Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ladybugs and Tiny Drunk People

            People tell you that having a child will change your life forever.  This statement is assured, unnecessary, and bordering on silly.  Of course having a child will change your life forever.  Winning the lottery would change your life forever, as would waking to find that your hands had been replaced by flippers and your voice sounded like ducks farting.  It goes without saying.
            My lament, then, is that I was not adequately prepared by society or my own life experiences to understand what would change.  True, comedians had told me for years that having a baby was like caring for a tiny drunk person and that has proven to be accurate.  My mother tended to recall my more endearing qualities.  Though, if my daughter is anything like her father, Mom must have had to dodge a poop missile once or twice back in the early 80’s.  No, both of my parents assured me that I was a wonderful baby, fearless, chubby, and generally happy.
            The intent of this writing is not to complain about my lot in life.  Nor is it to brag about my daughter even if I think she is the greatest baby since Jesus.  I have ideas and musings rolling around inside my head that culminated in a general awareness of myself, an awareness that I am a different self having spent the past sixteen months in the presence of my little girl.
            Here I must make a mandatory detour to applaud my wife who ferried this little hellion in her belly for nine months.  She never sent me out to get pickles or ice-cream, and she genuinely enjoyed the feeling of life growing within her.
            Now back to me.
            I guess the first question I should ask is how did Maggie change my life.  By that I mean, what is it about her? 
            About two moths ago Maggie began to point at things and say dat.  Whatever dat was she wanted a better view and she wanted to know the name.  Often, she was not satisfied to hear it once or even a dozen times.  This has led to conversations that would only take place between a toddler and an adult or a crazy person and another crazy person.
            Maggie: Dat!
            Me: Star!
            Maggie: Dat!
            Me: Star!
            Rinse and repeat for three straight minutes.  You can substitute any of the following words in place of star: ladybug, strawberry, cookie, butterfly, snowman, so on and so forth.
            One morning Maggie woke up and dat suddenly changed to dis.  Now she was pointing and saying this instead of that.  The words were never interchangeable.  For two weeks it was dis and now we are back to dat as of a few weeks ago.
            Maggie is very busy.  She isn’t much of a sitter.  I often wonder what goes through her head as she is deciding which book to look at or toys to smash together.  Is it deliberate or is it instinct?  She has a habit, especially when Miranda and I are eating on the couch, of walking in elaborate circles to retrieve a sample of food from us.  For whatever reason, she usually closes her eyes tightly as she approaches us, groping in front of her with hands like antennae.  Once she has the food in hand she will crane her head to the ceiling, close her eyes again, and walk away.
            I can go on for pages about the adorable or just strange things she does.  But, this is about me and I have to be selfish.
            I have never been much of a crier.  My older sister and I are a lot alike in that way.  This doesn’t mean I am less empathic or affected by tragedy.  It just never triggers that particular response, or rarely does anyway. 
            The twenty-four hour odyssey of Maggie’s birth was physically and emotionally draining.  Like any proper husband not corrupted by modern media I witnessed the event, to include the slimy bits.  And that is what changed me.
            The times I have cried in my life are self-explanatory as to why.  I either was hit by a car, hit by a tennis racket, or watched Forrest tell Jenny’s headstone how smart little Forrest was.  There was always something there, some feeling (and usually blood) that I could point to as the source.
            When I saw Maggie emerge with her eyes wide open I felt like the dam burst.  I cried.  My face quivered, and I’m pretty sure I was laughing through most of it.  Had you stripped away everything else that was going on in the room and just focused on me it would look a lot less endearing.
            But, there was Maggie.
            Those were very happy tears.
            Had I guessed that I would become a crier after Maggie I would have said no.  I would probably cry at certain things, sure, but I’d spent twenty-nine years perfectly happy not crying.
            A few days ago I decided to punish myself by watching a documentary listed under the heading Twenty-Five Documentaries Guaranteed to Make You Cry.  The documentary was lovely and Miranda and I bawled together.  Hey, it was guaranteed, what was I supposed to do?
            Today, though…
            While on my lunch break I watched a video a Facebook friend shared about the Air Force band doing a flash mob at the Smithsonian.  They played a Christmas song (forget the name) and I watched the spectators smile, swell with pride, couples hold onto each other, and so on.  And then the picture went blurry and I realized I had tears in my eyes.
            This is how Maggie changed me.
            It’s easy to be affected by the endless streams of negativity.  From your personal life to the media, it’s a wonder we all aren’t crazy.  Or maybe we’re all just crazy together and so no one knows the difference. 
            Then I think about Maggie pointing at the same ladybug picture she’s pointed to literally a thousand times and demanding to know the name one more time.  I think about how excited she gets when she successfully steals the remote control.  I think about her squeals when her Baby Signs DVD starts to play.  I think about all of the beauty I can show her and all of the firsts yet to come.  Yes, she is a little drunk person with half of my DNA.  Yes, reading Goodnight Goon forty consecutive times can challenge even my nearly endless reserve of patience.
            Despite any petty drawback I don’t want it to end.
            And I know it will some day.
            But some day is a long way from today.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Being Thirty

I won’t say that I never thought I would live to see thirty.  It’s nothing that dramatic.  I just never thought I would be thirty.  For most of my life it was so far off, like Mt. Everest.  I’d heard of Mt. Everest, even seen pictures of it.  But, I doubted I would ever be there.  I just never thought my name and the number would be in the same sentence, unless it was, “An area man died this afternoon while attempting to eat thirty ghost chilis after being bet that he could not.  The man successfully ate a single pepper and then drowned to death in his own tears.”
         Thirty snuck up on me.  But, now it’s here and I recognize the signs.  So, I present to you the things I have actually said in the recent past that assure me, if there was ever any doubt, that I am thirty goddamn years old.

“Someone needs to tell that kid to pull up his pants.” (Possibly directed at Justin Bieber)

(On a Friday night) “Babe, it’s almost 9:30, what are we still doing up?”

“Babe, if we’re going to go to the pool I need you to pluck my shoulder hairs.”

“If we go to the movies now there won’t be any teenagers there.”

“People call this music?  It doesn’t even have instruments in it!”

“I’m not going to the grocery store unless we’ve organized our coupons.”

“If we make a big batch in the crock pot, we’ll have enough oatmeal to last all week!”

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A Memory for Maggie #1

My wife and I began a memory box for our daughter, Maggie, shortly after she was born.  In it we write about milestones and memorable events, first time rolling over, first time sleeping through the night and so on.  We figured this would be a nice keepsake for her when she grew up, to read about all of those little moments that mattered so much to us, her mommy and daddy.  I had a moment with Maggie last night that would not fit on one of those cards and will share it here.

There are many things of which I had no idea in regards to being a father.  I didn't know how peaceful and fulfilling it would be to watch a baby sleep.  I didn't know how incomplete I was having never seen that beautiful smile.  And, I didn't know how my heart could break, only to be mended, in a span of minutes.

Miranda and I knew we had an early morning ahead of us.  We had to make the 10:40 showing to watch a movie (The Conjuring, good and scary/recommended) and that meant waking up no later than 7:00.  We have been on less than five dates since Maggie was born, so this movie/lunch date was a big deal for us.  Maggie had already been up twice before we tried to go to bed around 11:00 at night.  Miranda finally got her down and it seemed like she might make it through the night.

Unfortunately, one clattering crocheting hook (I think they're called hooks?) upset that plan and Maggie was awake and screaming.  One thing we've struggled with as parents is allowing her to cry herself to sleep.  There is conflicting literature on the topic, but most people believe that, as long as the child is safe and lacking nothing (food, clothing, etc.) it is good to establish those kinds of boundaries.  We agreed to let Maggie cry herself to sleep and turned down the baby monitor so that it was just barely audible.  Mind you, her room is four feet from ours so the baby monitor is almost for decoration at this point.

I might have drifted for a minute or two here and there, but I was aware of Maggie's cries the entire time.  And, man were they some powerful cries.  This is when my heart began to break.  I imagine I will feel much the same sending her to school for the first time, knowing she will be in pain and knowing I should restrain from intervening.  It's like when wildlife photographers come across a runt cub (lion, tiger, take your pick) left by its mother to die.  They could interject themselves into this cub's life and nature's plan, but is that the right thing to do?

I believe it was around 11:30 when I couldn't stand it any longer.  Miranda had previously called me in tears after enduring Maggie's cries while I was at work.  I now know how she felt.  The first thing I did was get some water in a sippy cup.  Her voice had begun to sound hoarse, though no less urgent as she cried.

I opened the door to her darkened room and saw her pale, tiny shape standing in her crib and looking at the door.  I first grabbed her and felt cold wetness down the front of her shirt.  In Guam, where we live, it's a nightly struggle to find the right balance for a/c settings.  72 degrees can feel like a sauna and 70 is just north of freezing.  Last night 70 was freezing.  I turned on the lamp next to her bed and saw the source of the wetness was a combination of snot and tears.  My heart began to split along its seams.

Maggie drank a bit and resumed her scream crying.  Even showing her my face in the light did not calm her.  When I turned the light off to sit with her the screams escalated.  I didn't know such a tiny set of lungs could be so powerful.  We sat in the recliner and she thrashed a bit, crying like it was the end of the world.  In the past I have been able to put her to sleep by singing to her, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, ABC's, and, oddly enough, theme songs to 90's sitcoms like Family Matters and Full House.

Her screams were so loud I could not hear my own voice.  I sang her the songs I made for her:

Maggie I love you,
Maggie I love you,
There's no one above you,
Maggie I love you.


I love Maggie,
I love Maggie,
Maggie loves me,
Maggie loves me.

Fearing that I was failing and that Miranda would have to take over, as she always does and I do feel guilty about that, I began to sing the songs from Maggie's favorite show, The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

M- I- C -K -E -Y- M -O -U- S- E
It's the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,
Come inside it's fun inside...


Hot dog hot dog hot diggety dog,
It's a brand new day what you waiting for?
Get up stretch out some on the floor,
Hot dog hot dog hot diggety dog.

Her cries began to soften.  Her little chest began to hitch with every few breaths as she calmed down.  That is when my heart ripped in two.  She wasn't thirsty for milk or hungry.  She wasn't upset about a full diaper.  She just wanted one of us with her.  She just wanted something warm and familiar to be near her in the dark.

As I sat there in her darkened room feeling like a ten ton pile of shit, Maggie reaches an arm up in some netherworld between sleep and wakefulness.  She touches my face and holds my chin in her tiny fingers.  She fell asleep like that and stayed that way for a half hour.

I eventually fell asleep with her on my chest and did not wake until after 3 AM where I safely returned her to her bed.  I give credit to my wife for all of the times she has felt this way while I am at work.

When Maggie held onto my face as she fell asleep it was like she was telling me it was okay, she understands.  She just wanted me (probably Miranda but beggars can't be choosers!) with her until she was safely asleep.  Though she didn't know it, that small gesture mended my heart.

Daddy loves you, Maggie! (pt. 1)

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

What's up Wednesday

Trying something new!  I have mostly used this blog as a platform to get my short stories out there, but I know there is more to writing than just pushing my work.  So I am participating in What's up Wednesday (although I'm on the other side of the International Date Line so it is Thursday for me!)

What I'm reading: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill.  I enjoyed Joe Hill's first two novels and saw great strides from Heart-Shaped Box to Horns.  HSB felt like the best effort of a very gifted high school writer.  The writing was not lacking, but the story was very linear with few surprises.  Horns was a logical progression, a layered story also well written.  NOS4A2 is another evolution.  The scale is larger and the writing more dangerous.  NOS4A2 is about creating worlds with the mind.  Some do this innocently while others have nefarious goals.  The heroine is a single mother named Vic who used her ability to create a bridge to lost things as a child, but has forgotten that part of herself.  Charles Manx is her foe, an ageless vampire-type who takes children to "Christmasland."  

What I'm Writing: I hit the 45K word mark on my WIP.  I had the idea for this story years ago and tucked it away to work on other things.  Something keeps calling me back to this tale and I am curious to find out what happens to these characters.  I know the beginning and the end of course, but it's the little pit stops along the way that interest me.  My working title is "The Last March of Elephants."  

What Inspires me right now:  Writing is my passion, but the military and school are my life.  I am nearly finished with my Business Administration degree and am very much looking forward to spending more time with my wife and daughter.  

What else I've been up to:  I am on my second week of Insanity.  I can't do it every day as the program is intended.  Having work, school, a one year old who can sort of walk, and other obligations throughout the day make it impossible to do some days, but I have seen results.  I'm down a couple of pounds in two weeks and the workouts, though not easy, no longer make me feel like weeping.  I would say to anyone who is interested you should have a decent level of fitness from the onset or you will find yourself heavily modifying the workout.  And you will also find yourself weeping.  Lots of weeping.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Importance of Being Eaten

The Importance of Being Eaten

            The zombie apocalypse began under unclear circumstances.  The government denied responsibility all along, which was to be expected.  Shaky cell phone videos of people gnawing on other people went viral and were soon covered by the mainstream media.  Everyone had an opinion.  Was it some sort of live art social commentary about class warfare?  The first victims were homeless, after all.  Could it be terrorism?
            Nope.  It was goddamned zombies munching on innocent folks too inebriated or, in one instance, legless to escape.
            Several specimens of the first wave were apprehended for scientific research and the rest were exterminated.  The initial panic abated some, and the American people were outwardly proud of their government for the first time since the abolishment of segregation.  A congressman accidentally “Tweeted” a link to a scat fetish website and zombies disappeared from the headlines for a few months.
            Then, the zombies swarmed and overran Nashville in the span of three days.
            That’s when we learned there was more than one type of zombie.
            The most common type of zombie should be familiar to anyone who has turned on a television in the month of October.  These guys have very little going on upstairs, but will walk across of field of Legos (without shoes!) to get a nibble of sweet human meat.  The corpselike appearance, vacant stares, and propensity to stumble over the smallest of rocks are a few more characteristics of this particular type.  About 70% of the zombies stumbling around outside belong to this category.  Scientists believed (before they all got eaten by zombies) that this variety was created when a person dies from a zombie attack.  Within about an hour of death they return to quasi-life with a very specific hunger pang.  Due to the nature of their conversion, this zombie generally looks walking shit.
            The second type of zombie is what gave us the false sense of hope many months ago.  When a victim is attacked by a zombie and survives, he does not immediately turn.  As Nashville learned, it can take a few weeks.  The metamorphosis is gradual.  The infected enter a state of purgatory between being alive and being undead.  One day, sandwiches just won’t cut it.  The next thing you know you’re chomping your sister’s ear cartilage.  Many people kill themselves before they turn, as the transition is said to be a maddening experience.  Those that do turn generally look more presentable, which is a good way to distinguish between the two types.
            The final variety is rare and more dangerous than the others.  I wish those shitting scientists had survived long enough to explain these fuckers.  Some victims that should fall into the second category, those bitten that survive, do not become zombies.  Well, let me elaborate.  They don’t become zombies in an obvious way.  They develop the appetite of a zombie, but appear normal in all other respects.  Why is this more dangerous? 
            You answer the door and, what do you know, Girl Scout cookies!  You turn your back for just a second to find your wallet and BAM!  That adorable girl with knee-high socks takes a palm-sized chunk out of the back of your neck.  If you die, welcome to the horde.  If you survive, just wait a few weeks.
            And that brings us to today.
            Call it good fortune.
            My neighbor, Raymond, was what might conservatively be referred to as a survivalist.  While the world burned to cinders Raymond busied himself erecting barricades.  He smiled the entire time. 
            Today, I am glad I never joined others in the neighborhood in mocking Raymond, openly or behind his back.  Was he a bit strange?  Yes.  But, was he harmless?  Well, except for all the guns and landmines I would say yes.
            One of mankind’s greatest instincts is to flee during times of strife.  I worked as a cashier at a grocery store as a teenager, and I soon learned that a hint of bad weather was a sure sign of a busy day.  We accept that we might die, from a tornado or a zombie attack, but we want to be well fed in the mean time.  Memphis and Louisville fell after Nashville.  By the time the hordes were spotted outside of Chicago, most of the neighborhood had drawn up stakes.
            I’m still not sure where they went.
            Those of us who stayed behind assisted Raymond in constructing a fence around our block.  We did not enclose the entire neighborhood, as many of the houses were abandoned.  Raymond’s suggestion was to consolidate into as few houses as possible so that we had less territory to manage.  I was lucky to keep my home.
            My name is Jane and I am on patrol. 
            The chain-link fence is about eight feet tall, and two interlaced coils of razor wire run along the top.  I’m standing about three feet away from a zombie, but feel no terror or fear.  This fellow is a new zombie.  I can tell because he almost looks human.  His skin is a sickly hue between gray and yellow, but the eyes are not completely vacant.  He fixates on things, a rock or his own shoe, for a few seconds until the gaze glasses over.
            The new guy bumps into the fence and rebounds off of it.  The metal rattles but does little more than quiver.  This has been going on for some time now.  I take a step closer to him and narrow my eyes.
            Yes, it’s him.
            I went to school with this one.  He was a quiet kid who excelled at art and nothing else.  To be honest, when Jack (I think) wore a trench coat to school, I stayed out of his way.
            He’s not much different now.  He still mutters and avoids eye contact.  There’s a lot of blood and vomit on his Metallica shirt, and the cavernous wound on his neck is swarmed with flies.  Other than that, he’s pretty much the same.  My presence does not affect him as it should.  We learned that zombies hunt by scent.  Jack is too fresh to understand that I am now food, or he has a stuffed nose.
            “To Jack, if that’s what your name was.  I hardly knew ye,” I say.
            Jack groans.  There’s liquid leaking from his wound that looks like pond water.  I raise the barrel of the AR-15 and aim at his mouth.  Before I squeeze the trigger I consider how normal this has become.  It’s quite amazing how quickly people adapt to terrible situations when they have no other choice.
            I squeeze the trigger once, remembering that it was set to burst a second too late.  Jack’s gray head disintegrates in gory ribbons.  Brackish blood flows from the ragged stump of his neck, but there is no arterial spray.  Zombie hearts pump slowly, or so the scientists said.  His body teeters for a moment.  I have seen these things remain upright for days following decapitation.  A slight gust of wind whips through my black hair and Jack’s rigid body topples.
            The gunfire will garner no attention, but if there happened to be anyone outside they might amble over for a gander.  There is a bit of chill in the air today, and the clouds look heavy with rain.  I suppose the suggestion of inclement weather is enough to keep people indoors.  I check my watch.  Two hours left on my shift.
            It gets lonely out here sometimes, especially when there are no zombies to kill.  I continue my stroll around the inside of the perimeter.  The fence encompasses eight houses, and it takes about five minutes at a slow pace to complete one circuit.  The kill was the first action I’d seen all day.  Damn I wish I had something to shoot.
            It begins to rain.
            The backyards are overgrown with tall grass and vegetables.  It is tiring trudging through the dampened lawns while toting my rifle, in addition to being boring.  Although, I suppose I could shoot Sally.
            Sally showed up about three weeks ago.  She looked to be around seven years old and was wearing a yellow dress.  The ribbon in her hair might have been yellow as well, but it was matted to her head and caked with blood, so we can only assume.  Sally was in rough shape.  A portion of her skull was missing, and a congregation of a couple hundred flies endeavored to patch the hole.  She was disgusting even for a zombie.  She opened her nasty little mouth to moan, as zombies do, and a couple dozen flies flew out and returned to her head wound.  This cycle repeated in two-minute intervals, with flies burrowing into the tissue and exiting the mouth only to return in a few minutes.  Occasionally, maggots would fall from her lips.
            It was fascinating and revolting.  I called out to Raymond and Mona, who were throwing a football nearby.  As the pair trotted over, a coyote exploded out of a cluster of bushes, snagged Sally’s right leg, and made off with it.  When she fell to the ground her left arm snapped and cruel shards of bone burst through the skin.  She attempted to stand but was unable.
            “Look at that,” Raymond said, more to himself than Mona or me.
            “Poor girl,” Mona said.
            So here we are, three weeks later.  Sally must have an impressive set of abs by now, because she has done about a million sit-ups in the past twenty days or so.  She alternates methods, but the result is always the same.  She sits up and attempts to push her body off the ground with her left arm.  The arm is pretty much gray jelly with flecks of bone and it invariably buckles.  Or, she will sit up, stabilize her body with her right arm, and attempt to stand with her right leg.  You can guess how that turns out.
            Why haven’t we put her out of her misery?  I don’t know.  I suppose she is our unofficial mascot.  Also, I just want to see if the little bastard can actually stand.
            Let me be honest about one thing.
            I don’t trust my neighbors.
            I can’t say they’ve given me a reason not to trust them.  I just don’t. 
            I close the door to the basement behind me and secure the lock.  I place the skeleton key inside a compartment in my bra.  I didn’t know it was a maternity bra when I bought it, but it has come in handy during the apocalypse.  My belly is swollen and taut.  I eat like a maniac but never feel satisfied anymore.  I guess the end of the world takes a lot out of you.  An aspect of my mistrust has led me to hide food in my basement.  Raymond horded food well before the apocalypse and gives it freely.  By his calculations, he has enough stored food to supplement the sixteen people in the neighborhood for a decade.  In addition to that, we’ve planted gardens in every yard and Raymond’s green thumb is working miracles.  Still, I can’t suppress the desire to keep a private, personal supply.
            I do not feel guilt about hiding my food.  It’s simply a survival mechanism.  The zombie apocalypse has taught me many things about myself, and chief among them is my newfound lust for life.  In my former existence I had little going for me beyond work and school.  Now, I have a purpose.
            My front door opens as I pass by on my way to the kitchen.  A smiling moon-face appears that I know all too well.  Danny beams when he sees me, revealing an adorable diastama where his central incisors should be.  There was a baby tooth there when I’d seen him the previous day.
            “Wanna know what the tooth fairy brung me?” he says, tripping over the consonants as his tongue adjusted to the lack of teeth.
            “Um, is it a pile of poo?” I ask, to which he shakes his head.
            He giggles as he says, “Nope!  Guess again.”
            “I know, a Barbie doll,” I say.
            His face collapses into an exaggerated grimace.  The idea of the doll seems more disturbing to him than the imagery of finding a pile of shit under his pillow.
            He reaches inside his pocket.  As he does I consider how unfortunate it would have been if he’d barged into my house thirty seconds sooner.  I don’t know that I could explain the hidden food or trust that he would keep my secret.  Raymond says it’s only a matter of time before we are attacked.  We can handle zombies well enough, but people are a different story.  That is the real reason for the patrols.
            Danny holds up a pocketknife.  After a bit of fumbling, he flicks the blade out and holds it up for me to inspect.  I take the knife from him and turn it over in my hands.  It’s a respectable blade, but probably would not save him if zombies got ahold of him.  The metal was thin near its tip, and would likely break off instead of penetrating a zombie’s skull.
            “Not bad,” I say and hold it up as if inspecting its balance.
            “Mom says I can’t have a gun yet, but I can carry a knife cause Ray showed me how to use it,” Danny says.
            “So, what would you do if you a saw a zombie right now?” I ask.
            Danny chews his cheek for a second then retrieves the knife from his pocket.  He releases the blade and carves through the air in looping ovals.  As he does this he makes little grunting noises.
            “Whoa!” I say, and hold my hands up.
            He continues slicing the air.
            “Okay okay.  I believe any zombie that had the misfortune of meeting you would be properly diced,” I say.
            Danny is momentarily out of breath as he slides the knife back into the pocket of his jeans. 
            “Wanna see something?” he asks.
            I check my watch.  My shift doesn’t begin for six more hours.
            “Sure,” I say, and follow him outside.
            There is no evidence of yesterday’s storm.  The sun looks like a phosphorescent pearl on a bed of baby blue.  It would appear to be a typical late summer day in suburbia, if not for the fence, razor wire, and lawns overflowing with vegetables.  Raymond and Lynn, Danny’s mother, are in crouched positions in front of a row of tomatoes.  Raymond waves at me and then continues his discussion with Lynn.  He is wearing camouflage, as usual, and this seems much less ridiculous than it did six months ago.
            “Follow me!” Danny shouts.
            I jog to catch up and he sprints ahead.
            “You have to see Sally,” he says.
            Did she actually do it?  I wonder.
            Danny is hunched over a few feet shy of the fence, trying to catch his breath.  With his black hair and caramel eyes he could very well be my little brother.  He points at Sally.
            Sally looks so pathetic I resist the urge to scale the fence and stomp her skull into slush.  She sits up, looks left and right, and reclines to the ground again.
            “Bill said another coyote came and took her good arm,” Danny says, his voice cracking.
            He looks up at me and I see tears brimming in the eyes that look like my own. 
            “Her name isn’t Sally, by the way.  It’s Jessica.  I used to like her,” he says.
            He lowers his head and I see his tiny shoulders hitch a few times.  He is weeping now and I’m not sure how to comfort him.  I place my hand on his back between his shoulder blades.
            “There there,” I say.
            I finish my shift without incident.  I killed three zombies, but that hardly qualifies as an incident.  I venture outside the wire, so to speak, at night to forage for food.  Raymond has never withheld food or supplies of any kind, but I can’t stand feeling indebted to anyone.  I have to know, for my peace of mind, that I could survive on my own if necessary.
            Rodney is on the midnight shift tonight and he’s a both an oaf and a pervert.  I am at the window of my upstairs bedroom, watching him through a set of binoculars.  He made two rounds in the last half hour, which is an improvement over previous nights.  He is two houses over now and has stopped his patrol.  He looks over his shoulder as if he’s heard something.  I groan, understanding his intentions based on past surveillance.
            Rodney approaches the house with its glowing windows.  This is Danny and Lynn’s residence, a single-story ranch style home.  Rodney places his rifle on the ground and thrusts his meaty right hand down his pants.  He peers into the window and I see the arm, ghostly white in the night, begin to shake.
            This is bad news for Lynn and good news for me.  I sling the AR-15 over my shoulder, grab a flashlight, and exit through the back door.  I wonder if Rodney has ever looked in on me before.  I’ve lost quite a bit of weight thus far in the apocalypse, but my figure is not completely boyish.
            What am I thinking?  Why would I care if Rodney found me attractive?
            The backyard is lush with vegetation and cumbersome to traverse. 
            “Shit,” I say as I kick over an okra plant.
            I can’t risk the flashlight yet.  I stop and cock my head to the side.  During a pause between cricket songs I hear labored breathing that indicates Rodney is nearing his climax.  Disgusting.
            I scale the low wooden fence separating my yard from my neighbor’s, and take a few leaping strides.  I found the loose section of fence here while making my rounds a month or so ago.  There are clumps of grass here that disguise the gap between the fence and earth.  I drop to all fours and slink beneath, scraping a bit of skin from my back in the process. 
            I’m watching the man from a distance of about thirty feet.  We are in a wooded area a couple of miles east of the neighborhood.  He appears to be alone.  I surmise many things about him based on his appearance and behavior. 
            The fact that he has constructed a fire suggests that he is either an idiot or has only recently adopted this nomadic lifestyle.  Fire attracts many things and none of them are good.  His cheeks are concave and his beard is a patchwork of tufts and stray hairs.  His eyes bulge in strange spasms, giving him the appearance of a person who is alternately terrified and apathetic about his situation.
            Remember that elusive third variety of zombie I mentioned?  We accidentally let one into the neighborhood two months ago.  Three people died before we figured him out.  Now, we kill all zombies and turn away the living.  And, we meet force with force when necessary.
            It’s impossible to know if this guy is a zombie in disguise.  Based on his overall inept appearance, he is simply a wealthy man who ran out of supplies and had to abandon his fortress to search for food.  My stomach rumbles, reminding me of my purpose.
            If he filled out a bit he might be handsome, but now he looks thin, frail, and useless.
            I expertly maneuver around rocks and branches until I am just a few feet away from his camp.  I can feel waves of heat from the fire.  I release the safety.
            “Don’t move!  I have a gun on you!”
            The man shrieks and withdraws a Desert Eagle.  He fires in my direction and the gun falls out of his hand and into the fire.
            “Goddammit, you’re going to draw every zombie for three miles,” I say.
            He looks up at me, shocked.  He throws his hands up in surrender while some crackling whine escapes his trembling lips.
            I aim my rifle at him.
            “You’re coming with me.  We have a place a couple miles from here.  You better run!”
            We sneak back through the gap in the fence and sprint to my house.  Rodney is either asleep somewhere or masturbating outside of someone’s window.  Within a minute we are inside my house.
            “Are you hungry?” I ask as I drop my rifle on the couch.
            He doesn’t reply and seems confused by his surroundings. 
            “Food?” I say, a bit louder.
            He turns to me, seemingly seeing me for the first time, and smiles.  How flattering.
            He nods his head.
            “I thought so,” I say.
            I was afraid, based on his haggard appearance, that Dave would be tough.  He told me his name as he ate his third slice of buttered bread.  But, he wasn’t tough.
            I knocked him out with a well-placed blow to his skull, near his occipital bone, with the butt of my gun.  He fell like a pile of laundry onto the floor of the living room.  I slipped my forearms under his armpits and dragged him towards the basement.  I carried Dave to the top of the stairs and nudged him with my foot so that his limp body tumbled to the basement floor.
            I’m pretty sure something snapped as he flipped down the steps, but it didn’t really matter.  Not for me or Dave.
            My biggest fear is that I will be discovered some day.  As such, my first concern was preventing any suspicious noises, namely screams.  Chains and manacles secured Dave to the far wall of the basement next to the waist-high pile of bones leftover from previous guests.  I pried his mouth open and set a baseball on the incisal edges of his mandibular teeth.  He had a little mouth. 
            I pounded the baseball with a hammer twice.  Several teeth broke and blood pooled in his mouth, streaming from the corners in thick rivulets. His body trembled as he made terrible, wet sucking sounds.  I noticed his left forearm had swollen to about twice the size as the right.  So something had snapped.
            I must confess I do not enjoy the terror.  I simply must feed.
            Dave woke at around four in the morning.  His half-lidded eyes fell upon me.  How strange it must be to witness someone eating something so familiar.  I was seated at my desk with my legs propped up on a stool.  I was naked, which probably served to confuse Dave more, but only meant an easier clean up process for me.  The room was poorly illuminated, a single 60-watt bulb serving as the only source of light.  I’m not sure if Dave understood what was happening until he craned his neck to the side and saw the gory stump there.
            He looked from the stump to me.  I waved at him with his own hand.  He began to cry.  I take another bite.
            Dave wasn’t tough at all.
            Okay, so I have a few secrets. 
            I cut the body parts off of my victims before I eat them.  This way, I do not infect the person and ruin a good meal by having them turn mid-bite.  We have no refrigerators in which to store the meat, so I have to keep my guests alive for as long as possible.  I assure you this breaks my heart.  I am not a cruel person, or zombie if you want to get technical, just very hungry.  I am quite good at cauterizing wounds now.
            I return home from my patrol and Danny is standing at the top of the stairs leading into the basement.  Did I leave it unlocked?  He can likely see Dave’s torso on the floor down there.
            “Danny,” I say, smiling, “did I invite you over for dinner?”
            He is patting his pockets, searching for his knife.
            You know what I haven’t had in a long time?  Veal.