weekly irregular dose of fabulous1 fiction
Week #2 - Aftermath
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 20:18
Week two brings us a story about the harrowing aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. It's only fair to warn you that an insurance adjuster is involved. Harrowing.
Mr. Jeremy Stosser, Assistant Associate Manager, Unusual Claims Division for Parsimonious Assurance steeples his fingers and leans backwards, tilting his chair. He means to assume a more thoughtful pose but the effect is spoiled somewhat by his chair squeaking. He suppresses a wince and makes a mental note to give some hell to their building manager. He's emphasized countless times to the man how critical well-oiled seating is for the work he performs. Why they employ these brainless morons was beyond him. Political correctness had gone way overboard. If you can't do the job properly, it shouldn't matter how much the provisional government supplements their wages. Supplements with his tax dollars no less. If they can't do the work, they shouldn't be on the payroll, period.
"Mr. and Mrs. Warszawski, I understand the unfortunate situation your family finds itself in. I surely do. But you need to try to see things from our perspective." He speaks in careful, measured tones. A voice rich with empathy, rife with genuine pathos for the victims - no, never use that term - people it was addressing. Gentle and soothing, but also with a stern undertone aimed to imply at a deep, subliminal level that there was no goddamned way on God's green Earth these freeloaders were going to get a single red cent from Parsimonious. Jeremy knew his voice carried these qualities because Parsimonious had invested considerable money sending him to speech pathologists, acting coaches and even singing lessons in order to perfect it. He'd excelled at false sympathy. When he was crushing the hopes and dreams of insurance claimants, he was a virtuoso, a master. His coworkers stand back in awe of his artistry. The Warzawskis, however, seemed to be very far away from appreciating his craftsmanship and actively refused their role in the dance. Philistines.
"Your perspective? Yours? Our home is all but destroyed." They've never met before, but Mr. Warzawski looks exactly like the sort of person who annoys Jeremy at parties. Shortish and plump; he's still wearing his hat but Jeremy is pretty sure that if they yanked it off, he'd find a comb-over despite all the advice of both Mr. Warzawski's wife and barber. He's the sort of fellow who manages to become a middling supervisor in his department, although none of the people under him like or respect him and he'll never rise above that position and will grow increasingly bitter until he's eventually fired for petty embezzlement. Mrs. Warzawski looks exactly like the sort of woman who'd be married to a man like that.
Jeremy spares a glance towards some of the photographs of the damage they'd sent in, inside the manila folder laying open on his desk. He'd looked at them before their appointment, of course, and their house had certainly suffered more zombie damage than many. Still, they really had no one but themselves to blame. There's a reason why houses that are only a block away from cemeteries have depressed property values. Their front door was hanging at a distinctly undoor-like angle, deep claw marks plainly visible. All of their windows were smashed out and there was a gaping hole in the wall where some of the undead, too single-minded and stupid to actually find the front door had simply smashed their way through the stucco, plywood and drywall into their living room. Their front lawn was probably once well-maintained but in the photos was now trampled beyond recovery. It would have to be entirely re-landscaped. There were dismembered corpses and body parts strewn about. The disposal teams had their hands full for weeks after the zombie army was finally turned back. The picture was taken from the sidewalk - probably in the evening - but even still you could make out the soot on the walls and the charred remains of a leather recliner. Jeremy puts on his reading glasses and picks up their case file. He doesn't need them - he'd had laser eye surgery years ago - but wearing reading glasses makes people trust you. You look more earnest, sincere and thoughtful.
He flips through a couple of pages, makes a hmmmm sound, looks up at the three of them and says, "The fire. It was started by you, the homeowners?"
They look indignant. "We were trying to fight off a zombie horde. We'd heard over the radio they were vulnerable to fire."
"As are carpet stains, Mrs. Warzawski. But when a guest spills wine on my carpet, I don't reach for the gasoline." He's not entirely unsympathetic with them, of course. He, himself, had fought off zombie neighbours attempting to break into his condominium. He wrecked two of his most expensive golf clubs in the battle. But you know what? He moved on with his life. He can get by in the short time without his 5-iron and his sand wedge - well that'll just teach him to keep his balls out of the bunkers. He was even equanimous about pitching his girlfriend off his tenth floor balcony. She'd been pushing for too much commitment anyhow. The Warzawski's problem was that they dwelt too much on the past.
"What it all boils down to is that it is Parsimonious's position that the entire zombie was an Act of God. And Acts of God are specifically excluded by your policy, I'm afraid. Section four, paragraph seventeen. I can have my secretary print off a copy of it for you, if you like."
"You think God was responsible for what happened?" Mrs. Warzaski again. Her husband seemed to let her do most of the talking, something Jeremy didn't respect at all.
"Well I'm not necessarily talking about the Christian God. Freedom of religion is a cherished virtue of our corporation. Our comptroller is Wiccan, in fact. The point is, it could have been any deity. An African voodoo zombie god, for instance."
"I've heard the current theory is that it was caused by government nanotechnology experiments." Mr. Warzawski finally pipes up. His suit is cheap and badly needs to be pressed.
"Well I'm afraid that's something you should take up with your member of parliament."
"Our MP was eaten."
He makes a dismissive wave and says, "I'm sure they'll be arranging by-elections just as soon as the federal government is reestablished and the military can hand rule back to it."
"So, are you trying to say you aren't going to give us anything?" Mr. Warzawski's voice had a whiny tone to it and it put Jeremy's teeth on edge, like he was chewing on tinfoil. "We can't even sell the property with zombie damage added as an encumbrance on the title. No one would even spare it a second glance."
Mrs. Warzawski was beginning to sound angry. "How are we supposed to look after our Stewart? Do you have any clue how expensive soy-based brain substitute has gotten over the past few weeks?"
She gestures toward their son, who is crouching on the floor, arms between his knees and knuckles on the floor. Sallow skin hangs on his bones and a bit of drool and ichor bubble at his lips. Jeremy can't help but roll his eyes at this. He has little patience for people who try to keep their zombified loved ones around, treating them as though they have a disease and aren't part of the evil dead. With an undead moan, Stewart drags his sleeve across his mouth.
"For heaven's sake, Stewart, use a handkerchief!"
"Well these are difficult times for everyone, Mrs. Warzawski. Luxury items are bound to get more get pricier. You should consider alternatives and -"
"I am not going to feed my son Purina Zombie Chow. Who knows what sort of chemicals they put in that stuff!"
"Maybe what's best for little Stewie is -"
The zombie child snarls and lunges at Jeremy, waving his clawed hands, but Mrs. Warzawski yanks hard on the chain shackled around his neck and with a whimper he settles back into his crouch.
"He prefers to be called Stewart."
"I see that, thank you, Mr. Warzawski." He picks up the manila folder with the Warzawski's file and closes it, making sure the contents are neat and tidy and then places it on top of a small pile of similar files. In his mind, he counts five and summons up his earlier soothing tone, "Mr. and Mrs. Warzawski, I would love nothing more than to help your family out, I really would. But would it really be fair to go around making exceptions willy-nilly? Soon everyone else who didn't think to buy zombie insurance would be demanding exceptions, too. It'd bankrupt us. And where would that leave the people who'd legitimately purchased zombie insurance?"
"I still don't think this is very fair treatment. Who could have anticipated a necromancer would raise an army of the dead?" says the old windbag, "We've been loyal customers of Parsimonious for twenty years and this is our first ever claim and - "
"Mrs. Warzawski, we do have an appeals process. They're a little backlogged at the moment but I'm sure within a few months you'll hear something. Now, I have other appointments and Stewie is drooling on my rather expensive carpet again and -"
Stewart lunges forward again with a snarl. Later, when she thinks back, Mrs. Warzawski will never be entirely sure if she was caught off guard by his sudden leap or if she half-consciously paused a fraction of a second before attempting to secure her grip on the chain. But in either case the result is the same. Stewart breaks free from her restraint and leaps over the desk, knocking Jeremy Stosser from his chair backwards to the floor.
* * *
The police detective snaps shut his notebook while behind him a pair of uniformed officers enter Jeremy Stosser's office. A camera flashes from inside.
"I think I've just about all I need, Mr. and Mrs. Warzawski. If we have any further questions, I'll give you a call tomorrow."
The Warzawskis are sitting on a bench in Parsimonious's reception area. A helpful secretary has fetched Mr. Warzawski, who suffers from nervous tension, a glass of water. Mr. Warzawski has his arm around his wife's shoulders and Stewart crouches on the floor looking as chastened and apologetic as a soulless, undead creature can. Mrs. Warzawski tried to make him presentable before the police got there, wiping off as much of Jeremy's blood as she could, ruining a nice silk handkerchief in the process.
"So...our son isn't in any kind of trouble is he?" asks Mr. Warzawski.
The detective glances at his watch and responds, "If we took the time out to investigate every little zombie attack, we'd have no manpower to investigate normal crimes. And anyway, I know how difficult it can be to keep a rambunctious zombie child in line. I've got two of them myself."
They shared a laugh over the tribulations of parenthood and as the detective leaves he ruffles Stewart's hair.
"Try to keep him out of trouble."
"Yes officer, of course."
The two uniformed officers and the police photographer soon follow and as they leave, Mrs. Warzawski asks, "I left my scarf in Mr. Stosser's office. Would it be any trouble if I went in and got it? It isn't, you know, evidence?"
"Oh no, ma'am, we're all done here."
The next morning, one of the junior clerks is cleaning out Mr. Stosser's office. He carries the pile of files in his outbox over to file processing and, bored, opens the top one. He's surprised to see it has a large, red "Approved" stamp on it. He can't recall the last time Stosser approved an insurance claim but remarks to himself that it's wonderful his final act was to do something nice for someone.
17 responses to "Week #2 - Aftermath "
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 20:31
Very dry, I like it.
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 21:25
Zombies always creep me out
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 21:25
Zombies always creep me out
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 21:26
It only took two stories for you to write a conclusion that I liked! That's a new record, for writer-friends. Among other lines,
""Well I'm afraid that's something you should take up with your member of parliament."
"Our MP was eaten."" - made my night. Thanks.
Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 21:57
That was hilarious. Great story. :)
Though I do find your use of the present tense somewhat off-putting, I must say. Do you always use it?
Friday, 14 Dec 2007 05:50
Actually, I think writing in the present tense is a new thing. I'd written about half of Aftermath in the past before deciding to switch.
I blame it on reading Haruki Murakami's After Dark, which was in present tense and I loved to death.
Saturday, 15 Dec 2007 11:20
Nicely done! ^_^ Good detail and nice slow reveal.
Saturday, 15 Dec 2007 16:37
Woo, zombies! I liked it, Dana. Nice job :)
Saturday, 15 Dec 2007 20:37
Ha! I like it. :) Zombies for the win.
Sunday, 16 Dec 2007 20:11
Excellent twist of the zombiepocalypse. I really liked this story. It reminded me a little of the Carrie Anne Moss zombie movie that came out last year (meant in the most complimentary way possible, of course).
two other thoughts:
1) the present tense thing was a little off-putting at first, but I've since started to realize it's just one of your own little artistic signatures, so now it doesn't bother me as much, and
b) you should put the title of the story in the title of the blog post - it will probably be easy to go back to my favourite stories later if I can see a title and not just "week #" in the titles.
Keep up the good work!
Sunday, 16 Dec 2007 21:44
Good idea, Ryan.
Tuesday, 18 Dec 2007 08:07
Woo, zombies! :) Reading this just pretty much made my day.
Sunday, 23 Dec 2007 09:29
Coolness! I thought the girlfriend bit was a little bit over the top, though -- he seems just a little TOO heartless if he just dumped his girlfriend over a balcony. But it's a great story, and a really cool way to bring it around at the end.
Monday, 24 Dec 2007 14:12
Gaahhhh. *shudders* Chilling, and lovely, and terrific.
Even knowing that this is the aftermath of the zombiecalypse, I had trouble believing the police officer would just shrug the attack off and ruffle the "kid's" hair - people with vicious dogs don't exactly go out of their way to pet other people's vicious dogs.
But aside from that... well, I have the feeling that this story might stay with me for a while.
Monday, 24 Dec 2007 14:25
One more comment on tenses :)
Did you realize that in all three stories, you've started in present tense, slipped into past tense for a sentence or two in the early paragraphs, and then continued on in present tense? It keeps throwing me off, though I have no problem reading present tense in general!
Monday, 24 Dec 2007 14:54
Yeah, I gotta watch that. I tend to switch back and forth when I'm writing a drift and don't always catch them when I'm retyping.
I will strive to be more diligent in the future :)
Thursday, 31 Jan 2008 16:01
Definately an interesting storyline Dana! The line "like he was chewing on tinfoil" in particular really made me cringe. I think that must be one of the more unpleasant sensations one might attempt to have.