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Gifted by Ray Printer Friendly

So you're what? The guy? The recording guy?


Documentarion. Fancy. You make that title up yourself?


Thought so. Well...what now? Where do we start?

[Just...wherever you want. Tell me a little about yourself, before the outbreak, if you want. About how you lived through the outbreak. After the outbreak. Whatever you're comfortable talking about. Just talk, tell me your story.]

My story? Okay. My story. Sheesh. It's pretty boring, I think. I mean, not once you get into the killin' zombies and shit--that's pretty exciting, in my opinion. But before that? Not so much. You want to just get to the exciting parts?

[Not necessarily. I'm trying to make records. Talk as much as you want about whatever, it will all go into the archive.]

The archive, huh? And who do you think will be reading this? The zombies can't read, and ain't nobody else livin' through this.

[Kind of a bleak attitude, don't you think?]

I think it's the realistic view of things. We can try to fuck faster than we die, and that's the only way the living are gonna get through this. I don't think we're up to it. Every time we die, they get a new member. Every time we get in a skirmish, they recruit more of us. Nah, I don't think it's a bleak attitude. I think it's just fact. We're goners, kid. Maybe somewhere down the line, they'll evolve, start thinkin', start readin'. And maybe they'll be able to decipher whatever crap you're recording. If they do, I hope they read this: fuck you.

Dead, heartless fucks, I hope you find this right when your time's up, right when you're goin' through what we are, so you can know the fear and the hopelessness, and you can know that you were the bad guys once. Rat fuckin' bastards.

But chances are, nobody'll ever read the shit you're working so hard to document. Your pages will be sitting in some blood-stained room, waiting for the wind to blow 'em just a little, so that they can finally crumble themselves to death. You ever think about that, as you run around takin' your notes?

[I think about it. I try not to, but I think about it.]

Then why keep it up?

[Hope. The hope that maybe we can win this thing. Hope that if we don't, there will be someone around who can. Hope that it isn't all for nothing.]

Trust me, kid, it's all for nothing. Once you accept that, things go a lot smoother.

[I...I generally try to keep myself out of the process. So if you could just...tell your story.]

Fair enough. What's that look? My cigarette? So you're one of those. Look, kid, the surgeon general was wrong. Smoking isn't killing anyone, not anymore. Our timeline got cut a lot shorter. So if you have a problem with me lightin' up, you can take your notebook and go bug someone else.

[No, it's not that. Just makes me sneeze, that's all.]

Well feel free to sneeze all you like. Things like cancer sticks are the only thing keepin' me from swallowin' the fast side of a bullet these days. The little things that show you you're still alive, that's what you have to live for. Back before this clusterfuck, we all wanted to live forever. Now we know it's not gonna happen, so we better enjoy what we can while we can, and to hell with the consequences.

[I know how to survive, don't lecture me.]

Hahaha! Look at that--you do have a little fire in ya. Guess you'd have to, to travel around listenin' to the stories.

[And stop calling me kid.]

Fair enough, fair enough. Okay, let's do this. My story. Just start anywhere?

[Wherever you think would best describe how you've managed this far.]

All right, then.

I was never any good. At anything, I mean. Sports, education, you name it, I wasn't good at it. I didn't make friends, I didn't make enemies. I was nondescript. All my life, I was background scenery. I wasn't even good at failing, when you get right down to it. I was the gray area of life. I was the middle range, the statistics that were discarded.

Plain yogurt.

Boring as fuck.

My parents were fine--they fought a little, but always worked it out, and it never scarred me. They loved me just fine, but it was never greeting card love, it was never anything special. When I went away to college, they told me goodbye, and my dad shook my hand and my mom kissed me on the cheek, and I drove away and they went back inside. Mom had some recipes to copy and Dad had his checkbook to balance and a game to watch on TV.

I went to school like I was supposed to, and I went to some parties and I dated some girls, and it was all uneventful and boring, even to me.

I used to sit around, wondering.

Wondering what was the point. Of life. Of me, specifically. I mean, was I put here for some reason? Or was I just filler for people with real lives? An extra in a movie I'd never get to watch?

I graduated, I got some stupid job where I was put in a box and ignored for most of the day, and then I'd go home to my little apartment and be ignored in a different box, and nothing was anything, and none of it mattered.

I did that for six years.

Six fuckin' years, kid. Sorry. Not kid.

Six fuckin' years, I lived like there was no reason for it.

And then the dead got restless.

And I was suddenly good at life.

I didn't care, you see?

It didn't mean anything to me. I've heard about people reacting to the zombies, looking at them and freezing up or being horrified, whatever. That wasn't me.

They're a vicious bunch of fuckers, and I guess they're scary. But whatever it is that repulses everyone, horrifies them, I don't have that.

I had a job when I was sixteen, as a cashier at a grocery store. People would show up with their giant baskets of groceries, and I'd scan things and take money and give change, and none of it meant fuck-all to me.

I didn't care how many items they had, or how many coupons. I didn't care about screaming kids, or paper or plastic, or what I was supposed to offer as impulse items. I was on the clock, and my job was to get people through the line, and that's what I did.

Some of the people I worked with, they wigged out, man. They'd get flustered and angry and they'd lose their shit, start yellin' at customers, or on their coworkers or even their bosses.

I'd just scan the items and clean up when I was supposed to, and none of it ever bothered me.

That's what this is to me, that's what life is, that's what living is. Just getting through it until my time-card is punched, and then saying goodbye. I'm not scared, I'm not frazzled, I'm not one of those guys who contemplates killing himself every night because he can't imagine living out the rest of his days in this kind of world.

I wake up each morning, and I go out and I do what I need to do--gather supplies or try to save survivors or kill zombies who are getting too close to the perimeter.

I go out and I do that, and none of it bothers me, because this is what I'm good at, this is what I'm supposed to do.

I'm sure they'll get me, one of these days. Like I said--I think they'll get us all. I'll go down screaming in terror, just like everyone else. Or maybe I'll just get bit, and I'll have to go down like a whimpering dog, begging for life even though I know it's a lost cause.

But until then, I'll just keep goin'.

You know something? It's not the zombies that get you. Literally, it is, of course. But what it really is that gets you is the fear. You freeze up, or you make a bad decision, and it's because of the fear. Or the doubt caused by fear.

Those guys who decide to swallow a bullet? Fear, plain and simple. Fear that tomorrow won't be a better day, fear that this is all life will ever be, fear that they won't be able to do the right thing when they have to. They can't deal with it, so they make their own ending..

[You said earlier that the zombies were going to win, that we would be erased, as a species. But right now it sounds like you're almost optimistic. It sounds like you're saying that there will be a better day.]

No, there will never be a better day, not in that sense. It's just that I ain't afraid of it. I try to enjoy myself as much as possible, live life as much as I can. Maybe that means a cigarette, or a hard drink, or a soft broad. Maybe it means a night reading a book about vampires--remember when those pussies were the in-thing to be scared of?--and then going to bed early.

Life sucks. Back in the day, some people had good lives, and some people had bad lives. Now we all have shit lives, but our choices are still the same: you either live or you die. I choose to live, and I choose to enjoy it. Because there will be plenty of time for the alternative later.

That said, maybe tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe there will be some chick who wants to hook up, or maybe I'll find a case of whiskey while I'm out scouting. There will still be zombies--like I said, I think there will always be zombies--but that doesn't mean you can't keep on livin'. Hell, they do.

[You mentioned that whatever it is that horrifies people about the walking dead, you don't have that. Would you care to elaborate?]

Sure, why not?

It happens. I mean, I see that shit happen like all the time. It can happen with dudes who been out in the shit, guys who have seen some nastiness. Sometimes, they'll see something that flicks their switch, and that's it--they turn off like robots. Just stand there, sometimes just a blank look on their face, sometimes crying or whatever. Saw one guy, he just started singing a lullaby. I guess the zombie that was after him, it reminded him of his kid or something? I don't know. Never got the chance to ask him because he stood there singing until the kid walked over and bit him right in the guts. He stopped singing then, and started screaming, but it was too late--he was already infected. I put him down right before I took out the kid who bit him.

Hell, maybe it was his kid, I don't know.

Or maybe it's because the thing was a kid--lots of people get a soft spot about kids, even though they'll rip you apart just as fast as the grown ones. Or maybe it was because the little bastard was all tore up--looked like it'd been drug about twenty miles down a street full of shit and broken glass.

Something set the guy off, though, and it happens all the time. People freeze up, they lose their shit.

I don't. Admittedly, zombies are creepy as hell. You look 'em in their dead eyes, it's like your soul's getting its nuts squeezed. It's against everything, you know? Everything we've believed, everything we know deep down to be true. They aren't pleasant to be around, is what I'm saying. But they don't do that thing to me, that deer-in-the-headlights thing they do to so many others.

Even the first time, when the people around me were losing their shit, I took care of business. And since then, I've seen some pretty crazy shit, but it's almost like I'm watching a movie--hell, maybe I'm just that desensitized, I don't know--so it never screws with me too bad. I just don't get scared, is the thing. Ever. Because I know I'm not gonna make it, I know it, and I've accepted it--really, truly accepted it--and once you do that, you find that being scared is kind of a stupid waste of time. Zombie Zen, I guess you could say.

I've talked to some people, people much smarter than me--hell, you've probably talked to them, too--and we've had lengthy discussions about it. They all think I'm lying, they all think I'm trying to be a tough guy.

But you know what? I'm not a tough guy. Sure, I play the part these days, but if this thing had happened any other time, I'd probably be dead right now.

I worked in an office, man. I played on the softball team, and I wasn't all that great. Played racquetball with my boss once in a while, and he always beat me, even if I didn't try to let him win.

I wasn't a jock, I wasn't a tough guy. I was just some guy who wrote reports and typed on a computer and did all the other bullshit that a lot of the world did, back then.

It was a hunting retreat. Team building exercise, me and my boss and five other dudes. We had this lodge up in the mountains, we were there from Friday until Sunday. No pay, because it was supposed to be like a vacation.

I won't get into the whole story, because it's just like a million other ones--we were caught off guard, didn't want to believe it. One of the guys--Jake, Jack, something like that--he finds this fucked up looking dude out while he's looking for deer.

And the guy was infected, of course, but none of us knew that. We just thought he was sick and maybe suffering from malnutrition.

We brought him into the cabin and did our best to fix him up, and tried to call the authorities. About the time we decided we should haul his sick ass to town is about the time that he decided to start eating us.

It ripped a huge chunk out of Jack or Jake or whatever his name was. Caught him in the chin, took a chunk out of his jawbone and everything. Bastards crush in pretty easy under a bat or what have you, but they got a bite like you wouldn't believe, right?

They all wigged out, trying to save the coworker, trying to restrain the zombie. You seen 'em, you know how you can tell right away that they aren't people anymore. They're fuckin' monsters. You see their eyes, you know it.

My boss, my co-workers, they didn't get it. They thought this was some guy, I don't know what the hell they were doing, really.

I still had my hunting rifle. The safety was on and the chamber was empty, just like the instructor had told us, when he taught us how to use the guns the day before. I chambered a round and shot the motherfucker, right in one of those eyes that was giving me the willies so bad. It dropped down dead, and about three seconds later, so did Jake.

Everyone's still panicking, trying to save him, trying to yell at me about what the hell did I just do, I killed a man, how could I kill a man. My boss was trying to do mouth-to-mouth on my dead co-worker, CPR or whatever.

It bit his tongue off. He fell back, blood just spewing out of his mouth, and...

Oh, I said I wasn't gonna tell the whole story didn't I?

Long story short, I killed the co-worker and my boss. One second, he was begging me not to do it, to put the gun away. I just waited. The second his eyes changed, the second he changed, I put him down.

My other co-workers called me crazy and promised to turn me in, and I told them that was fine. The dead were rising, you know? That kind of thing happens, life gets put into perspective.

For once in my life, I wasn't scared.

The rules of social engagement, of how to talk or how to smile or who to be polite to, they didn't matter, all the sudden. I didn't have to worry about driving through a stop sign and then being terrified that the cop wouldn't like me. I didn't have to worry about my joke being sexually offensive, I didn't have to worry about my choice in music being ethnically incorrect. It didn't matter that my mom thought I should have already married, it didn't matter if I felt like a pussy at the gym, it didn't matter if I dropped my lunch tray in the work cafeteria and looked like an asshole. Nothing stupid mattered anymore, you see?

It was kill or be killed, and everything else was fucking bullshit.

And you know what? That's how I got tough.

I was allowed to be a man again. I was allowed to be who I wanted to be, who I needed to be, because there was nobody around to tell me that I was doing it all wrong. There was nobody lecturing about my attitude, or harping on me about being socially sensitive, politically correct. And you know what? Left on my own devices, I didn't turn into some sort of lawless nightmare. I turned into a man, because that's how I was gonna survive.

I didn't know shit about guns, but it was easy enough to figure out. The internet lasted a while, and I used it. Shitkicker town in Colorado, I went to an unused library, killed the fuck out of all the zombies there, and printed out anything useful I could think of, hauled it around with me until I could read it all, and there you have it.

A few months in this world will turn just about anyone into a hardass.

They say I'm the best, right? That's why you came to find me? I shouldn't be the best. I just happen to not give a fuck, and I can read. Maybe there are guys out there who could have been better zombie-killers than me.

I mean, I know there are. But maybe they were just a little different than me: maybe they smoked, so they didn't have the endurance; or maybe they weren't smart. Maybe they had emotional ties. Who knows?

The beauty of it is, it doesn't matter.

You got me. I'm the guy the ladies want to fuck, I'm the guy that guys like you want to talk to.

I'm a legend, my friend. I don't think I deserve to be, and I can tell by the look on your face that you don't feel I deserve it, either.

But that's the way it goes, kid.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm not quite as stupid as you might think.

For instance, I noticed the bandage around your ankle as soon as you stepped into the tent. I noticed that you stopped sneezing about my cigarettes a while back. Oh, yeah, I saw your face when I said maybe I survived due to endurance because I didn't smoke. I don't. But everyone has a reaction to smoke being blown in their face. Everyone.

Yours was pretty intense, at first, coughing and scrunching up your nose. But you didn't even notice the last three. They burned away in the ashtray right under your nose, you didn't even notice. The air's so nasty in here that I can barely breathe, and you didn't even notice. Surgeon General actually got it wrong--cigarettes can actually save your life. They're like a litmus test to tell who's about to change.

And you've gotten paler, kid. Sorry--not kid. Sir. You've gotten paler, sir. I know the signs, I've seen them a million times.

Point is, you brought in a recorder and a transcriber. You know you're going down. I figure you just wanted to be taken out by the best.

Look, I never been too good at saying goodbye, so

[At this point, the interview subject pulled a pistol out of his boot and shot the interviewer in the forehead. He looked at the transcriber for a moment and left the tent. Thus concludes interview #898665]

Posted under Short Stories on 1/12/11

Entered By Derrick From Amarillo
2011-01-14 03:23:26

Awesome story, Ray. Not that my opinion means anything, but I hope somebody somewhere starts paying you for this kind of stuff, and soon. -Derrick

Entered By Ray From Austin
2011-01-14 04:06:56

Your opinion means quite a lot, sir. And I hope the same thing.

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