My voice actress is also a writer.
I knew this, of course – that’s how we met in the first place. Still, I find it necessary to point this out to the probably-imaginary readers of my blog. She recently put out a story on SmashWords called ‘Keepers’ to help generate a little bit of cash for a mutual friend of ours, who is trying to start up a small publishing company. I like these people, I like what they’re trying to do, V is a decent writer, and the story was only two dollars. So, of course I bought it.
Keepers is a short story – about 20 pages long. You could read through it in a single sitting with ease. It’s a story about zombies. Though, actually, if you want to get technical, it’s really about The Infected, which are like zombies in that they’re mindless monsters that used to be human, and not like zombies in that they’re fast. This difference is crucial. Zombies are always hungry, and they are always legion. They are slow, and this makes them easy to ‘kill’ – you can’t really kill them, because they’re already dead, but you can usually eliminate them as a threat with conventional weapons without getting too creative.
(Commence massive tangent!)
There are more nuanced differences between Zombies and Infected. But, as I said, an easy way to tell is that Zombies are slow, and Infected are fast.
I can see you sitting there, smug in your bunker/fortified hospital/boarded-up house. You’ve seen a zombie movie or two and you’ve played a couple of first-person shooters, and you know what to do. The first thing you did when you found out about the Apocalypse was raid Wal Mart and stock up on food and ammunition. You are armed to the teeth. You have shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, and a shitload of canned food. You are familiar with the concept of Molotov Cocktails, and you are pretty sure that you could make one without blowing yourself up. “Zombies are slow and stupid. Humans are fast and smart,” you say, and you think it impossible that you and your loved ones could possibly fall prey to such stupid, predictable predators.
Really, smart-ass? Look over your supplies. How many bullets have you got? A few hundred? A few thousand? Several thousand? How long will your food supplies last? Six months? A year? Six years? So, you hold the unlives of several thousand zombies in your hands. Big whup. That would mean something if you only had to deal with several thousand of them. Unfortunately, you haven’t been looking at the big picture. There are many more zombies than there are bullets in your store – I guarantee it. Tsk, tsk… typical of rookie survivors. The Army probably made the same mistake, and look what happened to them.
Do you need to sleep? Zombies don’t. They don’t get bored, uncomfortable, or frustrated. They are quite content to sit there flailing uselessly at your barricades, slowly chipping away at the defenses you’ve put up, even as you mow them down. They don’t need cans of creamed corn to keep going, either. They’re slow, but they aren’t bound by your silly human limitations. They’re always there, always working against you, and you never get a break. Someone always has to be on watch to make sure they don’t get through. It can’t always be you.
And how much can you trust your fellow survivors, really? You don’t know those guys. You don’t know their pasts. The only thing you have in common is that you happened to be stranded in the same place at the time of the attack. One of them could be a convicted murderer, for all you know. This is a desperate situation, and everyone there is under a great deal of psychological stress. The truth is that you have no choice but to put some guns in their hands and trust them, even though they’ve done absolutely nothing to earn your trust.
It’ll work… for a little while. Eventually, one of them might get other ideas. Maybe one of them starts to wonder who made you the leader – maybe it’s that guy you caught looking at your wife or daughter in a way you really didn’t like. People start getting a lot less civilized, and a lot more focused on their own wants and needs. All the human nastiness will start to emerge. It’s only a matter of time.
A zombie apocalypse is not a trial of skill, but endurance. That’s what makes zombies scary.
Infected are different. They’re not undead. Instead, they have a disease that causes them to lose control of their minds and bodies. They don’t want your brains. They want to spread the infection. They’ll run up to their victims and pounce. Then, they puke gruel onto their faces, bite them, or force any number of unpleasant fluid transfers upon the poor bastard in order to spread the virus. If the vic is lucky, the carrier will accidentally kill him in its attempt to help him learn French Kissing by doing. If not, the subject will become another carrier, and will run around looking for others to infect.
An Infection is scary, too, but for different reasons. It’s probably easier to survive an Infection than it is to survive a Zombie Apocalypse, because the Infected are alive. This means that they can die in the normal ways. And when they become infected, they usually forget to do things like feed themselves. An Infection, therefore, can have a time limit – yes, the infection spreads fast, but once the virus starts running out of new hosts to infect, the older carriers will begin to die of starvation. If you have enough supplies, and you can stay hidden, you can wait it out.
Unless the infected become zombies when they die. In that case, you’re basically fucked.
Which is exactly the situation in Keepers. Veronica’s characters are holed up in a place called The Keep, a building that used to be a part of a university’s teaching hospital near Cleveland. There is a pocket of immunity to the disease there, because individuals who are HIV Positive do not get infected. Before the apocalypse, the hospital did cutting edge work with AIDS patients.
So, the Keep is home to around sixty survivors, half of whom are HIV Positive and therefore immune to the infection. They appear to be at the ’starting to get desperate’ stage of kissing their asses goodbye. By this, I mean that they are running out of supplies, so they have to leave the relative safety of the hospital to scavenge for food, ammunition, and drugs. In doing so, they expose themselves to attacks from the Infected. This is not sustainable. Even if they ration as best they can, take everything usable from the nearby houses, and hoard everything, they are sure to run out sooner or later. Forays into the outside world will need to become more and more daring as supplies dwindle, and they are certain to lose more people. The infection isn’t their only concern, either. Half of the people at the keep are immune to it, but they are vulnerable to more generic sicknesses. They need constant medical attention and drugs – they are both more and less vulnerable than the healthy, uninfected humans because of this.
Veronica tells me that she thinks world-building is a strength of hers, and I am inclined to agree. It’s a decent setup – one that I feel she could expand on without boring her readers. She also tells me that she doesn’t think that the specifics of it are enough to support a wider story, and I think her instincts might be right there, too.
Still, it is an interesting premise, one that could provide a fine backdrop for other stories set in the same world. She could write these herself, with the same set of characters or with different ones, and end up with a decent collection built around a similar theme by the end of it. Or she could open the setting up to other authors and collaborate, if she feels like herding cats.
The Keepers could use more. Maybe not a novel’s worth of more, but there is room for growth.
Anyway. ‘Tis worth the money, so take a look!