Abandoned gas station (Formerly Nobody Sells Better Gas)
Matthew Traucht via Creative Commons

Details

First Appeared: T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog
Published: March 9, 2015
Byline: Paul A. Hamilton
Edited by: T. Gene Davis
Permanent Link: freesciencefiction.com
Cost: Free
Content: Rated G

Behind The Story

Zombie fiction has been¬†(ahem) clawing its way out of the horror niche for some time now. Of course, being a fan of the original niche, I¬†started out enjoying the resurgence in zombie-themed work. In the last ten or fifteen years we’ve had Max Brooks’s World War Z novel, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics¬†and the solid TV adaptation¬†on AMC, Valve’s Left¬†4 Dead video games and Capcom’s Dead Rising, plus¬†newer zombie films like Shaun Of The Dead and 28 Days Later, the Zombicide board game, et cetera. But even for a zombie-nut like myself, the sub-genre and its trappings have reached kind of a saturation point.

Which is why I initially had no intention of even trying to write a zombie story.

Perhaps that’s why when I first thought of a person who‚ÄĒfor reasons‚ÄĒwas either unpalatable to a horde of flesh-eating undead¬†or perhaps basically invisible to them, I almost rejected the idea out of hand. It seemed like a comedic notion, for one thing, and I’ve seen¬†enough “funny” zombies to know¬†that it’s not any more fresh than regular scary zombies.

But then I started thinking about how if there was someone surrounded by the living dead, they’d basically be alone¬†even if it felt like there were all these bodies around. So I shifted gears a little and rather than have the character be the catalyst for the zombies not posing a threat I asked what would happen if a zombie apocalypse came except it wasn’t some virus or voodoo or anything and in fact the zombies weren’t a threat at all. I imagined the loneliness of being around all these things that looked like¬†people¬†but they didn’t seem to even know you existed. And, of course, being somewhat socially¬†awkward, I realized I didn’t have to use too much imagination to picture this scenario at all.

So I had a metaphor that felt somewhat fresh in terms of the¬†zombie trope, but I needed a bit more tension to pull an actual story out of it. I had been thinking about some bits of data I’d been seeing¬†related to the aging population and the fact that puberty is happening at earlier ages which gave me the general impression of humanity becoming this childless, undying entity. So I stretched those ideas out and stitched them into my non-threatening zombie concept to create the setting for¬†this story I wanted to tell about loneliness.

When I sat down to write it, it was one of the first times I did so without a title in mind. I made my narrator/protagonist a rural farmer because it helped to solidify the fact that he was initially unconcerned with the developments of undead and a barren population. It seemed more poignant to have someone who maybe initially reveled in the forced isolation realize what that truly meant. I gave him a family because, injecting the requisite autobiographical note, I often think of myself as struggling in social contexts but I rarely feel lonely as long as I have my immediate family near. Plus, it provided the perfect hook to tear him down to his tragic low.

I wrote the scene with the gas station just as a beat before the sad event that informs the second half of the story, but thinking about the often-seen phrase “Self Service” really turned the page for my¬†theme. I mean, at least in most of the places I’ve traveled, the term self service is kind¬†of an anachronism. Full service fuel stations don’t even really exist anymore. They have self-checkout lines in grocery stores and hardware shops. Food is packaged to serve the individual and social conventions have us keeping everyone who isn’t well-known at a minimum safe distance, making sure there’s an empty seat between us in theaters and space behind us in lines.

I finished the story in about an hour. I spent¬†the next week or so workshopping, revising, and polishing it up. Then I submitted it to a market I had only recently discovered, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog (since moved to FreeScienceFiction.com). In less than three weeks¬†Mr. Davis responded with an acceptance. A couple of days later we had the contracts signed and the payment was rendered.¬†Almost one month to the day from when I completed first draft.

It’s not particularly common in my admittedly limited experience, but this was the fastest I’ve been able to churn my imagination directly into compensation. It was a wonderful, thrilling experience and I’m delighted to be appearing on Mr. Davis’s site. If only they were all this easy.

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