By now you are or should be familiar with the setting,,, You wake up one morning and there are walking corpses snacking on your neighbors, on your front lawn. If you reacted to what your eyes were seeing before your brain was finished processing, you probably were not the main course. If you were armed, trained, resourceful, and had tendencies toward violence you likely made it to the end of the day. With a little luck, you made it through the night . . .

Monday, November 7, 2016



Breathless, I took a knee. No one should have to run like this, particularly in the morning, and hungover. I didn't hurt, I burned. My lungs, my throat, my feet, my calves all awash in flames. I could almost smell the smoke. …

My hamstrings were ready to snap and my heart was trying to burst through my chest. The crowd – the hoard – was already turning the next corner; a tall, skinny guy in an expensive work suit and missing half his face was in the lead, running hard.

I might have given up except for a young man, not much past his teens came back to help me up. How nice. His parents must have raised him well.

“C'mon mister, get up, they're right behind us.” He had a whine in his voice making him sound even younger that he looked.

He got closer and reached down to help me up. I reached out and hit him solidly in the face, he stumbled backwards and went down, hard. I might not have had the lungs, but the rest of the upper body was still quite able. I got up, stomped on his leg and for good measure kicked him in his face, and to stop his screaming …

Well, you know the old saying, “... I only have to run faster than you ...”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Survivors of the Dead

The immediate survivors believed what their eyes were seeing, turned and ran as fast and as far as their legs would carry them. They did not get very far or last very long. What was happening on Elm Street and Maple Street was happening all the way to Main Street. The greater the number of people, the greater the problems. They were also just as likely to be run over by a neighbor as they were to be eaten by one.

The intermediate survivors had a similar reaction and about the same outcome. Instead of running away they ran back inside the house and hunkered down. Unfortunately, the modern American home is not a fortress; with decorative fencing, aesthetic gardens, plywood, dry wall and lots of glass and windows, lending protection only from prying eyes and the elements. It was not design to keep out marauding hordes, hell bent of devouring the occupants. The only real protection offered in such homes is an alarm system. If social decorum has been abandoned (devouring the flesh of one’s neighbors may be a good indicator) the screaming sirens will neither scare away the would be intruders nor bring the authorities running - chances are they had their hands full or mouths filled.

The real survivors, seeing their neighbors and friends and perhaps loved ones becoming mid morning meals, jumped into the car and got out lickety-split, plowing their way through the growing crowds. They got away fast but not very far and also did not last very long. There were many real survivors - driving badly - immediate survivors and the . . . 'surviving dead' . . . clogging up the streets. More than likely the real survivors were reduced to immediate survivor status, running for their lives. But, if they made it past Elm and Maple and others in between, Main Street was fairly clear as the events began overnight, most shops and businesses never opened, foot traffic had been at a minimal. If they could avoid the pileups and were careful not to create one, they had a chance for escape, but still, they were all revved up but no plan in tow.

The true survivors saw the horrific events unfold, reacted as they processed the information and immediately and calmly hurried inside. They did not look for logic, they did not wait for help; they ran upstairs, roused the wife and kids. They neither offered an explanation nor suffered any questions. They armed themselves, packed a bag, packed a lunch, loaded everyone into the SUV, and got out of dodge with either a destination in mind or just the where-with-all to get away from the densely populated areas. They did not slow for pedestrians, did not adhere to the rules of the road, nor the sidewalks nor the lawns. Nor did they choose the conventional routes out of town.

If you are still drawing breath by the end of the week, eating canned goods and not each other and since you are reading this, you must be an ultimate survivor . . . And you are in the minority.

A Man's Castle

"Under current circumstances there will be no rescue squad, you will be on your own, alone."

Alone, even as your kindly and shirtless 215 pound neighbor came crashing through your four thousand dollar beveled thermal glass door, ignoring the 50 or so cuts across his face and torso, not to mention his missing ear, he will be ignoring your threats and screams, ignoring the CZ-75 P-01 semiautomatic handgun you have pointed and aimed at him and squeezed the trigger, as your thirty-five dollars per hour, plus membership fees, firing range instructor had taught you. Even as the three, upgraded and modified 9mm shells rip holes in his chest ~ nice grouping as your instructor would have said ~ punching out fist fulls of flesh from his back that should have sent him, if not down, but flying back out the doorway from whence he came, but did not even slow him down, did not stop him from reaching for and grabbing your face, digging his fingers into your cheek, just as your fancy and expensive double pane bay window ~ or bow window you were never sure of the difference ~
exploded inwards from the pressure of the whole obese Glowgoski clan from across the street pressed upon it, even as that sound was over shadowed by the smashing of more exploding glass probably from the sliding doors of your patio, all co-mingled with the screams of your family- your wife and children- throbbing in your ears. Even as the 215-pound neighbor of the last three years, the helpful guy who had and would lend just about every tool imaginable ~ Gary, I think? Gregg? ~ even as Craig grabbed your head, dug his fingers into your cheek and pulled you closer to him, to his mouth as if to smooch but instead swallowing half of your face, from eye socket to chin, ripped apart with his teeth, chewed and spat out as if it were bitter tasting only to snap back and gorge on your neck and throat, finally putting and end to the sounds of your wife’s - or daughters - howling, well at least in your ears. Yes, you and everyone like you were alone and on your own. At least until you came back to join the multitudes to make unannounced visits to your other neighbors.

Over at Cliff's

"No rescue squad, no swat team, no cavalry, nothing."

Cliff had been well prepared, well prepared for everything. His house was a fortress of brick and mortar ~ real brick, not facing ~ wrought iron and steel fencing, painted white and ornately decorated but it was designed for defense. The castle lacked only a moat. His little slice of earth was impenetrable, from the outside.

Cliff was a worrier and had always been the hoarding type; he stocking up for the winter, was the first at the supermarket when severe weather was in the forecast. His wife, Merry, a pack rat in her own right, was a compulsive shopper who purchased in bulk, particularly sale items, whether they needed it or not. Cliff’s worrying that bordered on paranoia insured they had plenty of storage space for his wife’s purchases. He also had a walk in freezer installed in his basement, with its own generator in case of power failure.

Cliff’s worrying became full-blown paranoia with the Y2K scare; fully believing in the upcoming disaster, he began to stock up in earnest; canned goods, bottled water, cash and gold coins, another generator and extra ammunition. But not too much, as he believed the widespread computerized crash would not result in a total social breakdown and order would be restored rather quickly. He still had faith in his government. The events of 9-11 and the aftermath really got him rolling, stockpiling for a much longer siege, a back-up generator to the back up generator and a cache of weapons, a militia unto himself. He had faith in none other by now.

Cliff had the means to indulge his survival fantasies having inherited a very successful medical supply business from his father and substantial real estate holdings from his in-laws. As the government warnings increased, the wars broke out, the crime rate grew, the rolling disasters around the world; as his fears grew his stockpiling grew more elaborate. The war in Iraq, the deployment of the national guard both there and along the borders, Cliff knew the lines of defense, the rescue services, the first responders were stretched too thin. When disaster struck, there would be no help coming, at least not coming anytime soon.

Cliff’s wife shared his passion if not his paranoia, his children, with all that spending power went along or the ride. They understood that dad was afraid, but they just did not understand why. Why was survival so important if the rest of the world was gone? They were good kids, respectful and dutiful; they took the self defense courses, the shooting lessons, first aid and survival lessons. They actually enjoyed the semiannual camping/survival trips they took, one in the summer and one in the winter. Despite their survival compulsions, as parents they were not overbearing or overprotective, they were good, indulging parents. It was a strong and stable household despite the fall out shelter mentality

Cliff had been somewhat vindicated when the second hurricane of the season hit the northeast. Not as bad as the first one, but resources were so stretched around the town, he had the only power for over a week and with his great overstock was able to help and host his neighbors. Few had shared his ideas, or followed his lead ~ tho they did not think him a nut job, or say it aloud ~ but now most of them had begun to prepare for the worst. Cliff had planned and was ready for anything, everything except for his son’s burst appendix.

Elizabeth Rising

Matt (Part One)

He awoke at 5:55 a.m. as he did every morning. He is a back-sleeper. At that precise moment his eyes pop open, he stares at the ceiling, but he does not move. What he thinks, what he does for the next five minutes is a mystery. At 6:00 a.m., the clock radio clicks and the ‘all news’ station begins to whisper the overnight headlines. He rolls onto his right side to glare at the intrusive chatter, reaches behind himself to touch his wife’s ample hip and buttocks. She is a semi-fetal, side-sleeper with her back turned to her husband. It is a near thirty-year-old arrangement.

Each year, she gets easier to find.

He did not listen to the headline news, rarely does, as it was mostly the same . . . politics, finance, violence, sports, weather, then traffic. Washington, D.C., Wall Street, main street, the arenas, the sky, the roads. It wasn’t News; it was a map . . . to nowhere. He was further distracted by a sour taste that had rolled over him, more vile than his morning breath. A feeling of dread - could be the onset of a coronary, or the remnants of last night’s snack - one of his many vices.

One of these days, I’ll switch to a music station.

Either way, the world did not end overnight and as the great philosopher and comic strip writer, Charles Shultz said, "Don’t worry about the world ending today, it’s already tomorrow in Australia!"

I guess I have to get up.

It was his usual morning mantra, weekdays anyway. Although since taking early retirement, every day is the weekend just like every night is a Friday. Just like his old marine corps chant, "Every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast." But he still wakens the same way, the same time.

I wonder if I’ll ever sleep in?

He carefully pulls himself into a sitting position, though the care is unnecessary with the eight thousand dollar mattress his wife had purchased, guaranteed to not even spill a glass of wine with a bowling ball. Yeah right, I’d like to get that marketeer into a Jersey bowling alley on a Thursday night . . . His feet barely touched the floor, he had to hop off the bed for a firm landing, but still his wife gently snored, undisturbed.

Perhaps the mattress was as advertised.

He stood before the full length mirror on the back of his bedroom door which they had kept closed since his eldest daughter reached puberty. He was wearing a pair of comic boxers, this one with Disney characters. He’s worn them since the girls were young, part modesty, part entertainment. They had become the standard Father’s Day gift, each year more inventive, more exotic than the last, the designs changing as his girls matured. Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo. To hearts and flowers, Tabasco, Guinness and other brand names . . . Now that they had reached full maturity, the designs went back to cartoon characters. He also donned a muscle shirt - what they call wife beaters now days; a term he had always despised.

Gives me the willies just thinking it.

"Not too bad," he said aloud patting his relatively flat stomach, flexing his still firm biceps and quadriceps, "for a guy pushing sixty." His hair was another matter, fully white on both his head and beard. But that had started turning more than twenty years ago, the gray tuft on his chest was relatively recent. His face relayed the look of a long traveled road, but overall, he had little to complain about his appearance.

The feeling of foreboding still enveloped him. He checked his pulse - strong and steady - he groped his testes, jabbed his arm pits, poked his glands, squeezed his cardioid or his jugular . . . everything checked out. Neither a heart attack nor a stroke seemed imminent.

My generation, the later baby boomers are uncertain. The last generation ran to the doctors in the hopes of living forever, they failed, miserably. The older boomers followed suit, enduring medical procedures beyond endurance, and swallowing a drug store worth of pills and yet they still die. We, us, well we are just not sure. Is it worth the effort only to die at the end? I feel fine, but worried. Could visiting a doctor or groups of doctors or swallowing a pill buy me a few more years? Oh if only I had done . . . something . . . would I still be alive today? Sounds like the "are you awake" kind of question. No real answer in sight.

He was still puzzled about what was causing his uneasiness. "What has me feeling so weird?" He shook his head, etch-o-sketch style, left the room and walked down the hallway, stopped in the main bathroom to relieve himself - even though he had a master suite, he rarely used the room except for a shower. A part of it was in deference to his wife’s sleeping but more had to do with pissing in his bedroom - he never could get his head around that. He was now thankful they had settled on the ranch-styled house as his knees would have cried at tackling a set of stairs.

Yeah, we finally settled on the ranch, corner property to boot. Me, I wanted a colonial, but she wanted the neighborhood. All we could afford at the time was the ranch . . . a beat up ranch. Handy man special. I was raised in an apartment in the city, what did I know about home owning. What didn’t I learn . . . It was a temporary stop, couple of years and we would move up. Temporary. A ranch was so close to the street, no buffer zone. And a corner lot, surrounded by street level. No retreat zone . . . god forbid a flood, or . . . Too whence does one retreat?

Internal dialog was also part of his morning ritual, rising before everyone else his mind was allowed to free fall. He walked past his front door, locked and bolted of course, but could see some sort of commotion through the small side glass panes surrounding the heavy wooden door. He chose to ignore the clamor, turning right into his kitchen.

Not before my coffee, but perhaps it explains my dread. An alarm, a siren or something must have triggered my feelings. Oh those negative feelings that I harbor the therapist complained or explained. I never thought she was on my side but of course, she was not supposed to take sides . . . but really could I or anyone else be that wrong . . . that consistently? Of course, again, that was years ago . . . Water under the bridge. To be forgotten, but still not yet. Yeah, Me, in therapy! Had to try something tho, as we were drifting apart and sinking fast. But that therapist was not the answer, don’t know if there was an answer, at least not an external one. I simply realized I had invested too much into my family to walk away. I stayed, stop complaining and it sort of worked itself out. Full surrender, I suppose.

These ruminations swirled about his head as he went about making the coffee - the first pot of the day, half a pot actually, for speed. He would drink all three cups before his wife would arise and make a fresh pot - 8 cups - for them to share. He usually went for a third pot and sometimes when the neighborhood was buzzing he would make an urn’s worth. The coffee pot had an automatic brew option one could set up the night before, but he never used it, never even set the clock. He preferred the ritual of making the coffee, running the tap, clearing the pipes to get the water as cold and fresh as possible, while he coarsely ground the whole beans purchased directly from a small South American co-op.

Nothing better than fresh brewed coffee, only way to start the day.

As the coffee noisily brewed - sounding like a growling bear or bubbling geyser - he did his morning stretching exercises, pushups off the counter top edges in deference to his long ago broken and never truly healed wrist, but decided to forego the deep knee bends in deference to his aging and aching knees. All the while, the commotion out front had grown louder or more intense. His kitchen window faced the side street, which showed little activity other than the usual waking rituals of his neighbors.

Nothing too frantic out there, perhaps I’ll have my coffee on the porch and take a gander at what has upped the dander of my front line neighbors.

It was a close-knit neighborhood, the high end residential portion of the city, separated by natural boundaries from the teeming bustle and industrial side of the small metropolis, more closely aligned with the bordering suburban towns. Separated from them only by a main county road, zip codes and property taxes. The area did have its own postal designation, Elmora Hills. The Hills was a homogenized area - in socioeconomic terms, the complexions varied greatly- firmly middle class, a throw back to an earlier era. At least it had been. The residents were becoming older, moving away, selling their homes to a new generation. Fewer housewives, less children, more disposable income. It was the area inner city dwellers aspired to reach. Which made what he saw out of his side panel window all the more astonishing.

As the coffee machine burped its final gurgle, before the buzzer announced the end of the brew cycle, he poured a half of cup into his thick ceramic mug. Blowing down from pursed lips, cooling the immediate surface he sipped the magic elixir, singeing his mustache, charring his lip, melting enamel, scalding his tongue, searing his throat, charring his stomach. Igniting his senses. He sighed. He belched.

Officially now, a new day.

He gulped another mouthful, turned to the fridge, added a dollop of cream and back to the coffee pot to top off his now lightened cup of joe. A quick glance outside his kitchen window disturbed his newly awakened senses, but did not fully register in his lagging brain. His sideway neighbors were apparently engaged in more than the usual rituals.

It seems the Morgan’s and the Howard’s are holding some sort of mud wrestling contest on the Howard’s front lawn. Odd. Jimmy Howard looked a bit off, standing, mouth agape, in his dirty briefs. And the near naked Torres woman was lurching forward to join the festivities. Not the woman, the daughter. My has she grown up. Odd.

Trying hard not to replay that scene in his head, trying not to concentrate on the young, near naked girl, trying not to think about what the red, spurting liquid might represent. He walked to his front door. He paused to switch his grip on his coffee mug before disengaging his locks, before reaching for the doorknob. He paused to consider his garb, underwear as pj’s - no biggie, they have seen me in less.

Perhaps it was just his lifetime spent in law enforcement - military police in the corps - campus security while attending college - a career with the local PD - that delayed his exiting from the security of home. Whatever the reason, he did not walk out into the growing chaos. He waited, surveyed the area, assayed the situation. In the corporate world it is known as risk analysis. In the animal world it's self preservation. In this world it is known as survival.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

To each his own . . . [an interlude]

I have come to realize I was little more than background noise in my children’s life. To my wife I must have seemed like static. I am not sure when I lost my grip, started to drift away. I only just found out it was so. I cannot even be sure if I was ever involved, fully involved. If you are wondering if I love them, loved them, I cannot honestly say.

I am sure from the outside looking in, we were the perfect family. We had all the trapping of an upper-middle class family all the requisite status symbols. We went about our lives as if scripted. A fifty’s sitcom family in the twenty-first century. We did not sit down to dinner every night, each with our own schedules, but who does anymore? I worked and played hard, my wife kept herself busy with her mothering and her committees. My son had his sports, his friends, his schooling, my daughter her music, her friends and her cheerleading. If we were not out doing our own somethings, we were home, hiding behind our electronics. We were like small satellites, worlds unto ourselves, orbiting around the house, avoiding collisions. Because of this we were unable to work together, because of that we were unable to help each other.

I decided we should leave and went to the car, assuming they would follow - after all, I was the dad, head of the household. I got there, to the car, they didn’t.

My son with all his football skills, was over matched by this hideous opponent. Had he been a running back he may have artfully dodged the carnivorous neighbor, but his training had taught him to hit and grab. Probably the last thing he should have done. He took his assailant down with technical precision that would make a coach proud. He slammed the ghoul into the ground as demanded by his training, but there was no air to be knock out of it, nor was there any sense to pound out of its head. My neighbor of eight years, my occasional golfing buddy, allowed his head to be pounded into my well-manicured lawn. But it bounced right back, as if on springs, and he buried his yellow stained teeth into my son’s exposed neck.

My daughter’s training was indeed right for this situation, nimbly and quickly she avoided the growing crowd gathering on my lawn. Avoided the outreaching hands and snapping jaws of the unruly mob and glided gracefully into the back seat of the car, slamming the door shut behind her. I doubt she ever considered that her brother might be following. We all had our own priorities.

As for my wife, her vanity had gotten the best of her. She had paused in front of the hallway mirror, as she always had done before leaving the house. She would check her hair, confirm her makeup, adjust her skirt, smooth out her blouse - general preening. As experienced as she was at this, it could not have cost her more than ten or fifteen seconds, assuming she had found perfection, but it did cost her dearly. Streaking, in all senses of the word, across my walkway came the neighborhood beauty queen. Stunningly beautiful, scantily clad and augmentedly breasted, she was the fantasy of all the long married men in the neighborhood. Seeing that woman naked, watching her near perfect body wrap her arms around my wife, pulling her blouse off, bringing her lips to my wife’s now exposed breasts had been so much like an occasional thought I had secretly entertained. Right up to the part when the blood started to gush. Suddenly it was less erotic.

All I could do was stand and watch. I could blame it on shock or on my inability to comprehend what I was seeing, but . . . Some of it was my own cowardice. Yes, I was flat out afraid, scared to death and also glad it was not happening to me. But, the deep down, inside truth was that I felt nothing for the victims, my family. Emotionally they were somewhat familiar but I felt no direct connect. I had minimal reaction to the perils facing my son and my wife, totally detached from their fate. As I got into the car and drove away, I felt no real relief for my daughter’s survival either, just a general appreciation for the companionship. I would not have to travel alone. Could she be my shot at redemption, I doubt it. I know I should be ashamed, but I am not. Some may call it disassociation. I would not. If it were, it seems to be a chronic condition.

To each his own . . .