How's your summer 'Ben' (pun, ha ha!)? I'm fine. I hope you are
enjoying Camp Cape Cod & Boston. I hear they have a lot of Italianates
Things are going okay at Camp Zombie Holocaust. Dr. Brains is
teaching me to swim & row. We do it in this artificial lake that used to
be a parking structure but collapsed after the Big Quake. Then sewer
pipes burst and filled it in. Dr. Brains is a pretty good swimmer, because
he's got the gassy bloat of decomposition to fill his stomach and help him
float, and algae hangs from his white lab coat. When he thrashes, he moves,
forward kind of. He gets tethered to the boat during rowing practice, and he
keeps trying to climb in so I have to hit him with the paddle otherwise he might
get me, but otherwise it's kind of fun.
I wish there some other kids here. It's lonely at night. It's dark too, because
all the power is out from the Quake and I have to board up the windows to my
cabin to keep Dr. Brains from getting in. My dad told me that other kids signed up,
but their parents wouldn't sign the waiver.
And oh yeah, archery practice is good. Dr. Brains keeps moving,
but not so fast that I can't hit him. I'm not good enough a shot to hit his
Uh no! I can hear Dr. B coming. He's calling my name, or it might
be his, it's hard to tell. I better get moving.
One more thing before I go: Could you send me some food?
P.S. Dukakis in '88!
* * *
After Devon had finished the letter he set the pen and ran. He could hear the low moan over the concrete hillside and Dr. B. could probably smell him.
The piece of paper flapped in his hand like the wounded bird. It had been a pigeon, he was pretty sure. He had finally killed it by stepping on it and had been sure it was wrecked but the meat had still been good, if mashed up and burnt black. It had been hard to concentrate on plucking it because Dr. Brains kept hammering at the cabin door. Eventually, the cooking fire had gotten so big that the cabin caught fire and scared the Doctor off.
But here he was now, back again, coming slow and steady. Why, oh why, Devon wondered as he fled to the mailbox, did he ever sign that paper?
I don't know, his mother had said, Camp Zombie Holocaust?
Says here it's free if you sign the waiver, his father had barked.
But I don't want to go to camp! Devon squealed.
Of course you do. It'll build character.
But what if there's zombies!
That's just the name---not like there's any Indians at Camp Ojibwa Pines.
But there's Jews at Jewish Day Camp . . .
Cut that coupon! he ordered.
That's enough out of you. The only "but" I want to see around here this summer is your mothers. That means we sign this waiver and your butt goes along with the rest of you to summer camp!
Don't worry honey, she said soothingly, the only Jewish zombie on record is Jesus, and he's long gone.
He said he'd come back! Devon wailed.
They always say that, he scoffed. Look, there ain't no zombies at no summer camp, no matter what the name.
In a way, he had been right. There were no zombies, plural, at Camp ZHC---there was only Dr. Brains, singular, who was now milling around the base of the water tower, apparently having forgotten how to climb a ladder, as well as how to button his lab coat.
Devon had made it to the mailbox only to find the metal drawer cemented shut and the post office decals faded and tattered. So he had to run all the way to the other side of the lake to the box near where his parents had dropped him off. Putting the water between him and Dr. Brains gave him time to rest, which was good since the pigeon had been his last good meal. The hash cakes he'd found in the counselors' cabin had only made him more hungry, if less worried.
But like the tortoise did the hare, the dead Doctor caught up and Devon had to spend the night up in the water tower. It was cold and windy and he was hungry and scared but he did not want to go home. Not back to his parents, not ever again. He felt like a dummy for having let himself be cajoled into signing. Their names had already been on the document when they handed it to him, and they'd pushed him into the car before the ink was dry on his signature.
Never "home"---but if not there, where? He couldn't stay here, not forever up on the platform around the water tower, not at the camp at all. In the distance he could see the highway his parents had driven in on, but he had no car and he wouldn't be old enough to get his license for seven more years! It didn't look safe to walk; the traffic never stopped. He could see the headlights at night, an endless procession of unblinking eyes. The abandoned mall nearby was fenced off too high and all the signs said it was radioactive. It smelled of human feces.
Dr. Brains was still down there in the shadows, groaning with arrows sticking out of his chest. Dylan knew that zombies didn't like fire, but he'd used all the matches to cook the pigeon. He'd burnt his fingers making a pyre of the George Bush campaign fliers that littered the parking lots. Otherwise he'd make cool flaming arrows like Robin Hood. Except he'd used all the arrows, too. If he could just set one of the arrows on fire, like a fuse, maybe then the lab coat would catch, if it was dry enough . . . But then he'd have to get close to Doctor B.---
He heard the rumble of an engine echo across the acres of pavement. Dr. Brains heard it too, and turned. A white shape was growing as it approached. He saw a pink dot of a woman in short pants and uniform get out and walk to the blue dot of the mailbox in the distance below.
Help! Devon cupped his hands to his mouth. Help!
The woman looked up at the tower and he waved his arms. Then she looked back at the mailbox. Dr. Brains started towards her.
The woman continued collecting the mail. Doctor Brains shrank to a dirty gray speck as he wandered towards her. He said his name, long and low.
"Lookout!" Devon yelled.
The woman finished with the mailbox and got back in the truck. The engine sputtered.
Dr. Brains was getting closer.
The engine sputtered again.
Devon yelled and jumped up and down.
The truck started and pulled towards the onramp. Devon scrambled down the ladder, his feet hardly touching the rungs but running when they hit the ground.
He kept running for the next few days, hiding when he had to, sleeping when he could. He was fearful hungry. He drank from the lake. The water tasted oily and the green skin on top made him gag but he discovered that he could swallow it if he swished it around in his mouth first. That helped some. He tried to catch some crows but only scared them off. They had been fighting over some mushy old apples that rested on the sewer grate in the gutter near the onramp. These he ate, even the stems.
He tried to climb the water tower but was too dizzy. So he slept in the counselors office in the little cubby space under the heavy wooden desk. He had spent three hours pushing up against the door, resting on and off, only to realize that the door swung outward. But it had a lock and Doctor B. couldn't work the knob anyway. It was warm and safe and he didn't think he'd ever have to leave because he would die.
Then the mail came.
Devon awoke to someone knocking on the door. Not the pounding or clawing as he was accustomed to, but a polite rapping on the wood. "Hello?" a female voice said. Maybe it was a dream. "Registered packages, you gotta sign for them. Hello?"
Then he heard the shuffle and groan of Dr. Brains and he heard the woman scream. There was a tumble, as if something dropped, her panicked footfalls of retreat and then the tireless shamble of Dr. B.
"Braaaaiiiinnnsssss," the zombie said, his voice growing quiet as he went off.
Devon lay there lethargically, thinking it over. He wanted to get right up but a very deep and very heavy part of him wanted to just lay down and go back to sleep. So he got up slowly and carefully, pulling himself out from under the desk by the palms of his hands, doing a laborious push-up and making sure not to hit his head.
His vision swam a bit as he stood and took a moment to straighten out. He climbed on top of the desk and looked out through the hatch window, first clearing a port hole with his sleeve in the grimy glass. He had to stand on tiptoe to see down below him but there they were, two packages at the foot of the door! Dr. Brains was not in sight, so he unlocked the door and pushed it open. He took both packages even though only one of them had his name on it.
He ate all the Oreo cookies first. Then he ate the orange Kool-Aid powder even though there was no water. Then he ran to the corner and threw up. Then he came back and ate the dried apricots and Brazil nuts. Then he read the letter.
Thank you for the nice letter. Cape Cod is OK. They are not so many Italianates as I hoped.
Most peoples cottages are in the traditional regional style and our barracks are late industrial.
Dukakis is really big here and were doing everything we can to
support him. It gets pretty hot and sweaty in the foundry, but you can see the big mussels I am getting.
Hope you like your food and present!
P.S. Dukakis in '92! (You can be President two times in a row)
Underneath the shredded newspaper at the bottom of the box was a crudely made, metal campaign button. In raised letters it said:
DUKAKIS SUPPORTS STEEL
STEEL SUPPORTS DUKAKIS
He accidentally cut his finger along the buttons rough edge. He dropped it and put his finger in his mouth.
The second package was from Camp Chippewa Lake. It was mostly brochures with color pictures of white kids in feathers and coonskin caps, but at the bottom was a hatchet in bubble wrap. There was a printed business card that read "Authentic Flint Native Tomahawk." Handwritten in purple ink on the back was a personal message.
We hopum see you Intercamp Council in August! We sendum tomahawk as token of goodwill.
We Smokum Peace Pipe!
Big Chief Clark Valentine
The tomahawk was very heavy and very old. He thought it might work but he doubted he could get close enough to hurt Dr. Brains and still get away. The Dukakis button was heavy too. He weighed it in his palm, then threw it like a ninja star. After an hour or so, he got the button to stick in the wall. Then he threw the tomahawk like an Indian. It hit the button, sparked, and fell to the floor where it cracked in two.
He pulled the button from the wall and picked up a chunk of flint. Then he practiced knocking them together, making sparks over the pile of package wrappings as he waited for Doctor B.
The chain that held the canoe to the dock was green with slime. The chain that held the anchor to the canoe was heavy with rust. He clipped the chains together. The leg he'd broken off the desk was wrapped in cloth torn from his shirt. The starter fire was burning at his feet. He held the leg in fire until it caught, and he watched as the last picture of George Bush blackened into flame. Then he stamped the starter fire out. The torch was not enough to scare Dr. Brains away, but when he returned, stained with blood and smelling of gasoline, it was enough to set him aflame.
Most disturbingly, the zombie did not scream as it burned; though it waved its arms widely, slowly, in a pantomime of confusion, before turning and tumbling into the lake. There it thrashed as it smoked, coming now to the surface and sinking again, before it hit on one of the jagged islets of cement and rebar. It managed to flop atop before rolling off again, further into the lake.
Devon watched in revelation. His plan had almost completely backfired, but he seemed safe as Dr. Brains kept further away. He hadn't even been able to throw the chain. Would Doctor B. sink? He decided not to stay to find out. He ran away, the lake a sick reflection of the bruised sky above, the zombie thrashing within, and didn't look back as he began to ascend the concrete curve to the highway.