The zombies were coming; what was about to start as a trickle of one slow mover at a time would no doubt pick up speed. They looked at each other. The backyard was particularly vulnerable, with its sliding glass doors and minimal landscaping, but they did not despair; there were ways to use the pool to their advantage. It was almost time to form the lines; a rush of excitement moved through them. The plants were ready.
“No fair,” Roy said, sulking in the family room. He’d captured the frog down by the lake and made an awesome apartment for it out of an old aquarium in the garage. “That thing ruled,” he grunted, punching the arm of the sofa. Roy regretted the day he’d made the bet with his sister (which she predictably lost), and made her kiss the frog. That kiss had broken some kind of spell; his pet had turned into a handsome prince; they were in love and going to be married. “Gross,” Roy said, thinking about all of the kissing that went on now in front of everyone. He liked Prince What’s-His Face-better as a frog. “Totally not fair,” Roy muttered, wondering if anyone bothered turning people into Hermit Crabs.
Some pressed themselves against the glass to see; others fled from the windows and pulled their children away with them. The little pink tricycle moved through town, the chimes of its bell ringing out on every street, turning in avenues, moving quickly and then slowly in front of the houses. “I wonder who it’s looking for,” Patty whispered to her mother, fascinated but afraid. She didn’t answer, preferring instead to pray for the soul of the absent rider (and ask that all calamity pass them by).
(For Linda, who requested an update to the legend of the riderless horse.)
Stephen’s life as a top Hollywood makeup artist had provided him with fortune, fame, and a couple of safeguards against loneliness in the form of hookers and blow. He was a self-made-man, the hero of his own story, and a rampaging douchebag in full tilt most of the time. “I’m here!” he announced to the crowd of shy kids huddled together in the junior high school gym of his tiny hometown. “Let’s make this happen!” It was the second Saturday in May, and Stephen had returned for the 17th year in a row to make sparse hair full, burn scars smooth, and cleft palates whole in time for Prom. For one day only, he and his brushes and powders, his potions and creams, his glues and acrylic appliances, could take the sting out of living … could make the world fair and good and right. One night. One magical night. It could make all of the difference. “Here’s to you,” his whispered to the kids gathering for pictures – safe afterwards in the quiet of his luxury sedan. He raised a flask to his lips with one hand, and felt along his hairline with the other, noting the subtle ridges and bumps from repeated plastic surgery. “Be brave,” he said, refusing to cry, tearing out of the parking lot with a screech.
Ramona wasn’t really a fairy, she just played one out at the Renaissance Festival. All the same, she knew that the actor starring as The Green Man probably wasn’t a man at all. “Besides the fact that he walks onsite from the deep woods (with no entrance back there) and leaves the same way,” Ramona told the others once safely away from the grounds at the Dairy Queen, “this morning, when he reached out to pat the saplings, I swear to God they seemed to shrink away from him.” Two nodded and one whistled low. “Houston, we have a problem,” Ramona whispered.
George appeared at the reunion svelte and muscled, his skin clear and his gills free of barnacles. He swam easily through the crowd of former critics (now admirers), tossing his mane of golden hair first to one shoulder then the next. Although the crowd was mostly silent, it was hard to miss the looks of appreciation (and even desire) in their eyes. “I finally fit in!” George thought to himself, elated. Beauty was worth everything he and the others had had to pay. He had never been so happy in all of his life as here with the other poor, unfortunate souls.
Marcy struggled with the personals ad, honoring her friends’ challenge to actually write one, but overthinking everything else; it felt SO 1984. None of the online dating sites seemed to offer anything clever – anything that separated the Potentials from the Players and kept things simple. Marcy sighed. “Fine,” she said softly, typing in a short burst. Next Wednesday, her ad would appear: “Are you The Keymaster? Let’s do this. (signed) The Gatekeeper”.
At the reading of the will, the others looked sideways at Rusty and stifled laughter as he inherited two food trucks and an admonishment from his departed mother to “live life to the full and always use two sticks of real butter”. He smiled warmly and wiped away a tear. They had started calling money “butter” way back when he was just a boy, learning to wrangle dough and make his first pie crust. Glad to be done with his stepbrothers forever and feeling deeply loved, Rusty drove off to look at the trucks and find the two million dollars she’d hidden there.
“Sure, we serve fast food, but we do so in a quiet and peaceful environment,” Chloe told the new recruit. “Yeah,” Mitch chimed in. “We respect the customer and want to provide tranquility as well as fries.” “D Powder?” the fresh meat asked, pointing to a shelf. “We add vitamins to the food?” Chloe and Mitch looked at each other briefly. “It’s not Vitamin D,” Chloe said in a low and soft voice. “It’s a diuretic we use on jerks and parents who mistreat their children.” “Yeah,” Mitch added. “Here at Karma Burger, we want to give certain customers a lot of opportunities to reflect.”