February is Women in Horror Month, an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Check out the hashtag WiHM8 for plenty of suggestions. Or if you have the stomach for stronger fair, our sister show Pseudopod.
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Why I’m Asking for an Extension on my Paper
by Jennifer Hykes
Hi, Professor Brandt? It’s me, Lauren, from your morning lecture? I know this call is really last minute, and I know you don’t normally grant extensions for “anything short of the apocalypse,” but would you be willing to make an exception? Friday’s storm knocked out my power. My computer went offline literally as I sat down to type! And then the zombies surrounded the house, and between them and the genie and little girls crash-landing on my roof and my housemate’s crazy cat making a general nuisance of himself, my weekend was pretty much shot.
Wait, let me back up.
So, yes, the zombie outbreak. I didn’t even know it was happening till they tore right through my housemate’s vegetable garden and knocked over her bean trellises. I could just hear them moaning “Braaaains . . . braaaaaaiins . . .” when the first one crashed through the screen door and onto the front porch.
Luckily it was just the one, so I grabbed the snow shovel and smacked it upside the head as hard as I could. (FYI, if you ever have to fight a zombie, wear a raincoat or an apron or something. They don’t warn you about that, but trust me. It’s very messy.) Anyway, after it stopped moving I had to secure the front porch, but more zombies spotted me through the storm windows and started shuffling towards the house. So then I had to dead-bolt all the doors and barricade the entire house. You know how that is.
Not that Fuzz helped. He’s my housemate’s cat, and between the thunder and the zombies, he was in a frenzy. He kept bolting around the house and getting underfoot, and I almost dropped a chair on him. Twice!
So that took most of the afternoon. But I finally shoved the last bookshelf in place, and most of the zombies lost interest and wandered off. Oh sure, they made the occasional passing thump at the walls after that, but there wasn’t really any effort behind it.
So I called my housemate to make sure she wasn’t dead (or undead). No, she’d been on campus when the outbreak happened, and was holed up in one of the library shelters. The storm made it impossible for her to come pick me up, and it wasn’t safe enough for me to make a run for my car. But she was pretty sure this would just be a weekend thing, and that I shouldn’t worry too hard. And could I feed her cat?
So I was stuck. But you know, there are worse things than being trapped in a creaky old rental house during a blackout, surrounded by the walking dead. As my mom always says, life is what you make it!
So I made dinner, lit some candles, pulled out a notebook, and sat down to write the paper with a good old-fashioned pencil
Well, Fuzz wasn’t having that. He kept jumping on the dining room table and trying to get to my food, and it’s the one place in the house where he is NOT allowed to go. I couldn’t get any work done because I had to keep shooing him off every ten seconds! At least the genie fixed that problem, but–
Wait, let me back up.
My housemate collects antique knick-knacks. They’re kind of everywhere. I was double-checking the basement windows when I found this lamp that had been knocked off a shelf, probably by Fuzz. It was one of those old-timey, hand-held oil lamps, a little rusty but still intact. I guess it was pretty, in a vintage sort of way. The kind of lamp my mom would hang in the garden with tea lights stuck inside, like it was a little fairy house. Not that any fairies would move in, since they don’t exist. Everybody knows that.
Anyway, the lamp. It was covered in cobwebs and dust, so I wiped it down with a tissue and suddenly hovering before me was a beefy, tiger-striped man with large gold hoop earrings and a curly black beard. Below the waist, he was nothing but orange-colored smoke.
I said hello. I’d never met a genie before, but it never hurts to be polite.
“Hello,” he boomed. Just like that. His voice nearly knocked me over, it was so loud and deep.
He told me his name was al-Bobby. I asked him (obviously) if he could grant wishes. He sighed and looked kind of bothered, but he said he did. Well, I didn’t have to think too hard for my first wish. I asked for no more zombies.
“Done,” he said. Just like that.
So I went upstairs to the living room, shoved a bookshelf aside and peered out the window. And the streets were still full of the walking dead. “Hey, I thought you granted my wish!” I said.
“I did,” he said. “There are no more zombies.”
Yes, I know. I probably should have put more thought into the wording.
So around this time, Fuzz walked in, hissed at the genie, and jumped onto the dining room table. I shooed him off with a folded-up magazine, but he was in one of his annoyingly persistent moods and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I grabbed the water bottle and spritzed him, and I said, “Geez, I wish you’d just stay off the dining room table!”
You can see where this is going.
“Done,” said al-Bobby. Ten seconds later, when Fuzz made his next attempt, there was a snap like really loud static. And then he leapt screeching across the room, landing on the papasan in an angry ball of fur and claws.
Well, Fuzz certainly never tried to touch the table again.
But now I’d wasted my second wish. I started thinking about the things I could use my third wish for: world peace, returning electricity to the city, feeding Africa, paying off my student loans–you know, the obvious. But al-Bobby started to seep back into his lamp like a water faucet filmed in reverse.
So I told him I hadn’t thought of my third wish yet.
He raised an eyebrow and gave me this long-suffering look. “But you only get two wishes,” he tells me.
“What?” I said. “I thought genies granted three wishes!”
“I never said that,” said al-Bobby. And he curled up into a tiny puff of smoke, and the lamp sucked him back in.
So there I was. The power was still off, and the zombies outside were starting to make a racket with nightfall coming on. I ended up barricading myself in the upstairs room with Fuzz, the lamp, and anything from the kitchen that could conceivably be used as a weapon. I did try to get some writing done on the paper with a heavy-duty camp light, but I fell asleep after three pages. It had been a long day.
I woke up to a high-pitched scream, followed by a crash from the backyard and the thud of something heavy hitting the roof. I was all, “Whah?” But there was dead silence.
Then something tapped at my bedroom window.
At first I thought that some especially smart and coordinated zombie had climbed up onto the roof of the front porch. I slipped quietly out of bed and fumbled in the dark for a weapon. But then a young voice started calling for help.
Well, zombies are notorious for their one-word vocabularies. So I pulled back the dresser that was blocking the window, and looked outside. Standing on the porch roof in bright morning sunlight was a little girl who couldn’t have been more than nine years old, rapping the pane with her fingers. At least half a dozen zombies were pounding on the porch beneath her, trying to make a grab at her ankles. Her cheeks still held “the rosy blush of life” that all the safety videos tell you to look for, so I opened the window and pulled her inside.
One of the zombies had gotten halfway onto the roof, and latched onto her ankle with a rotting gray hand. The girl screamed. I grabbed the heaviest thing at hand (a thick hardcover book), lunged halfway out the window and slammed it down on its grabby undead fingers. After a few good whacks, the thing disengaged, and then I threw the book as hard as I could at its head, knocking it back off the roof. By now, zombies up and down the street had seen the movement and started shuffling towards the house. I climbed back inside, shut and locked the window, and shoved the dresser back into place, hoping they had short attention spans.
Anyway, that was how I lost my copy of Politics of Medieval Europe which, up until last night, had been one of my primary research sources. Most of my notes were written on sticky notes and pieces of loose-leaf tucked in its pages. But I’m sure you agree that the girl’s safety was more important. Besides, the notebook with my partial first draft was still tucked safely away in my canvas book bag.
Yes, the girl was still alive, thank goodness. She told me her name was Jenny Wren. She was dressed in the clothes of a Pulp-era pilot, with a petite bomber jacket, leather flight cap and goggles. Honey-colored curls stuck out from beneath her cap. I asked her how she’d gotten onto my roof.
She pushed her goggles up on her forehead. “I crashed,” she said. “My aircraft lost power, and I fell.”
She looked pretty unfazed for a girl who’d literally hit the roof. “Did you have a parachute on?” I asked.
Her button nose wrinkled. She looked as if I’d just offered her a big old slice of asparagus pie. “I don’t need a parachute,” she said firmly. “I’m a fairy. We don’t use parachutes.”
Well, of course she wasn’t a fairy. Fairies were disproved in Weisenheimer’s famous studies back in the 1950’s. Everybody knows that. She was just a nine-year-old girl who’d been on a plane, and someone had put a parachute on her and thrown her out when it started to crash, and she’d landed on the roof and discarded the parachute and repressed her traumatic memories with a pleasant little story about being a fairy. I’d taken a psychology course once.
But traumatized kid or not, she had just landed on my roof in the middle of a zombie outbreak. I had to take care of her. I took her downstairs to get her something to eat or drink. I didn’t have much, but I did have a gas stove, and a full fridge which was probably (hopefully) still cool on the inside.
“Milk would be nice,” she said, perking up.
Well, we might as well use the milk while it was still drinkable. I grabbed a couple of mugs, but Jenny Wren–well, I kid you not, she poured the milk into a bowl, topped it with an alarming amount of sugar from the pantry, stirred it all together, and drank up the resulting mixture in delicate, tea-party sips.
“We need to get my aircraft back,” she said, after she’d downed about half the bowl.
I just felt so bad for her. She couldn’t admit what had happened. “I don’t think it landed anywhere near here,” I said, in my best calm adult voice. “We’ll have to wait till the zombies are gone.”
“It’s in the backyard,” she said.
Well, I had heard a crash from the backyard, but I knew it wasn’t a plane. That’s kind of hard to miss, you know? Just to keep her quiet (I don’t know a thing about kids), I humored her and looked out the back window around the edge of a bookshelf, and there sat a bright red wagon tilted on its side. Big cardboard wings were taped to its rim.
“There it is!” she said. “We have to go get it before the zombies take it apart!”
“The wagon?” I asked.
“Of course the wagon!” she said, rolling her eyes. “It’s my aircraft. It’s what I use to fly.”
I must not have looked very convinced, because she added, “I’m the fairy of childhood ambition.”
So the parents must have thrown her wagon out of the plane with her. It could happen.
“You really don’t want to run out there and get it, do you?” I asked. But I had a sinking feeling that was exactly what she wanted.
“The kitchen door leads right into the backyard,” she said, “and there aren’t too many zombies, and they’re slow. I could run out there and get it if I’m fast.”
Believe me, I would much rather have been working on my paper.
But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. If I refused, she might try it herself when I wasn’t looking. So I rubbed the lamp and called al-Bobby. He hovered over the kitchen table, nose deep in a worn copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
“I know you’ve already granted me two wishes,” I said, “but Jenny and I were going to run outside and try to get her wagon, and I was wondering if you could–well–do me a favor? Could you make sure no zombies get in? Please?”
He peered at me over the book and slowly raised one eyebrow. “I don’t make any promises.”
“So . . . yes or no?”
He sighed. “It’s not a no,” he said.
Good enough. I thanked him, peered through the window again, and reached for the doorknob. “Ready?”
Jenny nodded. I opened the door and the two of us dashed out into the backyard. The zombies saw us and began shuffling towards us, moaning “Braaaains . . . brrraaaaaiins!” like it was going out of style. They waved their graying leprous arms, dripping clumps of soil and unidentifiable goo as they moved.
Did I mention I brought the shovel out with me? That, and an apron.
I managed to take out a good three zombies while Jenny pulled the wagon upright and rolled it back to the house, cardboard wings and all. She yanked it into the kitchen with a loud metal clatter. I ran in after her, and tried to shut the door on several flailing zombie limbs. But more zombies came, adding their pounding and kicking to the general mess of rotting appendages. Fuzz jumped at one half-decayed arm and clamped down with his kitty fangs like a little champ, not that it helped any. But then al-Bobby slammed his big upper body against the door. It slammed shut with a squelching crack, and several arms and feet dropped to the floor.
It was super gross. But we were all alive. And Jenny Wren was happy to have her wagon back, and more than willing to help clean up the mess on the linoleum. She even said she owed me a boon for helping a fairy in need. I humored her.
Well, after all that commotion, the undead were homing in on the house in droves, pounding on the walls and scratching at the windows. We spent most of the day on zombie-watch, reinforcing the barricades and making sure nothing broke in. To pass the time, al-Bobby told us stories about old Arabia and the Victorian explorer, Professor Something-or-other, who had dug up his deteriorating lamp and given him a new one. Jenny Wren made up some pretty fantastic stuff about how fairies were tired of being typecast as two-inch-high butterfly people who dressed in flowers and leaves, and how they were actively trying to change their image. “We move with the times like anyone else,” she said, wrinkling her little snub nose again. Which was adorable, coming from a little girl in a 1940s costume.
Fuzz had found his way onto Jenny Wren’s lap, and was purring like a lawnmower. She petted him between the ears.
“He’s a very clever cat, you know,” she said.
“I prefer the term maddening,” I said. Not that I could stay mad at the cute little furball. Fuzz was a small, scrawny cat, all legs and big kitten eyes. He hadn’t grown a bit since my housemate found him at the animal shelter a year ago. And he was a mutt all the way. His fur had almost every conceivable pattern: tortoiseshell, tabby stripes, the occasional white patch or leopard spots. His face was a harlequin mask of colors. It looked as if he couldn’t decide what kind of cat he wanted to be. Which makes sense, considering–well, you’ll see.
Anyway, the zombies did start to clear up this morning. Sure there were a few scattered here and there, being herded and taken out by policemen in zombie riot gear. I shoved a bookcase slightly away from a window so I could watch the action, but I lost my taste for it pretty quickly. I knew it’d be cleared up by Monday anyway, and I’d seen enough zombie gore to last me all year.
So there I was on a Sunday morning, in a house surrounded by the last desperate undead, with a used-up genie, a troublesome cat, a girl with delusions of glamour, and an unwritten ten-page paper on the politics of late medieval Europe due in 24 hours. And the power was still out.
I mean, I had a few pages of a rough first draft in my book bag. But my primary source (along with most of my notes) had been tossed out the window and torn apart by zombies. And there wasn’t much chance that classes would be cancelled–not for a weekend zombie outbreak.
So I rubbed the lamp and asked al-Bobby for advice. He was really sour about it. He’d already done one favor for me, he said, and that was enough. He also said that if I wanted help, I ought to ask Jenny Wren, since she still owed me one.
Well, I didn’t expect that Jenny Wren could help much, but she was standing right there and watching. So I asked her if she had any suggestions.
“You should call your professor and ask for an extension,” she said.
So I told her I couldn’t contact you without power. All your contact info was on the computer, and my phone was long dead.
She thought about it. “If you need help with the paper itself,” she said, “I recommend kissing the cat.”
I know, right? But that’s what she told me. I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared at her.
“Kiss the cat,” she repeated, shrugging. “It might help with your paper.”
This may sound strange, but at that point, I figured why not? And I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I picked up Fuzz, and gave him a quick peck on his harlequin forehead.
And suddenly, in my arms was not a cat but a startled young man in a gold-threaded tunic and leggings. I was stunned. We stood there looking at each other for half a minute, and that was when the zombies came crashing through the front door.
This was entirely my fault. I’d exposed one of the windows to watch the clean-up crew, and a few of the zombies, harried by policemen and spotting movement inside the house, decided to go for one last shot at vulnerable brains.
Jenny screamed and ran for the computer room. The young man shoved me out of the way, pulled a sword out of a long jeweled sheath and started hacking at corpses, all while screaming something about “protecting the fair lady,” by which I guess he meant me. I was too stunned to move, until I noticed a few of the zombies shuffling towards Jenny and the computer next to her–which powered on with a click and a buzz, as all the lights came on.
Something snapped in me. I grabbed a folding chair and dove into them, smashing the chair into any head or rib cage or limb that I saw, keeping their clammy, grasping fingers far away from the computer and the little girl. I didn’t even have an apron, but I didn’t care.
But the zombies were tougher than I thought, and they had numbers. One of them yanked the chair from my hands and another grabbed my arm and squeezed it so tight I thought it would break. I really thought I was done for, and then there was a great flash of hot light, and the zombies started screeching. There was the prince, waving an actual flaming sword. Inside the house! One of the creatures caught on fire, screamed and threw itself through the nearest window. The others followed, retreating as fast as their shambling corpse-bodies would allow.
They were gone. We were all intact, and the computer sat untouched, waiting patiently for my login. Jenny Wren smiled, and the young man smiled, and I didn’t smile because I saw what he had actually set on fire. Speared onto the tip of his sword was a charred, smoldering canvas shape.
My book bag.
The prince, looking way too pleased with himself, started on this spiel about how I’d broken some curse and how he was indebted to me or something. I thwapped him with the magazine.
Jenny Wren looked out the exposed window. “Well, looks like the street’s clear,” she said, all cheer, as if my last hopes for getting this paper done on time hadn’t just gone up in literal smoke. “Thanks so much for letting me stay here!” She pulled off her flight cap, ran a petite hand through her honey-colored curls, then slid the cap back on. It did look like her ears came to tiny points. But I was really upset with the prince at the time, and was probably imagining things.
Jenny Wren offered al-Bobby a place in her wagon for as long as he liked, so he could get out and see the world after being cooped up in that lamp for so long. He perked right up and said sure, he’d love to. So she put his lamp in the wagon, said her good-byes, and before I could stop her, she left to “find a good hill” to “take off from,” her wagon rolling loudly behind her on the porch and clattering down the front steps.
So that’s why I won’t have my paper finished by tomorrow. I could probably get it to you no later than Thursday morning, though. Prince Frederick says he’d be honored to give me advice and even first-person accounts on my topic, so I believe a little delay will be well worth it. The prince says “Greetings,” by the way. Yes. He’s eating dinner now in the kitchen, since he can’t go near the dining room table.
Yes. Uh-huh . . . uh-huh.
You will? Oh, THANK you, Dr. Brandt! Thank you SO much! I really appreciate it. Thank you for hearing me out.
Oh hey, Dr. Brandt? I just got a text from my housemate. I need to go. Now that the weather and the zombies have cleared, she’ll be right over on her broomstick and I’m going to have to explain to her why she’ll need a new cat.
Anyway, I hope you had a nice weekend. Thanks again! Good-bye!
About the Author
Jennifer Hykes lives with her husband and two cats just outside of Pittsburgh. She is fond of books, moonlight, and good yarns, both in the narrative and fiber sense. Her stories have appeared in Abyss & Apex, PodCastle, and Betwixt.
She is fairly certain that the cats are not enchanted princes, but it is sometimes hard to tell with these things.
About the Narrator
Dani Daly is a former assistant editor of Cast of Wonders, and narrating stories is just one of the things she loves to do. She’s a retired roller derby player and current small batch soap maker, for instance. Soaps and balms from StoryTime Soap Company are crafted while listening to audio fiction of all sorts. She rants on twitter as @danooli_dani, if that’s your thing. Or you can visit the EA forums, where she moderates the Cast of Wonders boards.