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Spirituality and Social Media

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For a little over a year, I have been actively involved with social media.  Full disclosure:  I was a social-media scofflaw.  Until recently, if you messaged me on Facebook, it was as good as putting a message in a bottle in the midst of the Atlantic.

Yet, my writing mentors explained that, if I wanted to be a writer nowadays, I had to have a social media presence.  I’ve embraced that and it’s been an interesting ride.  As I’ve heard others say, my biggest frustration is that it takes time away from writing.  I have also found that it presents spiritual challenges.

The spiritual conundrum is that social media represents the phenomenon of people entering into relationships without a common primary purposes.  Some “follow,” “like,” and comment primarily to sell.  Others do the same to have a social relationship.  (And then there are the Twitter bots, the modern-day version of a blow-up sex doll…but I digress.)

Don’t we all know what’s going on with social media?  On November 2, 2013, the New York Times profiled social media rainmaker, Gary Vaynerchuk.  Per the Times, he’s “doing service” as a means to get what he wants.  He keeps what he has (actually he keeps what you used to have) by giving it away.  Really, this is old-school marketing:  He makes people feel good, and gets back “good will” in return.  The difference is that, in the old days, the nature of the relationship was clear cut.

Mimicking Vaynerchuk and other social media gurus, amateur and professional marketers retweet, quote and provide information in the hope that you’ll buy their product.  Well, I might note that it really appears that this is a huge Ponzi scheme benefiting those who have an established corporate platform already, while most of the rest of us are basically fodder.  We small fry buy their stuff while spending hours and hours just to sell a couple of books for 99 cents.  It is a “Tale of Two Twitters.”

In the meantime, the small fry hear that building relationships (interactions) on social media is key.  So, there are a bunch of people out there pretending to be friends just to sell stuff.  It strikes me as skuzzy, to use a technical term.  Mind you, social media isn’t a business lunch where everyone knows they’re doing business.  It’s more like having a fan/celebrity relationship when both people mistakenly believe they’re the celebrity.  Face it, if you’re a 99 center you’re a 99 percenter!

But Deepak Chopra has a less cynical spin on it.  He believes that social media is helping to “build a collective consciousness in the place where social media meets spirituality.”  To paraphrase, he believes that the kind words and attention we spread even as we are trying to build our own little empire (okay, not his words), has a salutary impact on all involved.  And don’t relationships often present challenges of mixed motives, whether the goal is money. advancement or ego-feeding?

And I have to say, without entirely drinking the Kool Aid offered by the big financial winners on Twitter, that I have found that I am able to practice spiritual principles; I have shared and received spiritual benefits; and have made some friends via my social media activities.

It actually happened quickly.  When I caught the gist of what was happening on social media, I decided I had to have a spiritual outlook on the process.  My devotion of time and energy had to serve a purpose beyond marketing a book.  I decided I’d share my own spiritual process, hopefully provide some laughs, and just generally be present.  I’ve figured that if I’m here, maybe I’m meant to be here, so I should make sure that I engage in a loving, compassionate exchange with whomever I encounter.  I hate to admit it, since I much prefer to be oppositional and defiant, but I’ve gotten a lot out of it all.

Strikingly, the night before my mother died last March, I was exhausted and alone in her hospice room.  I needed to sleep while my mother slept.  The nurse hadn’t come in to turn off a beeping piece of machinery despite my request.  It felt as if I’d waited an inordinate amount of time and  I was starting to “lose it.”  The incessantly beeping alarm was wearing away at my last, overly fatigued nerve.

I tweeted out:  “I’m sitting vigil, Vassar Hosp, & beeping in the room is driving me out of my f*g mind.  Small thing but…ain’t nobody got time 4 that.  Ugh.”

Within a moment, I received this:  “@zombierecovery. Holler if you need anything.  There’s always somebody around, K?  {{{hug}}} #xa #RecoveryCrew”

Of course, I’m @zombierecovery.  The sender was @fugitive247, someone I’d never heard of before.  I later learned she lives in the Ozarks and takes her social media mission seriously.  Bless her.  I can’t describe how impacted I was by her tweet and how mind-boggling it was that someone who cared had somehow seen my tweet within a vast sea of them.  Her 140 characters were a great teacher.

And I’ve had actual relationships on Twitter.  It seems hard to believe and the uninitiated would scoff.  But I have my favorite “tweeps,” who I chat in 140 characters with, often on a daily basis.  I know their real first names (or don’t); I sometimes know their work schedules and professions; I know what their kids look like and try to remember the ages.  And it is actually amazing, given the 140 character limit on Twitter, how quickly one can figure out who the lunatics are and who you like.

Of course, at this point, one remembers Manti Te’o.  So, I’m not sending the passwords to my bank account.  “My mama didn’t raise no fools.”  (Hint:  That’s a quote from my next novel.)  But I have sent out a copy of my novel to a Twitter friend before the check arrived.  I had no doubt it would work out fine and it did. (Please don’t ask:  “no credit.”  That’s the former drug dealer speaking.)

Anyway, enough out of me for now before I start telling you drug-dealer stories.  This post is way long, and we all have short attention spans with so much tweeting, re-tweeting and posting to do.  All I can say to sum up is that, just as in “real life,” we need to check our motives and try to serve a greater purpose.  Each of us as an individual can make what we want of the social media experience.  I’m sending you all my love and good wishes.   I am also attaching a link to a sexy, nude photo of Manti T’eo’s girlfriend to help us all keep things in perspective.  I never get tired of looking at it.  http://www.funnyordie.com/pictures/63b6181e54/nude-girl-in-shower

 

Working Mom & Indie Writer

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I’ve been thinking for a while about blogging on the life of a working mom and indie writer.  In particular, I thought it would be nice to talk about how to market an indie book while holding down a full-time job and raising kids (importantly, without a nanny).   But, of course, I haven’t had time!

Nevertheless, here I go, carving out the time.

One piece of advice frequently given to new indie novelists is to write the next novel.  Multiple titles cross-market each other.  It’s easier to garner attention on Amazon and elsewhere if you have more than one product to sell.  Multiple books give a boost to your algorithms; and each one pops up on the Amazon “Customers who viewed this item also bought” ad.

So, with a new novel out and demanding my marketing time, I’ve also been trying to finish a novel that is well along in a third draft.  I edit mostly on the subway, where I’m disconnected from my Twitter feed, blog, and two Facebook pages, so the work doesn’t cut into my social media activities.  (If you’re on a packed rush-hour train, watch out for the flying woman when the train stops mid-sentence.)  It’s frustrating to be only weeks away from finishing a novel and not have time to devote to it.  Mostly, I just tell myself to practice patience.

Social media is all important for marketing my novel that’s out now (THE THIRTEENTH STEP:  ZOMBIE RECOVERY).  I tweet as part of my morning routine and prepare tweets to be sent out from time to time throughout the day while I’m working.  Four in the morning (when I wake up) may not be the best time to reach folks in New York City where I live, but I get the early risers, plus the night owls on the West Coast and those long awake in the U.K.  During my workday, it can be frustrating to hear the ping of incoming tweets and not be able to respond to them.  But I have definitely heeded the advice, “don’t quit your day job!”  I try to be present for my job, which pays my health insurance among other things.  My nightmare is that someone will see my daytime tweets and think I’ve actually composed them during the workday.  But I’m probably just paranoid.  (Boss:  If you’re reading this, I didn’t do it!)  Bottom line, though, not being able to actually connect on social media throughout the day does negatively impact on my book’s visibility

So, I’ve started to consult with marketers.  They’ve rightly suggested I develop a marketing plan.  Unfortunately, I suspect that it’s the indie writer-mom who has to implement the plan!  It may be worth no more than the paper it’s written on unless it tells me how to market more effectively with less time.  I’d pay a million bucks for a plan that would stretch out my day to 26 hours.  (Of course, I’d go to jail for writing a bad check, since I don’t have that kind of dough.)

One friend and esteemed entrepreneur recently told me that I can’t successfully market a novel with only one foot in the game.  Well, I hear that; but that’s where the spiritual angle kicks in.  I wake up at 4 AM on weekdays, 5 AM on weekends, to write and market.  I feed and water the kids, help with homework, go on middle-school tours (a must in Manhattan), practice law in the daytime, learn new technology needed for each new marketing activity, and top off the evening with more social media.  (Hint:  After I cook and clean, I watch a TV show with my kids with an IPAD in my lap, tweeting about it.  I kid you not, check my Twitter feed – http://twitter.com/zombierecovery1.  And don’t miss the zombie-hunt hiking photos with my kids.  That was fun.)   So, yes I do have two feet in the game.  Size six, and they bear the weight of a very full plate, which I feel fortunate to have.  I will still talk with the experts (to the extent they offer free or bargain advice!), but half-stepping is not even in my vocabulary.

Here’s the bottom line, the spiritual hit.  I have to maintain faith that: IF IT’S NOT PRACTICAL, IT’S NOT SPIRITUAL.  I have to trust that my best is enough to get me where I’m supposed to be.  So, each day I make a choice that I will get a full night’s sleep, make meetings, exercise, and take good care of my kids (in the interest of full disclosure, that includes letting them spend too much time playing video games…and sometimes I almost forget to feed them.  Oops).  But I must temper hustle with humility.

As I go forward, marketing my current book and editing my next one, I will share what I learn with you and how my strategies have worked out.  If I actually find the magic button that allows me to market effectively and get my next novel written, while taking care of the physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing of my children and myself, I will shout the news from the proverbial rooftops.  In the meantime, I’m strapping in for the ride of my life, doing the footwork that I can do, and trying to let go of the results.  I will let you know how it works out.

Yea – All Five Star Reviews So Far

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My novel has been out for a little over a day and the reviews are coming in.  Some are from readers who received advance review copies, most of whom I do not know personally.  So far, there have been 12 reviews, all 5 stars.  It is very gratifying that no one has said the book sucks and that people are actually reviewing enthusiastically.  My latest five star review was from an Amazon Vine Reviewer, and those Vine Reviewers don’t mess around with fluffy reviews; their reputation for trustworthiness is at stake.  I don’t know who the person is, but I am grateful.

Overall, I’m thrilled that the readers have seemed to really “get” the ideas I was trying to communicate and that they mostly love the characters the way I do.  I fell in love with my characters, and actually cried a few times when reading and writing the book…despite knowing what was going to happen next.  It’s funny how that happens.

Publishing the book has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride for me.  A Buddhist Twitter buddy of mine says it’s all about the attachment, and he is right.  I am most certainly a work in progress.  It’s the first time since I started writing novels that I’ve put my work out into the world beyond the normal agents and publishers who read with a professional eye.  It is a very humbling experience to actually give my story to readers.  The whole experience is the epitome of powerlessness and I’m learning a lot from it.

 

 

My Novel is Out!!

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Okay, so my heart is beating fast.  Then I get a bit serene.  Then I have to perform yet one more task relating to my Amazon Author Page, or the trade paperback we’re still readying for publication, or any one of a myriad of technical details and, bang, my heart trips all over itself running to some imaginary finish line.  But the novel is out.  I’m breathing now, sometimes in shallow pants, sometimes in long, serene breaths. Yet, all the while I can only savor the fact that I am entirely in the stream of life, irrevocably.  I can get the word out about my book, but my novel is basically out of my hands and into yours.  I hope you enjoy it.  I certainly enjoyed living with the characters while writing and rewriting it.  And I’ve enjoyed interacting with so many of you who have supported me along the way.  Thank you.

Great Article by MJ Gottlieb

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Great Article by MJ Gottlieb

I was pleasantly surprised today to see an article about MJ Gottlieb in Forbes. He’s written a book called “How to Ruin a Business Without Really Trying.” As you can see if you’re reading my blog, his book is somewhat out of my genre. Nevertheless, he is an amazing guy with sage advice. It’s sure helpful to hear him say: take care of yourself, not just your business. More is not always better. Quantity is not quality. As a writer who is also a parent and working attorney, I need to be reminded to “easy does it, but do it.”

Excerpt of The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

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I’ve decided to post the first two chapters of The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery here.

Chapter 1

On the day humanity hit the fan, Bill was at the office:  Midtown, Eastside.  He paused before the glass doors to the Lotto Commission’s reception area and quickly sized up the group that waited there.  As Press Officer, he had the list of winners on a Plexiglas clipboard.  None of them knew it and Bill certainly didn’t, but they were lucky too late.

He looked down at the names and pushed through the door:  Courtney Hayes, age 27.  Although she was the youngest, she guided her six coworkers to him.

“Congratulations.  I’m William Curtis.”  He smiled and shook each of their hands.  He shook Courtney’s last.

She stood slightly taller than his six feet.  Pencil skirt, bright white pearls, hair swept up into a French chignon.  She conveyed elegance, which Bill figured she’d learned through long-distance imitation, not privilege.  She was unusual though.  Most winners were a heart attack waiting to happen.  Virtually no one took the 20-year payoff even though it meant more money for the winner in the end.  After a lifetime of Kentucky Fried Chicken and booze to wash it down, the winners usually chose the lump sum and spent it fast, racing against their narrowing arteries.

Bill took in Courtney’s tight smile. She would keep her share of the $360 million dollar jackpot and live on the interest, he would bet on it. That was a nice thing to see in his line of work.

The group followed Bill down a quiet corridor past photo portraits of prior winners, many of whom Bill had escorted down this same hallway. It was Bill’s job to know as much as possible about the winners. Today, they were all government workers from New York State’s Department of Taxation. Four were middle-aged men with thinning hair and cheap suits. Courtney’s supervisor was a working mom. The third woman—dumpy and 57—fidgeted with her pocketbook as she walked beside Bill. He looked down at his clipboard: Grace Leocata.

He committed her name to memory: Grace, gray hair, not graceful. Bill had learned working on the governor’s campaign to get people’s names and use them to make them feel comfortable and important. Sometimes his memory devices weren’t exactly kind but they worked, and what people didn’t know usually didn’t hurt them. It was clear that Grace was the one who would need most of his attention today. She was switching back and forth between elation and anxiety, like one of those spook-house portraits that change when you walk by them.

He looked down at her and smiled. “It can be stressful winning 50 million dollars.”

She nodded and sort of grimaced, her mouth a rigor mortis slash across her face. The reporters would be lucky to get one word from her.

Bill had Googled everyone. Only Courtney had an internet presence: a LinkedIn page, Twitter account, and a six-year-old news photo from a charitable event she’d organized at a small college upstate. Some of the others had vanilla Facebook pages, nothing more. It was because these winners were so ordinary that the press was interested in them. A bunch of civil servants winning a huge jackpot had riveted every working stiff in the country who struggled to support a family, get the kids through college, and put something away for retirement. At 35 and a government worker himself, Bill identified. Only he never played Lotto and still hadn’t started on the marriage with children thing.

Unfortunately, days like today were rare. Bill was accustomed to hosting a couple of dismal winners and half a dozen hyperactive wire reporters. Most times, the Lotto videos got as many hits as a school concert on YouTube.

Bill had once been the “kid with a future” in the governor’s Press Office, dealing with front-page issues every day. But that was before the governor got caught with his pants down, bumping a 25-year-old hooker. (Bill was sure it was the fact that he kept his socks on which had done him in. Who could forget that image?) Overnight, there had been a new governor, who had brought his own staff. Bill’s governor had ended up with a show on CNN and Bill ended up in Lotto Office purgatory, lucky to have any job in a down economy. It sucked. But he was grateful that nowadays his greatest satisfaction in life came from things other than his career, like sponsoring guys, making meetings and solid friendships.

“Here we are.” Bill showed the group into the green room, a windowless lounge with a TV and conference table along one wall. The winners and their spouses helped themselves to donuts, bagels and coffee, which an intern had arranged on a side table.

Bill started his spiel as the winners sat: “The interviewer’s Maria Colon. You’ve probably seen her reading out the Lotto balls on TV. You’ll line up on the podium behind her and she’ll call each one of you up for a question. Everyone wants to know how you found out you were winners, what you’ve been doing the last few days, and how you want to spend the money.”

“Jim and I had to go to the office and get the ticket,” Christopher Stevens, the oldest white-haired man piped up. “We had to keep it safe from Saturday till Monday when your office opened.”

Bill committed his name to memory: white-haired Christopher; Bill pictured him as Kris Kringle.

Jim, a guy with a concave chest and graying red mustache, nodded. “We wrapped the ticket in two plastic bags and put it in Courtney’s basement inside a metal wastebasket.”

“Good thinking, Jim.” Bill ticked off Slim Jim’s name in his mind, an easy one.

Courtney raised her hand and waved as if to say, that’s me. “We poured in ten pounds of kitty litter in case of fire.”

“Excellent. Maria will like that kind of detail. That’s great.”

The conference room was packed when Bill led the group there. Reporters filled seventy chairs on each side of a center aisle. The shades were drawn. Balloons in blue and yellow—the official state colors—surrounded the New York State Lotto backsplash, a burst of glitter and stars that covered the wall behind the podium. Cameramen filled the space in front of the first row of seats. The rent-a-cop security guard stood next to the entrance. Everything was in order.

The room quieted down in the glare of the klieg lights. The cameramen focused on Bill ushering the group in. He directed the family members to the reserved seats in the front and waited to the side of the raised platform with the winners.

Maria Colon bounded to the podium and took the microphone, a smile plastered across her face. She had put on a few pounds over the two decades since she’d started reading Lotto balls. But she was still attractive in a pale blue silk skirt and jacket. She held the microphone in her jeweled hand and began to speak.

“Hel—lo, I am Maria Colon, for the New York State Lotto,” she announced into the mic as if she’d drunk a half dozen triple-shot venti lattes. “And today we have seven, that’s right, seven lucky winners of the 360 million dollar Powerball lotto. We have waited anxiously to learn their identities and he–re they are!”

Bill guided the winners to the podium.

“Are you all right, Grace?” He touched Grace’s arm as she passed him. Her face had blanched a queasy gray, almost the color of her hair. He’d never seen anyone quite this nervous for the press conference. He’d lay odds she’d be spending her winnings on Xanax and a therapist’s couch.

“I’ll be okay,” she said, looking up at him meekly.

“It’ll be a breeze,” he reassured her, modulating his voice to keep his annoyance out of it. Then he stood to the side and watched, not at all sure she’d find her voice and knowing that whatever went wrong at the press conference would be his fault. The buck stopped with him. Boy, he could use a drink. Totally out of the question.

A movement caught his eye ten rows deep into the audience. A reporter, BlackBerry in hand, was making a quick exit toward the back of the room. The way he walked, Bill thought it more likely the guy had to make an emergency bathroom visit than a private phone call. The reporter weaved as he ran out, his face gray and stressed like Grace’s. Someone coughed on the other side of the aisle. A woman leaned forward, forehead on her knees. Was she sick? The thought of Legionnaire’s Disease flitted across Bill’s mind, gone as fast as he thought it.

“First up,” Maria said into the mic, “we have Christopher Stevens.”

White-haired Chris stepped forward and waved his hands above his head like a gold medalist.

“So,” Maria said, “tell us how you found out you had the winning numbers.”

Chris told the long version of the short story. Bill had heard the same story hundreds of times already. Groundhog Day. The old guy had checked and rechecked and rechecked the numbers then, zowwie, he was a millionaire.

“Jim, come up here,” Maria said, good-naturedly gesturing Chris back to his place in line and bringing up Slim Jim.

Maria turned to the audience. “These guys are all tax auditors.” She laughed and faked a shudder. “If we’re lucky, there will be seven fewer auditors reviewing our taxes now!”

“You might be right, Maria,” Jim said, “I’m leaving as soon as I can!”

The audience chuckled and Bill did, too, always glad for a light moment. He’d done this gig with Maria for six years, and enjoyed working with her. She was a pro. And the guys loved talking to her. He watched Maria’s eyes taking in Grace’s rattled state. Maria had to ask the woman a question—there was no getting around it—but she wasn’t looking forward to it. She skipped Grace and went to Courtney, who stood tall, beaming as if born to be in front of the cameras. Courtney’s coworkers looked like extras in her movie. It was hard to fathom why she’d ended up working as a bean counter at a state tax office. Lights flashed, the photographers loving her.

Courtney answered Maria’s stock question: “No, I don’t have any plans yet.”

A reporter shouted out, “Are you married?”

The others laughed. She tilted her head, coyly. “Not yet.”

Maria touched Courtney’s arm as if they were girlfriends. “Well, honey, ya betta get a prenup!”

The flashbulbs went wild for a couple more seconds. Bill wanted to pump his hands, Courtney was their savior. She would be a front-page story all around the state. Maria reluctantly turned to Grace. “Next, we have—”

Before Grace took a step, Bill heard a percussive blast, loud but distant. Gunshots? Then he heard the unmistakable squeal-bang-crunch of a car crash outside. He glanced toward the sound. Other heads in the audience turned, too.

Ever the professional, Maria kept her smiley focus on Grace, who tottered closer to the mic. Her face was drained of color and she walked with great effort. Bill inched toward the front in case she actually fainted. But, instead, Grace suddenly pivoted on her heels, hauled off and punched Slim Jim hard in the face. Maria reared back. A gasp escaped Bill’s lips before he could stop it: Whoa. He hesitated, stunned. Then he took two steps toward the front of the room. He couldn’t believe Grace could move so fast. This incident would be the way people remembered today, he knew. It would go viral. He had to end this.

Bill signaled to the security guard, who started toward the stage.

Grace gouged her fingernails along Slim Jim’s cheeks. He howled and his wife shouted, running forward from the audience, fighting past the surging cameramen.

Still trying to wrap his mind around what was happening, Bill saw Courtney screaming at something in back of him. Her mouth formed a wet chasm of shock, her eyes wide. As Bill started to turn, he was knocked off balance by a cameraman. From one knee, he saw Grace leap on Jim, who now had a bloody river for a face. Her pleated skirt flying up over her thick rump, she took a huge bite out of him.

Bile and breakfast flew out of Bill’s throat.

Screams warped the air. Bill straightened and saw a spout of blood arching over the winners and hitting Maria Colon. Her blue suit became a dripping Jackson Pollock. Maria went silent, mid-scream. A bloody mud hole appeared at her middle. She doubled over, an attacker from behind jumping on her ferociously as she fell.

Reporters ran toward Maria to help her, the cameramen still filming. But one of the reporters dove at Maria instead, yowling, mouth impossibly wide, and took a new chunk out of her bloody belly. It was a feeding frenzy. Simon, the office mail guy, rose to his feet behind Maria, his scalp reflecting the camera lights. Six-foot-five. 270 pounds of muscle. Bloody spittle covered his face. Blood-soaked inter-office mail lay at his feet. He yoked one of the cameramen, a thick forearm around the man’s neck. Despite all the screaming, Bill thought he heard the cameraman’s bones break then wet chomping as Simon’s teeth clamped over the side of his face.

Mayhem had engulfed the entire room. Bill could just make out the security guard’s blue uniform in the fray. He couldn’t tell whether the guy was killing or being killed. The Lotto winners had scattered. He saw Courtney scrambling out of the way of the chaos, clambering up on a metal desk near the entrance. A five-foot-long reproduction check for three hundred sixty million dollars flew through the air toward her. She deflected it with a Wendy Murdoch smack, sending it spiraling madly into the bedlam.

Courtney’s eyes darted around. Her single-mom supervisor ran to hide in the coatroom a few yards away. Bill wanted to help them but a screaming, crying, bloody marsh of winners, reporters and government workers lay between Bill and the women. The exits were filled, too, with the fighting and dying, people bitten and mangled.

Courtney slipped behind the desk, out of sight, before Bill could struggle across the room. Maybe she had managed to get outside. He looked beyond the mess of writhing bodies to find a path toward the exit for himself. But he was barely able to dodge the three reporters and the security guard running by. He watched as one of them pounced and wrestled the old guy, Chris, to the floor. Grunting with flesh-lust, it was Chris who turned on them one by one, his fingers clawing their clothes, his teeth sinking into their limbs.

The security guard tried to get up. He seemed to gain energy, despite the white of his ribs sticking out of his uniform shirt and his ear hanging off as if he’d fought Mike Tyson. He turned. His predator glare zeroed in on Bill as if Bill were the weak animal separated from a herd. The guard’s stare couldn’t have been human. Even his bone structure seemed transformed in some fundamental way. His eyes had sunk deep into their sockets, his blood-covered jaw bulged, as strong as a shark’s. Bill felt a million-year terror of this teeth-gnashing creature, oozing a hate-filled brutality. Moments ago, the man had been the friendly security guard Bill had known for a year; but he was a monster now.

Time stretched slowly like a rubber band but that was an illusion, Bill knew that. He needed a weapon fast, any kind of weapon to keep himself out of the predator’s reach. But he didn’t see anything. He was going to have to fight for his life, bare-handed.

Then the guard’s fierce eyes set on a slow-motion running, screaming woman. His head snapped toward her. He leapt instantly, roaring after her instead of Bill.

Bill barely saw the tackle and blood spray at the farthest reach of his peripheral vision. He sprinted to a supply closet just off an entryway at the back of the room. He reached it in time and shut himself in, standing in pitch black, his face against the cold wall, his back lodged against a metal shelf. Screams, howls, moans, and the stench of blood and feces filtered into the closet. His trembling fingers reached inside his pocket for his cell phone. Not there. It was at his desk. He was alone in the noisy dark, praying.

Chapter 2

The death racket quieted outside the supply closet. Bill pressed the button on his sports watch. It glowed green: 1:02 PM. It had been a half hour since the press conference began. He took a deep breath and opened the closet a crack. Light flooded in. Silence. No moans of the injured, no screams. For a moment, Bill doubted his sanity. Would he walk out and find his coworkers back at their desks pounding away at their computers? Would they be talking quietly on their phones as if nothing had happened? No … he could still smell it: the blood and guts, thick enough to taste and sticky beneath his feet as he approached the conference room.

Blood covered the walls. He was alone, no sign of any of his coworkers, the attackers, or Courtney and her supervisor. Of the winners, the two of them had still been alive, still normal the last time he’d seen them. He reared back, almost bumping into a leg draped across a chair. It had been gnawed to the bone, the shoe still attached. There were no whole corpses, just body parts strewn haphazardly: a hand on the floor, what looked like a neck bone, clumps of hair still attached to scalps.

Bill threw up again. Jeez, so much for his belief that he was steely under fire. He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and inched along the wall, heading toward the security desk and phone near the entrance to the room. He cut a path around deep patches of blood on the carpet. Courtney was cowering underneath the desk.

She looked up at him and sobbed. “Please don’t kill me.”

He held up his hands, palms out, whispering just in case, “I think it’s over.”

She crawled out with his help, trembling and weak. He picked up the phone and dialed 911.

A recording announced: “I’m sorry, all lines are busy. An operator will be with you in a moment.”

“It’s a recording.” He waited for an operator to pick up.

Courtney shivered.

“They’re not picking up,” Bill told her, waiting anyway.

Courtney spoke, words barely coming out, “My boss … she got up.”

“What?”

“But she couldn’t have gotten up.” Courtney whispered and wept the words. “They found her in the closet. They ripped her lungs out. I saw her lungs.” Courtney forced the words, “She got up … afterwards. I saw. They stopped eating her. She got up and went with them. She looked like them, vicious, crazy … grabbing. I saw her attack a woman.”

“Zombies. They’re zombies,” Bill said almost to himself, the words scraping out of his throat as if saying them was what made the carnage real. Bill set the phone receiver on the desk, the canned police operator still repeating her please-hold mantra.

From the street, a human shriek and a car alarm’s warble penetrated the double-glazed windows.

For the first time since the car crash during the press conference, Bill realized that something was going on outside. He rushed to the window, Courtney following. Ominous cries, hundreds of voices. His nerves on fire, Bill lifted the blinds. Below, twelve flights down on wide Third Avenue, the street overflowed with fighting, howling people. The chaos they had just witnessed at the press conference was still unfolding—to the 1000th power.

It reminded Bill of Church Street near the World Trade Center, where he’d been on 9/11. Only, on that day, before the towers collapsed, the crowds had been looking up at the fire or streaming away in a sort of stunned and frightened but sensible way. Not today.

A group of four men and a woman in office attire ran out of a black-glass office building across the street. The instant they stepped outside, hundreds of frenzied zombies climbed over each other to rip them apart. A cry caught in Courtney’s throat. Bill didn’t hear his own voice doing the same. He reached over to Courtney, who had started to whimper. The keening of the four stopped. The zombies seemed to go even crazier then: shrieking, howling. A wide swath of the mob broke off and swarmed into the black-glass building like army ants overwhelming a tropical plantation.

Courtney stuttered out words, “Are they looking for survivors … to eat?”

Bill felt as if his head were a shaken snow globe. He couldn’t put his thoughts together. Then it dawned on him: On 9/11, the air had been filled with sirens coming from every direction; he’d seen police and firemen all over the place. But now there were no sirens, no firemen, no police at all.

Bill grabbed Courtney’s arm. “There’s a TV in the Commissioner’s office. The door locks, too. Maybe people are hiding in there.”

“My pocketbook. My cell. I have to call my father.”

“Okay.”

At the green room, Bill pressed his ear against the door before opening it. There was nobody there. On the chairs and tables, the winners’ belongings were already incongruous artifacts of another time. Courtney grabbed her shoulder bag while Bill kept watch in the hallway outside.

On the way to the Lotto Commissioner’s office, they passed empty, blood-splattered cubicles. Bill recognized the torso of the college intern who had cheerfully arranged the balloons that morning, lying near her cubicle. Courtney almost stumbled over the partial corpse. Bill put out his hand to steady her while scanning the glass-front offices along the wall. No sign of life anywhere. He went into his office and picked up his North Face backpack from under his desk. Bill heard Courtney mumbling, “But we won the Lotto.”

The door to the Commissioner’s corner office was open. The room was empty and clean. Air conditioning battled with afternoon sun that heated the large windows, but there was no sign of human struggle. Legal pads and pens, and a couple of stray water bottles sat on a small glass conference table. It looked as if a meeting had been interrupted.

Bill locked the door behind them. He went to the back of the room, listened at the door to the Commissioner’s private bathroom then pulled it open. No sign of life or death. Bill closed the door again and took a deep breath.

A TV was mounted near the ceiling in a corner, where the Commissioner could watch from behind his desk. Courtney picked up the remote control from the conference table. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a bloody madman banging from inside the window of an office building across 53rd street. She leapt backward and let out a yelp. It seemed as if he wanted to jump through the glass to get her. “He’s seen us! They’re going to come back!”

Bill ran to the window and slammed the blinds shut. “He wouldn’t know where we are from outside.”

Courtney helped Bill shut the other Venetian blinds. “He’d know the floor.”

Bill moved from window to window, lowering blinds. “I don’t think they’re able to reason like that … you saw them.”

Courtney and Bill moved to the office’s second wall of windows, which overlooked the black-glass office building. Next door to it was the block-long, Lipstick Building, an oblong, rouge-colored tube of offices where Bernie Madoff used to work. The high-rent business district had been transformed by the masses of bodies crowding the street, all zombies now.

Courtney dropped to the floor, feeling safest out of the line of sight even with the blinds closed. She sobbed for a moment, the fear overwhelming. Then she wiped her nose with the back of her hand and talked to herself: Pull yourself together, NOW.

She crawled and aimed the remote control, finding the 24-hour cable news station, NY1. Snow. Then Channel 4. Snow. On the next channel, the emergency broadcast system buzzed. Then on Channel 9, snow again.

Bill shook his head. “Jes—”

Courtney cut him off, sharply, unwilling to think about what it meant. “The cable’s out. They’ll fix it.”

Bill gave Courtney a long look. She wasn’t getting it. He took in her terror, her face blotchy and streaked with tears. He returned to the window and peeked out the side of the blinds. The man Courtney had seen was still banging at the window across the street. “He’s there. He’s not coming for us.”

Courtney took a deep breath.

Bill sat at the Commissioner’s desk and logged on to the computer. Courtney pulled out her iPhone and scrolled through her contacts. Then she stood behind Bill to look at what he was doing. The CNN homepage came up on the PC first. Courtney read over his shoulder. It had a breaking news item, only a sentence, not even large type: Worldwide Reports of Terrorist Attacks. The report was logged in at the same moment the news conference began, 12:30 PM. Bill clicked but there was no link to a story.

Bill double-clicked into the Drudge Report. As a PR person, he checked it sometimes to see if a scandal was going to break. Drudge didn’t waste time confirming facts and sources, which had its benefits.

At the top in bold caps, the headline said: ZOMBIES??

Bill clicked: Starting at 12:30 P.M. EST worldwide reports of massacres. Unconfirmed reports that the dead are reanimating as zombies, bringing the number of attackers to world-threatening levels.

Bill laughed, something about reading the headline overloaded his brain like a crashing website. He exhaled a ragged breath and peered at the screen, trying to focus. His voice came out a harsh whisper, “This hasn’t been updated since 12:30. The attack must have happened everywhere at the same time.”

“It happened all over the world …” Courtney’s voice drifted off, no longer able to deny it. She dialed her father’s number but his phone went straight to voicemail. “My father always forgets his phone,” she said almost to herself, feeling as if her thoughts were passing through cheesecloth. “Half the time it’s out of juice even if he has it with him.”

“My dad, too.”

Bill went to Twitter on the PC. There were pages of calls for help. People under attack, hiding out, then they’d tapered off. Only one in the last few minutes.

Courtney tweeted from her own phone: “East Side Manhattan—two survivors. Help!” She didn’t dare put in an address. They didn’t know who their enemies were.

While she concentrated on calling her contact list, Bill pulled his phone from his backpack and tried his parents. No one picked up. They each left half a dozen messages before Courtney put her phone down. For a second, the image of her father, alone and fighting off attackers in his Inwood apartment, came to her. Her throat closed. She had to force herself to breathe.

“I can’t believe this,” Bill whispered to himself. “I can’t believe this.”

Nothing more to do. Courtney sat on the floor with her back to the wall and cried into her hands. Bill used his thumb and index fingers to stanch his tears, his own throat tight. He was hanging on by a frayed thread—how could he look out for Courtney, too?

A squeal of tires and a loud crash downstairs launched them to their feet. They opened the slats to the blinds and peered out. A fire truck had crashed head-on into the Lipstick Building. Someone was still alive to drive that truck … or had been.

The shrieks from the street became more urgent. The mob of zombies surged on the fire truck. They all tried to get a piece of the driver; but the truck exploded into a fireball, shattering windows on the first few floors of the building and sending zombies flying backward like flaming spears. Fire shot up the side of the Lipstick Building. The crowd receded and expanded haphazardly, some charred, some not. The moans and screams didn’t change. The zombies showed no sign of pain, although some of their bodies incinerated down to ash and bone. The smoke from across the street began seeping into the Commissioner’s office. No one was coming to fight the fire.

Bill sat on the carpeted floor, a couple of feet from Courtney. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall, worrying about his parents. Were they safe in their house in New Jersey? He thought about the woman he’d had a date with on Saturday. It had actually been a promising evening, although he still didn’t know her that well. He didn’t even know her exact address. He wondered if he would ever see her again.

“Whenever I had Lotto fantasies,” Courtney said, quietly, “I’d always think about the vacations I’d take, the homes I’d own. I would meet Mr. Right, raise kids, travel, not have to work, all of that. But in the end I would always end up getting a thought like: terminal cancer. I couldn’t get through a Lotto fantasy without envisioning some kind of disaster. But when I won the Lotto for real—$19 million dollars lump sum after taxes was my share,” she told him even though he knew. “I really thought all my dreams would come true.”

Bill looked at Courtney. The last thing he cared about was her Lotto millions. He might be at the office, but he was definitely off duty, probably forever. “If it’s any consolation, Courtney, I’m sure the world isn’t ending because you won the Lotto.”

“Are you adding insult to apocalypse, really?” she said, angrily.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said, immediately wishing he hadn’t said anything. “It’s been a long day.” The greatest understatement ever told.

She waved it off and rested her back against the wall, staring at nothing.

They sat on the floor for hours that way, the sky darkening outside. Courtney dozed off—as much from emotional overload as fatigue. She startled awake to the sound of another nearby explosion. Screams rose from downstairs as if the explosions and shrieks from the zombies were an evangelical call and response. Reality crashed back on her and she had a sense of déjà vu. For weeks after her mother’s death, she had opened her eyes to the sunlight each morning thinking it was a normal day, but then the devastating reality would crash down on her like a wrecking ball. She had been only eleven when her mother died. Now, she listened to the hellish cries of the undead moving toward the explosion and harsh reality sank back in. Shivers scurried up her spine.

Bill’s red-rimmed eyes hadn’t closed for more than a moment while she slept. The office lights went out, and Bill waved his arm in the air as he’d done twenty times already. The motion-sensor lights popped back on.

Courtney sat quietly for a moment, breathing in the smoky air.  “We can’t possibly be all alone.  If we’re alive, other people are alive, too, hiding just like we are. We should try to get to a police station.”

“A police station? We wouldn’t get ten feet out there. The first responders aren’t responding … they’ve eaten each other, Courtney.”

She shuddered. “Maybe there are some left. It would take time for them to get to us, to help us.”

“You’re right … it would take time,” Bill pondered aloud. “There must be two ways of becoming a zombie. The ones who were sick could have picked up the infection earlier, hours or even weeks earlier. But when they attack, they give it to others instantly. That’s why everything went crazy right away.” He thought back to the distorted face of the security guard with the Mike Tyson ear. “But I can’t really believe anything as mundane as an infection could cause all this … That Grace lady, the one who started the attacks by biting Jim … did you have any idea that something was wrong with her? Did anything happen to her before?”

“Nothing that I saw. She was such a bland person, not someone I paid much attention to. I didn’t really take in how odd she looked with the gray skin and all until she hit him. I didn’t hear her make any funny noises until right before. I remember thinking it was strange, how nervous she was, that she would gasp like that.” Courtney took a deep breath. “My boss … I think they didn’t want to eat her after a certain point. They lost interest all at once. Then she became one of them.”

Bill palmed the sides of his face, rubbing his skin downward, listening to the cacophony of howls and moans downstairs. “Zombies don’t eat each other once their flesh is infected … or maybe they’re dead. That’s why a zombie virus would be such a good weapon for terrorists. Their numbers would only increase.”

“No terrorist would do that. It would destroy their people, too.” Courtney hugged her arms. “But I’ve been thinking it must be passed by body fluids, saliva to blood … like on TV.”

“The Walking Dead.”

“Right, and like vampires, too.”

She watched Bill as he stared straight ahead, only moving from time to time to wave the lights back on. His slick corporate look had been replaced by a five o’clock shadow and tousled hair. He was a center-of-the-herd kind of guy, she figured, someone who would set up a press conference but didn’t want to be in the spotlight. Brown hair, brown eyes, pleasant-looking but maybe headed prematurely to middle age. Now that his suit jacket was off, she noticed he had an extra ten pounds around his middle. She found herself wondering whether he was one of those people who paid for a monthly gym membership as if it were a charitable donation. She hoped he could run.

Courtney unconsciously reverted to an old habit: she bit off her index-finger nail to the quick then shook her finger, the pain setting in instantly. She looked at the drop of blood that appeared. “I read once that it takes up to a minute for blood to circulate through the body. The zombie infection or whatever it is must shoot straight from the bite through the bloodstream to the brain.”

Bill took a sip of the bottle of water he’d kept in his knapsack. “After a few seconds, you can see there’s nothing human in their eyes. And they’re not just limping along like in Night of the Living Dead. Some of them are fast and strong.” Bill took a hard look at his water bottle. “We better stick to bottled water.”

“What?”

“We don’t know how the first zombie got sick. It could have been from a contaminated water supply. I always drink bottled water. I’m going to stick to that. You should, too.”

Courtney’s mouth clamped into an anxious line. She didn’t want to think they could still become zombies by drinking the wrong drink or eating the wrong food. It was bad enough they were under siege and outnumbered by thousands, maybe millions of murderous monsters. She shook her head. “It couldn’t be food or water. People would have eaten and drunk at different times, so the first people wouldn’t have all gotten sick at the same time.”

“You’re right. It could have been something in the air … that only affected a small number of people. Beyond explanation. I don’t know why I have a hard time believing there’s something supernatural going on. It’s not like that’s a stretch of imagination after everything we’ve seen.”

Courtney leaned her head back again. Thoughts smashed around inside her skull until she couldn’t keep her eyes closed anymore. She looked around at the office that had become their bunker. It had been such a great day, an amazing day, at first. She had won the Lotto. She had done great at the press conference, especially when Maria asked her about being married. Everything had been perfect. Courtney looked at Bill. She should count her blessings. She could have been alone. She couldn’t imagine getting through this alone. “You know, you run one hell of a press conference.”

Bill let out a clipped laugh. “Was that before or after I shipped in the zombies for the video?”

Courtney giggled with Bill, both of them wiping tears away, half out of their minds as they waited for the long night to be over.

 

 

 

Apocalypse Etiquette

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Will you still respect me in the morning if I post this? Probably not. But it doesn’t pay to take oneself too seriously. Here is a list of very important rules to follow if the entire world comes crashing down on you and you’re lucky enough to survive.

1) ◾When you see a pregnant zombie on a rush-hour train, do not race her for the last seat

2) ◾When you see a friend undergo zombie metamorphosis during the SATs and he shouts, “What’s happening?!!,” do not text him the right answer

3) ◾Kids, when you’re playing a video game and you hear your parents screaming for help, do not say, “One minute, wait ‘til I die.”

4) ◾When a horde of panicked people make it to your hiding place, do not ask each person a security question before letting them in

5) ◾When fleeing a crowded airplane on the tarmac, do not block the aisle while trying to grab every mini bottle you can find

6) ◾When a zombie mob approaches on a packed subway platform, cease singing off tune with your ear buds on

7) ◾In the event of Armageddon, do not curse out the customer service rep about your cable TV outage

8) ◾When you fart in a crowded hiding place, say excuse me. Do not accuse fellow survivors of being infected.

9) ◾Men, when you rescue a woman, never assume she will have sex with you later even if that always happens on T.V.

zombie nerd

Do you have any helpful rules? Please comment.