January 23, 2006

NaNoWriMo revisited, revisited, revisited

Chapters 5 and 6 are posted in the extended entry. Rachael pointed out that these chapters seem to be getting shorter as we go along. Not too much further along we're going to get to a stretch where I really don't like where the chapters break. I may rearrange some before we get there, I'm not sure yet.

Chapters 1 and 2 are here.
Chapters 3 and 4 are here.

And we still be contestin'!

Suggest a title in the comments.

On the first of February, I'll pick a few of the best suggestions and we'll have a contest. The person who suggests the winning title will win a prize, and not just some California-style self-esteem-building touchy-feely crap either. I'm talking about a real hold-it-in-your-hand American icon of conspicuous commercialism.

The comments and email have been great. Thanks muchly!

Chapter 5.

We were halfway home before Autumn started to sniff, and in seconds I was holding her as she sobbed into my shoulder. I steered her towards a bench (we were passing the school) and sat her down and held her as until she cried herself out.

Sniffling and wiping her eyes, she let me know what was going on. Someone had broken into the research laboratory where Granddad and another zombie were staying and had kidnapped them. There had been quite a bit of damage done to the facility and equipment, and a lot of lab animals had been released. According to the doctor (the older gentleman), it seemed like random destruction, and nobody was sure yet what the whole point had been. No one had claimed responsibility. What had gotten Mrs. Crisp into trouble was the attitude of the local police, who were certainly concerned about finding the vandals, but really didnÂ’t much care what happened to a zombie. Mrs. Crisp would see a judge on Monday morning, and Autumn would go to the police station that afternoon and bail her out. It wouldnÂ’t be the first time Autumn had had to free her mom. We sat there in the dark and talked until the chill forced us to our feet and back towards my house.

Once home, we went into the kitchen for some hot chocolate. I was surprised to see Mr. Brown sitting there at the table, still in his heavy coat and with a cup of coffee held awkwardly in one bandaged hand. He looked surprised to see me too, and I thought I saw a flash of recognition when I introduced Autumn. It was gone instantly (if ever there), and with a gruff goodnight he clumped up the stairs towards his room. I had filled Autumn in on Mr. Brown and Ms. Halliday, and she giggled a little bit at how accurately I had described Mr. Brown.

Mom heard our voices and came in to see what was happening. I gave her the briefest and vaguest of explanations, and Mom sent me up to change the linens in my room. I was going to be sleeping on the couch in the front parlor while Autumn stayed in my room. When we had gotten her settled in, I said goodnight and Mom was kind enough to turn her back and pretend to be occupied straightening a picture while we kissed goodnight. I whispered to Autumn to be sure to lock the door behind me. In the hall I thanked Mom for being so understanding and after a motherly peck and hug goodnight, headed back down the stairs for sleep.

On Sunday morning, I accompanied Autumn to the police station to see Mrs. Crisp. Autumn didnÂ’t really want me to come, but I had insisted that I would be going along, since as her boyfriend I should be there to lend support. She smiled at that and asked if I went to visit all of my girlfriendÂ’s parents in jail. I started to explain that IÂ’d never had a real girlfriend before, but she shushed me with a quick kiss and called me silly.

What can you say about jail? It was drab and dreary, and in our small town not terribly crowded. Mrs. Crisp had one cell to herself, while the other two cells contained a half-dozen drunks and punks. There were some raunchy comments made, especially by one young leering clod with rag-wrapped hands, until the jailer tapped smartly on the bars with his nightstick as a warning.

Mrs. Crisp was sitting quietly on the cot, and brightened considerably when she saw Autumn. There wasnÂ’t much to be said because the jailer was standing right there, so they held hands through the bars as Autumn promised to be back tomorrow. We had also brought a small parcel for Mrs. Crisp containing a flask of herbal tea, a sweater and some books and writing materials (it had been thoroughly searched by the jailer beforehand). All too soon it was time to go and with a few tears, Autumn said goodbye to her mom and we left the building.

On the way back from the police station, we stopped by AutumnÂ’s house. There was a patrolman on the sidewalk out front, but he wouldnÂ’t let her onto the property. Autumn tried to convince him to let her at least feed the pigeons and rabbits out back, but the best he would do is promise to let his supervisor know what she wanted. He told us to stop by later that afternoon to find out if the supervisor had approved. As we walked down the street, we saw several curtains flutter along the way as nosy neighbors didnÂ’t want to be caught out snooping.

Being a boyfriend is hard work! You want everything to be all fun and laughter while youÂ’re together, which is almost impossible when your girlfriendÂ’s mom is sitting in jail. So mostly, we spent the day walking, holding hands and not talking much. We would occasionally see one or two of the guys as we walked, but they avoided us, which I was secretly grateful for.

We stopped by my house for a warming bowl of soup, but Autumn couldnÂ’t sit still and before long we were back out walking. We checked back at her house, but the patrolman had no news from his supervisor. Then, Autumn got the notion to go out and see the research lab where Granddad had been taken from. It was a fair walk outside of town, but she was insistent despite the distance, and so we started out.

About halfway there, a police car passed us and pulled over to the shoulder of the road. As we trudged up alongside, the driver asked where we were headed. It was the younger cop from the night before, the one we had made identify himself before cooperating. He turned out to be an ok guy and gave us a ride to the lab since he was headed there too. He explained that we werenÂ’t allowed inside the fence, but that he would tell the staff inside that we were waiting and maybe someone would come out and talk to us. I thought that was kind of him, and I appreciated the ride.

Approaching the facility, Officer Ossie (no, really!) pointed out how it looked like the main gate had been crashed open by a car or truck. The chain link fence was bent and twisted back, and more yellow police tape was strung about in various places. He dropped us off out front with a warning about not venturing inside, and told us that heÂ’d be there for about an hour if we wanted a ride back into town. True to his word, about ten minutes later the older doctor who had accompanied the police from the night before came outside and talked to us. He couldnÂ’t or wouldnÂ’t say much of anything definite, but he tried to reassure Autumn that because the same people who vandalized the labs were the ones who took Granddad (and the other zombie), there was a very good chance that finding them would lead to the safe return of Granddad. The police were confident about solving the crime quickly because of the number of clues left behind. All in all it was a very amateurish job.

Autumn and I had time to kill, so we walked the perimeter of the fence, noticing the many broken windows. It looked as if someone inside had thrown whatever furniture was handy inside through the windows, for there were puddles of shattered glass strewn about stools and small tables.

Back around front, we caught a ride back into town and asked to be dropped off at AutumnÂ’s house. The patrolman there escorted us back behind to the animal cages where Autumn set out food and fresh water. We thanked him and headed to my house again. After dinner we sat in the parlor and I realized that it had been a long time since IÂ’d done that much walking in a day. Autumn and I fell asleep leaning together on the couch, and I guess Mom took care of us because when I woke up for school the next morning, I was alone and bundled up under a blanket.


Chapter 6.

I spent a miserable day at school, giving vague answers to prying questions from the guys. It was actually shocking as to how accurate many of the rumors were, so mostly I gave noncommittal grunts and tried to imply that the questions were too stupid to justify with an answer. I was only mildly intrigued when I heard that William the bully was out for a few days with some unspecified “injuryâ€�. According to the rumor mill (and we know how accurate that always is), William had some sort of dustup with a sharp whatever, which had resulted in some nasty cuts and lots of stitches on his hands and arms. I couldn’t concentrate on the lurid details, and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d be seeing Autumn that afternoon. First stop was the police station, and then to her house with Mrs. Crisp.

After school, I waited in our usual spot, but when Autumn didnÂ’t appear after 10 minutes I became concerned. One of the guys told me that Autumn had been called to the principalÂ’s office after lunch and that she hadnÂ’t come back to class. I went into the office, looking for answers, and found out that Autumn had been picked up by the police and taken to the station.

I ran all the way there, but when I got inside the desk sergeant made me sit on a long bench against the wall while he filled out paperwork and ignored me. It turned into a grudge match; I would loudly clear my throat to remind him that I was still waiting, and he would give me a dirty look and oh-so-slowly and deliberately pick up another piece of paper from his “inâ€� basket. Just when I thought I was going to scream from pent-up frustration, he got up and went into the back.

He reappeared almost instantly and signaled for me to accompany him. We went into the back, past the doorway to the cells (where I had expected to turn into) and he led me to a small room. Inside, through a window – obviously one-way glass – I could see a table around which were Autumn, two cops, and a man I didn’t recognize, talking. Whatever had been happening, it was obvious that she had been crying. I could feel my anger rising.

Through the window, I saw the desk sergeant stick his head into the other room, and one of the cops walked out. The door opened and the same officer joined me. He told me that Mrs. Crisp had been charged with conspiracy for the destruction of the research facility and that they were trying to determine how much her daughter knew. IÂ’d already been cleared, but he asked several general questions, most of which I knew nothing about. I was trying to figure out why Mrs. Crisp would kidnap her own father, it just didnÂ’t make sense. The cop told me that I could go home, but instead I sat on the bench in the front lobby and waited for Autumn to come out.

I must have dozed off, because it was dark out when Autumn shook me awake. I stood up and tried to stretch the kinks out of my body from sleeping slumped over on the hard bench. When I felt reasonably human again, we started out for my house. Most of the time, Autumn strolled but tonight she steamrolled along the sidewalks as if daring anything to get in her way. She told me that they suspected her mom of being part of the group that trashed the lab, because long ago Mrs. Crisp had belonged to “Zombies Are People Tooâ€�, better known by it’s acronym, ZAPT. Something about the vandalism at the lab led the authorities to believe it had been a ZAPT operation, even though nobody had heard from the group for years. Now the police weren’t about to let Mrs. Crisp out of jail, at least not until they were convinced that she had no connection to the crime.

I brought up the question again of why she would kidnap her own father, but Autumn didnÂ’t have an answer to that. It just made no sense to me.

The next few days were stressful. We visited Autumn’s house after school to feed the animals, but other than that and homework, there wasn’t much we could do. I kept turning the problem over in my mind, but seemed to be spinning my wheels, because every time I’d think of something that might explain things, I could immediately think of something else that could and would be used as a counter-argument. Coming home from school on Tuesday, I was surprised to see the “Room for Rentâ€� sign out in the yard. Mom told me that Mr. Brown had settled up that morning and taken his meager possesions with him.

We continued to see Officer Ossie every day or two, as he would pull over to talk on the street as we walked. Autumn figured that he’d been instructed to keep tabs on us, and although I thought that it was a little paranoid on her part I could see where that would make sense for the authorities to do. Mostly, he just asked how Autumn was holding up – he seemed sincere – and doled out trivial information about how the investigation was going. On this day, he mentioned how they would be able to positively identify at least some of the vandals (“kidnappers,â€� Autumn automatically corrected), by checking blood samples, because quite a bit had been left around the labs from people cutting themselves on glass during the destruction.

That clicked in my mind, and I told him about how Mr. Brown had had a bandaged hand the night of the kidnapping. Autumn corroborated my story, but didnÂ’t remember the rude young sot that had been in the adjoining cell the following day when weÂ’d gone to visit Mrs. Crisp. Autumn had been concentrating on her mom, but I thought the jailer that day might remember the young man with the bandaged hands. Autumn also mentioned the rumors about William at our school, who had supposedly needed a substantial number of stitches on his hands and arms. Putting it all together like that, it seemed like there had been an unusually high number of similar injuries happening at one interval in our circle of acquaintences.

Officer Ossie noted everything, but also warned us that investigations were usually dead end after dead end. Any of these could be a real lead, but the odds were vastly against it.

I had tried asking Autumn about ZAPT, but that was one of the subjects she refused to talk about, other than that yes, her mom had been a member a long time ago. Since I couldnÂ’t get further information from her, I decided to do a little research on my own. During a free period one day, I went into the school library and asked Mrs. Pennywill, the librarian what she knew about ZAPT. In her typical infuriating fashion, she grandly gestured at the expanse of reference materials surrounding us and suggested that I use my brain for more than keeping my skull from collapsing in on itself.

Grumbling to myself, I started digging into a few history books, which led me to other avenues of research I hadnÂ’t considered, and before long I had a pretty good picture of ZAPT and similar groups of the day. As they tended to do, the groups all fancied themselves a great brotherhood while not really having all that much in common. Usually they splintered into ever-smaller groups in disagreement over trivial details until each sub-sub-group consisted of a strong alpha personality surrounded by a relatively few devotees and hangers-on.

ZAPT had managed to maintain enough cohesion to actually follow through with it’s grand vision. They had purchased a parcel of land in a remote area to set up a zombie “sanctuaryâ€� where the zombies could roam free and live out their… uh, lives – I guess – without interference from the government or narrow-minded people.

Conveniently ignored was the fact that zombies couldnÂ’t actually survive without help. Most werenÂ’t smart enough to deal with variations in the weather. They tended to eat whatever was catchable, and since they werenÂ’t very coordinated that mostly amounted to plants. When several died after eating poisonous flora, and a few starved to death, the ZAPT cadre finally realized that they would have to be more involved as benevolent caretakers, and daily feedings were begun. Food costs money, and itÂ’s difficult to hunt enough to feed oneÂ’s self, let alone dozens of ravenous zombies. As the care of their charges became increasingly burdensome, more and more members drifted away to tilt at other utopian windmills. The remaining people could no longer properly care for their charges. Things ended badly when two members were caught red-handed rustling a few cattle from a nearby ranch. The group disbanded and dispersed (those not jailed anyway), and the zombies were taken under the protective wing of the government, not that they knew what to do with them either. ZAPT seemed to disappear as an organized entity.

I now had a lot more background facts to mull, but even more questions were raised in my mind.

Posted by: Ted at 08:37 PM | category: Zombies of Autumn
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1 Ted,I'm almost through chapter 2.I wish I had read more already but you probably know how I am.Lay a Mopar Collectors Guide or a Popular Mechanix or a Machine Shop manual out in fron of me and i'm all over it.However,trying to get me to read fiction is like trying to get a cat to take a bath.Not that I have anything against it but factual stuff is just more my style.Hopefully I will be able to sit down soon and get a move on.I would love to give you some feedback.

Posted by: Russ at January 24, 2006 11:37 AM (ObxzR)

2 I've been diggin' the heck out of this!

Keep 'em coming!

Posted by: BLUE at January 25, 2006 02:48 PM (4Xncc)

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