's time to get used to living sun-up until sun-down.  Many people will turn to generators at this point (and you'll out live them) for the convenience.  Two problems with a generator: Noise and more noise.  Noise will attract zombies.  Even worse noise will attract human-raiders who without electricity will have immediately devolved into Lord of the Flies-Law.  You home may be secure (extremely secure if you followed Steps 1-6) but I wouldn't wish a double attack on anyone…especially not for a few measly watts of power.  You and your family are better than that.

STEP #8 - Stay in the "loop"!  The Internet is always the first thing to go.  Heck at our house on a warm sunny June afternoon there's always a 50% chance of losing the Internet.  Cable TV…ditto.  So you can only imagine when the shambling pawns of Hell begin strolling around town what's going to happen to the news.  However, radio is always reliable (provided you can outwait the commercials).  Keep a battery powered radio handy and tune in 2 times a day at regular intervals.  Don't check in too much or your batteries will be drained.  Don't check in enough and you'll miss the announcement about the planned Napalm drop that will be targeting your neighborhood shortly.  Remember, when using your radio to keep the volume low.  There's nothing a wandering zombie enjoys more than the comforting sounds of static to let them know that dinner is within range.

STEP #9 - Do not go on the offensive!  At this point you're probably feeling very safe now that your home and family are secure.  Heck you might be planning to make a run for some fresh supplies, to check for other survivors, or even to get some "payback" on those damn stinking zombies!  No Sir.  You do not rock the boat when things are going smoothly.  For all you know the zombie plague will end within 4-6 weeks (it won't but we can hope) and you can easily survive with at least 85% of your family in tow.  Leaving your fortress (a.k.a. your home) is just a flawed strategy.  Even if your old kindergarten teacher is pounding on your front door begging to be let in before she is torn to ribbons - not your problem.  Your problem is staying alive and maintaining the status quo.  The minute you sucker yourself into a game of, "I gotta kill me some zombies."  Then you lose!  That's why guns and ammo are not needed for a safe and secure life in post-zombie America.

STEP #10 - Escape packs; do you know where yours is?  Alaskan fishermen rely on their dry-suits to keep them alive should their ship sink into the Bering Sea.  If your home should at some point falter when under siege, then it may be time to take the high road and get out of Dodge.  If you've followed Steps 4 and 5 then you're in no immediate rush but when it's time to stepping, you want a backpack to come with you.  A good backpack means the difference between surviving on the road and being weighed down and devoured by the shambling zombie masses who manage to gain ground on your overweighed behind.  What should you have in your emergency pack?  Water, dry rations, first-aid kit, a flashlight, and clean underwear (your mom may still be alive and if so, she'd be embarrassed at your soiled remains).  The odds of you ever needing this escape pack are slim to none…but if you've read the list all the way to Step #10 then you're smart enough to know that…excuse me…someone or thing is knocking down my door.

You can worry that your neighbor will mock you for taking the first steps to be pro-active against the zombie apocalypse that is sure to befall us all…or you can survive it by following these steps.  The choice is yours!

Tools (hammer, sledgehammer, saw, drill)
Nails and screws
Ladder (rope ladder)
Chains and locks
Radio (battery powered)
Water-purifier tablets
Backpack (containing nothing more than water, dry rations, first-aid kit, flashlight, and clean underwear)