Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hunger and Thirst

In life his name was Craig, but no one called him that. The all called him C-dog, or Crusty. In life he was a drug addict, meth was the drug of choice, but he would do any drugs that came into his possession. In life he was singularly focused, everything he did was leading towards one goal…scoring. He pan handled, did sexual favors, borrowed, and stole to get enough money to buy even the smallest amount of dope. He was no stranger to the hunger he felt now as the walking dead.

He had no recollection of the past, and no knowledge of what was to come, just like in life, he lived in the moment. His singular focus now was for flesh. In life he wandered these streets up and down, trying to score a few dollars either panhandling or pick pocketing. In death he roamed the same streets, around the same places, but just through instinct. He roamed the streets here, just like the other undead crowded around methadone clinics, restaurants, casinos, bingo halls, brothels, arcades, crack houses, tobacco shops, malls, and porn shops. If one were looking for a pattern, it could be seen. A keen observer would have noticed that the ebb and flow of zombies increased under the East Wabash Building just before 9am, around 12pm and just after 5pm, as the habits carried over into undeath and transformed into instinct.

Craig was severely injured at this point. His right leg was blown off; all that was left was a femur bone sticking out of a lump of meat under his hip. His other leg was badly mangled as his lower half had been run over by a tank. He dragged himself across the ground, crawling in hopes of coming across a meal to sate his hunger, if only for a moment.

His method of crawling was unique. He would drag his body forward on the ground, eventually getting his body close enough to where his hands were planted to lift his face up to look around. When he went to move again, his hands would lurch out and his face would slam against the ground, leaving bits of itself in a grim trail.

As he lifted himself up again he was suddenly excited. Flesh… He could see a door opening up and a cart being pushed down the handicapped ramp, it slowly gaining momentum as it headed for the street. Behind it a man ran, pushing it. Craig made his was as fast as he could toward the flesh, his arms grabbing at the ground, frantically pulling himself up and then lurching again, all the while his face slamming against the asphalt.

Creatures rushed from all sides to the man, moving in from each direction, the man pushing behind the cart and deftly maneuvering between them. On occasion the man would let the cart’s momentum take it forward while he attacked the creatures that surrounded him, then he would make his way back to it and push to get it moving faster.

Craig had worked his way across the street and was nearing the trajectory of the man. His path had led him directly next to the cart and with one hand he reached out for the man’s leg. His hand quickly grabbed the shoe and the startled man nearly fell backwards. The cart continuing on toward the curb as the man stumbled. Craig was rewarded with a sharp crack of his skull, as the makeshift machete the man carried made out of the arm of a paper cutter swung down and broke into Craig’s cranial cavity, releasing him from this world and his hunger.


I’m not much from planning. I never have been. Most times when a difficult situation raises its head, my first reaction is to tackle it head on. I don’t normally have the patience for meticulous planning. So when I decided to head across the street with the water, it was, as usual, by the seat of my pants.

I decided to bring the water along in hopes of trading something for it. During our conversations Mike and I had discussed leaving. He was hoping to hole up and ride out this situation; I was hoping to get out of town. He had a police officer in his building that offered his keys to me. His vehicle was on the next block, and he had no way of knowing if it was still there, but if I wanted, the keys were mine. They had told me to try to make a break for it and to come over a couple of times, every promise or suggestion had an air of absurdity and humor to it.

At first the idea of crossing the street seemed ludicrous. The road was teeming with undead. But as my days passed and I became isolated, I started looking down from my window thinking, “I think I can make it, it might not be that hard.”

I left my building to get home, but I wanted to help them too though. I didn’t just want to come over and expect to get resources for nothing. These people were struggling too, and I might be taking a resource that they might find useful in the future. I didn’t want to come empty handed. The problem is that five or ten gallons of water aren’t going to last fourteen men very long. My only choice was to load up and head out.

I made it to the center of the street easily enough, stumbling once as a crawler grabbed my ankle. My shoe was still on and the grabber went down with one shot, but that moment of hesitation let all the others gain on me. I saw they were closer and I pushed the cart with everything I had. The whole time motivating myself:

“Come on, you fucking pussy! Push this Goddamn thing! Push you fucking weakling! You got to want it.. Come on…come on….come on. Dig your fucking legs in a push!”

I was closer to the east Wabash building but I still had a short distance to go, and the cart was getting heavier. My legs were exhausted and even though my body was spiked with adrenaline, I was running out of gas. I was near the door on the bottom of the building, my mind screaming now:

“You can make it! Push! You can do this! You’ve got it in you, just a few more yards! You can make it! You can make it! You can make it. You can do this…”

It took only a brief moment for the cart to shift a little on the way up the sloping area by the curb. The water sloshed to one side, its own momentum taking it down. It fell and scattered, one of the containers shattering and letting lose all the precious cargo from inside. I stood there shaking my head in realization…I’m not going to make it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Walking Beans

I was in view of my parents’ road, Gorham Road – maybe a mile and a half away when I noticed that the Cat’s fuel gauge was smugly pointing past the letter E. A minute or two later, the machine lurched and sputtered jerking me forward in it and I downshifted the gears with one tired arm, but the machine let out a death rattle (….so much death…) before stalling on the right side of the road between two soybean fields. Exhausted, I undid my seatbelt and assessed the landscape in all direction. Nothing. No movement. Just a few buzzards swarmed in the sky up ahead. I was so close…dammit. And now I had to go the rest of the way on foot. Ugh.

I peeled my sweating back from the black leather cab seat. I turned around in the small space and pulled a lever to move the seat forward; searching for anything I might want to take. I had my crowbar, but if I could double up on weaponry, all the better. A glass jar, nearly full of water was tucked miraculously behind the seat. My mom and dad were notorious for re-filling large glass organic juice jars with the reverse osmosis water from their house and taking a couple jars with them in their vehicles wherever they went. They didn’t trust drinking the water anywhere. And in that moment I thanked God for their alarmist precautions that I had so often made light fun of. I took the jar and guzzled down half the warm water, the combination of water-force and gravity nearly choked me. The sun was high and hot. I grabbed the water jar, grabbed my crowbar, for some reason I also took the keys…and so gingerly I opened the cab door. I leave it open.

I clearly see now that the once yellow body of the Cat is patterned with the blood of my neighbors. It had already started to stink. I knew the safest way to do this was to walk on the side of the road in the field. The brown soybeans were knee high and sparse. It felt good to stretch my legs and as I walk I start to feel a little more awake and alive.

As farmers rotate crops, last year these fields were hay. I recall running into the fields in the cool of summer evenings as a kid at the end of the season. I remember taking a running leap, trying to jump up on the huge bales that were so fragrant and earthsweet. I miss that smell as I miss the woods. The sun mercilessly beat down and I could hear the calls of the buzzards ahead getting louder during their circling ritual.

Keeping vigil in each direction, I continue straight ahead, soybeans slowly smacking at my legs as I crunch them under foot. I am getting close to the Burns’ farm and their Polled Herefords sign in the shape of a brown Hereford cow. This farm meets the end of Gorham Road. Several red pole buildings and sheds dot the farm lot around a white-sided house and initially I detect no movement. Only about a half mile to go now as I prepare to cross over to Gorham Road.

I must have been overly focused on reaching the road because I look up one last time to see that the buzzards were swarming directly over Burns’ farm. My eyes meet with a figure beyond the half acre cow pasture. It is Mr. Burns. He is standing in his bluejean bib overalls and John Deere cap. He is missing an arm tore off at the shoulder and his red plaid shirt hangs shredded where the joint once was. He is holding a pitchfork in his remaining rotting hand and stands with his head oddly tilted. He sees me and begins to moan and move slowly forward in my direction. I don’t get panicky because a good 75 yards separates us as does an electric wire fence. What I failed to hear soon enough, though, was the “clunk, clunk” of the farmhouse’s wooden screen door as it swung open in the midday sun. Farmer Burns’ three young children -- two girls and a boy between the ages of 8 and 11 – undead, foaming at the mouth, irate, growling and hungry emerge from the white farmhouse.... just a few yards away from me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Iron Chef Never Has to Deal With This Shit

“Over there! Fuck yes, and hurry. Everyone, listen up! You and you, whoever you are, start grabbing all the steel tables, turn up em upside down and push em against the wall. Let’s make those motherfuckers work to get in here.”

”You! Find as many mop handles, table legs and chair legs as you can break off and bring them here. You have two minutes. NOW!”

“I need oil of some kind, or lard or something slick, right now and lots of it, gallons if you can find it……..Perfect! Good, grab it and pour that shit all over the floor by the hole in the wall. Let’s try to make ‘em crawl to us.”

“Someone bring me a small sharp knife….., thank you. What’s your name? Fuck, right, sorry, anyway, I need you to get me as many small appliances with electric cords as you can right now. Be back here in one minute. As many as you can.”

“Colleen, find the thermostat for that walk in, turn it down as warm as you can, take Finn, and lock yourself in. Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP COLLEEN. THERE’S NO TIME FOR THIS. Sorry. Look, you can’t protect Finn and fight at the same time, I need you in that walk in right now, this isn’t a suggestion, GO, GO, GO”

“Okay, thanks for the knife. Where are my appliances? Get over here! Now! C’mon c’mon c’mon, that’s enough, FUCK!, there’s no time, bring them all here, now.”

“I need you to take this knife and cut the power cords off of the appliances, fast as you can and try to fray the edges, expose as much bare wire as you can.”

“Okay, every one listen up, I’m going to try and electrify the tables, if you touch the steel, you will die, so stay the hell away from them”

“Get over here, you, you, and you, and help me move these refrigerators. After they get through these tables, I want them bottle necking through here. MOVE MOVE COME ON! Push. Good, good, that’s fine. They’ll have to come between here now. Oh fuck I can hear them. Fuck, fuck fuck.

“Enough, enough. Okay, listen up everyone, we have exactly no time. Everyone grab a chair leg or a broom handle or something, the longer the better. Hey! Put down the fucking knife, man, they don’t care if you cut them. We need to smash their fucking heads in, and that’s a lot harder to do than it sounds, so if you can trap them or immobilize them or whatever, good, great, we’ll come back for them if we live through this thing, but whatever you do don’t forget about them. They will grab you even if they are supremely fucked up, so stay away from the mangled ones. Stay together as much as you can.

“Here they come, here they come, Oh mother fuck me, here they come.”

I’d like to say that the rest of the battle was a blur, that it was over before we knew it, but it wasn’t. There’s a kind of hyper-clarity to the memories of a trauma that convinces me that if we were made, we were made by someone intent on sowing the seeds of our self-destruction into the very mechanics of our minds. They came full force, no trickle, no prelude, but a wave of them, stinking like raisins, sweet and musty and obscene, moaning that low dry sound, the sound of unthinking need. They came with their hands almost comically outstretched. I might have laughed if not for the knowing that their grasping claws were aimed at our soft, living flesh. When I close my eyes, I still hear them, much like you might feel the soft bob of the ocean even after you’re back from sea. When I eat, I smell them, and when I sleep, I feel those cold, hard hands pulling dumbly at my flesh.

The tables did slow them down at first. The electrical current turned them stiff as boards. From where I stood, table leg clenched in my hands like a bat, I could see every muscle in their bodies contracting, turning them to statues. They began to smoke and twitch. I hoped and feared that they would catch on fire, but none of them did. They just stood there looking rather like far too realistic Halloween decorations. But it didn’t last. It couldn’t. There were too many of them, and all too soon they had jostled the tables enough to knock the frayed loose wires clear. As quickly as they had turned to stone, they turned back, moving forward like a terrible switch had been thrown.

The oil on the floor worked no better. They fell all right, each one of them that I saw cross that slick tile floor went down in a heap, but they didn’t even try to stand back up, they just crawled forward, slipping less now they were on all fours. They came at us like animals, never once changing their terrible relentless pace. It was my intention to stay together, to try and hit them as they crawled toward us one at a time down the refrigerator hallway I had made, but our line broke before it had a chance to get started, and a young man rushed forward to club the closest ghoul to us. Even as he ran forward, I could see what was going to happen, I tried to warn him, but there was no time. One minute he was running forward, makeshift club raised for the killing blow, the next he hit the oil slick himself. His feet flew out from under him and he landed sickeningly on his head. Almost immediately, blood began to pool around him and his legs twitched spastically, beating a staccato rhythm on the tile. In a moment, the ghouls were on him, ripping and pulling, biting at any exposed flesh they could get. This was by far the most successful diversion. Another moment and the young man’s legs stopped twitching. Somewhere in that room, someone screamed. A man, a woman, I don’t know, but that scream unleashed the pent up fear and anger and sadness we all had been feeling since this nightmare began. In a moment, we were transformed into animals ourselves. We were rage embodied; we were each one of us the personifications of unchecked hate. We were no longer a group, but lone warriors that happened to be fighting the same enemy in different wars. As I ran forward, pistoning my club down upon the heads, necks and whatever else I could strike, I was no more aware of my comrades in battle than a tiger is aware of a fly. I struck everything that reached for me, everything that stank of death and threatened to destroy me, my life, my family.

As they pressed forward, I became aware, for a split second, that the woman in front of me was the same one that had been so kind to Colleen a few moments ago. Even as I recognized her I was striking the second and third blows, sending blood high into the air with each impact. Looking back, I believe she had turned. I know when I struck her, that she was already one of them; that she had changed before I struck her down. When I dream though, I still see that smile just before her face is crushed.

Just as I was pulling my club up again to face the next of them, I felt a great tug, and my table leg was pulled from my hand by the outstretched hand of a crawling zombie. As soon as he had the club he dropped it, reaching back up toward me. I was defenseless, surrounded. Desperate, I aimed a kick at its head. Its open jaw clicked shut hard, and from between the shut teeth fell the front half of the things tongue. I reached out a hand, flailing for anything to use to escape their terrible press. My hand hit metal and I grasped and swung for the first thing coming toward me. I saw with horror even as I swung, that I had nothing more substantial in hand than an enormous metal whisk. The flimsy metal wires bounced harmlessly off the face of the creature, and in moments I was in his grasp. His hands and arms worked to pull me closer to the snapping jaws of its mouth even as I pushed and struggled to keep him at bay, but he was stronger than I was, and my face was being steadily pulled closer and closer toward him. I searched about for something to use, some secret final something to get me out of here, when I saw the toaster.

It sliced through the air like a potentially delicious morning star, building speed and energy as it swung from its cord and ended its descent in the skull of the creature. Immediately, its hands released me and it fell to the ground. I spun around to see my savior, and was both grateful and horrified to see Colleen, standing without Finn, bloody toaster cord wrapped tightly around her hand.

“Finn’s fine. He’s in the freezer, and I think there’s a way out. C’mon” she said.