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Guide for PZ fanfic and demonstration story - "The one thing I wasn't ready for"

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I've had an idea bouncing around both in my head and with a couple other fanfic writers regarding a sort of guide for others who're thinking of creating stories for PZ. In short, a short-and-simple way to determine the level of disorder at any particular location that is meant to be of significance to the characters and/or the plot, both so one can focus more on actual writing instead of deciding "is this place a Big Deal or not really" and also to avoid either bogging down too much on an unimportant place or skimming over one that really should be of more significance. The original inspiration came from the Richter scale for measuring earthquakes for a couple reasons: first because it has a very simple numerical scale for measuring wide-scale destruction (as would happen in the world of PZ) but also for the easily-understandable and meaningful descriptions that came with each level.

 

So without further ado, the guide and an accompanying short story as a demonstration.
# - Title - Description


1. "Left Behind" - The area or building is not only completely undamaged by any outside sources such as vandalism, looting, or weather but also any inside sources such as gas heating or pipes backed up. Machinery and appliances are all completely operable if supplied with the necessary resources (electrical power, water supply, etc.) with very minimal or no repairs required. Furniture is not rearranged or knocked over. No attempt has been made to secure supplies or store any equipment.  Shelves and storage compartments/cabinets are totally undisturbed and may be unlocked, no damage from attempts at forced entry. Most or all doors and windows are unlocked. General appearance is that the occupants have just stepped outside for a minute.


2. "Be Right Back" - Minor, mostly cosmetic wear-and-tear on furniture and appliances consistent with everyday use. No more than very minimal amount of littering or clutter. Exterior doors and windows may be unlocked but garage doors are closed. Most items in the building remain.


3. "In Absentia" - Counters and tables cleared, partially empty containers or fridges. No major structural damage or obvious evidence of forced entry. Possibly some short left behind about seeing why a phone call is not being answered or a delivery not made.


4. "You Can't Take It With You" - Signs of hasty packing or removal of items, somewhat like preparing for a vacation in a great hurry. Obvious 'stashes' may be left behind, notes on fridges/doors/whiteboards/etc. that indicate suspicion of a civil disorder or other disaster in progress. Televisions and radios left on and turned to low-moderate volume to a popular  channel such as a news station. *This is presumed to be the 'default' state of most buildings in Project Zomboid.*


5. "Some Things Missing" - Some furniture knocked over or moved, some interior doors left open and possibly one or more exterior doors/windows broke open. Moderate looting of containers by previous occupants or others with noncritical items such as books, game consoles, etc. being notably untouched.


6. "Some Things Gone Wrong" - Obvious signs of violence such as bloodstains, bullet holes, etc. Fixtures and furniture may be damaged. Most items have been removed. Evidence of forced entry (ie; a broken open door) or improvised entry (ie; through an unlocked window or a sheet rope through a skylight). Large-print signs or notes written under extreme duress, generally attempting to warn the reader of danger or indicating a rally point/evacuation route.


7. "Vacant" - Interior completely empty of all items smaller than minor furniture such as chairs, paintings, etc - area has been systematically looted of everything that can easily be moved. All containers and shelves have been emptied except for possibly a very few large/heavy items. Interior doors damaged or broken.


8. "Ruins of the Modern Age" - Serious damage to interior and exterior. Most if not all doors are completely broken and windows are smashed. Building or area may be partially damaged by fire. Likely to have been completely looted of all supplies of any real use. Blood/gore on walls and floors, warning messages such as "RUN" or "ALL DEAD" may be written or carved into available surfaces. Staircases may be so badly damaged that travel to higher floors or down to basement levels may be impossible or extremely dangerous - elevators are unusable even if the building has power.


9. "All But Gone" - Severe damage to building overall, few if any useful items remain of any kind or size. Floors and surfaces heavily cluttered and dirty, graffitti may be common. Furniture is heavily damaged or destroyed, paintings and other items hung on walls torn down or missing.


10. "What once was" - Building or area is unrecognizable from its original state due to extreme damage; gutted by fire and/or collapsed due to severe structural damage. Only the first floor of the building is accessible and traversing it is dangerous due to the extensive amount of debris. Almost nothing is intact or has its contents undamaged. No appliances or fixtures are usable.

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"The one thing I wasn't ready for"

An original short story

 

The road going up the last hill seemed even steeper than I remembered. What had once been merely an annoyance in the summer and an obstacle in the winter was now a dizzyingly-high strip of asphalt that seemed to wind up the side of a mountain. As I suspected it was blocked, although with a single semitruck that had 'jacknifed' across the narrow two-lane road instead of a morass of smaller cars, leaving thick swaths of rubber trailing behind it. Leaving my battered old car in the deserted parking lot of the gas station at the bottom of the hill, I began walking up with a sense of grim duty. I didn't know what I'd find at my destination...except what I didn't want to.

 

As I approached the wreck I noticed that somehow it had managed to wedge itself between a retaining wall on one side and the splintered remains of a young oak tree on the other. The power poles were still up and I dared hope that the power might still be on in this neighborhood for just a little while longer as I walked around the front of the truck, hatchet in hand. No sound of anything living or otherwise came from the ruined cab except the soft whistle of a spring breeze blowing through the shattered windows. The crusty red rivers running down the dirty tan sides of the door dissuaded me from taking a peek inside as I picked my way through the gnarled shrubs along the roadside.

 

The way forward was clear as far as I could see. What windows didn't have curtains pulled down didn't have any movement behind them, no figures stood aimlessly among the once well-kept front lawns. One by one I passed by my old neighbors: the Jorgensons on my left...the Pattersons just down a side street....the Browns at the bend...yet nothing stirred. No furtive scuttles came from the bushes, no hellish groans issued from the buildings that had once been called 'home'. I knew better than to call out even as my heart ached to do so. After the past three weeks I thought I had seen enough hell to be ready for anything at all. But this place was still different despite my pitiful attempts at putting on a brave face. This had been where I rode my bike down the sidewalks faster than I really should. This had been the street I'd learned to know meant safety and comfort.

 

And the lime-green house just past the top of the hill had been my childhood home. I'd arrived. I couldn't have even said why I'd come, except that I just had to. I had to stop in front of the plastic mailbox and look inside. I had to walk up the driveway, trying not to look at the ancient tan-and-silver van that sat forlornely in the corner. I had to take step by awful step towards the front door with the gentle scent of mother's favorite flowers in the little rock garden wafting up to a nose that had almost forgotten a pleasant smell. Then at last I had to stand in front of the door I'd opened and closed for half my life, looking at the peep-hole with a feeling that somehow the house itself was scrutinizing me, wondering why I'd come back.

 

I pulled out the battered, cheap flip phone from my back pocket and dialed the number I knew by heart. Though the screen had been broken under the feet of a shambling horror, it could still make calls and by some greater mercy some of the cell towers were still working after the landlines . And I risked everything as I shakily tapped out ten numbers and the green button.

 

One ring. The faintest hint of a sound came from inside, and my heart sank.

Two rings.

Three.

Four.

 

Then the voice. It cut through my very soul to hear it. The cheery voice that had just a touch of absentmindedness from old age, inviting me to leave a message. That voice that meant so many things to me for so long....hands suddenly shaking, I shut the phone too hard and tried not to sink to my knees as I blinked back a river of tears. Choked back a sob. As a million memories assaulted my wounded soul I tried desperately to think rationally. Nothing seemed to be responding to the noise of the phone inside. With a burst of desperate energy I ran around back down the sidewalk, past the garage door, around the side of the house and burst into the backyard to find...nothing at all. For a moment I stood there foolishly, gazing out across the scruffy green grass, past the trim shed, off the far distance. All was still. At the limits of my vision I could just barely make out chalky-grey smoke coming from the edges of the business district, in the direction of the Super-Mart. At least my decision to not continue on down the road towards it was likely vindicated.

 

Forlornly, I walked with slumped shoulders down the weathered concrete squares. The split-log porch swing where my sister had said "I will" to her proposing boyfriend had been moved under the deck to keep it out of the rain, and I gingerly sat down on the half-hearted excuse that I was tired and should listen for noises coming from inside. But as I more drooped into than sat on the old swing, I more listened to the sounds that came pouring across my memory. Sizzling of hamburgers, laughter and shouts, hilariously off-key singing as marshmallows roasted. As a moment threatened to turn into eternity, I forced myself to stand up and creep toward the back door, rummaging for the brass key around my neck.

 

clickclack-sha-tunk.

 

With a hearty push it swung open. and I stepped a world I'd left behind in another lifetime. And despite enduring so much in so little time I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw as my foot crossed the threshold.

 

There was nothing broken or upturned. No bloodstains or graffiti on the walls. Everything was exactly the same as I'd left it.

 

My hard-learned survival instincts failed me for a moment. The gleaming survival axe in my hand dangled from an arm that suddenly went limp as a wet noodle. I struggled to breathe instead of weep as I trudged ahead as though walking through maple syrup, with my mind ten years behind a body that suddenly felt every suppressed ache and pain return with a vengeance. Dimly I walked through the rooms one by one as an explorer venturing into the tomb of the Pharaohs with barely enough sense to not turn on the lights.

 

Closest to me was my sister's old room - the place I could count on both hands the times I'd been in. Her bedsheets were tucked in as neatly as in 20 years past, with not even a dent in the pillow to remind me of the angel who'd once slept in it. The corkboard which held years of doodles from kindergarten on now bore one final piece of art atop the rest: a glossy photograph of her standing radiant in a wedding dress. All the shelves were bare of knickknacks and the closet devoid of clothes. Everything had gone to her new home, as it should have, and I closed both a physical door and a mental one behind me as I turned to leave. There was no point returning to the empty cocoon of the beautiful butterfly long gone. In a survival situation where I needed to not break down mentally and locate as many useful items as possible, it offered nothing but useless grief.
 

I took a few steps toward the bathroom with the hope of enjoying a functioning shower when I came face-to-face with something I knew so well: the door to my bedroom with its signature sign warning of the 'attack cat' who was long since gone. I couldn't help but let out a whimper as I brushed open the door to a sight even more painful: my room. Or rather, what had been my room.

 

My once-favorite place was now even emptier than my sister's; even the bed was a bare mattress. Not only were the wall decorations gone but every stick of furniture besides the bedframe and a single dresser were still back at my apartment, which now made them as irretrievable as if they'd been left behind on Mars. Even if the roads were clear (which they likely weren't) and if I could wrestle them into the ancient van (if it still started) and if I didn't attract a horde of monsters in the process (which I probably would) it would use up an entire day in a situation where every waking hour had to be spent with cold calculation toward survival.

 

The very thought tore at my soul as I stared at the concrete floor where my favorite desk had stood with drawers full of prized electronic gear and games and music. Both the desk and everything in it were casualties of this new war, a war against a menace I barely even understood. Even the long-unused fishing gear in the closet was pointless with the nearest lake so far away through dangerous territory. About the most useful item was a giant magnifying glass that I could use to start a fire with...if I had anything to cook or any fuel to cook with.

 

Painfully aware of all the hard facts that faced me at once I dumped my bulging backpack and flopped back on the bed that I once joked was my best friend. I felt like an empty bottle, a spent cartridge. My last thin hope of contact had been cut. If mother didn't have her cell phone and wasn't home I had no more chance of finding my parents than I had of finding anyone else. The world hadn't ended when it should have, like a disaster movie that kept going on and on instead of rolling the credits. A holocaust without guards or camps that never ended.

 

The room was comfortably warm if a bit stuffy so I opened the window enough to both get a breeze going and keep an ear out for sounds of danger. Pushing that painful reminder of reality out of my mind, I lied back with my dirty boots carefully hanging off the end of the mattress, staring at the ceiling painted to look like clouds floating by. I knew I was being foolish, wasting precious time and occupying somewhere before clearing it completely. I knew full well that one of the upstairs rooms might still hide a 'stalker', silently waiting. But for just one precious moment if I closed my eyes I was back. Back when I was young and the world was bright. Back to taking a spring nap on my bed on a peaceful day.

 

 

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