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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Stroll Down Memory Lane


There is something going on in the world lately.  Some days I can feel it in the air like electricity; all the hair on my arms stands up and I can feel something behind me, just over my shoulder.  Simple paranoia?  Almost certainly.  Still, it has the faint aroma of a memory, something I can't quite place but something I'm sure is real and something that actually happened.  In the end, I would remember everything, but in those early days it was just a voice, something that was from a nightmare I'd had long ago and far away.

The reports came out of Florida first.  Isolated instances of cannibalism, believed to be drug induced.  It reached me in Charlotte but I didn’t think much of it, the world was a fucked up place and I was just doing my best to keep my head low and take care of me and mine.  My day job was in a cubible, attached to a desk handling calls day in and day out for people who didn’t know the difference between a computer a modem and their own assholes.  Most days I took my calls, did a lot of bullshitting online and even managed some blogging (maybe you've read some?).  Some days, though; some days you just don’t forget.  The day the world went to shit?  Yeah, that’s not one I’m going to forget anytime soon.  

Keeping my head low, as usual, I didn’t know what was happening until hours after the news hit.  I was strapped to my desk as usual but the day was slow.  No calls coming in and so I was taking full advantage of the lull to catch up on my online activities. Facebook, Google Reader and the like had me occupied for hours, and I suppose the headphones in my ears kept me oblivious.  Google and Facebook are powerful forces though, and soon enough the news hit me:

“Public Panics as ‘Zombie’ Apocalypse Arrives in Charlotte”

Intrigued by any Zombie news I could find thanks to the “Bath Salts” stories coming out of Florida; I clicked on the link.  My blood ran cold as I read the story.  No less than a dozen attacks in Charlotte.  No one knew the cause and this wasn’t something that was the result of bath salts or any other drug.  The article linked to a video that immediately caused my stomach to churn in revulsion.  There were only three in the video but they were moving slowly, and even on the grainy cell phone video their ghastly palor was visible.  The closest to the three was what had triggered my gag reflex, however.  He had a young boy, quite literally in a death grip with his arms bent in an unnatural angle.  The boy was screaming and before I could process the reality or validity of the video and its source, the boy’s arm was pulled from his body and the thing that’d pulled it free began munching on it like it was a chicken leg, fresh blood dripping onto his clothes.  There was something about the image . . . something that caused me to feel cold on the inside and hot on the outside; it was almost there in the forefront of my mind, I could feel it coming out of the dark, I just couldn't see it yet.


I jerked my head around in shock.  No one called me that, or at least hadn't in years.  In fact my mother had been the only person to call me that.  I was Steve to everyone else.  On the screen in front of me the horrors continued, the . . . thing . . . that had ripped apart the boy was gone.  In it's place were more of the monstrous creatures.  On of them, a black beard dripping with blood was standing over a woman with arms raised in a protective position. Creating a paradox of motion, he brought the flat of his fist down against her defenses in a manor that was sickeningly slow and somehow swift enough that it couldn't be deflected.  In a surprisingly smooth motion she rolled onto her stomach and began swiftly crawling away from the blood stained, bearded monster.  I leaned in closer to the screen.


The voice was male, and very deep.  It had a tonal quality that was somewhat ethereal and, as much as what was happening on the screen it made my blood run cold, though it was non threatening.

"Come on, Steven we have to go now."

It was authoritative but somewhat gentle; and in that moment the horrors on the screen faded and the walls of my office melted around me, revealing stark whiteness punctuated only by a shadow.


It came from the shadow, which was vaguely human in shape, but otherwise nondescript.  It was familiar somehow even though it was a shadow.  It said my name again in it's authoritative, deep cadence and I suddenly felt afraid.  I retreated from the form shaking uncontrollably.

"I gotta get outta here!" I screamed.

"Steve, we have to to go. NOW!"

In the office again, roused from my reverie, I saw that the cubicles were empty and people were quietly rushing out.  I looked into the face of Ethyl Mertz--who we mercilessly teased for the connected to I Love Lucy even though she spelled it differently--and a faint dawning came over me that I'd had a waking nightmare.

"Ethyl," I started, "What's up?"

"We're going, Steve. We've all been sent home for the day."

"What? Why?"

In response, Ethyl only rolled her eyes and gestured impatiently at the computer monitor nearby.  On the screen a woman walked on a turned in ankle.  Upon closer scrutiny it became obvious the that foot was broken and bone protruded between ankle and tibia.  The woman appeared not to care, her eyes were vacant. She dragged behind her a smaller form that caused my blood to run cold once again.  I idly wondered if I was in any physical danger from all of the apparent changes in my blood's temperature today.  I then immediately chastised myself that the blood itself likely remained unchanged and some other phenomenon such as adrenaline secretion must be responsible.  The bundle she dragged behind her by a tiny arm was a toddler, no more than three years of age, gurgling and growling menacingly.  I'd thought the horrors on the screen had been part of the waking dream.  I could see now they weren't.  Looking up at Ethyl, I asked the only question I could think of,

"Is that a baby?"

Rolling her eyes she gave a "come on" motion and headed for the exit.


I know I should have been more concerned about the apparently animated and/or reanimated corpses walking the street.  It would have been logical to be in shock.  Perhaps I was; who knows? I'm not a doctor.  The "shoulds" of the situation couldn't change the reality no matter how much I wanted them too.  The world around me was not what was in my mind right now.  That waking nightmare back at the office occupied my concentration.  Hours had passed and yet I remained locked away, in my apartment, watching the smoke of a cigarette dance before my eyes, it was delicate in it's simplicity; like the silken strands of a spider's web.  The quarter inch ash protruding from the end of the cigarette betrayed that I hadn't, in fact, been smoking it; just as the lit cherry popping off the burned out end and landing on my left thigh, burning betrayed my lack of focus.  My flesh blistered and I didn't move.  Instead I couldn't stop thinking about the voice calling my name.  I couldn't place its familiarity nor could I understand why I was reacting in the manner I was.  I was terrified.  I didn't want to sleep for fear that the silhouette would appear again--which was preposterously irrational since it had appeared the first time when I was awake.  

Shaking my head violently, as if to clear it, I stood and jogged in place for ten seconds.  Then, I stopped because jogging in place is one of the most foolish things I could think to do at that moment.

"Just need a distraction." I mumbled.  

Falling back into my chair while grabbing the remote control in a fluid motion; the television was on by the time I was sitting.  I didn't pay attention to the channel that was one, knowing already what I'd see.

". . . again, we are urging all viewers to stay inside, lock all your doors and windows and to not allow any visitors--even those who are friends or family--until the state of emergency has been lifted."

"State of emergency?" I asked the television.

"For those just tuning in, we're showing you now amateur footage from a viewer in Mount Airy provided by our affiliate in the north, and the WFMY-2 News team.  We must warn you, however, this footage is graphic and not suitable for younger viewers."

They appeared on the screen, then.  This time I was prepared and properly desensitized.  They moved with no organization or regard for anything in their way.  If there was a car they moved around it, a person, they ate them.  What was more shocking in this video as compared to the previous one; was the clothing they wore.  Many of them sported white lab coats and appeared to be physicians or scientists of some sort.  Others wore hospital gowns, opened in the back and short enough to reveal genitalia.  It was the last article of clothing though, that caught my attention.  There weren't many of them and the ones I saw were layered in blood, making their appearance all the more shocking.  A select few of these animated corpses wore straight jackets.  That familiar feeling of blood running cold came again and I was alarmed at how familiar it was, this cold blooded feeling; but it was merely a trifle to the straight jacketed dead I now saw methodically moving toward the screen.  My forehead was beaded in sweat and I gasped audibly as the focus on the camera shifted blurring out the dead and bringing the background to stark relief.  It was only a sign, but that's all that was needed.  It read "Whitney Payne Cooper Memorial Hospital" and it's sudden appearance transfixed me as if I'd been hypnotized.  One of the straight jacketed demons stumbled into the sign, causing the Whitney Payne Cooper Memorial Hospital to become "Bloomington Asylum."  This image shocked me to my core and I fell instantly to my knees shivering, emitting a blood curdling scream. 

"Steven, please stop screaming."

As if under a hypnotic trance I stopped and looked over my shoulder, wide eyed.

"Did I hear my name?" I asked feebly.

"Steven, please stop screaming.  We'll never make any progress this way."

The familiar surroundings of my apartment seemed to be just behind me as I turned to face the voice. The same silhouette from my earlier "episode" was there, seemingly more substantial, but the voice was the same, authoritative male voice from before.

"Who are you?" I asked, my voice small with fear.

"Come now Steven, I'm Vincent. Don't you remember me?" 

"Vincent?" I asked, "I don't know any Vincent."

I tried to stand, only to realize that I couldn't move my arms.

"What the fuck?" I screamed, looking down to see that I was bound in a straight jacket.

"Steven, I must insist that you calm down.  Now, you wouldn't like to spend the night in the quiet room, would you?"

The reference of the padded cell called the "quiet room" stilled me.  I didn't know how I knew what all of this meant.  Why was I in a straight jacket? What the hell was happening?

"I must be dreaming." I said.

"The dreams, yes. Let's start there." Vincent said.  I still couldn't see anything but a shadow, but the entire room was dominated by his presence.  Behind me, bathed in  shadows, lay the memory of my life, of sanity.

"Tell me the dream again." Vincent pressed.

I began speaking.  Mechanically, as if I were reciting something written down and then committed to memory.

"Once upon a time there was a little blonde haired boy who loved nothing more than to run and jump and laugh and play. The little blonde haired boy lived in a small house, full of toys that were all broken.  Every day when he came home from school the little blonde haired boy ran excitedly to the door and rushed in ready to play; play was never what awaited however. The blonde haired boy's evil mother awaited everyday and she stopped him in his tracks with a glare of disapproval and made him sit on a very uncomfortable wooden stool in the middle of the kitchen while she occupied herself with other, more selfish vices. For someone that loves to run and jump and laugh and play, sitting in one place is never easy and it wasn't for the little blonde haired boy either. He wished that he was somewhere else.  Somewhere people would let him run and jump and laugh and play and she never made him just sit still, except for when he was really naughty." 

Vincent held up a shadowy hand, "Stop there Steven. Do you always have the same dream?"

Paying no attention, my mechanical narrative continued.

"The weekend was the worst of all of the horrible things that happened. The little blonde haired boy tried to occupy himself with running, jumping, laughing and playing while the others in the house attempted to occupy themselves with various distractions because it was on the weekends that his father had all day and all night to drink. The little blonde haired boy was the least safe from the others because he was the only other boy. It was important for his father to have him around at all times. This particular day, a Saturday, things were worse than ever before. His father started the day with drinking. In the early afternoon he was already not himself and the shouting had begun with the little blonde haired boy's mother. The sound of loud music punctuated the little blonde haired boy's play while his father and mother shouted to be heard. His mother cried over his father's words, fear and anger coming from her form; and the next events happened so fast but the little blonde haired boy would remember them forever. His father reached for his wife and she pulled away in fear, causing a look of outrage and fury on his father's face. "Come here!" he shouted over the music. The little blonde haired boy buried his face in a pillow, but not deeply enough because he saw everything that happened next."

Vincent, making no more attempts to stop the recitation, had changed topics and encouraged me.  From the outside it was difficult to tell if this was an interrogation or a therapy session--the only clue as to which, being the straight jacket.  A thumping sound could be heard from far away and a woman's voice came faintly . . . .


"Is someone calling me?" I asked, in the same mechanical monotone?

"Steve!" the voice was a bit louder now.

"Steven, you have to go back now." Vincent said.

Just like that it was over.  I was in my apartment.  The apocalypse in front of the asylum was on the television and I could move my arms.  My face was inexplicably wet, informing me that I'd been crying during my monotoned recitation.  I moved my arms around, enjoying the full range of the motion.  On the television a body lay in the street, an animated corpse leaned over it, scooping entrails into its mouth.  My stomach rumbled letting me know I was hungry but before I could think about the inappropriate nature of the stimulus I heard my name again, followed by a feverish knocking.

"Let me in goddammit!" and I did, ignoring all the warnings of the news, I opened the door to allow Ethyl Mertz to spill inside.  Her hair was disheveled and her eyes wild as she turned around and deadbolted and locked the door.

"Escape! We need to escape." she gasped.

"Escape?" I asked, bewildered.

"Just get me out of here." she said.


"It's just awful out there." Ethyl said, swirling ice in the now empty glass she held.  I'd given her a glass of bourbon on the rocks to help with her nerves, and it seemed to have not helped.

"It's not much better in here." I muttered, glancing at where I'd been on the floor in a straight jacket mere moments earlier.  I shook my head and directed my attention to Ethyl.  The television was on, but muted, and positioned behind her as if providing a thought cloud for her terror.  

"I couldn't get home," she was saying, "The highways are congested from people getting the fuck out of town.  Those . . . things . . . are everywhere. Whatever is going on, it spread fast."

"Just calm down, Ethyl. Calm down. We'll get it figured out."

"Okay," she said, "Sure. Yeah. So, I need a bit of a distraction.  What's going on here? You said it isn't much better here?"

"That I did." I said with a sigh.  Then, mostly for my own need to get everything straight in my head, I told her everything.  I related the waking nightmares I'd been having, the mysterious Vincent shadow and the story of the dream I'd just recounted in a monotone voice.  She listened, though occasionally her eye glanced at the television when the news interrupted their coverage for new video of the disaster that had come to our town.

"What's weird about all of this," I concluded, "Is that I never knew my parents.  I grew up in an orphanage."

Ethyl, completely distracted now took my hand and said, "Steve, it sounds like repressed memory."

I scoffed, but she persisted.

"No! Seriously! I saw it on Oprah years ago, back when she was still classy. She had this doctor on talking about it, even hypnotized some audience member."

"Yeah, but it's the end of the world, apparently, so it doesn't make much sense to dredge up the past now. Best to just leave it alone."

"Yeah," she agreed, "Not much to be done when hell's outside your front door. But, what if you just thougt about it? Is there anything else you remember? Maybe you can think about it while we get some stuff packed up. Do you still have your beater pick up?"

The tendrils of memory began at the edge of my consciousness, stirred by both her words and the recitation to Vincent in the nightmare, but I said nothing of those things, answering her question, 

"Yes. I do. It's out back so we should get everything piled by the back door here and then we can head out from the patio and get into the truck." I walked to the sliding glass patio door and looked out, there didn't seem to be any of the monsters on the patio or nearby.

"Let's get to it. I'll start grabbing food." she said, heading to the kitchen. 

"I'll get my camping gear, at least we'll have some survival gear." I said to her retreating back.

"Steven." came Vincent't insistent voice.

"Aw shit." I lamented, "Not now. I can't be going crazy during the goddamn apocalypse."

"Steven, you need to tell me what happened next. What did you see?"

I couldn't handle it anymore, the world ending and here I was going insane (apparently), but I was surprisingly conscious through the whole process. What did that mean, if anything? Was I doomed to just get worse and worse as time went on with no hope for help? I began reciting my mechanical reverie as requested though it felt more like a compulsion than a choice on my part.

"The little blonde haired boy's father leaned in close to his mother as if to kiss her, but she gave him a look of angry fear and pushed him away. His father grabbed her and pulled her in close and began to kiss her. His mother screamed and pushed him away. As she struggled against him he grabbed the back of her neck but she still escaped his reach. The little blonde haired boy screamed again and buried his face in a pillow, but again it wasn't tightly enough. His father screamed at him to shut up; and the little blonde haired boy looked at him in terror with tears streaming down his face. His mother looked at him and ran for the stairs. His father reached out and snatched the back of her hair and she fell backward. He balled up a fist and punched her in the face. She rolled and got up on her knees but he kicked her in the stomach. She crawled between his legs and ran up the stairs to the safety of a locked bedroom. His father, now purely absorbed by the ale and adrenaline looked up from the bottom of the stairs and shouted "I'm coming to kill you." and as he began to climb the stairs he looked at the little blonde haired boy and smiled an evil smile, "I'm doing this for you," he said and then disappeared up the steps."

"What happened next, Steven?" Vincent prodded, his voice urgent, as if commanding me to continue.

I continued, "With the sounds of violence coming from the upper level of the house the little blonde haired boy sat and cried, not knowing what to do. He went to the bottom of the steps and looked up, immediately wishing he hadn't. He saw his mother, with his father's head wrapped around her neck, shoving her head into the wall, over and over again, until the wall gave way and there was only a hole where her head had been. She hung limply in his arms and the little blonde haired boy wondered again, what to do. His father threw her to the ground and kicked her violently and she fell down the stairs, rolling head over heels, landing at the little blonde haired boy's feet. He screamed, running to the back of the small house to hide. That's where they found him hours later."

"What happened to the blonde boy's father?" Vincent said; I made a brief observation that he was no longer a shadow, but rather had gained a form that was far more familiar to me. Once again my blood ran cold.

"The police took him away." I said.

"Did they?" Vincent asked, his tone for the first time showing emotion. He was chiding me.

"And the mother?" he asked me.

"Steve, I think we'd better go." Ethyl called from the other room, "I see some of these things outside your gate. We have to figure out a way past them to the truck!"

"He killed her." I said quietly, "The little blonde haired boy was me. This happened 25 years ago, but I can remember it like it happened just last night. It haunts me."

"Wrong! Steven, try again!" I jumped at the ferociousness of his tone, "Hell came to your house that night Steven and no one saved you, now tell me again what happened!" His eyes were aflame with intensity.

"He screamed, running to the back of the small house to hide." I said, my voice small.


"Steve! They're pushing at your fence! We have to GO! NOW!" Ethyl cried out.

"And it's time to go." I said, darting past him into the other room.  Ethyl stood, two cloth bags in her hand, filled with canned goods.

"What happened to your camping gear?" she asked.

"No time." I said with finality.

"It didn't happen that way Steven. You know it didn't. Now you must listen to me because I'm your only hope for survival." Vincent called after me.

"No!" I cried out, "No I won't listen."

"Steve?" Ethyl asked softly, "You okay?"

"You found it in the back of the house didn't you? The hammer. You found it and you went to save her. Isn't that right, Steven?" Vincent prodded me.

I gripped the sides of my head shaking it furiously back and forth.

"No. No no no no. NO!" I screamed, retreating to the kitchen.

"You found him standing over her." Vincent said, his voice soft again.

"Steve," this from Ethyl, following me in the kitchen. I looked past her to the patio beyond and I could see the fence shaking from the things on the other side. Some demons come to call and take me away.

"And you went to him and he looked at you and what did you do? What did you do Steven?"

"I hit him with the hammer." I said.

"Steve, just come on back now," Ethyl said, "You just come on back because I need you here. I need you to help me."

"Ethyl?" I asked, confused.

"That's right Steve, it's Ethyl." she said, putting a cautious arm around my shoulders.

"Then what?" Vincent asked.

The mechanical recitation came again, "I hit him over and over. He shook a lot at first and there was blood. So much blood. But then he stopped moving and I just sat there laughing because it was over. I waited there for a long time but no one came. No one ever did."

"And then what? Vincent was next to me now and I wondered if Ethyl could see him too.

"I got scared he would come back. I wanted him to go away so I made him go away." my voice was small again, pitiful in a way.

"My god Steve, what did you do?" Ethyl breathed. I looked at her, not really seeing her.

"I made him go away. I ate him. Every bit. I ate all of him until he was gone." I said with a laugh. It had been so simple, now that I remembered it. The lifeless eyes of my mother looked on as I ate the corpse next to me.

"No one ever came until after I was done. And that was good because he was gone then and I knew he wouldn't come back. 

"My god," Ethyl breathed, "That must have been days!"

"How did you know?" this was directed at Vincent, who I could see clearly now.
 "Because I am made of you," he said softly, and for the first time I saw him clearly and shock overtook me completely as I realized it was like looking in a mirror.  "I live inside you, just a shadow of memory until today. Now Steven you must listen to me." then he leaned in and whispered to me.

"No!" I recoiled, horrified at his words, "I can't do it again. Never again! They sent me away for it, they shocked me! They . . . hurt me!" 

"Steven!" Vincent shouted, while Ethyl looked on in horror, "Steven! I'll protect you, now you must do this to fool THEM!" he said gesturing at the patio where the fence had fallen away and a half dozed of the undead were now beating at the glass of my patio.

"You'll p-protect me?" I asked pitifully of Vincent.

"Steve, stop. Whatever you're doing stop. Just think." Ethyl said.

"I'm sorry." I said, "It's too late."

Before she could react I grabbed a meat mallet from a drawer she'd left open and hit her with it. Vincent smiled and gave encouraging motions. I hit her over and over and it happened just like before. She shook a loot and there was blood (my god the blood!) and then it was over and she was still.

"Now, you know what you must do." Vincent said.

"I can't." I sobbed, throwing my body over Ethyl's still and lifeless form. The creatures at the door were frantic now, probably at the smell of the blood.

"Then let me." Vincent said kneeling down with me.

He was with me then, and I could remember everything. Vincent was me and I was him. I felt myself bound as if I were in a straight jacket again as Vincent took over.  He lapped at the blood first and then began tearing at her flesh with his hands and bringing chunks to his mouth.  I whirled my head around (or was it Vincent's head? Who was I?) as the glass of the door shattered and six zombies tumbled over each other in their effort to get to Ethyl's corpse.  As Vincent ate frantically, hoping to fool them, make them think he was one of them, I assumed; two of them grabbed him (me?) from behind and dragged him off of Ethyl while the other four began to gorge themselves on her remains. Vincent struggled, licking blood from his lips and groaning as if he were one of them, covered in blood and absolutely crazed. The two that held him (me?) dropped him by the shattered door and joined their fellows in devouring the corpse.

In my head I heard Vincent laughing.

"Get to your truck, fool!" He chided me, "This is your escape."

"But the food . . ." I said with a glance at Ethyl's body and the bags of canned goods near her. I sickeningly realized that I didn't know which of them I meant when I had said it.

"Forget the food. There's plenty more." Vincent said.

Heeding his words I bolted through the door frame, now devoid of glass and ran for my beat up pick up. It started on the first turn of the key and it's diesel engine roared to life. I checked the mirrors and noted that I had a full tank of gas and there were no more of the undead in my path. Tires squealed as I sped away from the horrors behind me and the memories. I didn't lay off the gas for twenty miles. I'm not sure if I hit anything, or anyone, but the truck was still going and I wasn't stopping. As the miles ticked away between where I was and where I'd been, Vincent retreated once again to the shadows until he was once again gone completely. Once I stopped shaking I was nearly able to convince myself that none of it had happened and that it had all been part of the shock of watching the dead walking around eating people. Maybe it was. Still, there was a nagging question in the back of my mind.

Why was there a straightjacket in the passenger seat?

1 comment:

  1. this is amazing Adam, and I love the ending... *shudder* might have to go veggie for a while tho- maybe Brandy has some recipes- LMAO.