"I really don't know why I'm here, you know." Said Charles Greene,
"It's been weeks. Honestly, Doctor Mattel, I don't think there's any reason to continue this charade."
"Now Charles, we've been over this." Said the man named Doctor Mattel, looking up from an open manila folder, over black rimmed glasses that were perched on the tip of his nose. His stubble looked scratchy and at the point where it was difficult to tell if he was growing a full beard or was just too exhausted or lazy to shave. The circles under his eyes betrayed that it was the latter.
"Yes, we have Doctor Mattel. And I am completely aware that I need to forgive myself for what happened. I understand the logic and the science behind it."
"Indeed you do, Charles. And yet I don't believe you've done any such thing. Forgive yourself, I mean. I think you're telling me what you think I want to hear. I can't imagine that discontinuing your treatment now would be of any use to you; and worse than that, it would be irresponsible of me as your Doctor."
The two of them moved smoothly through the conversation, betraying the fact that they'd had it many times before. Charles rolled his eyes and looked at the Doctor again, his eyes suddenly hooded, dark and intense.
"Doctor Mattel, what do you think you can do for me in here? I watched my fiancé butchered by Zombies in front of me."
"Now Charles, you know that they're not 'zombies.'" Doctor Mattel interrupted.
"I don't give a fuck what you want to call them," Charles answered, his voice slightly raised in frustration.
"Bath Salt addicts if you like, I don't know what they really were, I just know what I saw." he continued.
"I watched him eaten to death by those things. They pulled him off of me in the middle of fucking. Not just any fucking, no, no! This was hot, sweaty honeymoon fucking! They dragged him to a corner, and they ripped his flesh from his body and they ate it. Right in front of me."
Doctor Mattel no longer had a response, instead scribbling furious notes into the open file folder in his lap. Charles' voice was haunted, but unwavering as he relived the nightmare.
"They never touched me. They looked up at me, each of them, one at a time, but none of them touched me. They just ate him, in front of me. Until there was nothing left. They left him there, his intestines spilled out in front of him, broken bones jagged and sticking out through his skin. His eyes were open, but he just stared at me. Then they left, one by one. They never touched me. They never made a move toward me." his eyes were wide, and far away; frozen in horror. Then, they suddenly cleared and he looked up at the Doctor again. A background in psychology was not needed to understand that Charles relived this moment over and over in his dreams.
"And it's been weeks. And I don't understand why they didn't come after me now any more than I did then. Everything I told the police is still true."
"I know, Charles," Doctor Mattel said.
"Your story hasn't wavered since you were brought in. We-" he stopped, correcting himself.
"I believe you." he said soothingly.
"But we can't ignore how a trauma like that can affect you. But after several weeks, it's been determined that you are no longer a danger to yourself or anyone else. I want to be honest, Charles that I opposed and voted against this decision, but I was overruled."
"What decision?" Charles asked.
"I came here today to tell you that we're ready to move your treatment to an 'outpatient' status. You can go home today."
Charles didn't move. His face betrayed no expression.
"Did you hear me Charles?"
"Yes. I heard."
"Do you have anything to say?" Doctor Mattel prodded.
Charles looked up at him, tears beginning to stream down his face.
"While I've been in here it's been a dream, Doctor. I could never be sure it really happened as long as you kept questioning what I saw and what really happened. Now I have to figure out how to live without him." his voice broke and he began to sob unashamedly.
"That's perfectly healthy, Charles," Doctor Mattel said gently.
"That tells me you're on the road to recovery."
When recounting the story to others, Charles would recall that everything beyond the initial conversation that day passed in a blur. He was allowed to put his own clothes back on, he was allowed to rest in his room while the discharge papers were processed and his continued course of treatment was agreed to and signed by him; like some sort of contract. The entire process took the better part of a day and when he left the hospital with pills in hand, he'd never felt more alone.
He took the taxi provided by the hospital as far as his neighborhood, but got out to walk the last few blocks. A knot of anxiety had begun building in his stomach as soon as Doctor Mattel had told him he'd be going home. What would he find there? What would be left of the horrific scene he'd been dragged out of? What would happen when he walked in? All of these things stacked up inside him until he reached the front door of his building and collapsed on the steps/ He clutched his stomach and doubled over in pain. He'd expected to see yellow tape that boldly proclaimed "Police Line: Do Not Cross" or blood on the street, or the door that had been broken open to allow the creatures entrance. He'd not been prepared to see . . . nothing; the streets clear as if the entire thing had never happened. The rewriting of his history continued as he entered the building, noticing that nothing had changed there either. Soon, he was face to face with his own front door. He stood before it for a long while, willing it to change in appearance. He'd read something in his childhood to the effect that it was "dangerous business stepping out one's front door," and he smiled wryly realizing the ironic truth of the statement. Putting all he was into making it appear as it had that fateful night. In his mind's eye he could see the splintered wood of the frame and the blood smeared on its surface; today, though, he saw an ordinary door; an ordinary door with a lock that had been changed.
"Shit!" he howled, realizing that he didn't live there anymore. The locks had likely been changed as soon as he'd been taken away.
"And why shouldn't they be?" he said to himself,
"It's not like anyone had any reason to expect I'd be back."
He tried futilely to open the lock again before howling in rage, and passive aggressively breaking the key in the lock. Once again calm, he turned and walked from the building as if he believed for himself that nothing had happened. Behind him, at the door of a residence he no longer resided in; laid a bag of pills he knew he couldn't stomach.
Charles passed the next several weeks in a blur. News of the so called "Zombie Outbreak" became more and more prevalent, until it was finally something he couldn't escape from. He laughed in mock humor whenever someone with an official sounding title stared directly into television cameras to state very carefully that no one was calling the "things" Zombies, while the screen split to show camera footage of bodies in various states of decay moving through the streets attacking people. The video footage was always taken from grainy cell phone cameras and lacked so much detail that the supposed "Zombie Outbreak" could be mistaken for Big Foot sightings. Walking the street at night had become a nightly display of courage for most. As for Charles, he preferred to darkness. He enjoyed watching the parasites crawl out of the holes in which they slept away their days and wondered that he should feel more at home among the dregs and the undead than he should among the living. Such thoughts occupied his mind, offering just enough distraction from reality that he could avoid the horror behind his eyes.
"Chuck?" a female voice interrupted his reverie, and startled him into anger.
"Dammit Marcy! I told you not to sneak up on me!" he snapped.
"Jesus, Chuck, sorry." Marcy said defensively,
"What the hell happened to you?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" he snapped irritably.
"You look like shit, man. What happened? Hey, wait . . . aren't those the same clothes you were wearing last week?"
"Who the fuck knows, man." he said, laughing.
"You see what's going down out there?" he poked a thumb at the street behind her, just outside the entrance to the alley where he now stood. The girl stood in the street, illuminated in the glow of a street lamp, while Charles retreated into the shadows.
"Everyone's seen it, Chuck." she said, her tone soothing as if trying to calm the man,
"No one believes it."
"Well, they goddamn better well start!" he snapped, angrier than before. He accentuated his anger by pounding a fist into a nearby brick wall. Marcy could see that he'd left a smear of his blood in the wake of his fist. Blood that she now saw dripping to the ground.
"Fuck!" She exclaimed,
"Fuck! Fuck you Charles! Fuck!" she was frantic now, backing away from him.
"What? Marcy, get the fuck back here. Where are you going?" he came out of the alley, wincing as the light hit his face.
"You know that blood draws them out. You know that the smell of blood makes us change." she said, her face ashen.
"No, not 'us,'" he said,
"Them. It makes them change. If you were one of them you'd already be eating me." there was no humor in his voice, yet his face twisted in an obscene smile.
"I don't care, Chuck." She spat,
"You want to get yourself eaten that's fine, but leave me alone."
"They won't eat me, Marcy." Charles said, suddenly calm and nearly whispering,
"They don't want me. I don't know why." He shook his head, as if to clear it and then looked at her again, clear-eyed.
"Do you have what I need?" he asked, simply.
"Fucking weirdo." Marcy said, producing a simple brown bag,
"I've got your stuff." she said, handing it to him,
"It's the usual deal."
Charles handed her a wadded up ball of bills and snatched the bag from her, grunting a thank you. Marcy looked at him with a cold sympathy.
"I gotta get home, Chuck. Patty will be waiting. She asked me to grab a couple things from the store on my way, so I gotta jet."
"Marcy, do you remember what it used to be like?" He asked, softly.
"You mean before ... it ... happened? Yeah, I remember."
"I can't remember anymore. What was it like?"
Marcy pulled a phone from her pocket and quickly typed a text message while she spoke.
"What do you mean? The world or us?"
"Us. All of us. You, me, Patty, Franklin..." he answered, trailing off.
"C'mon Chuck." she answered with a softer, friendlier tone.
"We've always been besties, you know that."
"Yeah, I know. It just, it seems so far away from here."
"That's because it is." she said, her voice laden with compassion.
"You lose Franklin ... that was a big deal. It literally changed everything. It changed you."
"But you're still here." He said with a smile,
"You're still my best friend."
"And I always will be." she said, closing the gap between them to peck his cheek.
"Marcy, it's all over. Isn't it?" he asked,
"Everything's changing and it's never going to be how it was again."
Her face became a mask of fear and resignation.
"No, Chuck. It's never going to be like that again. Look, I really do have to go."
He grunted something at her and waved her away in acquiescence. He'd pulled the contents of the brown bag out and was inspecting them carefully. He held the small bag of pills up to the light and was counting them.
"Tell me you'll be okay?" she called over her shoulder.
"I'll be fine." he said back, walking in the opposite direction.
"Where are you going?" she asked,
"Maybe we'll meet up later?"
"It's Friday night Marcy. I'm going to observe the American tradition of getting fucked and fucked up."
"That's my boy!" she said grinning.
He waved at her one last time and stuffed his hands in his pockets, looking at the ground as he walked, unconsciously fingering the pills he still held in his hand.
Hours later, Charles stood in the midst of a throng of very hot, very sweaty people in various states of undress all moving and gyrating in dance to very loud, bass driven music. Clearly out of place as the only person who wasn't dancing, he struggled to make his way through the densely packed flesh to the bar. Nearly falling into the bar as he finally arrived.
"Easy there!" the comment was accompanied by a strong hand closing around his forearm. There was strength behind it that Charles was instantly attracted to.
"Thanks," he said, looking up.
"Almost wiped out there." He locked eyes with his rescuer and felt immediately at ease at the soft blue/gray that was scanning him for injury.
"Are you hurt, um ..." he trailed off, waiting for a name.
"Charles, and no. I'm fine. It's just uh, it's been a while."
"Sherman." the man said, offering his hand. Charles shook it and felt his attraction to the man deepen at the firm grip.
"Thank you Sherman." he said with a smile,
"What are you drinking?"
"House Mead." he said, accepting the unspoken offer.
"Sounds great." Charles said, taking position next to the man. He flagged down the bartender and ordered the two drinks.
"So it's been a while, eh?" Sherman said, sipping his Mead.
"Yeah. A while to say the least."
"So what brings you out after so much time? Just trying to 'get back out there?'"
"You could say that," Charles said,
"I'm not even sure it’s a good idea. It hasn't been all that long since I lost-" he stopped abruptly.
"Lost what?" Sherman asked.
"It doesn't matter." Charles waved it away.
"The point is that I'm here, doing this again. Whatever this is."
"Indeed," Sherman said through a sip of his Mead.
"What is this?"
"Flirting." Charles said abruptly, and bluntly.
"Really terrible flirting."
"I don't know. I don't think it's such a bad attempt. I'm here sharing a drink aren't I?" Sherman smiled.
The smile did something to Charles. Something he hadn't felt in a long time. He felt all his stress melt away and he saw genuine affection behind the other man's beard and gorgeous blue/gray eyes. His eyes misted and he blinked to keep from crying.
"Thank you." he breathed.
"For what?" Sherman asked.
"For sharing the drink." Charles smiled, opening his eyes again.
"And for helping me realize something."
"What's that?" Sherman prompted. His amiable and laid back demeanor made it clear that he was hoping to make something happen with Charles while still holding an attitude of distant non-expectation. He'd moved to face Charles with his whole body, his legs becoming more relaxed and therefore slightly open at the thigh. Charles notices all of this and turned his body to match, allowing the body language between the two of them to drive the desire he was sure the other man felt. He took a sip of his mead.
"Unusual to have Mead in a place like this, isn't it?"
"It's the best kept secret in town." Sherman said. The music stopped as he said it, increasing the volume of his voice ten-fold. Charles smiled and waited to speak again until the next song started up.
"It is delicious." he conceded over the new thrumming bass that seemed to be the same as the previous thrumming bass.
"So uh, Charles," Sherman said,
"Where was this flirting going to go?"
Charles looked at him and smiled.
"I think we both know where that's going to end up." He finished the Mead and ordered another. When it arrived he produced the bag full of pills and swallowed a handful. The bag's contents were nearly gone with only a few remaining, he offered these to Sherman.
"I never mix booze and pills." Sherman declined.
"Don't want to end up like Marilyn."
"Unless you do." Charles said wryly.
"I like you Sherman, and I haven't liked anyone in a really long time."
"I like you to, Charles." Sherman said, moving in closer and putting a lingering hand on Charles' arm.
"What are those pills?"
"They help me take the edge off in large crowds."
"I bet! You swallowed at least a dozen of them."
"Two dozen actually." he held up the bag, which had only four pills remaining.
"Gotta save something for the afterglow." he winked at Sherman.
"Like I was saying Sherman, I like you. I think we have a connection. Ya know?"
"Well, I think there's some attraction there, sure." Sherman said, moving his hand from Charles' arm down to his thigh and around to his buttock.
"I mean beyond that. Sherman, I'm going to level with you about something."
"Ooh! Mysterious!" Sherman said, leaning in even closer. The two men were now close enough that they could kiss if they wanted to. Charles took full advantage of Sherman's forward nature and grabbed the sides of his face and kissed him furiously. The kiss lasted for minutes, the two of them fighting for control of it. Charles attacked with all the ferocity of a starving man given food for the first time in days. Sherman was more reserved, allowing Charles to lead, but remaining steady in his resolve, keeping the kiss going in the way he wanted and only for as long as he wanted. When they finally broke apart he looked at Charles, smiling once again.
"You kiss like you've never kissed anyone before."
"Like I said," Charles replied,
"It's been a long time."
Sherman looked him up and down, deciding to see where Charles was willing to take things. He leaned back, putting some distance between them but staying close enough that they could still touch.
"What were you going to say?" he asked.
"I was going to be honest about something."
"You're my first." Charles began."
"No I'm not." Sherman scoffed.
"No one who swallows pills like that and kisses like that is a virgin at anything!"
"I didn't mean my first ever. I mean you're my first in a long time. See, I had this thing happen to me a while back. I won't bore you with the details but it was bad. Really bad. I spent some time in the hospital and only got out a few weeks ago."
"What happened?" Sherman asked, suddenly cautious.
"Well, I had just gotten married. We didn't have much money so we went home and had our honeymoon at home in our own bed. We were," he stumbled over his words.
"Uh, we were fucking and that's when it happened."
"When what happened?"
"They came in all at once, just broke the door down."
"Oh my god! What happened?"
"They pulled him off of me and held him in the corner while I watched. They left me alone. I never figured out why they left me alone. But they took him away from me and made me watch while they did it. And this is the part I need to be honest with you about. It messed me up pretty bad. I spent some time in the hospital, just to get my head right. They let me out a few weeks back; deemed me "not a threat to myself or anyone else."
He paused here, and looked up at Sherman, gauging the other man's response. For his part,
Sherman still sat looking at him, completely calm and listening intently.
"That's awful!" Sherman said, taking the cue that he should say something.
"And this was only weeks ago? Are you sure you're ready for anything at all with anyone else?"
"I'm more than sure. I wasn't when I came in here, but I am now, more than ever. Sherman, I think you were meant to save me." he put on his best smile for the other man and moved in closer, putting one arm around Sherman's shoulders and the other arm in his lap, blatantly groping the generous bulge he found there.
"Will you take me to your place so we can finish what we started?"
Sherman smiled halfheartedly.
"Look, it really sounds like you've been through a lot and you leveled with me so let me level with you. I'm not looking for anything serious. I'm here to hook up. Nothing more and nothing less. Hell, I've sucked 3 dicks in the back," he gestured to a door dividing the front of the club from the back,
"Just tonight. I'm not really sure I'm what you're looking for."
"No, no. You are." Charles soothed.
"You're exactly what I'm looking for. I promise this isn't going to last any longer than tonight. What do you say?" he groped Sherman again and nuzzled his neck. When he broke away the look of desire on Sherman's face was now as obvious as what the hand in his lap was doing.
"I say you've convinced Me." he said, grabbing Charles by the arm and heading for the door.
It was a short distance to Sherman's apartment. The Club was his regular spot and he walked there to avoid drinking and driving. Within ten minutes they were walking through his front door and within fifteen they were naked in his bed.
"You really don't waste any time do you?" Sherman said breathlessly.
"No. I really don't." Charles replied with a smile.
"Last chance, you sure you want to help me do this?"
"I couldn't stop now if I wanted to."
"That's what I wanted to hear." Charles said. He pushed Sherman down on the bed and straddled him. He used his hips to lock Sherman into place and braced himself on his shoulders.
"See, I knew you were the one who would save Me." he said.
"Consider yourself rescued." Sherman said, yielding to Charles' strength.
"Now, let's get down to how you're going doing it."
"I don't think I need any instruction there." Sherman said, with confidence.
"Not everything is what it seems." Charles said. He got off the bed and walked to his pants, crumpled on the floor nearby.
"Wait? Are you going? I thought we were just getting started."
"I'm not going anywhere. I just need to be sure of something first." Charles said. He produced the baggie of pills from his pocket and held them up.
"These pills ... I wasn't lying. They're to help me take the edge off. I took more than enough to make sure. If this works the way I think it will then I'll be saved before you can do anything else. If it doesn't work the way I think it will then you'll save me by calling 9-1-1 and giving the paramedics these last four to identify what I took."
"What the fuck!?" Sherman exclaimed,
"What the fuck are you doing?"
Charles produced a butterfly knife from his other pocket, as if in answer. He deftly opened it with one hand and drew the blade down his left arm from elbow to wrist. It was a surface wound only, not enough to be lethal, but enough to make sure that blood would flow.
"What the fuck are you doing? You psycho!" Sherman screamed. He was off the bed in a single, smooth movement and grabbing for a phone in his own pants' pocket.
"Now," Charles said simply,
"Save me." He lay on the bed, silently, as the blood dripped from his arm onto the sheets where it spread as the fabric absorbed the liquid. He closed his eyes; suddenly afraid to witness what he knew would happen next.
"Save me, Sherman."
Sherman was staring into space, his demeanor suddenly changed. He was no longer panicked and looked at the cell phone in his hand, dumbly. He shook his head as if trying to clear it before dropping it. Charles heard the clatter of the phone on the floor and smiled. With his eyes closed he was unable to see what happened next but his ears registered the sudden, guttural growl that came from his would be lover.
"I knew it." Charles said.
He laid perfectly still, his heart beating in his chest, though he didn't know if it was the adrenaline of the situation or if it was the drugs he'd overdosed on, finally ready to take his life.
"You can eat me, like you ate him," Charles said,
"But I won't be here for It." he laughed.
He felt Sherman move closer to him and felt his breath near the wound on his arm. A clot was beginning to form, slowing the flow of blood. Sherman sniffed at the wound, and licked at the blood; growling all the time. Then, without ceremony, he moved away from Charles, heading slowly for the door. Charles opened his eyes and looked.
"Where are you going?" he called after Sherman. The other man looked back at him with a snarl. Charles could see the dead eyes and understood that all life had left the other man.
"Just like before." he said, dejected.
"Why won't you take me?" he cried, sobbing. The tears flowed and he howled in rage and pain. Sherman watched him expressionlessly until the sound stopped. Then, he turned and with no further fuss, left the apartment.
Charles looked after him, then at his bleeding arm. He lay back on the bed, naked and calm.
"It doesn't matter," he said to himself as he lay there staring at the ceiling, expressionless and calm. He thought he could hear the faint sound of sirens nearby and he smiled, knowing that they weren't for him. With a final, peaceful breath, he allowed his eyes to close once again.
"You still saved me."