There is something to be said for those who can tolerate the smell of burning flesh at six in the morning. Of course, I am one of those people, so I suppose it can’t possible be that special. After all, everything unique or interesting seems to avoid me like the plague, as if I’m such a complete waste of time and space that it isn’t even worth it to give me talent.
So, I can stand the smell of burning flesh in the morning, but it can’t possibly be that uncommon.
However, I have discovered over the course of this adventure that every single soul-sucking, mind-numbingly boring being on this god forsaken planet has at least one thing that they can own and hold dear. For most, this is skill at painting, or knowledge of chemistry, or even the ability to talk to strangers.
My calling happens to be surviving the apocalypse.
What? Someone has to do it.
Now, allow me to elaborate what I mean when I say apocalypse, because if I am going to claim skill in one single thing, it might as well be impressive. I am not talking about a zombie apocalypse, or a vampire apocalypse, or a werewolf apocalypse, or an apocalypse of 70’s music (one of the most dangerous kinds). I am talking about THE APOCALYPSE TO END ALL APOCALYPSES™. One day, I was eating three baskets of garlic cheese fires alone at a Nations, and the next, I was fighting the cast of a low-budget teen horror-romance—zombies who turned out to be homecoming queens, vampires who carried garlic, werewolves who transformed when their “specimen” got excited, and a playlist that consisted only of Hotel California and Crocodile Rock replayed for six hours straight.
For most people, it was a living hell.
Actually, for me, it was also a living hell.
What were we talking about?
I started thinking about garlic cheese fries again.
Now, before you start jumping to crazy conclusions like I started this apocalypse, let me first feed you the facts, the way a teen mother feeds a teething child Cheerios—hopelessly but with the best intentions.
First: I never meant to run over Eleanor Manson with a lawn mower.
Second: But I didn’t really prevent Eleanor Manson from getting run over with a lawnmower.
Third: …And if you gave me the opportunity to run over Eleanor Manson with a lawnmower and not go to prison, I would probably do it.
Four: But I didn’t mean to run over Eleanor Manson with a lawnmower. I swear.
Now that the self-incrimination is done, we can move on.
It all started on a day much like today, only with less rotting flesh, screaming children, and blood splatter on my nice jeans. After a long day of the hell that was high school, I was already in a horribly bad mood by the time I reached my father’s dumpy old house of the side of town. Not only had Jeanie Agers called me “dumb crack-baby bimbo” (which, to her credit, was as creative as it was pathetic and embarrassing), but I had gotten kicked out of soccer tryouts for slugging her in the face. Then, to make matters worse, I was suspended from school for stealing the team’s bras from the locker room, filling them with chocolate pudding, and leaving them in the cafeteria freezer.
It was like the entire universe was out of get me. What’s a girl to do?
So, by the time I got home, I was far past done with the day and was desperate for something to do to release the anger that was dangerously bubbling up within my scrawny body. After brief consideration, I found myself outside on my dad’s front lawn, aggressively mowing the overgrown weeds while even more aggressively head-banging to the music I had blaring in my ears.
I had a habit of listening to metal music whenever I felt that I needed to break something, but if I was really forced to evaluate it, I truly disliked the genre. Too much screaming and nonsensical lyrics; who could ever follow it? When I was angry, though, it worked like a charm. That day’s playlist was no different than my usual angsty mix—a solid combination of Bloody Baby Fountain and METALCORE MEGADEATH. Although I admit that I couldn’t quite relate to wanting to summon Satan or murder a baby, the songs got me head-banging pretty hard as I shredded the first layer of weeds and dog feces that covered the yard.
When I’m telling this story, I don’t quite know how to explain what came first. I can’t be sure whether I slammed by head on the handle of the lawnmower because of Eleanor Manson’s obnoxious, dolphin-like laughter, or whether she laughed and caused me to lose focus on my oh-so-important head-banging.
I suspect the latter, but I’ll leave it up to you.
Even though I’m right.
But alas, I’m distracting from the point again. The point is, no particular order, I head-banged my way into a partial concussion, and Eleanor Manson, who was passing by my father’s house on her daily run, began hooting with laughter. This alone would have been enough to set me off, but the fact that Eleanor was not only homecoming queen, but the most popular girl in school certainly didn’t help her situation. (Social rejects like me always seem to have a vendetta against the popular.)
This is how I justify my momentary blindness after concussing myself on the metal hand bar of my father’s lawnmower. Moments after my head collided with the bar, I stumbled backward and tripped on what I believed to be Eleanor’s outstretched leg (but was really a brick from my twin brother’s latest episode of playing ‘Dodge Brick’ with his idiot friends), landing flat on my backside in the middle of the lawn. This is the point at which the lawnmower, having gained free reign after disabling is captor, went rogue and started speeding across the lawn toward the street.
Eleanor ran fast.
But not nearly fast enough to outpace a gas-fueled death machine.
I try not to giggle when I think about the sort of ‘thug-thug-thug-squeal-crack-slurp-slop’ sound the lawnmower made when it took Eleanor’s leg prisoner in its steel jaws.
But hey, comedy’s comedy.
I can’t remember exactly how my conversation with Trevor went following The Great Lawnmower Disaster, but I’ve transcribed a quick summary to give you an idea.
“Will you pick up some milk at the store?”
“Why should I?”
“Because it’s your turn to do the shopping, and also get me some goddamn milk, you useless pile of garbage.”
“You really need to work on your persuasive skills. Lucky for you, I’m out of beef jerky, so I was going to go anyway.”
“Anything else you need me to get to improve your sad, sad life?”
“Ah, stain remover? Yeah. I got some blood on my jeans.”
“What poor vermin did you run over this time?”
“Um… a vermin with a homecoming crown?”
“…I’m gonna need you to come again with that one.”
“The uh… vermin I ran over… might have had ties to a certain homecoming court.”
“Eleanor Manson. I ran over Eleanor Manson.”
“Oh. Oh. Ooooooh. Um.”
“Yeah. So, you know, maybe hit up the paramedics too while you’re out. I bet that if they hurry they could save, like, 75% of her.”
“Better than 0%.”
“Right-o, my friend.”
“… So, uh, anything else?”
“Nope. I think just stain remover and paramedics will do the trick for today.”
“Right! The milk. Don’t forget the milk.”
“How could I?”
This conversation, among many other reasons, perfectly illustrates how disconnected and out of touch my twin brother and I were. Sometimes, when our mother got really fed up with us, she would say that she often left us in dangerous environments as kids—iron on, water boiling, knives within reach—hoping that we’d solve all of her problems while she was at work. And I certainly can’t say we didn’t try. Trevor once flat-ironed his hand because I’d convinced him that his hand wrinkles were unnatural and made him look old, while I once carved a smiley face into my calf after losing a bet in grade school.
Close, but no cigar. Better luck next time.
So, this should come as no surprise that my parents divorced when Trevor and I were young, and we began alternating houses every other week to give our parents a break from our presence. While neither house was particularly appealing, my father was the one who owned all the garden equipment, and I suppose you’ve collected the special relationship I have with such things.
In light of the lawnmower incident, Trevor and I were banished to my mother’s house and ordered to keep ourselves out of the way until midday, when we were to go visit Eleanor at the hospital. This was a nice plan in theory, but Trevor and I inevitably forgot about the visit in the midst of our ever-so-important staring at the ceiling and contemplating our pathetic and unfulfilling existence. By the time we finally hauled ourselves to the hospital, visiting hours were already over, and we were only able to catch the tail-end of a conversation between doctors. Apparently, Eleanor’s body was reacting violently to some drug they’d been pumping into her.
I believed that this proved that she was a bitch even while on the brink of death. Trevor just thought it proved that we should go home.
So we did.
This brings us back to our mother’s house, where Trevor and I were seated in his bedroom on the carpet, our bloodshot eyes glued to the TV as we achieved our 17th straight hour of Grand Theft Auto play. Needless to day, many prostitutes, innocent mothers in minivans, and policemen had suffered vicious and bloody deaths, and Trevor and I didn’t have any intention of taking a break to reevaluate our time.
I mean, we’d already rescheduled self-loathing for 8 o’clock, so at that point, we were committed.
I’m not sure how long it took before we realized that while we’d been beating innocent pedestrians to death for quite some time and had grown accustomed to the horrified screams, the sounds were no longer coming from the TV. In fact, they only got louder when I hurled Trevor’s shoe at the window and yelled, “Everybody quiet down!”, but with none of those words and far more profanities.
If I hadn’t seen Eleanor Manson hobbling up our driveway on one bloody leg when I peeked out the window, I would’ve gone right back to GTA. The decision was hard enough as it was.
“Hey, Trev, could zombies be real?” I asked, scratching my head as I watched her drag herself across the pavement, leaving a bloody trail.
“Um, obviously. Call of Duty said so. God, you’re so stupid sometimes.”
“But there aren’t zombie homecoming queens in COD, are there?”
“I would play a lot more often if there were.”
“So, that’s a no?”
“Well, now I feel like I have to go check.”
When Trevor started moving toward his shelf of games, I quickly interrupted. “You know what? Don’t worry about it. I think I know the answer.”
“And what is that, oh enlightened one?”
“Yes, zombies. Also, homecoming queens. Also, hey, Eleanor Manson is on our driveway.”
“You’re expecting me to connect these dots, Hallie, but you’re looking at the only person to ever flunk out of the Say No to Drugs class.”
“Of course. Let me put this in a way that’s more understandable for you.” I cleared my throat and stood up, pointing at the window as I yelled, “Eleanor Manson is a goddamn homecoming queen zombie and she’s come to reap her unholy vengeance on me and my lawnmower and probably my dangerously stupid brother.”
Trevor nodded slowly. “Sweet.”