writing portfolioillustration portfoliodesign portfolioaboutcontact page

And So, He Said

OZ Episode
Shinjuku Underground

The Two of Us

Korean Ghosts
Does This Dress Make Me Look Uncute?
Movie Review: Survive Style 5+
Personal Essay: Schedenfreude
Personal Essay: Pessimism


Sample pages from my senior honors thesis, a semester-long project in which I explore the medium of post-apocalyptic fiction with a focus on people and emotions, rather than the circumstances of the world's end. Ghostwalk is the first part of a two-part novella. 2010. Full PDF download (52 pages).

Chapter One

Imagine living in a box. Not a little cardboard box, but a big box, made of concrete and glass and reinforced steel. Imagine it's sitting on top of a long concrete tower, like a treehouse that landed in a city without trees, and it's lined with barbed wire and fences with electricity running through them. Not a very friendly place. Not one of those pretty towers you see on a postcard and can't wait to go visit as soon as you get your vacation.

Imagine this box, right. Windows on all four sides, from about the waist-up all the way to the ceiling. A bit like living in a fishbowl, except a couple floors above the ground so no one can actually look in. All the paranoia of living in a glass home where every move you make is clearly visible, but with none of the actual perils. Because you're not the exhibit, you're the one supposed to be looking outside.

Imagine you look outside and see what looks like your standard prison. Four high walls lined with barbed wire and broken security cameras. An empty yard filled with gravel. Heavy iron door left open, creaking once in a while, like something out of a horror film, but no zombies, no monsters, no undead minions of hell. This isn't some sort of Romero-rip-off B-movie.

But this isn't a normal prison, either. No guards, no patrolling men in uniforms, no shambling prisoners chained and shackled. No rats, no birds. Imagine you look out the windows and all you see for miles and miles is dust and dirt and lots of beige. Once in a while -- just every so often -- a vulture goes flapping by, searching for dead things to eat. You know the situation's depressing when even the vultures are hungry. They have this look like you owe them some sort of explanation.

Enough of the birds.

Imagine that box again. Call it home. It's got all the necessary furnishings. Two of those iron-frame beds you see in prisons, with thin, hard mattresses and gross off-white sheets spotted with mysterious stains. Two steel lockers. A cheap metal table with two aluminum folding chairs. Two toothbrushes in the chipped mug next to the sink, but one of them hasn't been used in ages. Cupboards full of canned and dried foods, trashcans piled with empty cans and packages. Two sets of cutlery. One lying on the counter, the other gathering dust in a drawer.

Imagine you're the only one living in this home-for-two.

Imagine that, for all you know, you're the only living person for miles and miles and miles. You're living alone in this shitty glass box and the extra furniture, the extra cutlery are just laughing at you. Sneering in your face.

You poor lonely bastard.

Lee woke up for no particular reason sometime after the sun came up.

The digital clock on the wall flashed 12:00 at him, but Lee knew it wasn't noon. He simply hadn't bothered to reset the clock after the latest blackout. The blackout a few weeks ago, while he was sleeping. He'd woken up and staggered over to the light-switch and flicked it on only to get nothing. Frustrated, abused the switch a bit before realizing that the clock on the wall was also dead. Once he dragged himself down to the lower floors of the guard tower and turned on the backup generator, the clock began flashing 12:00, and it was then that Lee started losing track of the time.

He knew it was a Wednesday, because the day before had been a Tuesday, but he didn't know what date it was. He wasn't even sure what month it was. Maybe April.

It wasn't like dates mattered much. It didn't change the fact that he got up from his bed, listening to the iron frame creak. He hadn't changed out of his uniform in weeks, his T-shirt soaked through with sweat and dusted with sand, and he knew he reeked. His trousers had accumulated a few small rips and tears. Lee coughed as he pulled the blanket off of the bed and wrapped it around his shoulders. He couldn't remember where he'd left his jacket.

The silence outside was deafening, and when he pushed the balcony door open, a gust of hot, dusty air slapped him in the face. He coughed again. His breath came out in dry, sandy puffs. He was getting sand on his blanket.

Backing away from the veranda, he flapped his blanket to try and get the sand off, stumbling over his feet and still coughing. He knew it was growing dustier and dustier, but it hadn't been this bad yesterday. It looked like the conditions were growing worse. What he wouldn't give for a good downpour to glue all that fucking dust to the ground.

Still, he'd have to leave the windows open for a bit if he didn't want to stew in the smell of garbage and his own sweat. Give some, take some.

Ignoring the wind whistling past the balcony, Lee kicked aside one of the folding chairs lying upside-down on the floor and shoved past the cheap metal table over to the kitchen area. He hadn't used the electric stovetop since he'd had to resort to the backup generator. He didn't have the luxury of wasting electricity on cooking. Not much of a kitchen any more. Ignoring the now-empty fridge, also long since unplugged and dead, Lee leaned up to rummage through the cupboard full of cans and packages.

Beef jerky, canned fruit, corned beef, salted meat. All of the cans enveloped in paper labels stamped with military logos. A few boxes of ration bars. He needed to eat them before they turned completely hard and inedible, but they tasted like cardboard, and he didn't feel like struggling through one of those bastards just yet. He'd had a hard enough time choking down the Ready-to-Eat meal rations a few weeks back when he'd realized one was starting to grow moldy and he wouldn't have long before the rest went bad as well. They'd been terrible and had given him constipation.

He grabbed a can of preserved peaches and wrenched the lid open with a knife. He'd thrown his can opener off the balcony a few weeks ago in a fit of frustration. He'd regretted it for weeks, but when he finally steeled himself to venture outside around the base of the tower, he couldn't find it.

He was slowly running out of everything. Food and items and tools.

He couldn't be bothered to right the two chairs lying on the floor, so he sat on the floor with his back to a wall and ate the half-moon peaches straight out of the can, spearing them on the tip of his knife one by one. He was getting the sticky syrup all over his stubble, but he didn't really care. But he did pause briefly to yank the blanket off and shove it onto the table in a miserable pile to keep it from getting spotted sticky with syrup.

Lee spent maybe half an hour chewing on the can of peaches, then drank all of the sticky syrup from the can, trying not to cut his lip on the ragged edge of the can. But he could taste the copper tang of blood in the last mouthfuls of the peach syrup.

It pissed him off.

If there had been anyone else around, what Lee did next would have no doubt been startling. But because he was completely alone, it just looked kind of stupid when Lee got to his feet and chucked the empty peach can out the balcony door. It was a bad throw, and so the can barely made it over the balcony railing, bouncing off the iron bars with a hollow clang and dropping away out of sight. His lip stung as the residues of peach syrup seeped into the shallow cut, he let out an incoherent scream and kicked the metal table. It went over with a crash. His foot hurt.

Then, Lee rushed to the balcony and lean over its railing as he puked up half his guts. The sugar-loaded peach syrup had been too much to eat all at once, especially after he'd eaten nothing but beef jerky for the past two days, and he could barely keep himself from vomiting up everything.

No, no, that wouldn't do. That would be a waste of food. He didn't have that much left. God knew how long his cupboard had to last. So he tried to keep it down. Disgusting.

Coughing as a wisp of sand puffed up his nose, Lee wiped the dribbles of saliva off his chin. His eyes were watering, and between his blurry vision and the dust coiling across the horizon, he thought he was seeing things when a little dark spot moved closer to the base of the guard tower.

I didn't always live by myself in that shitty tower. Anyone would go insane if they had to spend their entire lives in a place like that, alone. No, I didn't always live in that place, and even when I did, I wasn't by myself until just recently. Relatively speaking. I used to live in that tower with a fucked-up bastard named Jackson.

He's dead now. Which is all for the better. The world's a cleaner place without him. He needed to go, sooner than later.

For the longest moment, Lee stayed bent double over the balcony railing, squinting at the slow-growing dark spot on the horizon. It had been so long since he'd last seen a living creature other than the occasional vulture that went drifting by, and it was hard to tell what the approaching blob was.

It revealed itself to be a human wrapped in many layers of jackets, dragging along a shopping cart. At this distance, it was hard to tell if this specimen was male or female, but that was a non-factor. The person was inching closer, no doubt drawn to the guard tower in hopes of finding food, or at least shelter.

What to do?

The lack of human interaction had slowed his thought process, and Lee could veritably feel his thoughts ticking one notch at a time towards some sort of decision. Residues of peach juice were still dribbling down his chin, and he tried to lick them back up as he stared at this approaching human being.

This stranger might have food. Maybe he could let whoever it was in, then steal their food. Having someone to interrogate about the state of things outside might not be bad either. This person must have traveled for quite a while, since there weren't any habitable shelters nearby. So they'd have a bit of food, wouldn't they? And information. It might be worth the effort of extracting it.

But if they had a weapon, there might be a firefight. So conversation would be dangerous, at least before this stranger was disarmed. What would be the best option?

Lee dragged his dirty forearm over his mouth to wipe away the last drips of the peach juice.

Obviously, the best option would be to shoot first, ask questions later.

One of the nicest things about being a soldier, Lee had always thought, was the fact that he had easy access to guns. The problem was where he'd put them. It had been so long since he'd last had to use them, and he'd put them away somewhere in order to keep himself from doing something stupid, like wasting his ammo or putting a bullet through his own head.

The figure outside continued to draw near.


He nearly tripped over his boot laces when he launched to his feet, lunging for the cabinet that stood against the far wall. He hadn't used his rifle in a long while -- the last time had been when he'd tried to shoot down a vulture to harvest for meat, until he realized that he didn't know the first thing about curing meat, and he didn't want to deal with a rotting corpse that he couldn't finish off. But he'd last left it in that cabinet, hadn't he? With all the ammo?

No. The cabinet was empty.

Outside, the sound of the shopping cart wheels grinding against the dirt was growing close. He could almost hear the sound of heavy breathing. Or was that just his imagination? What if he was being too loud? Would they be able to hear him? Would they be able to tell he was in here?

Lee swore quietly and lunged for one of the other cabinets. There were quite a few cabinets around the tower interior because soldiers who stayed up here were supposed to keep their belongings in good order. Not that Lee had stuck to those rules. He couldn't remember which cabinet the guns were in. He'd put them on a higher shelf, he remembered, so it would take more effort to grab them if he ever had suicidal urges -- but now that he needed them, where the hell were they?

The harsh grind of shopping cart wheels against grit was starting to get on his nerves, and Lee muttered a steady stream of profanities as he went from cabinet to cabinet, searching through whatever contents they held. One cabinet spilled forth a set of comparatively clean clothes -- a size too big, and sprinkled with dust -- and he left them sprawled on the floor as he dug through the pile of Kevlar vests and riot armor jumbled in the other cabinet. Why the fuck were there so many sets of armor?

Outside, the shopping cart had ground to a halt, and there was silence.

Then, a voice.

"Is anyone there?"

Lee found the M-4 carbine in the corner cabinet, buried under a mass of crumpled up files and papers that were starting to rot with moisture and mold. It took a moment longer to find a cartridge, and while he was trying to jam it into the appropriate slot, a call came wafting up through the balcony window.

"Hello? I can hear you're there."

A pause. He could hear the shifting of wheels against the grit outside.

What if they found his can opener? He'd kill this person and get it back. That can opener was his. Not theirs. Finally managing to get the gun properly loaded, he promptly lay on his stomach and began the long crawl towards the balcony. No point in providing an easy target for this person, if they had a gun. Crawling with a gun was always a clumsy business, and he was pretty sure that he was tracking additional dirt all over his shirt, but that wasn't the main priority here.

There was no way he was going down without a fight.