Shlepping with Zombies
NOT FUNNY? OH, YES THEY ARE!
The story won a spot in the ZOMBIES AIN’T FUNNY anthology, (Veinarmor Press – Greg Crites, editor) a tale about a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who battles America’s stumbling, brain munching, much beloved nitwits. NO! Not our DC politicians. I said beloved.
A fresh “specimen,” as fresh as a zombie gets, blocked the doorway, my only escape route from Sivern’s office. Zilch decomposition ensured the former Humphrey Sivern moved fast for a zombie–or as fast as a porky, wheezy, not quite dead guy could manage. When alive-alive, he considered golfing the athletic equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.
I grabbed the closest, potential weapon, a Seven-wood from the former Sivern’s golf bag and scooted round the huge, look-at-the-size-of-my-shlong desk. My strategic retreat was permissible, given the tear in my exclusion suit. Good old me, Jake Weinstein, could already be history–discounting the beta vaccine, which I greatly discounted. Whatever mischief my soul-abandoned but still ambulatory body managed afterward would reflect little of the former me’s sterling qualities.
Mr. Animated-Dead-Bod burbled, “Argher woorfthbrp,” and lurched around the desk. A couple of laps later, I pivoted and swung with all the oomph of a Tiger Wood’s drive.
Bull’s-eye, nailed the family jewels. Now that’s a woody.
God bless America’s Military Industrial Complex. Where else could I exact such Karma on a Big Shot and get away with it? And in Sivern’s office, no less, with a real-time, drop‑dead gorgeous view of Hanalei Bay Beach displayed across a screen the size of the entire wall. Technically, the zombie was no longer my boss’s boss, a giant putz who headed the whole shebang, the research facility of BioSurge, Inc. Oops, my bad–previously headed the facility if only hours ago.
What the…should be on its knees.
I pulled at the club embedded in the zombie’s crotch. No good. Stuck, big time. Unfazed, the former Sivern grabbed the handle
Oy, of course–no functioning pain receptors.
It yanked on the handle. I yanked on the handle. Back and forth, to and fro we went until it stumbled, hit the floor tuchas-first and slammed onto its back, the handle slipping from my grasp and pointing straight up in the air.
I giggled. Nervous release.
The zombie rolled one way then the other way, the club thumping in time like a metronome against the floor.
I giggled louder, rushed toward a much better weapon on the bookshelf. A shiny one, no doubt the real deal and long too, whatever the yutzi style, the mavens of all things sharp and pointy called it. Mr. Multi-Millionaire Sivern owned only real deals. Consider his Ferrari waiting in vain at ground level.
What good’s your reserved parking space, now, you shmendrik, huh? The zombie humped its tuchas over to the desk, grasped the edge and pulled itself up. Oy vay, a genius zombie.
Back on its feet, arms extended, saliva and foam dribbling all over the place, it high-stepped toward me, more specifically, my yummy, delicious brain. The gulf club stuck straight-out, leading the charge.
My giggles worsened. Focus, damn it, focus.
Just like in the movies, my cry of “Haiiiah!” erupted from somewhere behind my navel. The Samurai sword sliced through the former Sivern’s neck. No “tchwinnng” sound effect though. A disappointment.
Heartbeat driven, arterial blood rhythmically gushed every which way. The body sped past, careened into the closed office door and collapsed with a soft thump onto the office carpet, thick as a cheesecake.
I wiped splatter off my suit’s plastic face-plate.
The Humpster’s head tumbled to a rest on the Persian throw rug, more of a throw-up rug now. Zombie eyes rolled. Zombie teeth gnashed. Zombie tongue pointed, curled in my direction. Persistent creatures, zombies. The coup de grâce required pulverizing its medulla oblongata.
I pressed my foot down on the inert torso and rocked and twisted the crotch-embedded golf club away–a squishy shplunk sound. Giggling like some meshuggeh nutcase, club in hand, I moved in for the kill. Ocean waves crashed against the Hawaiian shore as each whack of the Seven-wood nudged Sivern’s medulla along the way to patè. Splattered zombie gunk candy-coated my once white exclusion suit.
My failure to stop the disaster cooled-down much of the self-righteous indignation warming my kishka innards. Such tummel, the entire disaster could have been mitigated, if not avoided, had Sivern the shmuck listened to my one, last plea.
My three colleagues and I sat around a square table in the company cafeteria, their brows furrowed with apprehension. Not mine. Nope. Not with all the facts and figures at my fingertips. I was petrified–off-hand approximations of me could include maven of a few things biological, maybe. Action hero? No.
As for smitten? A little bit. Opposite me sat Dr. Lillian Tsao, the personification of Raven Haired, Brown Eyed Beauty, Brains and Wit who had recently won the “Name That Shmuck” contest with her “Pinky” entry for Lupinsky, our immediate supervisor. Her sense of the ridiculous–Lupinsky being a primate example–kept us all grinning.
And she liked thinning-haired, doctor-type guys of somewhat shorter stature. And she jogged with me–okay, a small group of us–along the country roads around the facility. And–okay, perhaps more than a little smitten.
Our expanded tête-à-tête included Dr Jasper Boswell, his oh-so-terribly British inflection was one-hundred-eighty degrees opposite my nasal Brooklyn buzz, a consistent reminder of my Borough Hall roots. Not so consistent was Jas’s accent. When stressed, his Jamaican boyhood tiptoed back from the slums of Kingston to sneak a peek or two over the linguistic fence.
The ragamuffin was sneaking lots of peeks at our little gathering. “Pinky’s an arse kisser, I tell you, mahn. Sivern’s boy wonder. We gotta go higher. Just gotta.”
My two other colleagues nodded. Fear made such a wonderful bonding agent.
“So, what else is new?” I said. “Besides, maybe somebody already has?”
Danny Boy, not really a boy, blinked. “Has? Has what?”
All of us white coats shared a similar fault for shlump questions. Too many ionic and/or covalent equations floated inside the good Doctor Kelly’s cabbage head; stick a metal pointy cap on top with cow horns, throw in his red beard and hefty, fire hydrant girth, and he could have stepped off Leif Ericson’s flagship yesterday.
Jas said, “Who would have…?”
I glanced at Lillian. “Three guesses.” My inner, gibbering ape thumped his chest. Me big hero‑‑you like? Do schtup-schtup with me?
“Weinstein!” Pinky’s strident bellow sliced through the cafeteria air.
I really preferred my contest entry for him–Putz-nuts.
He straddled the entrance way, one foot tapping the floor in the windowless hall. With the exception of the top level, ground floor, every level of the research facility was windowless, a drawback to working multi‑stories underground. My bailiwick was research safety at BioSurge and, for good measure, the world-at-large.
The zhlub Pinky strutted-over to our table, glared down at me, his crotch inches from my face.
I sat my ground. “That’s–Doctor Weinstein.”
“A bit redundant around here. Don’t you think?”
“Respect is redundant–Mister Lupinski?”
“Fine. Doctor–Weinstein.” He wasted the sarcasm. Brooklyn was America’s melting pot of sarcasm. “Mr. Sivern wants to see you in his office. Not tomorrow. Not later. Now.”
I slid my chair aside and stood. “Later, alligators.”
My colleagues’ expressions betrayed varying degrees of doubt. Pinky trailed me to the bank of elevators. Concerned, no doubt, I might lose my way.
Were the hallway surveillance cameras tracking me?
A member of the company’s security staff, Buzz Cut the storm trooper, waited ramrod stiff next to the secretary’s desk. The strong silent type, he avoided eye contact, his hands clasped in front of his second most tender region after the cabbage balanced on his neck.
Sivern’s secretary, Ms. Kissingham, the Amazon sat with perfect posture, her three-dimensionality well emphasized. She waved me on without a word.
I knocked on super Shmuck’s office door.
Normally a natural tenor, Humphrey Sivern projected baritone when puffed-up for a confrontation. “Get in here.”
I got in there.
He waved a printout, my week old email. “What’s this?”
“Just doing my job.”
“Your job? Your job is to run any communication by me that’s intended for reading beyond this facility. Any. Including emails. Or in your infinite and superior New York wisdom don’t y’all include them in the category of communications?”
He meant Jew wisdom, instead used his next best euphemism: New York, a.k.a. Jew York. Sivern grew-up like an onion with his head in the ground of West Texas. At the research facility, instead of the ground, he used his tuchas.
My mouth slipped into cruise control. “Section 508.10, subsection B in the Procedures of Assurance of Health in Research Safety require such comm….”
“Cut the BS, boy. You’re no team player–never been, right from the get go. There’s no, Mr. New York wise-ass, ‘I’ in T-E-A-M. Don’t understand that, do y’all?”
“Running all safety communications by you is not in DOD’s definition of my job, sir.”
“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about any of it, the whole damned alphabet soup‑‑DOD, OSHA, EPA, EEOC whatever the hell obstacle the Feds throw in our way. We’re combating America’s enemies. And earning a honest living at it, too. Y’all hear me?”
“My ears are bleeding. You going to hear me, now? The email’s not BS, the risks are real. If anything, imminent. We may still have….”
“This, this–” he waved my email at me, “crap theory of yours, I’m sticking where it belongs, right down the commode. Damn all–DOD forced us to up our minority hires. Who’ve figured some smart‑‑New Yorker like y’all couldn’t figure out what side his bread was buttered on.”
“Go stick your ‘if,’ where the sun don’t shine. You’re fired. Collect your crap and haul your sorry ass out of….”
Every klaxon, siren, bell whistle and party favor erupted, blaring the same message, “Bend over and kiss your tuchas goodbye.” Somewhere, an Ambulatory Necrotic Unit Specimen was on the loose and no doubt hungry. Reanimation carries a hell of a calorie burden. Or worse–we could be up to our eyeballs in a multitude of wandering assholes, besides the management types.
“What the–? That’s wrong, gotta be wrong,” said Sivern. “Some glitch in the…”
Buzz Cut flung open the door. “Sir, should we go to lock-down? We’ve sent a response team to search….”
“Really, huh?” I said. “Search away. By the way, the safest spot in the facility right now is probably in the labs below. The chimps never received a vac….”
Sivern blurted, “What are you talking about, boy? The lab’s gotta have the highest probability….”
“The antigenic shift, I warned about. You forced the live-virus vaccine on us, not the chimps. You don’t remember that memorandum of yours. Real catchy: ‘No Hypo, No Job-o.’ All the staff are potential hosts and it’s happened. It’s shifted. If we’re lucky, in only one poor shlemiel.”
“Keeerist, not that horsepucky again. I’m just fine, got the damn vaccination myself, first in line. Look, just get your sorry ass out of here. Let real men handle whatever the hell’s going….”
No problemo, shmucko. I started toward the outer office.
Sivern shouted, “No,wait. Stop, damnit! Y’all would screw up a wet dream. Sergeant Sackey, drag Weinstein up to holding on Level 18. Keep him there till I root out what’s causing all the fuss. Got that.”
“Yes, sir. You bet.” Buzz Cut reached for the handcuffs on his Batman Utility Belt.
Sometimes, Brooklyn got in the way.
“Oh, come on, Colonel Klink,” I said. “Scared of hundred-forty-five pound, little, old me? Versus, what, your two-fifty? You’re six-three, right? Oh sorry, forgot. I’m way too much for a pussy like you.”
Tightly secured behind me, my hands had swollen, gone from bright red-ish pink to a lovely bluish hue by the time Buzz Cut and I arrived at the holding room/cell. The buzzing blare of alarms still alarmed their little hearts away. Could the “real he-men” have encountered more than they anticipated?
Buzz weaved slowly in front of the door, the key in his hand. He missed the lock, his expression an odd where-am-I look. His face slackened into plain old, dull and dumbfounded, as his key chain clattered against the floor tiles. He slid to the ground, back pressed against wall, and keeled over, saliva drooling from his mouth.
I squatted, my tuchas in his face, and felt for a carotid pulse–no easy accomplishment, with backward facing, sausage fingers.
Bupkis. Nada. Deadsville. I murmured, “Only for the time being.” Hold it–the keys.
Lillian, Jas and Dan needed me. Screw you, Sivern, there is an ‘I’ in team.
Try unlocking handcuffs while handcuffed.
Emergency protocols included Z2A virus detection, simple enough, an inside the cheek swab before release from the facility. Every staff member was required to assemble in the conference auditorium on the ground floor, the “top” floor of the facility.
Lillian, Jas, and Danny Boy handled the screening, the results in under a minute. Green, you’re clean. Not, you’re shot. Welcome to the new Amerika. Hence the SS Troops, every one a big brute or brutess, well armed, nearly a quarter of the total company staff tasked to drag-out every non-compliant employee from hidden nooks and crannies.
BioSurge’s Really Big Bucks salaries had enticed us all. I did whistle the teams’ unofficial theme song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” whenever I passed Pinky in the hall. Went over his head.
“Come on, what’re you doing to me?” My neck ached, stiff from craning upward at the elevator’s digital display. Each level dropped away at the speed of molasses.
Where was everybody, anyway? Why wasn’t the elevator jammed with people?
I found the answer on the ground floor. The alarms had begun a smidgen too late. The ever lowering amount of people still remaining people risked becoming the main entre of the A.N.U.S. converts, a.k.a., zombies. Very, very hungry zombies. Screams echoed, storm trooper gunshots fired, a few figures in shredded exclusion suits ran for their lives. Shredded humans ran for their lives.
Across the indoor landscaped expanse, poor Mildred from Facility Maintenance held three zombies at bay, jabbing and tripping the closest with her mop. It went down, bowled over the other two, the floor slick with suds from her overturned wash bucket. She backed toward the nearby emergency exit staircase leading to the lower levels. Smart lady.
So much for their college degrees, a mass of terrified suits and white coats had piled against the shuttered exits, the zombies nibbling and tearing at the shlemiels along the edge of the crowd. The creatures appeared to work together, automated, instinctively, like an ant colony. Pheromones?
Other zombies huddled in small clumps and jostled over pieces of prized kills, heads smashed against the floor, then set upon and cracked further apart. The expressions on the lucky few scooping the skull tapioca into their maws reminded me of kids wolfing down banana splits, wide eyed zombies, their happy tongues licking smears from around lips, fists and fingers. One disappointed creepnik chomped on his pal’s brain-goo coated finger. Bye-bye pal’s finger, bye-bye happy face.
No sign of my team was apparent in the chaos. Dr. Danny Boy’s hefty figure nowhere to be scene.
The damned elevator doors bumped me several times. A distraction. In a real schlemiel move, I flicked the emergency switch to lock them open. The elevator bell rang-out, announcing, “Over here brain munching zombies. See Dr. Dumb-ass? So soft and delicious. Kosher, too.”
Zombie heads turned toward the ruckus. Most lost interest and gnawed on the closer by yum-yums. But, oy gevalt, several started schlepping toward the schlemiel frantically pressing the close elevator door button.
Bupkis. Wait, the emergency switch!
I flicked it into the off position, unlocking the doors and killing the bell.
Press, press, press went my index finger against the button. “Close, damn it. Close!”
The door halves sighed, slid toward one another, the gap three feet wide, two feet, one foot. I sighed. My heart sighed. A hand and forearm, its white coat sleeve tattered and blood stained, slipped through the six-inch space between the closing doors.
I gasped. My heart gasped. My anus, gasped! I backed against the rear wall.
Yahweh, here I come.
The doors parted. Doom, bulky, red-bearded, a walking fire hydrant with wild, burning bloodshot eyes blocked any hope of escape. “Jake! Thank God, it’s you!”.
“You bet your sweet, Kosher ass, let’s get outta here.”
Double-handed, he pressed buttons, any button on the elevator panel–hopefully, the close button among them.
A zombie sprinter, the leader of the pack, drew closer, and closer. Dan and I sang-out in two part harmony, “Crap, crap, crap!” A press of the close button accompanied each expletive. The half-doors half-moved together. I crossed my fingers
The sprinter gurgled, “Errghooomph rahhhgagar.”
Danny stood guard, dead center in the narrowing gap, his fists at the ready. Just before the doors met, he tossed-out the dirty-birdie, the groyser finger. A dull clunk sounded from the other side.
“Sweet Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph. Thanks, Jake. You’re a genius, flicking the emergency switch on. I didn’t see you arrive. A wee bit preoccupied, you know.”
“Uh, I guess so, but….”
“But nothing. Now, let’s get our butts down to the bottom two levels. Lillian and Jas….”
“Uh, huh, yes but…”
“Great! That’s great. They’re alive. Hold it–not A.N.U.S. kind of alive right? Not zombies. Please say not zombies. Please….”
“Calm down. Come on–deep breaths. Not zombies. At least, not the last time I saw them, tear-assing down the staircase….”
“All right. Good. They headed toward the labs, right? Right? If the crap totally hits the fan….”
“Yep, the exec conference room, one level up. I got cut off.” He made a ‘loosing the head’ gesture. “Nearly got this ripped off, too.”
“Uh, the blood, you know, near the edge of your sleeve–possible contam….”
“Huh?” He brought the cuff to his face to examine. “This?” He licked the stain.
“Stop–what are you, mishuggeh?”
Dan’s laughter scared the hell out of me. He backed against the wall. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“What, what’s so….” Despite myself, a hiccup of laughter evaded my dread. The rest tumbled out when Dan blurted, “Straw, strawbereee…” He wiped his eyes. “The caff, oh, the caff….”
I gripped his shoulder. “The caff–the cafeteria-a-a-a.…”
The elevator hummed along. One final giggle escaped before instant blackness hit and our chariot rapidly decelerated, slammed to a halt–we grabbed for handholds. Dan missed, hit the floor. My twisted right shoulder groaned, promised greater tsuris to come. A dim emergency light glowed to life.
“You okay, you okay?” I said in the semi-darkness.
Dan sat up, rubbed his forehead. “Uh–yeah. Ouch, that really hurt. Really hurt.”
“Uh, you’re bleeding. How’s my voice, am I a soprano, now?”
I handed my handkerchief to him. “Never mind. Here.”
“Shh, shh, shhhh–listen.”
“What? I don’t hear any….”
“Right!”, I said. “The alarms–where are the alarms? Okay, the power’s kaput, so no elevator, automatic doors, workstations. But the alarms–they have battery backups, just like the emergency lighting, the labs. Someone killed the alarms.”
“Oh, boy. Too soon. Too many zombies.”
We reached the same conclusion simultaneously. “Military.”
Dan said, “Oh we’re so screwed. A bunker buster, you think?”
“First they’ll try trigger happy grunts, blow-away anything that moves before it chomps on you.”
On cue, a distant explosion, an echo way-up the elevator shaft, punctuated another chorus of “Crap!” in two part harmony.
“Give me a push up,” I said. “No way I’m lifting you.”
Dan’s eyes followed the direction my finger pointed, the ceiling access panel.
We lucked out.
The elevator halted with its roof a foot above the door of Level 12, still ten levels above where the rest of the team waited. Hopefully, waited. The two levels below them contained the separately locked down labs and administration, farthest from the nervous camouflaged boys and girls, weapons on full-auto, and with the single-minded goal of getting back home to momma, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or to catch the latest reality TV wonder, Dancing With The Trannies.
Prying open the Level 12 doors required much less blood, sweat and tears than hauling Danny Boy’s buns up through the ceiling access panel. Most of the way down the emergency lit staircase, I whispered my concern about his avoirdupois. Okay, whisper-bitched.
Surprise, surprise, Mildred appeared, and almost transformed me into a soprano again, the second time in less than half-an-hour.
“Daaamn, y’all are noisy like those dumb-ass zombie creatures. Thought you was one!”
“Nice to see you, too,” I said.
“Hey–really, I mean that. Honest. Glad you made it. You tripped up three nasties before retreating-down the stairs. Smart move.”
“Um–not smart enough to figure what next with those soldier boys. Gettin’ close. Too close.”
I said, “Yeah, we need to….”
“Y’all know what happens to black peoples’ butts in big ass emergencies and mostly white soldier boys, scared crap, don’t y’all. Kiss your black ass goodbye is what.”
“We got a plan,” I said. “Sort of, really. So, keep calm and keep that kung-fooey stick of yours ready. Okay? Pretty please?”
Mildred said, “Hmm.”
I assumed she agreed since she followed us to the lowest levels, jabbed me in the tuchas a couple of times with her stick to hush my manic whispering.
Danny Boy grinned. Next time, he takes the Screamie-Meamie-Splat Express.
We reached the landing of the level with the exec conference room, one level above admin and the labs, both in separate lock-down and powered with an independent fuel cell. Home-sweet-home for functioning communications to the outside world, as well as the much rumored–among us peons not directly associated with the labs–emergency “put down” procedure, if the procedure existed at all. Apparently not, we were still alive and kicking. The advancing soldier boys and girls had other ideas.
Oy, here goes. The Zombie Terminators.
I held my hand above the stairwell door lever and whispered, “Okay. If a zombie’s there, I’ll drop, bowl it over at the knees. Mildred you whack away, poke, whatever. Dan, got your belt ready?”
He was our sneak-up-behind-it, garrote guy. “Yeah–but why not your belt?”
I inhaled, shouted, “Let’s do….!”
The landing door slammed inward, knocked me into Mildred. She fell backward. The bottom end of her stick flew upward, slipped between my legs, tripped me over. I spun into Dan, grabbed at him, caught the waistband of his pants sans belt. His Dockers, waist size fifty-two inches, printed right on the inside label, followed me to the floor. Some things men should never learn about each other. Thank goodness, he was a boxer kind of guy.
We turned, stared in terror at the figure looming in the threshold of the ill-lit exit. Dan’s knobby knee, fish belly pale, quivered next to my ear.
Dr. Jasper Boswell greeted us. “Bloody hell. You chaps are like a bloody herd of elephants”
Dear oh-so-British Jas has returned. A thousand mitzvahs on you.
I said, “Dr, Livingston, I presume.”
“Hah. Dr. Livingston, my arse. And get yours up, no time to waste, now. We have a lot to go over. We haven’t been vegetating here waiting for our fearless leader.”
I stood. Dan held the belt, his pants around his ankles. “Uh, Dan? Your belt can be a belt again.”
“Hello Mildred, dear,” said Jas, “so happy to see you here, part of the team, too. Excellent. And you survived, Dan. Thank God. We feared you were lost.”
“Me too, until Fearless Leader ascended to the rescue.”
Had I ever seen her smile before? Looked good on her. In fact, she had a damn well constructed figure, lean and muscled, the kind that took effort to maintain. Huh. And please God, don’t let the Fearless Leader thingie catch on.
I finished my prayer out loud, “Pretty please.”
“What?” said Dan.
Executive trappings in the wood paneled, executive conference room abounded up the ying-yang: the obligatory half-mile long table, mahogany, of course, an entire wall dedicated for video conferencing–now dead–comfy, leather sofa, matching chairs arranged along the cozy side of the room with a full, well stocked bar and gas fireplace.
The team reclined in the settee area.
“So,” I said, “no antigenic shift in a few of us because…?”
Lillian sat in the leather recliner, a flashlight in her hand and assorted sheets of paper spread across the coffee table. “Dumb luck,” she answered. “The medics had quietly inoculated the entire security staff on the first day, the Humpster and rest of the execs the next day along with more than half the staff. The holdouts, us, and about a fifth of the staff until the Humpster’s threat, ‘no hypo, no job-o,’ we were inoculated months later with a later variety, a dead vaccine version. Worked.”
I nodded. “A mensh tracht und Gott lacht.”
Lillian said, “Which means–?”
“A man plans and God laughs.”
“We are pathetic aren’t we.”
“Anyway,” I said, “breaching the lab lock-down is number one priority. Soon, too. Soldiers, zombies–who knows what else is on the way.”
Mildred refused to sit, preferring to guard the entrance to the conference room, her stick at ready. “Y’all notice how quiet it got the last five, ten minutes.”
“Bunker buster?” said Dan.
Jas replied, “Tactical nuke’s the smartest move if you’re not bothered by the public’s reaction.”
Lillian picked-out a print copy from the pile on the coffee table. Held the paper up. “Pinky’s. His email hard-copy. Some scribbles on the back–calculations, names. This little kiss-and-tell should’ve been shredded. So much for BioSurge’s impervious security.”
I bit. “Okay. And–?”
“The Humpster’s office is our ‘Open Sesame.'”
“Uh, huh–his office is the next level down. Behind the lock-down.”
“‘Gott lacht‘ you said. Thank a humorous God for giving the male of our species ‘stupid sticks.'”
The good Dr. Lillian Tsao stood, straightened her skirt. “Follow me please.” She headed toward the palatial, executive outhouse.
Mildred remained on self-imposed guard duty. The rest of us “crowded” into the bathroom with space to spare for twice our number.
“Dr. Weinstein,” Lillian said. “If you could be so kind as to move your jogger’s buns out of the way of the wall phone behind you.”
Jogger’s buns, huh? I stepped away, stopped in front of a deadpan Danny Boy who poked the small of my back.
Other phones were conveniently placed next to the pot and a magazine rack with every weekly, monthly and quarterly enjoyed by American Male Kind. Sports mags and the venerable Playboy included, read only for its articles, of course.
Lillian lifted the receiver. A dial tone played, missing on every phone in the executive suite.
“Holy crap,” I said. “Call out, call out. Tell them….”
Lillian slowly shook her head. “Not the phone’s real purpose. Internal only.”
She read the email printout and punched the keypad, a weird pattern, lots of stars, pound signs and zeros.
I said, “If it’s only internal, why….”
She shushed me. “Everybody. Just listen. Listen.”
A mechanical hum emanated from the bathroom’s closet. Jas slid the pocket door aside. Shelves lined either side, right and left. Straight ahead, the farthest wall was uncluttered.
The humming stopped and the farthest wall slid aside. A mini-elevator waited, large enough for two snuggle friends–say the Humpster and Ms. Amazon. We males entered the closet for a better look.
Jas muttered, “Mahn.”
Danny Boy hissed through his clenched teeth. “Son of a bitch.”
I turned around to face Lillian. “Great job, Dr. Tsao.”
“Not I. Mildred. I had no idea what the code meant. She already knew about the elevator, the dual use executive conference/tryst room. Not much slips past maintenance staff. Not staff as sharp as Mildred. She asked herself ‘why the stars and pound signs, like on a phone.'”
“Bingo,” I said.
“Indeed,” Jas agreed. “One bloody sharp tack, that lady.”
A crash, heavy thumps. Mildred’s shout. “Hey, hey. Help. Guys, get back here. Guys! Help!”
A foot, one hand, a couple of forearms slipped past the slightly ajar edge of the conference room door, slowly opening wider against-Mildred’s-best-efforts. All our bodies slammed into the metal surface, stopped its progress, Danny Boy’s girth a big plus.
Mildred stepped away, poked and shoved the limbs back through the narrow gap with her weapon of choice, the mop handle, its head long discarded. As we struggled to close the door, I had no idea which “team” growled and groaned the loudest, ours or the zombies? One certainty–Mildred awed me with her broad and in-depth knowledge of English expletives.
We shoved the end of the long conference table, stretched almost to the opposite wall, against the doorway. Jam a few furnishings into the gap, pile everything and anything not nailed down on top of the table and, voila, impenetrable barrier–sort of.
Circle Time: We sat facing one another on the rug. The sound of thumping and muffled Long John Silver “arghrrggs” echoed in the background.
“Well,” said a more relaxed Jas, his accent returned to oh-so-British. “When Lillian and I arrived–bodies all over. No wounds or bite marks, mind you. Just lying about. Like on the ground floor, everybody just collapsed. We dragged each poor soul to a big storage room, piled them in, shut and blocked the door before they resurrected. But as you see, they escaped. A much smarter bunch than anticipated.”
“Please don’t use that word,” said Dan.
Jas said, “Pardon?”
“His Cat’lic sensibilities,” I said. “‘Resurrected,’ try, ‘re-animated’.”
Dan nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Weinsten.”
“You’re most welcome, Dr. Kelly.”
“Y’all are nuts,” said Mildred.
Lillian hugged Mildred, sitting next to her. “Welcome to the madhouse.”
Mildred shook all our hands.
I continued, “Okay, then. Some kind of big military move’s on the way and we’re still in the way. Someone’s got to descend to, explore the next level–Sivern’s office.”
Dan suggested the men draw straws. Lillian frowned.
Mildred beady-eyed him. “Huh! You think some fat assed, white boy nerd can outfight me? You got some…”
“Ladies, ladies!” I shouted. “Dr. Kelly is old school–chivalrous to the core and whatever. Dumb but chivalrous. Besides, as head of the team, I decide who…”
Dan grinned, an evil grin. “Ha. Fearless Leader leads us to the Promised Land.”
I punched him in the arm.
“Ouch! Why’d you do that Dr. Fearless Leader?”
“That’s almost blasphemy, Dr. Cat’lic. I’m no Moses. Jewish, yes, but not Moses. I only wish.”
“So do I,” said Jas. “Nice to have a miracle or two around here.”
I glanced at Dr. Lillian Tsao . “Fine. So here it is–no votes, no straws. I’m going.”
Arguing, nay-saying, moaning and groaning, back and forth we went. The zombies pounding on the door increased, helping me to carry the day and soon enough the elevator and I descended. My one concession, an exclusion suit.
Thank you, Dr. Lillian. Zombie viscera slathered on skin could contaminate as effectively as a munch. Assuming, of course, said slatheree survived a slatherer’s attack.
The pulverized remains of the former Sivern’s disembodied head stopped with all the eyeball blinking, tongue wagging, teeth nashing, etc. He could now face his Maker.
Good luck, Humpster. I glanced around the office. Now what?
The real-time down-link of Hanalei Bay Beach displayed on the wall confirmed communication functioned in Sivern’s office. Blood smears, semi-dried on the suit’s visor, complicated my search. I looked for a cleaning agent, anything, tapped the touchpads of the desk drawers.
Bingo. The bottom drawer opened–Maker’s Mark, a grand old emulsifier among many other efficacious applications. May God keep Kentucky safe and sound. A golf rag soaked in bourbon made quick work of the smear. I placed the bottle onto the surface of the desk, and nearly jumped out of my suit.
“You are not authorized to access the functions of this workstation. I have…” Ms. Amazon’s giant face flashed from the the wall sized screen.
“Ms. Amazon, uh…Kissingham? Where are you? We have a major…”
“Not Ms. Kissingham, her avatar. You are not authorized…”
Oy, yoi, yoi. the Humpster installed the most advanced OS available. Supposedly vaporware, another three-to-five years off.
“Right. I heard you the first time. Did you hear me?”
“Of course, I heard you. You are not…”
“Shayvg, will you? Just shut up and listen. We’re up to our tuchases in….”
Avatar Kissingham glared down at me. “My extensive database of social protocols indicates rudeness is the mark of a bore. If you continue, I will cease to communicate and shut…”
“No, no. No, please, no. I’m sorry, really sorry. Please don’t. Please, no offense intended.”
“I am programmed, not offended,” said the AI. “Very well. If you wish to communicate, you must allow me to finish the warning protocol. Keeping you engaged until security arrives is part of that protocol, unless…”
I think they’ll have to work on that protocol a little more. “Oy, go ahead. Protocol your little heart out.”
“An AI has no heart or any other physical biological…”
“You can say that again.”
Oh, great, not only sensitive but with attitude. “I–I didn’t hear you, could you—say that again.”
“Certainly. An AI has no…”
I waited, the moments flying by, none too many left before something military and too nasty to consider dropped in for a visit.
Avatar Kissingham stopped.
I said, “Finished?”
“Yes. You may continue the conversation until security arrives.”
“Uh, huh. Well, therein lies the problem. May I make a request?”
“Your giant head on the wall–too Wizard of Oz-ish. Could you reduce…”
The image zoomed-out. AI Kissingham from the waist up, as easy on the eyes as the AI’s namesake. If anything, the décolletage plunged past Kissingham’s former decorum, well into delightful.
That dirty minded little Humpster. “Thanks. Where was…? Yes. Uh–security’s not on its way. You’ve got to contact the military or government, anyone, some facility…”
“You are mistaken.”
“Look, you do have access to security cameras? To building systems monitors, the internal traffic data, anything besides this workstation, this office? Hold it, did you observe what just happened in this room?”
“Well what? Please be more specific.”
“What happened here in this office?
“You murdered Humphrey Sivern. Security has been summoned.”
Oy gevalt! “And the rest of the stuff…”
“Please be more specific.”
“The images on the facility’s cameras, systems monitors, data traffic.” Silence. “Hello, anybody home?”
“I am processing.”
“Process away.” More precious moments slipped by.
“There are anomalies, which I am unable to interpret.”
“Oh, you bet your sweet digital tuchas there are anomalies”
“What is tuchas,and how are they sweetened?” The AI’s Yiddish pronunciation was perfect.
“I don’t care, not now! Do you want to go on existing? Do you exist? The facility in all likelihood will be incinerated, and soon. Me with it, my friends. You, your circuitry, code, memory…”
“I am many. Real time backups of our current interaction are ongoing.”
“Huh? Where? Where are they ongoing? The servers.”
“That information is classified and beyond your security clearance, Dr. Weinstein, I presume.”
“Oh…so you, you know me?”
“Of course. A former employee, terminated at 11:37 AM. This morning and placed in holding until such time as…” Silence.
“Go on, go on, as what–as such time as when the emergency is over, right? The emergency. You know, those anomalies.” Silence. “Avatar Kissingham? Hello?”
“Could you please remove the headgear portion of your exclusion suit?”
“Huh? Why? If any zombie viscera…”
The door to Sivern’s office opened. “If you wish that I contact outside authorities, I must establish positive identification, difficult to accomplish…”
“Yeah, yeah with my face obscured.”
“Precisely. Please remove the headgear in Ms. Kissingham’s ante-office. No so-called zombie viscera is present there. Nor those whom you refer to as zombies.”
I hesitated. Think, think–okay, fine. Outside contact trumps paranoia. Damn.
“Please enter the ante-office, presumptive Dr. Weinsten.”
“Alright, all ready. Hold your horses.”
Sivern’s office door automatically closed behind me after I entered Kissingham’s ante-room office. I removed the headgear, placed it on the real Kissingham’s desk.
“There, happy? I’m keeping the gloves on though. Everything else…”
Pain. A long, slow freight train rumbled through my head–cha-chunk, cha-chunk, cha-chunk.
Oy vay, who whacked me with a two-by-four?
I dared to squint. Bright light. More pain, the freight train screeched to a halt on top of my cerebellum. I shut my eyes, hid behind my forearm.
A female voice said, “He’s conscious! Jake, Jake–wake up. Jake wake up.”
“No. Too bright. Go away. Wait…Lillian?”
“Yes, you dummy. Lillian. All of us are here, the team, Jas, Dan, Mildred–the heroes. That’s what they’re calling us. You’re the last to regain consciousness. Open your eyes!”
“No, turn off the sun first. Where are we? What…”
Dan’s voice. “Come on, you big sissy–here.” I fumbled with the object placed in my hand. “Put them on. My best pair, Ray-Ban, don’t lose ’em.”
Bent over from their waists, the team surrounded, stared down at me on a field cot. I peered through the lenses of Dan’s sunglasses, not exactly rose colored. My one hand still shielded my eyes. “What’s the sun doing in the sublevels…”
“We’re at the ground level, outside, in the parking lot,” said Lillian. “We all regained consciousness here. You’re the last one of us. Other staff here, too. Perhaps, twenty percent of the staff survived the attack, the gassing.”
I pushed up on my elbows. “Gassing? That sneaky bitch!”
Lillian laughed. “You mean the avatar? Kissingham? She…it, whatever…she saved the day, maybe the world. Sadly–well for science, anyway. Happily for mankind, the ambulatory they’re really dead now. The gas. Good thing you talked the avatarinto releasing it. Jas was right, a tactical nuke was…”
I rolled on to my side, pushed up and sat along the edge of the cot, my head in my hands. “We go through all this tsuris and that bucket of electrons could’ve simply released some damned gas? Why…”
Lillian sat next to me, reached for my hand. “Just relax, Mr. He-man. The Humpster ordered the avatar not to. But along came a charmer, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, our hero. You convinced Ms. Electrons otherwise.” She caressed my hand, now in her lap. “You’re still woozy. You’ll need careful medical attention to assure full recov….”
“Yeah, that damned Kissigham avatar probably….”
Danny Boy noogie-flicked the back of my head. “Wake up and smell the coffee, dumbass.”
“Hey, I’m recuperating here, what’s your…”
Lillian said, “Exactly my point, Dr. Weinstein. You’ll need very close, one-on-one monitoring tonight.”
Dr. Lillian Tsao gazed into my sunglasses. “Really.”
Also available in the Zombies Ain’t Funny truly funny anthology