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Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 8/15/2019 1:31:05 AM

Hi. While progress in my fantasy story is steady, I sometimes get blocked and so I started writing another story during these "blocks". Its a zombie story with focus on characters and relationships with themes of motherhood, mental instability, loss of humanity, female rebellion and addiction. Its about a burned out, alcoholic suburban mom married to an abusive husband with a twelve year old daughter that finds herself caught up in the usual zombie apocalypse. This is the first page.

Bull in the Heather page 1:

A single ray of sunlight sneaks its way through your half-closed blinds and hits you right in your barely open eyes. Not long after, a tremendous headache tears its way through your skull, the pain soon spreading out to other parts of your body. A simple glance reveals your hair, pillow and the sheets closest to your face to be covered in a thick, chunky substance which you can only assume is your own vomit. Gross, but not new. Your alarm clock reads ten thirty a.m, but you still feel pretty drunk, likely because of the mostly empty bottle of vodka standing next to said clock. Rubbing the bridge of your nose, you try to force yourself out of bed but you soon realize that isn't happening anytime soon. "Fuck," you mutter to yourself. How did you get here? You've been trying to answer that one for some time now. Usually, you end up blaming your idiot parents, your asshole husband Greg or your unexpected child, but in any case you always come up as the common denominator in all those scenarios. 

Still, enduring an abusive husband and needing to drink yourself to sleep hardly seem fair trade-offs for some poor decisions and bad relationship building skills. You are both miserable and pathetic, yes, but still not petty enough to pout about your lot in life, especially not with your daughter to take care of considering how useless her father turned out to be in that aspect. As if summoned by your thoughts the well-built, stern faced, ignorant and prone to violence man you call your husband steps into the doorframe. The look he gives you is one of derision mixed in with a little contempt. A sneer, to be more precise. 

"Well," he says in his raspy low voice with a sardonic undertone, "this is a sorry sight." You suppose you do look pretty unfavorable in your current state, though it certainly does little for your mood hearing this shit gloat about it. "I was thinking I'd get myself a morning quickie before heading off, but on second thought I'll pass, " he chuckles.

"Good," you answer without moving, trying your best to bring out the loath in your voice. "I'll be sure to throw up over myself more often." 

"You are a fucking disgrace Isabelle," Greg says, his sardonic wit now replaced by cold detachment. "Get cleaned up before our daughter sees you like this. She doesn't need to see how much of a fuck up her mother is yet." You can't help but softly laugh. 

"When have you ever cared about what she needs?" you ask. Greg seems very pissed off by the implication, mainly because he knows you're right. 

"I woke up in a very good mood today, I'm not gonna let an alcoholic hateful little bitch spoil it for me," he says after taking a deep breath. "I'm leaving for work. Clean yourself and look after Mia," he says turning around to leave. "Try not to royally fuck it up like everything else."

You want to get the last word in, but you decide against it. No need for another black eye. You manage to stand after a while despite your crippling hangover. After a quick shower, you feel mostly good if a little dizzy. Looking in the mirror, you look presentable enough after giving your brown, slightly curly hair a brush. You are naturally attractive, although the drinking and stress have certainly taken their toll on you. As you stare into your own different colored eyes, you notice the bruise beneath your brown eye is still evident, while your blue eye looks more irritated than usual. You try to cover up the bruise beneath your eye as best as you can and put some eye drops in the other one. Afterwards, you make your way to Mia's room. Its a Saturday, so she doesn't have school and you don't have work so you are hoping to be able to spend some time with her. You knock at her door, and she tells you from inside her room to come in. She is already up and dressed with a big smile which inevitably brings out your own smile. Thankfully Mia, your twelve year old daughter inherited most of her looks from you. While she didn't get your heterochromia, she has brown eyes which you think are your "natural" color, the blue one being the "wrong" one. Her smile, however, soon deteriorates into a concerned frown. "I heard Greg shouting at you," she says with visible worry. 

"Don't call him Greg," you tell her as you lead her out of her room. "Whatever he is, he is still your father."

"Why is father always angry?" she asks. You look around as if the answer is going to come at you by looking around your kitchen.

"He has a lot on his mind sweetie. And I've made some mistakes lately."

"Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone gets angry like Gre-," she stops as she feels your gaze, "like dad."

"You're too smart for your own good, you know that?" you ask her as you turn on the TV and grab the corn flakes from the top of the fridge. She smiles.

"Smart like my mom."

"Don't go around saying that. You'll jinx yourself."

You put the cereal in a bowl and pour milk in it. As you hand it over to your daughter, you hear the guy from the news saying that the riots downtown  are still going strong. Furthermore, the ongoing string of disappearances seems to be going on, and some weird things like car wrecks with no bodies and a crazy bum taking a chomp out of a police officer's arm have also happened. You change the channel and land on of those that play random music videos. The low voice of Kim Gordon echoes throughout your kitchen.

"Ten, twenty, thirty, forty
Tell me that you want to hold me
Tell me that you want to bore me
Tell me that you gotta show me
Tell me that you need to slowly
Tell me that you're burning for me"

Appropriate in a way, you guess.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

It sounds very much like myself, and I think it's very good.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

I'm sorry, I think.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
I lost interest when you said zombie but then regained it again when I got to the rest. Your writing itself is always top notch and this is a great start.

The only issue I have is one of sympathizing with the character.
The bruises and asshole husband are an attempt in that direction, but 'willingly associates with horrible person' can only go so far in deflecting attention from how horrible she is herself. (And 'suburban' implies money and education so she's not exactly helpless in this situation...)

None of that takes away from the writing, which is great, and of course I'm assuming she'll change over the course of the story. And either way I don't necessarily object to an objectionable POV character as long as I don't get the sense the narrative itself is buying into their bullshit.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Thanks. She's definitely not "good" in the traditional sense. I think an important part is that she, herself, is aware that she's an asshole. She is after all, getting piss drunk with a kid in the next room mostly every night. She had to leave behind her law degree because of her pregnancy and her parents forced her into marrying Greg. Her daughter is able to go to school and live a typical "suburban" life because Greg has a good job. I guess her staying and enduring his shit is because of her low paying job she can't give her daughter the same life, and staying with Greg is both a way to ensure Mia lives well and doesn't have to deal with her father all by herself. Regardless, her character is one of a self-loathing, hard to empathize with asshole whose "good" only shines out with her daughter. And in the end it takes the world ending for her to get her shit together and do stuff about her kid, her abusive husband, her addiction and so on.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
It's definitely one of the appeals of zombie or apocalyptic fiction in general, the idea that if only all the distractions and garbage we'd just come to accept as part of day to day life in our society were cleared away we could somehow rise to the challenge and be the person we were meant to be.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Page 3

You decide to head out to the mall or something with Mia. Its too nice of a day to spend it wasting away in this damn house. Greg will probably bitch about you spending money on stupidities but as far as you are concerned he can bite you. You still haven't been paid your extra hours at Ray's shop, but you still have enough money of your own for a nice day out with your daughter. Mia gets visibly excited when you tell her where you are going and rushes into her room to grab her stuff, whatever that is. You walk outside and get inside your old Galaxy. It takes a couple tries, but it eventually roars as the engine starts. Greg has been on your case about getting rid of your old car you used in college, but you don't want to. If anything it serves as a reminder of better times. You turn on the radio and surprisingly the same Sonic Youth song from the TV is playing. Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's intentionally mistuned guitars blare over the speakers in their characteristic "dirtiness", but with a hint of calculated professionalism still evident until they are cut off by Kim singing the song's namesake in her distinctly raw voice. 

"Betting on the Bull in the Heather."

That's a hell of a coincidence, you think. Mia gets in the car and you put it in first gear, driving away from your small house while doing your best to ignore all of the warning lights and alerts on the dashboard. "You really like that band don't you?" asks Mia, breaking the silence. 

"Sure," you say turning the volume up a bit. "One time I saw them live, you know?"

"Where?" she asks with genuine curiosity.

"At Chicago. A club called Smartbar back in 95, just three years before you were born," you say with a barely noticeable smile as you remember the night. 

"But you weren't twenty one in 95," she says almost accusingly. 

"Of course not," you laugh, "I used your aunt Sadie's license." This confession causes Mia to look at you with a surprised face, followed by laughter. You join in. 

"I had to wear a brown contact on my left eye so they didn't find me out," you explain with an almost mischievous smile as you make a left turn. "I took it off inside. Before they started playing I got to talk with the bassist, Kim Gordon." Mia looks astonished.

"Really?"

You nod proudly. "She was super nice. Told me she liked my eyes a lot."

"That's so cool."

"Yes it was."

You stop at a red light with nice memories in your mind. You can even remember what songs they played. Death Valley '69, Kat n' Hat, Kill Yr. Idols, Secret Girl... You'd give pretty much everything to go back to those times. Turning to your right, you lay your eyes on Mia, who is smiling even though she isn't talking or interacting with anyone. She just likes to smile. She's the one thing about this life you wouldn't give up for anything. How did a fuck up like me make someone so good? you ask yourself. You notice then a strange man walking next to the curb. You can only see his back, but even then he looks worse than you ever have. His clothes are dirty and tattered, and the man himself barely seems to be able to stand. He staggers and shuffles his way around disoriented. It's as if he can barely will his legs to move one after the other. You lose yourself for a while studying the guy's erratic behavior until a loud honk brings you back to attention. "Green light mom," Mia points out. You shake your head and let go of the clutch, moving your car forward. Probably on drugs or something, you think to yourself. You can make out the mall in the distance and tap Mia on the leg which elicits a chuckle from her. Out of instinct, you check your phone and see you have 4 missing calls from Greg. You think about calling him back, but decide against it. He can wait for a while. He'll probably get mad, but that's nothing new for you.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
I was going to ask for more info on Katie but I see that's been removed and you just meant the daughter. That makes much more sense now.

Nice bit of normalcy here before shit hits the fan. Might be a *little* early to hope for zombie mayhem at the mall, but that's a classic setting for it.

Greg I assume is either bit and infected or trying to warn her of something.

I always find the existence of cell phones in any modern setting so annoying to write around, they have the potential to ruin so much tension if used, and unless you specifically address why they're not it's a believability problem. (If it's REALLY important, wouldn't he text?)

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Yeah, Mia was originally called Katie and sometimes I get them mixed up. Greg is definitely in trouble downtown, but I just figured he was interrupted by whatever before he could continue calling or possibly text. Personally I have always thought that phone calls in an emergency make much more sense than texting since they're more likely to be noticed I think (?). Anyway, she loses her phone along with most of her stuff some pages ahead.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
If I call and don't get an answer, I text. Better than waiting on them to maybe eventually call me back at a time when I might maybe answer just to communicate something I could let them know at a glance.

But then it might be that everyone in my family is just unusually phone shy or else not even likely to carry the damn thing around with them.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

A cryptic text might be a good idea to adress this without giving out too much info too soon. Maybe make it incloncusive to imply he was interrupted before he could finish.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Just finished page 13 I think, of the first path. I still don't know for sure how long this is going to be, but I have 6 possible paths planned out so far. Paths will mostly differ based on the status of the protagonist's family and her mental state. Zombies or roamers are pretty much TWD comic style. Really dumb and only see light and movement, guided mostly by hearing. Also, in this reality stuff like Romero's films were never made and thus there isn't a general conception of zombies in pop culture. I should probably add that due to the unexpected interest and attachment I've developed myself for this story, I'm putting aside my fantasy story to focus solely on this.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Little update. Progress is steady and I've now come to a point where believable antagonists in addition to the zombies must be presented. After all, I'm trying to use the whole zombie apocalypse thing as a trigger for both people who suck at life becoming able, hardened survivors and seemingly normal people becoming world class assholes. Now, I'm not sure exactly what to do for the first group of bad guys the protagonist encounters. My first idea was to just go with regular southern US assholes who became raiders. This is definitely the safe option but might be a bit boring. My other idea involved a group of Mormon style dudes who take their God's word quite literally and thus believe that the recent events are all an elaborate punishment by God because modern society was an affront to everything the Bible stated. There are even some quotes and stuff in the Christian bible that can be taken a bit out of context and interpreted to signify something like a zombie apocalypse. In any event, the lead guy supposedly had some visions and he now believes himself to be something of a modern day Jesus sent to recreate a new, biblical holy city. He also believes it is his duty to "save" everyone, including those who do not want to be saved. This leads to him and his group forcibly taking people to their holy land in hopes that they will one day see reason. So no matter how much people resist him, he is unrelenting in his mission because it was given to him by God himself. However, I'm worried that this whole idea might be a bit silly so I would like to hear some opinions. Hardcore crusaders or redneck raiders?

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
A cult that wacky acting on such a large scale would turn it into a completely different kind of story IMO. Looters, rapists etc or just monstrously selfish people just out to get whatever they can for themselves the moment the visible restraints of society are released would be the biggest threat in a real situation. Look up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina if you want ideas of how fast shit can go sideways in a disaster scenario, and that was simple bad weather there were days of advance notice for. Either way, focusing on human villains is smart. Zombies, slow zombies at least are a manageable thing with mostly predictable behavior. I've never been convinced society would even get around to collapsing if they were real tbh.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Yes, probably best not to complicate things needlessly. I have an idea for a hostile group of survivors with a vested interest in the women and children of the group the protagonist eventually joins which I think will work better. After all, the only thing worse than a rapist is a child rapist. I'm not sure about your last point. Societies depend on people, and a highly infectious, virulent disease that not only kills people quickly but transforms their corpses into unwilling carriers/transmitters could be pretty devastating if not contained properly and quickly. As you can tell from the first few pages, the infection is already spreading fast, and so far it hasn't been particularly noticed. It is plausible to believe that if enough people where infected before it was noticed, particularly in densely populated urban areas it might already be beyond the governments' ability to control especially if we are talking about a nationwide pandemic with no known cure.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Forgot this existed. Here's the next page.

 

 

What remains of the first half of the day goes by as you and Mia engage in the mall's various services. Despite your best efforts Mia ends up buying a weird motorcycle club-like leather jacket that besides expensive you find ugly. Still, you can't vocally disapprove of your daughter's tastes, so you resign and pay for it. She even insists on leaving the store wearing the damn thing. While you do see some things that catch your eye you decide against spending any money on yourself and instead eat out with Mia at a place she likes. You have no idea what there is to eat back home, and you don't feel like cooking anyway. After sharing a particularly disgusting flavor of ice cream with Mia you convince her to leave only after bribing her with a restaurant of her choosing, at which point both of you head back to the parking lot. As you approach your car, the first thing you notice is the new blue scrape it is rocking on the copilot's door. "You have to be fucking kidding me!" you explode. Mia giggles at your outburst.

 

"Sorry," you blurt out as you rage internally. You have no doubt in your in your mind regarding the culprit, namely the horrid metallic blue hatchback that was parked next to your car when you entered the mall. You wish you could have caught the asshole who did it, but he is long gone. Additionally, going around asking for security recordings or whatever sounds like more trouble than it's worth. Cursing under your breath so as to not be heard by present underaged company, you get in the car and hit the steering wheel a couple times to get it out of your system. You take your phone out of your pocket and immediately notice Greg's 7 missed calls along with a couple of texts.

 

where r u? mia ok? - Sent 12:29

something going on downtown. maybe riots - Sent 12:29

answer ur fucking phone lazy bitch - Sent 12:31

stay with mia. do NOT come downtown - Sent 12:34

 

It is fair to say that between these texts and all the missed calls you are a little perplexed. You know riots and protests have been going on downtown for some time now, but they always seem to be controlled and quelled by law enforcement. If Greg was concerned enough to actually ask you about Mia and he is right about the riots, then you can only assume they have gotten much worse. You try to call him back but it's clear his phone is not turned on. You check his last connection and it matches up with his last text. In any case, between his cryptic texts and his sudden disconnection you are reasonably concerned about his wellbeing. The mall you are in is pretty much at the middle of the freeway that goes from your home to downtown. Regardless, going downtown to look for him is out of the question. He was after all very explicit in his desire for you to stay away from there and it's not like you care too much about him to put Mia and yourself at risk. 

 

You decide to head back home with Mia and learn what you can from the news as you wait for Greg to contact you. You leave him a text explaining this for when he switches his phone back on and drive away. The first thing that you notice as you hop into the freeway are a bunch of people driving in the same direction as you, likely away from downtown. Some of them are going ridiculously fast and you do your best to stay away from those. You are about halfway to your house when you begin noticing dozens of police cars and vans driving the opposite direction from you. You can even hear some helicopters hovering above. They all seem to be heading downtown which furthers your concerns. You take your exit and come into an intersection. You turn on the radio and search for a news station. You eventually get one and turn the volume up. Unfortunately, this guy seems to know very little other than the fact that police from pretty much every precinct are being called downtown on a multitude of emergency calls and a command by the commissioner. He also seems to suspect riots but is otherwise confused as to how they could have suddenly turned into such a widespread emergency.

 

The green light comes on and you advance. What the hell is going on? you wonder. It is kind of annoying that no one really seems to know anything. “Mom, what’s going on?” Mia speaks up for the first time since you left the mall. “Sweetie, I – “ is all you manage to get out before a rather large truck coming from your right apparently skips the red light in the intersection and slams against the traffic light post while flipping over its side. You slam on the brakes and steer sharply to the right, but the now detached box of the truck spins around the intersection and hits the back of your car. You lose control and your car spins until it slams hard into what you can only assume is another car. The sudden impact sends your head crashing against the steering wheel, and since your airbags don’t work anymore you hit your head hard enough you almost black out.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago
Commended by JJJ-thebanisher on 8/15/2019 1:31:14 AM
Glad you're continuing this! It does feel more like a rough draft than the others, but it moves things along and you're probably more interested in getting to the part where shit properly hits the fan. Still, there's a lot of 'You do this, you do that' and summarization going on, the classic telling instead of showing problem. (I did a search when replying to this actually and there are 15 sentences on this page that start with 'You'. Might try to stay aware of that and mix it up a bit, it just makes for more interesting sentences.) Nothing wrong with fastforwarding through the mall stuff but at the point she gets the texts, having her say something or having Mia made aware of them and react in some way would help transition from the exposition back into more active events. Instead of 'you can only assume its gotten worse', actually having a conversation with Mia about how Greg's blowing up the phone and both of them wondering what's going on and how bad it is, something like that. It feels like you were even aware it was a bit of a cop out since you even acknowledge it like 'oh yeah and Mia speaks for the first time ever just as this other thing happens, forgot about her' when all this overtly weird stuff has been going on. Now, about the last paragraph. This is the first true action scene in a story that I presume is going to have a lot of them, so I was scrutinizing it extra hard. It has the same 'This happens, then this happens' problem as the rest, and in this case that is a MUCH greater sin. Less is more in a tense scene, you don't want padding like unnecessary adjectives, and stuff like 'apparently' and 'you assume' and then that part at the end where you stop and explain about the airbags mid sentence when the character would be more focused on the steering wheel her skull is smashing into. In general I'd suggest just trimming out redundancy (we know there's an intersection because there's a red light, and if the car is spinning obviously control has been lost...). Put less detail into the step by step events, 'The thing hits you. the thing hitting you makes your head hit the other thing. hitting the other thing with your head (because of this reason) makes you almost black out' and more on things that make it all feel more 'immediate' such as sensory details and just giving the reader the sense that things are happening fast. The green light comes on and you advance. What the hell is going on? you wonder. It is kind of annoying that no one really seems to know anything. “Mom, what’s going on?” Mia speaks up for the first time since you left the mall. “Sweetie, I – “ is all you manage to get out before a rather large truck coming from your right apparently skips the red light in the intersection and slams against the traffic light post while flipping over its side. You slam on the brakes and steer sharply to the right, but the now detached box of the truck spins around the intersection and hits the back of your car. You lose control and your car spins until it slams hard into what you can only assume is another car. The sudden impact sends your head crashing against the steering wheel, and since your airbags don’t work anymore you hit your head hard enough you almost black out. Thought it might be more useful to have an example so I did a quick rewrite to cut that almost in half:
  • "Sweetie, I –" is all you manage to get out before a truck coming from your right ignores the red light and barrels into the traffic light post, flipping over on its side with a shriek and crunch of tortured metal and shattering glass. Brakes squealing, you swerve sharply to the right, your car going into a spin until it slams hard into another one. The impact sends your head crashing against the steering wheel, colors exploding in front of your eyes as you nearly black out from pain.

Bull in the Heather - Zombie Survival

11 months ago

Great advice all around, thank you. I admit that I have a problem in regards to that step by step description you pointed out and reading it back it just doesn't feel right. I guess sometimes I forget to detach from the whole omniscient narrator thing when describing actions. After all, the protagonist would have a limited understanding about most of the stuff going on like what type of truck it was and what part of her car was hit and so on.