What is normal?
Frieda has never felt normal. She feels every emotion too strongly and lashes out at herself in punishment. But one day when she stays home from work too depressed to get out of bed, a virus breaks out turning her neighbors into flesh-eating, brain-hungry zombies. As her survival instinct kicks in keeping her safe from the zombies, Frieda can’t help but wonder if she now counts as healthy and normal, or is she still abnormal compared to every other human being who is craving brains?
Amanda McNeil is an energetic, masters degree educated, 20-something happily living in an attic apartment in Boston with her shelter-adopted cat. Her day job is a medical librarian, and her hobbies (besides writing and reading) include cooking, fitness, and exploring everything from museums to dive bars. She writes horror, scifi, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy. This is her first novel, although she has previously published short stories and a novella, Ecstatic Evil.
I try not to ponder existence too much. It can get depressing, and when you already experienced crippling depression back before the world went to hell in a hand-basket, it's best to avoid that. So that's why I've taken to curling up in the bathtub with a pile of books on one side and my trusty kitchen knife on the other. Bathtubs really do feel more secure than a bed, and books help me forget that I have no one to talk to and nothing to do besides ensure my continual survival. Gotta live for another day of reading in the bathtub, am I right? Snuggles, my cat, stretches in her sleep, nudging my side with her nose. Ok, so I'm not totally alone, and Snuggles needs me. She wouldn't understand a world without me. Laying my hand on her soft, gray side, I return to my cheesy romance, about to discover whether this lord is really a catch or a bastard for the lady in waiting, when there's a sound. Was that? Was that a voice? I stop, putting my book down mid-sentence and reach over to the carefully propped-up flashlight, turning it off and with my other hand grab the knife. It might not seem like the best survival choice to prowl through a dark apartment clutching a knife, but so far my odd choices have led to my survival, so who am I to listen to the leftover voices of reason forced into my brain throughout my life?
I leave my centrally located, and thankfully windowless, bathroom, dropping to my knees at the door. Holding the knife in one hand, I crawl to the windows. I debated for days over what to do with them. Blacken them? Leave them as is to make it appear the owner is dead? Since I'm on the fourth floor, I finally opted for leaving them as is to allow for my own visibility. Most of the Afflicted probably wouldn't be able to look up that high anyway. Plus I need to have light somehow. It's dusk, and the lighting in the apartment is shoddy at best. I switch to a squatting position and carefully peer out the window. There. In the middle of the street. It's a person walking very slowly. A few months ago I'd have decided it was a schizophrenic homeless person and gone on about my day. Unfortunately, that's not gonna cut it anymore. Every muscle in my body is poised, ready for action if need be. The person takes another step forward and moans.
Moaning. Not good.
She--we're just gonna call it a she since it's impossible to tell at the moment, and I'm less scared at the thought of facing another female--she takes another step forward and reaches a hand up to wipe her nose. I grab the binoculars I keep near the street-side windows and take a glance.
Gray goo. Uh-oh.
She's Afflicted. Odd. I thought they had all finished dying off a couple of weeks ago. A late bloomer? If that's the case, I'm not as safe as I thought I was. She looks toward my house, and I duck down.
"Help me," she calls.
Shit. Did she see me?
No. No no no no no.
The stupid Afflicted. They're so selfish. They can't obey simple quarantine orders. They can't have the decency to off themselves so they don't expose others. Ok. Maybe that's not entirely fair. The virus messes with their brains. They probably don't understand what's going on, but still.
The faint sounds of the front door rattling echo up the stairwell. I can practically see her struggling to open the front door. At least her lack of coordination is buying me some time. Sticking my knife in my home-made sheath tied around my waist, I tip-toe to the closet and grab two plastic gloves from the massive box I swiped from one of the convenience stores and pull them on. Then I arm myself with a plastic grocery bag from the basket of them placed near the door for situations just like this and line myself up against the wall beside it. Hopefully she'll be taken by surprise. Hopefully she hasn't become too hulky strong. I practically hold my breath waiting while listening to her struggle with the stairs. She must have seen me. It's the only explanation.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her plaintive calls of "help me" hit my ears every minute or so. Her halting footsteps reach my front door.
The knob turns.
The door swings inward open. She takes two halting steps in. I can see the goo dripping from her nose, almost as gray as her sickly skin. She takes another step in, and I move behind her. Her tattered clothes barely cling to her emaciated body, but even then I can tell they were an Armani suit originally. Her shoulder-length hair lies in clumps along her back. It is impossible to discern what color it is. She turns her head. I can almost see the delicate bone structure underneath the swelling. Underneath the changing features of her face. Her eyes glaze over, and her features change into a snarl. I lunge for her at the same instant that she lunges for me. I just manage to get the plastic bag over her head milliseconds before her hands would have succeeded in clasping around my neck. She instinctually switches course and reaches up to struggle with the bag on her head. I tighten it and swing behind her, pushing against her, trying to get her to the floor. Her roars fill the apartment.
"Bitch! Help me! I need them! I need them!" Her fingers grab hold onto mine and she starts to squeeze, trying to crush them. They may as well be garlic in a garlic press. That's gonna hurt tomorrow. If I make it to tomorrow. I focus in on the bag. Tightening the bag. Her fingers start to loosen. Her whole body is shaking in a violent rage. I start to count. She should be pretty much dead by the time I get to ten.
"One." I say it out loud. It helps to calm me.
"Two." Her legs are still shaking.
"Three." She is still for the moment.
"Four." She slams a fist into the floor.
"Five." A few shakes of the feet.
"Seven." All quiet on the western front.
"Eight." Here comes the choking death rattle.
"Ten." Still silence.
My gasps fill the room as the adrenaline slows down. I doubt I'll ever get over how the Afflicted go from plaintive cries for help to insane killing machine so fast. Or the fact that if she had got her hands on my brains it really would have made her feel better. I unsheath my knife and stab her in the back. Gotta be sure. Learned that quickly enough in the early days. Scurrying to the kitchen, I plunge the knife into the ever-ready antiseptic bath and grab a fresh one, stashing it in the sheath. Grabbing a garbage bag, I head back to the living room to clean up.
Stuffing a body in a bag is an art form that you get better at with practice. The limbs just need to be folded a certain way before rigor mortis sets in. Her snarling face glares blankly up at me through the grocery bag. It's a good thing I was so bad at remembering to bring my reusable bags with me back before. I give my head a quick shake and tie up the garbage bag. Much as I would love to drag the bag all the way out of the building, where there's one Afflicted, there's often others, so for the time being, she's going in the basement. Nearly mindlessly I drag her down the five flights of stairs into the basement and stash her behind a pile of empty boxes some other tenant was saving for when she moved out. I stare at the sharpied labels for a few moments.
I used to dread moving. It was right on my top ten list of evil elements of life right along with reality rehab shows and veal. Ok, so my top ten evil things list was a bit odd and not particularly grounded in real life, but what do you expect from someone with a mental illness? Clear, rational thought? I turn and drag myself back up the stairs to disinfect my living room and myself before setting up the evening stake-out for any of Little Miss Afflicted's friends.
Amanda is giving away an eBook copy of her book to a lucky commenter. Leave a message before 24 August2012 and I will draw a winner after.
Thank you, Amanda!