Today’s snippet, titled “One Fine Day”, is a piece I wrote about an NPC in Paul’s new Zombie Campaign (using GURPS for Session One, but we’re moving to All Flesh Must Be Eaten for future sessions. The intention behind this was to recap events occurring in the world, from the point-of-view of my PC, Helen Poots.
Be forewarned, there are mature themes and naughty language below.
Sipping iced tea from a heavy glass tumbler, the icy beads of condensation dripping onto her dark denim jeans, Helen Poots stared at the screen of her iPad. Her expression grew increasingly stony behind large Prada sunglasses. Derzkim, chto suka… Helen thought, slipping involuntarily into her alter ego’s mother tongue. Who does that bitch think she is? Going it alone, is she? Fool. Without her Mama Oso to keep her safe, she’ll be back on her knees behind the dumpsters on Cameron Street before she can count to a hundred.
“Afternoon, Ms. Poots.”
Helen glanced up. She was seated in a quaint, padded Adirondack-style chair, her boot-clad legs propped up on a matching ottoman on the narrow front porch of her half of a rather non-descript duplex. Her tennant – and thus, neighbor – was waving at her as she climbed the front steps, her arms laden with eco-friendly brown woven bags.
“Hello Tammy,” she said, nodding. With her thumb, she swiped the screen, replacing the offending email with an innocuous e-book. “Been ‘round the shops, have you?”
“Yeah. Had to buy about a million pounds of macaroni for an art project we’re doing with the kids at the library this weekend.”
Tammy was the children’s librarian at the local library. She was just twenty-three years old and a tiny, wisp of a thing with mousy brown hair and weirdly colorless brown eyes. Tammy was also the best tennant Helen had had in that half of her building in the eight years she had owned it; she paid her rent on time each month, was quiet and courteous, and never had noisy parties or loud house guests. At least, not on those rare nights Helen was actually at home, for she spent most of her working hours in Harrisburg, tending to her business.
“We always ate pasta back home,” she said, earning a little smile from Tammy at the uniquely British way she pronounced ‘pahstah’, “rather than play with it. But I imagine your wee ones will have quite a good time with it.”
“I think so too, Ms. Poots.” Tammy finagled her keys out of her pocket and into the lock, “Well, have a nice afternoon. I heard it might rain.”
“You too,” Helen said and then peered out over the railing, craning her neck to see the sky. Hardly a cloud was visible; it was a glorious day, neither too hot, nor too humid. “I wouldn’t worry too much about the rain, though.”
A chuckle and a nod, then Tammy disappeared inside the door. Helen could hear the click of the lock, then the deadbolt as it thrust home and finally the clinky slither of the chain being drawn. It may have seemed like overkill to some folks, for Maple Lane was a fairly quiet street in a relatively safe area of the Harrisburg metropolitan area, but Helen understood. A woman alone in this day and age? You could not be too careful.
She shifted in the chair, settling in again. Letters swam before her eyes and Helen sighed. She was not going to be able to focus now. Not after Philippa’s email. That girl had been one of the first she recruited when she started Yelena’s escort service and Helen had helped her evolve from a meth-addicted ten dollar hooker to a silicone-enhanced two hundred dollars an hour escort. Now she was going to go off on her own – be competition! – and all she had to say for herself was contained in a three line-email?
Suka! She thought again, angrily. I will have to call in a few favors, but I will make sure that silly bitch doesn’t make a flat dollar in this town without Madam Yelena’s name on her contracts.
From the depths of her cognac-colored Kate Spade handbag, a cellphone rang. It was the generic, insistent beep-beep-beep of a burner phone and she scowled. Her afternoon ruined, she snatched the purse and headed inside. Flipping the phone open, she yanked the earring from her lobe and pressed the receiver to her ear.
“Da?” Helen kept her voice low, even within the walls of her own house, lest a neighbor overhear her heavy Russian accent. “What is it?”
“Yelena! Dios mio, turn on the tv! Holy fuck, man, this shit is fucked the hell UP!”
Helen frowned, reaching for the remote. “Slow down, Mercy, what is going on?”
“Just turn on the fucking tv, Mama Oso! The girls is all freaking out, man. The whole- Oh shit, mami! Oh shit, oh shit!”
“What chan-” she began, then her frown deepened. Though the television had blared to life, a pretty, vivacious Indian girl’s cooking show playing on the cooking station, the instant she flipped to CNN Helen was shocked into silence.
New York City was burning.
An eerie grey haze rolled out of the flaming epicenter. Helen watched, entranced despite Mercy’s shrieking in her ear, as the reporter described the horrors she had witnessed in the mere minutes since the explosions first began. Chaos reigned. People were screaming and fleeing, jumping over cars and pushing each other down just to escape the fog. It was so gentle, floating down upon them, but it caused wild thrashing and vomiting and the most hideous, beastial moans she had ever heard. Then, quick as it began, those people began to fall to the ground, dead.
“…and I just don’t know what to do, man! What do I tell everyone?”
“I-” Helen began. Suddenly, the reporter screamed and she and her cameraman began running. He kept the shot over his shoulder. The field of vision was herky-jerky as he fled, but despite that, Helen could make out a horrific scene unfolding. Some of those poor people who had collapsed only moments before were rising, clumsily. They were moaning, they were grabbing for anyone or anything that came close, and they were- there were eating them.
The camera hit the ground and a heartbeat later, Helen jumped, moving back a step as a spray of crimson splashed across the screen. Abruptly, the feed died and a startled anchorman cleared his throat. He fumbled for words, trying to recover from the shock of the footage. Helen began to twiddle the rings on her fingers anxiously.
Like a scene from some modern day remake of “Gone With The Wind”, Atlanta was burning as well. Technically, according to the anchorman, whose voice shook with each syllable, it was the CDC facility, but the carnage was not limited to that campus.
“Yelena? Yelena, what the fuck do we do?”
Helen had to swallow hard, clicking the mute button on the television. She stumbled a bit, forcing her tongue to form thickly accented words. “Round up the girls, all of them. No clients tonight. Just, get them all to the office. I will be there as soon as I can, kotyonok.”
The cellphone snapped shut and Helen stood for a long moment, just watching as the muted television flashed images of devastation from New York, Atlanta, and then Philadelphia and Los Angeles and-
There was a boom outside.
Boom hardly begun to describe the sound. It filled her head with its rolling, broad waves and then snapped it away with a violence that made her fear her ears were bleeding. Bugger me! That sounded close – way too bloody close!
She ran to the front window and watched in horror and awe as the skies above Harrisburg exploded in smoke and flame. Nothing she had seen on the television, no CGI-filled movie, no insane dreams or nightmares – nothing could have prepared her for the sight of the city across the river roiling with a sickly haze and belching hot yellow tongues of fire.
Helen whispered a prayer to a God she had not spared a single thought for since the day her father died. People were gathering on the street and sirens wailed from all directions. Hastily, she reached into her purse and felt around to ensure that her wickedly sharp butterfly knife lay concealed on the bottom. It was there.
She stepped out onto the porch, her purse hanging from her elbow, her hand cocked up in the air. Simmons, that sanctimonious asshole who headed up the Neighborhood Watch, was barking orders and trying to maintain some semblance of sanity. People were essentially losing their minds. Already, though the explosions had happened but moments before, she could hear horns honking and cars smashing together. Bridge Street would be a parking lot within minutes.
“I saw it! I saw the whole thing!”
Helen glanced left and saw that peculiar little girl from across the road pedalling toward the knot of neighbors gathered in the street. It took her a moment to recall her name – Victoria Honeywell. She was a fellow Brit, once an Olympic hopeful who had been orphaned in a hideous motor carrier accident some months ago. Though she was not curious by nature, for she preferred to keep her head down and her profile low, Helen moved out into the road, mingling with the neighbors.
The girl, Victoria, was showing around video she had taken of the Fall of Harrisburg; it was dramatic stuff, from what Helen could see over shoulders as it was passed around. The girl’s puffed up chest and sense of importance was sort of adorable.
“What should we do?”
“Simmons, get these idiots off our sidewalk!”
“Does anyone still have a TV signal?”
Helen resisted the urge to flee back into the cool, white sanctuary that was her home here on the West Shore. People were murmuring, crying, talking over each other. Some had already began to pile their belongings into their cars – desperate to get out of the area before something really bad happened. Helen cast her gaze to the southeast and wondered if the real target had not been the broke-ass, insignificant capital city but instead, the massive nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island.
“Maybe we should all go – now, before the roads are totally clogged.”
She found herself nodding along.
“No way – I’m not leaving my home open to looters and squatters!”
That must be crotchety old Mister Anderson again. The old bastard hardly said a word that wasn’t an insult, an admonishment or a complaint. His wife was no better. Helen wished the ancient, decrepit pair would leave. But they never would. They had to be pushing a century each and they were still hale and hearty enough to keep their yards immaculate, bitch about kids playing on their sidewalks, and generally drive down the morale at any Maple Lane block party they attended.
Helen felt like she had blinked and the whole world had changed.
There were people discussing going to the store to stock up on food and supplies and others who were already wondering if they could get Bode, the redneck who owned the hot rod machine shop on the corner, to use his rollback to help keep the roads clear of crashed cars.
“I’ll go,” she said, lifting her hand. “I want to go with you lot, headed to the shops.”
Volunteering for that had been a mistake of epic proportions. She had thought of her own pantry, nearly devoid of ready-to-eat or non-perishable goods, and realized that if there was going to be a rush on food stuffs, and if this was the end of the world (or at least a major interruption of normal services) the grocery store was definitely the first place she should go. Of course, once they got there – it was a scene out of some post-apocalyptic movie. As she fought – literally, with elbows and knees – her way to the soup aisle, Helen saw two emo-looking teenagers push over some little old lady, kick her in the spine, and then tromp over her still body on their way to grab generic energy drinks from an end cap.
It was madness. In a few short hours these Americans had already begun looting everything in sight. There were people shouting about the end of days, big SUVs plowing up and over sidewalks just to get out of town, the shelves were nearly empty at the market and the little old lady on the floor of Giant was not the last battered person she nearly tripped over on her way out of the store.
She made it outside without injury and carrying two gallon jugs of distilled water and a dozen assorted cans of soup in her eco-friendly brown woven bags. They were identical to the ones Tammy used; the librarian had given them to her last Christmas. Mostly, Helen found them annoying and disliked the guilt she felt when she failed to use them, but today she was grateful that they allowed her to carry much more than she could have normally.
The Spirits & Wine Store was a few yards down the promenade. Helen paused a moment, glancing about to see if her comrades from Maple Lane had emerged from the melee inside the market yet. They had not.
She shrugged, adjusting her sunglasses for a moment. Indecisive, Helen peeked through the window. If this is the bloody end of days, this might be the last chance a girl’s got to score decent vodka and some añejo. The remembered taste of fine tequila on her tongue was enough to make the choice; Helen steeled her resolve and pushed into the shop.
People were already clearing it out, though to her surprise there were fewer people interested in liquor or wine than in the smoke shop or the grocery store. It was no trouble at all to slip two liters of Herradura – her favorite mildly aged tequila – and two liters of Stoli into her sacks. She snared a few of the small single shot-sized bottles from around the registers and dashed for the exit. Behind her, some thugs had given up on stealing any inventory and were perched on the counters, stomping on the registers to get to the piles of green bills inside.
Outside, she hesitated on the curb. She could not see any of the fellows from Maple Lane. A whirlwind of insanity buffeted her – figuratively – and a throng of hooting looters buffeted her – literally. She was shoved from the curb and stumbled directly into the path of a careening sedan.
It missed her. Barely.
“Yo, Ms. Poots!”
Helen whirled. The four young men, each pushing a shopping cart brimming with ill-gotten gains, were jogging toward her. She hefted her bags onto her shoulder and trotted over.
“You lot gathered a load of goodies, yeah? Quickly now, let us get back to the block. I think there is some serious fucking trouble brewing here.”
It was an awkward procession, but the five of them set out toward home, dodging snarled traffic and angry citizens. They crossed the iron bridge without trouble, but Helen drew her knife from the depths of her purse and held it at the ready anyway. There were so many people about; screaming and crying, arguing and fighting and in some cases, doing real violence to each other.
“Hurry lads,” she urged, looking over her shoulder. “We’re nearly there.”
Suddenly, everything moved in eerie slow motion.
The bloke at the rear of their chain yelped. From the corner of her eye Helen saw six men moving in to surround the kid.
The two guys behind her came to a stop, both nearly spilling their loads. The third did lose control of his cart; it careened into a parked car and set off the alarm. With the scream of sirens and alarms across the city, this one failed to rise above the din.
“Give us the cart, asshole!” One of the thugs seemed to be in charge, he brandished a huge machete. “Or I will fucking kill you!”
“Jimmy, drop it! Let’s go!”
“It ain’t worth it, man!”
Helen was of a mind with Jerry and Ron and Travis. She gripped her blade until her knuckles went white. Two of their assailants grabbed onto the edge of Jimmy’s cart, yanking it away. Jimmy dove for it, but the flat of the leader’s blade across his back sent him sprawling onto the pavement. The kid cried out – he couldn’t have been more than nineteen – and clamored to his feet.
Several of the thugs were trying to wrestle Travis’ basket away. Jerry shoved his basket at Helen and raced back to his friend. He barreled into the smaller of the two guys, slamming his shoulder into the guy’s belly. Puking up a foul smelling conglomeration of half-digested Funions, cheap beer, and stale pizza, the thug dropped to his knees, groaning.
Helen grabbed a can of creamed corn from Jerry’s cart and let out a primal scream, hurling it at one of their attackers. It smashed into his jaw and he shrieked like a little girl.
“Come on!” she cried, grabbing onto the front of Jerry’s cart and dragging it behind her as she ran. Jerry, Ron, Travis and Jimmy scrambled along after her; they ran for their lives, dodging cars and emergency vehicles. “Come ON!”
When they returned to Maple Lane, Helen was sweating and heaving, but the four guys she had accompanied were clapping each other on the back and celebrating their manly manhood. She rolled her eyes and held her tongue; no point in disparaging them at this point, even if it had been her quick thinking that really forced the thugs to leave them be.
Helen returned to her home and hauled her goods up to her bedroom. She kept a safe in the floor of her closet for cash and documents and her pistol. Today, she withdrew the pistol and tucked it into her purse with the butterfly knife, then placed all four bottles of liquor inside as well. Better safe than… sober.
Not that she drank very often. And she never did drugs. Odd choice for an escort, she knew, but she had not touched so much as a joint since the day her mother died. Watching someone you love turn into a junkie and overdose had that effect on some people.
Peeking out the window, Helen could see that several families were still loading their vehicles. It seemed that other folks were trying to convince them to stay. Helen cast a glance toward the city; the fog had not crossed the river. Still, the things they had seen before the TV feeds were cut… Was anywhere likely to be safer than here?
She packed a suitcase anyway. She included a few frilly, lacy frivolous things – and most of her jewelry – but mostly, she chose sensible items. Denim would last and be protective, leather as well. Knee-high boots with low heels and her running shoes. Underwear – full coverage – and tank tops with button downs. Her leather driving gloves and lots of socks. The suitcase probably weighed fifty pounds, once it was full.
I’ll have to go back up for the tequila and vodka… she thought, dragging her luggage down the steps and out into her driveway. She clicked the unlock button on her keyfob and the midnight blue Lexus SUV’s lights flashed.
It was rapidly getting dark. And when she stopped to think about it, Helen really had no place to go. Best to have a plan, duck, she told herself, pushing the bag back into the house. You can always go tomorrow.
“…still not back,” Victoria was telling another teenaged girl. “I dunno what t’do, Alli.”
Helen closed her eyes behind her big sunglasses. She hated having anyone else in her cool, white sanctuary. But, then again, she really abhorred the idea of being alone tonight.
“Hey there, love, did you say your Aunt and Uncle aren’t back yet? Were they at work?”
Victoria looked over and gave her a classic teenage look.
“Whyn’t you come stay with me? I’m sure they’ll be round tomorrow – they probably just got stuck in the traffic.”
Reluctantly, she agreed. Helen was more relieved than she wanted to admit. The smoke was dying off over the city and the sirens were already fewer, but everything was so queer and unsettled… she was grateful for the distraction of setting up the guest room and preparing for bed.
The old building had several quaint features, some she had always liked and others she had cursed. In particular, she had always found the heat door rather idiotic. It was little more than a slab of wood which could be closed to separate the upstairs and downstairs. The realtor had explained that in the old days, it would have been employed to help keep the heat where it belonged. Mostly, Helen left it up and open. Tonight, after Victoria was tucked in, Helen gently lowered the door and threw the latch. Then she rolled her heavily packed suitcase on top for good measure.
You never know… she thought, and then curled up in bed.
Note: Image is “clouds and blue sky” by kuwashima from SXC.hu