Emotional Outbreak: Loneliness

by Brandon

This week’s story is brought to you by author, comic artist, and friend, gpaulr (pronounced “Gee Paul Are”). I definitely recommend checking out gpaulr’s work on his website (and be nice and like him on Facebook). I recently met him for coffee and he let me go through some of his work. It’s very impressive stuff. He has a unique style and a great sense of humor.

The emotion he chose for his story was loneliness (you can check out the theme for the Emotional Outbreak marathon here).

Enjoy!

Dining Alone

by gpaulr

Chomp.

Bits of flesh rendered from bone.

Slurp.

The sucking of sinew through the maw.

Snap.

The pulling of bones at the joints to make for smaller bits to easily devour.

“Mmm that’s good,” the portly patron across the dining hall says aloud with bits of sinewy meat in his mouth as he smears another buffalo wing through the thick white glaze of ranch sauce.

And there in a windowless corner booth of a greasy spoon diner Jack sits quietly and watches for a few trivial seconds the patron across the dining hall eat.  The patron pays no mind.  Jack has  no audience but his own.  Jack is alone.  Around him, as he dines, the bustling world of the living passes him by.  For the rest of the world it is as if Jack does not exist.  He sips at the remnants of the melting ice within his soda pop deprived cup.  The waitress’s shift ended right after his meal was delivered and no one has bothered to check on him since.  He checks his cell phone and, as usual, no new messages.  He flips through various saved texts: messages from Tess.  The little dead love notes entombed in a digital grave.  Tess was the love Jack once had but she decided that she’d rather be fucking someone else.  These idol texts of affection.  Were these lies?  Were these truth?  Were they a function of both and Tess had no clue?  Regardless, the texts are the past; a different world that is similar, yet unlike the now.  Jack winces and turns his head away from the screen, a motion that separates him from the moment of reflection. He gazes back toward the busy dining hall and notices the couples in the place.  Like chicken pox on pink skin they are everywhere.

“Happy or not… at least they aren’t alone.”  Jack says through a sip of melting ice.

He gets up and thumbs through his thick wallet.  Jack knows the drill and leaves a ten greenback on the table.  That covers the sandwich and Coke and leaves a little for tip… like she really deserves it but Jack is a slave to social etiquette and has always given more than he receives.  He grabs his 80′s style denim jacket and slips it on. He heads to the door, looks back, and slips through into the night air.  No one notices.

Jack takes a walk back to his studio apartment just a block from the eatery.  He passes a stranger here and there along the walk.  He nods his head and slightly smiles in acknowledgement to each passing soul while none return the favor.

All his life he has strived to do the right thing. A bit shy and quiet, he treats everyone with respect, smiles and always goes the extra mile.  He remembers birthdays and events.  He’s timely and even lets friends borrow money until he has no friends left.  A sad lesson of friends and money never learned, even when alone.  Jack will always help.

Jack has so much to offer yet no one notices.  Not even his cat acknowledges Jack as he enters the apartment.  With the timed self feeder the cat no longer sees Jack as his source of food.  Captain Mal the cat couldn’t care less about Jack.  Nevertheless Jack attempts to pet Captain Mal who simply walks away.  Six months ago, Jack heard the distressed mews of the cat behind the eatery.  He had been tossed in the dumpster by some heartless bastard to fend for itself or to be crushed by the loud trash truck’s disposal unit.  Who knows.  Jack, that day, followed the mews to the putrid wet metal receptacle of disposable excess.  The cat seemingly acknowledged Jack then in a moment of pure need.  It was the interspecies cry for help and Jack didn’t need a universal translator to figure that one out.  So as all heroes do, Jack entered the maul of danger for the greater good.  Into the big gray dumpster of discarded progress he entered and he rescued the cat.  Jack’s reward?  A scar, for the cat in its anxiety scratched Jack across the back of the hand.  Jack took the cat home and while watching a re-run of a one season wonder, he named the cat Captain Mal. The cat seemingly never forgave him for that fact and has ignored him ever since.

Jack lays down on the couch and turns the TV on.  The Fair and Balanced Channel reports that a riot at a local hospital is likely perpetuated by some sort of progressive liberal protest with a communist agenda.  Antipathy fills Jack’s mind… he shakes his head and mutes the TV. He gazes away from the agenda driven media source and at the collection of graphic novels on the bookcase. They are really comic books with a catchier name so that the upscale geek can have them sitting on his shelf without ridicule.  The stories inside helped Jack through the barbarous social inequality and strife of high school.  He emulated the heroes to the point to where he too sacrificed for the greater good.  Others’ needs come before his own and in the end Jack is alone.

Sleep comes.

Jack awakes.  The TV is off.  Harsh sunlight shines through the window as Captain Mal slumbers on the sill.  It is Wednesday and all is quiet.  Jack has overslept.  Work awaits and for the first time since his break-up last year Jack is late.  Distressed, he grabs his cell phone.  It is eternally searching for service and does not show the time.  Jack does not notice that a single new text message awaits.

Frantically, he heads to the kitchenette to look at the time on the microwave.  There are no digital numbers on the display.  “Damnit!  What time is it!” He grabs his coat and sticks his cell phone in his teeth and heads out the door and into the sun-blazed street.

Smoke billows in the distance.  Abandoned cars, some wrecked most are not, are strewn threw the street and sidewalk like toy cars on the floor of a five-year-old boy’s bedroom.  Jack is surrounded by a hoard of the undead.

Jack lurches to a halt, caught in mid-thought and process as the cell phone drops from his mouth.  In Jack’s mind the phone falls in slow motion like the thousands of action movies he’s seen dozens of times.  As the phone plummets so does his heart.  He has SEEN exactly this scene of a zombie outbreak hundreds of times in pop culture media.  He knows the rules.  He is not  ignorant, yet he is unprepared.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The cell phone hits the pavement.

The zombies alert to the clacking sound of the impact.  They shuffle towards Jack, necks craned awkwardly like grotesque buzzards.  Many are fresh and only their gait and sickly glazed hollow eyes discern them from the living… at least for now.  A few have bits missing. They were the ones partly devoured and what remained turned, rising up to shuffle along to feast upon the living.  Jack winces, realizing the futility of running.  The zombies move closer.  Their eyes, like dolls, stare eternal.  He smells the odor of disease from the undead.  It is like the smell of a co-worker with a thick sinus infection.  They are upon him and Jack does not lash out.  He does not fight to the end.  Jack is not the hero he wants to be.  Jack winces.

And the zombies move past Jack and continue to stagger along, uninterested in feeding upon his flesh.  Perplexed, Jack turns his head and looks at the passing zombies.

“Do they not eat the living?” he ponders.  The undead simply shuffle onward.  In relief and disbelief and euphoria, Jack quietly chuckles.  The same satisfied chuckle he had when at age 10 he beat Super Mario Bros for the first time. Amidst the surrounding chaos of apocalypse, he quietly chuckles.  Jack looks down at the cell phone.  He realizes that there is a new text.  He begins to reach for the artifact of the Millennials.  A zombie’s foot stump awkwardly steps on the phone.  Its thick congealed blood is black in sunlight.  Jack looks up into the lifeless eyes. Paralyzed by fear he makes no sound.  The zombie pays him no mind and staggers around Jack.  Quietly, Jack retrieves the blood stained phone.  He wipes the slimy zombie remnant from the display away with his thumb and reads the text.

“Help” in Arial Font greets his eyes… a message from Tess.

Perhaps Jack can be the hero after all.

Jack begins his quest and walks down the street toward Tess’s apartment just two blocks away.  At first he is weary of all the undead.  Knowing the rules as he does this particular real-life incident makes little sense considering the undead seem to have no interest in consuming flesh.  With increasing confidence, Jack picks up speed and closes in behind a stumbling zombie.  Like an old lady in a Buick the zombie moves at an infuriatingly slow speed.  Jack looks around the zombie and decides to pass.  Cautiously he moves around the zombie.  The zombie pays him no mind.  Jack smiles his Super Mario conquest chuckle and moves on, passing zombies by the dozen and careful not to touch any of them.  An occasional moan emanates from the undead… a remnant of their babbling past.

“Vegan zombies?” Jack thinks as he enters a packed up bunch of the undead.  His astonished query is grimly answered with a definitive no as he sees five zombies feed upon the remains of a man. The body torn asunder like so many buffalo wings on game night.  Jack’s thoughts cause his body to stop.  He hears cries down an alley; human cries.  He watches as the zombie pack he is in shuffles toward the noise.  The multiple cries from the alley increase and suddenly cease one by one.  Jack realizes the living are being consumed by the undead.  Terrified once again, he stands stone like. He grips his cell phone tightly. The zombies pay him no mind. The street empties as the last of the zombies head toward the cries that cease abruptly one by one.  And Jack is alone.

The wind blows and a McDonald’s McRib wrapper rustles along the pitted asphalt and catches on Jack’s leg.  He startles.  Brackish dried BBQ sauce stains the wrapper.  Jack shakes his head.

“Why me?” he ponders, “Why NOT me?”  Determined, and as if she may hold the answer to the Sphinx’s Riddle, Jack must get to Tess.

Jack passes the remnants of the past, remnants of the day before; a different world that is similar, yet unlike the now.  A bicycle lays strewn in the crosswalk.  Two collided cars sit within the intersection forever entwined in a thistle patch of iron chaos.  He passes plate glass windows and locked store fronts, all pristine and unbothered by the chaos that swept through the night before.  No one made it to work it seems.  Everything is stuck in an early morning lurch before the bustle of the masses, yet it is mid-day and no one is around.  Only the tools of the society remain like pots from Pompeii.  No bodies… nobody.

Jack jogs to the end of the street.  Tess’s apartment at the top of the thrift store is in sight.  He smiles and runs toward the store front.  As he approaches he hears the pounding thump of helicopter blades.  He stops and gazes upward at the rooftop of the thrift store building.  He sees  the distinctive blonde hair of Tess tussle in the artificial wind created by the wash of the helicopter blades. Zombies converge around Jack and pass him. Jack is a single living creature in the tide of the undead.  The horde moves to the thrift shop like the long lines of cars in a fast-food drive-thru.  The singular desire to eat.  Tess waves her arms upward at the helicopter in the classic movie distress gesture perpetuated by a thousand disaster movies.

The helicopter pulls in over Tess.  Her boyfriend, previously obscured by the AC stack on top of the building helps her into the chopper as the rescuers pull her in.  Tess’s boyfriend safely enters the chopper as well.  Cast away in the sea of the undead, Jack waves his arms upward gesturing distress exactly like the movies.  He screams help but the sound is snuffed by the thump of the spinning rotors.  The rescuers pay him no mind.  And the helicopter disappears into the horizon.

Jack is alone.

Jack is angry.

He is angry at being ignored.  He is angry at his insignificance.  He is angry that poetic justice only exists in fiction.  Lost in that anger he lashes out and screams at the quiet heavens!

“Why!  Goddamnit!  I’m here!  I MEAN something!  I am Jack!  I am ME.”

Jack levels his head and rubs his chin.  He looks into the crowd of the undead.  They are now looking back and notice Jack in all his warm heart beating glory.  Jack turns white as the zombies head his way. The helicopter, the cell phone, the screams from the alley… only now does Jack realize that zombies are attracted to loud noise.  The last living soul in town and his angry cries broadcast that fact to the legion of undead.  A legion that uses sound to find its prey. The surrounding zombies close in, their necks craned unnaturally like buzzards with eyes glazed white and deformed toothy mauls open.

Jack drops his phone and it hits the ground at normal speed.  No slow motion.  Jack is not the hero he wants to be.  He whimpers and crumbles to his knees.

Chomp.

Bits of flesh rendered from bone.

Slurp.

The sucking of sinew through the maw.

Snap.

The pulling of bones at the joints to make for smaller bits to easily devour.

 

 

Dining Alone

by gpaulr


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Meghan Ciana Doidge September 30, 2013 at 11:36 PM

Liked this! Shared! Great structure, well -told. Just enough details without forcing the visuals. Thanks for sharing/posting, Brandon and writing, gpaulr.
Meghan Ciana Doidge recently posted..A Difficult Funeral, aka scene from Dowser 1.5My Profile

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Kristi October 15, 2013 at 5:24 AM

Snap crackle pop. Sad story, gruesome and funny. I wonder what happened to Mal.

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