September is Gold

SeptGoldPic

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the color is gold. Pediatric cancer is not a popular subject. It isn’t something we like to discuss or think about. What parents want to imagine their child with cancer? We didn’t want to. Unfortunately, avoiding the thought of it didn’t prevent Robot Boy from developing brain cancer. A PNET-primitive neuroectodermal tumor-to be exact. It’s a long word, but it’s one this mother won’t forget. A PNET is a rare type of brain tumor that carries with it a survival rate of approximately fifty-three percent. My son, RB, was given a forty percent chance of survival.

Brain cancers aren’t the only types of cancer that afflict our youth. According to the National Cancer Institute: “Among the 12 major types of childhood cancers, leukemias (blood cell cancers) and cancers of the brain and central nervous system account for more than half of the new cases.” (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood) Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for those under the age of nineteen. Even though, pediatric cancer is the least funded and least acknowledged of all cancers. Maybe this is because we don’t want to talk about it. But we aren’t doing the children any favors by avoiding the issue.

Brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumors in children.
Brain tumors are the most common form of solid tumors in children.

Childhood Cancer Awareness is important because pediatric cancer isn’t as widely publicized as other cancers. For this reason, it isn’t funded as much as other cancers, too. It is rare, compared to other types of cancer, but it is just as important. On Sunday September 1, I’m shaving again for Childhood Cancer Awareness. Not my own head this time, but someone else’s. Someone else who is interested in helping to bring recognition to this deadly disease. He asked specifically that RB and I be involved with his selfless act to help bring attention to pediatric cancer. We are more than happy to oblige.

I went bald by choice. Unfortunately, due to harsh, poisonous medications, children with cancer don't have the choice.
I went bald by choice. Unfortunately, due to harsh, poisonous medications, children with cancer don’t have the choice.

The last time I shaved my head was for a St. Baldrick’s Foundation Event, and though this shave isn’t for any event, you can still visit RB’s St. Baldrick’s Foundation home page (http://stbaldricks.org/teams/robotboy) and make a donation. If you’re wondering why you should donate to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, I’ll let you know that they are the second largest entity that dedicates funds to pediatric cancer research (the U.S. Government is the first). I’ll also explain that they dedicate more funds to research than any other cancer foundation-over eighty percent of each dollar donated. They’re funding research in many areas, including those for cancer treatments that are less harmful than current treatments-those that can leave patients with a variety of disabilities.

Robot Boy before we learned he had cancer, before the surgery and treatments that later disabled him, most likely for life.
Robot Boy before we learned he had cancer, before the surgery and treatments that later disabled him-most likely for life.

According to St. Baldrick’s website, 175,000 kids are diagnosed with cancer each year. A child is diagnosed every three minutes. There isn’t much hope for a cure for some children, but because of improved research and treatments, kids’ overall survival rate has dramatically increased over the last sixty years. (http://www.stbaldricks.org/about-childhood-cancer)

Please share. Please donate if you’re able. Any amount is helpful (and much appreciated!). Childhood Cancer is a vicious, insidious killer. Sadly, it’s one that little is known about.

Camp F

Photo c/o Microsoft Office Free Clipart

Been waiting on my appeal for thirteen years. Thirteen years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. I been sitting here waiting to know if I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair, me dying I mean. But they don’t give you the chair no more. Supposed to be more humane, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit.

They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He’s the whitest person I ever seen. You can see blue veins at his temples and on his hands and by his eyes. He cries so much his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. “God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,” I say to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. I ain’t even that sick.

Frank Aucoin’s cell is on the other side. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his cum was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up some days, and he shits himself. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to Camp F, and that was Howard Saucier-The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two prostitutes by slicing them down the middle. He carved each one starting right at her diseased hatchet slash and ending at her chin. He used the same serrated knife for all of them.

Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was because he was one jovial motherfucker, that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t so deranged he’d be a cool guy to hang with. But he was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to the Devil. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. Not like the petunia next door with his crying and begging for God’s mercy all the time.

Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real long ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. “If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,” she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well maybe I am a dipshit. But her reading didn’t do nothing to save her, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. “She had tits this big,” Howard said holding his arms out from his chest. “I just wanted a taste.”

He went to juvenile but they had to let him go when he was twenty-one. While he was locked up he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. “I came in my pants,” he said.

I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of them I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. In the winter we would fight over who was going to sit closest to the space heater.  “I can get behind a God who tortures His own creations,” Howard said. “Divine retribution.” He smiled.

Howard liked to screw with the guards. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle up on him. They don’t like to do that too much because it riles everybody up. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him, and they threw him in isolation. We was all on lock down afterwards.

Howard was in there a while, and he was a little calmer when he came out. That wasn’t too long before he moved to Camp F. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us that kind of stuff. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time and never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field to the crows for all I know. But I figure he went to the chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did a little. He never done me nothing.

Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he probably jerks off to kiddy porn. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty. So I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks. But I been here thirteen years, and I don’t want to be put in population. I don’t share my cell with nobody, and I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody cum? I might as well die here. Got to die some place.

“Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,” Art always says. “I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years.”

Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So I don’t say nothing.

I went to court about six months ago. It was the middle of summer, and so hot that most times we asked to stay inside when it was time to go out. One day the needle on the outdoor thermometer the guards hung by the door was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. We went out for about fifteen minutes, but Frank fell out and we came back in. Nobody complained though. My balls was wet and hot as cotton panties on a virgin at a Bourbon Street sex show, and sticking to my thighs.

My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I didn’t have nothing to write so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I ain’t one.

I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back then. I bet that asshole Nate is the one told her to cut it. “He stimulates my mind,” she said. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating. He might’ve had a broad vocabulary too, but it shrunk up real good when I put my Beretta between his teeth.

“Your honor, members of the jury,” said Art, “I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-eight was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary madness if you will, brought on by blind fury and passion.”

I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. I was still mad at her for running around on me, and for being such a bitch about it, and on our anniversary. “What do you expect, Vincent?” She always called me Vincent even though most everybody else calls me Vince. “Nate makes me feel . . . sexy.”

“And what I don’t?”

“No. You make me feel like I’m being pawed by an inexperienced prepubescent.”

I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but I knew it wasn’t no compliment. Something thumped against the closet door. “No,” Mallory gasped when I swung the door open. Some dude was kneeling right between my Dickies and my Levis. I figured he was Nate. The shoebox where I kept my pistol was open on the floor. I looked at Nate again. Maybe he was hoping it was in there. Maybe he was going to shoot me. But it wasn’t in there. It was in my hand, and then his brains was all over my Levis and my Dickies. I felt calm in a strange way.

Mallory screamed and tried to run out the room, but I caught her by the hair and threw her in the closet right next to her boyfriend. Her mouth was stuck open like it froze that way. It reminded me of when my grandma died and we didn’t find her for five days after. Her mouth was opened like that. Mallory lifted her left hand to cover her face, and I seen she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. “You dirty slut,” I said. Mallory’s eyes was wide and tears was flowing out of them like a busted spigot.

I reached down and grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her out the closet. I threw her on the bed and held one hand over her mouth. The other hand held my Beretta. I crushed her body against the mattress with my body.

“Psychopath!” She was crying, curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed. She was staring at her boyfriend in the closet. I grinned and raised my gun again. Mallory tried to run but I was quicker. Maroon slime and something that looked like oatmeal splattered against the wall. Long streams ran down to the sand colored carpet. I thought of Mallory always complaining how she hated them white walls. “These walls are so bland. You need to paint them.”

I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. They pulled up while I was sitting on the porch smoking my Camels. They had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it in the grass. Two of them snuck me and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the cement with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street it seemed like. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his speech. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma.

Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. Her best friend that I always hated told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds, and asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. “Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,” read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. “Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,” read another. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. “Small Town La. Man Charged with Rape, Murder,” read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected but it was too late because they already seen it.

The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

I turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt.

“I’m real sorry, Momma,” I whispered.

“We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,” said Art.

My momma looked up at me. Make-up ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face, holding her small head in my hands. I used my thumbs to wipe the black streaks off her face. I thought about how much she probably paid for my suit, and I hoped the stain would come out. Because I don’t want her buying another one just to bury me.

 

Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.

Affected

Little Joey found a bag in his back yard. Its contents were a book of matches, some rags, lighter fluid, and a Mickey Mouse hat. The air smelled like barbecue and burning plastic. Joey looked to his left. A plume of black smoke rose from behind the fence that separated his yard from his neighbors’. Particles of an unknown substance whirled in the haze, tumbling and performing somersaults as the fire below drove them upwards.

Joey didn’t trust Mr. Woodsburrow. He thought it was strange Mr. Woodsburrow hardly left the house, and no one in the neighborhood could remember how long since they’d seen Mrs. Woodsburrow. She’d stopped showing up at bingo over a month before, and she wasn’t at mass to help with the collections on Sundays, either. Mr. Woodsburrow told the pastor he’d had to sell her red 1977 Buick Century. Couldn’t afford the gas, he said. Joey was suspicious.

His mom said Mr. Woodsburrow wasn’t weird. She said he was still grieving over his missing grandkids. She said he was affected by their disappearance. She said the same about Mrs. Woodsburrow, and that’s why no one saw her anymore. “She’s in mourning,” Joey’s mom said. Joey still thought Mr. Woodsburrow was weird.

Joey was startled by a loud snapping sound; it sounded like the Black Cats he lit on New Year’s Eve. One time he threw them over Mr. Woodsburrow’s fence, and Mr. Woodsburrow came into the backyard. He stormed through the gate and grabbed Joey by the throat. He screamed and shook Joey until his mom and dad came out. Mr. Woodsburrow stopped shaking Joey then and put him down. Joey slumped against the fence, trying to catch his breath. He coughed and swallowed his spit to wet his throat. Joey’s parents talked to Mr. Woodsburrow; he lied and told them Joey threw the firecrackers at him. Joey protested and told them he’d just thrown the Black Cats over the fence, but he still got grounded for a week. Joey thought it was bullshit nobody even told Mr. Woodsburrow not to grab or shake him.

The snapping sounds made Joey curious, and he felt compelled to peek over the fence. He was afraid, because Mr. Woodsburrow was probably outside. He was always outside. If he saw Joey, there was no telling what he’d do. He’d probably come grab him again, and Joey’s parents weren’t home from work. Joey looked back at the bag he’d found laying in the grass. He looked to the fence and the plume of smoke and the particles doing acrobats in it.

Joey decided to look. He decided if he were quiet enough and didn’t stand over the fence by much, Mr. Woodsburrow might not notice. He went and took the white pool ladder from the garage. He didn’t notice his bike leaning against the ladder, and it fell onto its side with the sound of metal against concrete. Joey held his breath and hoped it wasn’t loud enough for Mr. Woodsburrow to hear. He replaced the bike and walked out of the garage with the ladder. The ladder wasn’t heavy, but it was long and bulky, and Joey had difficulty carrying it. The bottom of its legs almost touched the top of Joey’s sneakers, and he was preoccupied watching his feet as he walked. He ran headlong into something hard yet pliable. It wasn’t the fence, or the house.

Having released the ladder, Joey stumbled backward and landed on his behind. He looked up to see the hard yet pliable thing, but what he saw were Mr. Woodsburrow’s large, thick hands right before they grabbed him by the throat. Joey kicked Mr. Woodsburrow’s legs and knees, but he didn’t release the boy. He held Joey by the neck; his hands were covered in soot; his shirt smelled like barbecue and burning plastic. Mr. Woodsburrow shook Joey. He held him by the throat, and he shook him like a chicken thigh inside a bag of Shake ‘N Bake. Because no one ever told him not to shake Joey.

Terror-ific Tales


Happy Halloween! The most wonderful day of the year. It’s almost sad the Halloween season has come to an end. (Well, it doesn’t really have to end, does it? Some of us prefer to be delightfully frightful all the time.)

Started the afternoon with the original shock rocker, the wonderfully horrifying and deliciously frightening Mr. Alice Cooper on the iPod. So glad he’s still touring because maybe one day I’ll get to see him live. I’m keeping the nightmare alive.

Unfortunately, we’re confined to the hospital room today, but we’re satisfying the spirits with some Tim Burton classics and enjoying the decorations.

I’m working on another scary story to share tonight. You can read more about it here. (P.S. The frightful fun isn’t going to end just because Halloween has passed. I’m going to continue to share my own and accept your stories. >;8} )

But aside from sharing my scary stories with everyone, I’d like to share some unnerving Halloween entertainment with you. Some of my favorite books and haunting tales.

1) Anything by Poe. Really. Just anything. But if you’d like something more specific, some of my favorites:

– Premature Burial. I had this story on tape (yes, tape), and hearing it read was way more terrifying than reading it. This story is scary stuff.

– Masque of the Red Death. “There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.” Enough said.

-The Tell Tale Heart. In case you’re not familiar with this story, it involves murder, severe anxiety, and pulling up a few floor boards.

-The Black Cat. One of my favorites as a kid. I’ve always loved cats. Apparently, Poe’s characters didn’t, but they loved walling or holing people inside of things.

-The Pit and the Pendulum. What’s scarier than the Spanish Inquisition?

-The Raven. A classic. Needs no explanation.

2) Stephen King. Same as Poe. Just about anything the King of Horror has produced will induce fear. But again, I’ll share some of my favorites.

-Salem’s Lot. What? Vampires are really nightmarish creatures that want you to die in a horrible manner or else turn you into a demon-like monster like themselves? No sparkles here. Scary as hell.

-Pet Sematary. If Fluffy or Boo Boo kicks the bucket, just let them go. Seriously. You don’t want to know the alternative.

-Misery. Because being a writer isn’t terrifying enough.

-Gerald’s Game. A good example of why bondage is not a good idea in a secluded setting.

-Night Shift. Collection of short stories including The Lawnmower Man, Jerusalem’s Lot, Trucks, and Children of the Corn.

I could go on forever . . . Or at least for several hours or maybe a day.

3) Samuel Taylor Coleridge

-The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you think this tale is just a bunch of hooey you learned in 12th grade lit class, think again. This poem involves sailors lost at sea, death, a curse, a ghostly vessel manned by a nightmarish woman (“Life-in-Death, was she”) and Death, and living corpses.

“They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

“The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools –
We were a ghastly crew.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

4) Mary Shelley

-Frankenstein. I love this story. Forget everything you saw in a Universal Movie when you read it. It’s chilling, sinister, and moving.

There are so many more wonderfully chilling stories and novels available. This is a terribly short list. But it’s a start. Happy haunting boys and ghouls!

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 sufficient 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 AR-15 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 AR-15, Steven was able to pick off a few more, 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.