Good Times

They said he’d never make it.

They said he’d have to do it all by himself.

Fuck ’em. All of ’em.

If only they could see him now. Well, maybe not right at this moment, but just in general. He was Alex Fucking Karev and he was graduating from college next week. Not only was he graduating from college, he was on his way to med school. And they’d said he couldn’t do it. No, not Alex Karev. He’d never amount to anything. That’s what they’d said.

They said he wasn’t disciplined enough. They said all he thought about was girls and drinking. He laughed at that. If only they knew. But, yeah, the drinking was good. It didn’t stop him from making it though.

He knew they wouldn’t come. He knew there wasn’t going to be anyone in the crowd to cheer when his name was called. He didn’t care. Fuck ’em, right? He didn’t need them. Not one of them.

If they didn’t come, they sure as fuck had better not come to him when he was a rich and famous surgeon. He would be, you know. Rich and famous. Oh yeah, people would come from all around to have Alex Karev operate on them.

Why couldn’t they just be happy for him? Why couldn’t they be proud? The whoring around and the drinking weren’t the reason. They’d treated him this way all his life. Always. When he graduated Cum Laude from high school, they said he’d cheated his way through school. They never showed any pride in the fact that he always brought home good grades. They never said thank you when he gave them his paychecks. How many high school kids worked full time and gave all of the money to his family? How many? Not many at all.

Fuck ’em.

In junior high, they made him quit drama because he asked them to come to a play. In grade school, they wouldn’t let him join Scouts because they didn’t want to mess with having to take him to meetings.

Damn it. Why the hell didn’t they at least let him believe in Santa when he was little? Just a stocking wtih some fruit would have been nice. How many fights did he get into at school because kids teased him for not getting presents from Santa? Not just from Santa. He didn’t get presents at all.

Fuck ’em. He didn’t need them.

With a sigh, Alex rolled over and let his other cheek rest against the cool ground. Laying down on the grass had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now he just didn’t feel like getting back up. He really needed to cut back on the booze. Who slept on wet grass? Pathetic, drunken college students, that’s who.

He really hoped they’d surprise him and show up for graduation.

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Just Another Day

“What a girl,” Alex commented to no one in particular, referring to George O’Malley.

“What else would I be?”

He looked over his shoulder to see one of his patients sitting behind him in a wheelchair. A girl. “What?”

“You said ‘what a girl,’ and I asked you what else I would be. I’ve got long hair, a high pitched voice, and boobs. Which one was your first clue that I’m a girl?”

“I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about- Forget it. What are you doing out here? You shouldn’t be out of your bed.”

Kayna Mercer, sixteen years old, cardiomegaly, having a transplant tomorrow.

“I got tired of looking at those walls. The television shows the same thing over and over. Dr Phil, Dr Phil wanna-be’s, Oprah, Ellen. If there’s a chance that I can die in a few hours, I’d like for my last memories to be of something else besides pseudo-shrinks.”

“You’re not going to die in a few hours. I told you, the procedure is a common one, even if it is a little complex. You’ll be fine. And wasn’t your hair brown this morning?”

The girl laughed. “You noticed. My hair’s still brown. Izzy just brushed in some fake highlights with baby powder. It looks good, huh?”

“Whatever. You need to go back to your room.”

“Yeah. I do. I think I’ll stick with you, though. You could use the company.”

Jesus. Why was it so hard to get a moment alone to think in this place? If it wasn’t whining interns, it was nagging residents. If it wasn’t nagging residents, it was distracted chiefs. If it wasn’t distracted chiefs, it was flirty, underage, patients. And not always of the female kind.

“Look, Kayna, I’m going down for lunch. You can’t eat anything. Go back to your room.”

“I can watch you eat.”

“Why?”

“Because it’ll annoy you.”

He sighed.

“Fine. But you’ll watch me eat in your room.”

He stepped behind the girl and started pushing her towards her room. As he passed a candy striper, he asked her if she’d grab him a sandwich from the cafeteria and bring it to Kayna’s room. He kind of felt bad for her. Not that he’d ever admit it. The kid had been in and out of foster homes since she was twelve. What was it people said? There but for the grace of God…

Once they were back in her room, Kayna looked at Alex with a strange look on her face. “Hey, Dr Karev?”

“Hm?”

“Can I call you Alex? Izzy lets me call her Izzy and Merideth lets me call her Meredith and George lets me call him a girl.”

A bit of milk squirted out of Alex’s nose when he heard that. “Call him what?”

“A girl. I tease him about being one of the girls. He lives with them, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Call you Alex.”

“No. You can call me Dr Karev.”

“Hm. Tell me about your family.”

“What the- What’s with you, kid?”

“I’m just curious. Do you have brothers or sisters? Did your parents pay for your schooling? Did you have any pets growing up?”

“Seriously?”

“Come on. Let me live vicariously through you, ok?”

Why? Why did he always end up with these patients?

“Fine.”

And for the next hour or so, Dr Alex Karev talked. He told his patient things that most other people would never know. He talked about his father being a drunk, his mother being a cold woman, how his brother died when Alex was just a little kid, how he worked full time while going to med school, how he cried when his grandmother died, and so much more. As he talked, he watched her grow tired. Eventually, she’d had enough.

“Thanks.”

“For what? Telling you what a shitty life I’ve had?”

“For trusting me. For showing me that you’re human. And you just said ‘shitty’ in front of me.”

“Yeah, well. At least I didn’t say fuck, right?”

The girl snorted as she laughed. “I’m tired, Alex.”

“Dr Karev.”

“No, I’m Kayna. You’re Dr Karev.”

“If you go to sleep now, they’ll just wake you up in twenty minutes to prep you for surgery.”

It was then that a voice from the door said “Actually, we’re going to prep her now.” They both turned to the door to find Izzy standing there. “So you, Dr Karev, need to give us some privacy.”

He was about to protest when his pager went off. He looked down at Kayna as he stood up. “Listen, I’ll come by and see you before you go to surgery,”

“And you’ll be here when I wake up?”

He hesitated before answering. Fuck it, he thought. “And I’ll be here when you wake up.”

He hurried out of the room to look for the Nazi. He found her intubating a patient who’d come out of surgery just an hour before.

“Karev, grab the rib spreaders and bust those stitches!”

With that, Alex lost all track of time as he worked with his mentor, rushing the patient to an empty theater to save a life.

Several hours later, he came out of the operating room and discarded the gown he’d worn during the operation. Looking at the clock, he realized that Kayna had probably been out of surgery for at least an hour. He started towards recovery to check on her. As he turned a corner, he literally bumped into O’Malley.

“Watch it, girl!”

“Me? You’re the one that had your head down! You- You should watch it. And I’m NOT a girl.”

“If you say so. Hey, what bed is Kayna Mercer in?”

“Who?”

“Kayna Mercer. Heart transplant.”

“Oh. Izzy’s patient? She didn’t make it. Reaction to the anesthesia.”

Alex felt like someone had just punched him in the stomach. He didn’t say anything as George started walking away.

Suddenly, George turned around. “Oh, by the way, Alex?”

Alex looked up without saying anything.

“Happy birthday, man.”

Turning back to walk down the corridor, George O’Malley never saw the tear that fell on Alex’s cheek.

“Yeah. Happy birthday to me,” Karev whispered to himself.

Done

They’ve grown up together. They’ve gone through so much. A love like theirs is meant to last an eternity, right? From hate to tolerance, from tolerance to friendly, from friends to love, from love to life. It was just meant to be this way.

That’s what he’d thought, anyway.

So, why didn’t she?

“No, Jackson. You don’t understand. It’s not about love. It’s about what’s right.”

No. He won’t accept that. What’s right isn’t always what’s best. Why can’t she understand that?

“Please don’t be like this. Please. You’re my…my breath. You’re my world. That’s why I have to do this.”

She seemed to think it was ok to touch him. To reach up and put her hand on his cheek. For some reason, she thought that breaking his heart and caressing his face at the same time was acceptable.

“Oh, Jackson. Someday you’ll realize that this is for the best.”

Why can’t someone, just once, let him decide what’s best for him? Why can’t he, Jackson Bright, make his own choices for once? Why do the women in his life always seem to think they know what he needs?

“Don’t compare me to your mother! I’m doing this for us and no other reason!”

No. If she’s going to do this, then he is done. Love can only carry two people so far. Something like this will only create a fracture, and being apart will cause that fracture to break in two. Once this is done, there’s no going back. There will be no more Jackson and Zoe. He’s done playing these games. He knows what he wants. If he can’t have it, he isn’t going to allow any more hurt to come to him. Even if it means closing off his heart forever.

“You don’t mean that. You don’t! Jackson, I-”

The sound of a door closing behind you, cutting off the voice of the one you love, can cut deeper than the harshest words. It’s a lesson he learned long ago, but it’s one he’ll never have to learn again. The choice is hers and she’s made it. He’ll find some way to live with it. One thing he knows, though. He knows there’s no going back this time. This time it’s forever. The minister had been wrong. It wasn’t until death did they part. No, death had no say in this. This was all her doing.

And he’s done.

Time, Today, Life

Because of you, a multitude of lives are going to be saved.

They say time is constant. Unchanging. We’re to believe that a moment past is a moment we can never get back. Tomorrow will come only once.

This morning when you woke up, you had a sore neck. A hot shower didn’t help. The ibuprofen didn’t help. Massaging it did nothing, nor did stretching it. There’s nothing worse than a sore neck. You can’t turn to look over your shoulder when you back out of a parking space. You can’t look up or down. You walk around looking like a robot, your head unmoving because of the pain.

You thought about calling work to tell them you wouldn’t be able to make it in, but then you remembered you had a meeting with the president later. You’d been waiting to meet with her for weeks, so you kind of really needed to go to work. So, you went through your morning routine, then headed for your car.

On your way out the door, you remembered you hadn’t checked the mail when you got home from work last night, so you walk towards the mailbox instead of to the car. Once you have the mail in hand, you sort through it. Bills. Nothing but bills. And a Christmas postcard, which you promptly dropped. As you knelt to pick it up, you noticed a young man walking by you at the same instant that a sharp pain ran through your neck. Before you stood up and rubbed your neck, you noticed that the young man’s shoe was untied. You almost told him so, but your pain made you grumpy, so you kept your mouth shut and got in your car.

You backed out of your driveway and headed down the street towards work. Passing the bus stop, you noticed the same young man waiting for the bus. Without a second thought about his shoe lace, you made your way to work, and it must have been your lucky day because there was no traffic at all and you hit every traffic light when they were green.

The young man at the bus stop didn’t own a car. He took the bus to school every morning. This morning, while he was standing by the bus stop sign, a large truck drove by. Unfortunately for him, the night before had brought a large amount of rain, and at this bus stop, the drainage opening was clogged by debris. The puddle created from the rain reached about two feet out into the road. As the large truck drove by, it drove through the puddle, and that created a torrential wall of water that washed over the top of the young man with the untied shoe lace who was waiting at the bus stop.

Unable to go to school soaking wet, the young man returned home. He didn’t particularly want to go back home, though. His father had been out drinking the night before, so he was in a really pissy mood this morning. The young man wasn’t in the mood to deal with his father, but he couldn’t exactly go to school wet now, could he?

The instant he walked in the front door, his father appeared and started screaming at him about how worthless the young man was. The young man couldn’t stop himself and said to his father in a very polite voice, “Hey, Dad? Fuck off.”

Two seconds later, the young man was laying on the floor in the fetal position.

Because he was unconscious, the young man missed school that day, and his father stood there for the longest time waiting for him to wake up so that he could kick him again.

At the young man’s school waited his best friend. She, too, had not had a great morning. In fact, she’d told her parents that there was a chance she was pregnant. They’d immediately told her not to come home from school that day. Before leaving the house, she’d gone into her parents bedroom and taken her father’s gun from the lockbox in his closet. Being a police officer, her father knew all about gun safety.

She didn’t know what she was going to do with the gun. Or, rather, she did know, but she was hoping her best friend– the young man who lay unconscious at his father’s feet– would give her a reason to live. Being pregnant wasn’t a reason to live, and she didn’t know what else to do.

Of course, since he was unconscious, her best friend didn’t show up at school.

After a particularly awful lunch, the girl went into the restroom and took the gun out of her backpack. She stood in front of a mirror and slowly raised the gun to her temple. She took a deep breath, and her finger slowly started to squeeze the trigger. “Don’t pull the trigger, squeeze it carefully,” her father had always taught her.

Just as the hammer was released, a voice startled her and the hand holding the gun wavered. It wavered just enough so that the bullet it fired grazed the girl’s temple and ended up finding a target deep inside the chest of a girl with purple hair and black lipstick. Before the bullet even stopped moving, the gun was on the floor, dropped from the hand that had been holding it.

Within minutes, faculty and staff arrived, several of them on the phone with 9-1-1, others trying to institute a school wide classroom lock down, despite the fact that the gun was on the floor under a sink and the accidental shooter was sitting on a toilet sobbing and asking for someone to help her, that she was so, so sorry.

Before the ambulance arrived, the girl with the bullet in her chest was dead. D.O.A., as they say.

Now, wait a second. I’m pretty sure I said you saved a multitude of lives today, didn’t I? I think I did. Let me go back and reread what I wrote…

Yep, it says right there in the first sentence of this tale that “Because of you, a multitude of lives are going to be saved.”

So, what went wrong?

You see, they say that time is constant. Unchanging.

The simple matter of fact is that they’re wrong. It’s all bullshit. Time is a loop. The life you live today, you’re going to relive tomorrow. Or, rather, another you. Because we all live in an infinite number of time streams. They’re all identical, so it’s like living the same day over and over again, only it’s a lifetime, rather than a day. Nothing you do can be changed. It’s all fate. Destiny, if you will.

So, in actuality, nothing went wrong. You lived out your day the same way you had an infinite number of times before.

However…

When you woke up this morning, you had a sore neck. You took ibuprofen for it, then got in the shower. Letting the hot water run over it for a long while loosened up those muscles. Thank heavens because there was no way you could miss work today. You had a big meeting with the president and there was no way you were going to miss it. With pep in your step, you walked out your front door and locked it behind you. You started toward your car, but then remembered that you hadn’t checked the mail when you came home from work the night before, so you diverted your steps towards the mail box.

As you pulled the mail out, you noticed that it was mostly bills, but there was also a Christmas postcard mixed in. You tried to pull the postcard out, but instead dropped it to the ground. As you knelt to pick it up, you smiled because your sister’s baby was smiling up at you from the photo on the front of the postcard. Before you stood back up, a young man hurried past you and you noticed his shoelace was untied. He was moving fast, but you called out to let him know about it.

You then picked up the postcard, but dropped something else. You weren’t sure what it was, but you’d find it. Today was a good day.

The young man, a regular rider of bus number 67, made it almost to the bus stop before it dawned on him what you’d called out to him. He looked down, and sure enough, his shoe was untied. He stopped moving and bent down to tie his lace, taking time to retie the one on the other foot for good measure. Then he stood up and proceeded to the bus stop. Just before reaching his destination, a large truck drove by and created a wave that must have been well over six feet high. If he hadn’t stopped to tie his shoe, he would have been soaked clear through to the bone!

The bus arrived, and just before he boarded, it dawned on him that he’d left his backpack at home. Rather than getting frustrated, he just smiled and thought to himself that today was a nice day to walk to school. He turned around and headed home for his backpack.

At his house, his father had just climbed out of bed and he was very hungover. When the son entered the house, his father demanded to know why he was home again.

The young man, in a good mood for some reason, just laughed. “Sorry, Dad. Forgot my backpack. I’ll be out of your hair in just a minute.” This was funny because his father was bald. The older man raised a fist, then a strange look crossed his face.

“Out of my hair? Good one, son. I’ll let it go this time.”

And, totally out of character, the young man stepped over, kissed his dad on the cheek, and said to him “I love you, Pops,” then headed back out the door, book bag firmly in hand. The father placed his hand over his cheek, then started crying. After a few minutes, he pulled out a phone book, looked up a number, and dialed it on the old rotary phone hanging on the kitchen wall. When the voice on the other end picked up, he asked “Can you tell me when your next A.A. meeting is, please?”

At school, the young man’s best friend was waiting for him. She was on the verge of collapsing, having been kicked out of her parents’ house because she’d told them she was pregnant. When she saw the young man walking up the stairs, though, her spirits immediately lifted. He sat next to her, and as he listened with his arm around her shoulders, she told him her story. When she got to the part about the gun and that it was in her backpack, he convinced her to go to the principal with him so they could talk to the man and explain the situation, then give him the gun.

The principal was a kind hearted man, a very understanding soul. He didn’t overreact. He didn’t call the police and have the girl arrested. He merely offered her support, provided her with resources that could help her, and took the gun from her and placed it in his desk drawer. He then made sure that she had a place to go after school. When the students left his office, he called the campus police officer and asked him to make sure the gun was returned to the girl’s father. He then called the father and filled him in on what he’d just been told. The father broke into tears and told the principal that he and his wife had reacted badly, and they just wanted their daughter to come home so they could apologize and discuss her options. He asked the principal to tell the girl that her parents loved her very much and they wanted her home.

After hanging up the phone, the principal walked into the hallway and bumped into a girl with purple hair and black lipstick. “Good morning, Ruby! I like the new hair. How are you today?”

The girl smiled and told him a secret.

The secret was that she was having a baby. Thirty years later, that baby would discover a cure for cancer.

Because you walked out your front door in a good mood rather than the bad mood you’ve always gone out in, a cure for cancer was ultimately discovered.

You would never know what your impact your actions had on the world, and, sadly, you would never see that cure for cancer. The something else you dropped when you picked up the postcard was your car keys. As you stood up after retrieving them, you lost your balance and stumbled into the street, directly in front of an oncoming garbage truck.

You were killed instantly.

What a crappy ending to such a perfect day.

Last Generation: The Book of Zane

Prologue

A Brief History for the Unaware

Chapter 1

Things changed about ten years ago.  Just when we thought we’d all adapted to that change, things changed again.

I’m talking about the zombies.

Unlike we’d all read about in books or seen in movies, there was no mutant virus, no clumsy lab worker, no toxic spills, nothing like any of that.  It was as simple as a rock from outer space entering our atmosphere and landing in the Atlantic Ocean.  The astromoners told us the meteor was coming, and the governments prepared for it.  If there had been devastating floods, cities laid to ruin, or anything else out of a movie, the human population would have been well prepared.  Civilization would have been saved with little effort, and life would have gone on as normal.

Instead, a collision in space with a second rogue rock destroyed the meteor, with most of the debris managing to end up somewhere other than on Earth.  Unfortunately, one rock about the size of a compact car ended up at the bottom of the ocean, almost exactly halfway between the Statue of Liberty and the Canary Islands.  I realize that calling it a rock is an understatement, but that’s how it’s been referred to since the day it splashed down.  It’s called “the rock.”  No capital letters.  You can go anywhere in the world and mention “the rock” and people will know what you’re talking about.

Nobody noticed the zombies at first.  It took a week or so before any Z’s were reported.  Z’s.  That’s what people call zombies.  Lame, I know, but I didn’t name them.  See, real zombies aren’t like fictional zombies.  Those zombies are mindless, wandering, braindead, rotting corpses that are simply reanimated dead people.  In the movies and books, there were slow, clumsy versions and there were fast, agile versions, but they were all just that- versions.

Actually, I guess zombies aren’t really real.  I mean, we have zombies everywhere, but people just took a word previously used only in fictional works and applied it to what came as a result of the rock.  The Z’s we have today.  Z’s aren’t anything like the ones from tales of horror.  No rotting flesh, no blind eyes, no stumbling around looking for “braaaaaainssss.”  No, none of that.  Z’s look and act just like you and everyone you know, but I’ll get to that soon enough.  For now, let’s go back to how Z’s are…made, for lack of a better word.

The first reported Z was a woman with terminal cancer.    A few days before the rock came, she’d been sent home to die because there was nothing else they could do for her in the hospital.  Home was a beach house in West Virginia.

One afternoon, she closed her eyes and stopped breathing.  Her son, a widower, was sitting with her.  He sighed, torn between relief that his mother was out of pain and grief over his loss, along with a just a little bit of happiness that he wouldn’t have to take care of her anymore.  He left the room to call his sister, to let her know that their mother was gone.  No sooner had he said the words to her than he heard his mother’s voice behind him asking if there was anything to eat, because she was starving.  What he saw when he turned around killed him.

Standing in the door to the kitchen was his mother.  Not only was she alive, but her skin had a healthy pink glow to it, her eyes were bright, and for a brief second, he noticed she was almost bouncing where she stood. Which was surprising since, for months, she’d been unable to stand on her own, much less walk (or bounce).  He noticed all of these things for just a brief moment before he died.  Some readers might assume that, since this is a tale of zombies, his mother attacked him.  I’m happy to say that isn’t the case.  The shock of seeing his dead mother alive and well was just too much for his heart, and the poor man died of a massive coronary event.

His once dead mother promptly dialed 9-1-1.

He stayed dead for about fifteen minutes before he opened his eyes and asked for something to eat, which shocked the hell out of the paramedic who had just told his partner “this guy’s worm food” a second before.  A quick once over by the emergency room doctor revealed that both mother and son were as healthy as could be.  A few early tests revealed a healthy heart in the son, and no cancer cells present in the mother.  Many more advanced tests later, it was revealed that large parts of their brains had no activity present.

Stories like this started popping up slowly around the country.  Within a month, thousands upon thousands of these miracles were reported world wide.  It took almost a year before medical experts discovered that the moment people died, something in a small part of the brain caused the body to immediately start repairing itself.  As the body healed, the brain stopped.  And, even though the brain stopped, the body continued functioning normally.  Almost normally, anyway.

Three noticeable things happen when a person dies, then un-dies.  First, they stop aging.  Hair and nails stop growing, as does height.  The second thing noticed is that pregnant women who die, then un-die, gave birth to live children.  No explanation for that has ever been discovered.

The third thing that happens is that a person who has un-died is overcome with a nearly insatiable hunger.  Now, this is one thing our Z’s have in common with make believe zombies.  Our Z’s crave flesh.  Not brains, necessarily.  Just flesh.  Any kind of flesh, other than the flesh of another Z.  Most will admit that there is a stronger craving for human flesh, but it’s easily overcome simply by eating a meaty meal.  A rare hamburger, a juicy steak, a fried chicken leg, a hot dog.  Anything made of flesh of any once living being.  Once the hunger is sated, the desire for human flesh disappears.

It just…disappears.

Any Z will tell you that.

Chapter 2

In the beginning of all of this, no one put the rock and the Z’s together. They had no reason to.  Most research done wasn’t to find a cure, as there was really nothing to cure.  It was mostly done to find a cause, because with a cause there would be understanding.

A couple years later, the population stopped growing.  Just like the rock is called “the rock,” and just like the Z’s are lamely called “Z’s,” the very creative people in charge started calling this point in time “the end of births.”

The change was noted in the oceans at first.  When the idea of Z’s was still new, it was believed that only humans were affected.  At first, no animals showed any signs of being affected by whatever was causing it. There were no animal Z’s.  Then, fishermen around the world started reporting a disturbing drop in the numbers of fish in the waters.  As it turned out, marine animals were affected the same way humans were, after all.  For some reason, it just took longer for it to hit them.

Marine animals in the oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water started dying, then un-dying.  As they un-died, they had the same hunger for flesh that human Z’s had.  However, unlike a human Z that was able to order a hamburger, these animals gave in to their cravings and turned on their own kind.  Numbers dwindled and never rose again.  It was discovered that the closer in proximity to the rock, the more drastic the drop in marine population.  It was at this point that two and two were put together to make four.

Just as scientists discovered that fish were no long giving birth, pregnant women worldwide stopped giving birth.  For those fortunate enough to have their babies delivered through surgery, their children became known as “last generation.”  For the rest, their fetuses died, then un-died, inside of them.  Many women lived the rest of their lives with these unborn, un-died babies inside of them.  Many others couldn’t live with the pain and ended their own lives…only to un-die.

And that was what we now call the end of births.

Chapter 3

Dying and un-dying can happen more than once.  Someone who has un-died can un-die again if something happens to him.  In order for Z’s to die, the body has to be burned or the head removed.  This is similar to the death of movie zombies.  And vampires.  But, vampires don’t really exist.  Z’s do.

For a period of time, as you can imagine, there was chaos.  We had no words for this new type of human.  Did laws apply to someone once he died?  Once you die, then un-die, do you still have to pay taxes? (This was an actual question posed before Congress, believe it or not.)  What about inmates on death row?  Once they un-died, did they have to remain incarcerated?  After all, they had been sentenced to death, and they had died, thus carrying out their sentence.

New laws were made concerning Z’s, and smartly, all of the governments of the world decided to uniformly place these laws into effect.  Yes, human laws did still apply.  Yes, Z’s did still have to pay taxes.  As far as death row inmates, they were still to be executed.  However, once they un-died, they were transferred to a special prison. Alcatraz Island was reopened for the purpose of housing these types of inmates.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a craving for human flesh once you un-die.  It took some time to get it all figured out.  Sadly, there were some Z’s who turned on those close to them to satisfy that craving.  They claimed it was their nature and that denying them their nature was cruel and unusual punishment.  This was an argument that ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Court ruled, unanimously, that live humans health and safety took priority over that of the Z’s.  As a result, a universal law was passed worldwide that stated any Z that consumed human flesh would be decapitated without trial.

There was unease for quite a few years.  Z’s felt that they were being denied their rights, that they were being treated as second class citizens.  Protests, uprisings, and riots became common place.  It wasn’t just Z’s fighting for their rights, either.  Many live humans fought alongside them.

For a long time, there was something that neither side considered.  It was a simple question asked by a child that stopped the fighting.  She asked “What would happen if the President died and became a Z?”  During those fighting years, there were lawmakers who died and un-died, and it was kept secret.  The simple question that little girl asked made people realize that Z’s were a part of the government, and even though things were difficult, the government managed to continue functioning reasonably well.  At that point in our history, things settled down.  Humans and Z’s lived side by side and worked out the problems that arose now and then.

Since then, life has pretty much returned to normal, almost as though nothing has changed from pre-Z times.

Chapter 4

Since then, life has pretty much returned to normal, almost as though nothing has ever changed from the time pre-Z.

That’s what they want you to believe.  They don’t want to acknowledge that there are sides, both human and Z, that are so full of hate that they can’t live in peace.  There are humans that want all Z’s destroyed.  They want to make it law that the moment a live human dies, the head is removed so that no more Z’s will un-die.

On the other side, there are Z’s who are tired of being treated the way they are.  These are the ones who think they should not be denied their hunger for flesh.  If these Z’s had their way, humans would be rounded up and kept like cattle.

Kept as slaves.

Kept as food.

Chapter 5

My name is Zane and I am last generation.

Behind Schedule

Three people sat inside the otherwise empty train depot. The ticket agent had gone home half an hour earlier. The space was large, and the three people were sitting as far from each other as possible. Whether their positioning was intentional or just a matter of the subconscious wasn’t important. It wasn’t something that any of them were giving thought to at the moment. Each was absorbed in their own thoughts, the only sound the whistle of the wind through the crack under the double doors that lead out of the building.

In the corner nearest the door was Eloise Harker. She was wearing a long trench coat and had it tied tightly around her. Her bright red hair, almost orange, lay just over the collar of her coat, almost touching her shoulders. Most people would guess her to be in her late thirties, and very few would believe that she was almost forty five years old. She held an open book between her hands, her light green eyes glancing up over the page every now and then to look at the clock on the wall. She didn’t wear a watch, and as evidenced by the actual paperback book in her hand (as opposed to one of those fancy new electronic books her only sister kept trying to get her to buy), she wasn’t real concerned with keeping up with technology. Growing up below poverty level with a single father, practically raising her sister, she never had time for such things.

She cleared her throat and turned the page of her book. It was a decent book. Not as good as anything she’d ever written herself, but still pretty good. She looked up at a flickering light, letting her mind wander a bit, and wondered how a book like this was able to be published, yet no one would even look at any of her works.

On the far wall, directly opposite the entrance of the building, a small bench ran along side each side of a pair of restrooms– “his” and “hers.” On the bench next to the sign marked “his” sat a younger man, probably four or five years younger than Eloise. Despite the chill in the room, carried in on the wind under those doors, this man wore no coat. In fact, he was dressed only in threadbare jeans, a lightweight t-shirt, and a pair of hiking boots. With his black hair hanging over his eyes, almost touching his nose, it was hard to tell if he was awake or not. Judging by his posture, he was more likely than not to be sleeping. His head was leaned back against the wall, his mouth opened slightly, and his body leaning to one side.

Conner (not Connor with an ‘O,’ but Conner with an ‘E’) Doogan was aware of how he looked. He was wide awake, staring at the ceiling. He had learned early on that if people thought you were asleep, they wouldn’t bother you for things like the time or to ask if you knew when the next train was scheduled to arrive. So, he sat there, the ceiling above him not doing anything to particularly hold his attention, yet staring at the ceiling anyway. He was waiting for the last train to arrive and depart, leaving him alone in the building so that he could use the restroom to wash himself.

He hated living like this. He really was alone in the world, and he had no one to turn to for help. Ever since he’d returned from Afghanistan, he’d been struggling, holding on to the will to live. His disability checks were enough to live on, barely enough to feed himself, much less pay rent somewhere. He’d tried selling his body a few times, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that anymore. It wasn’t that the experience itself was horrible, he just didn’t like feeling like some kind of whore. Just some piece of meat. Besides, with his limp and the speech impediment caused by the trauma he’d suffered overseas, finding guys willing to pay for sex proved to be harder than it should. So, for now, he’d go on using public restrooms to bathe, continue sleeping on whatever bench he didn’t get kicked off of, and keep on spending his little bit of income on food.

In the corner opposite Eloise was the ticket counter. It was designed so that three ticket agents could work behind it during busy times. Tonight wasn’t busy, so instead of three, there were none. Next to that counter was an empty newsstand. At one time, it had been a place to buy the morning paper, but now it was just an empty space with a stool behind it. On this night, that stool was occupied by Harris Long. It was a convenient spot for him because it allowed him to set his laptop computer on the counter in front of him and use it with some comfort. Where Conner was a few years younger than Eloise, Harris was about that much older than she was.

Harris Long. Everyone knew his name, no one knew his face. Well, those who worked with him knew his face, obviously, but the general public wouldn’t recognize him if he were sitting in the same room with them. The lack of interest by both Conner and Eloise proved that fact. At almost fifty years old, he was one of the wealthiest men in the state. He’d come from being an orphan on the street- literally- to someone who owned those same streets now. In a heavy pea coat that had cost him nearly $400, he was snug and warm in his little spot in the station. The only part of him that was feeling the cold in the air was his bald head, and that was only because he’d left his hat at home that morning. The temperature didn’t bother him, though. He was too busy reading a manuscript that was on the screen in front of him to really notice anything at all.

This was good. These words in front of him had him hooked. From across the room, if anyone were looking at him, they would easily see his dark brown eyes darting back and forth as he read. No one was looking at him, though, and he read undisturbed.

Minutes passed and more minutes passed. The only person who took any notice of the absence of the long overdue train was Conner. He’d stopped staring at the ceiling and was watching the clock on the wall. The train, he realized, should have come and gone well over twenty minutes earlier. With this realization also came the realization that he had to pee. Looking around, he took notice of the other two people in the room and sighed. The interruption of the silence caused Eloise to look at the younger man. He looked back at her and gave her a half smile. He didn’t really feel like smiling, but he’d learned that scowling usually led to trouble. A scowl drew attention, attention meant police were called, and police meant being run off because there was no loitering allowed here, wherever “here” might be. He slowly drew himself up.

He grasped the arm of the bench and pushed himself up. Once standing, he carefully stretched his right leg out behind him, then straight out in front of him before placing his foot back on the ground and putting his weight on it. It was on cold days like this one that he wished he had a cane to lean on. He’d had one at one time, right after coming back to the states, but some street thugs had decided one night that it would look better in their hands than in his.  Carefully, he took a step to test the strength of the leg before letting go of the bench. The leg held, and he made his way into the restroom. As he entered the bright white room, it surprised him how much warmer it was in here than in the waiting area. The maintenance guy must have finally fixed the heater in here, he thought to himself.

He stepped up to a urinal and reached up to hold on to the dividing wall with one hand while freeing himself from behind his zipper with the other. His leg was starting to feel weak, and the last thing he needed was to fall to the ground while he was draining his bladder. He tried to hurry the process, and managed to finish his business and get everything tucked back in and zipped away before his leg gave out. Now, sitting on the tiled floor, he shook his head. That was close. At least I’m still dry. He was now faced with a decision. He could call out for help, which is the last thing he’d ever do. He could reach up and use the lip of the urinal to pull himself up, but who knew the last time that thing had been actually been cleaned?

And then there was his third option.He looked over at the sink area and decided shame was the least of his worries since there was no one to see him embarrass himself. He groaned a little as he made his way into a crawling position, then slowly crawled over to the sinks. He reached up with both hands and pulled his good leg underneath him, and made his way back to a standing position. He then turned around and gave a small hop so that he was sitting on the sink counter. “I might as well sit here and keep warm until those other folks are gone,” he muttered to himself. “I wonder where that train is.” He leaned back, reached across his body, and turned on the sink to wash his hands, then dried them on his pants.

In the waiting area, Eloise had just finished her book. She looked up at the clock and was surprised to see how late it was. Surely that wasn’t the right time. She looked over at a well dressed man who was busy on one of those portable computers. “Excuse me,” she said a little louder than she’d intended. The man took no notice. Eloise cleared her throat and tried again. “I said excuse me, sir. You. On the computer.”

Harris looked up to see Eloise looking at him with a disapproving look on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t hear you. I’m afraid I let my work get the better of me. What was it you needed?”

Just as Eloise opened her mouth to ask him if he had the time, just so she could confirm what was on the wall clock, someone threw open the door, letting in a big gust of freezing air. Eloise was just about to complain when she noticed that the person was holding a gun in his hand.

From across the room, Harris noticed the gun before he noticed the cold. He looked at the face of the person holding the gun and was actually startled to see that it was the face of a child. A teenager, really, but a child none the less. A boy, about fifteen years old. “A caucasian male, not much older than Huck Finn,” Eloise would write later.

“Son, you don’t need that gun in here. Whatever you need, we can-”

The boy pulled the trigger of the gun.

From the restroom, Conner was suddenly felt a sense of hyper-awareness. He forgot all about his leg pain and jumped off the counter, rushing for the bathroom door.

In the distance, a train whistle sounded. It was clearly still far off, but it was only a matter of time before it arrived.

Eloise clasped her hands over her mouth, determined not to scream. Harris calmly closed his laptop. The kid with the gun lowered it before speaking.

“I ain’t afraid to shoot none of you. Wouldn’t be the first time. Here’s what we’re gonna do right now. I ain’t got no time to be messing around. That train’s coming and I’m gonna be gone before it gets here, cool? Now, you,” he said, lifting his chin in Harris’ direction, “you bring me that laptop. Take out your wallet while you’re at it. A suit like that, you gotta have some cash on you.”

He looked over at Eloise. “What are you, some kind of nun? What you dressed like that for? Damn, you’d be looking kind of good if you wore some real clothes! Why don’t you take that long ass coat off and let us see what you look like under there?”

Before Eloise could protest, Conner’s voice came from across the room. “Hey kid, you should leave.” He was leaning against the door frame of the restroom, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t even look at the kid. Instead, he was looking at his fingernails, like he was trying to find that hangnail that he could feel, but couldn’t quite see.

“The hell?” the kid said. “Where’d you come from?”

Conner looked up and smiled. “I came out of my mother’s womb, fool. Where’d you come from?”

“Dude, you crazy or something? I got a gun. Don’t you see I got a gun? You want me to shoot you? Shut the hell up and sit down over there.”

Still smiling, Conner spoke again with ice in his voice. His eyes said that his mindset didn’t match the smile on his face. “Shoot me? Go for it. Been shot before, you punk assed bitch. More than once. If a sniper rifle couldn’t take me down, you think that baby gun you got there’s gonna do it?”

The boy in the doorway paused before opening his mouth again. “What you talking about? Where you see snipers?”

Conner laughed. “I never saw any snipers. If I’d seen them, they wouldn’t have shot me. But they did. They shot me. But you know what? After they shot me, I got up and walked away. That’s what Marines do. We get shot, we walk away. You shoot me, I’m going to walk over there, then I’ll take that toy away from you and shove it so far up your ass, you’ll have to use a toothbrush to pull the trigger the next time you decide to shoot someone.”

The gunman didn’t say anything. He moved the gun to his other hand.

“Now see,” said Conner, “you’re playing with it. Someone who shoots people doesn’t play with their gun. They hold it firm in one hand, kind of like you hold your pecker at night, and they show people that they know what to do with it, again, kind of like you and your pecker at night. The truth is that you’ve never shot anyone before, and you’re not going to shoot anyone today. Now, I might be wrong. You might shoot someone today just to prove to me how wrong I am. But, kid, I’m telling you, you pull that trigger again, you’re not walking out of this building on your own.”

Before Conner finished his last statement, the kid with the gun turned and ran out of the building.

The doors weren’t even fully shut before Conner slumped to the ground in pain. He hadn’t even felt the pain when faced with the scene that had just unfolded, but now that it was gone, the pain was back. He looked up at the man and woman who were standing next to him. “So, uh…care to give a guy a hand?”

As the two helped lift the Marine off the ground, they could hear the train much closer now. They both had the same thought running through their heads. They both thought Conner was a hero, and if what he’d just said was true, he was a hero in more ways than one. They both wanted to know his story, and they both thought it could be a story that others would want to hear.

“Dear Lord,” said Eloise, “you’re not hurt are you?”

“No ma’am, not by what just happened. I won’t lie and say I’m not in pain, because, well, you can see that I am. But no, I’m fine for the most part.”

Harris took off the coat he was wearing and put it around Conner’s shoulders. Conner protested. “Sir, I appreciate it, but you don’t want to do that. I don’t exactly smell spring fresh right now. Truth is, I was waiting for you folks to leave so I could go in there and give myself a sponge bath,” he said, pointing to the restroom he’d come out of moments before.

The older man smiled and shrugged. “Friend, I don’t care if you smell like a fresh pile of horse manure, the coat is yours, and I won’t hear another word about it. How is it that you’re a Marine, yet here you are, dressed like that, in this weather?” He was aware enough not to mention Conner’s dirty hair, his foul breath, or his filthy jeans.

“Sir, that’s a long story,” he said quietly, as the train pulled into the station.

Harris held out his hand. “It’s a story I’d love to hear.”

Eloise interrupted. “Oh, yes! So would I! If you don’t mind, I’d like to take notes, too!” She hadn’t been so excited to write something since the last time she’d written something, two days ago.

Conner shook his head. “You folks don’t understand. I’m kind of what you’d call a loner. I don’t accept pity or charity or anything of that sort. I didn’t do anything just now that any other-”

Harris was the one to interrupt this time. “Shut up.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said shut up. You obviously have a story to tell. This young lady obviously wants to write about it. And if it’s anything like I’m picturing it in my head, it’s probably something I’d be interested in publishing. So, shut up. The three of us are going to get on that train, go into the city, and I’m going to buy you both dinner while you tell us about these snipers you never saw.”

A sly grin crossed Conner’s face. “Well, actually, I did see them. I mean, after they shot me, I couldn’t just let them get away with it, could I?”

Eloise pursed her lips. “You shot them back.”

Before Conner could reply, the train conductor walked in to the station. “You folks headed to town? We’re behind schedule and need to get going.”

Harris held out his hand and helped Conner stand up. He put his arm around the other man’s waist to help support his waist. “Friend, I have a feeling you don’t really have any plans for tonight, so after we’ve eaten, you’re coming home with me. You’ll shower, get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow I’m taking you to see my doctor about that leg.”

Conner shook his head. Hadn’t he just told them he didn’t accept charity? “No sir, I can’t let you do that. I can go to the V.A. hospital just as soon as I get my next check.”

“Bullshit. I know the V.A. hospitals. If they did their job, you wouldn’t be in this much pain right now. Don’t argue with me. I know you don’t know who I am, but I’m not a man to be argued with.”

Eloise cleared her throat. I do that a lot, she thought to herself. “I think we’d better hurry. The conductor just climbed back on the train.”

Together, the three of them headed for the exit. One by one, they climbed aboard the train, Harris helping Conner up the steps of the passenger car. In the end, things happened just as Harris had said they would. They had dinner and Conner told his story. It took a couple of hours, and Eloise wrote everything by hand in her notepad. When Harris offered her the use of his laptop, she waved him away. After dinner, she went her own way, and the two men went back to Harris’ home, a penthouse with a view of the city.

The next morning, clean and well rested, dressed in clean clothes from the closet in a guest room, Conner visited Harris’ doctor.

Seven months later, Conner sat by Eloise’s side as she signed copies of her book. The book about Conner’s life and his time in the war. In a chair off to the side, Harris smiled at his new best selling author. The woman could write, there was no doubt about it. He looked at Conner and the smile grew. The two had become more than friends. He supposed a discreet person might say they were companions. Whatever they were, Harris was thankful to the young guy with the gun for bringing Conner Doogan into his life.

A week later, the train depot was closed permanently with no fanfare or mention.

Author’s note: I realize the ending is rather trite, but it was supposed to be a short story and I was on the verge of starting a novel.

Josh

I didn’t know who the dark haired kid was when I first saw him, but I’d get to know him very well before we finished high school. I still remember the first time he caught my eye. I was closing my locker and saw him staring at me. When he realized that I’d noticed him looking at me, he turned red, quickly slammed his locker, and hurried off down the hall.

I got to school early the next day, hoping to see him again, but it was a wasted effort. It wasn’t until lunch on the third day that I did see him again. He was sitting with some guys from the football team. Now, I was never exactly bold in high school, and there was no way I was going to go up and start talking to him. What I did do, though, was sit in his line of sight just a few tables away. I watched him until he looked up and met my eye, and when he did, I smiled at him, then looked away. I’ll spare you the details of the repetitive back and forth game of eye tag that this started. Let’s just say it went on for almost two more weeks.

A few days before the homecoming game, I was on my way to drama class, running a few minutes late, and as I hurried around a corner, I ran into a wall. A wall with black hair and dark green eyes. I mean, I literally ran into him. I mentioned earlier that he was sitting with the football players at lunch. Turns out it’s because he was a football player himself. As I unintentionally threw myself at him, he remained firmly planted in place, and I bounced off of him and onto the floor.

He offered me his hand to help me up and apologized for knocking me down. I tried to tell him it was my fault, but everything in my brain was focused on his hand. His hand holding my hand. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“Are you ok? Seriously? Say something,” he said, sounding worried.

“Wow, your eyes are really green.”

I wanted to slap myself. Back then, I never really gave much thought as to why I wasn’t interested in girls, but the last thing I wanted to do was sound like I was into guys. I was a drama and band nerd. The last thing I needed was people going around saying I was gay…although, I later found out that they’d been saying it long before any of this ever happened.

He shrugged. “Yeah, they are. Thank for noticing, I guess?”

Before I could respond, the bell rang. Having just made a fool of myself, I didn’t say anything else and just ran off to class without looking back. I spent the entire class period going over in my head what had just happened. Why did I say that about his eyes? Why couldn’t I have just thanked him for his help or apologized for running into him? Why did I have to run into him like that in the first place? Why did his hand feel so warm and strong? Why did I notice that his pants were-

Stop, I told myself. Just stop.

I didn’t stop, though. I was so caught up in thinking about this kid that I didn’t hear the bell ring. I was still sitting at my desk when my best friend, Erin, walked in.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”
“Huh?”
“Here. What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be going to gym right now. What are you still doing here?”
“Oh. Yeah. Nothing. I just…yeah. Nothing. Gotta go, I guess. Gym class and all that.”

I grabbed my bag from the floor next to me and hurried out of class. What was with me that day? I was never late, and there I was about to be late for the second class in a row. I stopped at my locker to throw my bag in, rushed out the door of the main building, and started running towards the gym. If I was late, Coach would make me run laps. I don’t run. Well, I mean I don’t run unless I’m late to class. Anyway, I noticed that my shoe was untied and slowed down a bit, thinking I should tie it, but then told myself that I was just going to be taking the shoe off when I got to the locker room, so I let it go and picked up speed. I reached the gym and ran around the corner towards the locker room entrance. Just as I made the turn, I tripped over that goddamned shoelace and fell face first into a wall.

A wall with black hair and dark green eyes.

I guess I should have been thankful that I hadn’t landed on the ground this time. The reason I didn’t end up on the ground, though, was because the wall caught me in his arms and kept me from hitting the ground.

In his big, thick arms. Strong arms.

When I looked at his dark green eye- I mean his face, he was grinning and what he said next had to have come straight out of the cheesiest movie of all time.

“Hey, we have to quit running into each other like this.”

And me, being the self confident, quick and witty guy that I am, I mumbled something like “your hair’s wet” and scurried (yes, scurried, as in a rat or a weasel) off to the locker room. I was late, naturally, since I was in those strong arms when the bell rang, so I spent most of the period running laps. Usually, when gym was over, I didn’t bother showering since it was my last class of the day. I normally just drove home and showered there before doing my homework. I had a doctor’s appointment today, though, so I took my time getting undressed, waiting for most of the guys to leave before I headed for the showers. I’m not shy about my body. Never have been. I just wasn’t comfortable being around a bunch of naked guys back then, mostly because I never knew how my body would react. I figured it was just teenage hormones at the time, but looking back I guess it should have been obvious that there was a better reason for it.

When the locker room was empty, I took off the last of my clothes and wrapped a towel around my waist, then headed to the shower. Now, here’s something I’ve never understood. The showers in so many boys’ locker rooms are communal. The shower heads are either mounted on the wall in a straight line (sometimes along two or three walls) or they’re around a pole that stands in the center of the floor. Either way, you end up with a shower full of naked teenaged boys with no privacy. This is the time in a kid’s life when sexuality is constantly at the forefront of his mind. It’s also the time of his life other guys are mercilessly cruel. I could never understand how a bunch of sex crazed fifteen and sixteen year olds could shower together, jostling each other, slapping each others asses, trying to hit each other in the groin and not see anything “gay” about it. Yet at the same time, they single out the kid in the corner, the kid minding his own business, trying to go unnoticed, and call him a fag. It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.

Anyway, our showers were set up with one large doorway, and then shower heads lining the left and right walls, as well as the far wall facing the entrance. On the rare occasion that I did have to shower with the other guys, I tried to get the first or last shower in the room, off in a corner. Since I was the only one in there this day, I took one in the center, facing the entrance, since they had the best water pressure. I suppose I could go off on a descriptive tangent, telling you how I soaped myself up and got turned on at the thought of the dark haired boy I couldn’t get off my mind, and then go into detail about how I relieved myself. The truth is, though, I didn’t do any of that. Sorry if that’s what you were expecting. I was running late (which seemed to be the theme of the day) for my appointment since I’d waited for everyone to clear out of the locker room before I got undressed. So I hurried with my shower, dried off, and rushed to my locker. I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing, so I didn’t wrap the towel around my waist like I had earlier. I just threw it over my shoulder and headed for my clothes. Just as I was bending over to put my underwear on, I heard a voice.

“Oh, hey. I didn’t think anyone would still be here. Do you always hang around the guys’ locker room after school, or did you know I’d be here?”

I looked up and saw him standing on the other side of the room, his locker wide open. I wanted to explain why I was in there so late. I mean it was a legitimate reason, right? Instead, I said “How would I know you’d be here. I wanted to be alone.”

His left eyebrow raised. “Alone? In the shower? In the locker room?”

There wasn’t much I could say to that. I was afraid I’d just put my foot further in my mouth, so I just shrugged and finished pulling up my underwear, just then realizing that I’d been on display for him while he was talking to me. I immediately turned all shades of red.

“Hey, don’t blush on my account.”

“I’m not blushing! I just-  Um. Well. The water. It was hot.”

“Dude, relax, I’m just messing with you.”

I don’t know why I that frustrated me, but it did. It really did. “Oh yeah? Well, why are you in here after school? You had gym last period. What, were you hoping to find me in here?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I could take them back. Great. He’s going to think I’m hitting on him. Shit.

He laughed. “As much fun as I’ve had running into you today, I’m afraid to tell you that you were the last thing on my mind when I came in.” He reached into the locker and pulled out a bag. “Laundry day. This shit’s getting ripe. Forgot it earlier, so here I am. Just had to pick up my drawers so my mom can wash them. Sorry to disappoint you.”

It didn’t dawn on me until later that I actually was a little disappointed. “I’m not disappointed. I’m annoyed. Every time I turn around today, there you are making me look foolish.”

“What? You think I’m enjoying having you throw yourself at me all day long?”

“I’M NOT THROWING MYSELF AT YOU!”

And as I said this, while pulling up my jeans, I fell over, in his direction. He was across the room, though, so I didn’t fall into him this time. I swear to God I’m not a clumsy person. I’m not. Still, for the third time in one day, I was tripping over myself. In front of this guy. This really good looking guy. This guy who was… Ugh. His back was to me, but he was clearly laughing.

“Oh my god. Stop laughing at me. Please.”

He turned back around. His face was red, but he wasn’t laughing. “I’m not laughing.”

I sighed, stood up, pulled my pants up, grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head.

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t help it. All this time you’ve been staring at me in the cafeteria, I thought you were trying to be smooth. Now I see you’re not smooth at all. Just out of curiosity, why have you been staring at me at lunch?”

I instantly denied it. I told him I look at everyone during lunch, that I was a people watcher. If he saw me looking at him now and then, it’s just because…just because…

“Just because you were staring at me?”

“No!”

He shrugged. “Ok. Whatever. No big deal if you were. I’ve got to get out of here before I’m late for work.” He slammed his locker door and headed for the exit. Just before the door closed behind him, he stuck his head back in. “Oh, by the way, your shirt’s on backwards. And inside out.” With that, he was gone, and the door clicked shut.

I looked down. He was right about my shirt. I was thankful that he’d at least been kind enough not to mention the fact that my pants zipper was wide open. I shook my head and groaned. Could today get any worse? I gathered up all my stuff, then thought about his dirty underwear. I mean, about what he’d said about his drawers being ripe. It made me think about my own gym clothes, so I decided I might as well take them home to be washed. I grabbed them out of my locker, then locked it, and headed for the parking lot.

I was lucky. I was one of the few sophomores to have my own car. My birthday was late in the school year, so I was a little older than most of the kids in my grade. One of the upsides to that was being able to drive myself to school. What wasn’t so lucky was that my car was a POS. Piece of shit. The front seat passenger side door didn’t latch, so it had to be held shut with a piece of rope. If I was driving alone, I could just tied the rope to the steering column. If someone was in the front seat with me, they had to hold the rope.

My car had no seatbelts.

I threw my bag and my books into the back seat and climbed behind the wheel. When I turned the key in the ignition, my eardrums almost exploded. When I got to school that morning, Billy Idol was on the radio and I had cranked up the volume all the way. I forgot to turn it off before getting out of the car, so when I started it, I was blasted with some Toto song.

I made my way across the parking lot and around the building to the student exit. Just before pulling out into the road, I noticed a beat up old pick up in the far corner of the parking lot with the hood up. I knew I was going to be late for my doctor appointment, but I felt like I should see if the owner of the truck needed any help. It’s what my grandmother would have done. I hesitated just a few second before putting my car in reverse and heading over to the truck.

When the owner come out from under the hood, I cussed out loud. Of course. It was him. Of course. Of course it was. Who else would be it today? I thought about just driving away, but it was too late. He’d already seen me and a grin replaced the scowl on his face. I exhaled loudly before turning off my car and climbing out.

“Hey,” he said, “I don’t know what-”

I shook my head, held up my hand, and interrupted him. “I don’t care. I don’t know what’s going on today, but I’ve about had it with you. I don’t want you to talk to me. I don’t want to know what’s wrong with your truck. I’m going to give you a ride to wherever it is you work, and then I’m going to go to the doctor. He probably won’t see me because I’m already late thanks to you, but whatever. You’re going to have to find your own ride home from work because I’m not going to go pick you up. My car is a piece of shit, the passenger door doesn’t close, and you’re going to have to hold it shut with a piece of rope. You’re not going to say one word to me. You aren’t going to smirk. You aren’t going to laugh or grin. Nothing. If so much as a corner of your mouth perks up, I’m kicking your ass out and you can walk. Now get in the fucking car.”

I have no idea where any of that came from, and it certainly wasn’t typical of me. I’d just had enough for the day. I wasn’t comfortable with the feelings I got when he was around me, and he was around me far too much today. I watched as he walked around the car and got in. I waited until he closed the door and had the rope in his hand before I got in. I started my engine and pulled out into the road. I drove half a block before I realized I didn’t know where I was taking him.

“Where do you work?”

He looked at me, but didn’t say anything.

“Oh, bullshit. Haha, I get it. I told you not to talk to me, so now you’re not going to tell me where you’re going, right?”

He nodded.

“Fine, you’re going to the doctor’s with me.” I assumed that when he heard that, he’d stop being stupid and tell me where he needed to go. He didn’t, though. I wasn’t about to let him win, so I turned my radio back on and drove right to the doctor’s office. When we got there, he let go of the rope, watched the door swing open on its own, and got out of the car. He looked back at me, smiled, nodded his head, and walked across the street to a small chinese food place. I watched him go in. I waited for him to come back out. After a few minutes, I looked at the building I was parked in front of and then looked at my watch. I was twenty five minutes late for my appointment. Screw it, I thought to myself, then headed across the street. I figured he was in there using their phone, and I felt kind of bad for the way I’d talked to him. If he wasn’t able to get a ride, I’d offer to drop him off at his home or his work.

When I walked in the front door, there was no one in sight. I stood there for a couple of minutes before he came out of the back. “Oh, sorry, the hostess is on the phone.” I looked at him. He was wearing a white apron. “Are you dining in or is it a to-go order?”

“What?”

“Dine in or carry out?”

“I’m not eating here.”

“So, to go, then?”

“No, I don’t want to order any food.”

“A drink?”

“What?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “You know, I never got the impression that you were slow before. Now I’m wondering if that might explain how weird you are.”

“I’m not slow!”

“You’re in a chinese restaurant. You don’t want to order anything. You keep saying ‘what’ to me. What else am I supposed to think?”

“You’re an ass. Do you know that? Because if you didn’t know before, you know now. You are an ass.”

Before he could reply, I walked back out the way I’d come in. I crossed the street, got in my car, and drove home.

To hell with him. I hoped I’d never see him again.

 

C’est la vie

(This was written in 2009, but the gist remains pretty much the same.)

I don’t want to get old.

I would never end my own life, nor would I give up fighting if my life were in danger, so don’t go getting any ideas from this post, ok? But I don’t want to get old. I dread it. It’s something I never really gave much thought to. I joke about being dead by the time I’m 50, and if I’m not, I’ll take pills and booze, and just go. Like I said, I wouldn’t really do that, but I just can’t imagine being older than that.

I grew up in and around nursing homes. I know about quality of life. I’ve seen the old, frail folks, and I’ve seen the young, spry old folk. I’ve seen wives in the home who’s 90 year old husband comes to see them and just bounds up the steps with a spring in his step. But it doesn’t matter. Because they’re old. They can’t do things they used to do. I really don’t want to hear the crap about “You can do anything you want!”   None of that “it’s all in your head, a 90 year old can do what a 50 year old can do!” It’s just not true. And I don’t want to get old.

I can’t say that I’m scared, really. I’m not. I’m a little put off by not knowing what the future holds, though. Most people start getting ready for retirement when they’re half my age. Me? I got nothing. No savings. No IRAs. No CDs or bonds. Nothing. Hell, I’ll be lucky to get $100 a month in social security. I’m not going to let Kellen take care of me. I assume we’ll be together, but I don’t want him to support me. It’s bad enough now that he supports me, but to let him do it when I’m old will just be…I don’t know. Bad.

A lot of it is that I look back and realize I’ve done nothing in life. No, this isn’t one of those woe is me stories. I know I’ve touched people. I’ve probably even saved lives. I’m sure there are people who’s lives are better for knowing me. But I haven’t done anything. I toyed with the idea of a bucket list. A cruise, rock climbing, etc. The truth is, though, that I won’t do anything like that. Why not? Because it’s not the kind of person I am. I’m the kind of person who sits and watches, and then wishes I’d done it. So why not change? Again, because that’s just the kind of person I am. I can’t say it makes me happy, exactly, but I have a feeling that being unsettled in life is what I feel most comfortable with, if that makes any sense. It does in my head, but not logically… So I’ll sit and watch old age approach. No diet, no change in physical activity, no monetary security is going to change it. And I’ll dread every minute of it while doing nothing to change it. Because that’s just who I am.

And again, not to be woe is me, but it’s times like this that I…well, I really don’t like myself much. Yes, I’m a nice guy, a good person, have a great heart, and all that crap. But it doesn’t change me.

You know what brought all this on? Nip/Tuck. The 40 year old ex-wife on the show is thinking about going to med school. I sit and wonder if I should go back to school. I won’t qualify for financial aid, I have no job, and I won’t let Kellen pay for it. I like school, but I hate studying. And while I think about maybe going back to school, I think back on my unsuccessful attempts at education. I graduated high school at 20. I didn’t start college until I was in my mid-30s. I never finished. I have enough credits for at least an associates, but I’m missing a credit or two that are required for any type of paper. In four years, I could be a teacher. In two years, I could be a nurse. In one year, I could be a paramedic. Teacher is what has been on my mind the most lately. But you know what? I’m 42 years old and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

Crazy, isn’t it?

The really sucky thing is that, through fault that is only my own, I have such a shitty job history that even if I do go and finish whatever type of schooling, no one will hire me, because I’d be almost 50, have had held at least 25 jobs in my life, and only two or three of them for more than a year, but none for even two years. That  is because I have a short temper, very little patience for idiots, and don’t like being told what to do. I have the hardest time keeping my mouth shut when I should, and I gossip even when I don’t mean to. I’m a 42 year old with the mentality of a 12 year old. So…yeah.

I don’t think this is even a midlife crisis. I think it’s just me finally facing life and reality. I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to be old. I regret so much in life. Most of all, I regret that I set such a bad example for my kids. They have my short temper, my little patience, and my inability to keep their mouth shut. When they get angry or frustrated, they say things they regret, just like I do.

I never took care of them financially, depending on Eileen to be the bread winner. I barely pay child support, paying it here and there when I’m able. Granted, when I’m working, she gets almost my entire paycheck, just because I want to catch up, but still. Even when I was there full time, I was still a dead beat dad.  I never took care of them like I should. I’m not proud of it.  I’m ashamed of it, actually.  I just finally accept, too late, that I’m the one responsible for my failures.  And my kids, they look at me and see the dad who just wants to have fun, who doesn’t keep a job. And now…it’s just too late to change that.  I know they love me.  I know they will say I’ve been a good dad, but when they’re in their 30s, they’ll look back and realize the truth.

Maybe that’s why I don’t want to be old.  In fact, reading back on this, what I said up there towards the beginning isn’t quite true.  I’m pretty sure what the future holds.  I see myself growing old alone.  I’l have driven Kellen away because he shouldn’t be 45 taking care of a 65 year old, and my kids – although they love me and will love me – will be the kind of family to me that I was to them as they grew up.  And I’ll be that old person in the nursing home with a nurse aid sitting next to me during the kitchen cooked Christmas dinner because she had to work the holiday, trying to keep me in good cheer.

And that’s what scares me.  I just realized that, after writing all of the rest of this.

Life is what it is.  I just wish I’d realized all of this 25 years ago.

Thoughts on God and Religion

Church really messed me up. I grew up hating myself, miserable, because of a church. Because I let men tell me what to believe.

I love God. I really, really do. There are times when I see beauty – be it a rainstorm, pristine white snow, Lake Tahoe, a newborn baby sleeping peacefully, two people in love, a stranger lending a hand – and I’m overwhelmed with love for Him.

The thing is that my hatred of church and religion tends to keep me from trying to be close to God. I personally believe that everyone worships the same God. Some may call him Buddha, some may call him God, some may call him Mother Nature, some may worship him as thousands of separate gods, but in the end, I think it’s all the same being. I choose to call him God. When we die, I think that this being, my God, takes those who truly love to the place they want to be. Whatever form heaven is to you, I think that’s where your God will take you when you die.

I love God. I thank Him every day for putting me in a spot where my eyes were open to just how hateful a religion I’d grown up in. I thank him for showing me that the only thing that matters is a good, kind, loving heart. I don’t think God really cares what we do as long as we love our fellow man and as long as we aren’t hurting anyone else. I think all he wants from us is for us to love each other, to help each other when it’s needed, to encourage and support each other. And for this reason, I believe that, in spite of my being a grand ol’ whore, in spite of my love of dirty words, in spite of my awful, sick, twisted sense of humor, in spite of anything bad I see in myself…I believe that because I love people, because I want to help other people, because I’m miserable if I see someone else miserable, because I can’t stand to see someone in need and refuse to sit by and not help, I believe that, when I die, God will reward me with whatever vision of a paradise I hold in my heart.

This means that when I die, I’ll spend an eternity living by a lake, sitting with my grandmother (who I miss so much right now that it has me in tears) and my kids, just enjoying the view, swimming, fishing, listening to good old country music, and feeling the love.

I don’t really have a point to all this, other than to say that sometimes I really miss going to church. I know people will say that there are churches out there that don’t preach hate. There are churches that teach only love. Churches that accept people for who they are, that don’t condemn others. But I just don’t believe that. I believe that no matter how loving and innocent a church appears, how truly Christ-like it seems to be, ALL churches have their own ulterior motives. I don’t miss being around other churchies. I don’t miss the preaching. What I miss is the music. The songs. The hymns. I have all kinds of spiritual music that I listen to, and sometimes it just moves me to the point where I just want to stand up and wrap my arms around God and never let go.

I guess where I’m going with this is that I think the only way I’ll ever find a church that truly gives me what I need is when I die. At that time, I’ll have all the music I want, surrounded by real love, with people who aren’t expecting anything, and with God literally by my side.

This whole post may sound moody or sad, but it’s really not. I just…I feel the urge to proudly say that I love my God. A lot of people in my life say they can’t understand how I’ve gotten so far from Him, but the truth is that I’m closer to Him than I’ve ever been, and I don’t understand how THEY can be so FAR from Him and not realize it, how they can think they’re actually CLOSE to him. They don’t believe me when I say I love Him and that I’m close to Him. So, I’m here, now, telling you, my friends, that I love God with all that I’m capable of loving Him with.

Yes, I’m a filthy minded, foul mouthed, lazy bum, but you know what? God loves me, and I love Him.

Who Are You?

Once, in high school, oh so many years ago, I was standing and talking to a couple of girls who I must have considered to be somewhat friendly with. I mean, why else would I be standing and talking to them? They were wearing cheer uniforms. I can’t remember if they were cheerleaders or Raiderettes, but I remember the uniforms. Anyway, we were standing right under the second floor walkway. We were laughing about something, and all of a sudden a huge gob of spit/phlegm landed on my shoulder from above. There was laughter, but the offender was nowhere to be seen. I remember one of the girls laughing, and the other saying “Gross!”

I recently asked on Facebook how long was too long to carry a grudge. I asked if it is better to mention a hurtful incident to a perpetrator now after so long, or to let it go. The majority said to let it go and not mention it.

I just finished reading a book about a high school shooting. Things festered and finally boiled over into gunfire. The final straw was someone having their headphones jerked out of their ears. The book was about the long lasting effects the shooting had on everyone, even those who weren’t shot. And how more than the shooting, it was the little things before the shooting that haunted these people so much. People wondering if maybe they’d stood up for a bullied victim just once, would the shooting have been avoided. If that one girl had apologized for tripping another, would they have avoided the nightmare that eventually happened.

It got me to thinking. I think even the nicest among us had that someone that we weren’t so nice to. I can think of one guy who everyone thought was so great. Such a nice guy, always smiling, always friendly. A guy who would never make anyone else uncomfortable. They never saw him picking at that one poor kid who never looked at anyone wrong. They never saw him making lewd sexual taunts to the kid. Or the cheerleader who was known the complete opposite of what most cheerleaders were perceived to be. Would her image have been tarnished if people heard her calling another girl fat behind her back? Or would that cheerleader have felt bad had she known that the overweight girl actually did hear the comment?

This goes the other way, too. A good many kids were seen as bullies. Most of them deserved the reputation. But what about that one who, when by himself, saw another kid ready to jump off of a bridge, and stopped to talk to him, to get him to sit down, and think about things? How would that act of kindness altered the bully’s life?

We think that after 25 years, we should be over these things. We think they should be forgotten. After all, we’ve grown, and we’re not those people anymore. But is it true? Have we changed that much? I see some of the bullies from high school are now on Facebook. I read some of the comments they make or look at some of their pictures, and I think “She’s still as much of a bitch as she ever was.”

The truth is that a lot of people carry that pain with them for a lifetime. One or two incidents, sure, maybe we can forget those. But when you go through your entire high school career facing that crap every day, it’s kind of hard to forget it, even 25 years later.

There is a Facebook friend who I adore. She was one of a very small few who I never, ever saw belittle anyone, and who actually stood up for the bullied more than once. Sadly, I think this type of person is far too few to be found. Then, there’s the second type. The bully who apologizes years later, and turns out to be a very decent chap, one who is actually enjoyable to relate to, even if it is on the internet.

But there are also those who will probably never be forgotten or forgiven. The ones who probably still don’t see anything wrong with what they did. The ones who, if told that their child was bullying someone, would grin and say “Kids will be kids,” and then laugh about it with the child.

There are three names from Stroman and one from Bandera who will always be that bully to me. People who, if they were to apologize to me today, I’d turn my back on them. Because I think they fall in to that last category. Which makes it all moot, because since they fall in to the last category, they’d never actually apologize.

Anyway, my point to this is that you never know when something you’ve said or done is going to come back at you. You have no way of knowing how something you say now will still have a negative impact on someone’s self esteem 25 years later. Because, yes, I’m still haunted by that spit. If I go someplace where people are standing at a higher level, I’m unable to enjoy myself because I’m watching for spitters or looking for another place to stand.

But it’s about more than high school. It’s about now. Think before you speak. Think before you act. The only time it’s too late to take it back is after you’ve done it. Shootings don’t just happen in high school. They happen in college. They happen in the work place. They happen in nursing homes.

Words hurt. Actions hurt.

Even 25 years later.

So, to anyone that I’ve ever said a hurtful word to or done something mean to, I apologize. Sincerely. I’m still bothered by a few words said years ago, so I can imagine that something I’ve done can still bother someone. So, again, whether you’re a real life friend, an old friend, or just an internet acquaintance, I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt you.

Now let’s get this party started!

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