Among Others: 1st Chapter

NaNoWriMo Day 1 continues to amaze.

Here is Chapter 1 of “Among Others”, the novel I’m writing for this years NaNoWriMo. You might like it. Zombies. Death. Government take overs in the name of great good. And all seen from the eyes of well, a zombie.

Collins welcomed the unusually quiet walk across campus to her office. Her head was foggy, her gait tempered, she didn’t feel herself at all. Flu symptoms to be sure, she thought while trying to keep her fatigued body moving toward its destination. Nothing hurt. Not even her throat. But her mind was so clouded over with sickness it hardly allowed anything in or out. A difficult feat for any illness when that illness is taking over someone with such a fast-paced mind. The banana in her hand sounded less and less appetizing as her feet dragged her through the campus center square.
Almost there, she thought. Tucking a reluctant tuft of her dusty blond hair behind her ear with a shaky hand, she continued her slow walk.
Lush green turf bordered by concrete walls, staircases, and brick buildings. Fewer people than usual for opening day of a new semester, especially Fall Semester. A handful of juniors she had last semester playing Frisbee golf. Two girls huddled over a book of one sort or another, probably freshmen. Only freshmen peel open books before class even initiates. An older man walking against Collins with a blank look, jittery walk. Not carrying any books or a backpack over his shoulder, pale as chalk. She figured him either transient or recovering from too much fun the prior night.
Small groups around the square were shuffling quickly between classes. Several others appeared as devoid of direction as the transient walking past Collins. Neither being new to the city nor to college campuses, Collins took no realistic notice. There is nothing unusual about transients in open spaces or students with blank faces. Besides, if it were the flu overtaking her body, Collins was not likely its only prey.

Outside what looked like a small two-story bungalow, a man with an awkward smile that faded as he noticed Collins’ disheveled appearance and stance, held the door for her. Once inside he tapped her shoulder, she turned. He pointed at her before adding several more gestures, “You look like death.”
Thinking about it for a moment, “I feel the same,” she retorted, “Most likely the flu.”
“Something sure is going around,” he added with a well-defined frown.
Sitting opposite one another at the oak meeting table, their eyes never pulled away from the other’s face.
A warm room with soft earthy tones of bookshelves, exposed wooden rafters and piping from plumbing added as an afterthought. It was a tight but cozy fit around the large oak table. Where no overflowing bookshelves stood ceiling high, books spilled out of open office doors.
“Your, um, moving really slow, too,” he added as he pushed his thick glass back up with a single finger to their bridge.
Another pause, “Really don’t feel myself today. It’s like I’m in slow motion and the world around me is flying past me at highway speeds.”
“Maybe, um, you should go home.”
“And do what?” Her movements became more rigid and with more speed, or so she thought.
The balding man slouched away but his gaze remained on Collins, “Uh, I don’t know. You don’t even have class really. Just, um, go home. You don’t need to be here.”
“It’s too quiet there.”
“But you like quiet.”
To the balding man, Collins appeared to be falling asleep. It never took this long for her to respond to anything. He hung around her because she was quick and witty, and people saw her as socially awkward as he was.
Finally responding as if she were in a paused movie scene, “I like to be left to my own,” she calmed again, which was frightfully close to comatose in the balding man’s eye. Collins rubbed her banana with one finger a few times trying to find the stomach to force it down. She was starved but the thought of eating that fruit sickened her further, if such were possible. “But I’m still human.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” a voice from behind belted pulling her thoughts away from the banana and the balding man’s eyes away from Collins. Collins did not turn to acknowledge the rough voice. It was bad enough she had to hear him. When the gruff voice’s owned pulled up between the balding man and Collins, his eyes widened and his voice cracked, “Dear God. Miller, why the Hell didn’t you tell us you went and offed Collins here?” Miller slouched further. “And why the Hell didn’t you hide the body. For Christ sake she looks wretched.”
Collins gaze left Miller and her caustic scented banana to slowly laser in on the man standing over them. Her glare fell on his back as he turned toward a cluttered room in front of Collins and behind Miller. How disrespectful, she thought. Not that the gruff man would utter such abrasive comments as a morning greeting or at all but that he turns his back on others in the vicinity.
Redirecting Miller’s hurt look back at their interrupted conversation, she slowly waved at him briefly, “How was the first class of the semester?”
“Um, almost nobody there,” looking at Collins again, “Well, there were lots of students. Just not as many as usual for first day of…”
“Really,” barked the gruff man as he emerged from his cave of books piled every which way imaginable. Collins only adjusted her eyes to see him. Collins turned around like a child wearing a winter coat, tiny arms swishing and neck craned. He would pass for a child from behind too were it not for the poorly hidden combover. Waiting until everyone’s attention was on him, he continued, “Neither of you are deaf. Why do you insist on keeping the rest of the world out of your conversations?” Collins’ lip curled and twitched, her brow furrowed. “Christ. It’s like you’re conspiring to take over the world.” Changing her facial tone to one of proud presenting of a great work of art, the gruff man turned back into his paper caverns. As his door slammed behind him he added, “Besides, when you sign like that, you look like to crackheads having seizures.”
Once Miller’s childish attention returned to Collins she tried to erupt into mock seizures where she sat. With her slow paced moves it appeared like she was turning into a stiff, white board occasionally jolted with a hammer to its side. Miller chuckled behind a half covered hand. Then Collins turned to the man’s closed door providing a sign no American, deaf or otherwise, would fail to interpret correctly.
“Um,” Miller paused, “I think you really should go home. Lie down. The news this morning said this year’s flu is already really bad. Sleep it off.” Reaching across the table like a mother does to a child she just finished a long discussion with, he patted her hand. “Oh my, Helen,” he jerked his hand back, “You’re cold as ice.”
“Am I? I feel fine,” cocking her head, “except for the foggy head and how fast the world is moving around me. And damnit if I’m not hungry but can’t seem to convince myself to eat this fruit.”
“No, Helen. You’re really cold. And, uh, paler than chalk. And you love fruit.”
“I know. Some reason I want something meaty this morning.”
“But you’re a vegetarian.”
“Haven’t had a bite of flesh since I left my parents’ house more than two decades ago. Don’t even know what it tastes like. Yet, still I crave it.”
“Even your hands are shaky, Helen.”
“I’m fine.”
“Please,” Miller almost sounded confident, “For me. Go home. Sleep it off. Take time off.”
“I’m on sabbatical. I’ve got nothing but time off.”
“And you’re here, why?”
“Research.”
“Um, how do you expect to do that with a foggy head?”
Helen wanted nothing more than to get back to her research. Research allowed one to separate from the world and do so behind a guise of good intention. One’s eyes are pulled away from the real world and into the world of higher intellectual exercise. Who was she kidding, she thought, she could hardly keep up with the menial conversation she was having with Miller. How could she hope to read anything of any real value to her research project.
She stood quietly, slowly, a robot standing for its first time after being turned on. The gruff man cracked his door open an inch, “Go take a bath. Some chicken soup. And get the Hell out of here before you make us all sick.” The door slammed shut again. Beyond it one could hear the cave mutter something about a dumb bitch. Collins hated that phrase, but no good ever came from confronting it or the man attached to it.  
Collins floated to the door she walked in earlier.
“Your banana?” Miller spoke since Helen’s back was to him.
You eat it, she tried to say. Only throaty hisses emerged. Must have lost my voice too, she thought. She hoped neither of them heard. Slowly she turned to Miller and signed, “You eat it. I’m going home.”
“Maybe you need a, um, solid breakfast like, uh, eggs and bacon.”
She licked her lips as she left the cozy meeting room.

Why was the world moving so fast around her? How could her voice be gone when her throat didn’t scratch at all? Every year she gets the flu; however, this is the first year she felt so normal but so slow and, frankly, she thought, dumb. It is normal to feel cloudy, fatigued, drunk even. This was different. Thoughts came and went. Sans cogent thoughts and graduate study vocabulary, but otherwise, her thoughts were not foggy at all. Just slow. Stupid.
Then she thought, Why is everyone running around me?
On her way back home that morning she stopped by a grocery store just off campus property. Being vegetarian, there was no meat in her apartment to quench this odd thirst. She stood over meat of every shape and sort, something she had not done since grade school as best she could recall. A butcher, or what passed one, asked if she needed help. His curled lip and stutter over “help” let her know her face was paler than even she originally hoped. She didn’t know what she wanted. Everything looked like candy. Saliva collected as if she were sitting down to her last meal. What to eat? What to eat?
She left with half a pound of ground round. Its scent wafted upward making her even weaker in her knees. What an odd flu symptom, she thought. That was about all she thought. Collins sat and ate all half a pound fresh out of its wrapping. It was the sweetest, most satisfying flavor to pass across her palette. She closed her eyes, thought nothing, and just enjoyed that steak like an alcoholic drinking his first drink in twenty years. Guilt and shame and all that comes with the reason one picks up the drink first of all: to quell hunger for something else entirely.

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