1 February, Then Larry Gabler lay there, gasping, bleeding. Hell, she could nostalgically remember some rolls of fat that she’d wished would go away. During the day she could really absorb how awful she and everyone else looked. She didn’t think they were above rape; if those jock assholes were slightly less malnourished she’d live in serious fear of them. Her assumption they’d gone the way of Fudgy Mc Packer might not be as watertight as she’d thought, and losing the comfort she took from the notion they’d been focusing their brutish carnality on each other didn’t improve her spirits. “It’s like you actually care,” Mike threw back at her, but when he did so, he smiled. Karl had observed what in other circumstances might have been comical stabs at it all go awry—real life Wile E. Several jokers driven mad with desperation tried the Tarzan thing, throwing a line out from a high window, lassoing a streetlamp, swinging, falling. Twitching, she rocked herself side to side, like an upside-down turtle. Dave froze a few feet shy of the episode, raising his hands to his mouth. She was making so much noise I thought she was gettin’ eaten alive. With a plastic magnetic banana he affixed the drawing to his refrigerator door, admiring it. Even with its Lugosily ghoulish name, Rushsylvania—population just shy of six hundred—boasted a nearly 100 percent white populace, all good Christian folk. His father—Big Manfred—was very active at Rushsylvania Church of Christ on East Mill, epicenter of nowhere.


What, I’m a five year old and saying my whole name is a scold I’ll abide? The wall was pitted, a trifle buckled, somewhat bulgy in the middle. Mike leaned out the window and peered down into the alley. She wore a pale-pink tank top that accentuated her lankness, her neck cords so pronounced Alan fought the insane temptation to strum them. When you didn’t answer the door I was afraid you’d done something to yourself.” Ellen just stared at Alan, eyes glassy with grief. Sandwiched between the east and west sides of York Avenue, as far as the eye could see in both directions, north and south, was a sea of doddering bodies, all with but a single purpose: eat anyone stupid enough to venture from the safety of his or her home. Food City was situated in a big steel-and-glass apartment building, the only truly modern high-rise for blocks. “The Comet” had been Eddie’s hockey handle—hokey, but apt. Dave came over and ran his fingers through Eddie’s hair, petting him, trying to soothe him. The kid had been cute, too, though more than once he’d seen her pitching a fit for ice cream or cookies. Small oases of light had dotted the periphery from nearby RVs, accompanied by the purr of generators and the occasional drunken whoop, but it felt like the surface of Mars to Karl.

Even a nightmare is preferable to your constant mutchering.” “You don’t have to be so unpleasant, Abraham.” “Is that supposed to chasten me, ‘Abraham’? Whenever Ellen had seen a man wearing an obvious rug—and most of them were pretty damned glaring—she always figured no one really liked or loved him, because no one would allow her husband or good friend go out in public looking that foolish. What would she write about, the death of everything? In the kitchen, Ellen poured half a glass from a 16.9-ounce bottle of Kirkland Signature Premium Water. Once, the man spotted Mike peeping at them and made a finger gun and mouthed, “Pop, pop, pop,” then winked and flashed a gold-accented toothy grin. “Come in, Al.” Ellen opened the door wider and stepped aside, which seemed a formality considering she was too attenuated to block his entrance. Sure, the produce and meat had gone bad, but there was likely an embarrassment of provisions in there, all hopelessly out of reach. Ever since they’d met in high school they’d been inseparable buds, Dave the calm one, Eddie the hothead. I don’t need that shit, man.” He stood up, vibrating with barely contained rage. Her mom was a bona fide MILF and he’d always slowed his jog to get an eyeful of her cleavage. When the last traces of daylight ebbed away, swallowed by the earth and foliage, the campfire’s light seemed pitiful and inadequate. Karl wasn’t a superstitious kid, so he didn’t believe in monsters—which in light of the current state of affairs was kind of funny—but there were things creeping about, rustling the leaves, crunching the soil, which unsettled Karl.

But sound had a way of tricking you in the absolute dark. “You’re wrong about everything.” “Dude, you need to take it easy on the water.” “Vaffanculo, dude. ” “Only two fuckin’ women in here and one’s like ninety and the other’s married and monogamous. Music was becoming but a sweet memory, along with regular meals, luxuriously long showers, movies . She also warned him about sitting too close to the TV, but that advice was now moot. He’d urged Alan to read the classics, to broaden himself, to refine his mind. He was going to have to stop reading and sink into the insomnious darkness. Alan licked his fingertips and pinched out the candles. His face itched, still unused to being so thickly bearded; he had not mastered the art of the dry shave. As Alan scratched and convulsed he drifted off, the only person in the building actually asleep. It’s not like he strutted around like Dapper Dan, wearing a suit and tie, but he kept his shorts and T-shirt on. ‘Look, that whore’s shacking up with someone new already.’ Who would think that, except those creeps across the hall? It’s not like you have to move your shit up here, but stay with me. We don’t have to even sleep in the same bed if you’re not comfortable with that. He wished he’d brought sunglasses and sandals but didn’t want to go back down just to come back up. A concussion rocked the small building, spilling Eddie’s beer in his lap. Eddie and Dave lived across the avenue and halfway up the block, but that short distance looked like an uphill battle, even though it was downhill. ” Mike had worked in the IT department at an investment brokerage down on Wall Street, so point to the observant jock. With the fire having burned itself out, the only noise was the hum of flies and the occasional grunt or moan. Soon the oppressive darkness would spread, drowning everything in pitch black, and another seemingly endless night would begin.

“We should just beat the shit out of Mike and take his woman. Only two fuckin’ women in here—” “What about Gerri? Don’t the Jews share everything on those kibbutz things? All his batteries were dead, so no more Walkman or i Pod. He contemplated dipping into his dwindling supply of store-brand ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. His mother always warned him about ruining his eyes by reading in inadequate light. His father used to lecture him about wasting his mind on junk. He switched from massaging the sides of his head to working between the eyes. Maybe it was hypocrisy or maybe it was modesty—which seemed so passé—but Alan kept his clothes on when dealing with his neighbors. ” he asked, attempting to stay grounded in the now. I can’t think about what’s prim and proper and what will the neighbors say? Mourning and starving are all most of us do, anyway. Karl stepped out onto the blindingly bright tar paper; the sun was blazing full tilt to the east. The sun lashed his bare back and sweat poured off him like a race horse. From outside the bar the assortment of unsettling noises grew louder. “Get out, quick.” As an afterthought he added, “An’ good luck.” Then he pulled the door shut and locked it behind them. The street below, however, was shellacked with immeasur able quantities of blood. The way they meandered down there, individual forms swallowed by the massiveness of the crowd, Karl could cross his eyes slightly and blur the overlapping double image. The shadows were beginning to deepen as the sun started setting.

The sounds of screams and random gunfire echoed in the darkening canyon of office buildings, the sun ducked for cover beyond Jersey to the west. Bits of skull and brain matter flecked the adjacent wall and floor. It had only taken one Apples ’n’ Spice candle to teach him his lesson. Karl’s eyes roved to The Wall of Beauty, a veritable tapestry of pinups, centerfolds, magazine clippings, and most personally gratifying (and now, in retrospect, most painfully sentimental), Polaroids from the good old days when he was “getting some” and could occasionally convince his conquests to pose for him in the raw. Back in the day, one of Karl’s fave porn starlets offed herself. He pitched forward, his bony, naked ass slamming against the sash as his legs pinwheeled by her astonished face. She dragged her feet across the floor toward the open window Mike fell through. Cadaverous, leathery skin, yellow as a dead plucked chicken, translucent enough to display dull plum-tinted veins, blackened gums receded all the way, teeth huge, eyes glazed—if it even had any. Another disemboweled Mike, unintentionally inviting several others to mooch off the uncoiling spoils. He’d looked up from the alley’s floor and seen Ellen perched at her windowsill, eyes like saucers swimming in roomy sockets. The ones with enough foresight to reseal the entranceway usually didn’t make it ten feet from their homes before the horde picked them clean. We know we’re gonna die if we don’t eat, but I figure so will they, eventually. I’d like to set my feet down on pavement again, even if ain’t exactly gonna be tiptoeing through tulips.” “Me too.” “It’s a waiting game and nobody knows how it’s gonna play out, but play out it will. If he had any balls he’d have hurried the process up. Because as lousy as this life was, this was all you got. Except these days it wasn’t, so death had lost some of its appeal. Today, much like the day before, and the day before, and the day before that. Even the ache in Abe’s empty belly had quieted to a dull numbness. With some effort, Abe opened the window, leaned his head out a little, worked up some glutinous saliva and spat into the mindless crowd directly beneath his fifth-floor dwelling. He’d stopped changing clothes on a daily basis weeks ago. He’d stopped bathing before that, except to wipe a damp sponge in a desultory manner under his pits and over his balls and ass. Of answering that question.” “Then what’s the point of asking it every day? Exactly so.” “I hate talking to you when your eyes are closed,” Ruth complained. Those who believed in Christ as their personal savior were invited to eat the bread and drink the juice that was dispensed. Though Karl didn’t miss that old-time religion, he could go for some of that body and blood right about now.

Mixed in with the usual filth in the gathered curbside snowdrifts was a new hue: deep red, and plenty of it, like big, bloody snow cones. ” He pounded a few times, rattling the pebbled glass with Bender’s name and logo painted upon it. Abe raised a hand to his mouth and then lowered it, realizing he was going to neither scream nor throw up. Lost it.” With the rhyming game over, Karl rolled over on his side; the mattress where he’d been lying was damp with perspiration. Karl stared at the wall, or at least in the direction of the wall. He was just thinking about the them that constituted the others in the building. All the windows of apartment 5B were open but you’d never know it, the air was so still it felt like a vacuum. He’d lit the wick, basked for a moment in the delicious bouquet, and then puked from a crushing whiff of the ceaseless alfresco parade of putrescence. In the light Karl could make out the trappings of his bedroom. When things had been different he’d been discreet and kept these pix salted away in a private place, but now? Karl got up from the bed and shuffled over to the wall. Consequently, his massive cache of videos in which she’d appeared became anathema to his libido. An inarticulate screech was the only sound she could manage as her husband fell out the window. She didn’t want to look, but desire was not a factor. A shriek echoed through the alley as they tore into Mike, picking the meager flesh off his bones with those horrible teeth, digging their jagged nails in, peeling him. Bestial growls accompanied the feeding frenzy, the things poking at each other, scrabbling, circling like hyenas. That was so Mike of him, always trying to protect her feelings, even now. One did get as far as the entrance to the supermarket, and even managed to detach the moldering sheet metal, but the doors had been automatic. He’d pounded on them as much in exasperated fury and disbelief as in attempt to actually infiltrate the emporium. He’d arranged his frail, emaciated body into a semblance of comfort in the threadbare upholstered chair, parted the dingy chintz curtains, opened the dusty venetian blinds and took his position as eyewitness to nothing. He’d actually welcome the sharpness of the hunger pangs, but you can get used to anything. The thick, pasty blob plopped onto one thing’s noggin and the schmuck didn’t even have the decency to notice, to become outraged or even annoyed. Abe sighed with resignation and eased back from the window, repositioning himself in his seat. “This is what passes for entertainment in this hollow semblance of a world. But to see Ruth in the same situation was intolerable. She had been vain, back when vanity wasn’t such a futile pursuit. “I hate talking to you when my eyes are open.” Weeks ago that rejoinder might have brought tears to Ruth’s eyes, but she knew what Abe meant, and if she had any more tears to cry she still might shed a few, but she was dry as the Sahara. One of those mini-SUVs, only he couldn’t hear the roar of an engine over the wet thud of rickety bodies jouncing off its hard surfaces. Abe wanted to shout to its pilot but there was no point; that machine wasn’t stopping for anything.

When he’d reached maximum density he pulled up the bib, heaved on the matching camouflage parka, and stuffed in more onesies. He let the rind sit there for a while, building up sufficient saliva to swallow it. He was doing a self test of what senses he could stimulate. Prior to her actual demise, bits of Ida had predeceased her in the form of amputated limbs gone sour from gangrene due to poor circulation. Soon the miserable bastards will be at each other’s throats, just like regular people! What is joyful about those things attacking each other? It’s the human way to be inhuman.” “And that’s a good thing? Unlike the others, Ellen steered clear of the roof and had gotten paler and paler in the weeks past. What the hell kind of fucked-up thing is that to teach a kid? Ellen looked twisted and knotty, her contours convex where they oughtn’t be, concave likewise.

With the hood cinched tight around his scarf and a pair of snow goggles, Abe resembled Santa Claus geared up for combat. At the time it had put Abe in the mind of an old World War II joke about a captive American in a German POW camp who is on work duty fixing the roof in the rain. these sons of bitches have finally started in on each other! The triangular patch of black pubic hair stood out in sharp relief against her ashy skin, thick and matted with sweat and the commingled fluids of their lovemaking. It had felt desperate, rapacious, panic stricken, violent. Her tangle of brunette curls a greasy amorphous blob, obscuring her face save for one closed eyelid tinted dark as a shiner.

As he peered down, three taxis collided, the driver of one bursting through his windshield like a meat torpedo. Abe cased the hall, then elbowed the loose pane out of the frame, the glass crashing to the linoleum beneath. Abe gave the unlit room a quick once over, then stepped in, flicking on the overhead fluorescents, which buzzed in protest. The small dancing light found the blackened wick of one of the candles, which sputtered to life, creating a pool of comforting incandescence. He’d gotten them as gifts, pretended he’d appreciated them, then thrown them all in a box in his closet. “You were my Everest.” Karl flushed with embarrassment at his floridity, then looked up at the ceiling and considered going up to the roof. Ellen dropped the glass and grabbed for Mike, her hands moist with perspiration, muscles neutered by malnutrition. The first of his defilers stooped over and dropped to its knees, baring its teeth. By the time her temporary immobilization eased, all that was left of dear, sweet Mike was a dark crimson stain on the pavement and some picked-clean bones. Next door she heard Eddie bellow something unintelligible. This was excitement no one needed or wanted, least of all him, but he couldn’t just sit in his apartment and pretend it hadn’t happened. Some aspirant swashbucklers slapped together homemade armor. Their hides might be tanned as shoe leather, but mark my words, they’ll fall. Their neighbor, Gerri, stood at the top of the steps, looking bedazzled. Gerri’s Yorkie, Cuppy, skittered down the stairs and began lapping up Dave’s sick. “I’ll get it later.” 7 July, Now “Do something, you piles of pus.” Even before things got as bad as they’d gotten, Abe Fogelhut knew the drill. The skin under her sharp jaw was a loose curtain, what ever nasty business lurked beneath barely hidden by her translucent epidermis. He didn’t bother with mirrors any more, not since he stopped shaving. Vanity was outmoded folly, even in light of the facial hair. Pushing the Christ was all about marketing and demographics. Karl remembered the Lord’s Supper service on Sunday mornings—an odd time for supper, but why quibble over details when illogic reigns supreme? Accompanied by a chorus of growls from his abdomen, Karl stalked over to his bed and willed himself to sleep, intoning a sacred hymn.