by Jonathan Dittman
It was a quiet summer morning and the birds were exploding. The .22 caliber slugs from Tommy’s rifle tore through them, expelling small puffs of cartilage, down feathers and semiplumes with taciturn proficiency. He slipped his hand around the bolt in a fluid motion, ejecting the spent cartridge and sliding a new one into place.
“Another fucker down,” he spat.
Tommy was target-practicing for the zombie apocalypse.
“If they’re facing you, you shoot them in forehead,” he explained. “Explodes their frontal lobe and they drop dead. Well, deader than before, at least.”
“Now, if their backs are to you, you go for the brain stem – that or the sweet spot in the spinal column between the second and third vertebrae in the neck. But then you’ve got a much smaller target, so go for the forehead, especially with the mongoloids and the gingers. The redheads have genetically larger craniums, not because of their brain size but to make room for all the freckles. It’s been proven; it’s called phrenology.”
I laughed and felt the warmth creep into my face as it reddened and filled in the white spaces between the clusters of melanin that peppered my forehead.
“Where do you come up with this shit?” I asked.
“Zombie Studies is legitimate academic endeavor,” he said. “I’m applying to Eastern Michigan next year and declaring a major in it.”
Timmy told me to hush as a red-winged blackbird landed in a swath of narrow-leaved cattails that lined the edge of marshland on his grandfather’s property. The bird sat there, calling for a mate with its telltale conk-la-lee, when its song was blotted out by the retort of Timmy’s rifle and then silenced altogether as its head popped off.
Timmy leaned the rifle against the stump of a recently-fallen sycamore; its splintered innards teemed with insects, but if bird guts didn’t bother Timmy, I didn’t think bugs would either.
“Bullshit, huh?” he said. “You just remember that when your brains are being shat out by some undead motherfucker.”
“Why would a zombie need to shit?” I asked. “It’s dead.”
“Why does it even need to eat then, huh?” he replied. “If its hunger’s been reanimated, why wouldn’t its gastrointestinal tract be, too?”
The conversation was ridiculous, but I couldn’t argue with the logic; it made sense on a Newtonian level, even if the undead stopping to pop a squat and purge its fleshy meals was something you never saw in the movies. After all, Timmy would know; he was apparently going to major in it.
We laughed a lot that day about what the undead could do if they came back: fuck other zombies or maybe even a live person, if one was so inclined and not afraid of having their throat ripped out mid-coitus; or even one waiting in line at a Burger King for a Whopper with cheese and then tearing the drive-thru worker’s arm off for sub-par service.
Timmy told me he’d kill every one of them he could, and that some people just didn’t deserve to live.
After that weekend, I headed back into the city, with incredulous thoughts of a zombie apocalypse in my head. One night, I saw a man stumbling along on the sidewalk, and for a moment I wondered if he was craving human flesh. But then I saw the bar sign hovering above him and could only laugh.
Later that fall, when the marsh started to dry up and the first frost of the season encroached upon the edges of the reeds and cattails, Timmy shot his grandfather from behind at a distance of two hundred yards, in the sweet spot between the second and third vertebrae. I received a postmarked letter from Timmy the next day, and he told me he knew zombies weren’t real, but sometimes you realized those you loved would always be dead inside, no matter how much they apologized for the things they’d done.