Why am I awake? It’s 4 a.m. The only people up at this time of the morning are zombies who got off at the wrong bus stop on their way back to their graveyard and are now just wandering about lost. Also up right now are stalkers. And for sure stalker zombies. And of course people who stalk zombies.
I think that last class is pretty small. Zombies probably don’t get a lot of stalkers. It’d too quickly get boring. “Oh, look,” you’d say if you were stalking a zombie. “There he is. Still. Couldn’t he pick up the pace a little?” But, alas, he couldn’t. Zombies don’t jog. They hate jogging. Because it makes huge parts of them fall off. That’s why zombies shuffle along so slowly. They’re into body cohesiveness.
When I was seventeen years old I worked the graveyard shift at the second most often robbed 7-11 in California. True fact! We strove to be Number One—I’d leave six-packs by the door, stacks of cash on the counter beside the gallon jar of pickled pig feet—but we just couldn’t overtake a 7-11 in San Francisco that was located right next to a bank. (I suppose robbers went, “Okay, we’re gonna rob that bank. Wait! Look! Right next to it! A 7-11! Forget the bank. Let’s rob the 7-11. Less armed guards! Plus they have picked pig feet!” Or maybe they used it as training for robbing the bank. I have no idea.)
The 7-11 where I worked was basically out in the middle of this raggedy vacant lot, right across some abandoned railroad tracks from this ancient plant where they made the kind of ice you buy in bags at grocery stores. The guys who worked at the ice plant used to come into my 7-11 during their break to buy tubes of model airplane glue.
“How nice,” I thought at first. “On their breaks these guys build model airplanes. And they always ask for a little paper bag to carry the glue in. What a surprisingly meticulous group!” But after a while I couldn’t help but notice that they all had shaking hands, half their teeth, and breath that vaporized my eyebrows off.
“Those guys are glue sniffers,” said my boss and owner of the store, Forrest Wang. “Watch them when they’re in the store. They’ll steal stuff. Specially the frozen burritos.”
“Really? The frozen burritos?”
“But that reminds me. We’re almost out of their glue. Order another box tonight.”
That was a weird order to place. It made me a drug dealer. I guess.
When he first hired me Forrest took me behind the front counter of the store. “You’re gonna get robbed here,” he said. He dropped his voice and looked around conspiratorially. “Now down here,” he said, bending to reach into some shelves beneath the cash register, “I keep something I don’t want you to ever use except in an emergency. You hear me? Never.” I sucked in and held my breath. I’d never used a gun before. I’d hardly ever seen a gun before.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I said. “Bunt criminals out the store?”
“You hit ’em with it,” said Forrest.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” He didn’t. He never did.
As it turned out, though, I actually did use that mini-bat to fight crime. One night a cover model for Meth Head Monthly ran into the store, shot right past me standing behind the counter, flung open a cooler door, grabbed a six-pack of Budweiser, and began his kicking, flailing rush back out the door.
When he ran by me the first time, I said, “Hi, there. Welcome to 7-11.” But I don’t think he heard me. He was too maniacally focused.
When he ran back by me, carrying the beer this time, I said, “Thank you. Come again.”
But then somehow the whole thing just pissed me off. So I reached under the counter, grabbed the hunk o’ bat, and let it fly just as Mr. Beer Run was reaching for the glass double door out of the place. I didn’t spin it through the air hard enough to kill him or anything; I don’t think I’d have thrown it at all if he didn’t have crazy thick hair beneath a wool cap. But it clonked him on the back of the head pretty good. He wasn’t all that steady on his feet in the first place, and getting whonkered in the back of the head by half a baseball bat didn’t exactly enhance his sense of control. He crashed out of the door and sprawled onto the pavement, beer cans flying everywhere. Without once looking back he got up and stumbled his way into the darkness beyond the lights of the parking lot, one hand clamped to the back of his head.
It was two o’clock in the morning as I stood in the yellow light of the store looking down at the beer cans on the pavement, at my now trusty half-bat on the ground, at the cigarette butts, the oil stains, the crumbling tar of the parking lot. I looked out across the tracks at the dilapidated ice plant. I thought of those guys in there, sniffing glue and gnawing on their frozen burritos. I listened for a moment to the electric humming of our big 7-11 sign. I wondered how I had gotten to where I was, and what in God’s name would ever become of me.