In which Ryan gets unlikely reinforcements in his battle against the angry dead.
Sorry for the late post. My ass just dragged back in from Little Rock, which was surprisingly urbane. Regular posting will resume soon. Enjoy!
© Copyright 2011
Except for my mortal battle with the fly, it was a slow, boring Friday. (Well, for me, anyway. For News WKRB, Channel 43, it seemed pretty eventful.) I slurped a cup of coffee, bemoaning my fallen cigarettes and resisting the urge to break into the weed stash hidden behind the condoms in our sock drawer. I needed to be alert, snappy, sharp. Couldn’t be all focused and whatnot if I was tripping my balls off.
I was sitting at the table, staring at my Tumblr page and eating my girl’s special vegan pizza. It was overpriced, but actually a lot better than any pizza my carnivorous ass had ever eaten before. Still, I vowed to never concede the superiority of her meatless pizza to her, and if she ever noticed she was one pizza short, I entirely planned on blaming the zombies for it.
Shit, I was gonna need dessert eventually. Might as well blame the zombies for eating all her special ice cream while I was at it.
So anyway, I had my self-felatting blog up, while maniacal zombies prowled just beyond my door, for a reason. I felt deep down that I needed to document what was happening outside, for at least two reasons: people needed to know for posterity’s sake, and people needed to know I was still here.
But I didn’t know what to say. I was a slacker to the core, barely out of college and vaguely trying to “establish” myself as a songwriter. When it came to shoddy metaphorical lyrics written over a period of two weeks, I was a champ. Active documentation of events as they occurred around me was apparently above my admittedly miniscule pay grade.
Still, I had to say something about what was happening around me.
Fuck it, I was a writer! I could totally do this.
My fingers picked along the keyboard for two hours, choosing my words, delicately deciding on what combination of letters would best portray the seriousness of my situation without overmoting it. I explained my situation, then listed three truths that I’d gathered from what I’d experienced, and from what the news had been able to provide. If anyone came for me, they needed to know as much as they could. I figured intel on the warfront was probably sketchy, at best. Better to have someone inside to let them know what was going on. Someone who was actively fighting them, and living.
From what I could hear on the news, military and police forces had retreated out of downtown Nashville. I doubted any cops were hanging around my area, either.
I finished the post, published it, started to read when a horrible, familiar buzzing sounded above me.
I watched a wet and pissed off fly drop clumsily onto the top edge of my screen. It stared me in the eye, but it didn’t move. It looked exhausted, though I doubt that was the case. It was probably just still waterlogged.
We stared each other down, Sergio Leone style.
No. I’m not dying because of you. So long as you live, so do I.
It seemed to understand my line of thought, because it turned around, and flicked its wings. Before taking off, it turned to look back at me.
There was a silent moment as a mutual understanding was shared. It would not die until it knew I would die too.
Go ahead and tell me I’m crazy, but I swear that’s what fucking happened. After we shared that moment, precisely when it came to an end, it flapped its wings and flew away.
I scrolled down the Tumblr page, hit edit, and entered another absolute truth that had dawned on me:
4. The immortal fly showed up in my bathroom the very same night in which the ghouls first appeared, and so long as it lives, so do I.
I got up to make more coffee.
Except that I couldn’t find any left.
I rooted through the cupboards with an urgency bordering on panic, but I was bone dry. I opened the coffee can, sniffed the sweet smell like it was crack.
Oh, my sweet, fallen friend. My beautiful, brewing angel. Rest easy, noble prince.
I chucked the can in the trash, sat back down, stared at my Tumblr page. The editing page was still open, so I added my final, indelible truth:
5. I am out of coffee and cigarettes. This is going to be a long-ass weekend.
Night came, and I figured I was done worrying about checking every crack every five seconds. The stress was killing my neck, and my stomach was in knots.
I thought to myself: “Eh, fuck it” and fished out the weed from our hiding place. I packed an old corncob pipe my uncle had given me, and lit up.
The weed was pretty choice, and after ten minutes I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face with a belt sander. I put my favorite smokin’ movie on (Coraline, because I feel a little high watching it even when I’m not stoned, and the dancing gerbils are better the shit), and prepared to trip my balls off for a while.
Outside, I heard a car horn beep out the first guitar string from “Buffalo Soldier.”
What the fuck?
I looked outside, saw a van with the phrase “Totally Not Bangbus Productions” airbrushed along the side pull up to my porch. A shuffling zombie was knocked off its feet and crunched under the tires by the swerving vehical. The van, likely loaded down with a small film studio’s worth of equipment, ground it into the asphalt like it was tenderizing the street.
Shit, why were they here?
The van belonged to Steve Stein, a friend of mine since college and an avid buyer of my songs for just as long. Steve was a great guy. He was absolutely convinced that my songs and his music were key to whatever success awaited his band. I could never gather the heart to break it to him that my songs are likely the reason he hasn’t broken through yet.
Steve was behind the wheel, a look of stoned surprise on his face. He looked right to my apartment, saw me staring through the window, and waved confusedly.
Zombies, noticing the brightly colored van blaring overrated reggae, began to gather.
I opened the window. “Steve! You gotta get outta here, man!”
“We were gonna jam today, dude!”
“Jesus, you fucking fuckwit! What are you doing here?!”
“I just told you!” A zombie reached for him through the open window, and Steve knocked it back with the driver’s door. “What’s goin’ on here, man?”
“They’re zombies! Don’t you watch the fuckin’ news?!” Dumb question, of course he didn’t. He and his friend had holed up in Steve’s apartment like they always do, jamming away for days, heedless of the world outside. When Friday came, they piled in the van and took the same isolated backroad they always did. This was probably the first any of them and known of any kind of undead scourge.
Shit, I had to do something. What, I didn’t know, and the liberal application of weed to my thought process wasn’t doing anything to speed things up.
I burst through the door, mannequin in hand, waving the plastic person like Grayskull. Using the mannequin as a distraction would have been perfect, especially with some kind of ingenious laundry line pulley system, but my baked ass just used it to club a path to the van.
“Mannequin!” I screamed at them, assuming my awesome plan would transmit itself into their heads like osmosis. “Mannequin!”
They just stared, slack jawed. A van of soft rocker idiots in a heavy metal van, a stoner holding a flapper-style mannequin overhead like it was Gimli’s axe. That, versus hordes of vicious, flesh hungry zombies.
It was the single stupidest situation I’ve ever been in, including the boner I popped while staring at Ms. Rivoire’s legs in ninth grade English. Horrible as that oral report was, I would have switched back to it in an instant if I’d had the choice.
I shoved another zombie aside, but things were gonna get super real really fast if they didn’t get out of that van.
“Guys, follow me! Come on!”
Steve’s face suddenly snapped into cognizance, and he unloaded from the van like a paratrooper, tucking and rolling underneath the flailing arms of the living dead. Rick, a huge but heretofore sloth-like black dude, followed, kicking two zombies in the face simultaneously as he did so. His dreads ploomed gloriously as he flew through the air. It almost looked like someone had fired him out of the van with a rubber band.
Pete, a tiny guy I could probably fit under my arm, slipped out in the blink of an eye, crouching down and low. I don’t think a single zombie noticed as he caught up to Steve and Rick.
Jerome exploded through the back doors, swinging Pete’s keyboard like a majestic sword. The $4200 machine exploded against the zombie equivalent of Michael Clark Duncan, showering the ground in glass keys. In movies the zombie would have stood unfazed against the force of the ruined machine, but in the real world, physics still applied, and his bulky ass dropped against a blow powerful enough to shatter a heavy electrical instrument.
“MY FUCKIN’ KEYBOARD!” Pete screamed like a mother who’d just watched a wolf scarf down her kid.
I squinted when I reached my door, couldn’t see Tim behind us. He wasn’t anywhere near the van. “Where’s Tim?”
“Oh shit, man, hurry up!” Jerome shouted, wrestling a granny zombie that had snatched him by the sleeves of his red South Pole shirt. He kicked her walker out from under her, and her twig-like legs crumpled when they tangled with it.
“Come on, man, come on!” Steve shouted, tugging on my sleeve and actually making me shut the door again when he pulled me. I elbowed him back, shoved the door open, and we poured in like a multi-ethnic version of the Keystone Cops.
I slammed the door, threw my back against it. I was gonna stop to catch my breath when Steve screamed “Oh, shit!” and yanked me to the side. A zombie, its arms outstretched, rushed past less than an inch from my face, banging its head against the aluminum door as it missed me. The thing must have snuck in when I was fighting my way through its cronies outside. It knew we’d be back inside, tired, off-guard. Smart fucker.
But it missed its window, and Pete opened the door just as Rick delivered a sledgehammer spin-kick to its back. The zombie was knocked off its feet and out the door, sliding on its stomach until it hit the guardrail on the porch.
Pete slammed and bolted the door. Jerome piped up: “Where the fuck is Tim?”
“That’s what I said!”
Rick went to the window, peeked out. “Oh shit, fuck! He’s out there!”
We all plastered ourselves against the window, with me quickly scanning the living room to make sure some other sneaky fucker wasn’t about to axe us in the back.
Tim sure was out there, literally and euphemistically, just walking around like he was out for a stroll. We all smelled like weed, but Tim was probably sweating THC. He simply wandered around, ambling away from the van – and us – staring into each graying skull he passed. His shitty smile got wider by the minute, his pale skin flushing with color as he started to chuckle. That weird, scraggly, flesh-colored goatee he was trying to grow twitched like the long lost cousin of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘stache.
“Tim! TIIIIMMM!” we all shouted, banging the futon against the window to get his attention.
But we weren’t nearly as interesting as the biker zombie who’d ridden up to Tim while he wandered about. Idling to a stop, the zombie clambered off and made for Tim in huge, loping strides.
“TIIIMMM! SHIT MAN, LOOK OUT!” Steve screamed.
Tim turned to the biker zombie, who had the words “Mama Bear” stitched in bright red on its jacket. It raised both arms high in the air.
I shit you not, it hefted a medieval mace overhead, gripping it in both hands for a killing blow.
A human head makes a disquietingly dull noise when it spatters. Tim’s skull disintegrated under the impact of the mace, his face shredded in an instant by the finger-sized spikes the thing sported. His blond dreads fired off in a dozen different directions, like nappy missiles launched from a pale, posing platform. Tim’s body fell on its back, still twitching inside its gray hemp clothing. His pale hands clenched into skinny fists, relaxed intermittently.
We jolted away from the window like it had suddenly farted. Rick scrunched his eyes closed, grimaced. Jerome dropped on his ass, just sat there looking into space. Pete gagged, but never quite threw up. Steve just kind of…backed away.
I’m glad none of them had the frame of mind to look at me. Tim was a friend, sure, but I’d gotten a little too jaded as of late to give him the reaction he deserved. I would have looked pretty fucking unfazed, and I doubt that would have sat well with anybody else.
“Shit man!” Jerome moaned / whimpered. “What the fuck’s going on?”
“They’re everywhere,” I replied quietly, doing my best to keep my voice even. If I let myself get careless, the fear and stress in my voice might come out as amusement and excitement, and I didn’t want any of these guys doubting my sanity. Not now, when everybody needed everybody to be cool. “They started showin’ up Wednesday. They’ve been killing anybody they find. I think…I think they’ve been eating them, too.”
There was a pregnant pause, then Pete whispered: “Bullshit.”
“S’on the fuckin’ news, man. How could you guys not have known about this until just now?”
“We been busy, man,” Steve argued, shrugging his shoulders of any responsibility for his ignorance. By busy, he likely meant smoking weed and jamming. Or watching old episodes of Robot Chicken.
Whatever. I didn’t think arguing with a bunch of stoners would get me anywhere, so I turned to Rick. “When did you learn kung fu?”
“Kendo, actually. A little karate too.” He shrugged. The dude was a mountain, but a peaceful, usually docile one. More like a dormant volcano now, though, I guess. His jacket flapped up and down at the motion, and I got the impression of sails dropping on a ship. “Been taking lessons since I was twelve.”
He bobbed his head agreeably.
“What’re we gonna do?” Steve, his voice low, his eyes shimmering from moisture.
“Hole up here, I guess.” I grabbed the machete and axe I’d swiped the day before, tossed the axe to Jerome and the machete to Steve. “Hole up and fight.”
We kept looking out the window, each of us wincing when we saw Tim’s corpse. We weren’t trying to be morbid or anything, just wary of whatever maneuver the zombies might try to pull following our daring mannequin offensive.
Tim’s headless body got up after a while. It didn’t do much, just sort of stumbled around, bumping into picnic tables, tripping over sprinklers. At one point it spent a good five minutes trying to walk straight through the stand of a basketball goal.
It was the most coordinated I’d ever seen Tim.
So far, all we knew for certain was that Shotgun Zombie and Mama Bear seemed to go way back. Pete was the one to point it out, calling us all over in time to catch the two uglies fist bumping each other like old friends. They stood together for a while, muttering something in some unintelligible gibbering, Shotgun Zombie pointing this way and that like they were trying to coordinate an offensive. One thing weighed heavy on our minds while they did that:
They definitely knew exactly where five potential meals were.
We sat around for a few hours after that, listening to the news and watching Meg Henderson occasionally tug at her neckline. I guess the air conditioning was out at WKRP; Meg was sweating through her blouse, even though she’d undone three buttons. Every half hour her cleavage grew a little more prominent. Steve and Jerome were glued to the screen.
To their credit, they got more excited over info about the zombies than they did over journalist boob. These dudes had been in the dark for a good two days, and the world had changed for them a lot sooner than it did for me. I watched their faces, how their brows rose and fell with each new piece of intel. Jesus, had I looked like that when this all started?
I watched Steve clench his hands around the handle of the double-headed axe every time stock footage of the zombies storming the SWAT guys was shown. Rick casually glanced at the window, his hand on the grip of the machete, the blade tucked into the tool belt he’d brought inside. When he wasn’t jammin’ out with the band, Rick was also our apartment maintenance guy.
It was getting late, and I noticed I was hungry. The adrenaline rush from earlier had worn off, and the belayed munchies reared their ugly heads, even though none of us were even remotely high anymore.
My stomach growled. Snarled, actually. “Who’s up fer sammiches?” I asked.
We broke into the last of the beer, each of us taking a Michelob Ultra, and leaving one opened on the windowsill for Tim. The beer was unbelievably sweet; to this day I’ve never had a better beer than I did that night.
With the beer gone, I pillaged every sandwich ingredient I had, and we ate like savages. The thing about panic is that it doesn’t shut down your system, it just keeps you from noticing it. Once something stimulating comes by, your body cranks itself up again. Thus, horny soldiers visit whorehouses, starving refugees gorge on food, and men on the run suddenly notice they have to pee.
There was a startling clap of hands, and I looked up to see a fly fall from in front of Steve. “Got ‘im,” he announced triumphantly.
“He’ll be back.”
“Nothin’. Listen guys…” I wiped my mouth, tossed the plastic plate into the sink like a discus. “We need to figure out a way to get out of here.”
“How?” Pete asked. He looked ridiculously frightful. Eh, maybe not so ridiculous, I guess, considering the situation. Still, with his thick glasses magnifying his eyes, and his blowback hair sticking out like tall stalagmites, every part of his face looked continuously surprised.
“And why?” Steve piped up. I was growing to distrust that indecisive look he was sporting since his arrival.
“A). Van. And B). ‘Cause they know we’re in here. And sooner or later, they’ll figure out a way in.”
“Bullshit. Those things don’t think. They’re just mindless…”
“One of ‘em has a FUCKING SHOTGUN, ASSHAT.” I was losing my temper, in steady, steamy bursts. Something about the vacant look in Steve’s eyes was telling me he was a long way from here. “And the one that offed Tim rode in on a God damn motorcycle. They can think, dipshit, and they’re planning a way in RIGHT NOW.”
Steve was silent. He simply looked back blankly, then turned away. Steve was going to be an problem sometime soon.
“I’m all for getting’ my ass out of here,” Rick piped up. “But I don’t see a feasible way of getting’ back in that van without them gangin’ up on us.”
“Yeah…” Jerome took a look outside. “They’re staying pretty close by.”
“Fuck,” I groaned, looking up at the ceiling. Suddenly, there was a gunshot. Jerome flew back from the window, collapsed on the floor.
We all screamed, in exactly the same tone as a troop of girl scouts in the presence of a bear, dropping cans of my girlfriend’s shitty diet soda all over ourselves. But Jerome was alive. Shotgun Zombie hadn’t taken a lucky potshot; the sound had come from the TV in the next room. Our friend had simply fallen on his ass in surprise.
We shuffled in, holding sandwiches and newly opened cans of shitty diet soda. (What? Diet soda fuckin’ blows. Deal with it.) On screen, Meg Henderson stared in wide eyed shock past the camera, which seemed pushed aside at an odd angle.
For a minute I figured the TV was busted, because nothing moved. Meg didn’t even breathe, didn’t even blink. Then, a slow stammer: “L-Ladies and gentlemen, we…we will…experience some technical difficulties…our prayers…Oh Jesus, shit…”
Someone moved in front of the camera, blocking Meg as he bent over to scoop at something on the floor. He seemed to talk to someone off-screen, and I saw the guy heft a pair of legs into the air, some other guy helping him hoist somebody off set.
It dawned on me then: the camera guy had just blown his brains out.
Meg just stared at the floor where the guy had been, mute and frozen.
“Well…” Ricky started, and thought for a moment, “…shit.”
I nodded, and clenched the shotgun. “Your lips to God’s asshole, my friend.”