I wrote this opening scene for a novel about a Zombie takeover last year. I liked the first-person structure and fast pace of a Zombie takeover. But I eventually realized that any good story needs interesting characters to make it worth reading. Otherwise this story would become the book equivalent of an action horror movie.
Zed woke to the sounds of shouting coming from outside his apartment. He couldn’t make out the words but the voices outside sounded angry, or scared. He was used to the occasional shouting match floating in through his windows but he had never heard it on a Saturday morning. Usually the drunks were home in bed and the pedestrian mall wasa lightly populated with dog walkers and the early morning coffee shop crowd. Then he heard a scream.
Zed jumped out of bed and ran through the kitchen, threw open the balcony door, and raced outside. Looking down from his third floor balcony he saw a cluster of people surrounding what appeared to be a homeless man. The man’s hair was in wild disarray and his tattered coat had a jagged rip halfway down his back. Underneath Zed could see bright red blood. One of the people surrounding him, a young man who was one of the regular Saturday morning jogging crowd, grabbed the wild man’s arm and spin him around. Zed cound see blood pouring down from his mouth and soaking his ragged beard. With his free hand the homeless man grabbed the jogger, pulled him close, and sunk his teeth into his neck. There were screams from three different voices this time.
For a moment Zed thought about racind down the stairs but thought better of it. The crowd was growing fast. Someone pulled the homeless man off the jogger and got a ragged bite on his forearm for the trouble. He shouted and pushed the wild man away, who stumbled and grabbed onto the leg of a woman with a shocked look on her face. The jogger was on the ground twitching for a moment, then lay still.
Zed found his phone and called 911.
On the street several men were shaking the jogger. The woman screamed and threw her coffee on the homeless man. He bit through her achilles heel and she crumpled to the ground. Two men let out a simultaneous “What the fuck?!” and began kicking the old homeless man savagely. He didn’t say a word but kept reaching out for their legs. Zed watched in horror as his arm bent backwards and let out an audible snap after a ferocions kick connected with his elbow. His fingers kept clawing toward the legs around him.
“911, what is the nature of your emergency?”
Zed realized he was pressing the phone hard against his ear. “There’s a homeless man on the street outside who’s having some sort of fit. He’s bitten at least two people. There’s a man with a neck wound who’s not moving. No, wait a second…”
The jogger was moving again. As he climbed to his knees each movement caused a rush of blood to pour out from the ragged wound on his neck. A middle-aged man in a track suit was bending down to help him up. In the back of his mind Zed wondered why the bleeding man wasn’t pressing his hand against the gash on his neck. He seemed to be oblivious to the injury.
“He’s getting up. I don’t know how. There’s blood all over the street. Another man is helping him to his feet.”
The jogger pulled himself to a standing position, grabbed the middle-aged man’s hand, and bit off his thumb. The middle-aged man recoiled and pulled his bleeding hand away. The jogger stood there unsteadily, slowly chewing on the thumb.
“Holy shit! Something seriously fucked up is going on here. The guy with the neck wound, he just, he…”
“Sir, I’ve got your address from the dispatch computer. There are no officers available to respond right now.” Her voice was cracking. “Something bad going on this morning. I’ve got six calls holding and my board is lit up like a christmas tree. Get somewhere safe and hang on. Help is on the way.”
The line went dead.
Zed laid the phone down on the edge of the balcony, forgotten. Down below was complete chaos. Many of the people from the original crowd had run off. More people were coming in. The homeless man was bent over a girl in a “Charlottesville Four Miler” t-shirt chewing on her thigh as she screamed and clawed the ground to pull herself away. The jogger had grabbed the barista from the coffee shop around the corner by the ponytail and was pulling him closer. The man in the track suit was lying on the ground convulsing, blood shooting from where his thumb used to be. The crowd below was an incomprehensible cacophony of shouts and screams.
From around the corner a shirtless jogger came running at a full sprint. Blood streamed from his ear and ran down his back. He collided with an old woman who lived in the apartment directly below Zed. She dropped her leash and her toy poodle, Percy, took off like a shot as the running man collapsed on top of her. The runner sunk his teeth into her cheek and jerked his head back to rip of a large chunk of flesh. Zed could see her dentures flashing through the wound.
Zed raced inside and locked his door.