Welcome to Spec Script, where author Michael B. Tager delves into the unexplored from your (or his) favorite television shows.
By Michael B. Tager
You think you know what you’re capable of. You think that in the event of an emergency, you’re going to be the hero.
· Someone chokes in a restaurant: you’d perform the Heimlich
· A child is about to be pancaked by a red Mercedes: you would jump out into traffic and sacrifice your body
· An active shooter begins mowing down your coworkers: you most certainly could foil the attack, offering yourself if need be.
· Zombies arise: you’ll survive
o Zombie attack: your evacuation plans will be enough
o Zombie pandemic: you are the the one to lead the masses to safety
Aren’t you lucky, you think as the news plays. You are young, healthy. Your bank account sparkles with generations of inherited wealth you’ve put to work. You are connected. Your family is known. Your name, Jessica, is less impressive, but still, those in certain places are aware you exist.
The walls of your high-rise apartment are white. The cans of food stacked to the ceilings are wrapped in white. The jugs of water? Also white. Design choices, to match your white sheets and white skin. Even your teeth, mineral-strong, are white white white. You douse yourself in white, in whiteness, in your white soul.
You will wait out the pandemonium, the screams of sickness that are starting to fade from the news because the news itself is fading. You are prepared. The apartment’s doors are solid oak (painted white), the elevators reinforced steel, the stairways locked from the outside.
And when everything is over, you’ll find your friends, your family, your family’s friends, in their compounds and shelters and you’ll embrace and build the world again and fit in badminton during the quiet lulls.
A noise sounds from the kitchen and you jump, your skin dancing with light panic. You will the fear away when you smell burning, fatty flesh. It’s just bacon and with your salivation, you remember that pork is the closest thing in taste to human. You wonder why in the world you think this. Even with the world on fire, you aren’t normally so bleak.
You shake it away with a toss of lavender-smelling hair. You’ve planned for everything. You aren’t afraid.
You stand from the bed where you’ve been reading White Oleander and you stretch and throw on your cream terrycloth robe.
In the white kitchen (cabinets are blinding white) your husband leans his elbows on the counter, the frying pan full of bacon ignored. He’s holding his head in his large, beautiful hands. You fell in love with his hands. They are long and graceful, made for the piano, for petting kittens, for pleasuring you all the way up.
He stirs. I tried to make you breakfast, but… He turns and smiles, though it’s just a stretching of lips over gritted teeth. His teeth are white. So is his V-neck.
Honey, you say. Are you ok? You see the bandaged bicep, blood seeping from its edges. Honey, what happened?
When he groans and falls, you run to him. Where else would you go?
Going down, you remember thinking. At least you think you remember. It’s hard to think and it’s double hard to remember. You rub your close-cropped hair, your high, dark cheekbones.
You clutch your head with your suddenly thick hand. The smell of bacon is overpowering.
You were at the trash chute. You’d woken early. Your wife, asleep beside you, mumbled in her sleep, enshrouded in white clouds. She murmured, James and your heart turned into a goddamned swansong. Your world has been her for such a long time. Your eyes full of her, a balloon that couldn’t burst.
Now you only think love for her, feel nothing but the pain in your head. You were at the trash chute, you try to say, but it only comes out pain, hunger. But you were at the chute: you hold on to that. You wanted to make the apartment clean for your lovely wife with the soft skin and the hard bones that jutted at all angles.
You dropped the trash down the chute and listened for it to splatter. Did it briefly become obstructed? How long until the chute becomes clogged? You’d prepared for everything--you’d raided the precinct for vests and rounds and riot suits--but you didn’t think to prepare for garbage?
Now, you can’t believe you cared because your chest seizes and your breath tastes like ash and sour milk. You bend and your hands find knees and you breath through your nose and out through your mouth, remembering your yoga teacher’s gentle commands. Hold to your heart’s center. You are present. You are present.
You remember those gentle words\, as you remember the impact hitting you like a linebacker and falling to the plush green carpet that felt soft on your cheek and the Superintendent Greg’s teeth ripping at your arm, just fucking ripping and you yelled and smacked his teeth with the crown of your head so he recoiled from the impact and you were able to jump up and stomp him on the head so hard something cracked and Greg stopped snapping and moaning and you stood in the flickering hallway light and his inert body didn’t move, so you hoisted him with your cop’s muscles and you shoved him into the garbage suit and listened to him fall.
You didn’t think about your bleeding arm or the churning in your gut that had already begun or how it related to the current decimation of the world. You just thought you had to get back to the apartment to see your wife.
And then you felt the first stirring of hunger. It’s why you wrapped your wound and began to make meat. Not just meat. Bacon. You needed flesh. You still need flesh. You crave flesh.
You try to tell your wife, get away because dimly, through the blood haze beginning to film over your eyes, you know there’s danger. But you can’t, because your tongue is shrapnel and your teeth are landmines and your hands are claws of rage and even as your shrinking soul weeps, you see your wife stoop to put her hand on your burning cheek.
To wile away the hours after your soul death, you do nothing, because in what’s left of your brains, there’s nothing to be bored by. You hunger and you shamble. Occasionally you bump into one another but besides a forceful grunt of air, you don’t react. You don’t remember that you used to be married, that you attacked and ripped out a piece of your esophagus and that you managed to escape into the bathroom and lock to the door behind you, thwarting your continued assault. It was only after you succumbed to the virus that you ceased your attempts to consume. After that, you simply coexist.
Eventually you escape by breaking the front door down, though your fist becomes pulp in the process and your foot juts at an unnatural angle. It takes a day. You wander the hallway for another week until you re-discover the garbage chute and you fall in and you follow. Only hours after striking the bottom and snapping your collarbones do you find the unlocked door to the sunshine and hold the door open for you.
When one of you wanders away from the other, you howl at the sun. You rove together, mindless, hungry.
Live. It’s the word that flitters into and out of your vastly reduced capacity. When you think of it, the sludge in your veins quickens, but it’s not adrenaline, more like adrenaline’s ghost.
You walk and you talk and you eat and you gurgle and deep in the recesses of your neural sludge, sparks a glimmer of what you used to be. You remember snippets of a past life in your unguarded, undead moments. You remember coffee. You remember Janet the paralegal. But these glimmers mean nothing, less than nothing. They’re an object in the sky. They have no name. They have no. No. No.
(The irony is, YOU are just like everyone else. We all think we’re special, that in a disaster we’d live, that we’d make it. It’s a romantic fallacy that in the apocalypse, YOU would be important. But it’s false, patently false, as you now know. You are the statistic. You are the horde. You are the casualties and you aren’t going to live. So sorry.)
You aren’t special. Only the lucky live. And even then, they don’t live long. You know this in your non-beating heart every time you feed.
Sometimes, in the darkness of daylight, when your gurgles and grunts quiet, you and you sit together and you almost touch and you almost remember your name.
No one else does.
Michael B Tager is a Baltimore-based writer and editor. More of his work can be found at michaelbtager.com. Likes include garden gnomes, cats, tacos and Prince.