Plugs

“How was your first day?”  says the woman standing in front of him. She’s 50 or so. Middle management. Uncomfortable and avoiding his gaze. He can’t remember her name. Peggy? Pinky? Something with a P.

“Just like every other day,” he says. He shrugs.

She smiles a bit too widely, as if trying to mask her disdain for him – the lowly mailroom clerk – but doing a shitty job. That’s fine, he thinks. She’ll be here herself one day. You can only stay comfortably in the middle for so long. Falling is easiest.

Patty? he thinks. Maybe Polly?

He can’t really remember anyone’s name anymore, even the ones he’s worked with for decades. The long descent from chief executive to mailroom clerk is all he’s got left. The blurry remnants of an enthusiastic start, a somewhat satisfying career, an occasional breakdown. Something in the back of his mind nags at him, tells him things aren’t supposed to be this way. Something’s backward.

But what’s the point of questioning when you’re on your way out.

“Just leaving,” he says. “Getting ready to go.”

“Well,” she says. “This is goodbye, then.”

She waits, as if for a cue that she’s allowed to go. As if she has to ask his permission.

“So long, Pankaja,” he says. Her smile drops away. For a moment it seems as if she may start crying, but then she spins and rushes out the door. Maybe, he thinks, he wasn’t supposed to remember anything after all.

“First day,” he mutters, the words lonely and barely audible. “Or is it the last?” He can’t remember.

The former president cleans off his desk, empties the trash, turns off the mail room lights, and exits. Everything fades quickly from memory.

4.

Lauren, Queen of the Zombies, is in a support group with Penelope, the Vampire Queen, and Tara, the Werewolf Alpha Female. They call it a book group, but honestly they’re just there to commiserate with each other and trade recipes. Recipes for dealing with soulless monsters, recipes for escaping the clutches of self-appointed heroes. Recipes for steak tartare.

She thinks that Tara is really quite nice. Penny’s the one they both agree is a bit of a bitch, which Tara finds inordinately funny.

5.

Zombies are good at congregating. Lauren was a PTA president in a former life, and could never get everybody on the same page. The living dead, though, they’ll follow her anywhere. She’s organized a Zombie Pride Parade, complete with a banner for Brian and Parker to carry as they lead the way.

She expects her sons to balk. They’re both a bit shy, and not too keen to associate with zombies. She’s surprised, then, when they eagerly participate. “Let’s walk past the sporting goods store,” they say, and, “Isn’t there a gun store near there?”

6.

They hide. They run and hide again. Ruthless gangs of zombie-hunters pass their alley, their doorway, their basement.

Lauren is just happy that she and her boys have escaped the ethnic cleansing. She won’t miss the responsibilities of queenship, light as they were. It breaks her heart to lose her husband, though. Her last memory is of him snapping at grasping hands that bear him to the street. Still, in a way, she almost feels as if she’d lost him already.

She suspected he only loved her for her nutritional value.

A. Portland, Oregon

1. Grand adventure is calling!
2. Slide your ass out of bed.
3. Drink a Stumptown or three.
4. Clear IPAs from your head.
5. Gas up the Subie wagon!
6. Put on your old Birks!
7. You’re in Oregon camo.
8. (In the city that works.)
9. Avoid roads with bored cops.
10. (You don’t want to go down.)
11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!
12. Head straight south out of town.

637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):

B. San Francisco, California

1. Cross your choice of big bridges.
2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!
3. Go up and go down.
4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!
5. Go up and go down.
6. Get lost and then again!
7. Do E with a homeless dude.
8. He’ll become your best friend!
9. Good luck finding parking.
10. (Though it helps some to pray.)
11. Kick the homeless dude out.
12. And head south to L.A.

381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):

C. Los Angeles, California

1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!
2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!
3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!
4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!
5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.
6. Never trust a valet.
7. Careful snorting while driving.
8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!
9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.
10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!
11. Avoid being on a reality show.
12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.

792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):

D. Albuquerque, New Mexico

1. Take that left turn.
2. (You know that you want to!)
3. Make fun of the town’s name.
4. Just where no one can hear you.
5. It’s a good place for business.
6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).
7. But they drive like they have
8. Nowhere special to go.
9. So just drink some peyote.
10. View the great color fountain!
11. See hot air balloon fiestas.
12. Then head on up the mountain!

449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):

E. Denver, Colorado

1. Celebrate that you’re here!
2. Your adventure is done.
3. Drink beer and get stoned.
4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!
5. It’s the Mile High City.
6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!
7. Reflect on your adventure.
8. All the places you’ve been!
9. You’ve had traffic and parking.
10. Yes, at times you were vexed.
11. But it’s your destination!
12. Where will you go next?

Parthenia Rook stumbled out of the smoking wreckage of the downed Zeppelin Regret, bruised and bloody and cross-eyed with exhaustion from her fight with the android toddler, whose limbs lay scattered across the cobblestones of the town square. Above the spires and 400-year-old cafes of Vörpalsberg, the former passengers of the Zeppelin drifted through the sky under their improvised bedsheet parachutes like dandelion fluff.

Parthenia was exhausted. The Bonobo King could send a three-year-old with a kitchen knife to kill her at this point, and she’d be too tired to resist. Come to think of it, that was more or less what he’d just done. It had almost worked.

She slumped down on a chair outside one of the cafes and waited for a waiter, which was ironic. She was not pleased when the square, which she began to realize was strangely quiet, began to fill from all directions with zombie photographers who lurched toward her, clicking death cameras that flung out bolts of electricity.

Without pausing to think, Parthenia leapt up to grab the awning above her and flung herself into the air, performing a full backflip over the nearest zombie to land with one foot planted on the back of its head. The zombie crumpled under her, its head bursting on the cobblestones like a ripe grapefruit. Parthenia stepped away, leaving her shoe lodged in the former zombie’s former brains. She really should not have worn heels.
As the zombie photographers closed in around her, Parthenia kicked off her other shoe and looked around for a weapon. It was interesting: she really wasn’t as tired as she’d thought.

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