The Times Building and Shrimp
The entire band also made it to safety, but thankfully none of the female singers went uneaten. In the band members’ haste to live, they left all their instruments lying dormant in the street. Twenty of us joined the Times army of thirty-five, not exactly Woodstock in numbers, but in this environment, it was going be harder to feed 55 of us, well 54 and a half if you count our mixed breed. He wasn’t noticed at first, but his attempt to say hello came out as a growl. The Times people grabbed rolls of newspaper and backed away. Trying to alleviate their fears the doc spoke up. “Just keep to this one side of him and he’s harmless. He also might be the secret to a cure.”
A guy big enough to house a dictator’s ego stepped forward holding a stack of papers over his head. “What if he isn’t a cure but one of the reasons this whole thing started?”
It was a good question, not game show good, but one that we hadn’t thought of nor did any of us have an answer to. Laura Lee jumped in front of the Times guy and said, “You don’t look like Dear Abbey.”
The big guy wasn’t ready for that and didn’t utter a word.
“In fact how do I even know you work for the Times? I didn’t see any identification.”
Again the big guy didn’t have an answer. I think he thought he was thinking but wasn’t sure how.
“Have you ever even had a date before?”
This time he was as confused as the rest of us.
“What is 5025 times 6398 divided by 4.987?”
The big guy put down the paper and started counting on his fingers.
“You don’t have that many fingers dumb ass, although if you counted synapsis and nerve endings in your spine–” Laura Lee left the end of the sentence to our imaginations.
The big guy stopped counting and started to feel around his spine.
This time a little guy, just tall enough not to be crawling, came forward and with a voice that sounded like it had springs on it said, “You can stop counting, Ben.” Then he turned Laura and spoke. “Ben’s OK. He can handle himself in a fight, but hasn’t quite figured out how to think yet.”
“Yes, he’s on both sides of dumb. So squirt, where, when, and how do we start building our new civilization, free of war, disease, health insurance, car payments, state, local and federal taxes, not to mention match.com.” Laure Lee said looking at me.
Before her looks could eat through me I deftly defended my online dating honor. “So, I used a picture of a male model who looks nothing like me, is a different race, and doesn’t have a double chin, a broken nose, cauliflower ears, a cleft pallet, scars on both cheeks, and isn’t crossed eyed. And I’m not the CEO of Proctor and Gamble and Exxon…”
“Yes and what else?”
“I don’t own a private jumbo jet, my own island, a few slaves from the third world and have never climbed Mount Everest in sandals. We all fib a little.”
Before Laura Lee could beat me into something liquid the squirt interrupted. “Can you two stop this bickering, we have newspapers to deliver.”
“Delivering newspapers? Are you out of your mind, squirt?” I yelled.
“It was a joke. And my name is not squirt–it’s Shrimp.”
“That can’t be your real name, who would name their kid shrimp?”
“Of course not. It’s nickname. My real name is Teeny Weenie. Teeny Little Weenie is my full Christian name. I think it’s Italian, although with the vowel at the end can also be Corsican.”
We were waiting for him to say it was a joke. When he didn’t, I don’t know how we did it, but we held in our laughter. It’s tough to do when you’re rolling around on the floor, pounding your fist, and trying to hide tears and a red face.
As we picked ourselves up from the floor, everyone started introducing each other by our full names and handing out business cards, a few even had resumes, so it took quite a while.
They had fortified all the doors and windows and had just painted a phony address number outside so we felt pretty safe. They found us rooms and places to sleep, which I did as soon as I hit the wet men’s room floor. I dreamed a lot, mostly about zombies, Greek swim suit models sloshing around in a vat of out of date yogurt, headless vegetarian strippers taking literacy tests, discount miniature hookers eating Quaker Oats, naked female locksmiths and the dental students they love, and the occasional transsexual rodeo clown in white go-go boots.” Except for the zombies it could have been any regular night.
One of the Times’ workers, whose name I’d forgotten, and whose business card and resume I’d already lost, woke us up and took us to the cafeteria. The food was free, probably because they couldn’t tell you what the hell you were eating. But I was hungry and I ate, fooling myself into thinking I wouldn’t throw up. One good thing, at least I might taste bad if a zombie got the worst of me.
We had a pow-wow, which comprised of myself, Laura Lee, Skim Milk, Dr. Bllifover (I think I got his name right, but does it really matter) Shrimp and a woman who might have been gorgeous in a previous life, but in this one she was making up for being given too good a hand in an earlier lifetime. She wasn’t just hideous. She was drop dead ugly. I mean her shadow, which had pockmarks, even looked the other way. Her misshapen head looked like a bomb had exploded inside. I’d be surprised if her face, which could be mistaken for a gas-mask, didn’t scare a zombie into vegetarianism. Her name was Jeraminder or Jeramander (again does it matter), they called her Mander.
The Jingle and the Times
After about three miles the band members and Iranian singing group started to tire, so we rotated them (and our tires) and tried to think of songs that we could convince ourselves they were performing. It was while I was imagining them playing a loud, drum and bugle core version of a Bach string quartet accompanied by a troupe of eunuch parrots, that it happened – a live radio broadcast. Many who’ve never gone on a blind date and had it turn into a zombie nightmare, with a woman who hates your guts at first sight, might not have realized what the broadcast meant. It was a man’s voice and he was definitely live, not a recording, since he stuttered and stammered and said he was live, also gave us the time and an accurate three-day local weather report. He asked if any survivors out there wanted home delivery of the New York Times. Sure it might be a few days late and have several of the pages chewed out and there wouldn’t be a sports or entertainment section, but we’d get the latest on who was eaten and if the chewing was done by a dead relative. And best off all we’d save 50% off the first four weeks delivery. Like I said it didn’t sound like much, in fact the guy sounded out of his mind, but he gave an address, a phone number, which didn’t do us any good since there was no cell power, and then he put a group of assistants on to sing a jingle. “You’re family may be eaten, but it doesn’t mean you’re beaten. So get the Times delivered to your door before you are never —never more.” It was a horrible jingle sung out of tune, and I thought I heard a back ground chorus of “Chew-Wop, Chew-Wop,” but it was people–live, tone deaf people. Enough to put out a newspaper and stupid enough to deliver it, but hell, stupid is much better than dead, smelly, and lusting after your tasty flesh.
Believe it or not, our GPS actually worked, and we were only a few miles from the only remaining home of the New York Times. I kept wondering if now was a good time to ask them if they would review my novel. It was a science fiction/ brush fire cookbook/ historical novel about a Cinnamon breath mint empire. I know it’s not a new idea, but I figured by including a gumball trade show, a fructose for Finland marketing convention, and a bulimic eating and throwing up competition to the story it might put a new slant on an old genre.
We could make it to the Times building, all we had to do was keep the band and the singers alive and playing for another few miles. Skim Milk had an idea that just might save our lives. We’d ask the guys and gals carrying the heavier instruments to come into the vehicle for a rest, and then we’d toss them out to the zombies—keeping them off us, as our band, thinned out and our ululation gals ran out of energy. At first it looked as if the plan wouldn’t work when Klaus, our half-breed, tried to bite the bass drummer’s head off causing the other band members to back away. Skim Milk, had her wits about her and shouted, “April Fools,” instantly squelching their fears, while we pulled Klaus away. As the band climbed in and we selectively starting feeding members to the zombies, Dr. Bliffover explained Klaus’s reaction. He had lost his family to a base drummer high on animal tranquilizers laced with silly putty. The guy beat to death his wife and then tried to bounce his kids off the walls and tile floor in the bathroom. The drummer himself took his own life by diving out the window, six floors, then three floors and then two floors to his death.
About a mile into our final lap one of the ululation divas, who called herself Snara with a Snar, told us that they’d run out of songs and they never ever repeated themselves. I said, “Snara—“
She quickly corrected me. “Call me Snara with a Snar.”
“Ok, Snara with a Snar, can’t you just do this once, after all, to us all your songs sound alike!”
“That’s it. We quit! I will not stand here and be insulted. Next you’ll want to know why we all only have one wisdom tooth,” Snara with a Snar shouted.
Before I could say Snara with a S— Skim Milk tossed her out the window and then proudly exposed her own celestial breasts. Maria, not to be out done, pushed her aside and double mooned the zombies that had just started to eat Snara with a Snar. Snara was about to sing, but before she had a chance to scare them away her vocal chords were chewed out. A few zombies looked up at our exhibitionists, but at the moment preferred to join in on the feast
The other singers, who were outside marching with the band began singing what could have been an ululation version of “Jingle Bells” or “Whiter Shade of Pale,” or “I Did It My Way,” or quite possibly an up tempo “Lady of Spain.” All I know is that Skim Milk’s deadly trick had worked. The band did their best to match whatever the hell the girls were screeching, which scattered any zombies that dared approach our vehicle.
Another mile and half and we would arrive at the New York Times building and maybe from the home of the best newspaper in the country we’d start a new better read civilization that featured home delivery.
First one of the girls lost her voice and made the mistake of trying to reach our vehicle. I held the door open, grabbed her hand and did my best to pull her in, she had just got one foot inside when a mob of zombies pulled her to the ground, and ravage her to the bone. I don’t know what she looked like, because of that Arabian beekeeper’s stage outfit (or maybe it was just a Arabic prom gown possibly for bee keepers), that she wore. I imagined she was cute—a women I’d probably easily be rejected by—one who would laugh in my face, make her tongue sound like a cop’s siren being played sideways and then call her brother over to cut off my head. In spite of my good old red blooded American male thoughts, I still managed to feel bad for her, even a rooster with vocal chords made from broken banjo strings deserved better. I was lost in thoughts of the shriek of Arabia when an older zombie in a hotel bathrobe, which wouldn’t be a pleasant sight even before his private parts were rotting, reached in and grabbed my shirt collar. My leg was caught under the seat as his face came kissing close, his breath smelled like rubber being burned in a vat of Medieval sewage—a scent that would later be bottled and sold on the black market. His jaws widened, ready to break his five minute fast. I slugged him in the side of his face, but he didn’t take notice. When his teeth started their final decent Jo shot him, not dead, but just enough to knock out most of his choppers and a decaying bridge and crown. He gummed my shoulder like a red neck giving a hickey. No skin was broken, not until Jo’s next shot which tore his head apart like a Piñata full of tripe parmesan. I quickly slammed the door shut –- I can take a hint.
“Thanks, Jo.” I said, although I also felt compelled to ask what his hat size was.
“Any time, by the way I wear a size seven and half hat,” in case you were wondering.” In the heat of battle sometimes men can finish each other’s thoughts.
We were now only about a half mile away. The band’s rhythm was somewhere between a waltz and the hum of an old refrigerator. The girl’s voices were now only slightly more annoying than a great accordion player. We had a real dilemma. Do we just run over the band and singers and hope that the SUV can plow through the remaining zombies or do we stay with the status quo and hope enough live to get us to the New York Times Building? The decision would have been made easier if someone in the band hadn’t stopped muting his trombone with a duck caller. That would have been motivation for me to throw the car into overdrive and make the musicians one with their instruments.
We decided to weigh our options, which didn’t work because we couldn’t agree on an appropriate rating system, so we tried to write down the positives and negatives, but that was even harder without a pen and pencil. After three tries we finally figured out that odd finger doesn’t work well with over three people. We didn’t have dice or cards, so we used our old standby and played a game of charades. The driver, who at the moment wasn’t me, didn’t have to participate. Movie titles we found too easy, the names of presidents too hard, so we settled on popular surgeries. We were all stumped on pubic hair transplants, even Laura Lee, who was good enough to go pro, but by that time we were just a block away and decided to let the exhausted band play on until eaten. I know it sounded cold-hearted, but these musicians weren’t in a union yet, and why wait till they tried to organize?
When we got close to the building the band members stuffed the plume from their hats in the mouths of ululation vocalists and then tossed them at the zombies and ran for the entrance. We had driven the car to the only available parking space, about ten yards from the home of the New York Times and dumped some coins in the meter. I wasn’t taking chances—who knows what parking fines might mean in these days of deadly choices. With the zombies only a few yards behinds us, the doors of the Time’s building flew open and a gang of Times’ workers started knocking off our stalkers. They’re aim was amazing, zombies fell prey to flying rolls of daily newspapers and the ones that managed to move closer got flattened by thick stacks of the Sunday edition.
LEAVING THE BASEMENT
The next thing we had to do was the biggest risk of all –raising the door and hoping there wasn’t a mob of zombies waiting to greet us. I wasn’t expecting a marching band, although at one point in my life I thought about being a musical arranger for a local organist, but lost the opportunity by the sudden death of his monkey. Soon after, I joined a marching band, but that was short lived because my short leg would cause me lean over and knock a row of my fellow band members to the ground. I was my high school track team’s lap counter so it was only natural I turned to running numbers for the local Buddhist crime syndicate. They’d just moved in from a poor black neighborhood in Martha’s Vineyard and were a rough crew who collected debts, not just by breaking bones, they also gouged out welchers’ middle eyes.
The Buddhist enforcers were a gruesome bunch. The sound of breaking bones did not drown out their horrific chanting, which sounded like a mix of a homeless broad’s nails on a chalkboard and a yodeler’s falsetto played backwards. Their chanting when hitting a pitch not only broke glass but splintered Tupperware. It also pierced both my eardrums and rendered me deaf, dumb, blind, and in a coma for three and half seconds. It was actually one second, but the doctors induced the coma for another two and half because they wanted to reduce the swelling in my brain, but soon realized my brain could actually use a few more inches. I never witnessed a middle eye being torn out by the Buddhist muscle, but heard stories of followers who spent their entire lives unable to meditate and grew deathly ill from sweat and rain pouring through the holes in their foreheads.
I hit the button, the door rose, and as luck would have it there wasn’t a zombie in sight, but there was a marching band and a female group of Iranian ululation wedding singers, whose sound was probably responsible for keeping the zombies away. That led us to another problem; what were we going to do with the marching band and the ululation vocalists (whose voices could match any helium breathing Apache raiding party)? Laura Lee, who not only saw the glass half-empty, she saw it being shattered over her head, had an idea.
“Why don’t we have the screech sisters and the band play and march before our car? That, and feeding the zombies the majorettes, would keep the zombies off us until we couldn’t stand their playing and run them over.” She screamed the suggestion, but not loud enough that we could hear it over the band’s heavy brass version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
We loaded up the car and the band and the ululation singers played on and on and on and on and on like a badly scratched record—zombies fleeing in every direction. Those that had their ears torn off earlier in the day and didn’t run, we fed majorettes to.
In the vehicle we turned the radio up, to block out the band and singers, and to listen for reports of any camps, forts or cheap motels full of survivors. There was one report about a group survivors that had fortified a co-op building, but the requirements for getting in were stiff – let’s face it they had their pick. We knew, especially with a half-zombie, half-person we never get even the most liberal board’s approval. Skim suggested that we threw the half-breed out, but the doctor reminded us that he might be the key to a cure. My dating problems prior to the human race turning into deceased flesh eaters was bad enough. The only head to be gotten now would be mine and if there wasn’t a cure, I’d probably find myself looking for a zombie hooker without teeth. This thought gave me an idea of setting up a brothel full of good-looking zombie women who still had most of their insides, then pulling out their teeth, and starting my own dead chicken ranch. It was just a dream–the kind of dream that kept hope alive and made me feel closer to God.
The Basement and Bliffover
We didn’t split up to search the basement, all of us too afraid that we’d either end up a zombie or be the only living person – at least temporarily. We selected to search the left first because that’s the way my body was leaning, which I took as a good sign. After about an hour and finding most of the basement zombie-challenged, so to speak, we stumbled onto them. Not a horde of zombies, or a coffee klatch, or even duet, and not a group of either friendly or evil people, or even a pack of wild show dogs. Older show dogs were the new preferred watchdogs since they become bitter, thirst for attention, thus make the most noise, and are ravenous from not ever being fed table scraps, so they tear apart unwanted visitors, especially those that carry blue ribbons. What we found gave us something new to think about. There were two of them, but only one concerned us. The normal guy, Dr. Herbert Bliffover, was a well-dressed man, suit, tie, recently shined shoes, and carrying a leather brief case. With him was a creature, who Dr. Bliffover thought might be the new missing link, a being that was half-man and half-zombie. It was as if someone had drawn a vertical line down the middle of this person. His right side was all zombie, his left all ugly man. “I’m Klaus’s doctor, well, his psychiatrist. If you stay on his right he’s harmless and don’t worry he won’t try to turn around to bite you. He has a permanent case of whiplash from an old bumper car pile-up. He also is aware of his condition and so far has control over his zombie half, except when chewing on a living person. I try not to feed him, but look at that milky eye, so sad.” Doctor Herbert spoke firmly. “How can that be? I mean isn’t his other half-dead?” “Almost, but not entirely. When I first came upon him he was about to have sex with a woman while eating her intestines. Luckily his human half, still able to talk then, turned and asked me for a condom. I was able to wrestle him away without getting bitten. I have three-quarter feet of small intestines in my brief case to keep him nourished.” “Why is his human half still alive?” I asked making sure to pronounce my words correctly. This was no time to mumble. “At the same carnival where he had his bumper car tragedy, Klaus was working the game where you swing a hammer down to make a weight rise up and hit the bell. Well, that morning he forgot to bring the weight to work and not wanting to lose his job, he took the place of it. It was bad timing he was greeted by a group of Viking reenactors, who specialized in emulating the Huscarls, the elite guard of King Harold the Second’s body double, whose main weapons were two-handed axes. They chose that day to demonstrate their strokes with the giant hammer. Klaus must have hit his head on that bell two dozen times. That coupled with his whiplash, caused both a physical and psychological break and also made him lactose intolerant. His zombie half has bad gas when eating a person who’s had dairy. If he starts eating you try to stay in front of him.” “You mean he has a split personality,” Skim Milk asked. “So to speak, yes,” The doctor replied and then made the crazy sign by running his fingers in a circle near his temple. “Any idea what caused the zombie outbreak and why we’re immune?” Laura “No and No. Although some of the more popular theories on the cause are antidepressants taken with boutique coffees, exposure to an abundance of poorly written Amazon reviews, remote control confusion, bad ink from Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, and hormone spikes when looking at or wearing thongs. In other words, no one really knows.” Dr. Herbert acted as if he hoped we believed every word he said. “What if Klaus turns completely? Is it possible?” Laura Lee said, running her hands under her clothes checking herself for ticks. Skim Milk piled on. “Maybe we should just kill him. And not take any chances.” Klaus tried to speak, but the words that came out were mixed with the guttural sound of his zombie side, so none of us knew what the hell he was talking about, although we tried to guess and even use hand signals. Dr. Herbert tossed his words at us like we were playing with the wrong kind of kiddy explosive. “Don’t you asshole see, you fucking, brainless, morons, and I say that with only the best of intentions. If we can find out why his other side didn’t turn, we can….” Jo interrupted, “We can become half-zombies ourselves?” “No butt brain, we find a cure that can prevent it from happening again.” Dr. Herbert this time didn’t hide his disrespect. “So we would be all zombie then?” Jo didn’t try to hide his stupidity. “OK, let’s say that’s the case or not the case, or both, what do we do now?” I said. “I need to find an AA meeting!” Laura Lee shouted “or a yoga class, maybe one with a juice bar.” Then she started to laugh. “What’s so damn funny?” I said. “I was thinking of our zombie half-breed doing yoga and was picturing him being so flexible he starts eating himself.” The half-breed started to make noise, his human half didn’t like Laura Lee’s remark. “Then we need to get out of here. I could use a gambler’s anonymous meeting also.” I was ready to bet on how long it would take the half-zombie to eat his own intestines and when he’d turn. “Yeah,” the doctor nodded, “and I need to find a lab, so I can do some tests.” Skim turned dreamy-eyed, “I sure would like to find a good Lesbian Rodeo, maybe with a western bar, a yoga class and a box of Turkish taffy, but not the imported kind.” We needed to get out of the garage, which meant we needed a vehicle. I was the designated driver since I was the only one who had insurance that covered hit and run driving. It was a popular clause in Little Italy. There were several cars, most of them, difficult to get into, without breaking a window, which we needed to keep the zombies out, and (as we were to find out later), we needed to roll down when Skim Milk flashed her breasts and Maria her circular rump. We didn’t know it at the time that they had met at a meeting of flashers anonymous, a popular program in New Orleans after Mardi Gras. Jo found a van that was open, but had a dead battery, so we pushed it so he could pop the clutch to get it started. It might have started if he the engine didn’t crack when the car fell off the cinder blocks. Laura Lee was luckier. She found an SUV, which was out of fuel, but she quickly volunteered to siphon gas from other cars. Laura told us she didn’t even need a hose she had such a powerful suction reflex. In fact when she was a baby and was breastfed by her mom, she chocked on a rib. She siphoned gas from several cars, while we refrained from making too many oral sex jokes, because Laura Lee threatened to toss a lighter in a gas tank and really blow us to bits.
Following Skim Milk
The plan was for Laura Lee and me to walk behind the bar pretending we saw a skunk. It worked like a charm–no one wanted to help us find the critter. Skim Milk’s two co-workers came armed with handguns with silencers, several kitchen knives, and a complete set of silverware for eight. The man was squat and looked like he was stretched and widened to fill a 70-inch flat screen TV. His name was Joe, which he decided to shorten to Jo because he didn’t trust silent letters. Next to him stood, Maria, a woman whose large round butt made me think she was sitting on a globe.
We snuck out the back door and down the hall, Skim Milk holding a flash light steady in her cleavage. In each hand she held a kitchen knife ready to slice up the first dead thing she saw. She didn’t see any and neither did we. When we arrived at the CEO’s office, she slowly opened the door, made a sound like a crow, and never explained why. Then swinging her breasts into the room, like they had tassels stuck to them, she sent the shaft of light in circles until she was sure there were no zombies. Skim Milk turned on the office light and led us to the private elevator. As the elevator door slid open a zombie in a three and half-piece business suit, wire-rimmed glasses, and a bad toupee lunged out from behind a cabinet, knocking me to the ground. He would have taken a chunk out of my shoulder, if his toupee hadn’t slid over his head, which blocked his view. When he tried to push the toupee away he knocked his glasses off. He leaned forward to bite me and stepped on a lens—the crunching sound distracted him like a tantalizing appetizer. With each bite of air his teeth got closer to removing part of me. Just as he was about to simultaneously make me both a meal and a brother, his head exploded off his neck, in too many pieces for even a show as unreal as CSI could reconstruct. That’s how we got the idea that Jo was a good shot, which was soon confirmed when we tossed zombie body parts out the window so he could demonstrate his shooting skill. When the last appendage was blown apart, Skim decided it was time to try the elevator. Jo, of course, shot the elevator and was dejected when it didn’t bleed. Skim sat Jo down and using charts on anatomy, scientific periodicals on the chemical make-up of DNA, and string theory, plus a quick game a Pictionary was able to convince him that elevators are not a life form.
I pressed the button on the wall and the elevator opened immediately, since it was left on our floor. At first we entered the elevator in alphabetical order, then Jo insisted we go by height. Maria thought weight would better, since she always carried a scale. I’ve always hated scales. I found them difficult to stand on long enough to get my correct weight since one of my legs was ten inches shorter than the other. I tried to keep it a closely guarded secret, even though I tended to lean severely to the left. They were adamant that I take off my custom shoes, which would have made my body nearly parallel to the ground. I refused to cooperate and insisted that instead we enter by the lowest social security numbers first, which put Maria, who was an undocumented worker at a distinct disadvantage. (She did argue that not having a social security card made her number the equivalent of zero.) Even though under normal circumstances Maria spoke perfect English, under this stress of being eaten alive, she began speaking Albanian every other word. Rather than try to understand her or find another solution, we just piled in.
The elevator was fast, since it didn’t stop at any other floors. Whatever weapons we had were pointed toward the opening of the door. When the door opened there was no one to kill or even ask if they knew if the Yankees were now over paid zombies. Curiously enough there were lights on in a few sections of the basement, which normally worked as a garage for executives.