#7 - I had a Chip on my shoulder
Have you ever had a month that was so crappy you wished for a zombie apocalypse to happen, just to put things in perspective?
That was my April. The fall of modern civilization would have been the silver lining. To be fair, I don't actually wish that ravenous, blood-thirsty undead monsters ate all of my neighbors, friends, and relatives. At least, not most of them. But there's definitely a small part of me that thinks that a good old-fashioned global zompoc might have cheered me up a bit.
They say that misery loves company. If that's true, misery would probably get a huge kick out of a worldwide cannibalistic apocalypse.
I don't mean to sound whiny. I read the news. I get that there's a lot of awful, terrible stuff going on in the world right now. By comparison, I'm doing pretty good, no matter how much I sound like an old trout. But apparently it's not healthy to repress all of your woes. Voicing your honest feelings is supposed to be therapeutic. But if you complain too much at home, your family members might disown you. Or worse, delete your profile on Netflix. So here I am, on the internet, trolling myself.
My family has an unspoken rule that only one person at a time is allowed to be a grouch, otherwise the condition might spread uncontrollably, kind of like the rage virus from 28 Days Later. If that happened in my family, we might all simultaneously combust. I sometimes glance at the National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout line, so I know that there are millions of documented cases.
Given that I live with children prone to fiery, high-pitched banshee tantrums, I usually have to stick to the bottom rung of the sourpuss family hierarchy. My share of the grumpy pie has to be very modest to keep the cogs of our household greased. If I'm ever feeling down in the dumps, I usually try to cram it down pretty deep to the point where it's barely perceptible, kind of like syphilis, amputee fetishism or sociopathy. I think that if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, and I get infected, I'll probably have to go stand under the carport just to be allowed to moan and groan.
In any case, if I can't be a real-life curmudgeon, hopefully I can be a virtual one now and then. Please indulge me, and feel free to reciprocate with your own tales of woe. Again, misery loves company.
To sum it up, April sucked for me, big time. Why?
I turned 45, which I think means my warranty has officially expired. Also, like most other birthday-recipients of late, I couldn't celebrate with friends because of COVID. Getting thumbs-up birthday wishes on Facebook just doesn't compete with an evening of drunken revelry and karaoke in a Japanese Steakhouse, no matter how many thumbs-up you get.
My knee is still a knob of mushy, useless flesh garbage given my December trampoline accident, and surgery is months away.
I got a hit with a nasty, (non-COVID) oesophageal infection that lasted for most of the month. I have photos, but sharing them would probably be criminal.
I had to guzzle disgusting banana-flavored medication four times per day, which totally annihilated my taste buds and appetite. Life really loses most of its luster when grilled meat and ice cream taste like somebody else's gym socks.
The kids have been home from school pretty much all the time because of teacher strikes, PED days, sore throats and COVID-testing quarantines. No matter how often I quote the University of California Study saying that it takes a person an average of 23 minutes to refocus after being distracted, when the kids are home, one of them will inevitably hop onto my lap, attack their sibling with a wet boot or spill Rice Krispies on the floor approximately once every three-and-a-half minutes. This means it will only take me about fifty-seven more years to refocus on my work, cumulatively speaking. By then I might finally get around to writing my own obituary.
My writing time was whittled down to whatever I could finger-mash into my cell phone whenever I locked myself in the bathroom, ignoring the furious pounding of children desperate to tell me about the Halloween Pokemon-inspired costumes they plan to wear over the next eleven years.
I had to spend several days crunching my family's over-complicated income taxes, which I enjoy about as much as taking a slow, lukewarm bucket bath using back-alley diaper residue.
But mostly, April sucked because my newly adopted baby squirrel died.
On a sunny afternoon a few weeks ago, I found a tiny, emaciated, flea-ridden baby squirrel miserably crawling on the sidewalk toward me. There were no trees nearby, no sign of a nest or other squirrels, so I picked the little creature up and cradled her inside a cloth shopping bag. Apparently when a baby squirrel is lost or abandoned, they'll forego their instinctive fear of humans and actually try to approach the nearest person, because they're so desperate for help. That's what this little one did.
Over the next few days, I dove into the science of rehabilitating a baby squirrel. I read everything I could on the topic. I was like Jack Hanna on steroids, except without the cool hat. I visited an expert squirrel rescuer and got tons of advice and supplies. I rehydrated her with Pedialyte, then carefully bathed our tiny houseguest (whom my daughter immediately named Chip) to rid her of her fleas. I set her up in a safe enclosure in our house with a warm heating pad and a fleece blanket, and slowly hand fed her puppy formula using a tiny feeding syringe.
I kept Chip nestled on my body several hours per day, under a thick hoodie (I finally got to say that I literally had a Chip on my shoulder), just so she could feel warm and comforted. I really wanted to nurse her back to health, then eventually release her back where she belonged, hopefully alongside Skittle and Starburst, the rambunctious squirrels dominating our backyard. Unfortunately, despite a few promising first days, her health took a turn for the worse, and she stopped eating. I rushed her to my neighborhood squirrel expert who tried her best, even placing her in an oxygen chamber, but unfortunately, she developed a bad lung infection which took her in the night.
I know, she was just a squirrel, probably one in a billion. But she was special to me. Ever since I was a kid, I've always had a thing for lost or injured animals. I even spent three weeks of a four-month backpacking trip in South America with a baby bird on my shoulder, after finding him fallen from his nest. So when Chip passed away despite a promising start, it crushed me, and my kids were heartbroken. I really wish it had turned out differently. I get a little comfort from knowing she didn't die alone on a sidewalk, scared and covered in fleas. Hopefully she felt safe, warm and cared for when she went. But it still hurts.
Despite Chip's unfortunate passing, another four-legged roommate joined our family. My son turned ten in April, and we gifted him with an adorable yellow Leopard Gecko, which he promptly named Spark, which is short for "Commander Sparky MuffinHead", or something of the sort. He's a charming little cricket muncher with gobs of personality, but my son hasn't quite yet developed the confidence needed to handle him.
A couple of days after we got Spark, my son panicked when Spark tried to climb up onto his shoulder, probably seeing my son's tangle of long, thick, unkempt hair as the ultimate jungle oasis of reptilian hiding places. My son screamed like he was being waterboarded or forced to eat kale, which totally frazzled the little lizard. When I tried to pick him up before he managed to plunge into my son's hair, Spark gave me a surprisingly sharp little bite on the thumb. Nothing akin to a zombie bite, but it was a bleeder. It would definitely have been enough to turn me, if Spark had carried the Z-Plague.
Unfortunately, there are no real benefits to being bitten from a gecko. My night vision hasn't improved, I can't suddenly shed my skin or one of my extremities to distract an attacker (which would be super useful in a zombie apocalypse), and my feet aren't any stickier than usual (given how my children handle their food, my feet are always a little sticky). But I do admit that crickets are looking delightfully crunchy these days. In any case, Spark seems pretty settled now, well on the way to becoming another grumpy, over-opinionated member of the family.
Do you have any pets? If so, I'd love to see them. Even if I don't have much of a pet menagerie myself at the moment, I'm a sucker for animals. Go ahead, make me jealous. Dogs, cats, snakes, horses, tarantulas... I love them all. Except for bees and wasps. That's my phobia. If you're a beekeeper, please don't send me any live samples.
Anyway, with a throat infection, a bum knee and a frail baby squirrel riding my chest, whatever minimal time I spent on my computer this month was mostly in bed, rather than in my in basement office or on my beloved uber-nerdy bike desk. I did however score something that made my bed-based laptop time a lot more pleasant.
I snatched up the LapGear Home Office Lap Desk on Amazon, and it was exactly what I needed to write while laying down like a beached whale. It keeps your laptop's heat away from your crotch, which is probably good if you care at all about your fertility. Not that I'm even remotely interested in reproduction anymore. If my wife ever got pregnant again, you would probably see me on a viral Youtube video having a complete meltdown in a grocery store, blubbering like a car alarm low on battery power, flinging pastrami around and attacking other shoppers with day-old baguettes (the fresh ones don't have the same hitting power). Maybe I should just park that old, scorching-hot computer right on my junk, without a heat barrier, and Crock-Pot anything I have below the belt, just to play it safe. You know, nuke it all away. I haven't found anything on WebMD advising against neutering yourself with a hot laptop, so that's all the confirmation I need. If anybody else needs a cheap alternative to a vasectomy, this may be the ticket. You're welcome. Please note that the extent of my medical training comes from reading those "Do Not Consume" warnings on the back of shampoo bottles. Proceed at your own risk.
Anyway, if you do care about safeguarding your gonads, this lap desk is comfortable, well-designed, useful, and pretty cheap. Check it out, RIGHT HERE.
Also, some pretty exciting news. Even though I'm still a few months away from launching my Zombie Vale series, I wanted to give you all a preview of the amazing cover for the first book I'll be publishing. The cover art was done by the unbelievably talented cover designer Christian Bentulan, and I couldn't be happier with it. It perfectly captures my fictional setting in Sparrowdale, Colorado, and my lead character's rooftop-hopping undead predicament. Check it out:
Given that the protagonist for my last book Dom of the Dead was smartly clad in a conveniently bite-proof leather Dominatrix bodysuit, some of you may wonder why Addie Byrne, the hero gracing this new cover, is only wearing a bathing suit, which is about as bite-proof as a light coat of cooking spray. Fair question. So here's the thing. The story idea for Zombie Vale 1: In The Flesh came from a simple question: what would be some of the worst possible places you could be during a zombie apocalypse? I drew up a list, looking for something to prompt a solid, unusual story.
The location I latched onto was a hot tub. I travel a lot for work, and you really are at your most vulnerable when you're far from home, deprived of your usual resources. I pictured myself away from home, maybe staying in a rented house or hotel, relaxing in a steaming pit of water, wearing only a bathing suit. Suddenly I'm surrounded by the undead. (There should be nothing arousing about this mental image, FYI. If the above description were made into a movie, the poster alone would probably bankrupt Hollywood.)
And that's what happens in my story. The characters from Book One in the Zombie Vale series are all reunited friends getting together ahead of their ten-year high school reunion. They're soaking in a Jacuzzi when everything goes to hell. So my protagonists are going to have a lot to deal with when things get bitey. Weapons, shelter, transportation... that's all fine and good. But if you can't even find clothes because you're so busy running and fighting for your life, you're having a pretty crappy Friday.
Obviously, there's a LOT more to this story than a bunch of almost-naked people running from zombies, looking for clothes. It'll be a rich character story with tons of action, drama and comedy. Stay tuned for an eventual release date later this year.
What about you? What do you think would be the worst possible place to be when a zombie apocalypse happened? Let me know. I read all my replies.
MORE GREAT NEWS! I'm also launching my first ever Zombie Pen giveaway this month. It'll run from May 24th to June 7th, and I'll announce the winner in my next issue of The Zombie Pen on May 8th. If you're reading this as a subscriber of my newsletter, you're already registered! (If you're not, CLICK HERE TO JOIN MY SUBSCRIBERS.) One lucky winner (chosen at random from all of my newsletter readers) will win the following collection of goodies:
- One autographed copy of Mark Tufo's phenomenal novel: Zombie Fallout Volume 1. I'm a HUGE Mark Tufo fan, and his books are amongst the best, funniest zompoc tales ever told.
- One copy of The Art of Eating your Way Through the Zombie Apocalypse, by Lauren Wilson. This is a fantastic addition to any zombie book collection, full of fantastic tips, techniques and recipes.
- One brand-new ThinkGeek Zombie Cereal Bowl.
- Your very own Zombie Pen! Or at least, a bone-shaped pen, which you can imagine might have come from a zombie. Or stab a zombie in the eye with it. Whatever.
I'll send you a reminder when the giveaway is running, so you can earn extra entries.
For the longest time, I've had the indie zombie movie It Stains the Sand Red on my Must-Watch back-burner list. This movie has come up in conversation regularly with my fellow online zombie peeps over and over, and I finally watched it. You can catch it on Amazon Prime video, on Shudder, and on Vudu Streaming.
This is as simple of a zompoc story as you could find, and it probably didn't cost much to make. Still, I found it super entertaining, and although it isn't perfect, it's definitely worth watching. It's basically just the story of one flawed woman, stuck in the desert just out of Las Vegas in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. She's pursued by ONE SINGLE zombie. Just one. But he's relentless as hell. It's such a cool idea for a zombie story. Here's the trailer.
I'm not going to lie. The movie can be frustrating at times. If you're the type of viewer who likes to yell at your screen about movie characters' bad decisions, or about things they aren't doing right, then you'll be yelling a lot, so maybe don't watch this on a first date with somebody you're hoping to impress. The lead character, played by the surprisingly talented Brittany Allen, makes a lot of mistakes. And she misses a lot of opportunities to improve her situation. Still, she's fascinating to watch, and the movie features many neat twists and surprises. This isn't a big Hollywood blockbuster directed by Zack Snyder, but it's still worth a couple of hours of your viewing time.
Okay, so the upside of having spent a month mostly too sick to do much is that I got to read quite a bit. And I have a couple of great recommendations for you.
First off, I've read the first six books of legendary zombie author Bobby Adair's Slow Burn series, and I'm powering through the rest as we speak. I'm loving this story. It's intelligent, quirky, funny and extremely believable. The lead character Zed, who's dealing with the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse as a partly immune survivor, is a flawed, impulsive, relatable smart-ass, but the level of insight you get from his first-person narrative feels extremely real. It's not a predictable, plot-driven story so much as it is an ongoing recounting of a compelling character's decisions and actions as he navigates the difficulties of a radically altered zombie-plagued world, but somehow it just works. Bobby Adair is a very gifted storyteller, and now I finally understand why so many people are obsessed with his books.
The complete Slow Burn collection is almost criminally cheap at 0.99$ for the e-book box set (at the time of this writing). I actually don't understand how Bobby Adair sells these books at this price point, they're worth so much more. So grab them while you can! I haven't tried the audiobooks, but even they're super cheap given how many hours of listening material you're getting. Plus, they're narrated by Phil Thron, one of my favorite audiobook narrators of all time.
Next up is a non-zombie book, but it's one of the most horrifying stories I've ever come across. Somebody recommended I check out Brother, by Ania Ahlborn, and I did. It's forever seared into my mind.
There's not much I can say about this story without ruining some big surprises, but what I can say is that it's really, really good, but also really, really disturbing. If you're squeamish, or easily traumatized by some very dark plot points and horrific character developments, this may be a little too much to handle. But personally, I couldn't put it down. Every spare minute I had, I dove right back in, desperate to find out what happens next. It's a skillfully told, captivating and gut-wrenching story that'll leave you in shock, reeling from the ending. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Take a look at Josh C. Chad's award-winning zombie series The Brothers Creed if you want some high-octane, action-packed reading material that explores the main characters' spiritual struggles as they face the zompoc during a long, difficult road-trip. The box set with all five books is available at a really great price right now.
There's also a fantastic jumbo bundle of FREE dark fiction eBooks available right now, but you have to hurry, it finishes on May 15th. You can also win a Kindle eReader just for participating, so check it out!
That's all for me this month. Thanks so much for reading. Have a gnarly month of May!
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