We used to talk around the fires. Anything to alleviate the boredom, to pass the time. Old TV shows, old romances, old cars, old adventures. It was a way of bonding, a way of getting to know the guy that was going to be standing next to you on the lines the next day, a way to remember we had things in common, a way to keep from going insane.
I remember one game people used to play to start debates: Would You Rather. You were given a choice between two equally unpleasant outcomes, and you had to decide which one you would choose. Would you rather lose a leg or your ZED arm? Would you rather work night watch in June when the zombies were moaning or December when the wind was blowing? It went on and on. Hours of pseudo-fun until we’d trudge back to our cots.
The one I remember now was “Would you rather be bitten by someone you knew or a stranger?” The debate went on and on. I said that I’d rather be taken out by someone I knew. There’d be some solace in that. All I ever saw out there were strangers. Syracuse was just too big. I just didn’t know enough people. They were all strangers to me.
I wasn’t like some of the people around who would brag about how they killed their ex-bosses or the lawyer who put them into or couldn’t keep them out of jail. I didn’t choke up like some people who had to talk about what they did to their spouses. I didn’t randomly run into buddies from down at the bar or ex-girlfriends. I just never saw anyone I knew.
Until today, that is. We were trying to make some progress around Court Street on the North Side. That area kept clogging up with Z’s like an old drain. I don’t know why Slater just didn’t declare the area white and forget about it, but there we were in the thick.
I was mid-swing when I noticed him. It was a guy that I used to work with when I was moving furniture for Raymour and Flanigan’s one summer while I was in school. We used to get high on the loading dock before we’d go out in the morning. Mike. His name was Mike. He was a good guy. It was a good summer.
As I said, I was in mid-swing when I noticed him. And some stupid part of my brain checked the swing while I tried to figure out if it was him or not. And that gave the zombie at my eight o’clock time to pull down my arm and get me just above the glove line, right on the soft spot on the underside of the wrist by the thumb. He must have hit a nerve or something because my thumb shot out and I dropped my ZED. I instinctively grabbed for my wrist and realized my mistake too late.
The half-second’s delay was enough. They were on me.
I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes. I saw Discovery Channel footage of a zebra ripped apart by crocodiles. I heard screams from far away that sounded like my voice. They stopped. I smelled blood. I slipped in it, teetering slowly to the ground. I heard myself correcting my answer around the fire that night: It doesn’t matter if the one biting you knew you or not. It hurts the same either way. I would have laughed if I still had vocal cords.
The last trick my brain played on me was the music. The song from the Disney ride. It went on forever, thousands of voices, hundreds of languages, all in unison, all repeating that same line, over and over.
I hope it ends soon. I can’t stand that song.