He walked with a limp in his right leg. That was the first thing they noticed. The second was the calm clarity and certainty with which he spoke. Later, but not until much later and separately, they would figure out that he timed his meeting so that he would be alone with them in the long hallway between the Terminal and the B-Concourse. Even with his limp and the fast clip at which Slater walked, he’d have them exclusively for thirty seconds.
“Captain Slater, Miss Brooks. You have a problem.”
“Thanks for bringing that to our attention, buddy. Take a number. We’ll get right on it.”
“Well, actually, you have several. To be specific, those problems are 400,00 plus or minus 15,000, seven days, forty, too damn many, January 9th, plus or minus two days, and democracy.”
Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
George Bernard Shaw said that over a century ago. I know that ’cause I like to collect quotes from famous people. I’ve got eight quote books back at my bunk. I’m trying to catalog them all to remove the duplicates. This one’s one of my favorites. Even though I’m not very funny, I love thinking about what is funny and what makes us laugh.
I don’t get it why people get mad when I laugh when other people die.
Everyone’s got their own way of dealing with grief, you know?
I just wish their way of dealing with it wasn’t beating me up or yelling at me.
It’s just my way of taking things seriously.
I used to try and explain myself to them and tell them about George Bernard Shaw, but that just made them madder. They started calling me Shaw. They’re ignorant. I’m not. I know– because Shaw taught me–that when something is funny, you should search it carefully for a hidden truth.
People dying makes life funny, which makes me laugh, which makes life serious.
I don’t know what the hidden truth is yet. Maybe that’s because life is serious, not funny. Maybe there is no hidden truth. But does that make life funny because the lack of a hidden truth is a hidden truth?
I don’t know yet. I’m going to keep looking anyway. People keep dying, so there’s no shortage of laughter. If I’m going to find that hidden truth, it’s going to be somewhere around the Zone. Probably with a Z chewing on its ass.
Clipboard, Slater, and Brooks sat at one side of the conference table. Court had been going quickly that night: two curfew violations, three fence violations, one robbery, four brawls, and one indecent exposure, which had been dismissed as a simple misunderstanding. They were waiting for the last five cases, who would be tried all at once for what Brooks called Kreznerkrime, urination or defecation outside a latrine. Those five would each get six hours of community service for their crime against public health–and were the most likely to be defended by Schick.
“You know, it’s funny. With all these Monday night court cases, we’ve never had a single accusation of rape or sexual assault,” said Slater. “Maybe this outbreak has been bringing out the best in people.”
“Give it time,” replied Brooks. “People will never change. Men will never change. Trust me.”
They both looked at Clipboard, whose face registered a momentary flash of discomfort before an instant return to his normal unperturbed placidity. Most people would not have noticed. Slater and Brooks were expert poker players.
He noticed they were staring at him. He cleared his throat and quietly said, “I don’t think that we’re going to have a problem with rape in the Zone.”
“I told some guys in Corpse Corps the story of Oneball Johnson.”
Glossy put his shovel back on his shoulder. “Remember when people used to have to take medicine to lower their cholesterol level?”
Glossy put the point of his shovel on the ground but did not dig. “I remember when children used to cry when they were hungry,” replied Candy.
“I got one. Remember when the Space Shuttle used to launch, and no one ever noticed it?” responded Glossy.
Candy shoved the shovel into the ground. “I remember when dogs didn’t try to rip your arm off if you got too close to them.”
“Remember when the biggest crisis in America was who was going to win American idol?” Glossy countered.
“I remember when the fleas used to stay on the pets. I’m really friggin’ sick of wearing a goddam flea collar,” Candy spat, then threw the dirt and foam behind him.
“Remember when, if you wanted to, you could unload a clip of ammo on a stationary target that wasn’t trying to eat you?” Glossy continued.
“I remember when I could walk through Armory Square without carrying a baseball bat,” retorted Candy.
“Remember back in the aughts or the naughts, or whatever they called that decade that started with a zero? Remember the nine percent unemployment? Ninety people in a thousand could sit around a collect a check while they looked for something to do? Remember when home values plummeted, credit disappeared, and the automakers went out of business? Remember the swine flu?”
“I remember when Cunegund didn’t try to rip my face off when I’d kiss her. I remember that we’ve got a ditch to dig. Why do you have to keep bringing up the past?”
“It’s just… It’s just… I miss the old days.”
“Excellent insight.” Candy tossed another spadeful of dirt. “But we’ve got a sewage drainage ditch to dig.”
“Ron, what on earth is that smell? It’s everywhere!”
“You want a burger or you want to puke? If it’s puke, go over there. Don’t barf on my meat.”
“Krezner was getting worried about a cholera outbreak. Or E. Coli. I don’t know what. It’s hideous.”
“It’s better than how you smell. Be quick, pal. I got customers waiting with less refined palates than yourself.”
“It’s driving me crazy. I can’t figure out if I want to eat it or vomit. Just tell me what it is.”
“Well, business has been good lately, so we’re running low on rat. The Z’s are picking off the deer and the cattle are long gone. So I need something that’s like rat, but not a rat. C’mon. Figure it out. Haven’t you seen all the kids with coonskin caps running around lately?”
“Yeah. That damn Davy Crockett brigade. I can’t stand those little brats.”
“Did you see the what the new kids have to wear until they’ve passed their trials? The black and white tail? That single white stripe? It would be a shame to let all that perfectly good meat go to waste.”
“No–oh my God… …Well, I guess I’ll just have one then. Make it a small one, though.”
“That’ll be five silver. They’re half price until I can get them filleted just right.”
“Kids these days, they’re really missin’ out, Ron. Back when we was young, we had all sorts of superheroes to follow. Superman, Captain America, even that plastic guy. Each month was a new adventure. They’d fight some super villain, and in the end the good guy always won.” I say as Ron nods to appease me while tending to his grill. “These days, we could use Superman. He could take care of this whole problem in an hour. And all he’d want in return was to see us smile and feel safe. Wouldn’t even ask for any payment.”
Ron throws another fresh burger over the hot coals and stares past me towards the main gate. As I continue, I am interrupted by a loud thud next to me.
“Would you mind keeping the guts away from my meat?” Ron asks his newest customer sarcastically. The man responds by tossing his blood stained ZED into the nearby grass.
“Sorry, Ron, sometimes I forget where I am,” the man replied before removing his helmet and pads; placing his protective gear next to his seat. “It’s just that I’m starving. I worked up such an appetite today; I got 27 kills on my own. How’s about double bacon cheeseburger with the works, some fries, and a milkshake?”
Ron laughed as he served up a freshly cooked burger to the man and left him to eat. He made his way back over to me and said, “Who needs Superman when you’ve got the Corps?”
Where have all of the great writers gone? Aren’t there more stories to be told? Just about the only way to escape the madness is to lose yourself in a good book. I’ve read all of the books we have here. I want new stories.
Over the years, the salvage teams supplied us with hundreds of books. The Zone’s library is pretty good, but everything in it is old. No one’s publishing anything new these days. I guess it’s understandable with the undead around. Where have all of the writers gone? Are they off somewhere thinking up new stories? Have they been taken?
I wish they were here. They could just take a look around this place for inspiration. We’ve got some real characters around here. I hope where ever they are that they are writing. Someone needs to tell our stories for future generations, if there are future generations.
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.
Everyone sees it as damnation. “How could this happen?”, they say, “What did I do to deserve this?” Oh yes, they will say I, because in these times no one person considers another. I however see it differently. The bills were piling up, the jobs were getting cut faster than checks at the banks, the kids were always hungry and the wife was always, always bitching, engaging in never-ending nagging about SOMETHING was her specialty. “The food’s too hot, the food’s too cold, the diamond isn’t big enough, this isn’t the shade of white I wanted for the wallpaper…” A man has his limits, ya know?