A Prolonged Breath

Abandoned sofa on a vacant lot

A Prolonged Breath

He taught me how to read people’s eyes. And he taught me how to shoot a gun. Two crucial skills in this fucked-up world we now inhabit.

When the infection first showed up, it was nothing like the movies would have you believe. It didn’t spread like wildfire. It didn’t wipe out technology or turn us into savages. It was like any other outbreak. There was news coverage of the places that were hit, panels of media pundits debating CDC specialists about how the infection would spread, immunologists discussing the possibility of a cure, and footage of various fringe groups declaring that the end was nigh.

We watched it spread on the television and on our computers and smartphones. We were so cocky back then. All of us. We thought we could beat it, or that it would somehow respect international borders and remain in faraway places, where we sent monthly donations to alleviate our guilt.

Late one night, as we watched footage of the infected, he nudged me and pointed at the screen. “You can see it in their eyes.”

He was right.

The movies were also wrong about how the infection worked. You couldn’t tell if someone was infected right after they were bitten. The parasite had to make its way into your bloodstream and then across the blood-brain barrier, where it burrowed into your prefrontal cortex and got to work. You would only know four to eight hours later if someone was infected, and even then, the parasite was very good at manipulating its host. Infected people didn’t walk slowly. They didn’t foam at the mouth. They weren’t undead and they didn’t stink of decay. But they did want to tear you apart and consume your flesh. And the parasite at the helm did everything it could to get its host close enough to do just that.

Infected people didn’t talk. That was one way to identify them. But we tend to make excuses when it comes to the people we care about. You might let a silent person get too close. And then it’s too late.

But if you look in their eyes.

“There’s no person in those eyes,” he said. He’d printed a dozen images from the Internet, laid them side-by-side. Infected next to non-infected. “Do you see how vacant their eyes are? See how dilated their pupils are?”

I must have studied those pictures a hundred times before the infection crossed the water. When it finally reached our town, we were ready.

We stayed alive, joining forces with our neighbors and other survivors. We moved when we had to and holed up whenever we could. Over time, our numbers grew smaller and smaller, until it was just us again. Sitting side by side on someone else’s couch, a thousand miles from home, and so many more from the life we used to know.

He begins to stir, dragging my attention back to the present. I watch him awaken, stretching his feet like he always does. My breath catches in my throat and I wait. He sits up and turns to look at me. But he’s not there.

Before the tears can blur my vision, I steady my gun and shoot my brother in the head.


This is my response to this week’s speakeasy,
over at yeah write, where we had to make some
reference to M. C. Escher’s lithograph, Waterfall,
and use the sentence “He taught me how to read
people’s eyes
.” as the first line in our piece.

Click the badge to read the other submissions or to learn more about
the speakeasy creative writing challenge.


Image credit: srok09 @ deviantART

Et al. vs. etc. in a Zombie Apocalypse


Et al. vs. etc. in a Zombie Apocalypse

In my editing work, I run into Latin hand-me-downs regularly. I’ve already discussed the difference between e.g. and i.e., so today I’d like to talk about the difference between et al. and etc., as well as when and where to use them.

When you see et al. in a document, you are looking at the abbreviated version of the Latin words et alii, which literally mean and others. Those others are always people, not things. Et al. is common in academic citations, where it’s used to indicate other researchers in a study with three or more authors. So, if you wanted to discuss a study on the zombie apocalypse that had three or more authors, your in-text citations would look something like this:

  • In their study on zombie-slaying methods, Grimes et al. (2014) found chopping off the head to be the most effective.
  • Researchers discovered that playing soothing music was “about as effective as poking an angry wolverine with a stick” (Dixon et al., 2014, p. 13).

In contrast, etc. is the abbreviated version of the Latin words et cetera, which mean and other things. In this case, those other things are never people. This particular hand-me-down pops up all over the place, and is often used incorrectly. Etc. should be used to indicate a bunch of things that are too numerous to list in their entirety; it shouldn’t be used after only one item. Here’s an example of correct usage (if we assume the participants were lab rats and not people):

  • In the Darabont longitudinal study, the attrition rate was off the charts and included participants such as Herschel, Andrea, Merle, Amy, Phillip, Otis, etc.

Okay, here’s a better example of correct usage:

  • Research indicates there are a number of effective weapons for killing zombies, such as an axe, a sword, a chainsaw, a sledgehammer, a really heavy rock, a flamethrower, a cricket bat, etc.

And here’s an example of incorrect usage:

  • In an interview, Darabont said he initiated the study “to examine the long-term societal impacts caused by zombies, etc.”

So I’ll leave you with a question: if we use et al. for people and etc. for things, which one would you apply to a bunch of zombies?


Linking up with this weekend’s
moonshine grid over at yeah write.

If you’re sitting on a great blog post
you’d like to share, you should link
up too!


Image credit: Jonomus @ deviantART


K is for…


Welcome back to my Vocabulary Series, dear readers! This week, we’re going to look at some nifty words that start with the letter K.

Before we get started, I want to remind you to check out the Speakeasy creative writing challenge. This month, in honour of the Halloween season, we’re asking our writers to bring us the best of their spooky, scary, and strange fiction and poetry. You might want to read during the daytime to help stave off the nightmares!

Without further ado, here is the first K word. I have always loved this word. It’s fun and I don’t think it gives you any idea about its meaning, even though it was supposedly named for the sound it makes.

Katydid (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in 1784 in American English. May have first been used by the American botanist John Bartram. The word derives from a phonetic description of the sound the male insect makes when rubbing its forewings together. Interestingly, the sound was more accurately transcribed in 1751 as catedidist.

Definition:   A large, typically green, insect from the grasshopper/bush-cricket family, native to North America; used to refer to any insect from the Tettigoniidae family.

Example:  Unfortunately, Mildred ignored the first clue that the zombie apocalypse had arrived. When Earl told her the katydids’ song sounded more like katybrains, she just thought he’d had too much gin.


This next word is another fun one to say out loud, and unlike katydid, it sounds exactly like its meaning.

Kerfuffle (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in Canadian English around 1930 to refer to a row or disturbance. Comes from the Scottish version, curfuffle, which was used by Scottish writers in 1813. Curfuffle was derived from the Scottish word fuffle, meaning to throw into disorder.

Definition:  A fuss or commotion, particularly one caused by conflicting views.

Example:  Only when the first zombie bit the Prime Minister did the other Members of Parliament realize the kerfuffle was more than just typical Question Period behaviour.


Finally, I give you this week’s bonus word. It was a new word to me and I absolutely love its second meaning.

Kinglet (noun)

Etymology:  The word king comes from the Old English word cyning, meaning ruler, which comes from the Proto-Germanic word kuninggaz. The diminutive suffix –let comes from Middle English, which in turn comes from the Middle French suffixes –el and –et, which come from the Latin suffixes –ellus and –ittus. As the name implies, diminutive suffixes indicate smallness or diminish the word they are attached to.

Definition:  One of several tiny North American warblers, including the goldcrest; a derogatory term for a minor or petty king.

Example:  Even with his new fearsome zombie status, Stephen would never be more than a brain-eating kinglet.


As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit: Google Images