in which progress is made

A few months ago, while playing Left 4 Dead, I found myself cowering in a closet, absolutely terrified to go back out and face the horde. I knew that I had to move so the game would continue, but I just didn't want to go out and take my chances. I didn't know at the time that L4D has this sinister AI called The Director, which keeps the game constantly changing depending on what the player does, adjusting things to keep the game fun. For example, if you're cowering in a closet and think you're safe there, The Director will send a bunch of the Infected to claw down the door and give you a friendly little nudge so you'll keep going.

Eventually, I was dragged out of the closet by a Smoker, saved by Francis, and went on to finish the level, heart pounding and my hands trembling just a little bit. It was awesome.

The next morning, while I ate breakfast, I was thinking about what it would be like if that was real. What would it be like if you really couldn't just cross the street any more, because there were zombies everywhere who wanted to kill you? What would it be like if you knew that, whatever you did, wherever you went, there would always be more zombies coming at you, night and day, until you died? In zombie stories, the characters are always heroic and noble (with rare exception, and even then we know those characters are just there so they can get their comeuppance) so I wondered what it would be like to write a story where the main character looks around and decides that sooner or later the zombies are coming in, the survivors are going out, and either way, they're totally fucked.

I wrote the whole story, doing my very best to ignore the various voices of doubt and such that keep coming back (yes, like zombies) no matter how many times I think I've killed them. It was really fun to write. I knew more or less what I wanted to do with it, and I sort of knew who the characters were, but I didn't stop myself from making things up as I went along, if something caught my eye and seemed worth exploring.

Yesterday, I finished the major rewrites, and though it still needs some editorial polish and Andrew's Red Pen Of Doom, I'm anxious to publish it with some other shorts I've worked on recently.

71 thoughts on “in which progress is made”

  1. “I wondered what it would be like to write a story where the main character looks around and decides that sooner or later the zombies are coming in, the survivors are going out, and either way, they’re totally fucked.”
    Oddly enough, I recently read a French novel like that: Un horizon de cendres by J-P Andrevon. In this novel, all of the dead come back as zombies eventually. For the first 1/3, the “formerly dead” appear peaceful. (I didn’t even realize this was going to be a “zombie” story until later.) Gradually, they become hungry.
    The protagonist is just some normal guy. He tries to protect his family, even when his wife lets her dead mother live with them again. As the undead get more and more numerous, the living gather in enclaves. Some try to act like Rambo. Some try to act like nothing has changed. Some keep zombies as sex slaves. Some sense the futility of combat and willingly give themselves up.
    The “hero” spends most of his time searching for his missing wife and daughter. It is pretty clear what must have happened to them, because it is happening to everyone.
    This hasn’t been translated, that I know of, but it should be.
    Looking forward to your story as well!

  2. As long as it was fun to write, it should be fun to read.
    On similar note, how about Zombies of a different sort…
    Zoe: Do you really think any of us are going to get through this.
    (Looks at the other crew members struggling with their guns)
    Jayne: Well, I might.;-)

  3. I wondered what it would be like to write a story where the main character looks around and decides that sooner or later the zombies are coming in, the survivors are going out, and either way, they’re totally fucked.
    That is essentially the plot of the 2004 French novel “Un Horizon de Cendres” by J-P Andrevon. Gradually over the course of the novel, all the living die and become zombies. The main character is just a guy who copes with it the best he can and gradually gives in to the fact that the zombies will win. It is one of the few zombie stories I’ve enjoyed, in part because it was so unusual.
    I wrote a longer description of this book here earlier, but the post disappeared mysteriously, or maybe I forgot to press “post”, so I’ll leave it at that this time.
    I look forward to reading your story as well.

  4. Just read the ficley… weird, I feel like I just read a whole book. Like the one guy said, it’s amazing how much it conveys in a few short paragraphs. Very neat.

  5. The same guy also created Urban Dead:
    “Urban Dead is a massively multiplayer zombie-infection web-game, from the creator of this simulation. Help to evacuate or loot a quarantined city, or join the shambling hordes.”

  6. the zombies keep coming, no matter how many you kill, no matter what precautions you take, they keep coming and eventually you’ll end up as one.
    this is a great story line., I want one where the good guys don’t win in the end, they end up as one of the damned or the intrepid astronauts don’t blow up the astroid and it pounds the earth destroying the planet and everyone on it.
    I’m tired of the touchy, feely, everything is going to be alright book or movie.

  7. Btw, on a side note L4D is awesome! I love it so much. I know a couple of the guys who made it and they are fantastic! I can’t wait for the expansion and the sequel.

  8. hey! Have you heard of/read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. It’s an awesome mixture of your classic regency romance and good old fashioned zombie horror! It sounds bizarre, but it actually works really well! I mean who doesn’t want to read about Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters fighting off a whole army of the undead!

  9. I get it.
    Shambling, mindless creatures, apt to turn upon each other as to kill you, stinking of their own decay and yet so strangely kin to us that it’s impossible to avoid the pity the monster evokes.
    Or, 24-hour drinking, as we here in the UK call it.

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