Archive | January, 2013

Science, Social Science And Zombies

29 Jan

Academic research has a reputation for being dry, dull and humourless. However, scratch the surface and you will find this is not always true. In particular, there seem to be some fairly hard-core zombie fans in various universities and academic institutions and they are not averse to slipping zombies into their research whenever they can. As a way of wasting time today (instead of doing the writing I should have been doing), I spent a happy few hours exploring the diverse areas of academic research that zombies feature in from time to time. Here’s a few of the examples I found:

International Affairs: Here zombie outbreak scenarios are used to investigate how countries and regions might respond to sudden and unforeseen impacts. The father of this field is Daniel Drezner who published a ground breaking book called The Theory Of International Politics And Zombies in 2011 but there’s also a great example of one called Latin America and The Zombie Factor.

Data Analysis Methods: There’s a great paper called ‘How many zombies do you know?” Using indirect survey methods to measure alien attacks and outbreaks of the undead by Andrew Gelman that uses zombies as an example of how you can measure the prevalence of things in societies that you can’t easily measure. This is not as useless as it might first seem as this is the type of methods used in real life to measure things like the number of civilians killed in things like the Iraq war or in civil wars where no one is keeping any real records.

Epidemiology: Epidemiology is the study of (amongst other things) how diseases spread and create epidemics. It’s incredibly important in modern global health care, and of course zombie outbreaks make the perfect case study for developing and testing mathematical tools for predicting what will happen under a given set of circumstances. If you want to see an example of this, there’s one by Jean Marie Linhart called ‘Mathematical modelling of a zombie outbreak’. Others include the classic study by Philip Munz and colleagues called ‘When zombies attack…’ and ‘Is it safe to go out yet?…’ by Ben Calderhead and colleagues.

Biosurveillence: Biosurveillence is about detecting disease outbreaks as soon as possible so that health officials can stop them. As with Epidemiology, it’s unsurvprising that zombies appear as case studies here too. A recently published study by Jenny Younde called ‘Biosurveillance, human rights, and the zombie plague’ provides an interesting example of this.

Teaching: Keeping students interested during lectures can be difficult (I know I’ll seen it from both sides). However, those with a flair for such things are starting to see how the current upsurge in interest in all things zombie can be used to get otherwise potentially boring ideas across in the class room. Robert Blanton’s paper titled ‘Zombies and International Relations: A Simple Guide for Bringing the Undead into Your Classroom’ shows how this can be done for the field of International Relations.

I’m sure there are other studies in other fields as these are just the ones I happened to come across in my very quick and unscientific review of what was out there. It’s a limited sample yet they show how far zombies have spread into popular culture in the last decade or so. Whereas zombies used to be a relatively niche interest, they now infest not just mainstream bookshops and cinemas but also our classrooms and universities too.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

The Girl At Little Harbour – A Short Story Set In a Post-apocalyptic World

27 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

The Girl At Little Harbour

Will’s dead. I know he is. Although I’m doing my best not to look, I know if turn my head I’ll be able to see his body lying where it fell after I’d finished smashing the oar against his skull. I’d killed him but he’d killed me too; or at least as good as. Maybe even worse. Of all of them that had to be out there, why did it have to be him? I know it wasn’t his fault, that it wasn’t really him, just his body, driven by the virus that’s changed the world so dramatically in the last few months. I don’t know how many months exactly; it seems like forever yet the summer’s still not over so it can’t be more than four or five. I can’t clearly remember the world as it was before. The memories are still there but it’s as if I see them through a haze or smoke or something. It’s only the ones from after it happened that are clear now. At first we called it the disease; the outbreak; the end of the world and many other things but at some point we started calling it ‘it’ and that’s the name which stuck.

I think of Carol-Lynn; my little girl, my beautiful baby. We called her Carol after Will’s mother and Lynn after mine. It seemed logical at the time but we might have come up with something different if we’d realised how much confusion it would cause. No one ever seemed to get it right, not at first any way, and Carol-Lynn was very sensitive to the many mistakes. Every time someone got it wrong, she’d pout and give them a look that could curdle milk. Staring straight at them she’d say in a stern voice, ‘My name’s Carol-Lynn, not Carolyn or Carol-Anne or Caroline but Carol,’ she’d leave the slightest pause for emphasis, ‘Lynn!’ She’d been doing it pretty much since her first day at elementary school. I don’t know where she got that look from but Will always said it was the same look I gave him when he did something stupid. I smile when I remember this; And then cry again. How could it all end this way? Our perfect little family ripped apart, destroyed: Will dead, because I’d had to kill him, me infected, and Carol-Lynn, what would happen to her?

There are other survivors around here. I know there are; that’s why we’d come this far north, trying desperately to find others like ourselves, but will they find her before it’s too late? How can they? They’re not looking for her; Why would they? They don’t even know she exists. As long as she does as I’ve told her, she’ll be safe and she has plenty of food so maybe there’s a chance. The other survivors aren’t too far away, just a few more miles and maybe one day they will come this way and find her.

I’ll be long gone by then. Not dead but turned into one of them; an infected, just like Will had been, but I have no one to put me out of my misery. I’m destined to roam, no longer really human, for god knows how long, attacking any survivors who come near. I don’t know when but sooner or later I’ll turn and I can’t be anywhere near Carol-Lynn, safely tucked away as she is, when that happens. I can’t go to her and hug her one last time; I can’t tell her I love her; that I’m sorry to be leaving her like this. I can’t even say goodbye. When I don’t come back as promised, she’ll know something has happened to me. She won’t know what but she’ll know that I’ve left her all alone in this terrifying and dangerous world that none of us could have ever have foreseen.


***

We were in Trinidad when it happened. It started slowly, with rumours of strange things happening in Haiti; then some of the other islands to the north. A while after that someone with the infection turned up in Miami. That was when I started taking it seriously but I figured the government, the CDC or someone, would work out a way to deal with it. I still didn’t realise how bad it was, what this new virus did to people and what it made them do to others. Then, out of nowhere, Miami was over-run. All I could do was stare at the television in the marina office along with everyone else as we watched it happen. We had family and friends there and I tried calling but the phone lines were jammed; all I could do was hope they’d made it out. At first the authorities spoke with confidence about dealing with it but within a day the confidence disappeared and was replaced by confusion and fear. They didn’t say it but it was written across their faces. Then the virus jumped: To Britain, to Canada, to Rio. Within a few days it seemed like it was everywhere.

The moment we heard the rumours of an outbreak on the island, we left. Along with five other yachts, all with families like ours on them, we set out not really knowing where we were going; just that we needed to get away. Gradually we meandered north, moving from island to island, looking for somewhere that was still safe. As we did, we watched the news reports with disbelief as the world fell apart. Then, right in the middle of a broadcast, the news channel stopped. We tried to find another one but all we got was automated messages telling of technical problems and falsely promising the shows would be right back. We tried the FM radio but there was nothing on that either. Suddenly it seemed like we were all alone in the world. Our little flotilla had reached the Turks and Caicos islands by then and there seemed little point in carrying on. Instead we found an uninhabited island and set ourselves up there. To call it an island was perhaps a bit of wishful thinking as it was really just a very large sandbank that rose about ten feet above the water covered with scrubby bushes but there was no risk of running into anyone with the infection so we were safe. Or at least we thought we were.


***

I’m not too sure how long we’d been there, just our five families, surviving, living off what we could catch from the sea but it seemed like forever, when they made contact over the VHF radio. We used the radios to talk to each other, to chat back and forth, and it was during one conversation that they broke in. They told us they were from the US Navy and that they’d been ordered to find as many survivors as they could and take them to a safe zone that had been set up in Puerto Rico. When they asked where we were, we gave them our position and they told us they’d be there the following morning. That night we celebrated. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I slept soundly for the first time since it happened. Will didn’t. He alone didn’t trust the men who’d made contact with us. I never found out what it was but there was something in the way they spoke that just didn’t sit right with him.

I woke at daybreak to the sound of Will shouting angrily in the cockpit followed by a blast of his shotgun. I leapt out of the bunk we shared and sprinted to the companion way; Will was standing on deck, gun pointed at someone I couldn’t see.

‘Get the fuck away from us!’ Will yelled.

There was a shouted reply in what sounded like Spanish or Patois.

‘Mom, what’s going on?’ Carol-Lynn had come up behind me and was now clinging to my side.

I smoothed her hair with my hand as I kept my eyes locked on Will. ‘I don’t know, honey.’

‘Who’s Dad shouting at?’

Before I could reply Will fired his shotgun again. I’d always been against him having it on the boat; I thought it was too dangerous, especially with a child on board, but now I was glad we had it.

‘Next time I’ll aim at your engine. You understand?’

Will’s voice had a hard edge to it and they must have believed him because I heard an outboard clunk into gear and race off.

He glanced down at me. ‘Liz, we need to get out of here now. Get the engine started and as soon as I get the anchor out the sand, get us going.’

I looked at him questioningly, ‘What’s happening?’

‘I’ll fill you in later. There’s not time now. They might decide to come back. They’ve gone over to the other boats but they might still come back.’ The hardness had gone from Will’s voice and now he just sounded scared.

‘Dad?’

‘You stay down there Carrie. It’s not safe up here.’ That’s always what he called her, Carrie rather than Carol-Lynn. He was the only one who was allowed to call her anything other than her full name.

‘But Dad, what’s going on?’

Will didn’t answer. Instead he disappeared towards the front of the boat. I leapt into the cockpit and started the engine. We hadn’t used it in weeks and it took several attempts before it spluttered into life. The shotgun lay on one side of the cockpit along with a pair of binoculars. While Will wrestled with the anchor line, I pick these up and scanned around the anchorage that had been our home for what seemed like a life time. There were three open boats, each about 20 feet long fitted with large outboard engines, and twelve or thirteen men in all: some armed with machetes, others with clubs. One had what looked like an assault rifle and two brandished pistols of some description. They’d boarded three of the other yachts already and were circling the last one. Jools was standing on deck with his flare gun, doing his best to keep it pointed at which ever boat was nearest. Jenny was beside him and I figured their kids were probably somewhere down below. They’d over-wintered at same marina as us in Trinidad and we’d got to know them well. I saw smoke rise from the barrel of the assault rifle just as the sound of the shot reached me and Jools crumpled to the deck clutching his arm.

‘Liz, we need to get going now!’ Will was striding towards the cockpit. I’d been so transfixed by what was going on with the other boats that I’d forgotten what I was meant to be doing.

‘Oh … yeah.’ I lowered the binoculars and pushed the throttle forward, turning the wheel until we were heading out of the bay. We could only do about four knots at the most and they’d easily be able to catch us if they wanted to but it was our only hope of getting away. In the mean time, Will readied the sails.

The last I saw of the others was about fifteen minutes later. We were just about to round the top of the island where we’d pass from the attackers’ sight. By then they’d moved everyone onto the largest yacht and lined them up along one side; hands tied behind their backs, facing out to sea. While most of the strangers ransacked the other yachts, a group of three kept an eye on their prisoners. The one with the assault rifle leaned against the mast as he smoked a cigarette and chatted with the man sitting on the top of the cabin. The third was walking back and forth behind our friends and their families shouting and gesticulating with his pistol; I could see terrified looks on their faces.

‘Mom, what’s going to happen to them?’ I hadn’t heard Carol-Lynn come into the cockpit and she was now standing beside me, her hand shading her eyes as she stared back towards the other boats. Her voice was quiet and flat.

I pulled her close. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Can’t we help them?’ She was staring straight up at me.

I turned away, avoiding the blue eyes that were searching my face for answers. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

Will looked across at her from where he was standing at the wheel, ‘Because there’s too many of them. They’d catch us too.’

‘But what do they want?’

‘Food; Supplies; Boats …’ Will caught himself just in time and glanced at me uneasily. He didn’t finish his sentence but I knew what he’d almost said: Women.

Back on the largest yacht, I could make out Jools standing at one end of the line of people, Jenny beside him. They’re kids, Michael and Jane, were there too. Jane was the same age as Carol-Lynn and they’d spent a lot of time together since it happened. Michael was a couple of years younger. The man with the pistol was now behind Jools, still shouting and gesticulating. I saw Jools try to twist round to face him. He wasn’t the type of person to just stand there and take it. The man pushed him back and then raised the pistol. I didn’t hear anything but as if in slow motion I saw Jools’ head explode and he toppled forward into the sea. Jenny tried to stop him but with her hands tied there was nothing she could do. The man pressed his pistol against her head and, even though she was hunched over, she froze. The man shouted at her and she slowly straightened up. All the time the man kept his gun pressed against her. I could see him yelling at her; first in one ear then the other. The one with the assault rifle was laughing.

After what seemed like an age the man lowered the pistol and I could see Jenny relax a little. He took a step to his left and in a flash shot her two kids; not in the head but in the back. Michael fell into the water where I could see him struggling to stay afloat but Jane collapsed onto the deck. Jenny tried to get to her but the man sitting on the cabin jump to his feet and held her back. The one with the pistol stood over Jane and fired again and again; not into her head but into her belly. I could see her writhing in agony while the man turned to Jenny and laughed. It was then that we passed round the headland and out of sight. That will always be my strongest, most lingering memory of the other families, the people we’d spent so much time with since it happened.


***

From then on, while we kept the VHF radio on, we swore we’d never use it. We kept mostly out at sea, well away from any land. It wasn’t as easy but Will figured it was safer: there was less chance of us running into anyone else. We knew we needed others if we were going to survive but we no longer knew if we could trust them. It was late one night when I was on watch that I heard something coming over the airwaves. It wasn’t clear but it was definitely a voice.

‘Help … Please help … Someone please help … Help me.’ It was a little girl, the fear clear in her voice. For a moment there was silence.

‘I could go back in the head. I was in the toilet reading …’ The signal faded out for a moment before coming back. ‘… blood everywhere.’ Again the voice was followed by silence; She was be talking to someone I couldn’t hear.

Suddenly a new voice broke in. This time a boy, a teenager by the sound of it. ‘Katie, it’s okay. Just do what Jack says. Get back in the head now.’

‘Jeff, you’re alive? Is everyone …’ The signal disappeared and they were gone. I listened on for the rest of my watch but that was all I heard.

Over breakfast Will and I discussed it, trying to work out what it meant but before we could come to any conclusion the radio burst into life again.

‘… Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.’ The voice was soft with a slight southern American accent.

It was an odd thing to suddenly hear. We both waited but there was nothing more.

I glanced at Will, ‘What d’you think that’s all about?’

Will shrugged, ‘Maybe it’s Sunday and they’re doing a service.’

I’d lost track of the days a long time before and for all I knew it could be a Sunday. ‘Where d’you think they are?’
Will scratched his head. ‘Don’t know, maybe somewhere north of here. If they was further south we’d probably have heard them before now.’

‘D’you think we should try to find them?’

‘Don’t know.’ Will seemed to be saying that a lot these days. Over the years I’d become used to him always having an answer, even if it was guess and this change this was beginning to disturb me: it was almost as if he’d given up trying to make sense the world.

‘What about if we head north, see if we can pick up anything more?’

Will shrugged. ‘I suppose.’


***

As we made our way north, the fragments of conversation coming over the radio gradually increased in frequency. We started to recognise voices and hear names: Jack, Rob, CJ, Jon, David. We got a sense of who they were and what they were doing: Fishing, scavenging and, most importantly, surviving. It became addictive and for a while none of us spent more than a few minutes of our waking hours out of earshot of the radio in case we missed something. Carol-Lynn was fascinated and would make up stories based around what we heard, filling out the characters, giving them actions. CJ became a beautiful princess, trapped in a tower by Jack, her father. Rob, Jon and David were suitors she’d call down to from a window high above the ground, sending them out on quests as trials to see who would win her hand in marriage. Both Will and I laughed but for all we knew she could have been right.


***

After a week we heard a place name for the first time: Hope Town. Will scuttled below and returned with a chart. We spread it out and pored over it. Carol-Lynn was the one who found it, perched on a small island around a 100 miles to our northwest.

‘What d’you think?’ Will glanced at me nervously.

‘It sounds like they’re doing quite well; better than us at any rate. I mean you heard them talking about gardens and growing things the other day, didn’t you?’

‘Can we trust them though?’

‘I don’t know.’ I was starting to use that phrase a lot too. ‘It sounds like there’s quite a lot of them though, like a proper community not just a few people on boats. We could see if we could raise them on the radio. Find out more.’

‘Yeah.’ Will paused for a moment. ‘But look what happened last time we made contact with anyone on the VHF.’

‘This is different. We won’t tell them where we are. There’s no way they can work it out.’

‘Still …’ Will’s eyes flicked to Carol-Lynn. Like me, he was remembering the last we’d seen of her friend Jane: writhing in agony as a man tortured her in front of her mother; her father and her brother dead in the water.

‘Yeah, maybe that’s not a good idea.’ I thought for a few seconds. ‘How about if we head up there and see we what we find? We can keep a low profile and if it looks dangerous, we can just creep away again.’

‘Hummm …’

I was starting to get exasperated. ‘Will, we need to do something. We can’t just float around out here for ever. Can we?’

‘I suppose not.’

‘So we head up there?’

‘Yeah, I guess.’


***

The first land we spotted was the southern tip of a large island called Great Abaco. We’d decided to work our way up along the coast towards Hope Town to see what we could see. So far it was nothing but then again the charts didn’t show many settlements along the islands eastern coast at this end. As we moved north, I noticed the sea was beginning to change. The swell was gradually building into large, well- spaced rollers that would slowly lift the yacht up ten, fifteen feet and then drop it gently down again: somewhere over the horizon a storm was brewing.

Later that afternoon, the VHF crackled into life yet again. It was doing this so often now we were starting to lose interest. Carol-Lynn had got bored with her stories and just made smart remarks about what the people were saying. She reckoned Jon fancied CJ but didn’t want anyone else to know: who knew if she was right? Yet, there was one word in the latest fragment that instantly grabbed our attention. We recognised the voice from the accent even before he mentioned his name.

‘Hey, this is Jack. We think there’s a hurricane coming in. If you’re not already in Hope Town, you need to come back here now …’

Hurricane. That was the word which stood out; which frightened us. I didn’t know how they knew one was coming but it fitted with the building swell.

‘Will, if there’s a hurricane coming, we need to find some shelter.’

Will emerged from the companion way, waving a rolled up chart. ‘Way ahead of you.’

He laid it out in the cockpit and started glancing around. He pointed to an almost completely enclosed bay that housed a small settlement called Little Harbour. ‘This looks good and I think we can make it there before the storm gets here.’ He glanced up at the sun. ‘But I don’t think we’ll be there before it gets dark.’ He inspected the chart more closely. ‘We’ll get as close as we can and then we’ll just have to hope the storm doesn’t get here before daybreak.’

By two in the morning it was clear we wouldn’t make it in before the storm got to us and we had to decide what we’d do instead. The yacht was already starting to buck and sway in the ever-increasing seas. Working hard in the darkness, we stripped off the sails and the boom so we’d have as little windage as possible. Will took an old storm jib and fashioned it into a sea anchor. As the winds built, he dropped it over the side and tied it off to the cleat on the foredeck. Almost immediately the boat turned into the waves and started to settle. As I went down to get some rest, Will remained in the cockpit bundled up in his oil skins and sou’wester against the rain that was starting to move horizontally. At my insistence, he’d put on his life jacket and his safety harness. He sat there, staring out into the approaching storm, wondering, like I was, what was coming our way.

‘Liz, we’re in big trouble!’

Carol-Lynn and I had been jolted from the bunk where we were sleeping off the sea sickness which had troubled us throughout the worst of the storm. Only in the evening when it started to ease did the queasiness begin to ebb away. We were both drained, physically and mentally, and had fallen asleep almost instantly. I glanced around trying to get my bearings and to work out how I’d ended up on the floor.

‘Mom, I’m all wet.’ Carol-Lynn had got up and was standing beside me, soaked to the skin.

Looking down at the floor I saw it was awash with in water. I jumped to my feet. ‘Will, what’s going on?’

‘We’ve hit something. Or rather something’s hit us.’

‘What?’ I was still trying to get my bearings.

‘I don’t know. Something big in the water. It’s put a hole in the side. We’re going down.’

‘Shit! What’re we going to do?’

‘I don’t know, get the dingy over the side I guess. We’ll have a better chance in it than in the life raft.’

‘How long have we got?’

‘Ten, maybe fifteen minutes at the most.’

We got the dingy inflated and over the side in record time. I scrambled in but just as Will was passing Carol-Lynn to me, the boat lurched onto its side and started to sink in earnest. A second later it was gone and Will was in the water. He grabbed onto the dingy and pulled himself over the side. He sat there, wringing wet and breathing heavily. After a second he spoke. ‘Fuck, that was close!’

‘Dad, you’re not meant to use words like that!’

I smiled. ‘Darling, I think on occasions like this it’s allowed.’

She looked confused as Will started the engine and turned us northwards. While the storm had eased, the waves were still high and towered above us whenever we sank into the troughs between them. It was slow going but at least we were heading in the right direction. Then the engine spluttered and died, leaving us at the mercy of the sea.

‘Will?’

He’d knelt down and unscrewed the cap of the fuel tank before peering in. He replaced the lid and stood up. ‘Out of fuel.’ He glanced around. ‘We can’t stay out here, not with the sea like this.’

‘What can we do instead?’

‘Paddle ashore?’

‘But what about them?’ We’d been at sea for so long Will seemed to have forgotten about the danger which now lurked on land. ‘What if there’s infected there?’

‘There’s not many settlements around here so maybe there won’t be a lot around. If we find any when we get there, we can always head back out to sea.’

I pushed the wet hair out of my eyes, ‘I suppose so.’

We untied the oars from where they were stored on the left side of the dingy, and taking one each, we started to make our way towards the nearby shore.


***

It took longer than I expected and it was daylight before we finally climbed out onto the sand. It was the first time I’d set foot on land in months and it felt strange, almost alien. I glanced around nervously but there were no signs of life. To the south, sand stretched as far as I could see while a rocky outcrop blocked our view to the north.

‘Liz, help me get the dingy up the beach. I want to make sure it stays here in case we need it.’

‘You have a plan then?’

‘Yeah. See how far north we can get along the beach and then see if we can reach any of the people in Hope Town on this.’ He pulled a small hand-held radio sealed inside a clear plastic bag out from his pocket and waved it from side to side.

‘What will we do if we run into any of them?’ Carol-Lynn always called the infected them, saying it in a slightly disgusted way. She couldn’t bring herself to call them anything else. We’d see what they could do when they attacked, not first hand but on the television when the news was still broadcasting. It had been horrifying to watch and Carol-Lynn still had nightmares about it.

Will reached into the dingy and pulled out a long thin package covered in plastic. ‘Use this.’

He unwrapped it, revealing the shotgun. I was amazed he’d had the presence of mind to pack it as the boat was sinking. This was the Will I knew: the decisive decision-maker, the one I’d fallen in love with all those years ago. It was good to see him back. He’d been gone so long I’d wondered if I’d lost him forever. I hugged him; I couldn’t help myself.

He looked at me, startled. ‘What’s this in aid of?’

‘Just because.’ I smiled, slightly embarrassed, and stepped away. ‘Right, let’s get going.’

He turned to Carol-Lynn. ‘I almost forgot I’ve got something for you.’ She looked at him quizzically as he unzipped the front of his oil skin jacket and pulled something out. ‘I figured he got left behind in the rush. He’s a bit wet but I’m sure he’ll recover.’

‘Teddy!’ She threw her arms around him. ‘Thanks Dad.’


***

We walked round it, examining it from all sides.

‘Look. Up there. Blue and white paint. I think this is what we hit.’

The shipping container was nestled into the sand, twenty feet long, eight feet wide and a similar height. Carol-Lynn was inspecting it curiously, ‘What d’you think’s inside?’

‘I don’t know but it’d make a nice safe place to hole up.’ Will banged the side and it echoed loudly. ‘I don’t think any infected could get into that!’

We set to work clearing the sand away from the door. Once this was done, Will pulled up the lever and swung the door open. Inside was a jumble of cardboard boxes.

Carol-Lynn craned her neck. ‘I wonder what’s in them?’

‘Only one way to find out.’ Will reached for the nearest one and tore it open. Cans spilled out and rolled across the floor.
Carol-Lynn’s eyes lit up with delight. ‘Food!’

I picked up a can that had ended up against my foot and held it out to her. ‘I’ve never ever seen you get so excited over peas before.’

‘Peas?’ Carol-Lynn looked deflated. ‘I thought it going to be something nice.’


***

It took us an hour to move enough boxes to allow us to enter the container. We stacked them along the back and sides until about half the floor area was cleared and we could move in.

I looked at Will. ‘What now?’

‘You guys stay here. I’m going to talk a look around and see if I can get an idea of what we’re up against. Once I get back we can work out what our options are.’

‘Okay, but be careful.’

‘When have I ever not been careful?’ Will had a twinkle in his eyes as he flicked them towards Carol-Lynn. It was a bit of an in-joke. We’d always talked about having kids at some point but none-the-less getting pregnant with Carol-Lynn hadn’t been planned. It wasn’t that either of us regretted it just that it had been a bit of a surprise when it happened.

Will hugged me and then Carol-Lynn. He took a few steps, then turned, ‘Here, I should leave this with you.’ He tossed me the plastic bag with the radio in it. ‘Just in case.’

I stared at him, ‘Just in case of what?’

He said nothing. Instead he tucked the shotgun into the crook of his arm and strode off up the beach. I watched, not realising it was the last time I’d ever see him. Well, the real him anyway …


***

‘When’s Dad coming back?’

It had been dark for an hour and there was still no sign of Will. Just before sunset, I’d heard the sound of two shotgun blasts somewhere beyond the sand dunes at the back of the beach and I’d expected him to come running over the top at any moment but he hadn’t.

‘He’s probably been caught out by night fall. He’ll be holed up somewhere safe and sound. I’m sure he’ll be back in the morning.’

‘You promise?’ Carol-Lynn glanced at me but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Of the two possible answers, one would be a lie while the other would upset her greatly. Instead I pulled her close and hugged her tightly.


***

By lunchtime it was clear that Will was gone and I had to try and work out what to do next. I turned on the radio and I could hear the people in Hope Town as they talked back and forth. I tried breaking in but it they were unable to hear me. If only I could reach them and let them know where we were, they might be able to come and get us. I tried to think of the reasons why I couldn’t. I came to the conclusion it was one of two things: either the radio wasn’t powerful enough or there was something between us and them that was blocking the signal. There wasn’t anything I could do to boost the power but I could try and find a place where the signal would get through. I thought about how best to do this. The logical choice would be to go north but that was where Will had gone and he’d obviously run into trouble. Then something occurred to me: what about the dingy? With just me and Carol-Lynn it would be difficult to paddle it any sort of distance but we could tow it along behind us as we walked along the shore. This would give us a means of escape if we ran into trouble. I didn’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before. If it had, Will might still have been with us.

I sat down beside Carol-Lynn on the boxes I’d arranged into a bed for her the night before. I held her hand. ‘I think I’ve worked out a way for us to get out of here …’

‘But we can’t leave.’ She had a shocked expression on her face. ‘We need to be here when Dad gets back.’

I turned away so she wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. ‘Dad’s gone. He’s not coming back.’

‘He can’t be.’ Carol-Lynn was starting to cry now. ‘He just can’t be.’

‘He is. And that means it’s not safe to stay here. We need to get out, to get away before anything happens to us.’

‘But …’

‘I know.’ I held her tear-stained face in my hands. ‘I know but it’s what we have to do. It’s what Dad would have wanted us to do.’ I kissed her on the forehead. ‘The only thing is I’m going to have to leave you here for a little while. I need to go back to the dingy and bring it up here. Then we have to leave.’

‘Can’t I come with you?’ She clung to me. ‘I don’t want to be alone.’

‘No. You need to stay here in the container where it’s safe. If you come with me, I mightn’t be able to protect you. I’d need to be able to run fast to get away, or jump in the water and swim. I can’t do that if I’m worrying about you.’

‘Don’t leave me here on my own.’ Her voice was quite but plaintive. ‘Please.’

‘I have to,’ I kissed her on the forehead again, ‘It won’t be for long, an hour at the most, but I have to. It’s our best chance. I’ll come back; I promise I will.’


***

I looked at the dingy. The tide was further out than when I was last here and I knew it’d be a struggle to get it back into the water. As I stood there, trying to work out how I could do it, something hit me hard from behind throwing me forward onto the dingy. I twisted round to see Will standing over me, his eyes burning with anger. I’d never seen someone who was infected so close before and the look of pure rage on his face chilled me to the bone. I could see a fresh wound on his forearm that still oozed blood; this must have been how he’d got the virus. For a moment he just stood there, staring: it was almost as if there was a hint of recognition. Then I realised he wasn’t recognising me as me, instead he was seeing me as prey. I glanced down and saw one of the paddles to my right. As he lunged at me, I grabbed it and swung it at his head. Yet this was Will, the love of my life, and I only did it half-heartedly. He barely noticed and was on me in an instant. I felt an intense pain surge through my body as he sank his teeth deep into my left shoulder.

I still had the paddle in my hand and I raised it above my head. With all the force I could muster, I brought the blunt end down on the back of Will’s head. I did it again and again until I felt it shatter. Even then I carried on until I couldn’t tell if he was moving because he was still alive or because I was still hitting him. Finally, exhausted, I dropped the paddle and rolled him onto the sand. I sat there, staring at him disbelievingly. We had survived unscathed for so long and now we were both finished. I could already feel the infection burning through my veins and I knew it was just a matter of time before it would over-power me. I wondered what I should do. I couldn’t go back to the container, it would be too dangerous, but I didn’t want to stay here with Will’s body. Then it came to me. It was the last thing I could do for him, the man who’d been my best friend for most of my adult life, and it would take my mind off what was happening to me.

It took me an hour using the paddle to dig a hole in the sand that was big enough to bury Will in and it was another 30 minutes before he was covered up. By then I was sweating heavily, partly from the strenuous work but mostly because of the infection working it’s way through my body. I stood there, looking down. Unless someone told you, you’d never have guessed there was someone buried there beside the dingy. I said a small prayer for him before walking up to the top of the beach and sitting down. I surveyed my surroundings. It was the first time I’d really seen the place where we’d come ashore. With white sands, palm trees and blue seas, it was truly stunning. I couldn’t imagine anywhere more beautiful to have buried the only man I’d ever really loved.


***

I can feel the end coming and my mind turns back to Carol-Lynn. I can’t believe I’m leaving her alone on the beach. Her only hope now is that someone will find her. I know she’s got plenty of food and I know there are other survivors around here so I figure she’s got a good chance just as long as she stays in the container. I turn on the radio just for some company before I go. There’s a familiar voice, I think he’s called Rob. ‘Yeah Jack, I checked it out in the cruising guide. It looks small but there might be something there. Andrew says it’s a pretty easy trip.’

‘I know the place.’ It was the soft southern accent again. ‘Just stick to checking out Little Harbour. Don’t go any further south.’

My heart leaps into my mouth. It sounds like they’re planning to come here; and soon. I grab the radio, press the transmit button and shout as loud as I can but I get no response. They just carry on with their conversation. I try again and again until I’m hoarse, doing do my best to let them know about Carol-Lynn but still nothing. I look north towards the rocky outcrop that separates this part of the beach from the part with the container on it. I think about climbing to the top of it to see it would make any difference but if I do that, there’s a risk I’ll end up on the other side. I don’t want that to happen. As long as I’m on this side and Carol-Lynn’s on the other, I figure she’s safer.

Rob’s voice crackles out of the radio again, ‘We’ll leave in the morning at first light and should be there by noon. That way, we can be back well before night fall.’

The words fill me with hope. They’ll find Carol-Lynn tomorrow, I know they will. She won’t be alone for long. Just one night. If only I could tell her, but I can feel the virus taking over my body. I feel myself starting to fade; to disappear. Surely they’ll see the container and investigate. How could they miss it? When they investigate, they’ll find her. All she has to do is stay in the container and wait for them to get there. I’ve listened to them speaking to each other for days now. They sound like good people; I know they’ll look after her. As the disease finally over comes me, I smile to myself: I know that within a few hours my precious baby will be safe.


***

A Note From The Author: One of the most memorable scenes from For Those In Peril On The Sea is the one set in a container on the beach at Little Harbour. It’s the one everyone talks about. My editor told me it haunted her for days after she read it for the first time. In the book, it’s a bit of a mystery as to where the girl they find living in the container came from. I’d thought about writing her back story into the book itself but it didn’t really fit in, so I’ve written it here as a stand-alone piece. If you’re familiar with the book you’ll see where this dove-tails into the main story. If not, you can read For Those In Peril On The Sea to find out what happened to Carol-Lynn.

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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Last Flight Out – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

21 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

Last Flight Out

I tapped the fuel gauge for the third time in five minutes. It made no difference, all it did was bounce on empty; I was running on fumes. One way or another I was going to end up back on the ground and it would be soon. I circled round, desperately looking for somewhere I could set the plane down. At least it meant that if I crashed, or more likely when, I wouldn’t have to worry about there being a fire. Then again, given how the world now was, fire was the least of my worries.

When I’d taken off a few hours before, I’d done it in a rush and checking to see how much fuel was on board had hardly been my top priority; instead, it was getting out alive. I’d watched the horde of infected sweep up the road from the town, drawn by the hum of the generators and decided it was finally time to bug out. It wasn’t like there was any one left to evacuate, well not anyone who really mattered. The last of them had come through the day before and all the chatter over the radio suggested there’d be no more airlifts. Not now; Not ever. Both the refugees and the infected had been working their way northwards from Glasgow and the central belt for the last few days, ever since the outbreak started, and now it seemed they were here.

I could hardly be accused of dereliction of duty for leaving when I did. I’d done my job; I’d kept the airport open, allowing as many of the soldiers and marines as possible to get out as they pulled back time and time again. The word on the ground was that Scotland was finished and all efforts were being concentrated on defending the hastily-erected blockade at Hadrian’s Wall. That was their grand plan for protecting the rest of the country. Despite the fact that there were still several million people there, all desperate for salvation, the north was being abandoned and the ancient Roman fortification revived more than 1500 years after it last served any useful purpose. If the strategy was to have any chance of halting the advance of the infection, and the infected, they’d need everyone they could get and it had been my job to see that as many of those who’d been responsible for the failed containment in the north made it there in one piece. It was Dunkirk in reverse, with everyone trying to get south rather than north. But this evacuation wasn’t by boats, it was by air, and the enemy was so much worse.

When the last transporter left the day before, I was promised they’d come back for me but when I’d put the call in, all I was told was to hold my position, just in case. Just in case of what, I didn’t know, but that was when I realised I was being sacrified for the greater good along with everyone else north of the border. Right there and then I started looking round for other options. It was only a small airport so I had a choice of just three planes. The fact that I could only find the keys to one of them meant the decision was made for me. It was a little four-seater Cessna, the kind where the wings were fixed above the windows.

I’d just starting to inspect the plane when I became aware of a noise in the distance. At first it sounded like insects scurrying over fallen leaves, but as it grew louder it resolved itself into the sound of a multitude of feet pounding on tarmac. It took me a few minutes to get the plane going; by then the infected were at the gates. There were thousands of them all pushing and tearing at the chain link fence surrounding the airport. It was the first time I’d seen them in person rather than just on the news but I’d heard the soldiers, the ones who had been on the front lines, talking about their wild eyes that seemed to burn with hatred and anger; about how they could be on you in seconds, tearing into you, ripping you apart, spilling your guts across the ground while you screamed in agony. They wouldn’t stop until you were dead. This is what the virus did to you, the one that started in Haiti and that was now spreading around the world. It was worst when it was someone you knew, so the soldiers said. I heard them talk about it; about how they’d made pacts to finish each other off if they became infected and couldn’t do it for themselves. They’d rather die than become one of them. Yet, some of them had. I could see them in amongst those that were now surrounding me, easily visible in khaki uniforms that were stained with blood. The fence swayed and shuddered; it wouldn’t hold, not for long at any rate. I revved the engine as the first section fell and they started to surge through. As I raced along the runway, the infected pursued me, the nearest almost reaching me just as I lifted off. I was safe and now all I had to do was make it far enough south to cross the barricade. Then and only then would I be beyond their reach.

***

As I circled, I tried to work out exactly where I was. Off in the distance, I could just make out the newly resurrected fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall. I wondered if I could make it but it seemed too far. Instead, I turned my attention to the road directly below me, the one I’d been following for the last 30 minutes. It was the M74, the main artery that, until a day or so ago, connected Scotland and England. The one carriageway was jammed with the cars of people who’d tried to flee south to escape the outbreak but the north-bound one looked pretty clear. It was wide enough that I’d be able to set the plane down but then what would I do? In amongst the cars I could see figures moving back and forth. From this height, they could have been mistaken for normal people but while I couldn’t quite work out what it was, there was something about the way they moved that told me they were infected. I’d just decided to try for the wall after all when the engine spluttered for the first time. A minute later it spluttered again and I was certain I wasn’t going to make it. I was going down on the wrong side of the wall whether I liked it or not.

With a final cough the engine died and I was left gliding towards the ground. The silence was disconcerting as I looked around, trying to pick out a landing zone. I settled for a point on the road about a quarter of a mile ahead and tried to prepare myself for the impact. That was when I noticed them; a group of about twenty tracking my movements as my altitude dropped. I watched as more and more of them emerged from amongst the jammed cars on the other side of the road. I hoped I could out-pace them and land with enough grace that I could make it out of the plane. If that happened, I was probably fit enough to make it to the wall before they got to me. I believed it. I had to, it was my only chance.

Sooner than I expected, I felt the ground effect lift the plane ever so slightly. It told me I would be on the ground in seconds. I squirmed in my seat, trying to judge how far behind me the infected were. I figured it was about 300 yards. The wall was about a mile ahead; so close and yet so far away. I wondered how I was going to make it. I was fit, but I had little idea whether I really could out-run them over any sort of distance. Yet I had no choice. I pulled back on the stick and felt the rear wheels touch followed by the front one. The plane bounced once and then again. As it settled down I saw a pothole ahead of me. I twisted the stick to the left, but with no power I had little hope of avoiding it. I missed the hole with the front wheel but the one on the left hand side at the back struck it, sending the plane spinning towards the central reservation, and the steel crash barriers that lined it. I slammed on the brakes but it was too little too late. There was a sickening crunch as the front wheel buckled, sending the nose crashing into the ground. My head smashed into the dashboard and I blacked out for a second. When I came to, I could feel blood dripping down the side of my face. It took me a moment to work out where I was. Then I remembered the infected. I glanced out of the left-hand window and saw them appearing over the brow of a small hill to my north. I tried to open the right-hand door, but it was jammed. I put my shoulder to it and found it wouldn’t budge. I tried the other one. It swung open easily but that was when I realised I couldn’t move: my legs were trapped.

I turned back to the infected. They were closer now and I could hear them. The noise was something between a roar and a growl that sank deep into my soul. I looked at my legs. While the right one wasn’t badly trapped, there was no way I was getting the left one free; a large piece of metal had pierced my thigh and blood poured from the wound. Even if I could pull it out, I’d bleed to death before I got more than anywhere near the wall, and I’d never be able to move faster than the infected.

I pulled the door shut again and flipped the latch. I closed my eyes and listened. Over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears I could head the infected as the raced towards me. With panic bubbling up in my stomach, I tried to work out how many there were. I couldn’t get an exact number, just the impression that there were a lot. I opened my eyes and stared down at my legs again; then an idea came to me. It was a trick an old medic had once told me about. I looked around for something I could use. The only suitable thing was the seatbelt. I felt around for my penknife and then used it to cut the seatbelt into a long, thick strap. I wrapped it round my leg, higher up than the metal and tied it as tight as I could get it. Next, I took a screwdriver from amongst the tools that had spilled into the floor of the plane in the crash and pushed it between the strap and my leg before twisting it to tighten the makeshift tourniquet as far as it would go. I gripped the metal and took a deep breath. The pain as I pulled it free was so blinding I almost passed out but some how I kept it together. I looked at the gaping hole it had left behind as it slowly filled with blood. No gushing. No spurting. Just seeping. That was about as good as I could hope for. It looked like the tourniquet was doing its job, at least for the moment.

There was a sudden bang on the side of the Cessna, somewhere back near the tail. I glanced up. The first of the infected had reached me and there was no longer any chance of escape. I felt the plane start to rock as others arrived. Then the first one drew level with the window. He stared at me for a moment. He was tall and thin, and dressed in a light grey suit that was now little more than rags. He’d lost a shoe somewhere and his face and hair were caked with dirt. He looked human but there was no hint of humanity behind his eyes; instead they burned with rage. He screamed and threw himself at the glass, pummelling it until his knuckles were bleeding. More and more appeared with every passing second until I was surrounded. Some climbed onto the nose and started banging on the windscreen. It had already cracked in the crash and they would be through it in no time.

I felt for the holster that was strapped to my side. Finding it, I pulled out the pistol a departing soldiers had given me as a thank you for my help. It felt heavy in my hand. I lined it up with the first of them; a young woman, maybe in her early 20s. She showed no fear, or hint of recognition that a gun pointed at her head, she just kept pounding on the windscreen. I’d never fired a gun before but at this range I could barely miss. I paused for a moment, trying not to think about what I was about to do, and then slowly tightened my finger on the trigger. The noise inside the confines of the cockpit was deafening and the gun almost jerked from my hand. As if in slow motion, the girl’s head exploded as she fell backwards off the plane and crumpled to the ground. I felt sickened by what I’d done but knew I had no choice. None of the others seemed to care or even notice. Gripping the gun more firmly, I lined up the next shot and fired again, and then again. For a moment the windscreen was clear, and it fleetingly crossed my mind to try to scramble out, but before I could move another clambered up, followed by a second and a third. My ears were ringing from the shots but I could still hear the infected as they hammered on the fuselage all around me, making it jump and shudder.

I heard glass breaking and turned to see the window on the left had given out. The man in the tattered suit was desperately trying to clamber in, his grasping arms reaching towards me. I fired twice, missing him both times. The third time I finally hit him and he slumped where he lay half in and half out of the window. I left his body hanging there in the hope it might stop others following him in. The windscreen shattered and two infected tumbling into the cockpit. I stared at them, frozen with fear as they scrambled to get to me. Then a realisation washed over me: there was only one option left. As I pressed the barrel against my head, I felt their hands tearing at my torso and their teeth biting into my flesh; I was surprised about how little it hurt. My hand shook and I hesitated, but I knew it was the only way out. I took deep breath, knowing it would be over the instant I did it, and pulled the trigger.

***

This short story is set in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale. If you liked it, you may like to read the book too.

There is a sequel to this story called The Wall, which tells the story of a soldier who’s standing guard on the re-constructed Hadrian’s Wall. You can find it here.

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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

The Watcher: A Twitter Fiction Zombie Story

19 Jan

Through a gap between the shutters I watch the zombies stagger ever closer and wonder if our defences can withstand yet another attack.


***

Yesterday I posted a flash fiction zombie story. As I mentioned in that post, my girlfriend challenged me to come up with a Twitter fiction zombie story. That is an entire zombie story written within the 140 characters allows for posts on the micro-blogging site Twitter. Talk about having to pare a story down to just the bare essentials! I found flash fiction difficult enough but Twitter fiction was much harder. This was my attempt. It has 135 characters (excluding the title which was just added for this post) and I’ll let you decide whether it works or not. Either way, I think I’ll try something longer next time.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Nightwatch: A Flash Fiction Zombie Story

18 Jan

There was the smell of decomposing flesh in the still night air but I had no sense of how long it had been there. I adjusted my grip on the spade I was holding. I sniffed again, was it my imagination or was it getting stronger? A twig cracked behind me. I turned and swung. I caught a glimpse of a face, cheeks rotting and teeth bared, just before the spade obliterated it. I stared at the fetid corpse, shocked at how close the zombie had got undetected. My lesson learned, I swore I’d never fall asleep on watch again.


***

Flash (or micro) fiction aims to tell a whole story in a hundred words or less. As a friday afternoon challenge, I decided to see if I could do a flash fiction zombie story (after all is there a better way to procrastinate over the work I really should be doing at the end of the week?). It turned out to be harder than I thought (100 words really isn’t much) but it strikes me it’s a good way to work on you writing skills since you really have to make every word count, and I’d encourage other writers to give this shortest form of short fiction a go from time to time. You can download a PDF of this story by clicking here.

The next challenge (suggested by my girlfriend), Twitter Fiction: Can I do a whole zombie story (complete with protagonist, a start, a middle and an end, and of course the zombies themselves) in just 140 characters? If I can come up with anything acceptable, I’ll post it here.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Is Amputation The Answer To Surviving A Zombie Bite?

13 Jan

This posting was inspired by a search term that someone had entered that led them to my blog (yes, I’m that geeky that I like to check up on this type of thing!). The search term was ‘If you amputate a zombie bite quick enough can u survive?’ This got me thinking: In the event of a zombie apocalypse, could amputation a valid survival strategy?

Well, this depends on a range of things. Firstly, amputation as a survival strategy assumes that zombism is caused by a disease of some kind that is transmittable through bites. If people are being turned into zombies by anything else, amputation would just be a very messy waste of time.

Secondly, it will depend on how the disease spreads within the human body. If the disease causes a local infection that radiates out from the bite site, then amputation would be a very valid survival strategy, especially if it was done quickly. However, if the disease spreads systemically, things are less clear-cut. If this is through the blood stream, then it’s going to spread very quickly. Your blood circulates around your body roughly once a minute, meaning that any zombie infection that spreads via the blood stream is likely to have travelled well beyond the initial bite site before you’d have the chance to lop off the infected limb. However, diseases can also spread systematically through the lymph system. This system moves things through the body much more slowly, giving time for amputation to be effective.

This having been said, there might be a way to stop a blood-borne zombie infection in its tracks, buying you enough time for amputation to be a viable option. This would be by using a tourniquet. A tourniquet effectively isolates the blood system in a limb from the rest of the body for a short length of time. This is done by wrapping something round the limb tight enough to stop the blood flowing. If the offending zombie bite is on an arm or a leg, a tourniquet applied immediately would prevent the infection spreading through the blood system to the rest of the body, giving you time to amputate it. However, this approach can’t be applied to bites on any other parts of the body and it would need to be done almost the instant you got bitten. Even a few minutes delay would be enough for it to become ineffective.

The problem here is that given that a zombie disease is likely to be a new or emergent disease. This means that we’re unlikely to have enough time to study it and work out how it spreads within the human body. This makes the decision to amputate all the more difficult. To make things more complicated, some diseases will spread in more than one way. Lyme disease, for example, will often have a local infection that causes a rash around the bite site but will also spread systemically through the blood stream at the same time. If a zombie disease spreads like this, amputating a limb with a festering zombie bite on it will only give you false hope rather than preventing you turning into one of the walking dead.

The next thing to consider would be how you would actually amputate the affected area. You could try doing it yourself, but that’s going to be very difficult although admittedly it will be easier if it’s a finger rather than a leg. There’s also the risk of infection. To amputate a part of the human body would require the use of a very sharp blade and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you are quite likely to injury another part of your body, causing the infection to spread to it. This means that if you don’t take enough care, you could quickly end up being surrounded by a pile of separated limbs as you have to keep on cutting off one after another because of your carelessness. The same could happen if someone else is doing the amputation for you, especially if they’re not medically trained, resulting in a chain reaction of limb removals as one person after another becomes infected while amputating another’s limb as has to be treated in the same way.

If you’re still keen on this as a survival strategy, you also need to consider if you’d actually survive the amputation. If you’re limb is being hacked off by someone with little training and using the wrong instrument, there’s a very good chance you’re going to die sooner rather than later. In fact, unless you have a proper amputation kit to hand, with some nice sharp and sterile surgical instruments, that can be wielded by someone who knows what they’re doing, it’s unlikely that you’ll survive. A tourniquet can help increase your chances by preventing excessive blood loss, but only if it’s applied properly and that can be tricky for the uninitiated.

If you make it through the operation itself, there’s then the question of your longer term survival. In a post-apocalyptic world, it’s unlikely that you’d be amputating a limb in a nice, sterile operating theatre. Instead, it’s likely to be out in the germ-infested real world. This means it’s likely the wound will become infected and you’ll die a slow, lingering death as gangrene sets in. There’s also going to be issues around your lack of mobility and the fact that you’re likely to be a drain on all those around you, especially in the short-term, increasing the chances that all of you will be killed by marauding zombies.

So given all of the above, is amputation a viable survival option if you get bitten by a zombie? Well, it probably won’t work and it is very likely to kill you either immediately or at some point soon afterwards. Yet, even though your chances of surviving the amputation is slim, it’s better than the 100% chance of you joining the legions of the undead if you do nothing. So yes, it’s certainly an option, especially if you put in a bit of planning now rather than waiting until the dead start to rise and walk among us. This means making sure that you have enough antibiotics in your survival kit to see off any infections, adding in a tourniquet and the appropriate surgical tools, and, of course, making sure you learn how to use them (but I wouldn’t recommend practicing on yourself!).



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Getting A Book On Sale At Amazon

13 Jan

In just a few short years, Amazon has become one of the most powerful players in the publishing world. If you’re book isn’t available on it, you will lose out on sales. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but unfortunately, at this moment in time, this is how the world is. If you’re working with a traditional publisher, the chances are that they will make sure that your book is available through Amazon, but what if you are an independent publisher or are self-publishing a book?

There are a surprising number of options for getting independent or self-published book available on Amazon, each of which will be suited to different circumstances. Some of these are well-known while others may be less familiar.

The first, and probably the best known, is Kindle Direct Publishing. This allows anyone to publish an e-Book and have it on sale through Amazon’s Kindle store. It is relatively straight-forward to do, and you can simply load up your manuscript as a word-processing document and it will be converted into the Kindle e-Book format. This makes preparing your manuscript for publication relatively easy since you don’t need to worry about things like page layouts and cover designs, although you do need to make sure that you have formatted it correctly. You can also set the price to pretty much anything you wish (although the royalties you will get for each sale will vary with the price you decide upon). In terms of a financial return, since you do not need to pay for any books to be printed, there are no real upfront costs and the royalties will be between 35% and 70% of the price that you set for the book, giving a reasonable return per unit sold. However, this ease of publication means that books that are only available as e-Books through Kindle Direct Publishing have developed a reputation for low editing standards and for being of poor quality.

The remaining options all involve selling printed books rather than an e-Book. For the self-publishing author, this can often seem a frightening prospect and many are put off by tales of having to pay upfront for large print runs that then spend the rest of their lives cluttering up your spare room. This is an out-dated point of view and because of advances in digital printing, this is no longer the case as even print runs as short as 50 to 100 books can be done at a reasonable per unit cost. The main issue here is that you will need to know how to do things like page layouts and sorting out your cover design. In most cases, you will also need to sort out things like ISBN numbers and bar codes. This means it is not for everyone. However, if you go down this route, how do you then get your book on sale on Amazon? There are three options here. These are becoming an Amazon vender, becoming an Amazon seller and using Amazon’s print on demand service (called CreateSpace).

Selling books as an Amazon vender means that you supply Amazon with copies of your books that they then sell them on. The easiest way for a small publisher or a self-publishing author to do this is as through the Amazon Advantage programme. However, in order to be eligible to join this programme, you will need to be registered as a publisher and have your own ISBN numbers. Your books will also need to have machine-readable bar codes. This shouldn’t put you off. ISBN numbers can be obtained from your national issuer, such as Bowker in the US and Nielsen in the UK, while bar codes can be generated using a free online services such as the Online Barcode Generator. The terms used by Amazon for its Advantage programme are very inflexible and can seem very harsh. For example, in the UK, they will require that books are supplied to them at a 60% discount on the cover price and that the seller pays for postage and packing both to supply them with any books ordered and for any that are returned. Books will typically be ordered by Amazon a few at a time. This means that if you are working with short print runs (i.e. less than a few hundred books), you may struggle to make any money on any sales unless your book has a relatively high cover price, which in turn may put people off buying it.

Selling books as an Amazon seller is different from selling them as an Amazon vender. As a seller, you will sell your books via the Amazon marketplace direct to the buyer. While you still have to pay up front for your books to be printed, you do not need to pay for them to be shipped to Amazon, or sell them at a 60% discount. Instead, all you pay is a fee to Amazon whenever a book is sold (click here to find out what they are). In addition, you can charge for postage and packing (albeit at rates set by Amazon). This places you in much tighter control of the selling process and you can control the price that it’s sold for. Since you also get a larger proportion of the money from each sale, you are more likely to make a profit from any sales that you generate. However, when viewed on the Amazon website, your sales presence will be tucked away under the More Buying Choices option at the right hand side of the page, meaning that some people may miss it.

The last option for selling physical copies of your book is CreateSpace. This is Amazon’s print on demand service. While you still need to worry about things like the page set up for your book and the cover design, you don’t need to pay any upfront printing costs (with the exception of paying for a proof to be sent to you if you select this option). In addition, if you wish, CreateSpace will provide you with an ISBN number and generate the bar code for you. CreateSpace books will be available to purchase direct from Amazon, or you can set up your own e-Store through CreateSpace. You can set the cover price to whatever you wish, and CreateSpace is very clear upfront as to the amount of royalties you will receive per sale, meaning that you can set your price based on what you would get. The royalties themselves vary depending on exactly what sales channel you select (and there’s a range available meaning that your book is available through more sales channels that just Amazon itself), but whether selling through Amazon itself or your own CreateSpace e-Store, they are quite reasonable. However, if you’re based outside of the USA, you will find you have to do a few bits of fiddly paperwork or Amazon will hold back 30% of your royalties to pay US tax on them.

So these are the options for getting a book on sale on Amazon. While they undoubtedly make it easier for self-publishers or small publishers to make their books available to a large audience, I am still uncertain whether this is actually a good thing for publishing as a whole, or for writers. Part of me worries that Amazon has too much power and that it exerts too much control over those who wish to sell books via their store. Another worries that they will gradually push other publishers and book sellers out of the market, and that will only increase the power that they have other the whole industry. Finally, I think there is potentially an issue with the whole Amazon business model. Amazon only seem to care about the number of books and not necessarily the quality of the books themselves. This is because they make the same money selling a million copies of one book, or one copy of a million books. As a result, there is the potential for the market to become flooded with poor quality books, making it all the more difficult for the high quality ones to receive the recognition that they deserve. To some extent this is what has already happened with e-Books sold via Kindle Direct Publishing, and CreateSpace may go the same way, although because it is more complicated to produce a printed book (even a print on demand one), this may act as a kind of quality control filter. I guess, as with many things involving Amazon, only time will tell.



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.