Concept Art Writing Prompt: Battle on the Zombie Playground

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: Battle on the Zombie Playground

This week's concept art writing prompt takes us back to the playground — but it might not be quite the way you remember it. Have an awesome story idea to go with this crazy painting? Write a piece of flash fiction and post it in the comments.

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This undead image comes from artist Jason Chan via reddit.

Here's my flash fiction response. Post yours in the comments:

The zombie parties were Mrs. Juniper's idea. Once Mabel Stevens came down with the zombie virus — the sallow eyes, the rabid, twitching jaw — Mrs. Juniper sent her son, Toby, across the street to play. Just one nibble, and the next day Toby was shambling downstairs for his Wheaties. Soon, the other parents joined in, dropping their children off for infectious playdates where they shared dishes of ice cream and brain-shapped lollipops with their undead classmates. When the children came home with bloody fingers and tooth-shaped bruises, their anxious mothers would smile and send them to bend with enormous plates of raw steak. Eventually, everyone gave up the pretense of quarantine and the playground became a daily display of wordless moans and gnashing teeth.

When Katrina Paulsen whined that she didn't want to play with "those gray-skinned freaks," her mother whirled around, tsking as she pointed a batter-coated spoon. "Kat-Kat," she said, "I taught you better than to judge people by the color of their skin."

Katrina stomped her foot. "I'm judging them by the color of their teeth!" she pouted. "Red, bloody teeth."

But despite Katrina's protests, her mother dumped her at the playground, promising to pick her up before dinner. "Play nice," her mother called from the window of the Subaru. "No hitting the other kids in the head."

It was totally unfair, Katrina thought. Her mother had left her completely unarmed, confiscating her slingshot on the way out the door. All the playground offered were whiffle ball bats and handfuls of sand. Hiding among the parents, she knew, would be no good. A well meaning mom was sure to ambush her with a virus-filled tissue across the face or a juicebox tainted with zombie backwash. Katrina stared stonily across the dead sea of Mrs. Kittredge's fourth grade class, trudging mindlessly through the sand. She saw Lissa Menkin, who had a tetherball caught beneath her armpit, forcing her to circle the pole again and again. Katrina fingered the candy stripe friendship bracelet around her own wrist and tried not to cry.

"Katrina!" a voice called out. Katrina's head snapped toward the high tower of the wooden playground, where four small figures waved down at her. What a relief to see children who could still raise their arms.

Katrina took a deep breath and waited for a clearing in the thicket of zombie children. When she saw it, she made a break for the slide. As she ran, she could pick out the kids at the top of the tower: Bobby Greggs, armed with a foam bat and a trash can lid, Farilee Todd, Zeke Bennington, and Tara Lee. Katrina noted with envy that Tara had managed to smuggle her slingshot onto the playground.

Katrina lept onto the slide that spiraled up to the tower. Her sneakers squeaked against the red plastic, and the noise did not go unnoticed. A crowd of tiny zombies gathered at the slide's mouth. Lissa's wriggling body was the first to fall upon the slide, her arms grasping up toward Katrina's legs, but soon a pile formed, all writhing arms and snapping mouths.

The live children at the top of the tower screamed at Katrina. "You've got!" Farilee cried. "Just a little closer!" Bobby shoved his bat beneath his arm and reached out to her with his free hand. Katrina pounded up the slide, relishing the burn in her lungs…

…until one foot failed to make contact.

The last sensation Katrina was conscious of was the static shock of her skin making contact with the slide.

Peter Cho stood with his mother in the Paulsen's kitchen, watching wide-eyed as Katrina shoveled a plateful of eggs into her mouth. He'd seen Katrina around school, but he didn't remember her being so dead-eyed. He caught her eye and she leaned forward, her mouth open, eggs spilling from her tongue. Peter pressed his body against his mother's.

Mrs. Paulsen looked at Mrs. Cho with a sympathetic smile. "I know it's not ideal," Mrs. Paulsen said. "But it's so much harder if they catch it when they're older."

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Adam stalked past the swing set, holding the baseball bat like a rifle. Jeremy came out from behind the slide, the dark brown of his skin giving him a natural camouflage. "Bang, bang!" He shouted, pointing something larger than a bat at his Caucasian friend.

Adam lowered the bat, conveniently forgetting the rules of the game when he got shot. "Where did you get that?"

Jeremy lifted the mop upright so they could both get a better look at it. "It was in a bucket near the bathrooms, the guy who was using it ran away."

Adam asked, "He ran from you?"

Jeremy shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it." He checked over his shoulder in the direction of the park's bathrooms. "Can we go back to playing soldier?"

"Sure." Adam nodded, puffing himself up to make sure the third grader knew how much taller he was for being a full year older. "You be my gunner."

Jeremy pouted. "Why can't I be the captain?" He held up the mop. "My stick is bigger."

Jeremy gave another nervous glance over his shoulder, and it made Adam nervous. He couldn't take it anymore. "Why do you keep looking over there?"

Before Jeremy could answer, Abigail and Sally ran up to them.

"There's monsters coming," shouted Sally.

Those two almost never wanted to play "run from the monster" with the boys anymore, and it made Adam even more nervous, but he decided to play along. "Alright, here I come." He dropped the bat and held his arms like a Velociraptor, letting out a dinosaur shriek.

"No, real monsters," insisted Sally.

Jeremy went closer to them. "You saw them too?"

Adam had to know what was going on. If it was some kind of trick, they were all in on it, and that bothered him. He ran to the top of the metal play structure, and he saw the group of kids over by the building with the bathrooms. They were probably from that strange school a couple blocks away, which his dad said was something called a "hippie" school, but they were playing a game that he had never seen before.

They wore face paint or something, and they moved with a strange stiffness, not like any dinosaur.

He slid down the spiral slide. When he looked behind him, Jeremy and the two girls were standing close together, watching him nervously. He shook his head at what babies they were being and went over to figure out what this new game was.

The closer he got, the more strange things seemed to be. There weren't any grownups around, but the kids were all focused on the same game, staggering around something in the center of the group, climbing over each other to grab bits of it with their hands.

"What's up?" he asked a little kid at the edge of the group. The kid turned and growled at him, but Adam wasn't getting scared away that easy. He realized whatever they were grabbing from the center of the group, this kid was putting it in his mouth. "What are you playing?" asked Adam.

The little kid came towards him and growled again. More of the strange kids turned away from the thing they were clustered around and came towards him. The crowd separated, and and he realized something was very wrong.

There had been a grownup there, but he was dead. The kids had been eating him.

Now they were coming after him. Adam backed up. He saw the trash can near by and grabbed the lid. They pressed against it, but it was just enough to keep them back.

He ran away, back to the slide, back to his friends.

Sally said, "I told you so," but not in the mean way she usually did.

Abigail nodded. "Zombies."

Adam looked at Jeremy. "Captain, what are your orders?"

Jeremy stepped out from behind the girls. He squinted and saw the strange kids coming for them all. "We need the high ground," he said.

Adam grabbed his baseball bat, and the four of them climbed up the slide, just as the wave of crazy kids from the hippie school reached the edge of the rubber mats.

They started to climb the bars of the play structure. They climbed the slide, and they started to make a moaning sound all at once.

Jeremy used the broom, trying to push them back down the slide. Sally pulled out a sling shot, and Abigail had gotten a brick from somewhere.

Adam held one of them back with the garbage lid, but there was another one coming up behind that one, with a dozen more behind them.

A whistle blew.

The zombies stopped and climbed down off the play structure. They filed up near the grownup who had blown the whistle.

"Recess is over," the teacher told them, and Adam was surprised to see that his face had the same strange color as the kids who started to follow him back to school.

Adam knew his dad was wrong. It wasn't a "hippie" school at all.

*Shameless plug for The Brain Ingredient, the zombie book I published this week.*