Milo dropped his backpack on the floor. “It doesn’t mean what you think it does.”
He and his cousin and best friend Clyde had snagged the coveted fat grey club chairs in the window of their favorite coffee shop. People strolled, ran, biked and skated by in what Milo called, “the cavalcade of losers” while Clyde was giving his opinion of a particular catastrophic event that was supposed to take place on 12/21/12.
Milo shook his head in dismay at Clyde’s ignorance and picked up the large Acai Berry Frothie he had ordered. The chilled plastic cup gave him a mixture of anticipation and completeness and he sighed. Clyde sipped a Choco-latte. Before drawing his drink through the straw, Milo smiled benignly. He spoke slowly as if Clyde was a little kid.
“Apocalypse means ‘revelation.’ It’s the revelation of a hidden truth, which isn’t necessarily destruction of the earth as we know it.”
Clyde shook his head. He stared out the window, not seeing the people or street or cars. What he saw like a filmy overlay of the present, was the terrible future that might await every living soul on the planet. The complete annihilation of all things, with zombies being instrumental in it. He pulled himself back before his emotions went completely black. He said, “I still think some really bad shit will be happening. And…” Clyde extended the word until he sounded as if he was humming, “…I think ZOTA got it right on the money.”
Milo whispered, “Here we go.” To Clyde, “You’re kidding me, right?”
Clyde bought every DVD of the 1998-2002 animated series “Zombies of the Apocalypse” that he could get his hands on since its creator Xavier Hightower had gone into hiding in 2009.
He said, “I studied each episode and I think Xavier has seen our future. I bought a set for me, and I’m working on a set for selling. I’m getting a booth at the August comic con.”
Clyde rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the universal sign for money. “Anyway…” he continued, “who knows how long it’ll be before Xavier starts creating again, or if he will create again. I bet he’s up in British Columbia in some cabin in the woods, drawing on the universe for inspiration. While hiding from zombies.”
Milo said, “Or maybe he was finally picked up by the Mother Ship.”
Clyde quietly sipped his drink. Milo could be a douche sometimes.
Clyde said, “It’s called genius. Not to mention Xavier is the most amazing, intuitive graphic novelist ever. I think he might even be a prophet.”
Milo nearly choked on his drink. “Clyde, Asimov was prophetic. Gibson, Heinlein, Clarke, all prophetic. Xavier was more like the prophet Chuck on Supernatural.”
Clyde said quietly, “Well… anyway, I’ve got nearly all twenty of the novels. I’ll sell them at the con too.”
Since Xavier Hightower’s hiatus, the graphic novels on which the animation had been based became as much a hot commodity as the DVDs.
Milo took a long drink before speaking. “Man, Xavier doesn’t even follow the canon.” He ticked his list off on his fingers, “His zombies are not completely dead before they turn. They don’t do the shambling walk. They skip or something stupid. They appear to think.”
Clyde said, “No, they just walk faster than normal zombies. And second, it’s more of a hive mentality.”
“Either way, Xavier got the whole zombie thing wrong.”
Clyde used his mocking voice. “Either way…” he said, as he removed the top of his cup and mixed his latte with a wooden stirrer, “…the Center for Disease Control even talks about zombie apocalypse preparedness. And…” he paused for effect, “…there’s the solanum virus that causes zombies. What about that? It’s in the ZOTA episode ‘Genesis Descending.’ Killer episode.”
Milo rolled his eyes. “Dude…the solanum virus isn’t real. Do you know what solanum actually is? A plant family that you’ve probably eaten at some point,” he smiled. “Not the poison variety of course, but can you say tomatoes? Potatoes? Eggplant? And guess what? You’re still the deluded guy I know and love with no hint of zombiness in ya.”
“The CDC uses the zombie angle to show people how to be prepared for a real emergency. You want training on zombie survival? Read the novels you’re buying up, or that phony zombie survival handbook. Better yet, watch the ZOTA series again. Or, The Walking Dead. Or even Zombieland.”
This conversation was making Clyde tired. He inhaled to give his rebuttal just as something was slammed against the coffee shop’s big picture window so hard the pane wobbled. He jumped up from his chair, stood frozen on the spot.
BOOMMMBUHBOOOMMMMM, reverberated from the glass pane for several seconds. Milo did a mad crab crawl onto the seat cushion of his chair, dropped his Frothie which tumbled end over end before exploding mixed juices on the floor. He didn’t notice. He was too busy being terrified.
He screamed, “HOLY SHIT!”
A guy, average and ordinary, wearing an average looking suit clutched an average looking briefcase. The only thing not average was his entire body was pressed against the glass, his eyes bugged out in abject terror.
A big, ugly guy dressed in dirt held together by fabric, had one huge hand wrapped around the clean guy’s neck and was dangling him three feet off the ground.
He used his free hand to palm clean guy’s head like a basketball. Ugly’s eyes were blank and seemed to free float in his horror mask of a face. He twisted his head to an odd angle to get at clean guy’s cheek. The briefcase dropped to the ground as Ugly slid the clean guy down the window like a giant squeegee.
Ugly’s teeth sank deep into clean guy’s cheek first, ripped chunks of flesh away… and… Ugly… began… chewing. Shredded flesh had peeled away from clean guy’s face, exposing the jaw bone and teeth which gave him a nasty, sardonic half-grin.
Clean guy screamed and thrashed trying to escape Ugly’s grip, but the struggle proved futile. People on the street were pointing and screaming, several of them were throwing up, but no one approached Ugly who twisted clean guy’s head so he could make lunchtime on his nose and lips.
The cartilage in his nose snapped and crunched. Blood surged, covering a section of the window and the lower halves of both men’s faces.(“Correction,” Clyde would state much later, “One zombie’s face and one man’s face”).
The people in the coffee shop had the up close and horrible view and everyone began screaming—some on the phone with 911, some just screaming. A couple of them ran into the bathroom, presumably to vomit. Milo and Clyde, after the initial shock, were silent as they watched the carnage outside. Clyde was still standing in front of his chair. He muttered, “Holy mother of…” Despite the horror in front of him, he realized he had been vindicated, albeit in a sick and twisted way, but vindicated nonetheless. Knowing this transformed his voice. He turned to Milo and said triumphantly, “A freaking zombie.”
Milo didn’t respond because he was too busy concentrating on keeping his Frothie down. He shook his head vigorously, hoping it would work on his brain like an Etch-A-Sketch; erase the unbelievable thing happening in front of him.
An ambulance, ten squad cars and a huge black SWAT van screamed up and screeched to a stop, criss-crossing the street to block any further traffic. The buffeting sound from above said several helicopters were in the air.
Everyone in the coffee shop could hear the cops yelling for Ugly to stop. Ugly stopped; long enough to select another spot to chew on clean guy’s head. After yelling several times, a cop who seemed to be in charge, held his finger up above his head, twirled it around.
Suddenly a swarm of six SWAT guys in riot gear and carrying cattle prods sprinted from their truck. They dodged Ugly’s arms and legs, jammed the ends of the prods into his torso and pumped him full of enough voltage to drop him.
Unfortunately, he dropped on top of clean guy. It took the entire SWAT swarm to roll Ugly over and pry clean guy’s neck and head from his death grip.
Clean guy, whose screams had devolved into pitiful gurgling, was passed out face down, his arms and legs bent at odd angles. When the cops turned him over, his face was more like ground chuck than face but it appeared he would live. He was examined and IV’d by paramedics before being put in the ambulance. Ugly got a strait jacket, a gag, a huge dose of elephant tranquilizer and a ride in a squad roll with another group of SWAT guys in helmets and body armor. A group of ten people that seemed to have magically appeared were dressed in white HAZMAT suits.
Everyone and everything in the coffee shop went totally silent as they watched the activity. The picture window looked like some giant child had finger painted thick red swirls all over it, making the street scene look like a post card from the ninth circle of Hell.
Clyde whispered, “Why didn’t they shoot him?”
Milo said, “I dunno. I dunno…damn it, what was that?!”
“Again, a zombie.”
The police interviewed several of the witnesses on the street and in the various shops. Five HAZMAT people roamed around the street taking pictures. The remaining five were doing some kind of mysterious measurements with equally mysterious equipment. When three cops entered the coffee shop, Milo shot Clyde a warning look to erase “zombie” from his vocabulary.
The HAZMAT people checked on clean guy in the ambulance then typed things into their tablets. Satisfied nothing else would happen, the HAZMAT people vanished from the scene. The cops satisfied they had their suspect locked down, packed up and left.
Milo stared at clean guy’s blood-spattered briefcase lying dead on the ground. Lying next to it was one of his shoes that had come off at some point. He shook his head. “I bet that big guy was on PCP or that bath salts shit that drives people crazy.”
Clyde spoke slowly as if speaking to a little kid. He said, “No. No Milo. I told you. Zombie. Zahhhhmmmmbeeee.”
“NO. I TOLD you. There is no such thing as—”
The ambulance was still on the street, its rear double doors shut. Suddenly the doors slammed open. Clean guy, who wasn’t so clean anymore, stood motionless in the opening. His eyes were milky and bulging from his face.
Whatever he had jerked away from had torn chunks of flesh from his chest which clung to him like strips of partially ripped wall paper. The IV tubes in his arms and the wires attached to the electrodes remaining on his chest swayed loosely like long skinny appendages.
Blood covered his face from the spot where his nose had been, down past his chin and dripped onto his chest. He turned his head this way and that, revealing the opening in his cheek made by Ugly.
He was chewing, and as his jaw and tongue moved, bits of chewed flesh dribbled from the hole. He brought one foot down from the back of the ambulance, then the other foot which was without its shoe. His arms were limp at his sides. Rocking unsteadily on his feet, he soon appeared to get his internal GPS fixed on a location.
Clyde and Milo stared wide-eyed. The paramedics never exited the ambulance, which was pretty good evidence that all that blood didn’t belong to clean guy. Their absence also made it likely they were the source of what he was chewing.
And Clyde knew there would be something else. He grabbed Milo’s arm, got close to his ear.
He whispered, “Two more will be coming out of that ambulance Milo. RUN!”
They sprinted out of the shop just as clean guy lifted his head apparently sniffing the air. He began to move forward slowly in the typical zombie shamble.
But suddenly he stopped adhering to zombie canon, just like in Xavier Hightower’s books. He gradually picked up speed until—he… was… running.
Fast. Straight for the coffee shop.