Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lunatic Fringe

The throb in my arm awakens me. It is twilight. I open my eyes and see the sparkling diamond of Venus rising. A slowly moving satellite crosses the sky where the dark blue meets black, far away from this inexplicable chaos. I’m used to seeing airplane contrails scar the sky above this area all the time. Now there are none.

The soft groans of the determined undead drift up to meet my ears as I carefully shift my weight on the rotten boards of the tree house floor. The air is noticeably cooler and a soft summer breeze spitefully rustles my hair.

I peer down between cracks in the tree house floor and see that we have a visitor. Another undead neighbor - looks like Rich Aldanus - round bare gut hanging over his Chicago Bears lounge pants, socklessly shuffles in to join the party, arms raised, clawing ridiculously at the bark of the tree like the others, moaning for blood. Maybe he’s a fresh kill.

I recall hearing a radio program on the topic of stress. The science was that the body’s secondary functions such as growth and reproductive processes halt during extreme times of stress. I thought about how I wouldn’t even need to be on the pill right now to stay unpregnant. After this I realize how much I am missing Cecil. And I begin to weep bitterly, my tears landing on the splintered gray floorboards. I could use his military directions right now. When I had got drunk and puked in the car after my company Christmas party two years ago he held me up, got me in the house, got me undressed and cleaned up, and sternly commanded me to stop crying and keep my head over the toilet bowl. I feel like my head is over a toilet bowl right now. And all this shit is swirling below me, groaning to reclaim my body somehow. I hope Cecil is holding his own against these fuckers wherever he is right now.

The raccoon punctures in my arm stopped bleeding but are looking swollen. I’m sure an infection is well on its way. Great, just what I need.

More stars appear in what’s quickly becoming the night sky. As the colors fade I think of the song Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider how the beginning is echoey and perfect for this picture. I cradle my injury and curl up in a fetal position.

I have to get out of here tomorrow. Come hell or high water.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not so Precious Moments

There are the stories we tell over a nice meal, stories that bind a diverse people together through the wonder of shared experience. They may be happy stories or sad or funny, but they are told willingly enough, and without anger or resentment. But there are other stories, terrible mournful stories. Stories told in whispers, reluctantly, each word pulled from us like bloody fish hooks, writhing and thrashing to stay buried deep in the hard, desperate parts of us, these are the stories that wound grievously with each telling. This is one of those stories.

We had just come to the light. Can you imagine what the meant to us? Can you? Just to have the light again, to be out of that infernal dark, it was like learning to breathe again just to see. And it wasn't just light, but sunlight, beautiful and bright and hopeful and it was there for the taking. It felt like I was consuming it, that I would devour the suns rays with my voracity. Can you think for one moment what that would have been like?

I didn't even think about it. I'd like to be able to say that I saw those kids down there and decided to do what was right, but it wasn't like that. I just started moving. What else was there to do? Jesus, they were just teenagers. They should have been throwing rocks and getting stoned and finding some girl to let them feel her boobs, but instead there they were, sitting in that goddamn boat as it floated lazily toward the shore. And of course there were dead on the shore, plenty of them. And so what the fuck could I have done? It wasn't the right thing, hell; it was the only thing. So we sat, all of us, in that damn tree and there I was, whittling little spears, a regular Don Quixote, readying the lance to go tilting at undead windmills. I thought I had to

By the time I realized what was happening, it was far too late. You have to know that at least. When we crawled out onto the tree from drainage culvert, I never looked at the tree. I was blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, you know what I mean? I didn't see a tree, I saw freedom, I saw salvation from the hell of that concrete tunnel and the dark. I saw spears to fight the zombies and maybe save the kids in that stupid little boat. What I didn't see was that the tree was dead. Mostly at least. It was leaning against the culvert because it had been struck by lightning. Some of the branches were still green but it was a goner. The trunk was split wide open at the base and it was at a crazy angle to the ground. Hell, thinking back it's likely the only thing holding that damn tree vertical was its leaning against the very culvert we climbed out of. So when it began to fall, slowly at first, I had no idea what was going on. It was like tipping over backward from the top of a ladder, sickening and inevitable, and just slow enough so that you know you're really fucked. It was a big tree. We were very high up.

I remember the landing real well. I was lucky (that's all it was too, don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise) to be on the far side of the initial impact. Couple of them cellar dweller hippie body clone chicks hit the ground first, and the rest of the tree just fell right into them. Weird thing was, no one said anything. Not a word, not an "Oh Shit" or "Fuck." Nothing. We fell silently. It had become our habit in the dark. But our silence didn't mean shit to Zed. They saw and heard that tree falling and they came in as big a rush as I ever seen them. Up until now, we'd only seen the slow ones. These were fast. They were on us before we even knew we'd survived the fall. One poor fucker just laid there, trying to push himself out of from under the tangle of branches that had him pinned even as they descended upon him. It was pointless. I could see even as I scrambled that his legs were shot, but he fought like hell until one of them mercifully bit him in the throat. Finn's screams probably saved my life. Until that moment, I was dumbfounded, pulling myself out of the branches and wondering how the hell we were all going to get out of this one when I heard his panicked cries. I snapped to and looked to find Colleen clutching Finn, looking wild and trying to restrain him with one hand while trying to scramble out of the tangled mess herself. I couldn't believe that she'd managed to hold onto him through the impact with the ground, but there they were, alive. And I guess that's when it happened.

I looked at them, my tired, half crazed wife, my screaming son, and I didn't care anymore about the boys in the boat. They were dead already, they just didn't know it. I think I had wanted to stay and fight before, to make a stand. I was ready at a moment's notice to make every place my feet held soil the goddamn Alamo. Until I heard Finn screaming. I looked back over my shoulder. A couple of the hippy-types had lived through the fall and were extricating themselves from the branches. One was brandishing a flimsy stick as the undead rushed him, tearing it from his hands and tackling him with the weight of the ceaseless hunger. And so we ran.

I grabbed Colleen's arm harder than I would ever have dared before and took off. I didn't care if she couldn't keep up or if I was hurting her. I needed to run, to put distance between my family and that madness. I left those boys on the water and our traveling companions to die. Part of me has been running ever since.