Heathen

We all knew the storm was brewing, just below the surface, because we’d seen one before — at least, I had — that is, I knew. Remember the absurd rivalry between ninjas and pirates, maybe about four years ago, probably five? With the wildfire phenomenon of Twilight and the recent publication of Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, it was only a matter of time and meteorology before the grave-robbers would be rising up from the very crypts they’d pilfered, the artists of war stealing the very souls from their enemies’ veins. Something about the undead enchants us: is it untouchability or is it the unabashed sense of wanton destruction? The undead cannot be held responsible for their appetites, their faults. Responsibility is a construction of livelihood; they are not the latter and therefore cannot submit to the former.

Let’s get something straight: while both are considered monsters, vampires and zombies — like ninjas and pirates, and Republicans and Democrats before them — fall into a spectrum of expectations. The bourgeoisie, like my friend Søren, assistant of sorts to some entrepreneur of questionable practice, gravitate toward vampiric self-impressions. Of course, this type is drawn to the affluence of Castle Dracula and the agelessness of pale beauty rather than the villainy prowling behind their lips. But I suppose, self-awareness is difficult when no mirror will bear your reflection. On the other extreme, the zombie appeals to the bohemian hedonist, where all is forfeit to the singular allure of brains. Felix — another acquaintance of mine; someone I know from the classroom — readily admits that he’s a cannibal but won’t seek help until it becomes a real problem for him. A problem, how so? I ask, but he just growls, tired of the subject.

I never gave into the politics of the undead. Just tried to ignore them, at least, until the snowstorm, just before October ended. I’d been staying with my friend Søren as my own house was without heat, and we acted snowed in. Drifts outside grew by the minute. Søren said he was going out for something warm to drink and asked if he could bring anything back for me. I just shrugged, which seemed to put him in a mood. Søren left, and while he was gone, Felix called. Well, that’s it, he told me. I just wanted to pick her brain, you know. But then, I don’t know what happened. She’s gone now. I told him where he could find me, so we could talk it out, but when he got there, Søren was back. What’s worse was that Felix’s most recent victim was Søren’s sister. There was a vicious spat before Felix got kicked back into the drifts. Felix started banging on the door, trying to knock it in, groaning; however, Søren’s rage subsided once his adversary had been ejected. I watched in vague disbelief as snow drifted over Felix’s feet, rising to his shins and then knees, and yet Søren did not seem at all aware of his persistence or the snow’s.

Almost forgot, Søren said after some time. He handed me a lidded paper cup, and I took a sip. Whatever he had brought me was now unbearably cold. What he offered was certainty I would not have obtained on my own, certainty that there is futility in refusing to choose sides.

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— David K Wheeler’s work has been included in literary journals such as The Penwood Review and Jeopardy Magazine, as well as in the forthcoming collection, The Pacific Northwest Reader, from HarperCollins. Meanwhile, he contributes to the Burnside Writers Collective at www.burnsidewriters.com.

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