Archive for May, 2009

September 25th – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2009 by allisonhewitt

Knock, Knock…

(Come on, say it.)

Fine. Who’s there?

BLAGRRUUGGHHEEEFGH.

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.

“Swimmingly.”

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.

Christ.

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.

September 23rd – Pandora

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2009 by allisonhewitt

I’ve become an insomniac.

It began innocently enough, it began with a strange coincidence. After Ted and I returned with the loot, we rationed it out. We estimated that it was enough to make us through the week if we were very careful and frugal. I feel something happening with Ted, something like friendship or solidarity. He didn’t mention my complete lapse of judgment, the lapse that almost led to us being zombie snacks. I don’t know why he did it, but it made me glow a little with relief: we would have to go out again and I would have to lead with confidence.

We’ve worked out the rations to roughly this:

2 Bags of chips per person per day
2 Drinks (juice first because of the expiration date) per person per day
3 or 4 Candies per person per day
2 Cookies each to be eaten at the owner’s discretion

It really isn’t much, and we may have extra at the end of the week but for now it’s the best we can do. There are still a few sticks of beef jerky left in the refrigerator and an old cling-wrapped muffin of indeterminate origin that no one has been brave enough to eat.

After we had finished rationing the food we sat down to eat. Ted and I kept mum for the most part. Janette seems extremely fragile these days; she’s never handled gore well, not in books or movies, and so we spared her the details of our expedition. She would never be asked to leave the break room, which left the rest of us to take turns going out when the time came. Phil ate in his office, still curled up on the floor. He mumbled a quiet “thank you” when I handed him a bag of Dorritos and a Pepsi. I don’t know what to say to him, I don’t want to make him feel guilty for passing the mantle of leader.

The rest of us ate at the table, sitting beneath the pale, buzzing glow of the emergency lights, crunching and chewing, each of us wrestling with our own tangled thoughts. Matt has been much more cheerful; I think he feels bad for voting against the mission in the first place. Holly is too overcome with relief at having Ted back to say much of anything. Instead, she hangs off the end of his elbow, staring at him as if he’s flickering mirage.

It was after dinner that I noticed the remarkable thing on the floor. It was wedged beneath the counters across from the door. At first I thought it might be a packet of papers or an old Team Work pamphlet that had been dropped and forgotten long ago. I waited until the others had left the table, separating to opposite corners of the room. Hollianted generally tried to keep their distance so they could cuddle and make out in peace. Janette and Matt started up a game of poker with a deck of old cards they had found. Matt was officially out one shirt; it was spattered with grime and zombie juice.

I pretended to knock the shirt off the counter and bent down, grabbing the thing wedged under the counter and shoving it into my jeans pocket. Matt looked over at me as I put his shirt back on the counter.

“Sorry,” I muttered, “clumsy.”

Matt turned back to the card game and I grabbed my lap top and shuffled into the safe room. That’s where I am now, my screen propped right next to the television monitor. The store is quieter these days. Whatever commotion Ted and I had stirred up settled and fewer and fewer hunched figures drift by the cameras.

And I’ve been too distracted to give them much thought – what did I find in my pocket that night? A book. Miraculously it had made its way into the break room, kicked inside during the scuffle. I must have dropped it just before Matt let us in the door and somehow managed to knock it inside; the damn thing made it, the lone survivor, the shipwrecked castaway. This alone might not seem very exciting or remarkable, but when I took the book back to the safe room I couldn’t believe which one it was.

The Awakening – my mother’s favorite book.

Elation… Joy… Complete disbelief…

I don’t believe in a high power, I never have, but I must admit that for a quick, flashing second I felt the presence, the interference of something supernatural. It just seemed too coincidental, too perfect and I sat with the book sitting on my open palms, staring at the cover as if it were an offering, a bowl of blessed incense. From that point on, from the moment the book came into my possession, I stopped sleeping.

Look, I know this isn’t exactly the hand of God reaching down to give me a sign or something. When I was in grade school my friends and I would play that Ouija board game at sleep overs. We would scare ourselves witless, watching in open-mouthed terror as the little pointed marker spelled out D-E-D. Close enough for us, close enough to keep us up all night wondering which of us would die during the night. Years later a boyfriend would explain to me why those boardgames worked. Tiny, minute vibrations in the fingertips communicated the desired outcome. So your conscious might not be thinking G-H-O-S-T but your subconscious is and that’s all it takes to move the marker slowly, slowly, centimeter by centimeter across the board.

Maybe it was my subconscious at work. Maybe I had grabbed The Awakening, shoved it beneath my armpit and locked on, determined no matter what not to let it go. Either way, divine intervention or trick of the mind, I had the book now. I don’t know why I guarded it so jealously, not allowing the others to see that I had found it. That’s stopped now and they’ve been passing it around for the last few days, taking turns reading and rereading it.

But the first night I had it, after we had rationed the loot and had dinner, I went to the safe room and stared at it. After that I started reading and every page seemed familiar, as if it hadn’t been years since my last reading but mere moments. I read it front to back and started over again. Then I began to get drowsy and decided to get some sleep. I drifted off, the neon light of the monitor covered my face and hands as I made a cradle for my head to rest on.

Maybe the book didn’t start the insomnia, maybe the dream did, but the book started the dream so the exact culprit doesn’t matter. The dream went like this: I was back out in the store with Ted, swinging my ax around and grabbing food. Then something rears up behind me screeching and rasping like a banshee. I turn and it’s one of them, one of the undead, and it looks like it should be Susan but it’s not, it’s my mom and she’s wearing that fucking shirt and the sloppy, little kid handwriting…

World’s Best Mom

I can’t move, I can’t stop looking at her face but I want to run, get away from the hollow, glaring eyes. They’re not my mom’s eyes anymore, the color is gone, the familiar warmth missing, replaced by death’s milky veil. Her hands are clawing at me, the flesh gone and showing the gleaming bone and her skull is peeking through the sagging holes in her face. She’s bald, of course, the chemo took her hair months ago, and there are garish purple spots all over the top of her head. Her fingers are ripping through my shirt, she’s tearing at my skin but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t kill her, I can’t swing the ax at her neck, I just stop and wait and let her rip me apart.

I wake up in a cold, shivering sweat. There are little beads of moisture on the counter and the backs of my hands are slippery and wet. The monitor flickers and shifts for a minute and then the camera fixes on Susan’s headless body, still there, still wearing the tee shirt.

It’s after that, after the dream ends, that I can’t sleep.

And now, writing this, my hands are shaking because I can’t control my nerves. My eyes hurt and they feel sandy, filled up with grit and blurry from hours and hours spent in the dark, wakeful night. I’m clammy all over and I know it would go away if I could just rest, just sleep for an our or two but I can’t, something in my brain won’t let me. I think about sleep constantly and I try to read to stay distracted, to keep my mind off the fact that when evening comes nothing will happen; I’ll close my eyes and feel perfectly, horribly awake.

It has to stop, if I go on like this much longer I’ll be useless, weak and dull and sick.

It has to stop.

September 20th – The Botany of Desire

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2009 by allisonhewitt

And now, with absolutely no ado, Five Things I Would Literally Prostitute Myself For:

1) A hot shower (At least ten minutes – come on, I’m selling my body here)

2) A vegetable. Any vegetable (maybe not beets)

3) Toothpaste and a toothbrush

4) A functioning god damned toilet

5) A Panzer VIII Maus

September 20th – In Defense of Food

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2009 by allisonhewitt

I’m really starting to miss Phil’s go-getter attitude.

He’s become suddenly vacant as if all the goodwill and energy he had saved up from many blissful years of excellent customer service has deserted him. I was expecting him to volunteer for Recovery Duty (which is the very serious and important name I’ve given the task) – but instead he’s been sulking in his office all morning, scrunched up against the cupboards clutching a framed photo of his kids. Janette and Matt are silent on the subject but Ted can’t seem to shut up about it.

“He’s lost it.”

“You know what, Ted? How about you lay off him and get back to me when you have kids of your own to miss,” I said. He turned his head away, pushing his glasses up his nose. Ted wears turtle shell Oliver Peoples glasses. I can’t quite tell if they’re supposed to be an ironic statement. One of the lenses is cracked and it makes him look like a battered child.

“Look, I just need one other person to come with me,” I went on. Janette, Matt and Hollianted were all sitting at the round conference table. I stood near the door, the trusty ax leaning against my knee.

“We can hold out for another day,” Matt said. He wears glasses too but they are definitely not an ironic statement, they are thick and bookish.

“And what about after that?” I asked.

“After that someone will come for us,” Holly says matter-of-factly, speaking without prompting for the first time in memory. Ted looked at her, a strange light in his eyes.

“Holly,” I said, “I agree that we shouldn’t give up hope but… We need food, we need to stay healthy and strong.”

I didn’t want to point out to her that the streets outside the building were ominously silent. The first hour or so after the infected showed up you could hear police sirens and fire engines screaming down the street outside. After that the noises stopped except for the occasional screaming and what sounded like a car accident. From what I could make out on the monitors (only one of which caught any of the world outside the store) there wasn’t much to see except a rolling pillar of smoke that filled up the space between our store and the other side of the street. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s sunny or overcast, raining or clear.

“Phil should go,” Ted points out, nodding and placing his open palm on the table top. It’s meant as a solemn gesture but Ted doesn’t have the kind of adult authority to pull it off convincingly.

“Yes, Phil should go but he’s indisposed at the moment,” I said. Without planning it, all of us turned to glance at his office. Through the window only the top of his dark head was visible. “So I’ll need someone else to volunteer. I’m sure one of you can swing a baseball bat well enough.”

“I guess I did Judo for six years,” Ted says, shrugging his bony shoulders. He was skinny before, but a few days of nothing but diet cola and rationed snack food has made him absolutely skeletal. Sparrows have meatier frames.

“Congratulations,” I tell him, “You’ve just volunteered yourself.”

Ted rolls his eyes but gets up anyway; I get the feeling he wanted to go but didn’t want to look too eager. Holly makes a grab for his wrist, her big amber eyes filling up with tears. We’re all emotional these days but Holly’s demeanor turns on a dime. One minute she’ll be whistling show tunes to try and keep us optimistic and the next she’s bawling into Ted’s arms.

“He’ll be fine,” I say, grabbing Ted by the other arm and giving a tug. “I checked the monitor this morning, there’s fewer out there than ever.”

I don’t say the obvious thing, the thing I know she’s thinking: zombies, there are zombies out there.

“I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Matt says, getting slowly to his feet. His beard has come in shaggy and uneven and he looks like a lumberjack in his faded plaid shirt and ill-fitting jeans. He’s using his assistant manager voice, the one with the snide sarcastic bite. I’d always pegged Matt for a strong survivor, the kind of guy you would want with you in a worst case scenario and now that he’s completely crapping out on us I feel disappointed, like I don’t know him at all.

“What’s the alternative?” I ask.

“Yeah, what’s your brilliant solution?” Ted asks. I like Ted more every minute.

“I don’t have one,” Matt replies, “But I think we should all just stay here. We don’t know anything about those things, we don’t know how it spreads. It might be something in the air.”

Matt, unfortunately, is a conspiracy theorist. This is not the appropriate time for him regal us all with his interpretation of which government is responsible for the infected but I can tell it’s coming. I mentally recall our heated discussions of the pyramids and the Aztecs and decide that this is a conversation that must be avoided at all costs.

“I appreciate the concern, Matt, but we have to eat.”

“Don’t go out there with your mouth and nose uncovered,” he says, unbuttoning his shirt, “It’s a bio-weapon, it’s probably in the air.” He hands the shirt to Ted and when Ted won’t take it, Matt comes over and begins wrapping it around the kid’s face.

“Well considering the vents in here aren’t sealed we’re all pretty much fucked already then,” I say. I’m hoping Janette will say something, that she’ll make Matt sit down, make him shut up. She just sits there staring up at him, her expression blank and frozen.

Ted, putting his expensive biochemistry degree to work weighs in with, “Shit, man, it’s not a bio-weapon. No one on earth has the technology for this kind of bull shit.”

“Oh is that your expert opinion?” Matt asks and I know he’s prodding. Holly stands up then, going to stand beside Ted in solidarity. She takes the shirt off Ted’s face.

“He would know!” she shouts.

“Wow, okay, let’s keep it down,” I say, putting up both hands in effort to placate them, “We don’t know what gets them excited and since Ted and I are going out there, we need it as clear as possible.”

“Fine, whatever!” Matt says, “I’m just stating for the record that I think this idea sucks.”

“I’ll keep that in mind when we get back and ration the food.”

It only takes us a minute or two to get ready. At Matt’s continued urging we agree to cover our noses and mouths; it’s really not a half-bad idea since we might have to defend ourselves. The last thing I want is their goo flying all over my face and Matt is, admittedly, correct in pointing out that we don’t exactly know how the infection spreads. I tell Ted to make sure his mouth is covered and I put on a pair of sunglasses from the break room. We look ridiculous, Ted with Matt’s flannel shirt wrapped around his head, his cracked brown glasses peering out, and me with Holly’s studded black sweatshirt wrapped in the same way. We look like nerdy kids playing army dress up: Ted the backwoods Mameluke and Allison the punk rock commando.

Hollianted cling together before we leave, stuck together like bubblegum and the sole of a shoe. It should be a romantic moment, and it might have been, but Ted looks so outrageously stupid that it can’t be taken seriously. This is the new face of romance, I think, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze of encouragement. He peels himself off and we remind Matt to stay by the door and listen for our knock. Matt’s keeping the keys in case anything happens to us, the discussion of which plunged Holly into another wail of agony.

Ted takes up Phil’s bat and I grab the ax and we’re ready to go. We’ve each got four empty plastic bags to fill with loot. I feel like race horse, like a boxer waiting in the corner of the ring: I want to go, want to start, but half of me wants to stay behind and cower. Still, it feels good to be doing something, to be proactive instead of just trapped and miserable. I guess we’re still trapped, still miserable, but it’s a distraction and a welcome one at that.

Two steps out of the door and I see her.

Lefty.

Sorry old girl, I’m not going for a limb this time. Ted and I have come up with a vague strategy: go for the head, barring that, the chest. I’m not entirely confident Ted has a strong enough arm to really do much damage, but he acquits himself admirably with Lefty, slamming her in the chest while I take a big, might swing that connects with her neck. Her windpipe collapses with that same, weird hollow feeling. It doesn’t even feel like I’m hurting a person, no human is that soft, that destructible.

Susan’s decaying, oozing head stairs up at me from the ground while her body crumples into a headless heap. She’s still wearing that damn tee shirt, the one with the dancing daisy and the words “World’s Best Mom” in little kid’s handwriting scribbled underneath. I know I should keep moving but I can’t help looking at her eyes, which are glowing with a savage whiteness. There’s no person there, no identity, just a startling hunger that persists even after I’ve lopped off her head. Ted pulls on my sleeve, the end of his bat coated in a black sludge; he nods to our right, to the short staircase leading up to the cash registers and the coolers.

Our destination.

I glance out the windows on our left. Most of the glass is gone and what remains is just a jagged barrier along the bottom edge. There’s a pile of shards on the floor just inside the store and I can make out Bro and ody. Outside, the street is almost completely obscured by a haze of thick, ashen smoke. The smell, even through the head wrap, is indescribable. I can’t help but imagine a grave yard, a cemetery with all its graves and tombs opened up at once and the decay and death thrown into the wide open air. It chokes and stings.

Ted and I bound up the stairs and immediately two more zombies come at us. One is Mr. Masterson, the dementia-ridden golden oldie that lives upstairs above the shop. He’s got his baseball cap and tan windbreaker on but it’s black and gray down the middle, and part of his lung is trying to escape through the gaping hole in his chest. He sees us or smells us or whatever it is these things do and lurches toward Ted, groaning as if Ted is the hottest woman he’s ever seen. I intercept him with a blow to the legs. He’s tall and this gets him on my level, a perfect position to go for the head. Ted’s somewhere else, taking care of the monster teetering around behind the counter.

Mr. Masterson is laid out and I jump over his squirming, headless corpse to the cooler in front of the counters. It’s mostly intact but a few bottles of water are missing. I’m amazed the thing hasn’t been pillaged altogether. I go for the water first and then the diet soda (What? Regular soda is disgusting no matter what) and the juice. There are some sports drinks in there too so I grab those and the monstrous vegan cookies that are, thank God, still in their wrappers. Ted is having trouble with the groaner behind the counter so I go to help him. Together it’s not a problem, and soon Ted is going for the upright cooler behind the counter where we keep the extra bottles.

“Water first, moron!” I shout through the muffling of the head wrap. He was reaching for the Mountain Dew.

While Ted fills up his bags I go back out around front to where the chips and candy are. I reach blindly for whatever I can get, shoveling candy bars and gum and Cheetohs into a new plastic bag. Once the display is empty I turn to help Ted bu out of the corner of my eye I see something, something I can’t resist.

Just to to the left and around the cash registers is the rest of the store and, more importantly, hundreds of bookshelves filled with books. The nights of unbridled tedium come tearing out of my subconscious. My focus is gone, I can’t concentrate, I need to get the books.

I set down the full bags and that’s my first mistake. With a quick glance in Ted’s direction, I can see that he’s still busy with the cooler so I jog over to the nearest bookcase and begin shoving books under my left arm, squeezing them against my side. It doesn’t matter what books they are, I just need them all. Dante, de Laclos, Austen, Dickens, all of them in my arms and the weight of them, the feel of the new, glossy covers on my fingers is beautiful.

Then I hear a sound, a terrible, hoarse sound from just to my left and I know then that I’ve made a stupid mistake. There are three of them, big, bigger than Mr. Masterson and they’ve somehow managed to stop groaning long enough to surprise me.

Oh fuck, I think, feeling the sweat pop out all over my face and neck, I’ve left the ax. And I had, it was back with the bags of food.

And everything was going so well.

I throw the nearest thing, a monster copy of Whitman’s collected works and it hits the closest zombie square in the face. It doesn’t stop them but it sure as hell slows them down. The tragedy of it is, I can’t keep all the books in my arms, an unforgivable oversight. I scramble back toward the cash registers and the food, panting like an idiot underneath the sweatshirt around my face. It’s hot as all hell in there and the sweat is pooling at my temples and dripping down my neck, joining the perspiration on my collarbone and the deafening thunder of my pulse. I can smell them, they’re way too close on my heels but I make it to the bags and shovel them into my arms.

“What the fuck!” Ted screams, yanking me forward by the front of my shirt. We break into a sprint, going back down the stairs. He’s just barely managing to carry the heavy, full bags and the bat but we get down the stairs safely. Neither of us bother to dispatch the monster shuffling toward us from the broken windows, we’re too close, too near to safety. Ted pounds on the door with the bat and I can hear him whimpering inside his head wrap.

“Where are they? Where are they?” I’m shouting, I don’t know why I’m shouting since Ted is right there in front of me. The door isn’t opening, I can’t hear anything inside. I glance over my shoulder and the zombies are right on top of us, grunting and staring and if there was any humor in their eyes then they’re laughing at Ted and me who are flailing like idiots against the locked door. That door, that fucking door, the door that kept us safe. Reinforced. Unbreakable.

I drop all the shit in my arms and pick up the ax and swing and swing, blindly, feverishly. There’s blood and gray, smelly globs flying in every direction. I don’t know if I’m chopping up one or two or three of them but it doesn’t matter, I just keep swinging until I hear the sweetest sound in the world: a thump and a click and the door opening for us, just for us. I turn and kick the bags inside, I kick until someone grabs me by the arm and pulls me inside.

The door shuts and I’m home, safe, alive.

September 19th – Hatchet

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2009 by allisonhewitt

For the most part we’re not what you would call athletes. I’m not certain survival of the fittest really applies in this case, but only time will tell I suppose.

First there’s Phil Horst. Phil Horst takes the definition of meat and potatoes to the pudgy, Green Bay Packers-loving extreme. He’s not just the manager, he’s very much a gleeful retail sort of fellow. Most of us work here without complaint, going about our menial tasks with competence, but Phil is the only one who seems to really enjoy it. He loves this place. There is no limit to his enthusiasm for inane mystery novels and best sellers. He’s gulped down the Kool-Aid and can’t wait to hand out free samples.

Phil, Philsky, he’s a big guy, tall and solid, but not particularly fast or agile. Imagine the captain of your baseball team and now imagine him fifteen years down the line with kids, living on a steady diet of cheeseburgers and soda. Now imagine he manages a bookstore and believes himself to be the lovable papa bear and best chum of everyone he employs.

He has a gross habit of yanking up his pants by the belt, shimmying the hem up under his belly while drawing himself up like a Kodak getting ready to attack. Primarily he does this when he’s faced with an unpleasant request or question.

The other kids and I joke behind his back: This is your brain on baseball, this is your body on fast food. (I say kids, but really I mean anyone working here under the age of thirty). Phil’s our own rolly polly spokesperson for Midwestern living. He’s the type of guy you expect to see tailgating every weekend, the type of guy who says things like “drawring” instead of drawing and “donesky” instead of done. This has earned him the secret nickname of Philsky.

Once, on a tremendously slow and boring Saturday, I pulled the short straw and was chosen by the other underlings to rib him a little about his way of speaking.

“We’re having another salesky?” I asked him. He was taping up 50% off signs over different displays. Phil turned and nodded and jerked up his pants by the belt loops.

“Yup! End of Summer sale was doing so well for us I thought I’d just keep it rolling.”

“End of Summer and Back to School? Hitting ’em with the ole one-two punchsky, eh?”

It was easy to ignore the tittering of the other employees while watching Phil’s face go through an unsettling range of emotions: Confusion and then anger and then a quick dive to wounded. I hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings; I felt like I was picking on the big dumb kid in grade school, the one that wore suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses. I made it up to him by vacuuming the entire store top to bottom, to which he said: “Much obliged, buddy.”

Sometimes I’m certain he and I speak different languages; teach me your customs and your tales, Oh Great Philsky, teach me the way of the domestic beer.

Believe it or not this man was a philosophy major.

It’s good to know if things ever return to normal Brooks & Peabody will emerge with its managing staff completely intact. The two assistant managers are here with us too, spending most of their time huddled together over the same Newsweek we’ve all been reading over and over again. They too haven’t had a hard time adjusting to our bizarre diet of junk food and diet sodas. It’s familiar territory for them.

Janette is probably my favorite person to work with. She’s laid back, she sipped the Kool-Aid and dumped the rest out in the trash. She and the other assistant manager, Matt, are nerds in arms. They’re the only employees that actually see each other outside of work and while they’re both married I’ve always had this secret inkling that, were things otherwise, they would date. They give off that “You bother me so much but Oh God take me” vibe that so many odd couples exude like an awkward, sexually-charged musk. Janette’s a little bit Manga, Matt’s a little bit Sci-fi and fantasy.

Matt is our resident discerning snob when it comes to books. Miraculously, he’s never realized that having expertise in only one area of literature pretty much makes you ineligible for that position. But he’s nominated and voted himself into the role and none of us have the energy or perseverance to pick a fight. He never outright sneers at other peoples’ taste in books, he just has this one tendon that works in his jaw; it means he thinks you’re a plebeian, it means he is secretly spitting all over the cover of whatever book you mentioned.

Neither Matt or Janette are particularly out of shape but I’d wager most of their adventures take place safely in the mind. I’m not sure if any of Janette’s cosplay outfits involved katana but if so we could really use them now.

Holly-n-Ted are here too but they’re not employees. They hang around in the store often enough that I recognize them whenever they show up, I’ve helped them order enough stuff that I know their names and the kind of stuff they like to read but otherwise we’re strangers. Holly is a petite redhead, very quiet and mousy, with a little pattern of stars tattooed on the top of her hand. She looks like a lot of the girls I grew up with as a child, the girls next door, but Holly was clearly going through her undergraduate rebellion phase. She and Ted dressed almost identically and both of them had innocuous tattoos that weren’t quite hard enough to be considered bad ass.

These two are dating, or – more accurately – in a state of symbiosis, and Janette and I have taken to calling them Hollianted. They are never apart. They are one word. We now call them this to their face which they find a little insulting I think because they want desperately to be individuals and have meaningful identities. I’ve told them that when and if they can tear themselves apart for ten minutes we will consider assigning them separate names.

“Until then,” I told them over a meager lunch of salted peanuts and Crystal Light, “You’re Hollianted.”

I really don’t think it’s so mean. It sounds like a religious holiday to me and Janette agrees. We like to tease them by asking each other things like, “What are you getting your dad this year for Hollianted?” or “What are you giving up for Hollianted? I think I’ll give up chocolate.”

Ted is a Chinese exchange student. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he chose Ted as his American name. Then he tells me his mother gave him teddy bears every year for his birthday, that he has a huge collection of bears from all over the world at his parents’ house in Hong Kong. Suddenly I see why he chose it. Alone in the US, starting college and living with a complete stranger in a ten by ten closet… I would choose a name with a warm association too.

I guess that would leave me with the name Emma or Hermione.

Ted is an undergrad studying biochemistry at the university. He has that look about him, the studious, terrifyingly intelligent look that we literature majors, even the grad student level ones, fear. Like Phil, Ted seems to me like he’s come from another planet. He mumbles formulas in his sleep, he says it helps him drown out the banging and groaning outside the door.

C-six, H-six benzene, A-G-two-O silver oxide, C-U-Fe-S-two copper iron sulfide…

Iron. That reminds me: we only have two weapons.

Two doesn’t sound like much, but I’m actually fairly impressed that we managed to find that many in this store. We don’t even leave the box cutters in easy-to-reach places. Someone held up a bakery down the street with a pair of garden sheers last year and ever since then Phil has been paranoid about keeping sharp objects hidden. This oversight may have cost a few people their lives the other day. Thankfully, in the back store room I found a little treasure I had walked by and ignored for months and months. A fire alarm and a glass case with a bright red ax become part of the landscape after a while.

You just don’t notice these things until there is screaming in every direction and windows shattering and blood creeping down the green and ivory tiled aisles…

Well I noticed it. I noticed it just in time. Phil put me on one of the most unpleasant tasks in the store: cleaning the back storeroom shelves. The shelves go right up to the ceiling with about a foot and a half gap in between each one and they get unbelievably dusty after weeks of neglect. I have no clue where all the dust comes from but 90% of it settles on this fucking shelves. Phil doesn’t care that I have dust allergies, he won’t make the assistant managers do the chore so it’s me, only me.

Sending me to the back room probably saved my life, it put me by that fire alarm and just a few feet away from an old, forgotten ax.

When I sit and watch the monitors there’s an infected creature I recognize. I recognize her for three reasons:

1) Her name is Susan. Because she was – is – a regular. She bought six copies of The Shack. Six. I shit you not. She is shaped like an old, bruised pear and she wears the ugliest pair of glasses I’ve ever seen.

2) She was in the Christian section when it all started. The floor to ceiling window behind her imploded, sending shards of glass the size of stalactites crashing onto the floor. I watched her try to run toward me, through Biography and Home & Garden. She didn’t get very far. Some of the glass had hit her ankle and she was bleeding all over and limping. A gnarled, gray thing came in the window and caught up to her, limping harder than Susan, propelled forward with a terrible kind of hungry speed. It draped itself over her neck and they fell to the floor. I saw clumps of her hair flying in between the book shelves and her blood seeping fast toward me across the dents in the tiles. The blood overtook the book she had been carrying, it had flown out of her arms and landed with the spine mangled and open.

The Longest Trip Home

3) Susan should have been dead. You don’t lose that much blood, that much of your neck and walk it off. But she did exactly that. She just sort of shrugged off the decaying person on her back, and got to her feet. It is without a doubt the most unsettling thing I’ve ever seen. She inflated like an accordion pulled up off the floor by its handle. Her legs straightened unnaturally and then she slumped down, hunched over with a big, raw hole torn down the side of her neck. I could smell the tangy coppery smell of her and the too-sweet rotten smell of the figure at her back. Suddenly I didn’t mind that she bought so many copies of The Shack. I wanted, right then, to take her up to the register and help her buy six more. But she slid past the book she had dropped, smearing her own blood across the floor with her feet, feet that were turned in too much so that she was walking like a toy duck that had been assembled by a two-year-old. Susan came at me, not fast, but my brain was taking too long to compute what I had just seen. Then there was a little flash of red in the corner of my vision. It was the ax. The dear, beautiful, graceful ax with its highly-polished, gleaming handle and red, curved head. It was so bright, so perfectly red, like a new coat of lipstick just before a night out. There was a hard little hammer hanging down next to the glass case – Break in case of emergency. Fucking hell, I thought, this certainly ranks. I think my fist did more of the breaking than the hammer but my hand didn’t feel a thing, not until it was gripping the ax. And then I had both hands on the handle and I was running for the front of the store but Susan, poor, ugly Susan was in the way. I swung, hard, a big, overhead swing that came down at her shoulder. I took off her right arm at the joint and it came away easier than I had expected. She seemed soft somehow, hollow and boneless. Most people would scream after losing their arm but Susan just sort of grunted as if she had dropped her purse or tripped a little.

I didn’t stop to see if that had finished her off, I kept hold of the ax and sprinted to the front of the store where Phil was ushering Matt, Janette and Hollianted to toward the break room. Phil had a bat. I never knew we had a bat. I found out later that Phil hid it under a loose board in the cabinet beneath the cash register. I think I actually laughed aloud with relief, insane with fear, perfectly insensible of the carnage piled up on the other side of the counter. Phil swung the bat wildly as he caught sight of me, beckoning me with a bloody hand; I never thought I’d be so happy to see that pudgy bastard waving me over. He was shouting at me, screaming actually: I knew what he saw behind me, I knew Susan wasn’t down for good…

Now I see Susan on the monitor from time to time. We don’t call her Susan anymore, we call her Lefty.

Tomorrow I’ll have to confront Lefty again. We’re running out of food and we need to raid the refrigerators out by the register, we might even need to ransack the cafe if we can get that far. We’ll have to leave the safety of the door: we don’t have a choice.

September 18th – Heart of Darkness

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2009 by allisonhewitt

They are coming.

They are coming and I don’t think we will ever get out. If you’re reading this call the police. Call them now; call the cops if there are any cops left to call. Tell them to come find me. I can’t promise we will be here tomorrow or the day after, or the day after that, but tell them to rescue us before it’s too late.

If they ask for a name, tell them my name is Allison Hewitt, and tell them that I’m trapped. Allison Hewitt and five other missing souls are holding out in the break room of the book shop at the corner of Langdon and Park. We are all in relatively good health. None of us are infected.

If they ask what exactly you mean by all that tell them this: On the evening of September the 15th, 2009 just before closing time, the Brooks & Peabody shop on Langdon and Park was attacked by the infected. I don’t know what else to call them but that seems like the right word somehow, I guess I’m not sure it’s a virus or disease, but I know it spreads and I know the kind of destruction it brings.

Our phones don’t work, not the land lines or the fax, and the cellphones began running out of batteries yesterday. No one thought to bring a charger to work or keep one in the break room. Phil, my manager, swears there’s a charger in the stock room around back but that’s all the way across the store from here and none of us are brave enough to try for it. I think eventually we’ll become desperate and have to go out into the store; the food in here won’t last forever and I never thought I’d be so sick of beef jerky. The only electricity we have comes from the emergency generators; Phil bought them last year when the flooding was getting bad and everyone was worried about losing power during the end of school sale. I don’t know where the wireless is coming from, it could be the little row of apartments that sit on top of the store; maybe someone is alive up there, maybe they’re trying to contact you too.

We’re living behind a solid, safe door. The lock is industrial grade. The safes are housed back here and the doors are very heavy and reinforced. It was the logical place to hide – no windows, a refrigerator with some food and most of all the very heavy reinforced doors. I can’t stress that enough, how much we rely on that door, how that one, metal door has come to symbolize, over only a matter of days, survival.

If there are no windows and only one door, you might ask, how do you know they are coming?

I know because of the security cameras. They must run on the emergency back up generators because they still work and the one and only monitor to view the feed is in the safe room. The safe room is just off of the larger area with the table and chairs and refrigerator. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I go sit in that room (it’s not locked any more, I don’t think money will mean much now and none of us has even tried to steal any of it) and watch the monitor. Thank you, Brooks & Peabody, for installing those cameras. Those cameras allow us see almost the whole store. The picture is black and white and not very clear, but I can see them and I watch them scrape around the store, winding through the bookcases, passing Mystery and Science Fiction, lumbering by the reading lights and bookmarks. They will not leave, not even after everyone in the store is gone or dead.

What are they looking for? What do they want?

Sometimes I see them disappear out of frame and I know they’re just outside the break room door, moaning at the barrier, thumping their heads and their rotten fists against the steel. It’s unfair, I begin to think, the others are trying to sleep. What do they want? Do they think we’ll answer the knocking and thudding? Do they even have the capacity to think or is it something else making them claw at the door?

One of the other grad students in my department has a greyhound. Joey’s his name. Joey was the nicest dog I think I’ve ever met. He was rescued from a racing track, from the kind of place dogs don’t ever want to be, a place where they’re abused and treated like objects. You can drive a Nascar around a track day and night and it won’t complain; greyhounds are the same way. They don’t complain, not ever, they just look at you with those big, bottomless eyes and beg you to be nice, to show a little mercy if it’s convenient. Joey didn’t seem like the kind of animal that could hurt an injured fly, but one day he bolted past me out the front door. I don’t think there was even a foot of space but he just zipped right outside and into the yard. He had mauled a rabbit before I could even get his name out twice. He was so fast, so efficient, so completely unlike the couch potato Joey I had come to know.

It wasn’t Joey that killed that rabbit, not really, it was his instinct, his prey drive.

Prey drive.

That’s what waits outside our door, insane with hunger, driven forward not by intelligence or understanding but a blind, consuming need for what we have –

I’m trying to stay extremely calm for you. I hope I’m doing an okay job. In a weird way, it helps to write about it, to talk about it, somehow that makes it less real. Now it’s just a story I’m writing for you, a tale I’m spinning, not a cold, vicious reality underpinning everything I do and say and think. It’s nice for a change, to do something I want… And I think that’s what I miss the most: making choices.

There aren’t any choices to make anymore, just survival, just what needs to get done. Soon we’ll have to go outside that door to get food. There are some bigger refrigerators and a dozen or so bags of potato chips out by the registers. We’ll need to get to those soon: we don’t have a choice. I didn’t choose to be trapped with these people, these coworkers and strangers that I never wanted to know beyond their connection to an easy part-time job. I didn’t choose to be taken away from my mother, my mom, the only family I have left. She’s already sick and now I won’t even get to be there at the end…

I was studying to be someone but that’s over now. Now there’s just these people I don’t really know and the constant, crippling fear and their drive… I understand it I suppose, the reason those things groan and shuffle around outside the door, the reason Joey murdered that rabbit. It’s in our blood, in our hearts, the hunger, the ambition, the out and out need to survive. I just wanted to work here, to make a little cash and now, suddenly, I will die here.

Maybe I’ll write again… At least it’s some small comfort to look forward to. I should close my laptop and get some sleep, I should stop staring at the glowing screen but it’s hypnotizing and I can’t look away. But I’ll force myself to go to bed, to close my eyes and cover my ears.

They are coming.

They are coming and I don’t think we will ever get out.