By Sean Silleck
When the zombies first showed up, our building’s fire safety director told us to shelter in place. Then he told us to go to staircase A, where we must’ve waited half an hour. Then he told us to proceed to elevator bank F, so we did, a few of us glancing at our watches. That was the last time we heard from the fire safety director.
For almost an hour we waited in front of elevator bank F, and then Chuck, one of our associate creative directors, couldn’t take it anymore. There was a client call at noon, and he had to be on it. If the latest round of client changes didn’t arrive by this afternoon, we’d never be able to revise our pieces in time for next Friday’s launch date. We were already going to have to work really late as it was—even without the delay caused by the zombies.
In groups of twos and threes we started to drift back into the agency. We still had power and running water, so the zombie invasion couldn’t have been that bad. The kitchenette was well stocked. We had enough food and coffee to last a couple weeks, so there was no reason we couldn’t get back to work—as long as the client changes came in on time.
A few of us gathered at the window in reception to see what was happening outside. It was very quiet along the avenue, just a lot of paper swirling and twisting in the wind, half a dozen cars with their windows smashed in, and occasionally a couple zombies staggering along, searching for human flesh.
“They look so lost,” said Mindy, our account lead. “I almost feel bad for them.”
“I wonder if deep down they’re really just sad,” Brian, the junior copywriter, said. “You know, being undead and all.”
“It’s like they know something in their lives is missing, but they don’t know what it is,” commented Becky, an art director. “That’s why they’re so sad.”
“And they’re trying to fill the emptiness by eating human flesh,” added Regina, our new proofreader. “I do the same thing with Chips Ahoy.”
“Don’t waste your pity on a bunch of mindless idiots,” cut in Chuck, with a frown. “We have work to do, people—or have you all forgotten we’re launching next Friday?”
He was right—there was so much to do. First, we had to barricade all the exits in case the zombies got into the building and up to our floor. Then we had to route the new logo, which the client had approved last week with one major change.
The client, a large west coast–based juice company, wanted the mauve slash at the bottom of the logo made darker, so it more closely resembled the color of acai juice. They felt that mauve was closer to the color of pomegranate juice, which was not one of their products. Of course nothing could have been further from the truth. Everyone knows that pomegranate juice is a deep red, not even remotely mauve, but the client was firm—the logo had to change.
Which totally sucked, because it was on every piece we were creating.
No one in the agency had been in a good mood, even before the zombies showed up.
At exactly noon we all shuffled into the main conference room for the client call. After the usual banalities, Joe, the client’s director of marketing, said:
“So, are you guys all okay? We’ve heard about the zombies. It’s all over CNN.”
“Thanks so much for your concern,” replied Mindy, leaning close to the speakerphone. “We’re fine here. No worries. We’re still really excited about next Friday’s launch.”
“Oh, that’s such a relief,” Joe said. “We were really worried. It’s just … if we have to delay the launch, we’re going to be in really big trouble. Tropicana is putting out two new products next month, and if our campaign isn’t out in the world by then, it’s going to be real tough catching up.”
“Oh, no worries,” Mindy repeated, smiling really wide, even though the feed was audio only. “We’ve got your back, Joe. And, by the way, the new logo looks amazing. The dark mauve was absolutely the right call. We’ll send you a new PSD by end of day.”
“Great, perfect. Thanks, guys,” Joe said. “Anyway, we know you’ve got a ton of work, so we’ll keep this short. We just have one more comment, and we’re hoping it’s not too late to work it into the single-page ad.”
A tense silence descended over the conference room. This was the moment in a client call that everyone dreaded, the moment a client decided they wanted to do something not in the original scope of work. Something that meant another all-nighter for us.
“If you’ve got any ideas, we’d love to hear them,” Chuck said, and then shook his head, mouthing the words, “what the fuck?”
“Well, we’re thinking—you know how in the ad, there’s the girl in the park, and the sun is shining behind her while she drinks our juice? Well, we’d love to get a dog in there. Cheryl, who’s here with me, was looking at some numbers earlier, and she saw a clear response spike in ads that have dogs in them. People really relate to them, you know? Cheryl, do you want to speak to those numbers?”
“Hi, guys, Cheryl here,” Cheryl announced cheerfully. Cheryl was the client’s chief marketing strategist. “Just want to say that we think the team over there is doing a fantastic job. We love the campaign so far, we really love it.”
“Oh, that’s so nice to hear,” Mindy said. “Thank you, Cheryl.”
“You bet. So, yeah, I was going over some numbers this morning, and it just hit me, so clearly, this spike in response rates to ads that have a dog in them. Just, like, wow. You know? Everyone loves dogs. Of course, we know it’s too late now, but down the road, maybe in Q3, we’d love to do some kind of viral video with dogs playing with each other, and just, you know, jumping around and doing really silly things. That could be a lot of fun.”
“Great idea,” Mindy said, wincing. “We’ll absolutely put a brief together. But let’s get back to the single-page ad for just a moment. What kind of dog were you thinking about?”
“Well, I ran some additional numbers,” Cheryl said. “Of course retrievers are off the charts, but since we’re more of a niche juice, and have a very loyal customer base that our research shows has a very independent streak, we think something like a Boston terrier would be the perfect thing.”
“A Boston terrier?” Mindy said.
“Is that doable?” Joe asked.
“Well, you know we’ve already done the photo shoot,” Chuck said, grinding his teeth. “And with the zombie situation, we’re probably not going to be able to set up another one in time to make next Friday’s launch date.”
“Oh, we don’t want another photo shoot—the budget’s getting a little thin at this point,” Joe replied, with a laugh. “No, we’re just wondering if it’s possible to do the dog digitally, you know, add another layer to the PSD file—something along those lines.”
Becky, the art director, looked like she was going to be sick. “I can see if I can dig up some stock images,” she said, weakly. “I could probably have a few choices to send over by end of day.”
“That would be fantastic,” Joe said. “Becky? Is that Becky who was speaking?”
“Yup, it’s Becky,” Becky said.
“Thanks, Becky, we really appreciate it.” Joe cleared his throat. “So that’s all we’ve got for now. We’ll hang around long enough today to look at the next set of revisions, and then get any comments back down to you by this evening. How does that sound?”
“That sounds like a plan, Joe,” Mindy said. “Thanks so much.”
“You bet,” Joe said. “And be careful, guys. Let us know if the zombie situation gets worse. We’d hate for anything terrible to happen to you.”
“We really appreciate the concern,” Mindy said. “But we’re fine. We’re a hundred and ten percent committed to hitting next Friday’s launch date.”
As soon as the clients had ended the call, Chuck threw up his hands. He was incredibly angry. He looked like he was ready to join the zombies and start eating human flesh.
“Mindless fucking idiots,” he seethed. “Add a fucking dog! What a load of horseshit.”
“It’s going to be really hard to put a dog in the ad,” complained Becky, her fingers working nervously through a clump of her bright red hair. “We’ll have to put the art back into retouching. It’s going to take days to get it back.”
“Let’s keep what we’ve got, and just try to mock up a basic dog option,” Mindy said, in her soothing account person’s voice. “Just a new PSD for now. We won’t worry about retouching until after we send it to the client.”
This helped calm Becky, at least for the moment.
Back at our desks—all of us with two or three jobs in our queue—it was really hard to concentrate with the moaning of the zombies outside. It was a creepy sound, both menacing and forlorn. A lot of us had already been having concentration problems, ever since we’d moved into the new office with its open-floor seating plan. The concept was supposed to foster creative thinking and team unity, but all it really did was shred people’s nerves. The distractions were constant. Someone’s phone would start ringing while they were away from their desk. Or someone would be playing music from the 80s loud enough for you to know it was the Go-Gos but not which song. Or someone would actually have a conference call and speak in a horrible whisper.
With the moaning of the zombies on top of everything else, we were really struggling to get our work done.
Sometime around dinnertime, just as we were signing off on the last piece to incorporate the new logo, Chuck called us all into the conference room and laid a printout of the new logo on the table in front of us. We all waited nervously for him to say whatever it was he was going to say.
“It’s no good,” he said, finally, chewing on his lower lip. “It looks like shit. The dark mauve is ridiculous.”
He was right. The lighter mauve had worked really well with the other colors in the logo, but this darker tone somehow unbalanced the whole thing. The anxiety around the conference table was palpable.
“It’s what the client requested,” Mindy pointed out, her eyebrows arched. “I don’t think it’s that bad, Chuck. I think we can leave it.”
“Mindy, it’s a piece of shit.” Chuck put his hands on his hips and shot her a challenging look. “We took six months building the first logo. We put it through market research. It went through like eight client reviews. You change one color, and the whole thing goes down the shitter.”
“Then we should have expressed our concerns earlier.” Mindy spoke softly but firmly. She couldn’t have weighed more than 105 pounds but she was tougher than anyone in the agency. She ran a marathon every weekend, usually the kind where you had to swim through muddy culverts and crawl over barbed wire. To her, the zombies were probably just a minor irritant. “It’s too late to revisit this now,” she said, looking hard at Chuck.
“I did express my concerns. But no one listened, as per usual.” Chuck threw up his hands. He looked really pale and unhealthy, probably from working such crazy hours. He glowered at Mindy with bloodshot eyes. “But I’m only the ACD, so what does my opinion matter around here?”
And then he stormed out of the room, grumbling to himself.
“You don’t have to bite my head off,” Mindy called after him, angrily.
“He’s right,” Becky said in a small voice, after we’d all listened to Chuck rage down the hall and loudly slam his office door. “It doesn’t look good.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mindy said, in a harsh voice. “It’s too late. Someone should’ve spoken up rounds ago. I don’t have a problem with this logo. It’s exactly what the client asked for.”
That was the end of the discussion. None of the rest of us had any desire to go toe to toe with Mindy. It was only the art people who cared about the logo, truth be told. The copywriters, account execs, proofreaders and project managers didn’t have any thoughts about anything other than how to survive this launch. We were all at our wit’s end. If the tension in the agency got any worse, someone really was going to get bitten.
And then we found out that the zombies had gotten into the building.
A little after eleven, Brian, the junior copywriter, stood up from his desk, a weird expression on his face. “Did you guys hear that?” he said. “What the fuck was that?”
We all gathered around his desk and listened. For a moment there was only silence. Then we heard it. A scraping noise, coming from the floor below us. It was accompanied by a banging and a grinding. Then we heard the moaning, and we knew.
“Shit, they’re in the office downstairs,” Regina, the proofreader, said. “That means they’re probably in the stairwell.”
We all rushed over to stairwell A. Sure enough, we could hear shuffling, lethargic footsteps on the concrete steps on the other side of the fire door. Accompanied, as usual, by the despondent moans of the walking dead.
“They’re going to get in,” Regina cried, backing away from the door, one hand to her mouth. “We can’t keep them out.”
“The door is really well sealed,” Brian said, checking the bike chain we’d fastened between the door handle and a thick water pipe next to it. “No one’s getting in this way. We’re fine.”
“They won’t go away.” Regina’s eyes had taken on the classic thousand-yard stare. Her mouth was as round as a donut hole. “Their desire is insatiable. And we’re the object of that desire.”
Brian shook his head. It was hard to tell whom he was more annoyed with, Regina or the zombies. “It’s a fucking Kryptonite lock. Schwarzenegger couldn’t get through that door.”
It did look pretty solid. We all took turns giving it a shake, and then exchanged encouraging nods.
It was a charade, of course. As we shuffled back to our desks, staring wide-eyed at nothing, we all felt incredibly self-conscious, knowing that an inch and a half of steel was all that separated us from a horde of flesh-eating zombies. It was going to be a really long night.
We worked as long as we could, and then took turns going into the small conference room, which we’d turned into a nap room. We’d already used it once as a nap room the first time we worked overnight, three or four weeks ago, finalizing the launch pieces ahead of the first client review. We just had to put the cots back together again and lay out clean blankets. Half of us slept (or tried to sleep), while the other half stayed awake to watch for zombies and field any client calls that came in. None of us got a good night’s sleep. When the light of dawn finally showed through the main window, we were all half dead.
After breakfast, there was more bad news. Becky couldn’t find a Boston terrier in any of the stock photo databases. All she could come up with were a pug, a French bulldog, a miniature boxer and a black and white Chihuahua.
“Wait, that’s not a Boston terrier?” asked Mindy, standing to one side of Becky’s iMac and pointing at the image of the French bulldog.
“No, it’s not.” Becky shook her head, sadly. “I double checked the database. It’s a French bulldog, for sure. Not a Boston terrier.”
“Okay, because it looks exactly like a Boston terrier.” Mindy nibbled distractedly on her thumb as she spoke.
“Boston terriers have a longer nose,” Brian offered. “And their ears aren’t as wide. My aunt had a Boston terrier once. They’re great dogs.”
“Can you call her?” Mindy spun around toward Brian. “Can she email us a picture of it?”
“She died years ago—my aunt, I mean.” Brian shrugged, and then frowned. “Hey, you don’t think she’s a zombie now, do you? That would be really fucked up.”
Mindy rolled her eyes and turned back to Becky’s computer. “Fuck it,” she said. “Let’s go with the French bulldog. The client will never know the difference.”
“Are you sure?” Becky asked, in a nervous voice. “What if they do notice? I don’t think we should lie to the client.”
“I don’t care. Just do it.” Mindy tore a long hangnail off her thumb and then spit it across the room. “I don’t give a shit anymore.” She stalked back to her desk.
While Becky worked on getting the French bulldog into an alternate version of the single-page ad, some of us gathered by the window to check on the situation outside.
Someone had noticed that one zombie never left the block, but instead wandered from one corner to the next and then back again, as if he were pacing. He was an older guy, judging by the white hair and the curve of his spine, and he was dressed in a pinstripe suit that had lost one sleeve and one pant leg. Even though he was undead, he still had a kind of dignity in the way he shuffled up and down the street—you could easily imagine him walking with a cane. We called him Winston.
“I wonder where he used to work,” Regina said. “Looks like a lawyer.”
“I used to see him getting a sandwich in the corner deli,” said Rasheed, our senior website developer. “Like, every day almost. The same sandwich, ham and provolone on rye. He was like clockwork.”
“Yeah, probably a financial guy,” commented Brian, leaning his elbows on the sill. “Those guys love a good routine.”
“Maybe that’s why he looks so unsure of himself,” added Kendra, one of the administrative assistants. “Deep down he doesn’t know what to do, because his routine is gone. That’s why he can’t leave the block. He thinks he needs to order his sandwich.”
“I don’t think he was in finance,” commented Angelo, a freelance production guy. “I’m pretty sure he was in advertising. I think I remember him from when I worked at McCann. He was one of the senior partners.”
We all agreed that, whoever he was, Winston was probably very sad, and we all felt kind of sorry for him, at least until Chuck came lumbering down the hall, grumbling and grunting, and sent us all scurrying back to our desks.
The work was endless, or so it seemed, and at this point, completely brainless. The new logo had been placed in every job, so now we were just checking to make sure nothing had fallen off in the process. It was just proofreading now, checking for bad line breaks and shifted art elements. The content of the pieces was all set. We figured one more round, and then we’d have a group sign-off and basically be done. We’d hit next Friday’s launch date with no problem.
Over the next 24 hours, the mood of the agency improved dramatically. Becky was able to create a pretty good alternate version of the single-page ad—the dog really looked like it was trotting happily along next to the lady drinking juice in the park. Anyone who didn’t know would’ve thought the dog had been there all along. And we hated to admit it, but the client was right. We all felt better seeing the dog in the picture. It made the whole ad warmer and fuzzier.
When Mindy hit the send button on her email, we couldn’t help applauding.
It was then, for the first time, that we could start thinking about the end of the launch—about getting our old lives back. The zombies didn’t even bother us so much. Listening to the creepy shuffling and moaning sounds coming from stairwell B—in addition to stairwell A now—we weren’t as freaked out as we’d been before. We could deal with it, knowing we didn’t have to stagger back to our desks and bury ourselves in half a dozen jobs. And we were no longer so worried about running into Chuck in the hallways and getting chewed out for not working hard enough. The work was done.
We all assumed the next client call would be a breeze, just a final approval of all the core launch pieces, but we could tell immediately by Joe’s tone that something wasn’t right. He spoke in a dull, lifeless monotone.
“Hey, guys,” he said, glumly. “Oh, boy. You all are going to kill us.”
Everyone in the room exchanged at least one glance. We all had that bloated feeling in our guts that accompanies the realization of imminent doom.
“What’s on your mind, Joe?” Mindy asked, clutching herself around the middle as she leaned in toward the speakerphone. “I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“I’m afraid it is, Mindy,” Joe said. “Turns out you guys had it right the first time. Looking at the latest revisions you sent over yesterday, it just hit us all at once … well … the logo just doesn’t work anymore. The mauve is too dark. And, you know what? That’s totally on us. We don’t blame you guys at all. Absolutely one hundred percent our doing.”
No one on our side said a word. We were too shocked. A couple of us wore weird smiles, little rictuses of death, as Joe’s words slowly ate their way through our brains.
On the far side of the conference table, Chuck leaned all the way back in his chair and stared open-mouthed at the ceiling. He looked like someone had just killed him.
“Ah, so, we were just wondering,” Cheryl cut in. “Did you guys archive the last round? Would it be that hard to just go back to those versions? Like, use Time Machine or something? Is that doable?”
Mindy was the first of us to speak. She looked like she’d been infected with some sort of wasting disease. Her eyes were wide and unfocused. The color had drained out of her cheeks. Her shoulders were unevenly slumped. “It’s just, we’ve been through several rounds since we swapped out logos,” she said, tonelessly, into the speakerphone. “So, actually, we’d have to create a whole new round, and then load in the old logo, and then review each job carefully to make sure nothing fell off or that any of the current logos were missed—so we’re looking at a fair amount of work here. At least if we’re still thinking about next Friday’s launch date.”
“We’ll absolutely pay for the overtime,” Joe said. “A hundred and ten percent.”
“Oh, God, yes,” agreed Cheryl, in a slightly hysterical voice. “Whatever support we can give you. We’ll be here till at least six o’clock tonight, so don’t hesitate to run some ideas past us—any best practices you guys have that might help us all work smarter, not harder. We’re all ears.”
“Thanks, Cheryl. That’s very kind of you.” Mindy grimaced as she composed her next words. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to hit that launch date—no worries there. It’s just, you know, any more changes, especially global changes, and we’re not going to be able to make that guarantee. You know?”
“We hear you, loud and clear,” Cheryl said. “This logo thing is totally our fault. And we really appreciate you guys taking the time to make the fix. Thank you so much. We won’t have any more changes, we promise. Let’s just get this done, and hit that launch date next Friday. What do you say?”
“Yup, sounds great,” Mindy intoned.
“We just have one more question,” Joe said, after an awkward moment of silence. “We got the alt version of the single-page ad—thanks very much. The dog looks great, but we just wanted to confirm, are you guys sure that’s a Boston terrier? We think it might be a French bulldog.”
Mindy looked like someone was chewing on her leg. She bit her lip so hard a small trickle of blood ran down over her chin. She wiped it away with the back of her hand and took a deep, wheezy breath.
On the other side of the room, Becky got up without a word and tottered out of the room, one hand held out in front of her, as if she’d lost part of her vision. We all watched her go, our mouths slung open, but none of us spoke. What was there to say? We weren’t going to make the launch date next Friday—not if we had to update the logo again. We all knew it, but of course we weren’t going to say it to the client. We couldn’t. So we all just looked at each other, swaying from side to side, our arms dangling, our brains numb.
Then we heard someone coming down the hall, a slow but steady pace, one foot dragging behind the other, and we all turned at the same moment toward the open conference room door.
Somehow, even before he appeared in the doorway, we all knew it was Winston.
Sean Silleck has worked in advertising for over a decade, and so far has not had to resort to eating human flesh. He has been previously published in the Brooklyn Rail, Short Story Library and Pantheon Magazine, and is currently working on a novel about the first advertising agency on Mars.