Zombie Romance Pt. 3



When I get out of my truck back at the site to shut off the light, I pop my collar. The snow is getting heavier now.
But in the deep silence of dark snowfall, I hear something. It’s the engine of the backhoe.
I pause for a second to make sure, but there it is. I’d heard that sound five days a week for years now; there was no mistaking it.
What the hell?
I walk through the opening of the fence and out behind the trailer, behind all the other parked equipment and stacked supplies. In the glow of the portable lights I’d returned to shut off, I see Travis in the backhoe, no damn hard hat on, and Biff standing there beside some guy in a suit. Behind them are two larger fellows standing there with their arms crossed.
I’m pissed about Travis not wearing his hard hat and confused as to why these guys are still at the site after hours, that I don’t notice the most important detail until it’s much too late.
He turns and looks at me, eyes wide. The suit beside him turns slower. Then Biff’s face turns red and he stomps over to me.
“What the hell are you doing here, Grady? You should have gone home.”
“I started to, but the homeless lady was out in the snow. I came back to call her a taxi, but—”
“You shouldn’t have come back. Leave, right now.”
He grips my arm and turns me away from the others, but the details are starting to filter into my brain now, and my heartbeat jacks up.
There are red barrels on a pallet with a ‘toxic’ symbol on the side. There are more barrels in the pit, some of them leaking, that Travis is covering with dirt.
“Biff, what’s going on here?” He yanks me around again as I try to look back at the scene.
“It’s none of your concern, Grady. I want you to go home to your wife, and forget about this. It’s nothing.”
“It’s not ‘nothing’.” I yank my arm out of his grip and stab it in the direction of the pit. “You’re burying toxic waste under the condo site. What the hell, Biff?”                          Dozens of families were going to live there. With children. They weren’t even burying it that deep. What would all that crap do to the soil? To the water supply? “You’re going to make all those people sick!”
“No, I’m not. It’s nothing serious—” he begins. And though I work with my hands instead of my head, I’m not an idiot.
“I know what the symbol on the side of those barrels means,” I hiss. “It means you’re illegally dumping this crap where it’s going to harm a lot of people.”
“Told you he wouldn’t go for it,” I hear Travis say from behind me. I turn to glare at him. The backhoe is off and he’s got one arm resting on the controls.
“Where the hell is your hardhat, Travis?”
“I’m off the clock,” he mutters, looking away.
I turn back to Biff. “You’ve got to stop this, Boss. You’re making a mistake. Why are you doing this?”
Biff scrubs his mouth with his hand. “Grady, you know how hard it’s been to recover from the recession. I had to do something to keep my business afloat. To keep my house, to eat, to live, Grady. I did what I had to do. I had to make sure my family would be okay. Surely, you understand that, don’t you?”
On some level, I could. But I would never sacrifice other people’s health, their lives, for my own gain. “And now? The town’s doing better, you’re winning all the bids, so why are you doing this now?”
“A cushion, Grady. A way to weather any other surprises that come along. And hell,” he chuckles, “to be able to afford a vacation every now and then.”
Surely he couldn’t be that much of an ass, could he? Perhaps he saw the look on my face, because he grabbed my arm and pulled me closer.
“I’ve tried to get out of the arrangement before, but those lab guys wouldn’t let me. I think they’ll kill me if I refuse.”
I sneak a look at the three guys standing to the side.
“I get it, I do. But you’ve got to stop this, Biff. You know it’s wrong.” I lean in closer to him. “I’m sure you were coerced into this. Tell the police what you know, and you won’t go to jail.” Probably, anyway. There’s something in his eyes, something like regret. I’m getting through to him. “I’ll vouch for you, you know I will.”
“You’re right.” He puts a hand on my shoulder, and pats it. “Let’s go talk to Mr. Nelson.”
We walk toward the suit, standing there in pressed clothes and shiny black shoes with a bright halo of light from the portable lamp behind him.
I put my hand up against the glare, trying to see his face.
“Mr. Nelson, Grady here knows what we’re doing here is wrong.”
“You’re going to make these families ill—” I start.
Mr. Nelson puts up a hand and snaps, and suddenly the two dark shapes come out of the dark and one grabs me, twisting my arms behind my back. Biff goes back to stand next to the suit.
My heart is beating in my throat as my shoulders ache. I see what’s happening here now.
“Don’t do this, Boss.” I beg. I thought I got through to him, I thought he understood.
Somberly, he nods at the two meat-heads at my back, and that’s my only warning.
My knees are kicked out from behind me, and I fall into the dirt, hollering as my arms are twisted higher. My shoulders burn with pain but only for a second. The second guy steps in front of me and punches me so hard in the jaw that I fall sideways into the dirt, arms wrenched free of their hold. But they’re numbish now, and tingly, and I struggle to get them under me to lift myself up.
Blood from my mouth drips down into the soft dirt and makes little balls. Before I can get upright, there’s a hard kick to my side that lifts me up and knocks the wind out of me, and I’m laying there clutching my broken ribs with my burning arms, trying to catch my breath.
But the same kind of people who would bury toxic waste at a residential site are the same kind of people who kick you when your down. And they did, over and over, until I couldn’t feel any one individual pain. Everything hurts. I could barely breathe and ended up heaving in the dirt with a sharp kick to my stomach.
I meet Biff’s eyes for a second while they stomp my legs. I look at Travis, but he looks away.
They don’t stop. And they’re not going to until they’re good and ready, and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t even catch a breath. It’s like I’m drunk on too much tequila and all the blows are just dull thuds against my body. The pain is there, but distant.
“Maybe we should stop, boss.” Travis sounds nervous.
“Do you want your bonus or not?”
The blows keep coming. They’re going to kill me. My friends. Men who I’ve worked with for years. Who I’ve been to the bar with dozens of times. Who I’ve barbecued with and met their families.
“Enough,” I hear someone say, but I’m not sure who. There’s blood in my eyes and ringing in my ears, and my body feels like it’s encased in liquid nitrogen. A burning, painful cold. But that one word was my Hail Mary. I was going to live. And as strong as my morals were, my desire to live was stronger. To see my wife again.
“I won’t—” I cough, spitting out coppery blood into the dirt, but I know I have to get the words out to save my life. ““I’ll leave. I won’t say a word to anyone. I’ll forget everything.” I’m not proud of myself, but self-preservation is a strong instinct.
Someone kneels beside me, blocking the bright light. It’s Biff, because somehow I can still smell his cologne over the blood and dirt and my broken nose.
“I know you won’t, Grady.”
I nod, to reinforce it. But he continues.
“I’m sorry, man. I already gave you that chance. You should have minded your own business.”
That doesn’t sound like my Hail Mary. “Wait—” I groan.
Hands roll me over, and I’m falling for a second, until I hit hard dirt. And then more dirt hits me, on the back, as I struggle to get up. I try again. But my body is weak, and the dirt is heavy, and more keeps landing on me.
When it’s too heavy for me to push up on my arms, the helplessness gets to me and I cry out.
They’re burying me alive.
I can’t get out from under all this dirt, and it’s getting in my eyes, my nose, my mouth as I gasp for the disappearing air.
I struggle to swim up and out of the soil, but it’s packing around me, trapping me. Everything throbs with pain and panic. But I don’t really feel it much. The pain doesn’t matter. The situation doesn’t matter. The betrayal doesn’t even matter anymore. All that matters is that I already miss my wife, and this is going to hurt her so bad. I love her so much, I don’t want her to hurt.
My last thought is of Maisie, beautiful Maisie. Her smiling face appears before me, and I reach for her.
I have to get home to her. I have to hold her, to kiss her, to tell her I love her, and everything is going to be okay.
With the weight of the world on my chest, I stop trying to reach for her. I’m out strength, out of air.
Out of time.