I would love bacon
or silver dollar pancakes
with maple syrup…
But many mornings I can
barely get to work on time.
I realize this is way late for the prompt, but I finally got some time to write, and am catching up on my STS stories. Also (and again, I realize it’s late), I wanted to do my part to load the ballot box in regards to this post.
I hear the gunshot, and my first impulse is to hit the deck. It’s an impulse I’ve had to fight several times over the course of the last few months.
Gunfire is scary, but it’s generally not as scary as what’s surrounding you when you hear it.
I keep running, waving my arms frantically. “I’m not one of them!” I yell as I run. The best thing to do when you hear gunfire these days is draw attention to yourself. It’s contradictory to your natural survival instinct, but it’s the best way to survive.
“Neither am I!” Teagan yells. I don’t have to look over to know that he’s waving his arms around, too.
One of the zombies manages to get a grip on my shirt—they’re slow, but when they have you surrounded like this, slow doesn’t matter—and then it’s suddenly jerked away. I hear another gunshot a split second later.
I run in the direction of the sound, hoping that when I arrive, I’m not rewarded with a bullet between the eyes for my trouble.
I hear another gunshot, and I hear Teagan yelling about how we aren’t infected, but mostly I hear the groans.
Most zombies I’ve encountered are pretty quiet—the various parts of them that allow them to make noise have rotted away—but these ones are all pretty fresh. They’re able to move a little quicker, due to muscles that haven’t deteriorated. They’re able to hold you a little stronger, due to fingers that are still attached. And they’re able to groan, due to lungs that aren’t riddled with holes.
It’s not just a frightening sound. It’s terrifying. There’s something so fundamentally wrong about a dead thing making noise, just hearing it makes your brain flood your body with adrenaline. I’ve heard things like it, but I’ve never heard anything just like it, and it’s enough to make the gunshots sound like wind chimes in comparison.
I’m suddenly blinded, and I hear another noise—an engine rumbling to life. A generator then, powering a semi-circle of lights. I can’t see shit.
It’s a dark night, which is why Teagan and I stumbled into a nest in the first place. We’re usually pretty good about avoiding stuff like that. But out here in the country, when the moon gets stingy with its light, you’re lucky if you can manage to make it five feet without at least a small injury. And if you aren’t lucky?
You end up knowing about the zombies only when they’re up on you, grabbing and trying to bite, and moaning that brain-shitting groan they do.
I continue towards the light, shielding my eyes from it as best as I can. I haven’t been shot yet, so presumably, I’m safe from whoever is producing it.
There’s the sensation, then. That special sensation you only get when you put your foot down, expecting solid ground, and find that there’s nothing but air. We’re out in the middle of a pasture, full of holes and hills and all kinds of shit you don’t want to be tearing ass through. When you’re moving through unknown territory in the dark, you take it slow. That’s probably how the zombies were able to catch us like they did—they don’t care about falling or sprained ankles, or cuts that might get infected and gangrenous and kill you.
I have a split second to hope that I land solid, or at least only twist my ankle. And then my foot re-connects with the land, and I hear a pop. It’s quiet, compared to all the gunfire and groaning and yelling about how we’re alive, we’re alive, please don’t shoot us.
But it reverberates through my entire body, that slight pop.
As I fall, I realize I’ve broken my ankle. I realize I’m a dead man. I hit the ground hard, and my wrist makes the same popping sound. Stupid—I know better than to try to catch myself with my weak-ass wrists. When you fall, the key is to soak up the impact with your entire body. Cover your head, and hope for the best.
But I tried to catch myself, and as a reward, I get a broken wrist to match my ankle. I scream in pain, but it doesn’t matter, not with the rest of the noise. The important noise.
I see familiar shoes as I hit the ground—Teagan’s boots, the ones he swiped from a sports store as soon as this whole mess started. He books past me, and although I don’t blame him, I’m still a little resentful.
And then I’m being lifted. I can’t see much, aside from a dirty pair of denim coveralls and some leather boots that put Teagan’s to shame.
There’s another gunshot, so close to my ears that all I can hear is ringing as the stranger carries me towards the light.
I’m dumped onto cold metal, presumably the back of a pickup truck, and then the pain overwhelms me, and I pass out.
I wake up screaming.
It’s not an entirely new sensation, but it’s something I thought I got over weeks ago. This world is a nightmare, and it takes some getting used to, but survival is a pretty strong instinct. No matter how bad your dreams are, you’re generally able to keep quiet when you wake, despite how terrified you are.
I cut the scream off quick, glancing around to see if I’ve alerted any zombies.
Instead of zombies, I see a bedroom. It’s a simple bedroom, pink walls with white trim, and minimal decorations. Couple of bad paintings on the walls, and a rocking chair with a pretty hideous blanket draped over the back.
The door opens, and a man walks in. The guy who saved me, I bet. He’s an older guy, with a bit of a belly, and a white beard. And denim coveralls, of course.
He looks eerily like Uncle Jessie from the old Dukes of Hazzard show.
“You’re awake, I see. Or hear, rather.”
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem. You had a pretty close call last night, and I reckon if it didn’t put a scream or two into you, there’s something wrong with you.”
“Thank you. For saving us.” The pain in my ankle is only slightly worse than the pain in my wrist, and I cringe as I move into sitting position.
“No need to thank me,” he says, sitting down in the rocker. “Need to watch those injuries, by the way. We set the ankle okay—it had just popped outta place a little—but the best we could do for the wrist was wrap it. Don’t have much in the way of pain killers, but we got some aspirin we can give you.”
“Again, thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Hell, son, of course we did.” He approaches the bed and holds out his hand. I shake it with the hand that isn’t bandaged up. “Name’s Eli Bradford.”
“I’m Randy,” I tell him. “Randy James.”
“Nice to meet you, Randy. You boys made it over quite a few miles of zombie-infested ground to get to us.”
This is the part. When you meet someone, these days, you’re expected to tell your story. I tell mine, about how Teagan and I were at home when this whole thing started, how we lived outside the city, and that’s why we were able to make it out this far, how we’ve been trying to survive ever since.
He tells me his story, then, about how he and his two daughters have lived here all their lives, how the mother died years ago. How when the dead started rising, they had to kill friends they’d known their entire lives. People who had helped them out when they needed it. People they cared about. How he had to send his daughters inside while he killed his dead wife. How they’ve been doing what they gotta do to survive in this new, horrible world.
It’s all pretty standard, really. The horror, the loss, the death, the walking dead. Everyone has different stories, but they’re all the same. The dead started attacking, and we’re doing what we need to in order to survive.
Teagan and I haven’t encountered too many people since we escaped from the city, but each time we do, this is always how it plays out. We exchange stories, we discuss theories on how it happened, speculate on if it will ever be fixed.
And then we move on. Teagan and I make a good team. I know him, and I trust him, which is way more important than the random kindness of strangers. So if this farmer invites us to stay, I know already that we will decline. And the way he’s talking, opening up, telling me about his heartbreak when his wife died, when he had to shoot her in the head when she came back, I can tell he’s going to ask us to stay.
It sucks, sometimes, telling people no. You can see the hurt you cause them. You can see how it feels like an insult—is it because you don’t trust them, because you don’t think them worthy?
But it doesn’t matter. When you’ve got the dead walking the planet trying to eat you, hurt feelings and social graces don’t mean as much as they once did.
There’s a silence when he finishes his story, and I know this is it, this is when he tells us we’re more than welcome to stay.
Instead, he nods, as if he’s finished his business, and pats me on the knee. “Well, we got breakfast made. Why don’t you come on down?”
As soon as he mentions breakfast, I smell the food cooking. My mouth waters, and when I speak, I have to be careful not to drool.
“Sounds like a plan. I guess I should put some pants on first.”
He laughs and nods towards a chair in the corner. “We stripped you down last night—hope you don’t mind.”
He’s too polite to say it, but they were checking for bites. If they’d found any, I’d be dead already.
“Sometimes when you end up in a mess like that, you get their goo on you,” he says. “It’ll soak through your clothes, and if you have any fresh wounds, it can infect you.”
“Really?” This is something I didn’t know. Teagan and I wear the same dirty-ass clothes day after day, and we manage to scrape our knees and legs up pretty good, what with all the traveling at night and falling all over the place. I might need to start scheduling in some time for laundering.
“Yep. Seen it happen with my own eyes.” He loses focus for a moment, that way you see a lot these days, when people reflect on some of the horrible shit they’ve seen since the zombies showed up. He shakes his head, snapping out of it, and stands up. “Okay, we’ll see you at breakfast. I put a crutch over there by the chair, you can use it to help you get around. Sorry I only got the one—the other got lost somewhere along the way.”
“I appreciate the one—more than I’d have on my own.”
He nods and heads towards the door.
“Hey, Eli?” I ask, just before he leaves. He turns and waits for the question. “My friend—Teagan?”
“Don’t worry, son—he slept in the next room over. Made it through last night much better off than you, I reckon. He’ll be at breakfast.”
I smile. “Thanks again. For everything.”
He smiles back, nods his head, and leaves.
I climb out of bed, slow, wincing in pain as I move. I limp over and grab my clothes and the crutch, and then make my way back to the bed. This is more than a little disturbing.
How am I going to outrun zombies all gimped up like this? How long will it take to heal? What if it never does? My wrist is a problem, too. That’s my strong hand—the one I use to swing when I crush in zombie heads.
I’m screwed, I think. Maybe sticking around with Eli and his girls for awhile might not be such a bad idea. Of course, he hasn’t asked us to stay, and there’s a good chance he won’t.
Nobody wants to keep around an extra mouth to feed if the owner of that mouth can’t contribute. And right now, I don’t see what I can bring to the table.
I push it out of my mind as best as I can—no use worrying about it at the moment. I’ll end up doing what we’ve done since the dead started rising—winging it and hoping for the best.
I get dressed. It’s a slow, painful process, but I manage it. Once I’ve accomplished that task, I limp to the next room over to check on Teagan.
The room’s empty, but it has obviously been slept in. I see Teagan’s backpack on the floor, unzipped and unpacked, just like he always leaves it. I’ve tried to stress the importance of keeping all of his shit together, ready, in case we have to split in a hurry, but he hasn’t quite adapted to this new world yet.
I make my way down the stairs, and find Eli sitting at the table. One of the girls—I don’t remember their names, even though he said them when he was telling me his story—is standing in front of the stove. She turns when she hears me clump into the room on my crutch.
“Well good morning there, sleepyhead!” Her smile is brilliant, and I can’t help but return it.
“Good morning,” I say. “I guess I have you to thank for that, as well as Eli.”
“Ah, heck, don’t mention it. We were out there huntin’, anyway.” I’m about to ask her what they were hunting, but she walks to the table with a skillet in her hand, and all my questions vanish. She scoops out three sausage patties and a pile of scrambled eggs. “Eat up!”
“Where’s Teagan?” I don’t want him to miss out on this feast.
“Out back with Kayla,” the girl says. The daughters, they were named Kayla and…Brenda? Something like that, but I’m not sure enough about it to address her by name.
I glance at Eli, and he smiles. “Go ahead, son—the rest of us have already eaten.”
I dig in. It’s my first hot meal in…I don’t even know how long. Most people we’ve talked to, they say they haven’t had a good meal since the uprising. Teagan and I, we hadn’t had one since months before. We ate cereal, mostly. Sandwiches, if we were feeling fancy.
The closest we’d had to a hot meal in the months before all hell broke loose was when he found a bag of microwave popcorn in the back of the cabinet.
I wolf down the food, trying to take it slow, trying to savor it and show my appreciation. That’s a losing battle, though. I clean my plate within minutes, and gratefully accept more when the girl brings over the skillet to dump more on my plate. She fills my cup with coffee, and I’m amazed at how good it tastes.
We’ve had to do without a lot of things since the ‘rising, and the smaller stuff—like coffee—tends to get lost in the mix. When you’re worried about finding a safe place to catch a couple hours of sleep, things like a good cup of coffee don’t seem nearly as important.
Maybe that’s why the simple joy of coffee hits me so hard. I suddenly feel overwhelmed with emotion, and have to mentally scold myself for being such a pussy. But I can’t help it—the smell, the taste, I’m flooded with memories of a better time. And—as cheesy as it sounds—hope. Hope that maybe it can be like that again, someday.
“Thank you so much,” I tell Eli and his daughter. “For everything. For saving us, for taking care of us.” I laugh a little, “For the coffee.”
He smiles. “No need to thank us. We’re just doing what we feel is the right thing.”
“Kind of a hard thing to find, these days, people who do the right thing. I just want you to know I appreciate it.”
“Think nothing of it.”
I realize I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. I don’t know if it’s just having a belly full of hot food or because I didn’t get much sleep last night, or a combination, but I feel like I could sleep for about a million years.
I try to say something, although I’m not sure what—maybe apologize for my grogginess, or maybe just to thank him again—but I can’t collect myself enough to get my mouth to work. I feel myself slumping out of my chair, and I know it’s going to hurt like a bitch when I hit the floor.
But it doesn’t. I crash to the hardwood and don’t feel a thing. Keeping my eyes open is impossible, and as they close, I see the leather boots approach from the other side of the table.
“That hit him quicker than it was supposed to,” Eli says.
“Sorry, Daddy—I didn’t know he’d gulp it down so fast like he did.”
Drugged. They drugged me.
“No matter—we’ll just have to work faster. Is Kayla done with his buddy yet?”
“I think she’s packing the rest into the icebox right now.”
“When she gets done, help her get this one cleaned.”
My brain’s working so slow, I’m trying to understand, but can’t quite grasp what’s happening. I force my eyes open one more time and see Eli scoop a forkful of meat into his mouth. The coffee, then, that’s where the drugs were. Not that it matters, at this point.
“Leave some out for tonight, though—tastes better when it hasn’t been frozen.”
I feel the familiar rush of terror as my brain finally wraps around the situation, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I try to rise, try to run, but I don’t move at all.
I close my eyes for the last time.
“Fuck” moaned Edward slowly waking up. The sunlight stung his eyes and he covered them. It took a moment for him to realize he was lying on his side, having rolled out of bed. His head was pounding, and it took a moment to right himself up without feeling nauseous. Wandering into the bathroom he stared at himself in the mirror. His long hair was disheveled, he stared at the scars lining his body. Feeling unsteady he pulled down his boxers and sat on the toilet.
“God dammit,” he muttered holding his head. Last night was a blur, and just how much alcohol had been consumed was lost somewhere between midnight and 3am. Finishing his business Edward pulled up his boxers and washed his hands, splashing cold water onto his face afterwards. Exiting the bathroom Edward sat back on the bed. A naked Jovion entered from the living room.
“Morning,” she said with a smile.
“What the fuck?” said Edward slipping off the bed and falling onto the floor. He held his head. Her hands gently touched his head.
“Yeah,” he answered, “but what are you doing naked?”
“Woke up that way.”
“Oh…” he said. She was his friend, and it felt awkward to see Jovion naked. “What happened last night?”
“Not a clue, but I definitely think we got some action.”
“Action?” Edward’s head was still pounding and he couldn’t process thoughts this early in the morning. Jovion pointed towards a used condom wrapper on the floor. “Oh,” said Edward, “I see.”
“Looks like it was me.”
“So did I,” responded Jovion.
A thought began to build in Edward’s head. He looked up at Jovion, still feeling awkward seeing her naked. “We didn’t…. did we?”
“Mother fucker,” he said with a sigh, “And here I thought you were a lesbian.”
“I am Edward, but I was also incredibly drunk last night.”
“This morning feels awkward, can it be over?”
“The joys of the morning after,” she said sitting down next to him. They both leaned against the bed. “Now what?” she asked, as if nothing had happened.
“I feel like taking a shower.”
“Could I join you?”
Edward thought about it for a moment, “Why the hell not, we already slept together, What’s a shower going to do?” He smiled. His head still hurt, but not as much as before.
They rose from the bedroom floor and walked into the bathroom together. Jovion ran the water as Edward took off his boxers. They slid into the shower together, feeling the warmth of the water hit their bodies. It felt wonderful and instantly began to clear their heads of last night’s poison. At some point they laughed at their embarrassment, two friends who had nothing to hide between themselves. They exited the shower and dried themselves off. Edward threw on some new boxers and Jovion found clean underwear - neither felt like getting dressed.
Edward stood in the kitchen and made some eggs and sausage, pouring two glasses of orange juice. They ate breakfast together in their underwear as outside the woke up.
“So we really slept together,” said Edward.
“Yeah, we did,” added Jovion.
“This doesn’t change anything does it?”
“Do you love me?” asked Jovion, causing Edward to almost choke on his orange juice.
“Excuse me?” he gasped.
“Do you love me?”
“Not like that no. Not that you’re not beautiful or anything, it’s just that you’re my friend first and foremost.”
“Good, I was just making sure.”
“Asshole,” said Edward with a smile.
She laughed and smiled back at Edward while they finished their breakfast.
There is a moment that comes early on in any relationship where you realise you are going to have to define it. We’d been spending a lot of time together recently, just us. We’d previously spent a lot of time together with others. Now it was time for that conversation.
Inevitably, it began as we were lying in bed. It was late afternoon, we had met for lunch and now we were naked and wrapped in your duvet and the setting sun was peering through the half-closed blinds spilling fractured shadows over our comfortably exhausted bodies.
Your hand was lolling casually on my shoulder and your eyes were closed. My hair was spread out like an open sea anemone across your shoulder and chest. It was warm and hazy and in that moment I heard the words as if they were coming from far away, almost a beat before they slipped from your lips. “What should we call this?”
I tried to stay still, not wanting to appear alarmed. I tried not to, but sighed a little as I breathed-in to respond, “Do we have to call it anything?”
You shifted to lean on your elbow, looking down into my face. My head bumped the pillow as I readjusted my position so I could focus on your eyes. They were by far my favourite part of your face, then, sleepy and blue but intense even when the rest of your body was languid.
“Seriously, though,” you pursed your lips, “What are we doing here?”
I tried to refrain from the mental eye-roll. “We’re lying in bed, we just had mind-blowingly great sex… But that isn’t what you mean is it?” I half-smiled, to show you I was happy and to show you I meant it.
You smiled back, but there was a touch of coldness, “So, if I introduce you to anyone I should say “Hi, this is Annie, we have mind-blowingly great sex.”. Okay, fair enough.”
You smirked and I slipped my hand out from under the covers to stroke your face.
“Obviously not. But, do we need to say anything? Couldn’t you just say “This is Annie”?”
You frowned, “But what I’m asking is, what are we to each other now?”
I looked at you, searching for a clue. “We’re friends.” I spoke softly.
“Friends. Yup. okay.” You fell back on the bed.
For a few minutes we lay just like that. You with your intense eyes closed, me with my hand stroking your cheek.
You shifted again, staring long and hard into my eyes. “It’s just… What is the first thing you think about when you wake up every morning?”
Your cheeks were flushed, there was a trace of a flutter in my chest, I felt the warmth spread through me as your fingers brushed a strand of hair from my face.
“Breakfast.” I offered.
Your smirk reappeared, “Well, alright then.”
I raised an eyebrow.
You held my gaze. “Breakfast. Good. Glad we got that cleared up.”
The Ort materialized on the old wooden stool next to Daisy’s highchair as Sandra gave Daisy her breakfast. It’s saggy bulk made the old thing creak, it was the oldest piece of furniture they had.
Daisy chortled merrily to see the creature, and then she bagan spooning the porridge into her mouth. The Ort burped encouragingly, looked over at Sandra, then returned it’s attention to the feeding human infant.
The toddler and the creature giggled together, then Daisy took up banging the highchair table with her spoon and the Ort dripped residue onto the linoleum.
Sandra and Alan had become aware their child was communicating with an invisible entity as soon as she started talking. At first they believed it to be a passing phase, but when the Ort started assuming an actual physical form it began having a serious effect on their marriage.Alan was convinced he was losing his mind, Sandra tried reassurring him, no, it was real, the thing was real and it was happening to them. Soon, Alan was demanding they call the authorities to have it “removed”, but predictably the Ort failed to appear at mealtimes if any third party was present, and the more calls they made, the more Sandra felt that they were risking having their only child taken away from them. So she insisted they stop the calls.It was soon after this Alan left them. He maintained he had fallen in love with the receptionist at his new work and had decided to move on. Sandra wasn’t even sure they had a receptionist at his new work. She found the idea amusing.It made life simpler not having him around anyhow. The Ort was much less agitated with Alan gone, and, consequently, the stink it gave off mellowed.
Sandra finished mixing Daisy’s drink, looking across she caught the Ort’s blank stare, it nodded at her encouragingly. She placed the drink in front of Daisy, the Ort farted it’s approval and Sandra turned to the sink.
breakfast is important, so we’re told. over and over and over.
breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
there was a long period of time where breakfast was the most dreadful (and sometimes only) meal of the day. i would wake up with such anxiety, either from having terrible dreams that i could not separate from memories, and thus, thought they had been real, or from the stress of real life and constant depression. breakfast was gut-wrenching because i knew that if i ate it, i would surely throw it up soon after; but if i didn’t eat it, i would feel weak and dizzy all day.
sometimes, breakfast was safe. when mom would put gel in my hair and spike it just the way i liked, but was unable to do myself. a chaotic mass of jagged protrusions at the front, and the rest tight to my skull like a protective shell. but i could see her frowning with frustration at my inability to eat a proper meal, and at the despair locked away in my eyes that she just couldn’t destroy, no matter how much she loved me.
years later, when i moved out, breakfast became every sunday, with my closest friends joining me at the house with my parents, and spending the day there. family day. breakfast was ritual and welcoming and wonderful.
now, breakfast is occasional. not in a way that’s intentional or painful. but there’s no thought. breakfast happens before work so i have the strength to lift heavy objects. breakfast happens with sarah on the weekends, sometimes in our pajamas, sometimes at restaurants. sometimes breakfast is going for a chai with mom, who is trapped in her own well of despair, and that only i can see, now that i am happy.
breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
It’s a little after midnight, but not late enough to be considered morning. There hasn’t been the clean delineation of sleep to differentiate night from morning and it’s still dark. Time has assumed a homogenized state. It no longer matters if it’s 12:30 or 2:30 or is it really 4:30 already? Christ. Light is a lamp, and the rest is as dark as it has been and will be for however long since I forgot to notice the sunset to when I forgot to finish reading the page that sends me to sleep. And once I do go to sleep, when I wake up, it will probably no longer be morning. So: Does this bowl of cereal, consumed just almost quickly enough not to be soggy at the end, count as breakfast?