Monday, September 13, 2021

Opening Scenes #Here Today Zombie Tomorrow By Connie Vines #BWLAuthor, #MFRWAuthorsBlog, #PumpkinSpice, #RandomThoughtsScatteredAbout,

Feature # 7

 Hello, My Lovelies, 

Autumn is almost upon us 🍂🍁🎃 

Pumpkin Spice Latte, sweaters, falling leaves, and yes--Halloween!

Opening Chapter + more from my Halloween inspired novella:


Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow




 “You and Elvis have done a great job on this house," Meredith said as her older sister led the way downstairs toward the kitchen where the tour began. “Sorry I couldn't get over, until now, but I've been sort of… well, busy."   Slipping her Juicy Couture tortoise-shell framed sunglasses into a bright pink case; Meredith crammed them into her black Coach handbag.  She hoped her sister didn’t ask her to define busy.  Becoming a zombie, and dealing with the entire raised from the dead issue over the past six months, was not a topic easily plunked into casual conversation.  

Pippa waved the comment aside. “I'm glad you like it. We had such fun decorating. Of course, we couldn’t do it all at once, but it's more satisfying putting it together treasure by treasure." 

Meredith glanced from Pippa’s impish features and short spiky black hair to the perimeter of the room.  Taking in every detail and nuance of Pippa’s decorating talent, she let her gaze rest on a collection of figurines by fantasy artist Jasmine Beckett-Griffith crouching at the top of the ebony stained cabinets.  A black arch-top fireplace mounted against the wall, flames flowing from a bed of clear river stones, and HOME SWEET HOME embroidered on a sampler with a tiny vine of blood-red roses tangling though out the letters completed the focal point of the room.   

Even though Meredith was in the best relations with her sister, she couldn't help but feel a sharp nip of jealousy.  It hadn’t been so long ago that she’d had her own happy home.  Unfortunately, she’d filed for divorce from Viktor, and then there’d been that bizarre little accident where she’d ended up dead, and then undead.  

While Pippa’s two kids, Ethan and Emma, played in the living room, to the accompaniment of a 1960s rock-and-roll musical on cable TV, Meredith sat in the kitchen with her sister, fiddling with the end of the teabag that dangled from the rim of her China cup.

Since her sister was contemplating the contents of a tin filled with Danish cookies, Meredith found herself cataloging the events that led up her ‘accident’. 

A charter member of the SoCal Arts Association, she’d been participating in the annual Zombie Walk Festival in Long Beach when it ‘happened’. Crowds always made her uncomfortable, but this particular event was to raise money, so she was obligated to attend.   And, it only went to reason; this year’s participation broke all past records.   

Twelve-thousand gleeful ghouls stormed Long Beach’s renovated Promenade.  The crowd became so large that it spilled out over Pine Avenue for an all-out downtown invasion.  Meredith didn’t recall much about the accident, nor who or what reanimated her.  She remembered overhearing a security officer informing a pungent-smelling zombie that he couldn’t purchase an alcoholic beverage (apparently he didn’t match up with his photo ID). Within moments, a shoving match between the two men ensured, quickly escalating into zombie chaos:  shouting, running, and chomping.  

Chomping?

At the time, Meredith thought it was all part of the festivities, perhaps a little odd and definitely crazy.  Just like the cornstarch-based zombie-vomit and fake blood, everyone had globed and smeared on themselves; but hey, it was an Arts event. Even after finding herself wedged in the center of the zombie mob, lunging and bumping along until they were in sight of the pier, Meredith wasn’t overly concerned.

In hindsight, perhaps she should have been extremely concerned.  Because the next thing Meredith knew, she was in a zipped body bag, feeling entirely not like herself. 

No.  She wasn’t going to dwell on the past.  Again. She’d just keep muddling on with her life and try to focus on the bright spots.

Pippa and her family were a definite bright spot in her life.

 “I wish you would let me help with dinner,” Meredith said, pulling herself back into the present.  “I feel guilty just sitting here doing nothing while you do all the work.”  Being a vegan, Meredith found her transition of zombie-hood, particularly exigent.  Brains, human or otherwise, had never been on her menu—now, protein, in fowl or bovine form was a requirement of her reanimated state.  Difficult though it was, she had to come to terms with the change.  After discovering an underground support group who met monthly in a banquet room of a coffee shop near the I-10, she was thankful she didn’t require human protein like most of the other Zombies.  However, consuming tofu with herbal tea (her lunch before reanimation), she discovered, had unfortunate, and unexpected, side effects. 

Pippa, turning from the stove with the pecan pie captured between two oven mitts, shook her head.  “Meri, don’t even think about helping me with the meal.  When Elvis’s mom and dad decided to take a paddleboat cruise up the Mississippi, I thought I wouldn't have anybody but my own offspring to fuss over on Thanksgiving Day.  You just sit there and relax."

 "I really appreciate the invitation," Meredith said, glancing out the window to catch a Monarch butterfly pick its way along with a lipstick red hibiscus blossom.  "Cooking turkey for one just isn't my style."

Pippa did a double-take at Meredith’s statement but didn’t comment.  Instead, she said, “You’re welcome to come for Christmas dinner too, you know."

"Thanks, Pippa, but Christmas is out.  I have to finish the new book by February so I'm driving up to Forest Falls tomorrow.  I'll be staying there for a month or so." 

"Christmas at the cabin," Pippa mused.  "That sounds nice.   Are you sure you want to be up there all by yourself?"

 "I’m not hiding,” Meredith replied.

 "I know.  You’re healing. . .” She left the words: and licking your wounds, unspoken.  “I just don't want you to be lonely."  

"I won't be,” Meredith reassured her.  “I'm taking Gertie with me."

Pippa laughed indulgently and shook her head.  "A hamster doesn't count."

"Don't say that when Gertie’s within earshot.  She follows me all around the house in her exercise ball.  We’re BFs."

 “Well, I'm glad you could join us for Thanksgiving," Pippa said.

###

Forest Falls, a town of one thousand year-round residents, was seventy-five miles due east from Los Angeles, in San Bernardino County.  Valley of the Falls Road was the main road, surrounded by the San Gorgonio Mountains and the gateway to the wilderness area. Forest Falls boasted the highest point in Southern California.  Furthermore, known as “Little Yosemite,” ninety inches of snow were common in the upper canyon. 

It was a second home to Meredith, who had been coming up every year since she was a little girl.  Her parents owned a cabin outside of town.  Five years ago, when she and Viktor got married, it had been their wedding gift to the couple.

As Meredith negotiated the sharp turns in Mill Creek Road, she tried to remember the last time she’d been up here.  Two years, at least. No, two-and-a-half.  She and Viktor had driven up for a week while the kitchen at the Ganesha Hills house was renovated.

She’d just finished writing her first novel, the one that hadn’t sold, and Viktor had been on leave from the Claremont Colleges.  A week of renovations stretched to three weeks.  It was the last time she could remember the two of them being completely happy together.

After their return to the house, things started to go wrong.  What had caused the problem, even Meredith couldn’t say.  Oh sure, she condensed into a few easy remarks to Pippa, something about Viktor being a-know-it-all, but it was really just an abbreviated version.  The truth behind their breakup was much more complicated and much more heartbreaking.

Glancing at the highway sign indicating the Big Bear Lake turnoff was to the right; Meredith drove another three miles to the Forest Falls exit.

Competition, she realized.  There was no other explanation for what had happened between her and Viktor. Even though she was quick to blame him, it wasn’t all Viktor’s fault.  She was just as guilty, and just as much to blame.  

While she was busy writing The Isis Factor, he’d been hard at work on his own book about the Ottoman Empire.  Although their subjects were worlds apart, it should have been a time for sharing.  Unfortunately, it wasn't.  Viktor threw acerbic darts about romance novels, in general, and her failure to comprehend the basic laws of physics when he looked over her Steampunk stories.  She retaliated with barbs about antiquated college professors who didn't understand the public's taste in literature or the impact of pop culture on society’s future.

It started as a joke, a kind of verbal fencing that was only half-serious and which they both enjoyed.  However, soon the remarks degenerated into nasty little jibes.  Jibes neither bothered to take back nor apologize for making it.

Meredith had known, even then, the trouble between them was jealousy, pure and simple; except nothing between them was very simple.  Somewhere along the line, they had become been competitors instead of teammates, rivals instead of lovers.

What happened to the idealistic young couple who had met on a blind date, six years ago?  A girlfriend of Pippa’s had fixed them up, seeing that she knew they'd be perfect for each other. They were both so smart, so focused, so determined to be successful.  From the moment Meredith and Viktor had met, it was as if there had never been anyone else.

After a light Peruvian meal at Inca Trails and viewing the musical, Phantom of the Opera, at the Gardner Spring Auditorium on Euclid Avenue in downtown Ontario, she and Viktor stopped by the college to retrieve papers he’d needed for a lecture he was giving the next day.  They’d ended up talking until morning, which they’d only discovered when students began straggling in for classes.
In those days, she had still been working part-time, writing advertising blurbs for a local agency.  This allowed her to spend the remainder of her time on her blog and short stories.  

Back then, Viktor had been enthusiastic over her work, eagerly reading every line she wrote and offering gentle, yet insightful criticism.  She'd always been equally involved in his first literary effort, volunteering to do some of the footwork.  She’d spent hours at the College of Theology, fact-checking, and even more hours at the Pomona Library reading the blurry Microfiche on an old-school reader device.  They loved each other, and they loved their work. 

 Life was perfect.
 

Chapter Two

It was starting to get dark--it was nearly Winter Solstice after all, and Meredith flicked on the headlights of her Land Rover, illuminating the narrow road the skirted the few buildings that made up the town of Forest Falls.  There was still snow on the ground and the vehicle bounced down the asphalt road from one pothole to the next. 

She’d left a note on her iPhone last week, and now Siri was reminding her to stock up on foodstuff tomorrow at the Elkhorn General Store.  The chicken, liverwurst sandwiches and thermos of coffee she’d packed would do for dinner tonight, but Meredith didn't want to be snowed in without supplies.  Meredith had her injection last week and an EpiPen that promised to be reliable in case of emergencies, in her handbag. 

Beside her in the seat, Gertie sat upright, twitching her nose, unconcerned inside the protection of her metal carrier.  Meredith pushed a gloved finger through the wire mesh to adjust the water bottle. She’d heard one of the other patients in the doctor’s office (yes, she had discovered she was part of a subculture) talking about having her pet ‘turned’ (zombified). Glancing at the cute, pouchy-cheeked Teddy Bear hamster, Meredith shivered at the very thought of ‘turning’ her pet.  Gertie was Gertie, alive, messy, and happy.  Meredith still hadn’t adjusted to her new reanimated life, how could anyone even consider doing such a thing to a pet?

 “It's just you and me, Gertie,” she said philosophically.

She let out a prolonged sigh when the cabin came into view.  She had been behind the wheel for almost two hours.  Outside of bringing in her luggage and getting Gertie settled in, she wasn't planning to do anything else tonight.  Tomorrow was soon enough to start working on the new book.

Shoving aside memories that crowded to the front of her mind, Meredith focused at matters at hand.

The cabin was actually a rustic euphemism used to describe a comfortable getaway.  The cabin boasted two bedrooms and a small loft that served as her office, living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom.

At least, she wouldn't be cramped during her stay, and of course, there was always the scenic outdoors when she wanted a change of pace.  Her editor gave her a February 12   deadline for her novel.  Two days before Valentine’s Day but also the anniversary date of the 1931 Universal Pictures classic movie, “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi (Meredith couldn’t help but notice the irony). 

After the book was finished, she'd started looking around for a new place.  Somewhere away from Los Angeles where there were just too many memories.   San Diego or La Jolla, without excessive amounts of rain or extreme heat, with just enough cloud cover for her peace of mind.  For now, this place would do nicely.

She didn't say anything to Pippa about putting the Ganesha Hills house up for sale.  She knew that her big sister only wanted what was good for her, but Meredith wasn't certain Pippa knew what that meant anymore.  Meredith wasn’t confident she even knew what was good for her right now.

It would have been Pippa’s cue to start wondering if the divorce was such a great idea.  She’d voice her opinion that maybe there was a chance Meredith could reconcile with Viktor.  It just wasn't something Meredith wanted to hear or even consider.  If pressed, Meredith was afraid she might break down and tell her sister everything. 
 
Inside the cabin, she pulled the sheets from furniture, folded them, and shoved them on the closet shelf.  Then, out of habit, she grabbed a pressed log and electronic log lighter to a fire started in the large stone fireplace.  Gertie, released from the confines of the carrying cage after the long drive, was inside her exercise ball rolling manically around the wooden floor of the dining room.
Reaching for her iPhone, Meredith pressed the food diary app.  After the tofu incident, she devotedly logged in all of her meals.  Adding 6 ounces of chicken and 4 ounces of liverwurst to the protein section and two slices of whole-grain bread under carbs, she eyed the other columns.  Fruit and vegetables were foods she consumed only by accident.  While water and coffee were a must! (Water and shark cartilage capsules kept her hydrated and her joints and bones together (literally); coffee, under no circumstances, undead or vegan, could she function without).

Meredith snagged a slice of roasted chicken and gnawed off a chunk.  Since she still considered herself a vegan, it was a blessing that she could barely taste it.  Much like Thanksgiving dinner at Pippa’s house, the flavors of food and drink were like a distant memory from childhood, faded and fuzzy around the edges.  Meredith could recall just enough pleasure from the act of eating to remind her, of how much she missed it.  After blotting her lips with a napkin, she poured her coffee into a mug and headed for the bathroom.

Water is the enemy of a zombie’s skin. Meredith discovered on an above-ground (yes, a play-on-words) weblog with surprisingly helpful information (password-protected login, of course). Shopping was a breeze (with three-day shipping, just like Amazon Prime!).  Cold cream-Shea butter-horse hoof cream combo, titled phantasm-cream, that kept her sweet-smelling and her skin supple.  Slathering the cream on from head to toe, she waited for about fifteen minutes for her skin to suck in the moisture.  Slipping on a pair of latex gloves, Meredith leaned over the basin to shampoo her hair.  

Bathroom ritual complete, she put on her favorite pajamas and slippers and placed Gertie in her large cage during the night.  While zombies, as a rule, don’t require a great deal of sleep, Meredith found, (pardon the pun) she slept like the dead.

Before turning in, she crawled onto the couch to enjoy the crackling fire and the sense of comfort it provided.  Enveloped in the memories of less complicated times, she fell asleep.

She awoke, confused and terrified, the sound of the front door opening.  Grabbing a poker she staggered to her feet just in time to see Viktor, white-faced, loaded down with suitcases, staring back at her with as much shock as she felt.

"Viktor, you scared me—almost to death!  What are you doing here?"

He dropped the suitcases and pushed the door shut.  "I was just going to ask you the same thing.  Last time we spoke you said you were going to Tahiti for Christmas."

The poker slipped from her hand, emitting a sharp ping upon landing on the stone hearth, and she gasped with relief.  "My plans changed.  What about you?  I thought you were spending the next couple of months as writer-in-residence at that institution in Maine."

Viktor slung his black wool coat over the back of the couch and sat down.  Flashing his leisurely grin that still tugged at her heartstrings, his gaze stroked her face. "Historical Institute,” he corrected.  “But no such luck.  The funding fell through.  It’ll take six months or more for the second grant to materialize."

He cleared his throat.  "My contingency plans were to spend the next few months here.  Of course, I was going to call and ask about it, things being the way they are. . ."

Now that she had gotten over her fright, Meredith concealed her churning emotions with a spark of anger.  "I wish you had called, Viktor.  It so happens I'm going to be here until February.  I’ve got a book to finish."


I hope you enjoyed the teaser! 

Thank you for stopping by,
XOXO
Connie












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