9 Apr 2010, 11:15am
brains travel writing
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Escape from Shmoopocolypse 2010

Or, “If Shmoocon 2010 was a Zombie Movie.”

It’s taken some time, and a whole lot of therapy, but I think I’m finally ready to talk about what happened.

Everyone’s heard of the great “snowpocalypse” in DC a few months back, the snowstorm that covered the east cost this last February. Most people don’t realize that this story is a government hoax; hiding something much darker than snow.

It did snow that weekend. Matt and I drove carefully into town, eager to attend Shmoocon, DC’s annual hacker convention. We checked into the hotel and brought our bags to the room. We were disappointed with the view, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for the convention. We scampered downstairs to the convention center, innocent and happy as ripe strawberries. Matt’s Utilikilt flapped merrily, alarming the other guests. How could we have known that our carefree time would soon come to an end? No one could have predicted it.

We went to see the keynote speaker, not a thought in our heads beyond computer p0wnage and chocolate tastings. Caught a session on cyborgs, with a deeper look into modern brain surgery. I think it was this focus on brains, and all the busy brains at work, that brought them.

Hanging out in the hotel restaurant during lunch break, one of the hackers started acting strange. More strange than usual for computer geeks I mean. Reader be warned: consuming a few too many Great Lakes Beers may push you to try things that are not wise. Our friend Tom Eston was lucky to escape with his life.

Matt and I left the bar, only a little uneasy, but we quickly realized things at the convention were spiraling out of control.

The government run media didn’t make up the snowstorm entirely. When we got to the doors, snow surrounded the building like trigger happy Blackwater mercs. There was no way out. Inside, hotel doors were exploding with groaning, staggering hackers. At first I thought they were drunk, normal enough at ten AM on a convention weekend, but then Larry Pesce took a bite out of poor Paul Asadoorian and I realized it must be more than normal hacker hijinks.

A crash and a sprinkling of glass made me look up. Fists smashed through the skylights, mindless of the cuts. Snow thundered down along with several battered people. They fell three stories to the atrium below. Then they got back up. That’s when I knew something was very wrong.

We hid behind a malfunctioning ATM machine for a while. I rocked in place, refusing to acknowledge what was happening. Eventually I had to accept the truth. ZOMBIES. We made a break for it.

In the first conference room we met friends: Tom Eston– still shaken from his close call, and Chris Clymer– oddly mesmerized by the corpses slumped in the audience seats. Jack Nichelson and his wife Kim. But our entrance awakened new monsters. These were quickly dispatched with typical hacker ingenuity but time was running out.

We had to find a way out of the hotel, out of DC.

From one end of the hotel to the other we fled, meeting blocked doors and drooling ex-hackers. The floor was littered with body parts, blood splattered the walls. Each turn brought fresh foes, but finally we had a moment of peace to think.

Matt remembered our hotel room. Our lousy view.

Minds on escape, we rushed to the fire stairs. I fumbled with the hotel key, terrified that another zombie would find us exposed.

Luck was with us. We spilled into the hotel room, sped to the window. It was alright. No zombies had found the roof yet, and though the snow was quickly piling up, there was room to climb out. Just.

Fortunately, all hotels in DC have helipads, and the helicopter keys were in the ignition. Chris quickly read through the manual we found beneath a seat and Tom took the controls.

Hanging out the open doors, Kim and I got a great view of the city, but the ride didn’t last as long as we might have hoped. “We’re out of gas!” Matt screamed over the roar of the rotors. I thought we were going to crash, but Tom managed to bring us down safely inside the panda enclosure at the National Zoo.

A panda sunk its claws into Jack’s leg. Let me tell you, those things aren’t as cuddly as they look. We got him away from the panda, but the injury slowed him down a bit so we had to help him up the wall. Then we had to climb the outer fence as well because the zoo was closed “due to snow.” A likely story. Once we were outside it was obvious the zombies were not just in the hotel. Scenes of masacre lined the streets. Before we could run from the zoo gates, we saw several zombie orangutans gnawing on some poor sap’s severed arm. Seeing the infected animals made me hope the panda that got Jack wasn’t tainted as well, but I didn’t mention my fears.

We needed transportation. There were a few lost souls wandering the streets, but it was clear they wouldn’t last long. We wouldn’t last long. We kept low, hiding behind any cover we could find.


Zombie packs roamed the streets, and a few times we were almost seen. The zombies were slow, but we knew their groaning would alert other groups. We saw the national guard through the trees, but we didn’t dare try to signal them, for fear of giving ourselves away to the hoards. Finally, we found hope:
An abandoned Bobcat with snow treads was idling a few blocks from the zoo. I tried not to think of what might have happened to the previous operator, it was enough that we had found our salvation.

It was difficult to fit all six of us in that little Bobcat, but we were so glad to see the last of DC (Doomed City) we didn’t care.

If only it really were the last. Like a bad Jerry Springer, the infernal city kept pulling us back in.

Every time we hit the highway, we found our Bobcat grinding back into the center of DC. On our third circuit, it was starting to get dark. Kim let the machine slow to a stop. “What are you doing?” I demanded. She ignored me.

“Tom!” Kim pointed through the Bobcat’s grill. “Isn’t that…” we looked up ahead to see a small figure crouched behind a statue of Nathan Hale. “It’s your wife!”

Before we could stop him, Tom jumped from the Bobcat and sprinted to the dark shape. We followed cautiously in the rising shadows, but as we got closer, I saw that it was indeed Tom’s wife, Jill. She didn’t move as we approached her, but clutched her arm. It oozed blood through the bandage she’d fashioned from a Smithsonian banner.

Tom stopped abruptly feet away from her, staring. “Are you bit?” he asked. She started to speak but couldn’t make noise. Tom wrenched forward, grabbing her about the shoulders and shaking her. “ARE YOU BIT?”

Jill cried out in pain as her arm shook. “No!” she managed. “I got cut climbing out of the basement of some building in Adams Morgan. Thank God I had a chainsaw to get through the glass.”

“Thank God!” said Tom, and held her tightly. They had a tenderly shmoo-pey scene which I’d prefer not to dwell on. Then Tom gently removed the Smithsonian banner and replaced it with a tourniquet made from his jacket sleeve. “Let’s go,” he said, pulling Jill to her feet.

I shook my head worriedly. “Just one problem,” I told him. “Bobcat won’t run with seven.”

“WE’LL MAKE IT RUN!” he said.

When we turned back to the Bobcat, we realized it didn’t matter how many it could hold. Two zombies, perhaps drawn by the sound of the engine, were stumbling around our faithful machine. Behind them, another zombie tried to claw its way into an abandoned car. At the sound of Tom’s yell, they all looked at us.

Matt said, “Run!” but Tom shook his head. I looked at Jill and Jack, both still bleeding from fresh wounds and realized he was right. We could never make it. The zombies lurched toward us.

“Good thing I have this,” said Tom, and he pulled a Molotov Cocktail from his coat pocket. “Who’s got a light?” Matt pulled a metal lighter from his kilt pocket and tossed it to Tom.

I stared at the Molotov Cocktail. “Where did you-”

“No time!” said Tom. He lit the rag and threw the bottle, not at the zombies as I expected, but at our trusty Bobcat. It exploded like the forth of July, and after a wave of heat and noise, the streets were blessedly empty.

For a time.

It was only a few minutes before the sound of the explosion brought others. We could see black forms walking jerkily in the snow at the end of each street. We stood in the snow, shivering, wondering what to do. Below his kilt, Matt’s knees got goosebumps.

“There!” said Jack, pointing.

I don’t know how we missed it before. An undamaged Humvee sitting right in the middle of Constitution Avenue. We ran to the car, looking nervously over our shoulders.

“I’m so glad I brought my double sided lockpicks,” said Matt, shoving his picks into the doorlocks.

“Hurry!” I urged him, but he had the door unlocked in seconds. Chris climbed into the driver’s seat and quickly hot-wired the Humvee while the rest of us tumbled in. We ran over four of the zombies with scarcely a bump.

Otherwise, leaving DC was no easier in the Humvee.

The roads were chaos. Cars drove in every direction and as before, we found ourselves irresistibly drawn back to the center.

“We’ll have to leave the main roads,” said Jill as we swerved down Pennsylvania Ave for the fifth time.

Chris nodded and smashed the Humvee through the cement fence. I winced at the noise, but the car rumbled on, unconcerned.

Zombies looked in at us stupidly as we ran them over. Their bodies were as slippery as the snow.

Once we left the main roads, we were alone in the darkness and DC seemed to relinquish its hold. The trouble is, we didn’t know where we were going.

Matt looked for a way out on his Android, while I tried my iphone, but whatever way we took we seemed to keep hitting dead ends.

In the back, Jack groaned, and I glanced back at him. He looked a tad grey. I bit my lip, and met Matt’s worried look, but we didn’t say anything. Chris tightened his grip on the wheel and drove.

Slowly we got further from the city, and we saw fewer and fewer zombies the more we drove. We continued finding bad roads, but we just turned around and continued.

Around midnight, our road trailed off into a corn field. Chris pulled the car around sharply and we heard a sound like a shot. The car shuddered. My shoulder slammed into the side, painfully. “The tire,” said Kim. “We must have hit a nail.”

We looked at each other. “We haven’t seen a zombie for hours,” I said.

“I’ll get it,” said Jack.

“What about your leg?” asked Kim.

He shrugged her off. “I’m fine.” I think he knew already, what we all knew. More grey than ever, Jack hopped out of the car (really hopped, that leg wasn’t fine at all) while Kim watched fretfully. The tire came off easily and we all waited in silence while Jack jacked up the Humvee. He was just tightening the final nut when the zombies started out of the corn.

“Get back in the car!” said Kim. “Jack!” He looked at her and smiled, shrugged.

He hefted his tire iron. “Come on you bastards!” he yelled. “Let’s see who’s Left 4 Dead tonight!” Jack waded into the melee swinging. They must have finished him in the end, but not before he splattered a bundle of zombies in the snow. We drove off before it was over, knowing there was nothing else we could do.

We made it home eventually. Since that time, Matt, Tom and Chris have dedicated themselves to zombie research. After two months of hard studying Matt got his PhD and Chris finally earned his MD, while Tom spent his time stockpiling one of every weapon there is.

Next weekend, at Notacon 7, the three of them will give a presentation on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Be there. Because believe me, whatever the government says to the contrary, it’s coming.

Please take a minute to appreciate the sacrifice off Jack Nichelson who surely lost his life while taking some of these photos, tire iron swinging. Also, a moment of silence is in order for Jess Rudolph of the Confused Greenies, an unwitting test subject.

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  • I wondered what you two have been up to. Nothing short of saving the world!

    AWESOME post. And RIP Jack… ;)
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Foliage Follow Up – April 2010 =-.

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