Just Banter

Bang! A stiff’s head exploded in a cloud of rotten meat and black clots. Bang! Another one got his face blown up. Bang! Clive unloaded his last bullet into the unsuspecting walking dead who had gotten too close.

Jim was already climbing the ladder, Clive followed. None of the stiffs was able to grab his ankle.

Jim stretched on the balcony. The fire escape was a godsend. The men were safe high above the alley, the moans and roars of the undead menacing, but harmless.

“God damn, these stiffs,” said Clive in his thick Louisiana accent.

Jim just nodded his head squarely. He was pale.

“Are you alright?” asked Clive. “You been bit?”

“Nah.”

“You been bit? Answer me!”

“No, Clive. I’m fine, goddammit.”

“Okay, okay. I was just asking, is all,” said Clive, wiping sweat from his brow. “We should relax for a little while and then find a way across the-”

“And go where?” Jim snapped.

“Take it easy, city boy,” said Clive. “By the way, you’re a pretty good shot for a queer.”

Jim clenched his jaw. “How many times do I have to tell you, you fucking hick, I’m not a queer. I just lost a wife, goddamit.”

“Oh yeah? Are you gonna cry about it?”

The looked at each other for a second, motionless and stern. And then they burst out laughing.

The dead kept moaning tirelessly below them.

Brothers and Sisters

“Hey, can I get that coffee?”

“Coming right up, sweetie,” Selma reassured the customer in the corner. “I’ll be right back, Vlad,” she said to me.

I was flipping burgers on the giant skillet, sweat dripping down my back. I had gotten used to it. I could cool down chopping onions, or getting something from the walk-in fridge.

Selma was back sooner than I expected.

“Where was I? Oh yeah,” she said, “So anyway, Trevor was a travelling salesman and his route was from New York to Maine. I was still living in Vermont. He would stop by sometimes, tell me all sorts of stories. And then that one time he came over, telling me he was getting married. My little brother was getting married. I was surprised, couldn’t you have called, I said. No, he wanted to tell me in person. So asked him who was the girl and he told me her name was Sarah and that she was Jewish. And I’m like, that’s okay, ’cause I’m no anti-seemite. And anyway, my friend was Jewish, her name was Debbie. I don’t know if it’s a Jewish name. Is it?”

“It is,” I said. “It’s Deborah. A typically Jewish name.”

“Yeah, you’re a smart one. What’s your business flipping burgers anyway, huh?”

“It’s a good job, isn’t it.”

“I guess it is. Hey, what kind of a name is Vlad? Are you from Transylvania? Is Poland in Transylvania?” hard to say whether she was joking. A little smile never left her face.

“Nah,” I smiled back, “My name is Vladek, Vlad for short.”

“You got any brothers or sisters, Vlad?”

“I do.” I made her wait a second, “Eight in all. Three brothers and five sisters.”

“Well, you’re something else. Is it common in Poland?”

“Oh yeah, most men have many wives. My father has three.”

“Huh, look at that. Are you a Muslim?”

“No, we’re Buddhist. A lot of people in Poland are.”

She looked down a second, then up at me again. She was probably about fifty, but her eyes looked sharp. They were bright blue and extremely intelligent. She winked at me and smiled.

“You wouldn’t be trying to make a fool out of old Selma, would you.”

I felt my cheeks were getting hot. I looked down, could not bear to look at her.

“Sorry, Selma. I was just having some fun.”

“Thought so, kid. Thought so.”

And she walked away to greet a customer. I planned what I was going to say when she came back. Something to serve as a peace offering. And also to find out whether she was mad.

The Sickness

On day one, Jeff came in a little late. His eyes were all red, his nose was runny.

“Hey, everybody. I think I have the flu. Don’t come near me, or you’ll catch it too.”

“What the heck are you doing here, Jeff? Go home!”

“I can’t, it’s the end of the release, if you didn’t notice.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

On day three, Dora was also sick. But the two of them did not bother to take some sick days. They didn’t care if the rest of the office got it too, apparently.

On day five, four people had it. Jeff was starting to look worse. It was definitely not a 24-hour thing. No, we were way beyond that.

On day nine, almost everyone was showing symptoms, but we all contiued working to finish the release. There was a lot of sniffing and coughing and sneezing.

On day ten, Jeff got the shakes.

On day eleven, you could not talk to him like a normal person. I don’t think he was very productive at that stage, but he sat at his desk for 12 hours, typing away without so much as a coffee break. I tried to read what he wrote later on and it was all gibberish. But at the time we didn’t know.

On day twelve, Jeff started getting nosebleeds. Other people started with the shakes and the skulks. More gibberish was produced.

On day thirteen, Jeff was bleeding out of his ears and eyes. He used a tissue to minimize the staining.

“I’m fine, goddamit. I gotta finish this thing!”

On day fifteen, more people were bleeding.

On day seventeen, nobody cared about the blood anymore. People seldom spoke.

On day eighteen, Jeff stopped bleeding. He started to stink a little. He moved slowly, his eyes absent, his mouth open and dripping slime. He did not speak, just emited low growls. What he was writing started to make weird sense. It was crystal clear that the guy had access to a better, more substantial reality.

On day nineteen, more people stated looking like Jeff. I looked up the symptoms on the Internet and came up with a strange word: ‘zombie.’ I had not heard that one before.

On day twenty-five, everybody was like Jeff. They seemed stable. Productivity was through the roof!

Shades of Grey

“Hey, you see those two? That’s Saturn and Jupiter,” she said, pointing at the two dots in the sky.

“Oh yeah?” he replied, “Those are planets?”

The air was still and hot. The city hummed in the distance. It was quiet here in the valley. She felt a slight chill, but that was probably excitement. He smelt of French fries and sweat, but not in an unpleasant way.

“Yes. They are close enough so we can see them move. That’s why they’re called planets. That’s Greek for ‘wanderers.'”

“I thought they would be a different color.”

“Uhm… In space everything is shades of grey.”

“How come they show different colors on TV?”

“It’s just for show,” she felt she was blushing. She weighed the pros and cons of continuing about the light spectrum in vacuum and such. Luckily, he broke the silence.

“You don’t normally see stars in the city, do you?”

“You don’t,” she nodded. “But those are planets. They are close enough…”

She felt embarassed again.

Then the bus appeared from around the corner.

“Thanks for waiting with me,” he said. “Buses in LA, huh?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. She started digging in the dirt with the tip of her shoe. The bus came over. He looked at her just as he was getting on.

“I’ll see you at work.”

She waved him goodbye and then walked down a dark alley between the cheap white houses.

What was that? she asked herself. Going on and on about stars. Good thinking! Now he’ll think you’re a nerd. Well, at least he’ll have something witty to say to a girl he likes. Saturn and Jupiter. Everything’s grey in space. He’ll make it sound cute, too.

When she got to the porch, you could no longer see her from space.

Hotel Royal

“When was the last time you went to a party where people did not talk about hedge funds, and real estate, and 401k?”

The two men were sitting in the lobby, drinking some Italian coffee, waiting for the important client to come down. They were both wearing striped suits. A leather briefcase was sitting next to the elegant armchair, calm, black, and important.

“Huh?” said the second man.

“You know, a party where people talked about exams and vacation plans. Where they had a contest who could drink more. Where there was someone you were dying to see, but you didn’t dare talk to.”

“I dunno, Frank. What’s up with you lately?” said the second man.

“When was the last time you rode on a bus? Or somebody asked you what your major was? When was the last time… The last time you were new to something and anxious to learn?”

The second man put his cup down. He leaned over, checking if people were watching. He feigned an air of confidentiality.

“Right here, in the lobby of this hotel? Are you having your midlife crisis right now?”

The first man leaned back and laughed slightly.