The Bar

Fifteen days. That’s how long Steven and his friends were holed up in that bar. Fifteen days since things changed. The group started out as thirty, but they were down to twelve after the others took on the illness.

Jackie was the first to succumb. Steven tried to deny the obvious, but he knew it was time to do his girlfriend in when he woke to her groaning and writhing in her restraints, her hungry mouth frothing. He made Jessie do it, though. Jessie was Steven’s best friend since kindergarten. Jessie knew Steven couldn’t pull the trigger, even if it meant he would die with the rest. But dying wasn’t the part that scared Steven or Jessie. It was what came after.

The days were hellish, but the nights were worse. During the day Steven, Jessie, and the others busied themselves preparing supplies, organizing, checking weapons and making sure their ammo was sufficiently stocked. During the day the fiends were less active.

Steven felt terror at night. He felt he was marooned on a barren island, surrounded by an ocean of those ravenous abominations. He and the survivors were desolate, their neighborhood bar turned from a place of solace to an infernal pit of anguish, pandemonium, a nightmare. The group members took turns staying awake, on guard. Not that it  helped anyone else sleep better.

While Steven sat at the bar reading by the light of an oil lamp, he tried to ignore the sounds from outside. He ignored the groaning, the screeching, the banging on the boarded doors, on the boards that covered the windows where the glass had been broken the first night. Steven wanted to listen to music, but he had to stay vigilant, and besides there hadn’t been electricity in days. His iPod’s battery was long dead, like almost everything else.

Steven felt a sharp and familiar pang in his abdomen. The food supply was low. The group had been surviving on rations of canned meats and pickled vegetables. One of the women in the group had arrived with a sack full of peanut butter jars. There wasn’t any bread, but the peanut butter was like manna and honey. Even that supply was diminishing, though, and there weren’t many jars left of pickles, olives, Holland onions, and spicy green beans, either. Steven thought he would have to go out for provisions in a day’s time. He didn’t know where in the Hell he would find them.

The group’s first trip was a catastrophe. The team was ill equipped, and their inadequacy is what led to Jackie’s illness. It was more a waste of ammo and energy than anything else. Steven also felt it had revealed their sanctuary. It seemed like there were more crowding around the bar after that day. Or maybe it was because Steven and the group were the last living humans in the city, and the monsters knew it.

The sounds outside increased, and Steven pulled at his own hair in frustration. He hummed to himself. He shouted at them to shut up. He put his fingers in his ears.

The banging was louder than before. The groans more rapacious. Steven thought more had come since the night began. He stroked the shotgun in his lap. He checked to make sure the rifle was still hanging by its strap from the back of his chair.

A moment later, shrieks came from inside the bar. Steven froze. His face and limbs were numb. Then he heard the unmistakable shuffle, the sound of dead feet dragging across the floor.

Steven leapt from his chair and hit the alarm, alerting the rest of the group. The ringing of the bell drowned out the groans and shuffles. Steven wanted to hear them then, to know where they were.

He took the shotgun and the high-powered rifle and climbed onto the bar. At the first sight of a body, he aimed the shotgun and fired a blast of buckshot at the encroaching mob. Steven fired two more rounds.

There were so many. Their dead fingers clawed the cuffs of Steven’s standard issue BDUs as he climbed from the bar onto a platform above where glasses hung. He loaded the shotgun and fired three more slugs. He wondered where the other group members were.

He hadn’t grabbed the bag of shells when he abandoned his place on the bar, and now Steven was out of shells. Aiming the M16, Steven was able to fell more of the animated cadavers, but not many. Not enough.

A back door broke from its hinges; a dozen bodies poured through, tumbling over each other in a stampede of undead hunger. He recognized Jessie, and then he knew. He knew what happened to the rest of the group.

Grave Digger

The folks here call me Grave Digger.  I’ve been shoveling dirt here at St. Phillip’s for almost fifty years. Some of the folks here I know from town. Most of them I met after I started working here. It’s a good job. Pay’s decent. I don’t have a 401K or anything, but my work keeps me young. I get to work outside, and I get the holidays off.

I’ve learned a lot of history working here. Like, I know Count Franklin Schmidt IV founded this town in 1762. I know his son, Franklin Schmidt V, fought in the war of 1812. The countess was a real kind lady named Emeraldine-a very friendly sort. With his young wife, Louisa, Franklin Schmidt V had a son the couple named Bartholomew Alastair Conroy Schmidt.

After the war, Franklin Schmidt V took a government office, and when young Bart was old enough, Franklin offered him a position. But Bartholomew had a taste for the sea, and he took off with a merchant ship in the summer of 1845. Bart worked legitimately for a time, but just like too many men during his era, he discovered the real profit was in freebooting. He turned pirate somewhere around his thirty-eighth birthday. In the fall of 1862, Franklin Schmidt V, who was then nearing his eightieth year, watched his only son dangle from the hitch. Louisa, having succumbed to cholera in the spring of 1847, was spared the tragedy of losing her only child to the gallows. 

I learned a lot about other folks. Regular folks. Like Annie Fontenot, who moved here from Paris in 1880. Though popular among the men in this town, she never married. 

My old man’s pocket watch is ticking in my coat pocket, and I know it’s approaching the proverbial witching hour. 

“Got a cigarette, Grave Digger?” Comes a corroded voice through rotted vocal chords. I turn, and with a flick, I ignite my Zippo’s orange flame, illuminating my companion’s deteriorating visage. His empty eye-sockets, home to various pests, are fixed on my own eyes. He leans forward and lights his cigarette then returns to an upright position. Smoke wisps out of the head, the eyes and the center of the skull where a nose once was, resembling a skeleton incense burner. Insects scurry about, irritated by the intrusion of the smoke.

“You’re working late,” he observes. He straightens the sleeves of his threadbare dress coat and tosses the rope that hangs from his neck over his bony shoulder.

“I decided weren’t no reason to go home all by myself when I can stay and finish up this job,” I answer.

“Seems a man like you would want to rest his back,” says my companion, “seeing as it’s so crooked.” The fingers of his skeletal hand rattle as it slaps my wasted spine.

“I’m old, Bart, but I ain’t dead,” I say lighting my own cigarette.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, peevish. “Well,” he continues after a silence, “you’ll be dead in enough time, mate. Believe me.”

I smile. Headlights appear on the road in the distance.

“You think it’s a new resident?” Bart asks. 

“Nah,” I say. “They don’t bring them in this late.”

The headlights are stationary for a moment, and then make the inevitable turn all lost vehicles make when their drivers discover they’ve travelled too far down a dark unknown path. 

“Gone the wrong way, I figure. Don’t want to get lost on this route, eh?” Bart chuckles and tosses his cigarette into the open hole I’m digging. He looks at me. “That wasn’t disrespectful or nothing, was it? I don’t mean to disrespect the dead.” He howls with laughter, throwing his smooth, hairless skull back so far it seems it will break from the spine. The cranium appears luminescent from dew in the moonlight. I think of some folklore about crystal skulls. 

“I like you, George, old man,” he states, his voice reminds me of the groan of warped wooden ship bows that have been too long at sea. “I hope you don’t mind me leaving that cigarette.” I shake my head without responding. I know Bart’s incorrigible still and always will be. I watch as he ambles away. Another figure joins him, a petite frame swathed in a tattered crimson frock that sways with the motion of its wearer’s hips. 

Bart bows and addresses his escort, “Madame Betancourt.” She curtsies. Bart throws his bony arm across the lady’s shoulders. They stroll together along a well-traveled avenue among their now lively neighbors while I finish my cigarette. 

What Two Year Old Isn’t Scared of Monsters?

The answer: Mine.

I’ve come to notice in the last two years that my son (I call him Scoots), the person produced by me, the fruit of my womb, my offspring, is not like other kids his age. He isn’t a weirdo or anything, although some who know us both may argue that point and state the weirdo gene is hereditary. Ever since he came into the world, it’s been apparent that he has a very singular personality. I foresee much creativity in the future. I’m glad about it. I intend to cultivate his small mind and teach him the wonders of a vivid imagination.

Many times I realize, though, he will be too smart for his, and my, own good. And other than creativity, I foresee a lot of worry in my future caused by this little person as his ideas sprout and thrive, and he acts on them. I envision a mad scientist child, in the bathroom creating concoctions and elixirs to later test on the family pet. Or a tiny adventurer, in the backyard wrangling local wildlife and examining the intricate workings of bee hives and ant hills.

Last October two things happened that I think changed Scoots forever. The first thing was Halloween. He was born in October and already has three Halloweens under his belt, but this year was the first year he was aware of what was really going on. He was observant of the television shows, movies, and decorations. I have a Halloween tree, a small black Christmas tree that I decorate with small skulls, pumpkins, and skeletons. Scoots loved the tree. He wanted to be outside with the tree all the time and would sit at the window looking out at the tree. We had to say hello and goodbye to the tree, skeletons, skulls, and tiny pumpkins every time we left and came home. It doesn’t hurt that Halloween is my favorite holiday. And that he received a Hallmark book of the Monster Mash fully equip with buttons that play sound effects and part of the original Monster Mash song. He is infatuated with it, and we read it nightly. That was until he went all Incredible Hulk on it and tore about five pages in half – with his mouth. And so he is not allowed access to the book. For his birthday I made some CD’s of children’s music. I also added the Monster Mash. We dance to it almost daily. He’s even memorized parts of the song.

The other thing that happened was our trip to Walt Disney World. We left right after Scoots’ birthday, and we were there on Halloween. One of our first rides was Pirates of the Caribbean. Before this, Scoots was vaguely aware of Jack Sparrow and pirates in general. But after that one experience, riding the ride one time, he was hooked. His grandparents bought him a toy pirate gun that when the trigger was pressed emitted a light in the shape of a skull and crossbones. It was his favorite toy. And even though he loses interest half-way through Toy Story, he will sit through two and a half hours of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest with nary a squirm. On one of his CD’s I included the album Pirates of the Caribbean: Swashbuckling Sea Songs. Scoots calls it Jack and we also listen to it often.

We attended the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party at Magic Kingdom on Halloween night. Scoots was excited about the festivities – parade, live shows, fireworks. The only thing I wanted to do that night was ride the Haunted Mansion. I was a little concerned since the day before Scoots was frightened on the ride with Figment and screamed bloody murder on the Finding Nemo ride.

My fears were unwarranted, of course, because he wasn’t at all afraid of the Haunted Mansion. He was excited and yelled “Boo!” at the ghosts and was excited when a skeleton popped out of a casket, shouting “Skeleton!”

Which brings me to the incident that occurred last night that led me to write this blog. Another movie Scoots enjoys and of which I was at first concerned is Hellboy. I was concerned because I thought it would frighten him. Especially during the scene where the dead zombie Nazi (otherwise known as Kroenen) gets up from the table and reclaims his gear.

The aforementioned scene was on and I, fearing it would frighten my toddler, stood in front of the television to shield his innocent mind from the creepy monster. I’ll admit it creeps me out. Scoots noticed before I moved in front of him and exclaimed “Skeleton!” then proceeded to wave me out of the way.

“Mooooom,” he said waving his hand at me.  I stepped out of the way. “Is that scary?” I asked him. He nodded. “Does that scare you?” He nodded. “Do you want me to turn it off?” He shook his head no, eyes glued to the screen. Oh well, I thought. Apparently he’s not that bothered by it.

In the scene the dead zombie nazi otherwise known as Kroenen, puts all of his gear back, part of which is a mechanical hand. Scoots was elated by this. To Scoots it’s not just a skeleton, but a skeleton-robot! Mind. Blown.

Late last night, actually early this morning, Scoots woke in his bed. I heard him talking over the baby monitor, but he wasn’t crying to come out or calling for mommy. He seemed to be playing with the stuffed animals I keep strategically positioned in his bed. I heard him repeating “Ghost! Ghost!” and assumed he was hearing the wind. It was extra eerie sounding last night and loud. I heard it howling passed the windows, and so I figured Scoots heard the “Whooooo!” of the wind and mistook it for “Boooo!” Because that’s what ghosts say. I then heard Scoots growling and shouting “Rawr!” which means he was probably scaring the ghost. Yes. My toddler scares the ghost; they don’t scare him. I’m to thank for that. Right before our vacation I bought him some new clothes at Target. One of the shirts I bought him was a long-sleeved Ghost Busters t-shirt, and he learned to say “I Ain’t Scared of No Ghost.”  After a few minutes, he was making “Pew! Pew!” sounds indicating he was pretending to shoot his pirate gun and saying, “Argh! Pirate!” I lay back down and listened to him talk to his toys until he eventually got tired enough again and went back to sleep.

These are the reasons I’m apprehensive about the future. My fearless son, a savage pirate, navigating the Queen Anne’s Revenge through the back yard and wielding his cutlass, and goading supernatural beasts to their ultimate demise by his own hands.