Part I - There Came a Stumbling Governor
A zombie stumbled across a grassy field. Black-green goo seeped from an open wound on its leg.
Roughly two hundred feet away, on the balcony of a second floor apartment, a stocky man in a tactical vest pulled back the hammer on a Smith and Wesson 500.
The zombie—a brazen Karen, no doubt, complete with hair streaked with dirt and blood and fading blonde highlights—stopped at a small rock in her path. She stared at it, clearly confounded by the obstruction. After a long moment, she decided to advance.
The zombie wailed in frustration, her eyeball swinging on its optic nerve and slapping her cheek, just above a crusty gash that exposed broken teeth on her lower jaw.
Back on the second floor balcony, a few feet away from the Smith and Wesson, a blue flame exploded from the nozzle of a torch. Alan passed the butane lighter along the tip of a cigar, rotating the Churchill-style stogie until the tip glowed red. He lifted the cigar to his lips and took several short puffs before a long, healthy draw.
Alan held the smoke—notes of coffee and vanilla wrapped in a sweet bouquet—letting it tingle and then burn before he exhaled it in a thin, wispy stream.
BLAM—SPLAT! Gluuursh ...
"Oh, that's a good one! Little bit of a squirter, too," Alan's friend said with a grin. He stepped back from the railing and eased into the chair next to Alan.
Alan eyeballed the Smith and Wesson 500 his friend gingerly placed on the table between them. The revolver was a proverbial canon with a ten-and-a-half inch barrel.
Alan chuckled quietly—he was in a constant state of bemusement of his older friend. "I can't help but wonder, Danny, if perhaps you're trying to compensate for something."
Danny shot his quarantine-buddy a sideways glance that dripped with confusion. "What do you mean?"
"This ..." Alan gestured hopelessly at the revolver. "... thing. It's a bit much, don't you think?"
Danny's eyes went wide. It was a mix of offense, surprise, and guilt. "A bit much?" he repeated. "I thought you said you liked it?"
"I never said I didn't like it, Danny—"
"The size helps with my accuracy," Danny tried to explain. "One shot--BAM!—saves ammo."
Alan nursed his whiskey. Conserving ammo in the time of zombies was a fair point. "Indeed."
"Kill more zombies," Danny added pointedly, eyebrows up.
Danny shifted in his seat to face his younger friend. There was roughly a twenty-year age difference between the two men. "You know, you can't tell me that now—after the whole pandemic, virus, zombie-brains-thing—you're still holding onto those left-wing, guns-kill-people, Hillary-should-have-won ideals, do you? I mean, look at them out there—" Danny gestured to the open, grassy field beyond their apartment where a handful of zombies stumbled in the distance. "—without guns, we'd be dead right now. Or worse."
"Worse than dead?" Alan took a long pull from his cigar as he considered Danny's words.
"And think about it," Danny continued. "Where would you even be right now if we weren't friends? Friends with benefits."
Alan raised an eyebrow at Danny. Danny lifted the Smith and Wesson.
"Shirley," he clarified. "Shirley's the benefit."
Alan's face broke into a grin. "You named your obscenely phallic revolver after your ex-wife?"
"What?" Danny looked concerned as he held the gun to his chest. "Is that gay?"
Chuckle. Puff. "No, Danny, it's not gay. Unless you want it to be gay—"
"I don't want it to be gay," Danny said quickly, his head tilting a second later as though reconsidering the possibility.
"Then it's not gay," Alan declared, staring out at the field. A pensive disposition settled around him and he added: "I suppose you're right, though."
"Of course I am," Danny said without missing a beat. Then: "About what? Shirley?"
"No, Danny." A sideways glance. "Although we should probably talk about that."
The gun was still clutched to Danny's chest and he gripped the barrel. "I like that for once I'm the one in control," he confessed softly.
"... understood," Alan nodded. Abusive relationships come in all flavors. He turned back to the field with a small sigh. "Just the same, I suppose you're right about the guns."
Danny perked up. "That's what I've been saying!"
"Try as I might—even under these conditions—I just don't have the stomach for them," Alan admitted. "I know I should. It's the easiest way to dispatch the mindless ghouls that never cease to haunt us ... but guns are just so ..."
Alan winced as he tried to find the word.
Danny supplied it. "Cool?"
Alan laughed. "Maybe so. At any rate, Danny—" Alan reached over and placed a hand on the older man's arm, "—I'm glad you're my friend—"
Danny was filled with the warm emotion that comes with true friendship. "Alan—"
"—and your marksmanship is truly second to none."
Danny blinked back his feelings. He placed his own hand on Alan's. "You ... honor me with you kindness, Alan."
Alan regarded his friend with a gentle smile before turning back to the field. "Oh, Danny, the one that looks like the governor is getting a little close."
Danny bounced to his feet and leaned on the railing. An overweight zombie in a tattered blue suit and unruly, dirt-caked hair that stuck out in every direction stumbled over a sloping crest. Danny sucked in a deep breath.
"... I wanted so hard to like him ..." Danny rested his elbows on the railing. "I voted for him, you know?"
"Business man. Educated. Republican."
"The makings of a true leader," Alan replied flatly, not at all impressed with the former governor's resume.
"I'll never understand how it all went so wrong."
Alan stood to join his friend at the railing, watching as the zombie-governor stumbled and tripped over blades of grass.
"Would that the rest of your party were as enlightened as you, my friend," Alan said.
"If you downplay the virus, the people who vote for you die. Then who's gonna vote for you?" Danny said, shaking his head. "That's just not American."
Alan sipped. "Indeed."
Danny looked down and considered the Smith and Wesson. "Alan?"
"You're my best friend," he said, still considering the revolver. "And I'm not ashamed to admit it—you're the best friend I've ever had."
Danny offered the Smith and Wesson to Alan. "Would you like to shoot the governor?"
Part II - The Abdication of Normality
The two men stood on the balcony, staring at each other silently. The older man was stocky and had on a tactical vest with more pockets than he had things to store in them. The younger one was a little taller and wore a tropical button-down.
"Danny ... I don't know what to say."
"Well ..." Danny hesitated and then smiled hopefully. "Say yes?"
"Alan, please. It's not like I proposition every able-bodied man that crosses my threshold during a quarantine sleepover. This is a big deal, man."
"Be that as it may, you know I couldn't possibly—"
"I insist, Alan."
Danny held the Smith and Wesson out, offering it to his friend. Alan's gaze traced the length of the obscenely long barrel.
"I want you to shoot the governor, Alan," Danny implored softly.
"Right, zombie governor," he quickly corrected. "It's all kosher, it's what we do now." He placed a comforting hand on Alan's shoulder. "... you know you want to."
Alan laughed, breaking the unexpected tension. "Surprisingly, I don't."
He turned back to the field to check in on the overweight, blue-suited zombie that bore a striking resemblance to their Republican governor. He was nearing the three hundred foot line and the designated point-of-no-return. Alan sighed.
"You know I don't like the word 'hate', Danny," Alan said in pensive tone. "But I truly loathe that man."
"He swindled the electorate, stole the election, defunded schools, cut deals for his billionaire buddies, and then routinely lied to his constituents about the severity of the virus—right up to and while the infection was killing people and turning them into zombies," Alan said, the pent up anger verging towards ranting. He rolled his eyes. "I mean, zombies?! For crying out loud, it's not like we didn't have an entire genre of fiction, fueled by decades of creative and thoughtful—if not absurd—cautionary tales."
Alan waved his cigar dismissively at the zombie governor. "That man—that thing—that less-than-half-witted, embarrassing excuse for a leader—he wholly abdicating his responsibility to not only the state's constitution, but his moral and ethical obligation to the very lives—" Alan cut himself off as the anger bubbled.
He took in a calming breath.
"The amount of blood on that man's hands ..." Alan shook his head, quieted under the weight of the sadness he felt so keenly in the world. "I don't claim to know if our undead friend out there is really the wayward governor of our fallen state, but I do know, Danny, that I have every right to want to take your gun and put a bullet in that monster's head."
"... justice, Alan--real justice—comes from the barrel of a gun," Danny said. His eyes were resolute. "Always has. Always will."
The two men stood silently at the balcony rail.
"... maybe so," Alan said, watching as the zombie governor inched closer. He could see the zombie working its mouth, as if it was trying to remember how to talk so it could come up with some clever bullshit spin for wanting--needing—to eat Alan's brains.
"You know what your problem is?"
Alan glanced sideways, pulled out of his melancholic reverie. The corner of his mouth went up. "My problem?" he asked, biting down on the cigar as he returned to his chair.
"First of all," Danny said, raising the Smith and Wesson and pulling back the hammer, "you're always acting surprised that you have a problem in the first place."
Danny sighted down the barrel, took in a quick, shallow breath, and squeezed the trigger.
BLAM—SPLAT! Gluuursh ...
The zombie governor's head exploded and he collapsed to the overgrown grass, twitching and squirting.
Danny sat down next to Alan, placing the Smith and Wesson on the table and picking up his own cigar to relight. "And that's just not becoming. Come on, man, we all have our faults. You gotta learn to accept that. Embrace it."
Alan lifted his whiskey and conceded a nod. "As always, Danny. To our faults."
Danny clinked his own glass with Alan's. "Indeed."
Alan grinned. "Indeed."
"But the thing is, Alan," Danny continued, settling into his chair and puffing his cigar, "your problem is that you don't want to accept that the world has fundamentally changed. The virus rears its head, zombies start marching in the streets, and everyone keeps talking about getting back to normal."
Danny turned sideways and looked intensely at his friend. "What normal, Alan? We're shooting zombies from my balcony. How is there a normal to go back to after that?"
Alan puffed thoughtfully. "I do find myself disinclined to embrace this ... barbaric status quo, as it were."
"Look at me," Danny said, figuratively.
Alan did so.
"I voted for that buzzard meat out there," he said, using his cigar to point to the remains of the zombie governor. "When the virus came and you told me to wear a mask—we were sitting right here and I laughed in your face."
Alan nodded. "I remember."
"Nothing was going to cover this face unless it was blonde with a D-cup who was ready for the ride of her life." Danny's eyes glistened as he chomped on his cigar. He held his hands apart. "But look at me now."
Alan regarded the older man. He was practically glowing.
"I just shot the governor. And I wear a mask whenever we're not smoking."
Alan puffed in agreement. "Indeed you do, Danny."
"Because I've accepted the world as it is," Danny said.
Alan shrugged. "Perhaps you're just better equipped for this new normal."
"There's that word again."
"Don't you get it, Alan?" Danny pressed. "New, old—there is no normal. It's all just ... random chaos."
Alan puffed. "Jeff Goldblum would be pleased."
Danny quirked an eyebrow. "I heard his wife got infected, went all undead, and bit off Jeff's Goldblum."
Alan laughed. "Where did you hear that?"
Danny shrugged it off. "One of those AM radio shows. Makes you wonder, though, right?"
"About Jeff Goldblum's penis?"
"No," Danny shot back. He gestured to the field where a fresh zombie was just rounding the retention pond. "Makes you wonder what those things would be like in the sack."
"I'm pretty sure that's necrophilia, Danny, and in polite society—"
Danny scoffed. "Polite society? It's a zombie apocalypse, man!"
"I just killed the governor."
"That you did."
Danny leaned back and propped his feet on the railing, clearly pleased with himself. "Fuck normal, my friend," he said, drawing on his cigar.
Alan puffed as he rotated his own cigar. "... fuck normal, indeed."
Part III - A Tortoise-Like Dumpster Fire of Disaster
Just like the president's interest in fighting a pandemic that had brought the nation to its knees, the day had waned.
Like the zombies spawned from a viral infection that had so effectively ripped through the population, the world had kept going, spinning on its axis, indifferent to the lives of people, their pets, the internet, 5G telecommunications, the Louvre, and even that nasty little virus that was reshaping the existence of all that inhabited its surface.
A lone zombie had begun its final trek across a field behind an apartment complex. It ignored the other zombies--all slightly less animate than itself--that peppered the field, their heads long-since exploded by a massive fifty-caliber cartridge fired from an equally massive Smith and Wesson 500 revolver.
Such a grisly portent couldn't possibly apply to this zombie.
It wore a tattered shirt emblazoned with the American flag and a single word declaring 'FREEDOM!'.
A bright red face mask dangled from an ear that dangled from torn, rotting tissue. The mask--since rendered useless by the person having died--was previously rendered useless by the formerly living person wearing it almost exclusively as a chinstrap.
Emblazoned upon the bright red face mask--no doubt painfully ironic at this point--was another American flag and the words 'THIS MASK IS USELESS'.
Sunken eyes fixated on the apartment building several hundred feet away as light glinted from a second-floor balcony. Cracked lips split and jagged, broken teeth gnashed.
The zombie let out a resolute moan as it stumbled forward.
"Let me ask you question, Alan."
Alan quickly glanced sideways at his friend and then to the Smith and Wesson sitting on the table between them. "Figuratively, of course."
Danny shrugged. "Of course." He leaned back in his chair and chewed his cigar. "Here's the thing. It's all just ... slow."
Alan raised his eyebrows.
Danny shifted, resting his hands on the armrest and looked at his friend. "Do you ever feel like the world--the infection, the government's response, the zombies themselves--do you ever feel like it's all just moving in slow motion?"
Alan considered the forlorn, almost pained look his friend's eyes before turning his gaze back to the lone zombie stumbling towards them in the field. Alan sighed.
"Honestly, I think we're cursed, Danny."
Danny's eyes went wide. "Cursed?"
"Cursed with the privilege of safety," Alan explained. "We've been able to sit here, buoyed by your paranoia-driven doomsday prepping--"
"It's not paranoia if the world is actually ending," Danny interjected. He sipped his whiskey. "And it's not like you're complaining."
Alan laughed. "Of course not. I can't tell you how grateful I am, Danny, that you've kept this humble little apartment of yours so literally insanely well-stocked."
Danny puffed his cigar. "You're welcome," he said proudly.
"My point is that we have the luxury of a rather wide perspective," Alan explained.
Danny tapped his temple. "It's all about that perspective."
"Plus, I'd like to think that between the two of us, we have at least above-average intelligence."
"So what you're saying ..." Danny rolled the cigar between his fingers thoughtfully. "What you're saying is that it only seems like everything is moving in slow motion because we're smart and we're sitting up high?"
Alan released a stream of smoke. "Perhaps."
Danny shook his head. "Still seems weird. Disasters happen like that--" Danny snapped his fingers, "--blindsiding you like a car crash or a tornado and leaving a path of destruction before you even realize what's happened."
"Instead we see the path of destruction from a distance and days, if not weeks in advance," Alan said. "This pandemic has truly been a tortoise-like dumpster fire of disaster."
"Another helicopter," Danny pointed out, gesturing to the aircraft with a local news station logo displayed along the side.
Danny's apartment was only a few miles from the airport and--after the airlines collapsed--helicopters and other small aircraft had started to buzz sporadically overhead as survivors attempted to escape to less-infected portions of the nation.
The problem was that these escapees weren't always trained pilots.
Worse still, in order to get to the aircraft, the escapees had to run a gamut of zombies at what remained of the international airport.
Even if they made it to an aircraft, their escape was hardly assured.
"This one's flying particularly low," Alan observed casually.
The helicopter cleared the treeline and gently dipped, hovering only a few hundred feet from the ground. It began to lazily circle the field.
The zombie with the useless face mask looked up at the drifting aircraft, a sense of confusion gripping its primitive instincts.
Back on the balcony: "Danny?"
"It occurs to me that this might not end well," Alan said flatly as he watch the helicopter lazily swing across the field.
Danny shrugged and scoffed. "Eh. Who can tell? Maybe it ends badly. Maybe not. Maybe we never know, you ever think about that?"
Alan looked at his friend as the older man took a healthy sip of his whiskey. "... seriously?"
Danny shrugged again, clearly indifferent. He placed his whiskey glass on the table next to the Smith and Wesson. "So many people claimed that the pandemic was plateauing and we had made it out of the second wave. Even the president said that the infection would just disappear. Look at us now. The death toll is literally incalculable because they keep coming back."
Puff-puff. Danny waved a dismissive hand. "So who knows? I sure as hell don't."
The helicopter continued to spin in lazy, concentric circles around the lone zombie in the field and Alan did his best to maintain a collected sense of composure.
"Danny ..." Alan hesitated as he gathered his thoughts. "I--"
Alan shook his head, actually flabbergasted.
"What?" Danny asked, oblivious to his friend's frustration.
"Danny, experts knew," Alan said, anger creeping at the edges of his voice. "Experts knew it wasn't a second wave because we never made it out of the first wave. Experts knew that if the vast majority of the population didn't take the virus seriously, this is exactly where we would end up. Experts knew that the virus was airborne even while the president insisted on maskless rallies. Experts knew that if the testing slowed down, the data would become useless. Experts knew that, even with near-corrupted data, hospitalization and death rates were lagging indicators. And it's one thing to personally not know or understand these things for yourself, but to suggest that the people we should implicitly trust for their expertise in these fields--somehow, that they don't know what they're talking about--Danny, that is a dangerous if not poisonous point of view."
"Alan, please," Danny said, a dismissive tone continuing to grate Alan's nerves, "it's me."
"No, Danny," Alan shot back. "That's not even remotely excusable. This entire right-wing crusade to demonize expertise is what precipitated this pandemic in the first place. Don't listen to experts, it's just a hoax. Surging infection rates are just a hoax. Overwhelmed hospitals, hoax. Effectiveness of masks? A hoax on top of another hoax. Zombies eating the flesh of the living? Well, clearly that's just so ridiculous it has to be a hoax," Alan sniped, stabbing a hand out to the zombie-corpse-littered field.
"Danny, I'm just tired of this incessant, compulsive need to demonize intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Your life--hell, my life is at stake." Alan took a deep breath. "It's okay to not know for yourself, but that doesn't excuse you from listening to the people who do know. The experts. The smart people."
"Oh, shut up for once, will you?" Danny barked. "You got your monologue, now let me have mine."
Alan sighed and took a conciliatory sip of his whiskey.
"... you're right," Danny said.
Alan blinked. "... pardon?"
Danny shrugged. "You're right."
"You want more?"
"I just thought--"
"You're a real pain in the ass, you know that?"
Alan tilted his head. "So I've been told."
"That helicopter is getting awfully low."
"I've noticed. And our friend seems wholly transfixed," Alan replied.
Danny puffed at his waning cigar. "You know, you have to hand it to the virus. It was like a ..." Danny searched for the right words. "... Darwinistic time-bomb. Somehow it managed to strike all the right chords--smart people wore masks and stupid people thought it was a hoax and died."
"--and then came back to life to kill the smart people," Alan added.
"Yes, but now it's okay to shoot the stupid people," Danny said, gleefully holding up the massive Smith and Wesson 500 revolver.
The man was insane and Alan loved him for that. "Indeed," he said with a smile.
"Still ..." Danny looked at the stub of his cigar thoughtfully. "It's still taking so damn long."
Alan settled back into his chair. "We're cursed with the privilege of safety."
"No, I mean that helicopter--" Danny said, "--what's going on with that thing?"
The helicopter swung in lazy, ever-shrinking circles around the antimasker zombie. It stood in the middle of the field, transfixed and confused by this impending disaster.
"Surely someone zombified at the controls," Alan speculated, in regards to the helicopter.
"But the zombie--" Danny said, incredulous at the inaction. "It's just standing there. It's had all this time to go in literally any direction."
Alan shrugged. "Surely someone zombified at the controls," he said again.
Danny and Alan looked at each other. A moment passed before Danny burst out laughing. Alan broke into a smile and chuckled with his friend.
The helicopter crashed into the stupefied, antimasker zombie, blades snapping in the earth, dirt and grass exploding into the air as the aircraft ripped across the field, chugging to smoking stop.
A ten-foot smear of undead goo lay in the helicopter's wake.
A bright red face mask with the words 'THIS MASK IS USELESS' lay just beyond the wreckage, a detached, rotting ear still caught in the loop.
On the balcony, laughter faded as the two men regarded the crashed helicopter in the glow of the setting sun.
"... what a way to go," Danny said softly.
Alan nodded. "Smushed by a helicopter."
Tendrils of smoke drifted from the wreckage as fuel leaked onto the grass.
A moment later, the helicopter erupted into a fireball. Alan and Danny flinched at the explosion and watched as burning debris rained down on the field.
Danny chewed the end of his cigar. "Smushed and then exploded by a helicopter." Danny drank in the scene with awe. "... what a way to go," he said again.
"When my time comes--"
"Danny, if there's one thing I know," Alan said to his friend, "it's that you are most assuredly going to outlive us all. Certainly me."
"Just the same, when my time comes--if my time comes--it would mean the world to me if you could drop a helicopter on me."
Alan laughed. "I don't even know where I would get a helicopter, Danny!"
Danny gestured at the wreckage. "They're obviously out there. Figure it out."
"Can't I just shoot you, Danny?"
"If there are no helicopters around, sure, I'll allow it. Assuming you can summon the will inside your gun-hating, left-wing, praise-all-the-experts soul to actually pull the trigger."
Alan lifted his glass to Danny. "For you, my friend, I'll make the exception."
Danny smiled. He clinked his glass against Alan's. "Cheers, my friend."
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.