First Bite

First Bite

“The physiology of zombies is impossible, that’s all I’m saying,” Isolde insisted. Her eyes roamed the decaying city, the sun at one o’clock.

“This whole goddamn situation is impossible,” Anouk groaned back with a snarl.

Anouk peeked around the back end of a burned out Telsa sedan clenching an old-school, analog toothbrush – the kind that made you move your hand back-and-forth in order to scrub the plague off your teeth. What a goddam hassle she always thought about the process, especially whenever her long, black, sweat-tangled hair got in her mouth when she brushed. What the holy hell were people’s teeth like before laser toothbrushes? Anouk didn’t know.

“Got two of ‘em,” Anouk grunted towards Isolde who was crouched behind the car’s front tire. “The one coming around your side is limping; shouldn’t be too fast for you but that’s not an excuse to take your sweet ass time.” Isolde dribble a bit of spit onto the pavement and tucked her own toothbrush away.

“Phhtpt,” Isolde sounded. “Physiologically, zombies are dead. Their blood isn’t circulating and they don’t breathe. They’re not getting any oxygen to their cells so how could they be making the body’s energy molecule that’s required for muscle contraction and cellular respiration? It just doesn’t make any sense.” Anouk was patting her on the shoulder indicating that they should get ready but Isolde was still lost in thought.

“And nothing in classical pop culture has prepared us for this,” Isolde continued. “Zombies like this don’t exist anywhere in fiction or mythology. Don’t get bit or you turn instantly? We didn’t see that coming. Worse, for a while we had no idea what we had to do in order to deal with them, which doesn’t make sense either. But I guess there’s some things you just can’t make up.”

A grizzled veteran of World War One – they lost all their historical records and had to start counting over again – Anouk grabbed a fistful of Isolde’s tattered shirt and pulled the young medic towards her scarred face.

“Listen to me, kid, shit’s about to get really real now. When you spring into action, you can’t give ‘em a chance. They sense you coming and they’ll be gone right quick and we won’t be able to catch up. They’re gonna struggle too; they’re strong…”

“They shouldn’t be,” Isolde’s brows worried.

“Yeah, well, they are. They’re gonna try to bite you if you don’t hang on long enough and you know what that means,” Anouk shoved the youngster away. “Now get ready. Remember, you gotta hold that shit for a good fifteen seconds. A nice deep bite and hold it! It’s gonna be tough. It’s gonna be the absolute worst goddamn thing you’ve ever tasted. But you gotta hold on. You ready or not?”

Isolde patted the cooler by her side. It was filled with IV’s their friends and enemies were going to need.

“Soon as they come ‘round. Here they come,” Anouk breathed. “Go!”

Anouk tackled the zombie coming around the car’s rear end from the side, knocking it to the ground as she sank her teeth into the zombie’s spare tire. The monster’s flesh was bitter and sour, gooey yet chunky, and penetrated into the tongue. It was a taste that lingered for days so fiercely that you needed someone back at camp trained in PTSD to deal with grunts like Anouk and Isolde when they returned from the field, if they returned from the field. Anouk reached up and pulled the creature’s hair back so she wouldn’t get bit. She wanted to gag but she held on.

Isolde spun around the front of the car and smacked her forehead against the zombie’s. Everyone’s got to go into the field at least once, the twenty-something remembered as she fell back. This was their camp’s rule and it was especially true for the medics since a successful attack meant the dead would need medical assistance right away when they returned to life after a human bite, dehydration being the biggest concern.

Young, light, and lithe, Isolde tucked her chin to her chest before hitting the pavement flat. She avoided a concussion and lost her breath for merely a split second. It really was really real now Isolde knew as she spun around on her back like a breakdancer. (She’d seen videos but their audio was always missing. Was breakdancing a form of field training? She never liked that assumption and preferred to think people used to do it for fun.) The medic grabbed the zombie by the ankle as it was already up and turning to run away. With the fiercest grip she could muster, she dragged herself toward the monstrosity and sank her teeth into the thing’s calf.

Oh! Oh my god! That…is…never tasted anything…so bad. Hold. Hold on fired across her brain. The zombie squealed something unholy before it reached down, lifted Isolde upside down like she weighed nothing and gnashed her buttocks. Isolde spit out a chunk of the zombie’s calf muscle to let loose her own unholy exclamation. She knew she hadn’t bitten it long enough to turn it but time wasn’t a factor for the zombie’s bite.

“Anouk! I’m bit! I’m going to turn, I’m going to…”

Well fuck all to shit Anouk thought as she timed out her own bite. The zombie she was latched onto collapsed as was always the case when they re-turned, allowing Anouk to let go. She jumped towards Isolde while the zombie that bit her turned and broke into a 40mph sprint. Gotta let it go now she figured as she fell on her knees by Isolde’s side, rotten blood flowing from her mouth. As the veteran heard that familiar growl common to the dead, she wondered if the taste wouldn’t be so bad since Isolde had turned only seconds ago. Anouk snapped down at the waist and bit Isolde on the ass for the sake of consistency, limiting the noob’s injuries.

“Nopeph, shtil taysh like shiff,” Anouk muttered as she held down the flailing medic. A few seconds later Isolde went limp. Anouk rolled the kid over and slapped her hard across the face. “Now I ain’t wanna eat shit for a week now, ya dumb…” Anouk was going to say something highly inappropriate for those trying to rebuild a civil civilization. She leaned her head back and yelled ‘fuck’ as loud as she could.

“What happened?” Isolde asked groggily. The youngster stirred, reached back and felt her buttocks, and felt the warmth of her own blood. “Did I get bit? It really hurts.”

“Oh, kid, you have no fucking idea,” Anouk jawed. The veteran hoped Isolde hadn’t been keeping track of her swearing; she had no credits left to give up to the community’s swear jar. Anouk engaged her quads and pulled Isolde up along with her. “See to our new friend over here,” she pointed to the former zombie lying unconscious nearby. “At least we got one of ‘em.”

“Oh god, did mine get away? Did I bite that thing for nothing?” Isolde ran her tongue around her mouth. “Oh, oh fuck. Oh fuck. Is that going to go away?”

“In a few days,” Anouk answered. “But the memory is forever,” she smiled before going straight-lipped.

Isolde limped over to her medical supplies and retrieved two IV bags. She popped some syringes and fed a needle into each arm of the newly human. Judging by the relatively mild state of exposure to the elements of the former zombie, Anouk figured this man would be conscious and walking within 30 minutes. Good; she was tired, bitter in more than one sense, and didn’t feel like doing jack shit else today.

“I wish we’d gotten the other one,” Isolde fretted as she watched over the man.

“Don’t you worry, kid, you owe me two bites. Gonna be fun seeing you pay your dues.” Anouk looked around garbage-strewn city. You couldn’t see it but there, hiding in the shadows were plenty of opportunities.

 

All Rights Reserved © October 2018 John J Vinacci

Once Beyond A Time

Once Beyond A Time

The experiment is a success. It is also a failure, Pari scribbled before the pencil broke. She’d moved it too fast, breaking it through sheer speed of movement. “And now I am alone,” she added in her raspy voice. She looked up and waited for the analog clock’s second hand to move. Pari abandoned the task; it’d be another ten minutes before the clock would move. She could try making another entry in her lab journal instead.

She picked up her third pencil, slowly as she could. She had to slow herself down, far below the crawl of a snail, or risk never writing anything ever again. Could it be done? The Indian scientist didn’t know but as a scientist had to see. After a quarter hour of painstakingly picking up the pencil and bringing it to paper, the woman began to etch I would not change what “I’ve attempted to do here,” she finished her thought verbally having left a burn mark on the paper.

Pari Bahl had been hired by a U.S. pharmaceutical company to create unique strains of crop that would grow at incredibly advanced rates thereby helping to feed the world. That was their pitch to her anyway. Dr. Bahl was wise to reality, though; she knew it was bullshit but the company’s resources would allow her conduct the work she wanted without raising any eyebrows. That is if you considered a physicist working for a pharmaceutical company normal to begin with.

Pari Bahl considered nothing normal after the incident. Five months into her Masters program she was assaulted by a colleague and summarily dismissed by police in her country who did little or nothing to stem a rape culture. Overpowered and overlooked, her research was going finally put women at a physical advantage, make them faster than any man alive. Pari was going to make men inferior.

“I knew I was going to end up alone as a result of this,” she spoke into a microphone. She’d managed to dictate the note to a laptop without breaking it but knew that unless someone had the good sense to dramatically slow down the recording, her voice would appear as a high pitched blip among persistent white noise. Most of her co-workers were men; they’d never figure it out.

“I knew I’d end up alone as a result of my work. I know many of my countrywomen – and maybe many women around the world – would defend the old ways if I’d succeeded here. And I know no man would understand once holding the high ground then having their physical advantage torn from their bosom.” She chuckled at her choice of words before falling silent for a few moments. It was the most remotely funny thing she’d said in a long time.

Though she’d never done a scientific survey, Pari was sure there would still be scores of women who’d sign up for her program, to become the heralds of the future. But they were beyond her reach now. Dr. Bahl couldn’t work her instruments with any precision, unable to so much as punch a button without it taking a virtual eternity or smashing it and nearly breaking a finger in the process. (The fingers of her right hand were crumpled in black-and-blue pain. It had taken her several attempts before it dawned on her what had happened after her space-time dilator fired early, before she had time to clear the testing range.)

“I am in the future and they are in the past,” she spoke to someone maybe a millennia from the present. “They are all behind me,” Pari explained as she noticed the clock’s second hand move a third time in the last half-hour.

“This is not the power I wanted to wield. It’s uncontrolled. I’m moving too fast. If I were to kiss my own mother’s hand, I would break it. It might even kill her. Killing is not my intent. I just wanted to put men where they have put women for thousands of years.” Pari looked up at the clock again, drew a light breath that rustled some papers, and reflected. “Maybe that is the same as death?” she wondered.

The scientist watched the clock, waiting for the second hand to move again. It seemed to be taking more time than usual. She was sure it was. It had to be at least another half hour now of listening to her own breath, just waiting, just waiting with nothing but nothing to fill the void.

The tick of the clock startled her from her meditation on time. Maybe the rest of the world had slowed down and I have not sped up? she questioned herself. It didn’t matter, she concluded; the result was the same. She was in the company of photons now, imperceptible unless she interacts with matter. She could make her presence known but she’d either die in the process or be considered a ghost, a poltergeist they might say in German. Again, death or a ghost; same difference.

Dr. Bahl sat down in her lab chair, still as could be, long as could be. Maybe she could sit still long enough for her image to be seen by the world she rushed by. But as her local time accelerated, she withered to dust on an air conditioned breeze, too far into the future to be considered by a world perpetually sitting still.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) June 2018 John J Vinacci

God and the Caveats

God and the Caveats

“There are some caveats,” God then coughed into his hand.

Moments ago, God had appeared in skies around the world, parting the clouds in some areas and obscuring the sun in others. Though the shock came to many unbelievers, believers where just as shocked to lay their eyes upon a god who was nothing like they imagined. This is not to say that God was physically indescribable, rather that God deliberately misrepresented and obscured the image of himself to his various believers because their minds could not handle the truth of God’s appearance. (This is to say that human interpretations of God are so wildly off the mark, the blow to the human ego would cause madness.)

God had come to announce, in a surprisingly coarse voice, that he was going on vacation. “I am going on vacation,” he said. “Now, I know what you’re thinking; why does God need to go on vacation? A good question, yes, a good question until you realize how much work looking after a universe is. Anyway, I’m going on vacation – you needn’t know where to since you wouldn’t understand…I mean that literally; you wouldn’t understand – I’m going on vacation and, uh, I don’t really have anyone I feel comfortable looking over the Earth until I get back. Stu was on the fast-track to management until that whole sexual harassment thing with Wynonna,” God trailed off.

He refocused and made a piece of paper suddenly appear in his hand. “Ahem! So I’m going on vacation and leaving you all in charge of yourselves until I get back.” A young priest stepped forward and began to open his mouth only to be rebuffed.

“Ah, ah, ah. I know what you’re thinking – I always know what you’re thinking – ‘who is going to answer all the prayers?’ The answer is that ALL prayers will be answered in my absence. All of them.”

God brought what seemed to be a pair of glasses to his head and looked down at the paper he held. “There are some caveats,” God then coughed into his hand.

“All prayer will be answered except for any prayers asking for the following…”

God took a long pause. It made everyone uncomfortable. Exactly his plan.

“Do not pray for your family and friend’s good health. Good health is a personal responsibility and you shouldn’t be asking me to make someone healthy. If you want your family and friends to be healthy, get them to dial back on all the red meat. It’s bad for you; the science backs me up on this. Besides, it’s really sickening how you farm those animals. Anyway…

“Do not pray for the souls of the dead. They’re fine – everyone is fine – they’re in their various heavens doing I only know. The heavens have great social networks as the dead are with their dead family and friends, so relax. You’ll see your loved ones in heaven soon enough. (I don’t mean soon soon for most of you, but, uh, Helen Bonham, you should maybe get your affairs in order…

“Do not pray for your football team to win. This goes for any sports team, actually. I really don’t care who wins. I gave all of you the tools to gain and refine certain skills. Use them and take joy in what you’ve accomplished. So don’t thank me after a victory. Have a little pride. Yes, yes, I know many of you think the Bible says pride’s a sin, but it actually says ‘snide’ is a sin. Not sure how that got lost in translation…

“Do not pray for your enemy’s demise or religious conversion, especially if it involves violence. You are all my children. Do you really think I enjoy watching you fight? Do you enjoy watching your own children fight? If you do, you are demented. Sure, it’s reasonable for you to want, say, an evil person to be caught or put to death, but I’ve got something for those people. Let me do the heavy lifting on that. Realize I never ever answer prayers for an enemy’s demise, so stop asking…

“Let’s see, what else do I have here? Do not pray for wealth or extra money. When you think about how often this doesn’t work, I’m surprised you all do this as often as you do. You can pray that you land a job if you’re out of work, but be mindful to be careful what you wish for. Remember, beggars can’t be choosers…

“Do not pray to find love. Love will find you and it comes in many forms. What do you think I made chocolate for? Ah, but you think you can’t have a relationship with chocolate, that you can’t find companionship with chocolate. Sometime you humans have to stop and think about how picky you’re being. Along similar lines, do not pray to make a failing relationship work. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. Just dump the motherfucker already…

“Do not pray for something to not happen or pray against the wishes of someone else. This happens more often than you think and every time it does, something in the universe explodes. First, I put a lot of work into making all the heavenly objects and second, I don’t like all the noise. It also makes a mess. I had to create black holes just to tidy things up. Save me a little work, would ya…

“Do not pray for the impossible. I made certain things impossible for a reason. Stop questioning my judgement…”

“Finally, you may not pray for any loopholes in these caveats. Like any rule I’ve laid out before, there are no loopholes. My rules are self-explanatory; stop it with the Sophistry and trying to figure out ways around them, okay? Okay. I think that’s it. I’ll be gone for two weeks. I expect everything around here to be in working order when I get back or I’m taking all the chocolate away. ALL of it. I take every last bit away and there’ll be no praying for me to give it back. Alright, my cab is here, a little early, too. I guess prayers do work. Who knew?”

 

All Rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci

The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

Captain Unbreakable eased his muscular buttocks onto the park bench. It was perhaps the last day of beating up on bad guys having finally put an end to the insidious Doctor Nefarious. He eased back and stroked his flaxen locks, confident that New Chicago was safe forever. Maybe he could live in peace now and perhaps settle down with someone who didn’t know who he was, though his many endorsements would make that virtually impossible. The broad-shouldered savior considered moving to another country and away from the past, towards the future, away from the very reason he became a superhero.

Captain Unbreakable took a deep breath.

“Hmph,” he sounded. His eyes swayed from side to side. Why had he become a superhero?

He felt a hand on his back and he turned his head. A tall, gangly goth-child cast a shadow over him. The man’s pale skin practically glowed.

“Lose something?” the stranger asked innocently.

Captain Unbreakable turned his head back towards the park field before him. “I don’t remember.” He blinked. He blinked again. “I don’t remember what I don’t remember.”

The man’s hand patted the superhero’s shoulder and slipped back into his trench coat pocket. “There, there,” the stranger’s nose scrunched. “You’ve done a good job. Get some rest now.” Big black boots turned and transported the memory of murdered parents away with them.

“You be a good boy and retire now,” the goth-child threw over his shoulder. “I’ll hold onto your motivation now, my motivation now. You’ve saved the city, Captain Unbreakable. But only I can save the world.”

 

All rights Reserved © January 2018 John J Vinacci