Sideswiped (Zombies)


In the future, it’s safest for cats to roam in broad daylight.

Yeah, the zombies are coming and Norm is going on a business trip. He doesn’t travel well. He doesn’t know it yet, but everything seems ominous to him.

Love in the Time Before Zombies
Chapter 2.1

I’m impatient and intolerant and feel confined in airports and on airplanes. Travel exhausts me, which is why I take prescription amphetamines and constantly drink espresso.

A few minutes ago, Jill slept while I put on my consultant’s uniform: gray slacks, white shirt, and blue sport coat. I paused to stare at my wife’s sleeping body. She wore a tank top and boxer shorts. I kissed her on the cheek. “Mmmm,” she said. “Come here!” She grabbed my collar and pulled me onto the bed. “This will only take a minute,” she said.

“I have a minute.”

Jill makes sure we get a quickie in before I travel so she can draw upon recent raunchy memories in case my plane crashes or Peruvians kidnap me. Afterward, I kissed her on the cheek again. “See you in a few days.”

“I might not really love you,” she said, her eyes closed, already returning to sleep.

On the way to the airport, there’s little traffic, but an ominous – see what I mean about ubiquitous ominousness – van sideswipes us on the 125th street ramp to the Triboro Bridge. It’s one of those beat up windowless vans you see a lot of in the city. The words “Ken’s Contracting” are stenciled unevenly on the side in black, a corona of fine black a couple of inches from the letters, where the excess spray from the can collected.

Dave’s Lincoln had scraped against the side of the van as we merged into a single lane, hitting the van’s dangling side view mirror and ripping it from its duct taped mooring. Glass shatters, maybe the headlamp, and that, combined with the caffeine and other drugs kicking in, really gets my heart going.

“Criminy,” Dave says. He slows down and looks in his rear view mirror, considering whether to stop.

He pulls over. The van drives up behind us and instead of stopping, it accelerates into us, sending my face lurching forward into the back of the headrest.

“JFC!” Dave yells. He gets out of the car.

“What is wrong with you? Are you out of your mind?” He doesn’t curse. He speaks clearly and enunciates very well. He controls the tone of his voice the way a TV preacher does.

I click open the door, but as I move to open it, Dave slams it shut with his hip. Just as well. I’m woozy. I touch my face with my fingers and wince when I feel the area beneath my left eye. No blood yet, but it hurts and already is puffing up. There are loud voices coming from outside the window, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. Then the front door opens and Dave reaches in, and just as quickly, is outside again. Something has been smashed. I turn my head around and through the tinted rear window see that Dave is holding a big black pipe. He swings it and shatters a headlight. The three men slowly back away from Dave. One of the men runs back into the van through the sliding door, it behind him. Dave holds the pipe above his head and wiggles it. One gets in the driver’s door. The other is standing his ground, yelling at Dave in another language. Dave takes a step towards the man, who finally yields and retreats to the passenger door. The driver guns it straight at Dave who sidesteps, spins, and swings the black pipe into a taillight, shattering it. Dave gets into the car. 

He puts the pipe down. It’s actually a big, metal flashlight, dinged and scraped in a couple of places and wrapped in duct tape at the handle. He flicks the switch. “Perfectly good flashlight, ruined.” He drops it onto the seat. He looks at me through the mirror. “That’s one nasty looking bruise. You OK?”

I nod. My face hurts and so does my head. I might have a concussion. “Christ, Dave, you scared the daylights out of those guys.”

He smiles. “I could have taken all three of them if it came to it.” Despite that unscheduled interaction, we arrive early. The limo has a long scrape mark on the passenger side, and the rear end is dented. It will be a long day for Dave. I hand him a fifty.

“No need to do that,” he says.

“No,” I say. “I owe you. Get yourself a nice breakfast somewhere.” 

At the airport club, I have a drink – I know, I know, it’s not even seven in the morning. My father used to joke, “Does your face hurt?” And like the punchline, I whisper, “No, but it’s killing me.” The aspirin has helped to bring down the swelling, but everything throbs in time with the beating of my heart.

“Norman?” It’s Colleen, a business analyst on the project, in charge of infrastructure.

“Colleen?” I say. “What are you doing in New York?”

“I spent the weekend with my boyfriend – he lives in the Village. Remember, we had this same conversation Friday at the airport in North Carolina?”

I don’t remember. I rub the back of my head feeling for the bump, but it’s my forehead that’s bruised, I remember now. “There’s blood on my shirt,” I say.

“Yes,” she confirms.

“I was in an accident this morning,” I tell her. “Nosebleed. Nothing serious.”

“Let me see that,” she says, and pokes the bruise on my forehead with a finger. “Are you all right?”

I ignore the question. “What’s on your calendar this morning,” I say. She’s the infrastructure team lead. “Where are your people on the cabling on nine?”

“Finished two weeks ago. We’re on eleven now.”

“On schedule? What’s the date?”

She tells me, but I’m not listening. I open my tablet. “I have a few emails to catch up on.” I sit down at a chair looking out over the jetways and runways. One jet takes off. Another lands.

Understandably, he didn’t notice the dog as he walked into the airport.

So:

Everyday violent encounter or harbinger of doom? You decide. But don’t worry about Colleen. She doesn’t have much more to do here. She’s young and smart and will soon make partner, and shortly thereafter spin off her own tech company. She’ll get to enjoy a marvelous lifestyle before putting all of her time, brilliance, and resources into preserving the natural world, before the zombies come and claw it all to pieces. 

Love in the Time Before Zombies

Outside the bedroom window, storm clouds turn the sky a steely blue.

Norm and Jill are afraid that the world is unraveling and that soon, civilization will collapse.

Some people are waiting for the time of the zombies to come, both fearing it and desperately craving it. They want apocalypse, burning cities, every man for himself. They stock up on weapons and canned food and reading glasses. They build bunkers and become survivalists. They learn which insects and weeds to eat and how to shoot a crossbow. They watch zombie TV and wait for the time of the zombies to come.

Some people don’t want to be lumped in with the zombies, don’t want to go down in a hail of bullets, or the shrapnel of a fertilizer bomb. Norm and Jill are like that, but they’re afraid it’s coming and there’s no stopping it. They came into being about six years ago. They and two little children living in an apartment in New York, exactly like the one I lived in, growing more fearful as 25,000 words accumulated until one day they just stopped mid-paragraph. It was titled, Love in the Time Before Zombies. A lot people don’t like that title because they think it’s derivative. *

Norm is kind of like me, only better at his job. But dumber, too. Jill is loosely based on my wife. I say loosely because it’s safer for me that way, you understand.

They have two barely sketched out kids, Brian and Dot. Little is known of them other than that they both like cute, cuddly things. We don’t know their ages, what color hair they have, whether they’re plump or skinny or ordinary or exceptional. Their names will change a half dozen or more times.

The story starts with a line that violates the first of Walt the Dog’s Rules of Writing: “Unless you’re Pat Conroy, don’t use weather to start a story. Even in the prologue.”

Love in the Time Before Zombies
Chapter 1, Verse 1

Lightning flashes on the gray sky across the river over New Jersey, and then it strikes startlingly nearby. Thunder follows an instant later and she flinches in the bed beside me, but doesn’t wake. She can sleep through anything. Most nights, I can’t even fall asleep.

In a moment, Brian’s tousled head appears in the door. He rubs his eyes. “What was that?”

“Just thunder,” I say. “It’s just a storm.”

“Can I get in bed with you?”

I pull the covers aside for him and he runs to the bed, clambers up and over me and lands between Jill and me. She murmurs something, licks her lips and rolls onto her side, draping an arm over Brian as another blast of thunder shakes the room. I hear a scream, pounding footsteps and Dot bounds into our bedroom, her hands covering her mouth, tears on her little cheeks and she too dives onto the bed.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy!” she shrieks.

Jill wraps her arms around Dot, cradling her, kissing her hair. “Shhhh, my little punctuation mark. It’s OK. Mommy’s right here.”


So, the story continues and eventually the storm subsides, and frankly, some of the sentences I make up are overblown and self-important and embarrassing. The kids fall asleep and Jill is quiet and Norm starts to drift off when she says, “Norm, how are we doing? I mean, how much do we have in the bank?”

That line about money is supposed to be important to our understanding of this couple. Jill the money manager, the financial wiz is suddenly worried about money. Norm says he’ll check their account balances in the morning and she insists he do it right then and there. He does and when he comes back to bed, she’s asleep.

Love in the Time Before Zombies, is a pre-apocalyptic tale. I mean, once you have zombies, you have the apocalypse, and these events are all the things that happen leading right up to that. These may be pre-zombie times, but make no mistake about it, the zombies are coming.

* As Bob Dylan sang, “if there’s an original thought out there, I could sure use it right now.”