Sunday, November 4, 2007

In Call Only - Must Have Flesh - Chapter 5

A crescendo of applause came from the television as we came to stand in the open doorway. The bed, dressed in a powder-blue comforter and sage green pillows was empty as was the wicker chair in the corner. Across the room, light could be seen coming from the crack under the door across the room. Turkey lifter at the ready, I motioned for Ian to stay where he was and I crossed the hardwood floor to feel the mattress where the bedclothes had been pulled aside.

I expected it to be warm, as if someone had just gotten up from a nap, but it was cool to the touch and slightly damp. I felt it again to be sure, and then examined my hand before holding it up to Ian. “Wet.”

“Eww. Maybe Sanje wets the bed.”

Perplexed, declined smelling it to determine the moisture’s origin and I wiped it on my jeans while I looked around. Neat, but lived in, the room was typical of that of a married couple. On one side of the bed, a bottle of hand lotion and a Patricia Cornwell novel I had read a few years ago. The endtable on the side of the bed that had recently been occupied was a pair of glasses I recognized to be the doctors.
A low moan from behind the closed door. Silently, I again motioned for Ian to stay put while I investigated. I knocked lightly and called out.

“Dr. V?” Another low moan.

The door was unlocked when I turned the knob and I opened it, unsure of what I would find on the other side. The door opened noiselessly and the bright vanity lights revealed a man lying face down on the floor. His salmon colored polo was plastered to his torso. The death smell I had encountered on entering the house was stronger here, if that was possible, and I adjusted my shirt tighter around my mouth and nose.

“Dr V?” Fearing the worst, I knelt next to the man and turned him over. He groaned again and I barely recognized him as the man I had last seen walking briskly in the Autumn sunshine, laughing at his son, and trailing a very happy Golden Retriever.

Dr. Visweswaran was beyond death’s doorstep. He had knocked and was awaiting an invitation from the Grim Reaper to come for in a cup of coffee and cinnamon streudel. His normal milk-chocolate coloring had faded to an ash that I thought only existed on the faces of ill-fated patients on television medical dramas. Under my hand, the skin on his arm was cool and slick with sweat.

“Dr. V” I shook him and his eyes, normally sparkling with mischief, opened to mere slits.

“I am not feeling very well.” His singsong Indian voice sounded paperthin and my concern for him grew exponentially as a deep, wetsounding cough shook his body. He struggled to draw breath, and the coughing quickly became a deep, body wracking gag. Quickly, I helped him to sitting position effective enough to hang his head over the toilet and the gagging stopped as a flood of vomit the color of and texture of driveway sealant hit the water in the bowl. I stared, mesmerized, at the water that had once been crystal clear as it swam with the black and tarry substance.

“Ewwww….” Came my son’s voice behind me. “That’s dis-

“Ian!” I went into full on mom-handling-a crisis mode. Leaning the doctor against the tub, I pulled a towel down from the rack next to the bathroom sink. I wet it and used it to wipe the man’s mouth. “Find a phone. Call 911.”

“Gross. Is he dying?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ve never seen puke like that before.”

“Neither have I. Ian. Phone. Now.”

I heard the makeshift weapon hit the carpet with a thud and my son’s footsteps retreating out of the bedroom and out into the hallway. I turned back to Dr. Visweswaran. His breath came in shallow gasps.

I flushed the toilet, unable to look at the mess and I sat next to the Doctor on the floor. When the flushing had stopped, I listened to Ian dashing from room to room and I counted the moments, waiting to hear the siren of an ambulance. Through the open door, I heard the scrape of the chair at the front door and the crash of the mirror. These days it was common for families to have no land line with which to connect to the outside world, but rather let the outside world connect to them via their mobile phone so I was not surprised when Ian had not been successful in his quest for a phone and was heading out into the neighborhood to find someone with a cell or a neighbor who would allow a 13 year old zombie past the welcome mat.

I was alarmed to hear, not a siren, but my son yelling “What the hell?” and I heard a female voice asking “Where?”

“WHERE!” the unknown female demanded.

“Upstairs.” I heard him answer, the bristle against the sharp voice and the air of authority that came with it apparent even from where I sat. “Scare the crap out of me, why don’t you?”

“Up here!” I called out, heading my son off at the verbal pass and was met with the sound of heavy footsteps ascending the stairs. Relieved that the likelihood of my needing to help Dr. V through another episode was diminishing with the Calvary’s approach, I closed my eyes and took as deep a breath as my shirt slash odor filter would allow.

Mothers are good at handling the crisis, cleaning up whatever bodily fluid resulted, and making sure whoever involved gets to the E.R. or back to bed before we allow ourselves the luxury of acknowledging the disgusting nature of the events prior. This, however, was not my child and I cannot remember a time in my life when I held the figurative hair of another adult who was releasing his or her stomach contents back to the wild.

Ian had been completely and totally accurate in his one word assessment. Gross.
“Hi” said an oddly cheerful voice. Instead of the female EMT I had expected, I opened my eyes on a pair of scuffed combat boots that were attached to wool socks and a pair of hairy legs. The legs in turn were attached to a man.

A very large man. A very large man with no pants.

Taking up most of the door way was a giant in a white oxford shirt and a rugged looking garment I recognized as a Utilikilt. Built like the tartans seen on Scottish bagpipers at parades and funerals and occasionally, the Prince of Wales, Utilikilts were made of less traditional fabrics like canvas and heavy denim. The perfect gift for the carpenter in your life who needs a little more room in the inseam. Expectantly, the giant stared at me over the top of a pair of frameless rectangular glasses.

It’s not unheard of, so I’m told, that in times of stress a person’s leasehold on reality can loosen slightly, resulting in hallucinations. I resisted the urge to pinch myself and instead replied to this apparition’s grin.

“Nice kilt.”

The smile grew wider, a feat that I had not imagined was possible considering that it had already occupied a large section of prime real estate on this odd man’s face.

“Thank you.” He gestured to the man I had propped against the tub. “Friend of yours?”
I shook my head. “Nodding neighbors.”

The giant took his glasses off and put them in his shirt pocket. “Would you mind joining my wife and her new, young friend downstairs?”

Wife. New, young friend. None of these words made any sense to me as I sat on the bathroom floor and I stared dumbly at my visitor. Apparently it was time for action on his part, because he held a hand out to me.

“Come on. Up you get” he said, as if to a child lingering in a sandbox past dinnertime. “Quit hogging this man’s company and give me some room to work.”
“Room to work?” I wondered aloud as I accepted his hand and he pulled me to my feet.
“I’ll explain it all in the next little bit, ‘kay?”

After pausing to pick up the turkey lifter and cocking an eyebrow in my direction, he steered me toward the door of the bedroom ultimately leaving me at the stairwell.

“You’ll probably find them in the living room.” I remember him placing my hand on the banister and giving me a gentle nudge, prompting my descent of the stairs

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Incall Only - Must Have Flesh- Chapter 4

The possibility that I was entering a crime scene and not an elaborate Halloween prank became more and more plausible the further Ian and I ventured into Dr. V’s house. I paused for a moment and listened. The sound of a television was coming from somewhere on the second floor, seemingly the only potential sign of life. My son was close behind me and I could hear his breath filter in and out of the sweatshirt.

The idea that I was taking Ian into a dangerous situation had also occurred to me, but I was much more comfortable with the thought that he might see something graphic than I was with him waiting outside alone. There were too many possibilities out there and if he were with me, I could send him for help if I found the doctor or his son in need of medical attention.

I would take the lead, I reasoned, and if I found anything worthy of a visit from the Medical Examiner I would shield my son from the view and usher him from the house.

In the foyer, I had three choices. The livingroom to my left, a room that appeared to be Dr. V’s home office to my right, or to continue down the corridor to the kitchen in the back.

I felt Ian’s hand on my shoulder. “Before we go anywhere..” He left me long enough to gently close the front door and place the wooden chair in front of it. At first I thought he was blocking it, but when he removed a small round mirror from the foyer wall and placed it upright on the seat and against the chair back, I realized that he was creating a make-shift early warning device. Anyone coming in behind us would be unaware of the chair and send the mirror crashing to the ground. Anyone trying to leave would be impeded by it and probably in enough of a hurry to disregard the mirror in moving the chair. Either way, if we were somewhere else in the house, we would be alerted to any guests.

“Good call.” I agreed. “Lock the door and shut the outside light off.” I’m not psychic, by any stretch of the imagination but I consider myself a receiver of sorts. A reader of vibes. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I can predict whether a client who contacts me for a first appointment will actually show. More often than not, the compulsion to call a friend will result in finding out good or bad news that I am the first to hear.

In this case, I felt that something was terribly wrong here but for some reason resisting a call the police. “They won’t know what to do” the inner voice whispered. Newsflash to my inner vibe-o-meter…neither did I. What I did know was that I didn’t want to risk the involvement of any innocent trick-or-treaters.
A circle of moisture was gathering on Ian’s sweatshirt where it covered his mouth and nose.

“Stay close.” I reached back for his hand and for the first time in years, he let me take it. “Keep looking back. If I tell you not to look at something, don’t look at it. If I tell you to run, run. ”

“If you tell me to get down, get down. I get it” In a former life, I can totally see my son as a swashbuckler or a gladiator. Into the belly of the beast without much thought as to the consequences.

In recent months, I’ve seen some improvement in that respect, whereas in the past a damsel in distress would take the form of an ailing vacuum cleaner or overflowing coffeemaker. He would take it apart with every intention of diagnosing the problem.

Soon however, some other interesting tidbit of a promise of an idea would send him off in another direction and my vacuum cleaner would still be in pieces on the living room rug, surrounded by the very flotsam and jetsam I needed to use it to clean up. The Mr. Coffee, a performance art piece of neo-modernistic coffee culture.
Now, appliances in need of repair were dismantled, diagnosed, fixed if possible and reassembled with a minimum of leftover parts so I’m sure my logical, base-covering approach was making him slowly bleed out from the sheer torture of not. Doing. Anything.

“Mom, it stinks in here and to tell you the truth, my breath isn’t much better, so can we do this?.”

“Pushy, pushy.” I turned back toward the hallway and advanced toward the living room. A tall lamp in the corner shed warm light on a brown leather couch, a Persian rug woven in mostly maroons and browns, a wall of books, and an entertainment center. The television, stereo system, and game console that inhabited the center weren’t in use, which was just as well considering that there wasn’t a soul to entertain.

Backing out, we crossed the hall to the doctor’s office which was inhabited by a desk I recognized from an Ikea catalog, another wall of books, and several black and white photographs of the doctor, his son, and a woman I had never seen before. Judging by the intimacy of the poses and smiles, I assumed that this woman was the doctors wife.

The laptop on the desk had reverted to the standard Windows screensaver and I hit the button. The wiggling Windows logo was replaced with what appeared to be Dr. V’s Yahoo-based internet mailbox. Open on the screen was an e-mail.

Dearest:
Tonight is Halloween. Sanje is trick-or-treating with his friend from school and I am here handing out candy while I complete some lab reports. There are so many more questions than answers. Each day we are closer. I hope that your mother is soon well and that you can return to us here, my beloved. Sanje asks me every day if today

That’s were it ended. Dr. V had been interrupted in the middle of an e-mail, presumably to answer the knock of a child seeking candy. The twinge of guilt I felt for reading the e-mail was outweighed by my growing concern for Sanje and his father.

“Yeaowl.”

“Fuck!” Ian jumped, and his sudden startle translated to me. I whirled to find that a cat had joined us. Sheepishly, Ian turned from the cat to my questioning face. “Sorry.”

“You bet you are.”

“Mom-“

“Mom, nothing. You will not use that kind of lang-“

Reminiscent of a springtime cat copulation operetta, another cry came from somewhere in the house and judging by the tortie’s hackles, it was not feline in origin. The cat turned and hissed at the open door and ran between Ian’s legs, taking up his stance behind something larger than he was.

“That’s not good.” I whispered.

“Did you hear where it came from?”

“Uh-huh.” Under the green makeup, my son’s face had paled to an ashen gray I had only seen once before as the precursor to a stomach flu so virulent that it had had me searching the house for a Ouija board one Mother’s Day weekend. He met my eyes and slowly raised one finger toward the ceiling. The dull thud of something hard hitting the carpet above filtered through the ceiling roughly two feet from where Ian was pointing.

I swallowed, the task more difficult than I remember it being. “Do they have more than one cat?” I asked hopefully.

“I didn’t even know they had this one.” His swallow sounding as difficult as mine. “We have to go up there don’t we?”

“You can wait down here.”

“No!”

“Okay, then.” We left the office just as we had found it, and began the slow climb up the steps to the bedrooms. Another carpet muffled thump stopped us in our tracks.

“What are we doing?” My son asked as if he had caught himself putting the cereal in the refrigerator and the milk in the cupboard.

“We’re going upstairs.”

“Without any weapons? What…we’re going to throw Twizzlers?” He had a point. From under the stairwell, Ian extracted a broom and with three deft spins, removed the sweeping part from the handle. In the kitchen, I opened drawers and closed them again until I found what I was looking for. The four-pronged turkey lifter.

Armed, we again began the ascent. Slowly, step by step, listening for movement or Gof forbid, the unearthly noise we had heard previously. The cat chose to remain downstairs, but watched our progress with what I imagined was look that translated into the Willy Wonka Disciplines Tom Teevee-esque “Wait. Don’t. Stop”

We reached the top step uneventfully and rounded the corner of the railing in silence. Waiting. Watching. Listening. The door to the room directly above the study stood half-open and the familiar frenetic chatter of a Ron Popeil infomercial drifted out into the hallway.

At any given moment, there are 19 things going on in my head. Some of these things are as mundane as a list for a future shopping trip but some of them take on a life of their own and filibuster any hope of getting to sleep before midnight or one a.m. Therefore, my knowledge of the paid programming available to me after Jay Leno is extensive. Ron Popeil is as familiar to me as my neighbors, but I will pass on the availability of a set of kitchen knives that never need sharpening if, on another channel, the Vacuum Sealer is showcased.

“Set It And Forget it!” the studio audience chanted. I adjusted the turkey lifter in my hand so that the prongs pointed backward, ready to stab. What? I didn’t know. In my peripheral vision, Ian choked up on his broomstick staff.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Incall Only - Must Have Flesh - Chapter 3

After a quick meal of pigs in a pop-n-fresh blanket, we performed the annual square-off ritual. Three things that no matter where we are, what his costume is, or who we are with are points of contention and must be dealt with before a single door is knocked or door bell rung. The first: What would be worn under his costume.

“I want you to be warm!” I called to him.

“I’ll look like a freakin’ oompa loompa.” was the impatient reply but he begrudgingly agreed to at least wear a long sleeve t-shirt under his costume. The score was Mom – 1. Boy – Zip. Next up: The obligatory parental candy inspection.
“Mom.” Poking his head out of his bedroom to give me full weight of his rolling eyes. “We live. In. a. Nice. Neighborhood.”

“So did John Wayne Gacy”. I muttered. The hormones of motherhood flooded my brain with every deviant candy possibility and urban legend I had ever heard regarding needles in Nestle Crunch bars, razors in apples, and ratpoisoned popcorn balls.

“Who?”

“Doesn’t matter. You want the candy? I see it first.”

After one of those sighs that only teenagers can pull off, a sullen “Fine” was punctuated by the reclosing of his door.

Two for two…all right. The force was strong with this one however, so I did not expect to win the last and most important argument surrounding the method by which we would cover the neighborhood and I was okay with that so I decided not to bother.

The door opened and he emerged, the perfect example of an undead teenager. Well…a zombie undead teenager. He had yet to make any kind of foray into Goth, which would require a whole new, emotionally angsty wardrobe. We had a hard enough time find clothes as it was. The liquid latex we applied under his makeup was peeling nicely, and the fake blood around his mouth delightfully goulish. My one regret was not having some Oreos in the house to blacken his teeth a little.

“Ready?”

“Yup”.

“Flashlight?”

He patted his front pocket. “Check.”

“Pillow case?”

He held it up to me with an expression that translated clearly as “duh” but he thought better of it. “Check.”

“Where will you go if we get separated?”

This time his answer came as a whine and I gauged his level of frustration by how long he drew out the word “Mo-oooooo-m”.

“If we get separated I’m going to the corner of the street I’m on.. Can. We. Go. Now?!”

“Okay.”

He proceeded out the door in front of me and I deftly lifted his sweatshirt to see if there were any flattened rolls of toilet paper or any other such mischief making devices tucked into the back of his pants. I found none.

“Mom.” One word spoke volumes. Don’t check up on me like a baby. Why can’t you trust me? Don’t touch my clothes. All the suspicians that moms have that teenage boys think are unwarranted, but to be truthful, I’d caught him in enough deviant behavior in the past to warrant such double checking. Case in point: The box of pizza bagels he said were eaten, but I found two weeks later under his bed. I only recognized them for what they were because the bagels on the edge of the plate had dried out to the point that any mold seeking purchase was met with a granite-like fa├žade. The center of the plate however, was without shape, and as black and fibrous as the results of a spray-on toupee I had once seen on a three a.m.
infomercial.

A warm breeze had kicked up on the street which except for street lamps was normally claimed by shadows. This night it was Vegas of Halloween decorations, glow sticks, and flashlights. I steeled myself for two hours of hurry up and wait as he dashed from door to door while I entertained myself with the costumes of the smaller children and their chatter as I passed them in groups.

The usual mischief of kids too old for candy who instead turned to tricks involving eggs and toilet paper seemed to be non-existent and Ian was even remembering to say thank you and smile. Wider smiles for the senior citizens who answered the door always netted more candy, or so he had told me.

All seemed right with the world until we came to the home of an Indian doctor I had seen several times walking his Golden Retreiver while his small son Sanje rode his bike. I always enjoyed meeting them on the sidewalk and listening to them prattle in Hindi above the plastic rattle-scrape of the boy’s training wheels. The doctor lived in a brick, square-fronted abode that looked as though it might have been a row-home common to a mill-town at one time, but because of time and deterioration of the homes around it, it stood alone amongst newer Cape and Ranch-style domiciles.

On the way up the walkway, we bisected a gaggle of witches, princesses and a Power Ranger and I overhead the doughy looking man in charge of rounding up this motley crew say “Maybe they went to the bathroom.

“But Uncle Mike…the light was on and the door was open.”

“I know.”

Another little voice piped up. “It smelled in there.”

“I couldn’t smell anything if I wanted to” was Uncle Mike’s reply. “You gave me your cold. Besides, their Indian. You were probably smelling curry or something.”

“But Daddy-“ a third small voice chimed in.

“Never mind guys” he interrupted. You’ll have plenty of candy. Hey look, it’s Mrs. Bailey’s house. She used to give out whole candy bars when I went trick-or-treating.”

I followed my son up the walkway and stood a little closer than I might have. As I look back on it, I should have listened to my inner creep-out meter but at the time, I was more worried about Dr. Visweswaran than I was about myself. The light was indeed on and I looked around the porch area just in case the good Dr. had decided to jump out and scare the older children. No bushes were available and no decorations shielded a mischievous neurologist from view. Just inside the door, a bright orange bowl emblazoned with purple bats and green scarecrows sat on a straight-backed wooden chair.

I took Ian’s arm and he shook me off. “What the-“

“Get behind me.”

“What?”

“Get behind me.”

“Why?”

I wasn’t in the mood to explain myself, but I had seen enough horror movies and been to enough haunted houses to know that if something lunged, I wanted be between my son and whatever might be advancing.

On the cement doorstep, I realized that the princess had been right. It did indeed smell in there. At first I couldn’t place the odor, and then it hit me almost physically as I craned my head around the half-open door. It wasn’t curry. It wasn’t cardamom. Not even close. The odor that had taken up residence in my nostrils and assailed the smell centers of my cortex was the unmistakable result of the decomposition of something that had once had parents.

“Jesus.”

“What?”came my son’s voice from over my shoulder. “Oh God-what the hell? You couldn’t have warned me you were gonna let one?”

Ignoring him, I pulled the neck of my shirt over my nose and mouth and waved Ian back away from the door. “Go to the end of the sidewalk and wait for me.”

“Why?”

“Do it.”

If this was some elaborate haunted house thing, Dr.V had outdone himself and I wanted to check it out for myself before sending my son into the fray. Nervously, I stepped into the foyer without touching the door, lest it creak and warn whatever costumed ghouls awaited me. The creepy piano music that seems to accompany the entrance of every hapless, solitary victim into a house with untold horror looped in my head as I summoned as much bravado as I could considering that the air inside my shirt was quickly losing it’s useful oxygen.

A floor board creaked behind me and I jumped, jostling the bowl of candy and knocking it off it’s perch as I whirled on a zombie in a white sweatshirt.. The bowl skittered across the hardwood floor on its edge, leaving a trail of dumdums, tootsie rolls, and bottlecaps behind it.

“Jesus, Ian.” I should have realized that my son, who never does anything I ask him the first time, would not have listened in this case either.

“Heh. I scared you.” His already green face turned slightly greener as the something-dead smell hit him and he followed my lead of covering his face with his shirt. “God, that smells like the time Dad hit the deer…you know the one that had already been hit like…fifty million times already and was splattered all over the road…and its head was..”

“Ian;” I cut him off. My stomach was already turning and I didn’t need a visual reminder of how a smell like this comes about.

“I’m just sayin’.”

“I get it.” I assured him and reminding him to stay behind me, I took another step into the house. “Dr. V?”

More imaginary piano music. Ian called out to the boy. No answer. I felt for my phone in vain, realizing that I had left it on the coffee table in the rush to get out the door.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Incall Only - Must Have Flesh - Chapter Two

I don’t have a clue as to how all of this started, that is, the sudden rise in the undead population in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The best I can offer you is an account of how it started for us and by us, I mean me and my thirteen year-old son Ian.

Halloween 2007 dawned pretty much like any other day. The only unusual thing afoot was that the kids in the neighborhood had chosen to toilet paper the bushes and trees a night early – presumably to outwit the local police who would most certainly be on the prowl for this evening’s activities. It was cool, but held the promise of warming up nicely in the autumn sunshine. I sent my son off to the bus stop and I said I silent prayer that all would be well, despite the distractions of the upcoming frolicking.

Ian attends an alternative classroom, not because he is intellectually challenged but because of his intelligence he is sometimes impulsive and always skeptical of authority. Not a good mix for a traditional classroom setting. I hoped that the promise of dressing up as a zombie for the sake of free candy would not inhabit so much of the space under his outgrown crew cut that he would have trouble staying on task. Believe me, the irony of that costume as not escaped me.

The first and only appointment I had that day wasn’t until 11’clock , so I used the early morning wisely to tidy up our apartment a bit. A daunting task when you have two nutty professor types living in the same household where empty teacups and half-eaten apples are likely to appear as if by magic and then sit unnoticed for days. Tidying up usually consisted of haphazardly loading the dishwasher, righting the kitchen again after whatever spontaneous experiment had taken place while I was in the shower, and gathering laundry from the bathroom.

On this occasion, I had found a disturbingly goopy looking but oddly mesmerizing mixture mostly on the inside of a coffee mug on the counter. . If the box of hastily and messily opened cornstarch next to the mug was any indication, he had somehow learned about “oobleck”.

Cornstarch and water in the right quantities, becomes an intriguing, plasma-like substance that solidifies under pressure but returns to liquid form once the pressure is released. Reacting like magma when on a flat surface, you can use your finger, a popsicle stick, or some other implement to draw a picture in the amorphous goo, only to watch your lines slowly fill in as if they were never there or you can set up an aqueduct style structure and watch it progress like lava toward a bowl as my son had done with a series of plates, cutting boards, and cooking utensils. Except he had forgotten the bowl part and it was slowly making its way onto the floor after the pseudo-hyperplasic flow had reached the end of the line via the edge of the counter.

It’s fun stuff to play with and I was tempted to set up a lego Pompeii just to see what happened but the responsibilities of adulthood made it easy to resist the siren song of the oobleck. It’s also fairly easy to clean up with a spatula and some water and on this day I thanked my lucky stars that he hadn’t had time to find out what this stuff would do in a blender.

Making my rounds to the bathroom, I hoped against hope that I would find that my son had actually donned the underwear I had provided him that morning as I do every morning but it was not to be.

Not that I minded so much that my son went commando. I was more concerned that one of his classmates who tended to be as impulsive has he was would pants him in the lunch line and get more than he or she bargained for. My son, in addition to being extremely intelligent, is also very thin. Built like a greyhound, he is all lean muscle and we often have a difficult time finding pants that fit him in this Value-Sized retail world. Consequently, his elastic-waisted cargo pants would make him easy pickin’s for someone who wanted to bring that elastic waist down to his mismatched crew socks.

“Dude, you won’t even let me see you naked.” I had told him. “Are you really prepared for every kid in the school seeing your junk?”

He had shrugged and made some response about such a perpetrator losing body parts and I let it go. He had been warned and unfortunately my son is one of those kids who needs to pee on the electric fence for himself.

Yes, folks, this was the excitement of my life. Cleaning house. Massaging clients. Cooking dinner. Turning my son from a lanky, mostly-clean teenager into a walking corpse with a fake bloodstained sweatshirt, some simulated tire tracks, liquid latex, and cleverly applied makeup.

I would show you a picture but I destroyed it a few months ago. The thought of seeing my son as a simulated zombie was a little more than I could take considering that in the blink of an eye any one of us could make a mistake and end up that way. Seeing adults that way is hard, but I’ve grown somewhat jaded in that respect. I will never get used to seeing children with flayed flesh and vacant eyes knowing that I have to destroy them.

My life for what used to be theirs. Hardly seems fair that I have to do the dirty work of whatever scientists, defense agency, or nuclear plant created this mess and I refuse to entertain the notion that I may one day have to do that to my own child or that he’ll have to perform that task should I start to change. The thought would drive me seventeen kinds of insane and I am needed here.

Incall Only - Must Have Flesh - Chapter One

“So, what do you want to do?”

I remember specifically the day that my high school guidance counselor asked me that question. I remember how her office smelled of old wood and moldering files. It had been early in the autumn of my junior year and the oak trees that lined the street outside had seemed to go from a Kermit The Frog green to scratchy brown in the time it had taken me to remember my new locker combination.
I had been pulled out of study hall so that Mrs. Amato could ask this question and then “guide” me toward that end. Funny, I think, now some twenty years later, that I remember all of this in exquisite detail but I can’t for the life of me remember what I said.

“What do you want to do?” she asked again, leaning forward to bring her pointed, Mediterranean face closer to me, her pen (A Bic crystal-barreled, medium point, the ink 75% expended) poised over a blank sheet of lined paper atop what I could only assume was my permanent school record.

I blurted something knowing that the longer I hemmed and hawed the longer I would be under her scrutiny - a place that for a kid like me who worked best under the perceived veil of innocuousness, was uncomfortable, indeed.

Whatever I said resulted in a flourish of activity on the part of Mrs. Amato, who was already by nature a whirling dervish, after which I was presented with the admission brochures from five colleges, various flyers advertising college fairs, and just for good measure, the recruiting literature from the Coast Guard and the Air Force. I was then served a lecture that included dates, times, and the letters “S”, “A”, and “T”.

I nodded. I agreed to look things over. I agreed to come see her again if I had any questions. I was released back study hall. On my way there, I deposited the ¼ inch pile of literature in the locker of some hapless freshman who had yet to purchase a lock for his locker.

I did well avoiding her until graduation and since have held several jobs, none of which I had foreseen while sitting in hard-backed oak chair in Mrs. Amato’s office. If I had not been under the gun and had had a moment to think about it, I would have answered “a writer” and perhaps I would be firmly ensconced in the brickloft apartment in Soho I had dreamed about as an angsty teen and I would be writing this at a modernist desk with an expresso maker nearby. Instead, I make do with a second hand laptop on a folding table that is crowded by a saltshaker, a gladware container of Cheez-its and two diet coke bottles, (one empty, and one mostly full), a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and three empty coffee cups.

Obviously, this is all my fault. My choices in jobs and the state of my writing environment. My latest legitimate job would make an entertaining blog, but not much more. Massage therapy. Who saw that one coming? I didn’t. My unofficial job is the one I feel most compelled to write about despite the danger to those involved should this information get out. I am the researcher, compiler, and archivist for an unlikely group of freedom fighters that make up P.R.T.Z.L. The Philly Resist the Zombies League.

If what is contained herein is found by the wrong people, they’ll kill us and destroy the evidence. That much is true. If you find this and we’re dead, tell the world. Humankind has a right to know. Don’t worry about them finding you and killing you. If we’re dead, there’s no more hope for mankind, anyway.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zombie Fighter Safety Tips for Halloween

Firstly, read up on what a zombie is, and what a zombie isn't. Be aware that there will be many, many pseudo-zombies out there and it just wouldn't do to crack the head of some unassuming pre-teen who is just out for a Mr. Goodbar...not Mr. Goodbar's brain.

It's probably best to assume that if your doorbell rings, it's a pseudo-zombie, not the real thing. Give it candy, and it will go away. A real zombie will not only not ring the doorbell, but will not go away by merely tossing it a fun-size kitkat. It will have probably already made a fun-size snack of a real cat and will enter your home without permission via any portal available.

Real zombies will show no emotion, and therefore will not register fear. To test a pseudo-zombie, hide a member of your family that you're willing sacrifice near the candy-dispensing area to jump out and scare any potential zombies who walk up your sidewalk. (The one who shows up to Thanksgiving Dinner drunk, picks a fight with Grandma and pukes in your rosebushes will do nicely.) If the potential zombie screams, pees itself, or hits your relative it's probably a pseudo-zombie. A real zombie will register your relative's presence and eat it's brain. Chances are that your relative will also become a zombie, but then that just affords you the excuse to scratch them off the holiday gift-giving list.

A pseudo-zombie will arrive with other costumed characters including a ghost, a witch, a hobo, Spongebob Squarepants, or some creature from some television show you've never seen. A real zombie will show up in the clothing it died in, and frankly if all else fails, you'll know a real zombie by his B.O. There isn't enough Febreeze in the world that will cover the stench of rotting human flesh.

Hope this helps, but if it doesn't....the PRTZL team will be prowling the neighborhood. Yell....if you can.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

She Needed Killing.

I doubt that would ever stand up in a court of law, but my former boss did indeed need killing. We had hoped that after she had given her notice, packed her desk, and moved on that that would be the end of the constant torture but she kept coming back…and I got suspicious. What kind of creature keeps coming back after their demise? That’s right….a zombie.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that I regretted it. Never had there been a more self-absorbed, socially-retarded human being on the face of the planet and when it came time…I didn’t mind taking one for the team. In fact, I was going to enjoy this immensely.

Not being trained zombie fighters, I advised the staff that they should engage the Disaster Action Plan of getting the hell out through the side door. I impressed upon them one of the many Zombie Engagement rules – It’s never just a scratch. They didn’t need to be told twice.

I took some precautions, checking the locks on the windows and doors, taking stock of available weapons in each room, and I waited for the tell-tale scrape…scrape…of Ferragamos on tile. She had arrived.

Coming around the corner of my cube, I stood waiting. She could see me through the locked glass door the only barrier that stood between me and certain death and reanimation if I screwed this up. I secretly smirked at the sight of her once artificially tanned skin, now falling away from her skeleton. Her perfectly capped teeth garish against the receding gums and her expensive rhinoplasty job, now in tatters.

After several wails of frustration at trying to pull the locked door open, she removed one of her spike heeled shoes and broke the glass. It fell in shards on the carpet and I winced involuntarily as she stepped over the threshold onto it.

My eyes never left her as we squared off. Zombies were known to be fast…and if it was one thing my boss was in life …it was fast. I inched toward the cube that our color printer sat in, thankful that I had taken the precaution of loosening the blade of the paper cutter.

She charged. In what seemed like one motion I grasped the handle and wielded it like a gladiators sword, relieving her body of her head. In the slow-motion that these moments seem to take on I watched it sail through the air, spewing a fetid black liquid as it spun like a Hail Mary football before ricocheting off of a file cabinet and coming to rest next to the potted plant outside the kitchen.

No longer concerned about her body, I walked over and nudged her head with the tip of the blade. Zombie Fighters will tell you that what followed was overkill (heh) but I took particular pride in bringing the blade down one more time so that her cranium lay in two pieces.

“There. Now you really are two-faced.” I said to the pieces.

Sighing, I looked around at the carnage and the resulting mess. Jane was going to be pissed.