Archive for: January, 2013

Early Retirement By Kris Herndon

Jan 27 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

I, Michael Freni, am giving away my superpowers.

The big ideas all sound crazy at first, so it’s good luck when they come to you at four in the morning.  At four in the morning, crazy is no big deal.  At four in the morning crazy may seem like a plus.

I flick on the bedside lamp and write it down, not because I’m afraid I’ll forget it — who could forget an idea like this? — but for the pure pleasure of writing it down.

And maybe also for my biographer to find the note years later, among my papers.  Sometimes at four in the morning, I’m certain there’ll be this biographer going through my papers years from now. “Michael Freni kept a pen and paper by his bedside, jotting down the big ideas when inspiration struck in the small hours…”

At eight a.m. in the office, though, “crazy” feels a little like “stupid.”  It’s harder now to picture this biographer poring over the papers and so on.  And if he did, when he stopped poring and got down to writing he’d have to begin: “Michael Freni lived alone…”

At this point even the thought of telling my assistant makes me cringe.  She’s gonna think I’m an idiot.  I call her in anyway.

“Janine,” I say, pressing the intercom button.  “Could you come in here, please.”

“Yes, Mr. Freni.”

Janine comes in and sits down.  She’s wearing a light gray suit.  It goes silvery when the light hits it just right.

“Janine,” I say, leaning back in my chair.  “I’m giving away my superpowers.”

She blinks.  “I’m sorry?”

Yes, she thinks I’m an idiot.  But I’ve been through this process before with a big idea.  And I’ve been through it before with Janine.

“You’re giving them away,” she repeats.

“Yes.”

Her face is expressionless.  She hasn’t written anything down yet.  That’s because she only writes down the specifics.  That’s her job.  Janine is good with specifics.  I am not.  Janine has worked with me a long time, and she knows her role.

“I see,” she says, and I realize I’ve shocked her.  I realize this only because I’ve known Janine for so long; her face registers nothing much in the way of emotion, and after a fraction of a second she gets over it.  “So you’re not selling them?  Not exchanging or bartering them?  Just giving them away, for free.”  I nod again.  She makes a note.

“You’re planning to retire, then?”  she asks.  I nod again.  She doesn’t have to ask this, actually.  It was announced at the last Board meeting, and the minutes from the Board meetings are circulated to the staff.  Of course, almost no one reads the minutes.  But Janine does.

“Okay,” she says.  “Have you figured out who you want to give them to?  Because it occurs to me –”

“It occurred to me, too, but I’m not giving them all to one person.”

“Of course.  For obvious reasons,” she says.  She may be suppressing a smile; she may not.  I nod.  “Well, I suppose I should get an appraisal?”

“No time for that.”

“It wouldn’t take long.  You could use the tax write-off.”

I shake my head.  “That’s not the way I want to do this.”

She nods again.  “Is there a list somewhere?”

I stare at her blankly.  “A list?”

“A list of your powers.”

“Oh.  Can you draft one for me?  There’s got to be something in the files you can just update.”

“I’ll take a stab,” Janine says.  “Who are we distributing this list to?  Are you going to let the Board know in advance?”

“We’ll send a letter to the Board — I’ll need you to draft that, too — but I’m not going to wait for their approval.”

Because you’d be waiting a long time, thinks Janine.  I try not to read minds at random in the office, but that one came through pretty strong.  I shake it off and continue.

“I’d like our associates to get first crack at this.  After the letter to the Board goes out, I’m thinking we just send out an all-staff email, you know, kind of run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.”

Janine doesn’t like this kind of phony corporate babble.  I watch her little nose execute the faintest disapproving wrinkle.  It’s not just the jargon, either.  She’s a tiny bit idealistic about what we do around here.

However, she simply asks if there will be anything else, and when I say no, she says, “Okay,” and gets up to go.  When she gets to the door she turns around and looks at me.  “Mr. Freni.”

“Yes?”

“I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but…”

She hesitates.  I wait.

“… couldn’t you retire… and just… keep your powers?”

“I don’t think that’s a real possibility.  Do you?”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“It wouldn’t really be retirement if I kept them.  That’s what I mean.”

She thinks for a minute.  “It could be.”

I shake my head no.  “Not the kind of retirement I want. Thank you, Janine.  I’d like to see that list by this afternoon. I want to get this dealt with as soon as possible.”

And off she goes.  My office door (expensive, heavy, lacquered birds-eye maple) makes this muffled, wimpy, tiny, emasculated excuse for a click when it closes.  It drives me fucking nuts.  It has for years.

In a dogged mood, I turn to my inbox.  I start with the top of the pile, planning to work through it piece by piece, the way cartoon characters work through their cartoon inboxes.  Except that I am not a cartoon character.  My eyes won’t focus on the papers in my hand.  Instead I sit there and look around at my office.

We had a decorator come in and ‘do’ this office.  I remember taking an interest in the process at the time.  Dark wood, terra-cotta walls, dark brown leather couch.  A shelf with a Chinese horse on it, shouldering aside some attractive books I haven’t read.  Gray carpet…  Did I choose this carpet?

There was a time when choosing carpet would not have been part of my job description.

The good offices on my floor have big windows.  My office even has a terrace outside those windows, for the sake of effect.  I used to take off from there, once in a while.  Impressive to tourists, and venture capitalists, and stockholders and stakeholders and visiting Japanese businessmen.

Marketing. Ah, that stuff used to fascinate me. Now it seems like reinventing the wheel over and over.  Irrelevant. Maybe worse than irrelevant, sometimes.  I force my attention back to the papers I’m holding.

Here we have a proposal from one of my associates who thinks that Superhero, Inc should look into the purchase of a Seattle-based global shipping concern.  It’s a detailed proposal, I’ll say that much for it.  I struggle through it in a fog of boredom, thinking about coffee.

Coffee would help me focus.  I need to focus, because, if I let it, my mind will wander back to the good old days when I was still fighting evil.  Me personally, that is.  Before this was a desk job.  Knocking out bad guys, rescuing damsels…

With Herculean effort, I wrench my thoughts down from the heroic blue skies and sunsets of memory to the next sheaf of papers.  It’s a mockup, for my approval, of the charitable giving pages of our annual report.  There’s a light blue post-it on it with a note from Janine:  “Includes your latest edits.”  I experience mild amazement:  I made edits to this thing?

Resolute, I scan the charts and columns of figures, but then it’s noon and I’m tired of working.  I decide to leave early.  Hell, I’m practically retired.  If I don’t get some practice relaxing, I might never get the hang of it.

As I step out of my office, Janine turns her head and gives me her inscrutable, closed-mouth smile.  Lately I’ve been wondering if that subdued, perfunctory smile is her only smile, or if it’s just her workplace smile.

I have never had to rescue Janine, I think.  Not once.  I wonder if anyone has.  She couldn’t possibly be this way all the time, so poised and cool and efficient.  I try to picture her getting crazy over a few beers, shooting pool, wearing jeans and a T-shirt.  Does she even drink beer?  Does she ever go to a ballgame?  Does she like the Mets, or does she like the Yankees?

“Leaving early, Mr. Freni?” she says now.
“Thought I might as well,” I say.

“I’ll have this list for you in the morning, then.  Or if you want to check your email later this afternoon…”

“Great, thank you, Janine,” I say, and walk out into the afternoon sun.  It’s the first time I’ve left the office before dark in over a year.

 

#

 

The next morning the first email in my inbox is from Janine.  Unexpectedly, it strikes me as hilarious.

From: ‘Janine Pasternak’ jpasternak@superhero.com

Date: Tuesday, February 6, 2007 4:04 PM

To: ‘Michael Freni’ mfreni@superhero.com

Subject: Superpower list

 

Mr. Freni,

 

I’ve divided your powers into two lists:  major powers and minor ones.  You have an open spot on your calendar at 11 today so I’ll stop in then to discuss next steps.  Draft text below:

 

Michael Freni is giving away his superpowers.  You are invited to choose one from List A or three from List B.

Indicate your request by replying to this email.  Requests will be answered in the order in which they are received.

 

LIST A:  Major powers

__Ability to fly

__Bewitching charm

__Command of animal kingdom (10-yard radius)

__Command of insect kingdom (10-yard radius)

__Invisibility

__Precognition

__Ray of destruction (50-yd radius)

__Super strength

__Telekinesis

__Telepathy

__X-Ray vision

__Night vision

__Patience beyond the lot of mortals

 

LIST B:  Abilities

__Breathe under water

__Calculate the tip on separate checks

__Cause small objects to vanish temporarily

__Choose the perfect wine

__Compliment a woman’s appearance without causing offense

__Cook the perfect omelet

__Detect a lie

__Dress appropriately for any occasion

__Drink and not get drunk

__Fix cars and other machines

__Look like a million bucks on little or no sleep for weeks

__Make a perfect cappuccino

__Make your rival appear a fool

__Pack light, even for a long trip

__Remember birthdays/anniversaries

__Remember jokes, including punch lines

__Walk through walls

 

I sit at my desk laughing out loud.  Bewitching charm!  Is she kidding?  Remember birthdays and anniversaries — ordinary people can’t do this?  And the omelet thing!  How the hell does she know about that?  Is the perfect omelet really one of my powers, or… Isn’t it more like a skill?  A knack?  What would be the word?  Surely she’s pulling my leg?

I don’t know.  I don’t want to risk offending her.  I reply:

 

From: ‘Michael Freni’ mfreni@superhero.com

Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2007 8:16 AM

To: ‘Janine Pasternak’ jpasternak@superhero.com

Subject: Re: Superpower list

 

Janine, this looks fine. Just change “three from List B” to “two from List B.” No need to meet, please send ASAP. Thx, MF

 

She fires back:

 

From: ‘Janine Pasternak’ jpasternak@superhero.com

Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2007 8:16 AM

To: ‘Michael Freni’ mfreni@superhero.com

Subject: Re: Re: Superpower list

 

I checked with legal this AM — they recommend including language that notes measurements are approximate, disclaims responsibility for any problems with pickup or delivery of powers or with powers themselves — and so on.  They gave me the lingo.  Want to run it by you.  11 OK?  JP

 

And, ladies and gentlemen, we have our paper trail.  The disclaimer is officially not my idea.  I resist the urge to execute a celebratory fist-pump.  Is that one of my powers?  To get people to put things in writing?

It’s obnoxious to joke about having superpowers if you really do have them.  Glib, I think, would be the word.  I wipe the smile off my face and hit reply.

 

From: ‘Michael Freni’ mfreni@superhero.com

Date: Wednesday, February 7, 2007 8:17 AM

To: ‘Janine Pasternak’ jpasternak@superhero.com

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Superpower list

 

Janine, in that case, 11 works fine see you then. Thanks, MF

 

 

#

 

 

At exactly eleven she taps on the door, steps in and hands me a draft of the email and a draft of the letter to the Board of Directors.

I ask her to wait while I look it over.  “Looks good,” I say.

“Good.  Now, am I supposed to be working out the logistics?”

“What logistics would those be?”

“I’m sorry — I meant, how are you planning to transfer the powers?”

I smile.  “Just leave that part to me.  Can we get the letter to the Board out today?”

“I’ll send it out this afternoon.  We’ll wait two weeks or so and then we’ll email to the associates.”

“That would be fine.  Thank you, Janine.”

 

#

 

They throw a party for me.  Black tie.  They serve champagne.  It’s freezing out, but people stand on the terrace anyway, drinking champagne, looking at the lights of the city below, forgetting what the party is for.

People surround me, clap me on the back, express their sympathy, give joking condolences.  I get a lot of golf-related knick-knacks as gifts.  I get tired of smiling.  My eyes search the room.

I’ve seen her dressed up at black-tie things before, but tonight Janine wears a dress I haven’t seen.  Strapless, in a shade of gray that makes her dark hair look darker, which in turn makes her white shoulders look even whiter.  The fabric looks warm and substantial, almost like flannel.  It looks as though it would be soft to the touch, but she is all the way across the room.

I watch her for a minute until I catch her eye.  She gives me her workplace smile.

Just then Bernie Staub corners me, slaps me on the back.  Bernie is on the Executive Committee. “Early retirement,” he says.  “Every man’s dream.  You gonna do some golfing? Relax a little?”

I’m nodding, but he shakes his head.  “I don’t buy it!  You can’t fool me, Freni,” he says. “You’re not even forty!  What’s your second act?  Gonna start a new venture?  Or maybe you’ll marry that girl you rescued from the Whyrgian Menace?  God, she was pretty.  What was her name?”

It’s an awkward moment, because now I have to decide whether to remind Bernie what happened to that girl, or stand there silent and wait for him to remember on his own.  Which will make him feel less awkward?

Maybe I don’t care if Bernie feels awkward.

“She died, Bernie,” I say. “The Menace came for her while I was holding his Zeta fighter at bay on the Tappan Zee Bridge.  I tried to make it back in time to save her, but it was too late.  She died in my arms.” There is a small silence. “Her name was Mary Beth,” I add. “Mary Beth Kellior.”

Bernie clears his throat respectfully.  “I, ah, I remember that now,” he says. “That was a tough break, Michael. I’m sorry about that.” I can see him searching for a joke to break the tension, and I brace for it, knowing he’ll find one.  “Guess that’s why you superheroes don’t date much,” he says.

With a superhuman effort, I manage a weary laugh, slap him on the back, and offer to fetch him a refill.  He’ll be as relieved as I will when I don’t come back with it.

#

I stay late, feeling helpless to leave until they’re ready to let me go.  Janine is gone by then.  There are plenty of cabs on Fifth Avenue; still, I decide to walk part of the way.  Then I just keep walking.

I walk, keeping my Barbour raincoat on because it’s foggy and damp.  Even though it’s cold out, I begin to sweat from exertion, possibly ruining a decent tuxedo.

It’s still dark when I reach 81st Street, but the gray of the sky is lighter.  Walking west toward my apartment, crossing West End Avenue, I can smell the river in front of me — a great, green, lurking, living smell.

My river, I think.  Then I think that sounds egotistical, but it feels true.  Somewhere in the dark is a sign with a corny slogan:  Superhero, Inc is committed to keeping Manhattan’s waterways clean, fishable, drinkable.  Even if we have to use our super powers to do it!

When I reach my building, it’s dark under the awning.  The lobby looks welcoming — I guess they make them look that way on purpose.  Esteban is the doorman on duty.  I look at him through the glass doors.  He sits in one of the red chairs no one else ever uses, and doesn’t see me at first.  After a bit, he stands up to stretch and glances out through the glass.

Late night for Mr. Freni — maybe he got lucky — as Esteban catches sight of me, the thought runs across his face like the tickers in Times Square, clear enough for anyone to read it, superpowers or no.  He nods at me, and reaches for the door.

I shake my head and incline it sideways toward Riverside Park.  Going for a walk.  He nods and smiles, to show that he knows what I mean.  I turn and keep walking, still in my tuxedo and my raincoat, my tie loose now around my neck.

It’s dark under the trees in the park, but I can more than smell the river now.  It caresses every sense but sight, a damp, almost animal presence, full of muscle and health.  I link my hands and pull my arms behind my head to open up my chest a bit.  I bounce on the balls of my feet once or twice, take a few steps, bend my knees.  I jerk my head back, throw my arms wide, and lift off into the cool, damp, welcoming air.

First there are trees in the little margin of park below me.  Then the Hudson River.  In flight, you can feel the difference when there’s only water below you.  It’s colder, and you tend to drop a little.  You have to work harder.

The island of Manhattan makes its own weather:  exhaust, hot stale air from the subway, buildings exhale, human bodies exhale.  There’s a current of heat over the city, a complex heat with its own dry, sooty, human scent with as many notes as a good red wine, a scent like no other place I’ve been in the world.  The heat is alive, like a wing:  a hot, soft wing that lifts you up, easily, with the pigeons and the sparrows and the weightless, drifting deli bags, Thank you and Thank you! and I Heart NY.

Should I fly south toward Wall Street?  Fly past the office and watch them clean up the terrace, sweep up the cocktail napkins and the plastic champagne flutes?  No, I remember, someone might see me.  I decide to head north instead, toward the George Washington Bridge.  Even at this hour there’s traffic on the West Side Highway, but there’s still the fog and the night to conceal me from the early commuters.

As I get closer, my eyes begin to water from the sharp sooty air.  I see the bridge.  They’ve got the lights on.  It’s beautiful.  Right now, at this moment, no other human being on Earth sees it like I see it.

I turn east, into the sunrise, but the light is too strong and I’m getting tired.  I head for home.

 

#

 

The Board takes the news the way we thought they would –that is, badly.  The early negotiations surrounding the proposed transfer cause infighting, backstabbing, garden-variety office politics, problems and more problems.  The media attention is relentless.  The days grind by.

My final day in the office rolls around at last.  Janine hands me the WSJ first thing.  “You’re in the paper today,” she says.

“Freni Cleared in Powers Scandal,” reads the headline. It’s in the news summary column on the front page. I glance at the blurb underneath:

Michael Freni, who ten years ago overturned convention in the superhero industry by refusing to create a “secret identity,” today was cleared of wrongdoing in the investigation that resulted from his attempt to give away his powers. Story, page A4.

 

“It’s my last day in the office,” I tell her. “Can you come in around 5:30 this afternoon?  I’ve got a few things I want to go over with you.  Just don’t want to leave a lot of loose ends for whoever takes over.”

In my office I turn to page A4.

 

In 1996, with the superhero industry in a steep decline, Michael Freni made a name for himself by being the first to successfully apply a conventional business model to the practice of superheroing.

 

Still more controversial was his decision to “fight crime, oppose evil, save damsels, and rescue kittens” (as one typically irreverent early press release put it) under his own name, instead of using an alias and creating an elaborate public identity — both standard industry practices at the time.

 

In recent months, Mr. Freni has seen his business empire shrouded in scandal, as his attempt to give away his superpowers prior to his impending retirement generated claims of dangerous, defunct or malfunctioning powers, or, in many cases, of promised powers that were never delivered at all.

 

Mr. Freni was protected from liability by the terms of the giveaway.  But while dissatisfied participants in the superpower sweepstakes had no legal recourse, the complaints led to an investigation into the possibility that Mr. Freni had defrauded former clients by claiming to exercise powers that were never real in the first place.

 

That investigation was settled today, with Mr. Freni cleared of all wrongdoing.  Mr. Freni’s testimony throughout the proceedings provided a fascinating glimpse of the lonely life of a superhero.  He portrayed in detail the long, unpredictable hours and incredible physical, mental, and emotional demands of his position.  He also spoke of the difficulty of “connecting, in any real way, on any deeper level, with other human beings” and described himself as “utterly burned out” at age 37.

 

Most striking of all…

 

I toss the paper aside.  I don’t care what was most striking of all.  I’m retired, I don’t have to read boring press clippings about Michael Freni anymore.

Besides, I know what was so striking:  my powerlessness.  My insistence, in front of the cameras and the microphones and the eager eyes and ears, that I was just an ordinary man. That, though they evidently didn’t survive the process of transfer, the famous Freni superpowers were gone.

It was a painful moment.  And even if I faked the powerlessness, the pain was real.  It hurts, I guess, to be ordinary.

To be ordinary — me, Michael Freni.  To make, for the rest of my life, only ordinary omelets.

Lucky there are no cameras in my kitchen.

At 5:30 there’s not so much to go over, after all. As she gets up to go, I ask Janine how she sees her future at the company.

“I’m sending out my resume,” she says.

“Really?” I say, surprised.

“You know how long these executive searches take.”

“You don’t want to coast till they hire someone?”

“No, and I don’t want to end up working for The Green Machine.”

“Oh, come on, they’re not gonna give it to The Green Machine!”  Then I realize she’s kidding.  She smiles, turns again.  She reaches the door.  I feel a beat of panic.

“Janine,” I say.

“Yes, Mr. Freni.”  She pauses with her hand on the door handle, her face half-turned toward me, her eyes on the carpet.

For a moment we are both motionless.  Never before, I think, have I frozen two people using no powers at all.  It’s like a magic trick.  Nothing up my sleeve but complete and utter helplessness.  I can imagine the slogan the marketing people would dream up.  Never before has a superhero done so much with so little… or so little with so much… Something like that.

Then I think:  Just ask her, you jackass.  I take a breath.

“Janine, would you like to get a beer with me?”

She lifts her head, looks at me, and smiles — no, she sort of… grins.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen her teeth.  They are perfect — small and even and very, very white.

“I’ll just get my coat,” she says.

 

THE END

AUTHOR BIO

 

Kris Herndon has published short fiction in Silver Blade magazine; erotic fiction (under the pen name Charles White) in the forthcoming Saachi Green-edited “69 Stories” anthology; and non-fiction in Wired, Oprah, and other national magazines.  She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop.

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BARNETT HILL By Anne E. Johnson

Jan 20 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Maggie Gordon stared at Barnett Hill, just beyond the family’s mustard field. Maggie spent much of most days staring at that hill.

The wagon accident three years before had broken her spine, so she couldn’t walk. Her so-called husband?in name only, as they say?had no idea what to do with her. Every day he wheeled her out onto the porch and left her there. For hours and hours sometimes, until he or one of the farmhands happened to remember she existed, and wheeled her in again.

Maggie spent her days staring into the distance at Barnett Hill. Or she watched the miniature life playing out on the porch. The spiders building webs between the railing slats, the ants carrying one grain of dirt at a time, and the beetles. Maggie loved the beetles, iridescent black and green, toddling across the wooden porch floor near her wheelchair. They were pretty and they made her feel less alone. She thought of those beetles as the only blessing left in her life.

As the Stewart sisters led their mule along the road in front of Maggie’s house, they talked about the recent unusual weather.

“Bobby says that no sun is bad for the crops,” said Livia Stewart.

Her sister June shook her head. “But it ain’t raining. All them clouds day after day, and it don’t ever rain.”

“No rain, no sun,” Livia moaned. “How we supposed to grow crops at all?”

The women did not turn and greet Maggie, although her porch was only six yards from the roadway. Like everyone else in the township of Shepherd’s Field, the Stewart sisters were about as likely to greet the butter churn sitting on the Gordon’s lawn as they were to say hello to her. Everyone had stopped saying hello to Maggie.

That’s why she didn’t bother to mention the black spot to anyone. Who would listen? At first she thought it was a crow. What else could be that black against the constant, thick cloud cover? But it couldn’t be a crow, she decided after a few minutes, because it wasn’t flying around. It was fixed in the sky.

Odd, but at least it gave her something new to look at. However, her neck and shoulders grew tired from the awkward angle. Maggie went back to staring at old, familiar Barnett Hill in the distance.

“Always the same,” she said. “Always the same. Always the same.” She chanted herself into a stupor, as she did every day.

“You’re goin’ in, Maggie,” she heard her husband announce. She had no sense of how many hours had passed. Her wheelchair jerked into motion. The man she’d once loved never even walked around the chair to talk to her face to face anymore.

Just before he swung her chair to push it in the door, Maggie took a quick look at the sky. Despite the growing darkness, she could make out what seemed like a slender black monolith poking down from the clouds where the dot had been earlier. It was growing. It was changing. Maggie’s heart grasped onto that with satisfaction. Something that wasn’t always the same.

“I’m goin’ out,” her so-called husband said once he’d parked Maggie’s chair next to the bed and pulled the chamber pot out. She knew he was heading to that blond bitch again. The Swedish slut, two farms away. Maggie said nothing. No point. She dragged herself into bed and eventually fell asleep, dreaming of shimmering black-green beetles in the sky.

Early next morning there was a lot of commotion outside Maggie’s bedroom window. She pulled herself to a sitting position and peeked out. She could just see Bill Richter on the roadway. He worked the turbine over at the Wesselman’s place.

“They’s everywhere,” he said. “Six, all told.”

“Where?” Maggie recognized young Widow Sara’s voice, although the woman was out of view. “I can only see three of ’em. One up there, one yonder by the Wesselman’s, and the one over our okra patch.”

Maggie contorted so she could see the sky. The black monoliths were very long now, stretching from the clouds nearly to the ground. And they seemed to have texture, hairs or feelers of some type, which shimmered in the gray light of overcast dawn.

One of the Jones’s kids piped up. “Look yonder, above the church.”

“And down west, almost over the river,” said another kid.

“And there’s one right over Joe Peterson’s bar,” added Bill Richter. “That makes six, an’ they’re getting’ longer by the minute. They’ll touch down to the Earth in no time. Come crashing through our homes and fields.”

“Where’s the reverend?” Widow Sara whined. “This has got to be a sign. A scourge. We should pray.”

“We should run,” said Bill. “It’s too late to pray.”

A child cried out, “Oh, Mama, look! Look!”

Maggie’s bedroom was doused in shadow. She leaned closer to the window, pulling herself to the sill, and strained to see. Her neighbors were screaming and running amok, but she was calmed by what she saw. A brown and green surface blocked the clouds. It was filigreed with rows of tubes, a gully down the middle. And those six great black monoliths grew out of it.

Maggie recognized that surface. It was the underside of a beetle, like the ones she’d seen on her porch sometimes when the poor things got stuck on their backs. She’d always reach out with the broom to roll them upright, gently, gently, the way she wished somebody would help her.

But this magnificent, town-sized beetle didn’t need anybody’s help.

She could tell by the ruckus outside that everyone was loading up their belongings and getting the hell away from Shepherd’s Field. Cows lowed and pigs squealed. Wagon wheels crunched along the gravel road and parents shouted at their children frantically. “Don’t dawdle! It’s the Judgment Day, by God. You don’t wanna set around to watch the fire an’ brimstone, do ya?”

Maggie waited and waited on her bed for someone to come and get her. At one point she heard her husband and one of the farmhands enter the house, but no one ever came back to the bedroom. There was crashing and slamming for a couple of minutes, then nothing. Absolute silence, inside and outside the house. Maggie knew she’d been left behind.

And for the first time in three years, she was excited and happy. Not afraid. Definitely not afraid. “I felt it in my bones,” she said aloud. “That big black stick in the sky. It was meant to set me free and punish this whole devil-blasted community for their sore mistreatin’ of Maggie Scarabba.” She pronounced her maiden name proudly, and it revivified her. “I am Maggie Scarabba,” she shouted out the window to the bug’s belly, “and I’m comin’ out to greet my fine visitor from the sky, my most welcome guest!”

It was a struggle dragging herself into her chair. Pushing its wheels forward with her own emaciated arms hurt until she thought her bones would shatter. She found it helped to reach forward, grab the nearest table or door jamb, and pull. After several searing, agonizing minutes of hard labor, Maggie hauled herself out onto the porch to see the first new thing in her life in three years.

“Oh, you’re beautiful, ain’t you?” she said to the great beetle covering her township like an aegis of the gods.

Even Barnett Hill looked completely different. A huge black funnel was descending toward it from the sky. It thrilled Maggie when she realized what it was. She’d seen the little beetles on her lawn deposit eggs into dirt hills.

“Babies,” she said, choking with emotion. “You’re having babies in our land. That’s what I wanted, too. Never got to. You go ahead an’ have your babies. You have ’em right here in Shepherd’s Field. Better your babies than babies of all them bastards that done run from you.” She swallowed and added, “They done run from me, too.” Maggie was sure the visitor could hear and understand. It was a kindred spirit.

The creature lowered its abdomen onto the top of Barnett Hill and poked its funnel end in among the rocks and trees. Maggie felt the porch rumble in response, although the hill was half a mile away. And then came the promise of a miracle.

Like a cake over-filled with cream, Barnett Hill expanded under the pressure of its new load. The sides seemed to crack. The angle of the trees shifted. Barnett Hill was pregnant, and Maggie would be godmother, Earth mother, to all these new and blessed baby beetles.

She didn’t even flinch when the massive proboscis came toward her.

*

AUTHOR BIO: Anne E. Johnson, based in Brooklyn, has published over twenty short stories in Shelter of Daylight, Drunk Monkeys, Spaceports & Spidersilk, and elsewhere. Her first science fiction novel, Green Light Delivery, will be released by Candlemark & Gleam in June, 2012. Learn more on her website, AnneEJohnson.com.

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Craven’s Reign By LaVa Payne

Jan 13 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

It was a long story. And I did not feel like retelling it.

Though, it was at that moment, the moment that we arrived on South Padre Island that Bill wanted to hear it.

“Tell me everything. I will accept no more delays!”

“Not even if we were lovers.”

Bill stuck his tongue out at me. “Fat chance, you’re not my type!”

And let me qualify the next statement by saying that in my own way, I did love Bill, only in a very platonic sense of the word.

Craven, hereinafter I will be known as C, “This is the time to choose–so you must choose. Do you wish to continue reading? Yes, you are r-e-a-d-i-n-g. But that is a good thing.

But, Bill was the probably the pushiest gay man I had ever met. I guess it had something to do with the fact that he was an Aries.

Pushy or not, my circumstance of poorness had met his circumstance of richness. Can I say culture clash any louder? Hello!

C, “What difference does it make whether one is rich or poor?”

R, “Well, if I do say so myself.  It points out a very necessary detail about this story. There must be a decided difference in characters or all else will be pointless.”

Of course, he had practically every indulgence that money could buy, and I remained mystified about his fascination with poorness, as it were.

Yet, there we were in my MR-2 waiting for the hurricane to land on the shoreline while talking about nothing less than a teenage fantasy.

“I don’t get you Bill,” I paused to approach the subject with care, “I mean, why are you so obsessed with Craven’s Reign?”

As I watched him turn his back to me in protest, I could not help but notice his silhouette against the rain line approaching the shore.

Bill’s thick neck and short Chippendale haircut made me want to idolize his purpose.  It was a purpose that would only convenience him in a polite society which we certainly did not live in.

In my eyes, he was the perfect gay man, but his lifestyle was still something that was not so politely accepted. At times, I could feel his pain, his longing to be accepted and loved for just being himself.

And in my eyes, he was the greatest friend.

C, “Delete the last three paragraphs this instant! There is no need to talk about a wishy-washy compassion for the plight of this character.”

R,“No. I will not delete it. The reader needs to know about the relationship between one and the other character to understand the story.”

“No! I absolutely do not want to talk about it. That’s final.”

“Cry baby.” Bill smirked at me with his long black eyelashes batting furiously. “That is something that a child would do. Do you know that?”

I laughed at his gesture. “Surely, you don’t expect to manipulate a response out of me with that asinine play on psychology, do you?”

Bill shrugged his shoulders. “Asinine is as asinine as it sees fit to be.”

We both laughed at his craziness. But the idea of Craven’s Reign was no laughing matter.

It was no laughing matter when you consider that I only had six days left to live.

That was the price.

Six days.

Clearing my throat, I looked out over the sand dunes where the witchy grass mobbed the crests. The surf beyond  flailed against violent thunder. Torrents of charisma flooded me as Def Leppard filled my veins, “Cry of Wolf…Animal.”

C,“Retarded nineteen-eighties reference—what on earth does that song have to do with the story.”

R,“It is a reference for that time just like you said.”

“Malarkey!”

“Ok. So it was a little less dramatic.” I tugged at my t-shirt sinking beneath the valleys of my queens.

I looked down at my feet in crabby sandals. They felt awkward now. Running blindly in the pouring rain, stumbling your way through mud holes, twisting your ankles against the buckles will do that, I guessed.

“What was it?”

An indefinable list mounted in my mind: out of all the Wes Craven stories—blood.

The only answer I could give was ensnared in my throat. Hell, it was flowing in my veins. How long would Craven Reign? I could not speak it or understand it. No not really. I never would.

“So, it was barely evening light. Enough that the sparse sun had lighted the Craven neighbors, and I did not particularly feel like getting any ones name.”

“How much blood was there when you arrived?”

Seething flames licked my throat. I could not answer without feeling I was damning his very soul. “I am not sure how much.” The words flowed out of me with a wicked ease. The lie was as apparent to Bill as if he had been the one telling the lie.

“Look if you don’t want to talk about it right now, that is fine. I just figured that since you had seen the worst blood feast first hand you would want to at least share it. I mean that is why you went.”

“Suck it!” I stopped short of opening the car door, placing my head over the steering wheel and staring at the odometer. It was just how this whole event had really begun.

There were exactly six screws holding the odometer plate to interior dashboard of my car. How do I know this? Well, let me just say, I had had a long moment of blindly staring at it madly trying to figure out how to escape my six day fate.

“Forget it, I don’t care what happened. Next time, I will go and see for myself!”

“No! You can’t.” My protest to Bill was weak and it feebly trailed as I sat once again behind the wheel wondering whether I should go farther.

Should I tell Bill? Would I be damning his soul too?

“What really happens at Craven Reign you ask? Well, it is not what you think, that is for damn sure!”

C, “This is the best you can ‘rite’ for the telling the reader what correlation these two characters have to Wes Craven?”

R, “It is not time yet, ‘We sell no wine before its time’ so be patient!”

If I didn’t at least tell him something, Bill would stumble into the worst nightmare that ever daunted daylight.

C, “Ok, here you should add a few movie titles so that at least the reader who is reading this as we even speak…shh!”

R, “What is it?”

C, “I can hear the reader breathing. Look up, there they are looking at us on the page scrunching their brow up as we talk.”

Tap, tap, tap~!

C, “Hey you, reader, yeah you can we have a private moment? Just close your eyes and count to ten and we should be finished.”

R, “Did they close their eyes?”

C, “I am not sure, I can’t see them ‘rite’ now.”

R, “What were you going to tell me?”
C, “Never mind, let’s get back to the story.”

It, Craven’s Reign, was the worst place to be when the sun was high in the sky. Only darkness provided an exit.

“Look everything about Craven Reign is absolutely alluring. Why wouldn’t I want to go to the place where vampires are born?”

“AIGH!”

The deafening scream from Bill’s mouth sounded like a twisting serpent finding a jagged prong to loosen its’ exterior skin upon in a shallow, dank sewer pipe. The long echo eked out of his throat.

C, “The Serpent and the Rainbow.”

Silence

C, “Where are you R?”

More silence…

“Your arms, look at your arms!”

I tried to pull my sleeves down over them, but Bill would not let me.

“What is wrong with your arms?”

“It is normal. I mean the blood. It is just…”

“The Hell it is! Your freakin’ arms are cut-up! You look like something took a scalpel and crosshatched your damn forearms.” He pulled my right sleeve up to the elbow. He was putridly amazed by the continual appearance of new “cuts” appearing on my skin while he watched.

C, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

R, “Did I miss something?”

C, “Where have you been?”

R, “Oh, I went to get us some popcorn and a coke.”

C, “Shhh! I don’t want you to interrupt the reader.”

“Listen. I tried to tell you that Craven’s Reign was a bad place didn’t I?”

I waited for some acknowledgement from Bill, but he was too damn busy watching new cuts appear on my arms and begin to bleed.

“What is happening to you Dani?”

I pulled my arm back from Bill’s clutch and began rolling the sleeve back down to my wrist. “It was something that I had hoped I would spare you.” I averted my eyes to the rolling waves of torrent on the Gulf hoping the storm would come ashore at that moment. I wanted the ocean to wash this awful accursed blood lust from me.

But I knew that the ocean couldn’t do it.

“Craven’s Reign is…”

R, “Yes, yes, what is it?”

C, “Shhh.”

Bill watched me closely. I could see his intent gaze out of the corner of my eye. I pursed my lip wondering how to begin.

“There are exactly six screws in the plate where my odometer sits behind my steering wheel.”

I exhaled waiting for Bill to interrupt my story, but he did not.

“And when I pulled up to Craven Reign, I sat exactly behind the steering wheel like I am now. I just sat here like this with my forehead pressed to the steering wheel, my hands gripped the wheel so tightly that the whites of my knuckles blanched the blood flow from my hands.” I paused a long moment.

Bill had relaxed in the passenger seat of the car next to me listening to my story and watching the tempest on the far horizon.

R, “Boring, boring, now the reader is snoring.”

C, “Quit cutting into the story so much, the reader is not supposed to really know we are still here.”

“I was scared to death Bill. I mean, I was too chicken. I was sitting in the car outside of the opening, afraid I would never be the same if I went in. I felt as though every breath, every thought, every heart beat was a part of something I had no choice to accept. I felt so small. I was alone and the trees were so much taller than any I have ever seen and will ever see again…”

I rubbed my leaking eyes. The tears were only tears. There was no blood streaming down my cheeks yet.

“I am so sorry Dani. I should have gone with you.” Bill’s touch was tender, but it was pointless.

“No. You shouldn’t have gone with me. In fact, I should have not gone either. But it is too late now. What is done is done. I cannot undo it.”

“What do you mean you can’t undo it?”

Knock, knock, knock.

“What the he…?”

Outside of the car, a beach bum had tapped on the driver side window.

“Hey, you crazy kids, can’t ye see there’s a storm brewing?” The bum threw his hands down at his sides as if to wave us off as a nuisance.

“Whew!”

“Bill, Craven is not a fan site for a vampire want-to-be. It is, it’s, “I clenched my teeth trying to formulate the words stuck in my throat, “it’s a place you can’t escape from. It takes. Do you understand? It takes from you.”

C, “Vampire in Brooklyn.”

R, “Nice way to introduce that one!”

C, “Thank you if I do say so myself.”

“You are tired and hysterical. You need to see a doctor really you do.”

“I don’t need a damned doctor, Bill, I am already dead.”

There. I had said it.

Bill’s eyes were a blank slate. His mouth was agape.

“When you enter Craven, Bill, there is no way for you to leave. It takes your life. It takes your blood.”

The distant waves were approaching the beach voraciously crashing on the otherwise calm beach.

“What do you mean it takes your blood? I am sitting here with you watching your arms bleed from scratches that just appear.”

I was astonished. Had he not heard what I had said.

“I AM DEAD.”

C, “Ta-dah!”

R, “Shhhh. Pass me the popcorn.”

Rain from the approaching storm began to speckle the windshield. I turned the key and flicked the windshield wiper on.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

The hypnotic sound of the windshield wipers was the only sound filling the car except silence.

After long moments, Bill spoke, “Why are you dead?”

I looked at him with a stupid look. “Because I entered the damn place, and now I am damned. I have exactly six days before Craven takes all of my blood. Don’t you get it? Craven is a like a center place where all the lost blood on earth gathers.”

It was the first and original nightmare—Craven’s Reign.

“Where all the blood gathers?”

“Yes. It is the blood hole of life.”

“That is crazy!” Bill was fiddling with the door knob trying to open the door.

“It’s true. Craven is just an acronym. And if you go there, the same thing will happen to you.”

Bill turned his head to look at me over his shoulder. “What did you see there that made you think all of this nonsense? What happened to you?”

“I went in of my own free will, and now, well, I have six days before Craven takes back my life force. Before it takes my blood. Blood exists in a kind of black hole type spot inside Craven. And the name Craven does not stand for any kind of blood lust. It stands for…”

I waited. I was not sure he was ready to hear it.

“What does it stand for Dani?”

“The “C” stands for the first rite, the very first part of where the blood hole begins to claim your blood. It stands for cuts.”

C, “No stupid, ‘C’ stands for Craven!”

R, “Hush, let the reader figure it out.”

Bill jerked the door open and leapt out of the car. “This is bizarre.”

“I know, I know. But it is true. Don’t you want to know what I saw Bill? Don’t you want to know the secret of the vampire lair?”

“I am not listening to anymore. You obviously need to see a doctor. This whole thing is not real.”

“Bill. Listen to me!”

Bill had his back turned to me looking out over the short parking lot beside the beach.

“Talk fast. I am getting out of here. This has gone too far. The gag is up.”

“Bill! Craven stands for the following: Cuts, Rips, Audio, Visual, Everything, Nothing.”

C, “Brilliant!”

R, “I think that sounds a little postmodern in my humble opinion…”

I felt my throat tightening like a Ball python was squeezing the air out of my throat.

“Bill I am dead serious. I watched various people at Craven “worshiping” the blood waterfall, bathing in it even, some of them were lucid enough to talk about the divine feeling of having their bodies blood added to the flowing blood stream. It was swirling endlessly beneath the falls. I watched a guy disappear in front of my eyes as all the blood in his body joined the pool.”

Bill fell to his knees clutching his hands over his face. “Why? Why is any of this happening?”

“I don’t know.”

There were deeps sighs and sobs as the rain was pelting down on the two of us. We were clearly too stupid and numb to get in out of the rain.

“There has to be something. There has to be a way that you can be saved. There has to be!”

I tugged at his arm the soaking rain made my sleeves appear more bloodied than they were.

“C’mon. Let’s get to higher ground.”

As we drove away from the beach, my silent thoughts raced. Was there a way for my blood to remain with me? Or would I be another unknowing sacrifice filling the blood hole in Craven.

I looked over at Bill in the passenger seat. He was wearing his fleur de lis on his the upper left collar of his cape. The ruffled Edwardian poet shirt was a stark contrast to the bluish black of Bill’s cape. For him it was a romantic blood sucking dream.

The rain was pelting the windshield as fast as the windshield wipers could sway it to the side. Visibility was low, and I drove slowly wishing I had not quit smoking.

I felt my throat constricting. I need to feel cool air on my throat.

“Mind if I roll the window down a little?”

“Sure, as long as you do it on your side. I am already wet!”

I rolled the window down about half an inch. It was just enough to let the air in without too much rain.

“Are you sure you have six days?”

The traffic in the oncoming lane was moving faster as I drove.

Out of the corner of my left eye, I caught the first droplet of blood leaving my sleeve. But it was not the only one. Soon many droplets followed. At first the drops would pool up on my sleeve and then by reverse gravity were pulled to the headliner of the car. Slowly, each drop moved horizontally towards the open window and melded with the onslaught of rain.

Bill pretended not to notice at first.

C, “Oh my God, the suspense is killing me!”

R, “I know! We are sitting here watching all of the little ‘b’, ‘l’, ‘oo’, ‘d’ trickle upwards against the roof of the car. How can you make all those letters flow away from the earth’s gravity?”

C, “Be quiet, you are going to miss it!”

“Your blood is trickling out of the car!”

I ignored him.

Bill’s voice boomed in my ear as he grabbed my left arm, “YOUR BLOOD IS TRICKLING OUT OF THE CAR!”

I jerked my arm away from his pulling the steering wheel with it. We swerved into the oncoming lane. Big headlights were all I could see.

#

As the falling rain pulsed around twisted metal, five days were lost.

“They must have been having one hell of an argument for her to lose control of the wheel like that and pull in front of that semi truck.”

The second paramedic paused. “From the looks of her arms, they had been arguing for some time. Usually don’t see this kind of ‘cutting’ without severe emotional distress.”

“It’s a shame really. They look like the perfect couple.” The first paramedic was pulling the sheet over Danielle’s chest.

“Yeah, he’s going to make it–the poor guy.”

“It’s weird isn’t?”

“Yeah, very odd, I have never seen a body completely drained of blood that fast!”

“Her cheeks are as white as ivory like he sucked every drop of blood out of her before they wrecked.”

“C’mon James, that’s insane.” The first paramedic pulled the sheet close to Danielle’s face.

“Goodnight sweetheart.” James was touching Danielle’s cheek.

“She looks like she’s sleeping, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, she does.” James tugged the sheet over Danielle’s face. “No more nightmares for you little girl now rest in quiet.”

As the paramedics loaded the two stretchers, the sirens blazed five times. Each one parted the way of everything and as they drove off there was nothing.

So is and will always be as long as Craven Reigns.

 

 

Biography: LaVa Payne lives in the Piney Woods of East Texas where she writes stories and poems. As a hobby, LaVa enjoys exploring WPA structures and old sawmill towns looking for lost treasures.

 

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Crimes Against Humanity By Rhonda Parrish

Jan 06 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

I don’t need your pity. There are the whiners who will go on and on about how we’re the unfortunate ones, like somehow surviving is worse than being turned into one of them. Bullshit, man, that’s just utter crap. Sure it’s tough, surviving, but it beats the crap out of the alternative. Dead is, well, dead and undead is worse. Fucking whiners. I mean, I know where they’re coming from, there’s a reason the pharmaceutical companies were among the first things to be re-organized and given resources and trust me, I pop a rainbow of meds everyday just like the next guy, but still…

I was in right here in Edmonton when it happened. Strange that after so much time this is where I’m at again. Full circle or some shit. It’s funny, ya know, I’d always planned for it. Seriously, it was like this game I’d play in my mind all the time. Like, okay, if the zombies were to come right now, what would I do, where would I go? I had all these contingency plans, you know? I’d want to get out of the city first of all, right? Too many people there… problem was, everyone was going to be trying to leave and that was going to mean traffic jams and a freaking buffet for the zombies. So I figured I was going to have to hunker down until the first wave passed and then make a break for it.

I thought I’d go west into the mountains, cross them somehow, because I’m uber like that, then settle on one of the little islands out there. Small island, small population. Figured the climate would be good enough for growing shit and whatever. Yeah, I had great plans. Was pretty sure I would be one of the survivors, just never imagined I’d be doing it alone.

So when the shit went down I was in Edmonton. It wasn’t too bad at first, there were a lot more cops and soldiers on the street but life was mostly unchanged, if a little tense. Hearing gunshots on a regular basis and having the dead come back to life and try to eat you has that affect; it makes things tense. But people went to work, kids went to school. We’d hear on the radio about how the really populated places like China and India were pretty much fucked. Well, more India really…the Chinese weren’t talking very much about their situation, sorta like that SARS thing from back in the day. Anyway, we could imagine. That many people crammed into such a small place…

Things weren’t bad here. Like I say, everyone went on with their lives. Occasionally traffic was backed up when the soldiers had an area closed off for Q&E, that’s quarantine and elimination, but mostly it was just tense. Then gas started to run out. People started leaving their cars at home.

I sure would have liked to own a bike store around then, would have been some pretty sweet business. Maddie had gotten too big for her bike so we went to get her a new one—it was like five hundred bucks for the cheapest one in the shop, so that wasn’t happening. Instead we took her training wheels off and lifted the seat. It worked well enough. She didn’t have far to go to school anyway, and you can bet we didn’t let her go alone.

Then the people started flooding in. You need to remember, with the gas shortages came everything shortages because the trucks weren’t running to deliver it. You ever hear of the 100 mile diet? It was pretty big back then among the eco-types, but once we started running out of gas it became mandatory. Remember also that here in Alberta we pumped a fuckton of oil. Maybe we didn’t process it here or something? I don’t know, but if it was that bad here it had to be worse in other places.

So the people came. They came, mostly I think, for the remoteness and the hard winters. They’d all read Max Brooks’ books it seemed, and he said the zombies would freeze. Of course, his zombies were fictional, but turns out he got that part right. They do freeze. Still, the influx of people was the beginning of the end for here.

We didn’t have the resources to feed them all, hell, we didn’t have the places to house ’em. Office buildings got turned into shelters and filled up in no time. There were food riots and all the weapons everyone carried around started to get used against people with pulses as much as those without. And lots of the refugees were infected. Many were in the early stages when we had no way to detect it, and besides, it’s not like the city had a wall that could easily be defended. The military tried to set up check points, but they were about as useful as they are on the Mexico/US border. Infected got through, turned and created more infected. With our suddenly over-filled city, it was a recipe for catastrophe.

I decided it was time to book it. I’d done the hunker down part of my plan, now we had to get the fuck out of dodge. My husband, Amir, agreed so we packed light bags and grabbed Maddie. A friend of mine who worked for the railway told me a train was leaving that night, heading west. Trains had once been common things, but not so much anymore, and especially not ones that would take people. I had him pull a few strings, thankfully Amir would never know the currency I used, and got us spots on the train. Three spots. Three beautiful tickets out of here. We knew Vancouver was just as bad as Edmonton, worse even, but I thought it we could just get there we could keep going north into the wilderness, or to one of the islands like I planned.

Getting to the train station was difficult. We didn’t live very far away from it and we’d left with lots of time to spare, you had to because blockades and shit were pretty much the norm by then, but apparently there was an outbreak nearby. The military had a whole area between the station and us blocked off. We could hear the gunfire and knew it had to be bad – they used snipers mostly, to conserve ammo, so if you heard a lot of shots you knew it was a lot of freaking zombies.

They’d blocked off a huge area, huge, we had to go a very long way around and time was short. Really freaking short. That’s why we did it, you understand. Why we took the risk. There wasn’t another way out of the city. This was likely going to be the last train out, and it was certainly the last one we’d be able to get on. My friend wouldn’t pull more strings for us, he wouldn’t have the power, and in those days each train had a soldier on top of the cars. They would shoot anyone hanging on or sneaking into the cars.

We had a long way to go, and not much time. Maddie was exhausted, so Amir put her on his back. You should have seen him, I know he was tired too, we all were. No one slept well in those days, and hoofing it for twenty blocks already was far from a pleasant stroll, but he smiled and said ‘Here, take a ride on my back like when you were little’ and picked her up like she weighed next to nothing. Like when you were little, he said. As though six wasn’t little. She was six…

The safest thing for us to do would be to keep going around that area, stick to the more traveled road with its better lights, or we could cut through the warehouse district. The safer route meant we’d have to run another twenty blocks, praying we’d make the station before the train left or but the shortcut would mean we only had to go five or six blocks. We’d make the train for sure.

Amir and I looked at each other in the orange light of the streetlights. “Well,” he said. “There’s not likely to be a whole lot of people in the warehouses.” I nodded in agreement, and took his hand. We stepped off the main road and into the shadows.

The thing we never realized, you see, is that the warehouses, like the office buildings, had been turned into housing. Mostly by those people who wanted to stay under the radar, as much as there was a radar back then.

It only takes one infected to start a swarm. One bite.

It was dark. Despite the power shortages they always made sure to have enough to power streetlights, the better to see the zombies, but we were in an industrial area and those lights were few and far between.

We were three blocks in when it happened. One of the things lunged out of the shadows and grabbed at Amir. He tumbled to the ground, I heard his knees crack on the pavement and felt his hand pull itself from mine. You can imagine, I’m sure, how fast a person could turn around in those circumstances, and I did, I spun around like a top but already Amir’s screams were filling the night and there was a pack of them on him, chewing at him like hungry dogs.

Maddie…sweet Maddie. She screamed and tried to stand but—I reached for her, caught a hold of her fingers, her pudgy little fingers that gripped mine with a strength I didn’t know she had. Her big brown eyes, filled with terror and tears looked up into mine. “Daddy…” she said, like something out of a movie, and then they tore her away from me.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could, but I still heard them, I still heard what they did to my little girl…

I made the train. Part of me wanted to miss it I think, I know what those people mean when they say surviving is harder. Part of me wanted to give up right then, but I didn’t. I went out west, where it was, indeed, worse than Edmonton. That didn’t last long though. Because it is a port city it became a priority for the military. They recruited us, anyone able-bodied and willing to fight, and Vancouver, eventually, became the first clean zone. I know, who’d have thought it, eh?

When we started moving west I volunteered to be in the forward unit. They didn’t usually like to have those of us who never did the whole military-indoctrination crap in those units, I guess they worried we’d go apeshit or something, not having been brainwashed and all, but I got in. Lucky perhaps, or maybe they just realized I wasn’t going to lose it. Whatever.

I saw shit… I was a shrink before the war you know, criminal psychology if you can believe it. I thought I’d heard and seen everything back then. I was so wrong. You wonder how it is people can get so fucked up, now, in peacetime when zombie sightings are less and less common. Let me tell you, when you come across a barricaded farmhouse out in the middle of fucking Redneckville where they’ve set up a little commune and you wonder how it is that they’re staying fed with the tiny little garden they’ve got going, then you see the cages in the basements, and you find piles bleached bones in the back yard…

Shit like that happened all the time. And that wasn’t the worst of it.

Here I am though, back in Edmonton. I’ve got a cozy position as the army shrink, ironic, isn’t it, that someone as messed up as me can be the most sane person in a group? There you have it though, war is hell, and this one was worse than others. So I take my pills each morning, and every night that I sleep without hearing Maddie’s screams is a good one, and these whiners who say the dead have it better? One day someone’s going to put a bullet between their eyes to show them just how wrong they are. I’m not sayin’ it will be me, but every time they bitch about surviving that’s a little bit more disrespect their showin’ those who didn’t, and that, my friend, is a fucking crime against humanity.

 

 

Bio: Rhonda writes fantasy, YA and horror stories and poems when she’s not procrastinating or playing video games. She also maintains a blog and website at http://www.rhondaparrish.com and loves sushi

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