(Come on, say it.)
Fine. Who’s there?
Sorry. That’s the kind of moronic shit that passes for humor around here these days. It’s bleak. You know it’s really bleak when the resident Romeo and Juliet even begin to lose their zeal for inappropriate, loud kissing in the middle of the afternoon. Somewhere between my twentieth bag of Lays and my tenth Sobe, I must have started to get a little depressed. Yes, it’s official, we’ve lost that loving feeling, our chutzpah, our joie de vivre. Not that we were ever chipper about being holed up in a beige corporate break room but at least there was no complaining, no dull, empty staring…
It’s to be expected really but I never thought it would get so bad so fast. Janette and Matt have lost their taste for cards and spend their days playing nonsensical word games and endless rounds of Would You Rather, Phil literally will not come out of his office unless it’s to use the bathroom, which brings us to our most recent situation: The house of unspeakable horrors that is our bathroom.
There is no running water, limited toilet paper and no working ventilation. I’ll let you imagine for yourself what the smell is like because if I try to describe it our tête-à-têtes will come swiftly to end as I destroy my laptop beneath a fountain of neon orange Dorrito vomit.
Really, we stink.
It’s not something we can no longer blithely ignore, not only because it’s an astronomically bad odor that has begun seeping out from under the restroom door, but also because we’re all too crabby and sullen to bother with manners. Between the vicious gas we’re all suffering from and the nearby sulfurous death chamber just waiting to unleash a new round of villainy every time someone needs to take a piss, it’s become a red alert situation.
Thus, a meeting is called.
“Alright guys,” I say, trying my best to keep a straight face. I’m constantly in danger of bursting into giggles. For one because we’re having a group heart to heart about farts and also because I haven’t slept in days; I’m a giddy shadowy shell of a human being. I know that the smudges beneath my eyes are beginning to resemble Army-issue duffel bags but this matter demands our immediate attention and I’m determined to get it straightened out. I can see Ted is about to start laughing any second so I shoot him a suitably grown-up look.
“I don’t think I need to point out to everyone how fucking awful it smells in here,” I say, putting my hands on my hips, striking a serious pose. “We need to figure something out because I’d rather be eaten by those god-awful things out there then let this get any worse.”
“There are the bathrooms out in the hall,” Matt offers, tearing open a bag of Cheetohs. He’s looking less like a homeless lumberjack these days. Ted managed to grab a few disposal razors when we were out getting food. Bless his heart, the kid couldn’t grow a beard if his life depended on it but Matt and Phil have certainly embraced these new toys.
“Yes! Exactly my thought, we need to start using them, but wisely, okay? And I know this is gross, but we need to empty the toilet in here. We’ll do it in shifts so no one passes out. There’s a bucket in the maintenance closet at the end of the hall. I don’t think the zombies will mind a little shit and piss so we’ll just toss it out into the store,” I explain. At this, Phil’s head jerks up as if someone’s socked him in the gutsky. “Yes, Phil, what is it?”
“We can’t do that,” he says with surprising vigor. He doesn’t have bags under his eyes. He sleeps more than all of us put together, more than a narcoleptic old cat.
“What do you mean?” Ted blurts out, sitting up further to be able to see Phil. Ted has been eating well and he’s starting to put on weight again. It suits him. “We can’t let it go on like this, man, it’s fucking gross.”
“Ted is right,” I say, “He’s absolutely right.”
“But it’s the store.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, Phil, I don’t think we’ll reopen for a while, okay? Don’t worry about it, please. You’re fucking overruled.” I can’t really explain how good it feels to tell him to shove it. He hasn’t made a nuisance of himself but he certainly hasn’t been much help either.
“Just… Just try to throw it close to the doors, okay?” I add, and this seems to calm him down a little. “From now on, we’ll use the bathrooms across the hall. Never go alone, check all the stalls and make sure someone is keeping guard. Every three days we’ll empty them out.”
Matt and Janette amble to the door, looking dour as they prepare to retrieve the bucket from the maintenance closet. Phil wanders back into his office and slams the door; the photos on his wall rattle and dance. Hollianted come to stand by me and I’m glad for their smiles, even if they look exhausted and strained.
“Well I think that went well, don’t you?” Ted asks, grinning. He’s wound a bit of electrical tape around the joint of his glasses. The effect is charming.
I take the first Shit Shift, which is what Ted has christened the chore. This is a much worse task than I envisioned and it takes absolutely forever. Let me tell you, when you’ve got a bucket teeming with murky fecal matter you take very great pains to make damn sure you don’t spill it on yourself, the floor of your living space, or anyone that might get in the way. This means that the going is slow and stressful and all the while you’re gagging and trying your best to breathe through your mouth but even then it’s like you can taste it. Shit particles. Pee vapor.
I’m on my last leg of the shift when it happens. Ted has been keeping watch for me while I run my insane little relay, scooping the bucket into the toilet in the break room, carefully walking at top speed through the conference room, out the break room door and into the store, then across the floor to the broken windows. I’ve been tossing most of the waste out the windows. Phil was kinda right – there’s just something weird about dumping crap on the floor of the store. So to make him and, I think, everyone else happy, I fling the contents of the bucket out the broken windows.
It’s also a chance to get a look at the outside world, which is something you really can’t pass up. The rolling parade of smoke has cleared some and now you can see the building across the street. The windows are broken there, too. It’s almost satisfying to see that overpriced, snob-factory of a boutique rundown and gutted. Almost. There are a few zombies wandering the streets, they all seem to be heading one direction, west toward the university campus. There’s no sign of human life, no trace of other survivors, just overturned cars in heaps, the carnage of a sudden battle, scorch marks and tire treads painted down the streets… It looks exactly like a movie set.
During the relay race Ted and I have begun sharpening a theory. We posit that there are two kinds of zombies: Groaners and Floaters. They’re both dangerous, for obvious reasons, but they’re actually quite different. Groaners are loud, they groan (duh) and moan and squeal as they come for you. They’re faster, more determined, more desperate. Floaters are arguably more dangerous because they’re quiet, weirdly quiet, and they can sneak up on you. But they’re slow and they don’t seem to react very fast. Ted and I think that Groaners are hungry, they haven’t fed and so they’ve gone a little wild. Floaters are running on a full tank so they don’t care as much about getting their bony claws on your face. During the Shit Shift we have encountered a few of both but mainly Groaners. I have to say, I prefer Groaners, they let you know they’re coming, they announce their arrival.
I’m feeling tired, so run down I can hardly focus my eyes, but I’m going to finish this last trip to the windows if it’s the final fucking act of my life. Setting a good example, I’ve come to see, is key to leadership. If I empty the toilet first then the others will do it without complaint and if I do a thorough job then I’ll set a good standard. Like I said, this is when it happens: I raise the bucket, holding my breath as I wind up to toss the waste out the window. Then I hear this sound, it’s a sound I haven’t heard in a while, a sound that will make any human being with a pulse stand up and take breathless notice.
Woof… Rerr… Woof, Roof!
It’s a dog, a mutt, and it’s staring me down from the middle of the road. Maybe staring isn’t the right word, regarding, lovingly, sweetly, begging with its big chocolate eyes. It’s got dark, pointed ears and one is standing straight up, the other is flopped over. His nose is marbled pink and tan and he’s got a sturdy, if starved, body. There has to be German Shepherd in there and maybe some pit bull. He’s mostly black and orange, with the biggest tongue I’ve ever seen hanging out the side of his mouth.
“Come here, little man!” I call.
“What are you doing?” Ted growls.
“I’m calling to the dog, what does it look like?”
“You can’t, Alli, what if he’s infected? And he’s probably hungry, he’ll eat all our food.”
“Don’t be so heartless, asshole, we can’t leave him out there! Come here, we won’t hurt you.”
The dog takes a few slow steps in our direction. I decide then and there that he is a smart and good dog for not charging into the arms of a human with a bucket of shit poised at the ready. I gently slop the waste down the outside of the windows and set the bucket down. This seems to be the signal the dog was waiting for and he pads over, snuffling up my pant leg and licking at my belt buckle.
“I love you too,” I say, patting his broad, matted head. “Come with us, we’ve got yummies.”
Everyone takes part in Shitgate ’09 with enthusiasm after the dog arrives. What the hell is it about a happy mutt that makes humans forget their worries, their massive troubles, and soldier on? He’s done something to Phil, given him new life, new purpose and it’s the same with everyone else, too. Holly never struck me as a dog person and I know Janette only had cats, but Dapper (that’s his name) has won them over. Sure he eats, he’s another mouth to feed and water and take out into the store for the bathroom, but he makes us all a little less scrappy.
And I’m sleeping again. Dapper sleeps with me, curled up on my feet, his cold nose pressing into my shin. Sometimes he licks my feet, I think he knows we could all use a bath. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t tell me it’s hopeless, that we’re stuck here forever, until the food runs outs, until the undead somehow find a way in, he just looks up at me with those huge, accepting eyes. He’s grateful and he’s gentle and he’s mine.