From the instant we were conceived it was destined that we share the same soul.  Every decision of every moment was meant to bring us closer to that moment when I saw you for the first time, dragging that girl’s body from your car down into the culvert where you tried covering her with those autumn leaves.  I sat just a ways down in a tree stand, dressed in cammies and looking down the scope of my 30.06 at a beautiful ten point buck, being careful not to allow my breath to waft over the sights while watching the buck shoot twin clouds of mist from his nose.  The buck sensed you first, lifting his majestic brown head toward the foreign sound, and then I heard the crunch of your tires on the frozen ground as you drove toward the edge of the woods.  I cursed you as the deer bolted, ruining my shot, my chance to see him die, to see his eyes cloud over, and then the sweet knife slicing into his body as the heat steams out in that delicious fragrant cloud that I love.  I trained my scope on the metallic glint of your silver car and talked to you as you sat inside it.  I wanted you to step out so I could put my slug through your head, so I whispered my desire, get out of the car you motherfucker, ruining my shot, I’ll ruin you, and then you did climb out and stood beside the open door craning your neck about as a steady and annoying bing bing bing cut through the air, but even though I had my finger on the trigger and the crosshairs on your touseled blond head, I could not complete the act, did not have the courage to actually do it even though I had always wanted to so bad, had dreamed and fantasized about it my entire life.  I really believe you felt my presence just then, I know, because I saw you look around suddenly as if you heard something.  If you think about it, it was the sound of both of our hearts beating in unison.

Then you walked to the trunk of your car and I followed your movement, cursing myself for not having the balls to kill you, and you opened it and tugged the girl out, and I was suddenly amazed, awed, intrigued, jealous, fascinated as you grabbed her beneath her armpits and drug her toward the edge of the forest.  I saw your breath chugging out like a train engine as you strained against her dead weight, but I also saw her breath, thin and ragged, saw it mix with yours, and I wondered if you knew she was still alive.  Every nerve in my body was alive with excitement as I followed your efforts, saw you shuffle and slide down the twenty feet embankment and then stand over her for a moment with no expression on your face, and I was yours at that precise moment, I knew we were one soul because I had the passion you wanted and you had the courage I could only dream of.  You began gathering up armfuls of red, yellow and orange leaves and throwing them on the girl as if you were trying to hide her, and I realized you did not know she was still alive.  This was a strange puzzle to me at first.  You had the ability, the nerve, the audacity to actually hunt down and capture another human being, do what you did to her, and then so carelessly leave her alive so she could identify you later.  But as you scrambled back up the hill it occurred to me that you must have known that of all the people in the world, you left her there practically at my feet as if she were a sacrifice, a wonderful, exquisite gift. At that moment the planets aligned, the stark realization of our unique relationship became oh, so clear, the complete and utter depth of understanding was plumbed in my heart.  I almost, almost shouted out to you then, had the call in my lungs, wanted to connect with you right then, but my cowardliness reached up from my spine and clamped itself over my trembling mouth.  A single hot tear leapt from my eye as I swallowed the bitter pill of my inadequacy, but was able to catch your tag number in my scope, at least my weakness could not deny me the means to track you down, to study you, to follow your sacred footsteps, to become lost in you.

I don’t need to explain myself to you because you know me as well as you know yourself.  Anyone else would read this and think we are gay, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth.  Just because one soul shares two bodies, it doesn’t mean both people have to be sexually attracted to each other.  To say we are brothers would diminish our relationship.  To say we should be lovers would be blasphemy.  I came to know that girl you left out there in the woods.  I found out what you left inside her beautiful cunt when I cut it out of her.  I still have this gift, for gift is what it is, from your generous action to my hands.  When I was done with her she was not alive, and I thank you, O God I thank you for giving her to me because I know now what bliss I’ve been missing watching the life fade out of another human being’s eyes, watching how her body relaxes, smoothing out the tense muscles of her terror.  I forgot who I was then as I shared her annihilation, marveled at her sweet release and was transported to a sense of complete joy.  I just had to fuck her then and it was the best I’d ever, ever had.  I fucked her every way I could because the passion in me refused to go away.  The more I did the more I wanted to do.  Oh, my soul-mate, the experience was the very definition of exquisite!  When we inevitably meet I will share the details of my time with that girl, and I know you will completely understand.  
 
Have no fear, no one will ever be able to connect you to that girl because I made everything alright.  That’s why you left her like you did.  You were testing me.  You wanted me to finish what you started so that we could begin our journey together. I won’t let them get you, soul-twin. You’ve got my word on that, and there is nothing more important than the word, is there?  When we finally meet, when our eyes finally connect, it will all become clear, and you won’t have to test me anymore, because in that split second you’ll know what I know and I’ll know what you know, and then we can begin to do that which we were both born to do: cut out all the divine cunts because they cut out on us.  We will fuck them together and then fuck them up, every last one of them, and then they’ll be perfect because we’ll rip out their fucking tongues, too.  We’ll do whatever we want with them because they’ll finally be perfect little bitches, the way they’re suppose to be.  You and I, me and you, goddamned Alpha and Omega. We’ll realize that we’ve been perfect all along when we finally meet.  We will start it and then
see it to the end.  Then we’ll be
fucking Gods, won’t we?

 
 
     When the door slammed, an involuntary lurch caused Leigh to rock back as if jolted with electricity.  In the span of time it took for her heart to skip a beat, she thought she was back at the reservation again, caught in that moment of her husband’s bowling night arrival.  Every Thursday for three and a half years he went out in his best suit and bowling bag, swaggering like some cowpoke about to get laid by the pin girl.  Eventually he would flounder in with a slam of the door and scream out her name, spitting degradation with every word as he went through his list of insults like a roll call.  She had learned early on not to accuse him of adultery – that brought the worst beatings and took extra time at the hospital.  It had taken her almost two years – ninety-eight Thursdays, to be exact – to make it to the point where she could live without any bruises, mechanizing the words and acts he demanded as she pretended to enjoy his barbaric and brutal assault upon her body and soul.  His slobbering screams of Whore! Bitch! and Slut! still bounced around the stucco walls the day she finally left, taking his wallet and truck with her as payment due while he snored away his drunken licentiousness. That was two states, six months and a thousand memories away now as she barked out a surprised laugh when Josh ambled into the kitchen.

     Had it not been for the fact that her husband’s rusted out old Ford pickup had proved to be as worthless as he, she might not have ever met Josh.  She had hailed his vintage Checker cab, as warm and inviting as it was cold and imposing outside.  Everything about him, from his dark, swarthy looks to his sharp, intelligent humor, had impressed the hell out of her that short ten minute ride to her girlfriend's driveway.  So much, in fact, that she had given him a huge tip and her hastily scrawled number on a scrap of paper.  Leigh was so glad he had called her back.  He had proven to be the most considerate, gentle, caring man she had ever known.  As she opened her arms to Josh, she almost wept from gratitude.
 
      Josh still kept her number in his wallet, folded between arcade pictures of the two of them goofing off.  When it was slow, he’d sometimes pull it out and gaze at her name below the number, and at the wistful smiley face to the side.  When he happened across Leigh and her steaming truck that night, he had just returned from a long weekend in St. Louis, the halfway point between Baltimore and Eugene, Oregon.  His soon-to-be ex wife had suggested a rendezvous spot convenient to them both in order to finalize their divorce, and he suspected she didn’t want to return to her debts on the east coast or let him close to her new stomping rounds. Since she had arranged for the cost of flights and room, he had gone, thinking it to be a deal best done quickly. Had his ex realized he was on the cusp of having his first novel published, she would have held on for half. Instead, he allowed her to use him one last time in a final frenzy of shopping, sightseeing and fucking.  He had feigned remorse as she gave him the papers to sign in hopes she would feel a small measure of guilt or shame.  She hadn’t.  Even though the divorce wouldn’t be final for a month, the flight home felt like freedom, nevertheless.  It had been a hard life living under the Bitch-Goddess’ thumb, but it would soon be over.  These things were not on his mind, though, as he dropped his tote-bag and rushed into Leigh’s embrace.
           
      She melted into his arms with familiarity, although they had only been together a couple of weeks, and for a moment passion washed over them like a blast furnace.  Josh leaned into her kiss eagerly, feeling her tongue invite his to come out and play. Her belly and breasts pressed hard against him, making him want to make their clothes disappear instantly so he could feel her silky skin against his woolen chest.  The bubble of a memory drifted past his mind as Leigh ground her hips against him, one particular afterward moment as they joked and tickled each other all around the waterbed.  She sat on his chest naked, her brown legs pinning his arms down as she deliberately brushed her long, black hair across his face.  As her face sparkled with laughter, her breasts bobbing with her every movement, he had realized with a jolt that she was without doubt the most fantastic lover he had ever known.  This sudden revelation had caused Josh to weep without wanting to, and he almost did again remembering that moment.  His lips left hers and roamed over her face lightly, savoring the taste of her skin as she giggled and undid his ponytail holder at the same time, letting his bangs fall over her upturned face.
             
      “Gotcha,” Leigh whispered playfully as she stuffed a handful of Josh’s hair in his mouth.
             
      “Ack!”  Josh hacked like a cat bringing up fur, burrowing his face into her cleavage like a blind man looking for air.  He then drug his tongue up her neck in a quick, wet lick while she squealed. Before he could move away, though, Leigh drove her tongue into his eye and held his head with surprising strength as she pretended to give him a loud hickey.

     This led to a brief but furious wrestling match which ended when Leigh thunked her head on the wall trying to keep her legs clamped around Josh’s neck while he popped her toes.  Josh immediately became the nurse, parting her thick hair to get a better look at the bump.  She sat on the floor Indian-style as he kneeled behind her, leaning into her gently as he examined the injury.
             
      Josh had never seen a head wound before, and in the dim light of the kitchen the red bump didn’t look so big.  “You really shouldn’t be playing rough with someone twice your age, you know.”
             
      “Like shit,” Leigh replied, squinching her eyes.  “You trying to say I’m fourteen or something?  Guess more like eight, ouch!”  A lightening strike of pain cut like a scalpel into her brain, and for just a moment she saw tiny stars bouncing off each other in trailing jumbles of atomized light.  They disappeared into the air when she blinked.
             
      “You’ve got the manners of an eight year old, that’s for sure.”  Josh’s southern bass voice vibrated her hair and scalp.   “Don’t you know better than to wrassle with a pro?”  Her hands found his kneecaps and began teasing them despite her discomfort. “Hey, hey, kiddo!”  He groped for her ribs, her armpits, anything to tickle her back.  They rolled onto the floor together, laughing and sighing.
             
      As they lay facing each other slightly out of breath, Leigh reached up and gingerly felt the knot, now warm and swollen like a hard boiled egg. “Jeez, man, this is a wicked bump! Hurt’s like a bitch, too!”
             
      “Oh, hush, little baby,” Josh said, pouting his lips toward her distortedly in mock pity.  “In a hundred years you’ll have forgotten all about it.” He lifted one eyebrow and glared madly, reminding her of George Carlin. “If it grows to the size of Texas I promise to take you to the ER, ok girly girl?”
             
     Leigh frowned and slapped his arm enough to sting.  “Lea’me alone, bully!  If you had this you’d be crying and begging me to take you for X-rays!” She heard something click in her head, sending another bolt of searing pain this time like a wave of sick terror. Everything began to turn white with a sudden blizzard of tadpole lights.  

      Just as Josh’s face faded, she heard her husband’s rough voice.  “I told you not to do that again, bitch!”  Then the brilliance engulfed her and she disappeared screaming amongst crushing stars of pain.
             
      Josh went pale as he saw Leigh’s eyes roll up, revealing their pearly  underbellies.  “Leigh?  Leigh!”  She suddenly went  limp, as if all the life had just been sucked out of her, causing Josh to sit up frightened and shaking.  911, he thought instantly, scrambling for the phone.  As his trembling fingers found the numbers, Josh looked over at Leigh just as her bladder emptied, spreading out in a dark pool through her jeans and into the carpet.  “O God, ogod, c’mon, godamnit, c’m-“
             
      “911, what’s your emergency?”  The female voice on the other end sounded metallic and stale.
             
      “I need an ambulance!  713  Garden Street!  My girlfriend hit her head and passed out!”  Josh suddenly felt his throat tighten up with emotion and helplessness. Everything seemed so sharp and still.
             
      “Is she breathing?”
             
      Josh watched Leigh’s flat belly rise and fall shallowly.  “Yeah, yeah.”
             
      The voice took on a slightly more bored tone.  “Is your girlfriend bleeding from her wound, sir?”
             
      “No, she’s just got a bump.”  Josh spoke closer to the receiver.  “Are you gonna send the ambulance, or what?  She’s unconscious and just pissed all over herself!  I’m not a – “
             
      “Relax, sir, a unit’s on the way now.”
             
      Josh hung up the phone just as the 911 operator said in a fading monotone, “Sir, could I have your –“  He sat cradling Leigh’s head in his lap, stroking her hair and waiting, listening for the sound of approaching sirens.
             
      He knew all about her husband, and what that bastard had done to her.  It had come out their first night together. The evening had been magical up to their lovemaking, when she had broken down in tears beneath his soft caresses hoping he wouldn’t discover the wide scars and burns like a quilt over her thin body.  Josh did find them eventually and, without asking a single question, kissed each place as she wept out the story.  He heard things that night he would never had imagined, and at times had to fight the urge to show his rage and horror.   He had silently vowed to bring her more pleasure than the pain she had endured, more love than the hate she had lived with.  Now she lay crumpled, unresponsive to his touch, a victim of play.  The warped satire of this turn in fate pierced Josh’s heart like a spear, and he choked out her name like a mantra as he continued to smooth the hair from her brow.  He bent down to kiss her as faint sirens wafted through the night air. “They’re almost here,” Josh whispered as his lips touched hers.
             
      She felt him on top of her, his hands kneading her breasts viciously as his full weight threatened to push her through the floor.  It was always like this at the end with his hurried, grunting thrusts.  She had to pretend this was the best fuck of all, had to moan and shout out just the right words or he’d punch her in the abdomen, twisting his heavy diamond ring into her flesh upon impact.  She’d learned what to do and when to do it to avoid his outbursts.  If all went well, it would be over in just a few minutes.  Soon he’d make a more guttural sound as he came, roll off her in a sweaty heap and be asleep within minutes, leaving her with a wetspot and a chorus of snores.  This time, though, he seemed more aggressive, calling her name out over and over as his fat belly made slapping noises in a way that assaulting her ears.  “Ah’m goin’ where no man’s gone before,” he snorted suddenly, pulling out.  His drunken hand slipped between them for a brief second and then she felt him trying to enter her anus.
             
      “No!”she screamed, unable to squirm out from under his weight.  He grabbed the top of her head with both his hands and pushed, crushing her screams with his mouth.  The agony of this new pain, searing through her lower half like boiling oil, was nothing like the torture he was inflicting on her head with his fingers digging into her brain.  The pressure in her skull was building up so fast she had to do something or die. Everything was going black except for her husband’s twisted grimace bearing down on her, forcing his bloated tongue down her throat as he croaked,“I’m almost there!”  She bit.

             
      Just as Josh’s lips touched Leigh’s upside down, her head lurched forward as a seizure rocketed through her brain, smashing the bridge of her nose against his chin as she chomped on his entire bottom lip.  For a second Josh knew nothing but the essence of pain as Leigh bit down with all her might.  A primal scream erupted from his throat, and he clawed frantically at her bloodied face. “Ahhhr!  Aaahhr!”  A corner of his lip tore loose and he shrieked an octave higher, stuck staring at her quivering neck.  The small hollow at the base of her neck was his favorite place to nestle, but now it filled with blood from his mouth.  He didn’t know what was happening to him, or why she would do such a thing, but the absolute terror of losing his bottom lip caused him to instinctually wrap his hands around Leigh’s neck and squeeze while moaning out in tormented agony.
             
      He never heard the cop, never heard him say “Get you hands off her neck or I’ll shoot,” never heard the same warning as a paramedic tried to get into the room behind the cop.  The cop, startled by the sight before him, then suddenly jabbed from behind by the paramedic’s kit, lurched forward and fired directly into Josh’s skull, sending bits of bone and brain against the couch as the bullet tore through and lodged into a far wall.  
            
      “Shit, Pete,” the cop gagged, “she was biting his freakin’ lip off!  No wonder he was chokin’ her!”  He whipped a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face with it before laying it over the dead man’s vacant, ravaged face staring blankly at the ceiling.
             
      “Get away from her!” the paramedic ordered, shoving the cop to the side. “This chick’s still alive, but it looks like she’s having a grand mal seizure.  Hold her down and keep her from thrashing into anything while I give her an injection and start an IV.  NOW, godamnit!”  The cop looked as if he wanted to throw up, but held the woman down as he was told. Another paramedic burst in, and soon they were racing to the ER. 
             
      Josh’s lip was never found, assumed to be ingested by his lover.  When his wife came to claim the body she was given his possessions by Leigh’s parents, who had temporarily moved into her apartment while she recuperated in the hospital.  As soon as Josh’s wife discovered the novel and contract, she phoned her lawyer to cancel the divorce, then followed up with a weepy call to his editor to give the news while offering permission to publish.  The editor seemed interested in hearing the bizarre circumstances surrounding Josh’s death, and was careful to hide his excitement from the author’s widow.  How would Josh have known that his steamy, dark, psychological thriller would be imitated so closely in life?  That the heroine feasted unsuspectingly on her lover at the novel’s climax was just too much of an irony for the marketing department to pass by, and the publisher went all out to pitch A Woman’s Revenge posthumously.  Josh’s wife had him cremated and sold his ashes on Ebay for half a million dollars.
             
      Leigh returned to her husband where she died six months later on a Thursday night of an overdose of sleeping pills while laying next to her snoring, drunken husband.  She’s buried next to the grave of her only child, a son she named Lee, born dead in her eighth month of pregnancy as the result of repeated blows to her abdomen.
             
Had the truck radiator hose waited two minutes to burst, Josh would have
passed Leigh unnoticed, and who knows where they would be now? 
Fate is as fickle and unpredictable as a tornado. 
Touching down at random, it leaves behind the most unusual
ironies.

 

Luboff

03/04/2012

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She was in the music room playing something soft and good.  Jacker Backers, his morning self-grooming out of the way, sprawled on the carpeted floor right in a sunbeam’s warm light, dead to the world. McDuff, our resident Macaw and sworn enemy of Jackers, crouched on his tall perch across the room and practiced his purr.  Everyone accounted for, I stretched out for a nap on the deep and cozy couch hoping to get a couple hours sleep before having to go to work at 5pm.

As I reclined on that couch, listening faintly to the muted piano and outside to the low buzz of a distant lawnmower, I began to relax by concentrating on the thin, reedy keen of silence that pierces every sound.  Within five minutes I was drowsy and calm and well on my way to the beginning of what I hoped would be a refreshing pause from life.  As I floated in the warm, peaceful sea that separates this world and dreams, I suddenly heard a thin, scratchy voice say from under the couch “Can we go now?”  Normally something like this – although nothing quite like this had ever happened to me before, or since – would have launched me at least three feet in the air for any one of a dozen reasons, but I was so far from the shore of sensibility that I only nodded child-like, as if somehow I had been asked the question and felt the situation safe enough to‘go’.  My vision was still wrapped in black gauze but this did not concern me as I continued to slide toward sleep.

Then I heard a deep, stony voice under the couch also, as if it were not accustomed to being quiet. “Help me move this.”  A distant part of me still clinging to logic very much wanted to know what ‘this’ was, as it might be something that belonged to me and thus something I didn’t want anyone to carry away.  My imagination, however, provided plenty of logic by constructing from just those two sentences two bushy brown squirrels, their noses and tails in a constant state of twitch, trying to make off with a coconut they had acquired from God only knows where.  Had the stony voice not spoken again I would have fallen completely asleep and missed the events that followed.  “Stop starin’ at him and help me!”

Curiosity over who or more probably what was staring at me (being the only ‘him’ in the house, not counting the cat and bird) dragged me up from the well of unconsciousness I had been slipping into and demanded I at least open one eye just a smidgen, but when I tried I found this simple act impossible to do.  This prompted both of my eyes as well as the majority of the rest of my face to want to come to life, but I was as frozen as the grape popsicles in my fridge.  I wasn’t accustomed to being immobilized, and with rising panic tried to move anything , with no results at all.  This wasn’t as if I were somehow trapped in a blanket or being held down somehow.  I literally could not move a single muscle! As if that weren’t enough, I could only see the inside of my eyes; I was as blind as a potato.  Abrupt and gripping terror instantly replaced any casual interest that might have lingered in me, but I could not even tremble on the inside.  There were two beings under my couch trying to move something, and I was unable to move at all!  It then occurred to me that I might be the‘thing’ the two wanted to move, and I began to panic.  Unfortunately the only thing able to panic was my mind, and all it wanted to do was deny that this was happening.

“I fixed it,” the smaller of the two squirrels said.  Again, I immediately imagined being the ‘it’the thing somehow fixed.  If being completely paralyzed was fixed, I was without a doubt.


“Big deal!  Get over here!”  The gruff-sounding voice under the couch seemed impatient, and this heightened my anxiety.  Boss squirrel had a job to do and didn’t want to be distracted by something obviously not a ‘big deal’ that needed fixing.  For some strange reason I found myself rooting for the big squirrel.  The little one had no business staring or fixing anything, not when there were things to move.  Then a thought struck me that blew all the others away.  They were supposed to move me!  But where?

Just then the couch shuddered as the ground beneath shifted heavily as if someone were pushing a thousand bulldozers across the living room floor. The piano suddenly grew quiet and I heard the sound of the bench sliding backward as she stood up.  The normalcy of that familiar scraping I had heard so many times before brought me completely out of whatever dream-state I had fallen in, and I took in a deep breath that sounded like fabric ripping.   I was able to move!  I opened my eyes just in time to see the fifty two inch television fall from its place in the entertainment center and land with an electronic crash on the tiled floor below, startling McDuff from his contemplation with a squawk and a flurry of feathers.  McDuff launched himself from the perch just as I stood up drunkenly, waving my arms as if I wanted to testify.  She came into the room with all her beauty, holding onto the swaying door frame, her eyes round with fear.  “We’ve got to get out of here!” I felt the words come up from my throat but did not recognize the voice as mine.  
 
The thick sliding intensified and we both fell to the floor.  We reached for each other and drew close, our faces tight and grim.  I glanced beneath the couch, and what I saw made me forget all about being crushed to death or trying to escape the earthquake.  “Look,” I said to her and she followed my gaze.

On the floor beneath the couch, between a stuffed catnip mouse and a kernel of popcorn, two tiny black spiders crouched side by side as if they were holding on to each other for support.  As I strained my eyes it seemed as if the spiders were trying both trying to stand on the same spot with all of their legs, an appendage here or there popping out from the knot and then diving back in.  The building shook and quivered around us as we clung together with our eyes glued to the unusual phenomena happening beneath the couch.

Then I saw one of the spiders break away from the dual en pointe and unless my mind was playing more than its usual bag of tricks on me, it seemed as if the little creature actually pointed at me with one of its hair-thin legs.  The other spider immediately stepped off the spot and fled with an unnatural sense of urgency.  After a moment that seems to stretch with every telling, the other little spider followed its partner and vanished from sight.

We were both so astonished we lay transfixed to the spot where the two spiders once stood, not aware that the earthquake stopped the instant the they ran away, nor later, once the broken things had been thrown away and life tried to return to normal and the official earthquake authorities guessed that the seismic event originated in our vicinity, we were astonished even more but decided to keep the incident to ourselves in the name of prudence.  After all, who would believe that two tiny spiders caused an earthquake?

 

Solomon

03/02/2012

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(Author's note: The following story was narrated by a retired Chicago policeman who drove a taxi in Kalamazoo, Michigan, one lazy winter day at the bus station while waiting for fares. You will find the story  being told as if I were the cabby's fare, and can only hide behind artistic license in an attempt to make the environment more interesting. According to the narrator this event really happened, and I have tried to make his telling of the story as original as possible. Unfortunately, most readers have stated that they have difficulty getting around an old black man's dialect, particularly in print, so I have included a transliteration just after the original story. May one or both of these help bring you closer to the story as I heard it. jth)

 
He told me about the amnesiac cop on the way to Flint, and fifteen years later it still sticks in my mind like dirty nails. I think it was more the way he said it than the story itself; his slow, black, southern bass rising and falling over the highway whistles coming through his taxi’s windows seemed a mystical chant. It was more like a dream then than now.

“Don’t know if ah should tell yuh‘bout the wust t’ing evah happen’d to me in mah yeahs on de foce, but since you write ‘n awl, I reckon ah maht as well. May be you could put it in one o’ yore books.”

I sat behind him, could see his mud-brown eyes and bushy white eyebrows in the rearview. He would often look at me this way, sometimes for so long I would break from his gaze and crane over his shoulder to see the traffic ahead. His eyes would always be waiting for mine to return, his words never breaking rhythm.

“Ah’d been on de foce twenty–six yeahs when it happen’d.” The plexiglass behind him was scratched with undecipherable symbols, creating a mosaic of anarchy between us. “Joe Lorenzo –may de Lord bless an’ keep him – was mah pahtne’ den. He took one obeh on Cicero jus’ a mont’ later, right in de chest, by some punk nigga’ kid wid a foty-fahv. Di’nt ebben get to testifah at de trahl for de one ahm bout to tell yuh.”

The skin on the back of his neck and head wore the etchings of time like old leather left out in the sun. “We wuz on Challs ‘n Foth at de station, waitin’ fo’ owa shif’ to staht when dis cawl comes in to dispatch ‘bout a domestic distuhbance a block down on Fif’.Joe ‘ n I hopp’d up frum owa seats, jump’d in owa patrol cah’ and headed on down deh, afteh de dispatchuh tol’ us he’d send hep soon as dey sho’d up.” He paused while a semi growled by in the passing lane.

“Fo’ we’uz haf way deh, dis ole lady cum runnin’ up de street in huh nahtgown, holl’in an’ carr’in on ‘bout sum’n gettin’ killed, so we hump’d it de res’ of de way deh. Lemme tellya, it don’t mattah how many yeahs you on de foce, ebby tahm you gets a cawl lak dis, yo hart getsa poundin’ lak it wansa jump outta yo’ches’. Ah din’ no what to espec’, so ah grabb’d mah gun jus’ in case.”

For a full minute the only sound came from the clicking meter, the taxi’s tires on the highway and the steady whistle from a window not entirely up. His reflected eyes bored into my head like he was trying to determine whether I would be able to handle the rest of the story, so I sat quietly, patiently, all the while screaming at him in my mind to continue. At last he spoke again, his voice slightly lower, causing me to lean forward just to hear him.

“We come up on dis young man standin’ on de sahdwok holdin’ a lil baby nex’ to him lak dis,” he curled his right arm as if he were holding a football in front of him “an had a big ol’ butcheh naaf in his ubber han’, wavin’ it ‘roun’ lak he wuz tryin’ to cut up de air aroun’ him. Dere wuz a woman behin’ him standin’ haffway up a set of rowhouse steps screamin’ ‘Mah baby! Mah baby!’. Man, dere wuz blood ebbyware! On de woman, on de steps, on de sahdwok, on de man, on de baby, ebbyware.

“Joe ‘n ah bot’ staht’d yellin at de man ‘Put de naaf down!’ but ah cud tell he wadn’ about to, cuz his eyes wuz wild-lookin’. Jus’ seein’ how he wuz actin’, de fus’ thang ah thought of wuz PCP.” His eyes furrowed in disgust. “Whenebba sumbody on de PCP, dere ain’t no reas’nin’ wit ‘em. Deh go crazy, ah tellya, get as strong as ten men, can ebben break han’cuffs! I seen it wit mah own eyes!

“Joe ‘n ah look at each uddah fo’a second, ‘n we bowf no’d whut we had to do. We bowf staht’d edgin’ to’d de man‘n split up, me on de man’s naaf sahd, ‘n Joe on de baby’s sahd. Awl de whil’dat woman on de steps kep’ screamin’ ‘Mah baby! Mah baby!’ and now de ole’ lady who we fus’ saw was cummin’ up yellin ‘O lawd! Jesus hav’ murcy!’ De scene wuz getting’ hectic, ah tell ya.

“De man swang de naaf at me and staht’d hollerin’ ‘Leeme alon! It’s mah baby!’ an’ ah began tawkin’ to him awl calm lahk, sayin’ ‘Man, you don’ wanna huht dat lil baby, jus’ throw de naaf obbeh dere an’ we’ll awl be ok’. Ah moved a little bit closah’, awl de whil’keepin’ mah eyes on dat naaf.

“De man had awl his ‘tenshun on me, an’ dat’s jus’ de way we wanted it, cuz awl a sudden lahk, Joe snatch’d hold obbah de baby’s legs and pulled. ‘Cept only de bottom haf of de baby came away – de man dun cut dat baby clean in two! Jus’ as soon as Joe pulled away, his eyes fixed on his haf of de baby an’ den it wuz jus’ lahk summun tuhn’d a switch off insahda him, coz he kinda flopped down where he wuz an’ jus’ sat dere, holdin’ de baby’s legs in his lap.

“De man lunged at Joe an’ I shot him wit’out thinkin’, akshully emptied mah clip in him an’ den stood obbeh de man still thinkin’ ah wuz still shootin’ him. Ah lateh tol’ de ‘vestigatuhs ah tho’t de man wuz tryin’ to get away, ebben doh the corenuh said mah firs’ shot prob’ly kilt him. Awl ah ‘membeh is thinkin’ ‘muddah fukkah’ obbeh and obbeh agin.

“When de reinfoc’ments got deh, dey had to pull me offa standin’ obbeh de man, pullin’ mah triggeh on empty chambehs. But ah sware as Gawd is mah witness, when dey lifted Joe up offa de sahdwok, he dropped de bottom haffa de baby ‘n jus’ strolled back to de station, went ‘n changed outta his bloody unifohm into a clean one, den sat in de lobby chattin’ wit ebbyone lahk nuttin’ had happened. When ah show’d up, shakin’ lahk a leef and bout as sick as a man can get, Joe jumped up outta his chair ‘n said ‘Its ‘bout  tahm you show’d up! Les’ get rollin’!’

The air in the taxi felt heavy and static and I suddenly had the taste of copper in my mouth. The cabby fixed me again with his eyes, and they shined with a glaze of tears. “From dat moment on til dat bullet kilt him a mont’ lateh, ole Joe nebbah ‘membeh’d a thang ‘bout dat naht.” After a brief pause he added, “Wish ida been dat lucky.”

The rest of the trip was shared in silence.



~~


He told me about the amnesiac cop on the way to Flint, and fifteen years later it still sticks in my mind like dirty nails. I think it was more the way he said it than the story itself; his slow, black, southern bass rising and falling over the highway whistles coming through his taxi’s windows seemed a mystical chant. It was more like a dream then than now.

“Don't know if I should tell you about the worst thing ever happened to me in my years on the force, but since you write and all, I reckon I might as well. Maybe you could put it on one of your books.”

I sat behind him, could see his mud-brown eyes and bushy white eyebrows in the rearview. He would often look at me this way, sometimes for so long I would break from his gaze and crane over his shoulder to see the traffic ahead. His eyes would always be waiting for mine to return, his words never breaking rhythm.

“I'd been on the force twenty–six years when it happened.” The plexiglass behind him was scratched with undecipherable symbols, creating a mosaic of anarchy between us. “Joe Lorenzo –may the Lord bless and keep him – was my partner then. He took one over on Cicero just a month later, right in the chest, by some punk nigga’ kid with a forty-five. Didn't even get to testify at the trial for the one I’m about to tell you.”

The skin on the back of his neck and head wore the etchings of time like old leather left out in the sun. “We were on Charles and Forth at the station, waiting for our shift to start when this call comes in to dispatch about a domestic disturbance a block down on Fifth. Joe and I hopped up from our seats, jumped in our patrol car and headed on down there, after the dispatcher told us he'd send help soon as they showed up.” He paused while a semi growled by in the passing lane.

“Before we were half way there, this old lady came running up the street in her nightgown, hollering and carrying on about someone getting killed, so we humped it the rest of the way there. Let tell ya, it doesn't matter how many years you're on de force, every time you get a call like this, your heart gets to pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest. I didn't know what to expect, so I grabbed my gun just in case.”

For a full minute the only sound came from the clicking meter, the taxi’s tires on the highway and the steady whistle from a window not entirely up. His reflected eyes bored into my head like he was trying to determine whether I would be able to handle the rest of the story, so I sat quietly, patiently, all the while screaming at him in my mind to continue. At last he spoke again, his voice slightly lower, causing me to lean forward just to hear him.

“We came upon this young man standing on the sidewalk holding a little baby next to him like this,”he curled his right arm as if he were holding a football in front of him “and had a big old butcher knife in his other hand, waving it around like he was trying to cut up the air around him. There was a woman behind him standing haffway up a set of rowhouse steps screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’. Man, there was blood everywhere! On the woman, on the steps, on the sidewalk, on the man, on the baby, everywhere.

“Joe and I both started yelling at the man ‘Put the knife down!’ but I could tell he wasn't about to, because his eyes were wild-looking. Just seeing how he was acting, the first thing I thought of was PCP.” His eyes furrowed in disgust. “Whenever somebody's on the PCP, there ain't no reasoning with them. Theh go crazy, I tell ya, get as strong as ten men, can even break handcuffs! I've seen it with my own eyes!

“Joe and I looked at each other for a second, and we both knew what we had to do. We both started edging toward the man and split up, me on the man’s knife side, and Joe on the baby’s side. All the while that woman on the steps kept screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’ and now the old lady who we first saw was coming up yelling ‘O Lord! Jesus have mercy!’The scene was getting hectic, I tell ya.

“The man swung the knife at me and started hollering ‘Leave me alone! It’s my baby!’ and I began talking to him all calm like, saying ‘Man, you don't want to hurt that little baby, jus't throw the knife over there and we’ll all be ok’. I moved a little bit closers, all the while keeping my eyes on that knife.

“The man had all his attention on me, and that's just the way we wanted it, because all of a sudden, Joe snatched hold of the baby's legs and pulled. Except only the bottom half of the baby came away – the man had cut that baby clean in two! Just as soon as Joe pulled away, his eyes fixed on his half of the baby and then it was just like someone had turned a switch off inside him, because he kind of flopped down where he was and just sat there, holding the baby's legs in his lap.

“The man lunged at Joe and I shot him without thinking, actually emptied my clip in him and then stood over the man still thinking I was still shooting him. I later told the investigators I thought the man was trying to get away, even though the coroner said my first shot probably killed him. All I remember is thinking ‘mother fucker’ over and over again.

“When the reinforcements got there, they had to pull me off of standing over the man, pulling my trigger on empty chambers. But I swear as God is my witness, when they lifted Joe up off the sidewalk, he dropped the bottom half of the baby and just strolled back to the station, went and changed out of his bloody uniform into a clean one, then sat in the lobby chatting with everyone like nothing had happened. When I showed up, shaking like a leaf and about as sick as a man can get, Joe jumped up out of his chair and said ‘Its about time you showed up! Let's get rolling!’

The air in the taxi felt heavy and static and I suddenly had the taste of copper in my mouth. The cabby fixed me again with his eyes, and they shined with a glaze of tears. “From that moment on til that bullet killed him a month later, old Joe never remembered a thing about that
night.” After a brief pause he added, “Wish I had been that
lucky.”


The rest of the trip was shared in
  silence.


 
 
 
 


      “I can’t believe this shit!” 
      Jack pumped the accelerator pedal with his foot and tried not to look at the growing sea of deformed, smelly zombies surrounding the little Fiat.  The car had captured his attention – brilliant red with silver chrome and no windows broken out of it, and even more importantly it was not completely blocked in by other abandoned cars. He saw in an instant that even though the street itself was littered with all sorts of vehicles that had encountered the growing mob of drooling monsters, the downtown sidewalk was relatively free of obstacles and seemed an accessible form of escape – and when he ran up to it he saw the keys had been left in the ignition.  There had been no time for prayers of thanks or supplication, as the rancid claws of at least a dozen zombies pawed at the air just behind his shoulders, so he dove into the empty Fiat, locked himself in, tossed his backpack into the seat next to him and was now trying fervently to get the damned thing started.  
 
      He turned the key in the ignition again and the engine roared to life.  “YES!” he bellowed triumphantly as he dropped the lever between the seats to “D” and mashed on the gas.  Three of the snarling zombies that had been in front of the Fiat flew upon the hood.  He identified the one in the center as being old Herb Canyon, owner and chief cook of the Blue Plate Restaurant just one block away, but could not recognize the other two, a woman wearing what was left of a pink print blouse and red high-water pants and a heavy-set older man in tee-shirt and shorts.  All three bore the same unmistakable signs of being zombies: gaunt, pale faces with eyes that looked like twin lumps of coal in a snow bank, a constant stream of drool running from the corner of their mouths, the shuffling walk that reminded Jack of that famous music video, and the unstoppable hunger that scared him the most.  This particular breed of zombie, however, displayed an additional feature he had never seen or heard of in all the movies he had been to: without exception, their skulls had been bashed open and their brains were noticeably absent. Evidently anyone who became a victim of a zombie attack had their brains sucked out and consumed, and then became a brain-hunting zombie themselves.  He wondered if they would be fiending for a heart, too, if theirs were nommed. He didn’t intend on finding out, either.  He just wanted to get away before he became one of them.  He had become attached to his brain and didn’t intend on making it someone else’s lunch.

     As he maneuvered his way around the wreckage of cars, Jack did not fail to notice the lack of dead humans lying about.  This spoke loudly of the fate of those who had fallen victim to the zombies.  There were the skull-sucked carcasses of what were once family pets scattered throughout the sidewalks and street, an obvious testament to their inability to carry the virus, or whatever it was that passed from zombie to human.  He looked down and saw the gas tank on “Full”,glanced upward and this time gave a silent prayer of gratitude to whatever God existed in this crazed world.  The car bounced over the speed bump of a dead german shepherd and, finally beyond the one-block traffic jam of Pinch, West Virginia, he pressed on the accelerator and sped through the hilly countryside toward Indian Creek Road.  This close to town was a wide variety of houses in no particular order.  A two-story brick home with manicured lawn had as its neighbor a ramshackle dwelling patched together with plywood and two-by-fours with rusted out Oldsmobiles and Buicks decorating its unmowed front yard, and beyond that a neat and trim Cape Cod festooned with garish ornaments left over from Christmas, followed by an Antebellum mansion surrounded by weeping willows and then a double-wide trailer with concrete blocks for steps and a grass-bare yard covered in various toys.  Jack kept on the lookout for zombified humans staggering about their yards and did see a few in a ragged huddle trying to catch stray cattle, but did not intend to hang around and see if they were too slow for the bovine, or if beef brains would be on their menu shortly.

      The madness started the day before, when he came downstairs and noticed that his parents were not at their usual posts: his father seated at the dining room table with a plate of microwaved sausage and cheese croissants his head buried in the Charleston Gazette (which he called the “Quarrelsome Gazette”), and his mother seated across from him nursing a cup of coffee and fiddling with her latest tech-toy (currently an IPad).  His morning and that of his parents were so predictable you could set an atomic clock with it, so it was with some concern that he stared at the empty table.  He found them both in the back yard, pale-skinned and bloody, their brains having been sucked out and their bodies mechanically roaming around trying to climb over the privacy fence surrounding the yard instead of unlatching the gate and leaving.  At first he thought his folks were playing a practical joke on him.  His father’s head reminded him of that orange-haired comedian, and his mom seemed to have gotten her looks from a certain pop legend’s Halloween video.  Watching them for a moment, however, convinced him that something was seriously wrong, because while trying to scale the fence they kept falling onto the grass with enough force to have stunned even him, yet they got back up again and again and resumed their quest to overtake the fence; at their age neither of them had enough stamina to mow the yard or take out the trash, and he quickly knew something must be wrong. After going through the natural reaction of completely and totally freaking out, Jack made sure to lock the back door just in case one of them discovered how to turn a knob.  He ran to the front of the house and saw through the open front door that pretty much all of his neighbors had been turned into zombies.  Mrs. Peterson from down the street wrestled a screaming UPS driver out of his truck and then proceeded to bash his brains out on the street while other hungry zombies closed in on the scene hoping for a morsel of his cerebral cortex or even a taste of his medulla oblongata.  Jack somberly decided that the delivery guy deserved what he got, driving into a clearly zombie-infested neighborhood.  He noted somberly that they may ‘heart’ logistics, but they don’t ‘think’ survival.  
 
   Judging by the amount of blood on the doorstep, his father must have gotten his brain eaten while going after the morning paper –
how many times had he told his father it was easier to get news online! – and then turned on his mother.  He slammed and locked the front door and then peered out one of their curtained windows again.  There couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen zombies roaming through the neighborhood, which Jack considered a good thing, considering how many seemed to clog up the screen at the theater.  Having no intention of handing over his brains, Jack set about barring the windows and doors with wood he got from destroying their furniture, a shitload of nails from his father’s work area in the garage and a sturdy hammer.  He initially worried that the noise he made would attract the zombies, but soon realized that they either lacked the brains it took to figure out that hammering meant fresh meat, or their hearing didn’t work. Still, he kept a constant eye on the activity both in the front of his house and his parents in the back.

Inevitably, though, the drooping, shuffling monsters approached his house by twos and threes, scraping at the siding and moaning as if they had bagpipes stuck in their throats before moving on to the other houses. The hardest part was seeing his parents roaming around the back yard like old rabid dogs, their fingers splayed open to the bone from trying to scale the eight foot tall fence,  their mouths slack-jawed like idiots.  He knew right away that he couldn’t survive forever like this and eventually gave up trying to board up the house.  He searched the place up and down for the keys to his father’s Cadillac with no luck.  When he remembered that his father was stumbling around the back yard in his business suit, he realized the keys were probably in the old man’s pocket.  Jack thought briefly about trying to subdue his father, but no matter how the situation played out in his imagination, it always involved killing one or both of his parents, and even under the current circumstances he didn’t think he had the guts to do such a thing.  Here was where he had his biggest problem: he had no idea if a zombie could be killed.  They seemed to get around just fine without their brains, if by ‘just fine’ you mean shambling around haphazardly without a brain and obviously not dying from it.  He wished he had seen more zombie movies. All he could think of was to somehow impale them to the ground with a spear, like mounting a bug on a piece of cardboard, or herding them into a place where they could be contained, like his parents.  He also wondered if they would starve to death without dining on other people’s brains, but since this had just happened, he had no way of finding out just then.

 He watched the zombie parade out his front windows, and didn’t see any additional participants. Mr. Tucker from next door was one of them, still in his bathrobe, except it was now flapping loosely, exposing his white, round belly, whitie-tighties thankfully covering whatever Jack didn’t want to even think he had, and toothpick legs that looked as if they had never seen the sun before.  He spotted Mr. and Mrs. Finklebeck meandering across the half dozen lots on their street and wondered where their twin daughters were, Bambi and Becky, who were only about six or seven years old but who had already made their mark on their street as whiney little princesses and first class nuisances.  It wasn’t long before he saw movement from their house across the street and figured the twins must have gotten trapped inside.  He supposed they had been zombified, too, by the noticeable lack of ittle girl screaming, but if they weren’t he was most certainly not going to rescue those little fiends.  In a short matter of time he was able to identify almost everyone in his neighborhood.  
 
He noticed how slowly the zombies moved, as if they were trying to swim in mud, and decided that he would have no trouble outrunning them.  He thought his best bet would be to somehow get to the Pinch town square, stock up on food and other survival items such as beer (who would card him now?), a gun from the Lucky Seven pawn Shop and a fast car, and then drive to the state capital, Charleston, where there were sure to be survivors.

 Things didn’t go as planned, though.  He grabbed his backpack (after tossing out all his school books and stuff – classes were suspended indefinitely) and slipped out the garage door.  He really had no trouble staying away from the slow-moving atrocities in his neighborhood, but the closer he got to the bustling downtown area (the Blue Plate Restaurant, an Exxon gas station, the Pinch Pharmacy, the Lucky seven Pawn shop, Piggly Wiggly grocery store, four churches and laundry mat spread out over a half mile of two-lane county road that sliced through the tiny village like a butter knife) the more zombies there were wandering around.  It seemed like every resident from within five miles had shambled to the same place as if a truckload of brains was expected to show up at any moment.  Jack tried to sneak into the Piggly Wiggly but found it stuffed with mindless zombies roaming through the aisles, bumping into each other and trampling on the groceries that had fallen to the floor. The Lucky Seven Pawn shop was boarded up, and the owner – an old black man who had survived Viet Nam – was behind the counter holding something that resembled a bazooka.  He had yelled to Jack that it was too late to let him in, considering the pains he had gone through to keep the zombies out, and that unless Jack found a way to get west of the Mississippi River he would be eventually be caught and his brains munched. That was when Jack had spotted the little red Fiat.

 County Road 47 became County Road 49, or Indian Creek Road, as everyone around here called it. Called it as in the past.  Looked like there would be no need to worry about highway names now.  All he had to do was keep the wheels on the road and he’d be in Charleston in about half an hour.  It didn’t take too long for him to discover that it would probably take a little longer, considering how many cars were sitting at odd angles on and off the blacktop. Most of them had shattered windows, which meant the occupants had been dragged out, no doubt screaming and kicking. It was while he found himself weaving around an old F150 and a Toyota Tercel that he saw a CD sticking halfway out of its player.  He pulled it out and read the title, Sevendust: Cold Day Memory, then slid it into the console.  Just then he felt a heavy thud on the back of his car that caused him to hit the accelerator and almost slam into the Tercel.  One quick look in the rear view mirror confirmed his fear: a brainless zombie that had at one time been a farmer judging by his blood-soaked coveralls and hard-weathered face had latched itself onto his Fiat, and as he watched it began slamming its fist into the rear window trying to break it.  He looked around quickly and saw that a couple of other skull shattered zombies had seemed to materialize from nowhere and was almost within striking distance of him.  This time he did mash on the gas pedal, skidding around the disabled truck and clipping its bed, knocking farmer-zombie off in the process.  He didn’t bother looking in the rear view this time as he gripped the steering wheel and tried to bring his adrenalin level back into Earth’s atmosphere.  The rock band’s music soon coursed through his jangled nerves and helped calm him down.

 Soon he approached the southern suburbs of Charleston.  The sheer number of trundling zombies seemed to double every mile he came closer to the city, and by the time he came to the Interstate 77/64 exchange he knew the entire city must be crawling with the brain dead.  Smoke spiraled up from at least a hundred different sources in the direction of West Virginia’s state capital.  He sped onto the Interstate going south and zippered through the schizophrenic jumble of cars and trucks left by new converts to the zombie resurrection.  The further he retreated from Charleston the less traffic he found.  He didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, but he hoped the nightmare was falling behind him.

Avoiding zombies was thirsty work, so Jack decided to pull off the exit at Prosperity.  The Shell station was eerily deserted: no cars, no zombies, not even any normal folks.  He parked as close  as he could get to the door, but before he had a chance to step out of the Fiat he saw why there were no signs of life, and it turned his blood to ice.  Sitting on the far side of the station were a couple of tourist busses, their doors splintered open and blood splattered like graffiti everywhere.  As soon as his mind took this information in the first wave of elderly zombies ambled from behind the busses and began to approach him. Jack decided to put his thirst on a back burner for now and squealed away from the decrepit mob.  
 
As he jetted back onto the Interstate, a new thought struck him, and genuine hope swept over him for the first time since this nightmare had started.  Surely Washington DC was a safe place!  It was the home of the President and Congress, for crying out loud! If the full force of the country’s military were called to protect anyplace, it was the nation’s capital. He grabbed a candy bar from his backpack and made haste toward DC.

 Seven exhaustive hours and a full tank of gas later he approached the Bull Run National Battlefield Park exit on Interstate 66.  Every time he passed a populated area the number of deserted and wrecked vehicles seemed to grow.  He came across dozens of zombie hordes ambling on and near the Interstate in search for fresh brains, and on more than a few occasions had seen unlucky citizens get their brains knocked out of their heads and then sucked up by the relentless mass of monsters.  The closer he drove toward the Beltway the more these scenes played out around him.  This dampened his expectations of finding sanctuary in the Capital.  He forged on, hoping that perhaps either the zombie invasion hadn’t crossed the Potomac or that the government had been able to keep the disease or whatever it was from affecting DC. 

By the time he reached Arlington the destruction was almost overwhelming.  He had to slow to a crawl around the burning wrecks of semis and every other type of car and truck that he could imagine.  Smoke from the gutted remains of nearby buildings sometimes swept across the highway, bringing with it an unknown stench that permeated the inside of his car and threatened to squeeze his lungs empty.  There were very few zombies actually on the Interstate, but as he neared the Potomac River he saw hundreds upon thousands of cracked-skulled horrors crawling and shuffling throughout the city.  Jack’s eyes teared up and his chest grew heavy with hopelessness, but he continued on, motivated by an almost morbid curiosity to see what had happened to the last refuge of civilization.  Smoke and the growing blanket of dusk prevented him from seeing into the Capital, but as he drove the Fiat across the broad river he felt for the first time like giving up.

As soon as his tired car made it completely across the Theore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and began rolling on Constitution Avenue a strange and wonderful sight greeted his eyes. The only vehicle on the Avenue was a Transit bus, and it rolled along as if nothing in the world was wrong.  He sped up to run alongside of it and wave it down, but suddenly the last drop of gas burned through the Fiat’s engine and the car quickly sputtered and died.  “Damnit!”  He hit the steering wheel with the heels of his hands and turned off the CD player. As he looked around surrounded in a sudden blanket of silence he marveled as he stared at the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall and the Reflecting Pool.  The entire Mall as far as he could see was completely void of zombies, and the few people he saw walking around seemed to be of sound mind and body.  He stepped out of the Fiat  and ran a little ways to where a woman and man were seated on a blanket beside the Reflecting Pool having a meal.

 “Oh my God!” Jack exclaimed as the couple nonchalantly looked up at him.  “You don’t know how good it is to see you guys!  I came all the way from Pinch, West Virginia, and man, there were zombies EVERYWHERE!  I know must think I’m crazy, but . . .”

 The couple were both dressed in business attire.  The woman smiled at Jack and said, “Won’t you have a seat?   I can’t speak for my colleague, Senator Darby from Oklahoma, but I would be glad to share my sandwich and drink with you!”  She held out her hand and shook his firmly and confidently as if she had been doing such a thing all her life.  “I’m Senator Lucille Howard from the great state of Montana!  Glad you could make it here!”

 The well-dressed man also robustly shook Jack’s bewildered hand.  “Nice to make your acquaintance, son!  I hear it’s pretty rough outside of the District.”

 Jack almost collapsed onto them both as he took a seat on the blanket.  “You don’t know the half of it, Senator!  There are brain-eating zombies everywhere!”  He took a bottle of Coke the Senator from Oklahoma handed to him and took a long drink, thinking Coke never tasted so good.  He looked around and was amazed at the unconcerned behavior of everyone around them.  A group of men, obviously senior statesmen by their demeanor and attire, chatted amiably beside the Lincoln Memorial.  He peered more closely at them and then exclaimed, “Why, that’s the Vice President!”

The Senator from Montana waved her hand as if dismissing an errant servant.  “Kevin Laster?  Oh, he’s always looking for someone to debate foreign policy!  I see he’s managed to corral an entire gaggle of Junior Republican Representatives.  Personally, I think his views on China are rudimentary and obsolete.  If he thinks he can win the nomination next year he has been severely mislead.”  She picked up a tiny two-pronged fork, scooped an oyster from its shell and delivered it to her mouth.

Jack’s eyes almost bulged from their sockets as he observed the casual nature of his hosts and the other politicians roaming about.  How can you be so calm when there are thousands of brain-eating zombies just on the other side of the Potomac River?  We should be surrounded by the Army and Marines, and the Air Force should be bombing the hell out of those monsters! It’s only a matter of time before they cross the bridge and start munching on all our brains!  For God’s sake, don’t just sit here like nothing’s happening!  There’s got to be something we can do to stop them!”  He gasped for air as his heart thumped madly in his chest. “The world is falling around you and you’re eating oysters and ham sandwiches!”

Senator Darby patted Jack on the shoulder.  “Now, now, my young man.  There’s no need to fear.  You are as safe as if you were in your mother’s arms –“

 Jack cut him off.  “My mother’s a freaking zombie!  If I were in her arms she’d be cracking my head like a pistachio and sucking my brains out!”

“That was just a figure of speech.  I’m sorry to hear about your mother, by the way.  What I’m trying to tell you is that for some unexplained reason the mutants refuse to come within the perimeter of the District of Columbia.  The previous administration must have set up some kind of advanced invisible barrier and didn’t bother telling anyone.”  The Senator chuckled and lanced at his partner from the great state of Montana as if to say ‘some people can’t be made to understand.’  “Lucky for us, the entire Congress was in session when the zombie incident began. The US Capital is not only lucky to have every Representative and Senator within its borders, we can safely say the entire bureaucracy is completely intact!  The Department of Education, the Treasury Department, the Veterans Administration, Homeland Security . . . why, all the arms of the government are well staffed and ready to serve!”  The Senator unbuttoned his jacket the rest of the way, leaned back and looked into the cloudless sky.

“I must be in a nightmare!” Jack cried as he sprang to his feet.  “You people are crazy!”  He turned and ran toward the Lincoln Memorial, climbed its steps and collapsed at the foot of the giant statue.  “What’s going on around here?  I think I’m going crazy!”

“No, the last thing you are is crazy, young fella.”  

The voice echoed off the columns, startling Jack to his feet again.  A middle aged man wearing nothing more than a tee shirt and sweat pants appeared from around the back of Lincoln.  His hair was long and straggly and it looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a month.  “Who the hell are you?”  For a moment Jack thought the man looked vaguely like the President of the United  States.

 The man smiled knowingly. “That’s not important.  What is important, obviously, is that you understand the strange situation you’ve come across.”

“Damn straight,” Jack said resolutely.  “Why are zombies roaming around everywhere except here?  Is there some sort of invisible barrier protecting us?”

“Hardly.”  The man put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the statue.  “The zombies are hungry for brains.  There are none here.  Simple as that.”  His smiled widened.  “Now if you’ll pick your jaw up from the floor, I hear the Senate cafeteria has a marvelous buffet this time of day.  I’ll get you filled up and settled in one of the chambers for the night, and tomorrow you can begin the process of becoming a citizen of the District of Columbia. Given the amount of paperwork that’s required, it shouldn’t take you more than six to eight years to become eligible.  Come!  Dinner's on me!"



 
 
     Zachary Kilgore knew, he was absolutely and positively certain, that there was something hiding in his room.  He had harbored this suspicion for some time, since that morning last summer when he woke up and found his model B52 smashed to smithereens in the middle of his room. He had no brothers or sisters, the usual suspects when something of one of his friends came up missing or damaged. The model had been carefully suspended from the ceiling by his father with wire and hooks; they were still intact the morning of the B12’s demise, gripping slivered remnants of the demolished model as if wrenched violently from its dangling perch and dashed to the floor below.  The thing that disturbed Zack most was that the incident had not aroused him from his sleep.  Judging by the brutal and complete annihilation of the plane, scattered in thousands of tiny shards throughout his room, there had to have been a great deal of noise.  He was notoriously a light sleeper, also.  He liked to tell his friends an ant fart could wake him up. 
Yet, the certain cacophony of his beloved model’s demolition had not caused him to stir, unless . . . his imagination could dredge up at least a dozen possibilities, but they all demanded Zack abandon rationality and walk down dark roads he had no intention of traveling.  There had to be a reasonable explanation for the disturbing event, and he wasn’t about to start entertaining wild fantasies.  His father, always the practical man, had postulated that perhaps a mouse had found its way onto the model airplane, and its weight had caused it to fall, and the reason why he had not heard it land on the hard wood floor was that he was in stage four sleep, whatever that was.  Satisfied with his father’s hypothesis, Zack dismissed the episode altogether.

     Until the following month, the morning after the night of his first day back at school, to be precise. He had awakened to find himself lying on top of all four of his Lord of the Rings posters.  They lay between his body and the fitted sheet on his mattress, spread out perfectly as if they had been placed with the utmost care to prevent any wrinkles or tearing.  This frightened Zack to the wick, not only because of the unusual placement of the posters, but because they had somehow been taken out of their frames hanging on the walls of his room.  In order for the posters to have made the journey, the frames would have had to been removed from the wall (no easy task as they were each securely anchored to the wall with three hooks), taken out of the framse (another substantial feat involving disassembly of the frames’borders, removing the actual posters by carefully untaping them from their backing, and then reassembly of the frames), and then somehow, someway sliding them under his sleeping body without so much as a tear or wrinkle.  This time his father did not offer a rationale for this phenomena, but did call his mother into private counsel in the laundry room, and then proceeded to question him thoroughly while his mother sat quietly with a worried look on her face.  It didn’t occur to him until later that same day that his parents actually believed he had something to do with it, and this revelation made Zack cry, something he hadn’t done for two whole years when he was eight.  He began leaving the door partially open at night so the hallway light could chase many of his bedroom’s shadows away, and took to the practice of keeping his covers tucked in at the sides and bottom when he climbed into bed at night.  Sleep became difficult to achieve as his imagination ran wild at night, and for the next couple of weeks he spent his nights tossing and turning – no easy feat when the sheet and blanket are tucked in on three sides.  Zack’s mind did eventually begin to weary of speculating on the fantastic, and soon he began sleeping through the night with little more than a few worried looks under his bed.

     But then, as if out of some bizarre calendar of the unexplained, exactly one month and a morning later, Zack awoke to find his entire Magic the Gathering card collection turned into an exact replica of the Taj Mahal – on the floor of his closet!  He did not consult his parents as before. They obviously would not believe him if he told them he knew nothing of it.  He had seen enough movies to guess that they would probably send him to a therapist.  The fact that something or someone was doing all these things on a monthly basis sent chills up his spine.  However, after carefully examining the obvious effort that had gone into erecting such an elaborate structure using game cards, which involved no doubt genius abilities in design and construction (not to mention a college degree’s worth of knowledge in the science of physics and other such math skills), Zack began to feel a sense of awe and wonder which diluted his fear considerably.  After consulting Nicholas Hornsby, the smartest kid in his class and a self-taught expert in horror movies, he guessed that there was nothing more serious than a playful poltergeist messing around with his things.  
 
     Nicholas Hornsby had suggested Zack leave a peanut butter sandwich and glass of milk on his nightstand when it was time for the creature’s next overnight project, and he did, but when he awoke to his next surprise four mornings later the milk and sandwich were still untouched and growing stale.  What he awoke to that morning was to find the entire contents of his three drawer dresser, as well as every piece of clothing in his closet, squeezed together somehow into the perfect size and shape of a basketball and suspended from his ceiling by a single shoestring.  Instead of fear Zack felt almost a giddy sensation of excitement.  Surely the mischievous spirit was having fun with his things.  He assumed that the imp’s first attempt to manipulate objects resulted in the demise of his model airplane but since then had obviously mastered the art of influencing matter.  Evidently it did not care for peanut butter sandwiches and milk, either.  It took Zack almost an hour to peel his clothes apart, and all the while he snickered at the ingeniousness of the feat.

     A month later, almost to the day, he woke to discover that the thick wooden headboard, footboard and frame to his bed had been somehow reduced to sawdust and laid in a perfect semicircle around the remaining mattress and box spring.  The raw exhilaration Zack felt regarding the spirit’s latest achievement was short lived when his mother inquired about the whereabouts of his bed, to which he offered no excuse, and he knew in an instant that the truth would only result in a paddling and a bar of soap in the mouth.  Still, he suffered his parents’ punishment of grounding happily, and looked forward with glee to whatever miracle the poltergeist had in store for him next.

     As the month’s wait drew to a close Zack found himself so excited to see what else the spirit would do that he had great difficulty falling asleep, even to the point of watching the night sky began to lighten with dawn before his overworked mind and fatigued body pushed him into slumber.  He knew the good-humored being was hiding somewhere in his room just waiting for him to go to sleep, but with an air of expectation he had not known even during his younger years anticipating Santa, he twisted and jostled around under his covers for hours.

     For years his parents held out hope of finding their son Zack.  The police detectives and subsequent private investigator hired by the family were unable to find a single clue as to the boy’s whereabouts. It never occurred to anyone that the ceiling of the missing son’s room was not only a darker shade of red than the rest of the house, but that it alone had a stucco design.  Had Nicholas Hornsby been able to put his considerable knowledge of horror films to use in the bedroom, he might have discovered that Zachary Kilgore had been looking down up them the entire time.