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RE: Your Brains

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I'm not sure how I became known as the King of the Zombies. I'm more of a CEO. My mother always knew that I was special, but I'd wager she didn't realize exactly how special I was, or even in what way I was truly special. Double or nothing that those kids that called me "special" while I was growing up also didn't know to what extent that was correct. They know now though. Assuming they're still alive.

The zombie outbreak happened on a Monday morning, because, of course it did. At least it didn't ruin Fridays for everyone, am I right? No one really knows what started it, and frankly I don't care enough to try to figure it out at this point. It is what it is, and it's not like I'm going to want to restart it, or need to. So I'm content with leaving it a mystery.

What I do know is that it was real quiet at first. No one knew it was happening, but enough people were already infected that it was a stealthy coordinated strike. I'm proud that the zombies were able to figure that much out on their own. It's always great to work with a strong base. So much easier than when you have to retrain people and break bad habits.

I was on the elevator when the first zombie broke into the office building. The elevator doors had just closed when I heard some people calling out "What's wrong with her? Should we call a doctor? Call 9-1-1!" The elevator finally started its climb to the fifteenth floor right about the time the screaming started.

It kept me a few minutes, while on the ride to my office's floor, to calm Rhonda and James. Both of them were stupidly attempting to call 9-1-1. I had to point out that if they both called for the same emergency, and with the same information, all they would do is bog down the lines. Instead, I told James to call in the emergency. Out of the three of us, Rhonda knew the most people within the complex, so while James talked to the operator, I had her call as many offices as she could. That way the other workers in the building had some sort of warning that something major was going on in the lobby, before it had the chance to spread to the other floors. I had her inform everyone to head to the roof as fast as they could.

The evacuation started off well enough, but then people started to get texts and news alerts about what was truly happening in the lower floors. Zombies. Actual, brain-eating zombies. They existed, and had leaked into hundreds - maybe thousands - of highly-populated buildings already; adding to their horde quickly. Once the word got out, the crowd started panicking about being trapped at the top of the building. Many argued that we should have headed down fire escapes in order to get to the streets. Such idiots.

"Bob, what did you do?" I turned to see Tom. He was a scrawny pencil pusher from a neighboring office. I don't know how his boss put up with him since the man never seemed to learn how to use an iron. Still, Tom was a nice enough guy, and we typically ate in the cafeteria together or out on the back patio when we decided to grab something from a lunch truck.

"I got everyone to safety." I kept my voice calm even though exasperation bubbled within my chest. Staying level-headed was the only way to handle a crisis. If I let my emotions control me there would be no hope. "If we went to the first floor to evacuate onto the street we could have been mobbed by those already turned. Even if we did leave the building successfully, we're not sure where other zombies could be, so who's to say we wouldn't get ambushed on the streets? Up here there's a chance that the cops can helicopter us to safety a few people at a time, or they can create a path for us to evacuate through. Either way, the roof is the only location I was reasonably sure there were no threats. I played the odds."

I patted him on the shoulder and gave him a soft smile. I hoped he didn't notice that it was forced, and that I was choking down frustration that everyone was challenging my decision making.

"It will be fine, Tom, just trust me."

It kept some time before the cops reached us. There were outbreaks everywhere, and the police force was spread thin. People got antsy and argumentative, and it was a headache playing babysitter for all of them. Meanwhile, without bodies blocking their path, the zombies climbed up the floors at a fairly quick pace. It made everyone even more nervous.

It was like a horror film at the climax of the movie. Just as the zombies began ramming against the blockaded doors to the roof the police helicopter showed up. We began ushering people onto the helicopter as fast as possible, but it would take hours to lift everyone out, so the cops were also trying to push a path through the building as well.

I started to split the group. Those that wouldn't be able to keep up with the cops – those in tight skirts and high heels, those that were overweight, those with a physical disability that would have needed the elevator, etc – would go in the helicopters. The zombies were right there, ready to burst in any minute, but once the people were on the helicopter they would be instantly safe. The other group was made out of the majority of the surviving workers, the ones that were physically capable to race down the stairs in pace with the SWAT team. They would get away from the zombies about to break down the door, and they wouldn't be trapped on the top of a building, but they might have to fight lingering zombies throughout the building.

No matter what I chose for people, there was a plus side and a down side, and everyone always focused on the damn downside. I don't know why I bother trying to talk to people some days.

The SWAT team started down the fire escape, escorting most of the survivors. Meanwhile, I stayed behind to help those being airlifted to safety. I'm not sure how well the evacuation went for those climbing back down the building, but we did reasonably well with the helicopters. We were able to get a full load off the building, emptied onto a secure building, and nearly refilled the helicopter when the zombies finally pushed their way through.

I can clearly recall the screams; the chaos; the deafening blasts of guns firing. I also vividly remember the pain of the bites. My flesh was being torn, and chunks of my hair were being spat back out in front of me. It's the memory of that blinding pain that drives me. That, and the shrill sound of teeth grinding against my skull, trying to crack it open. And crack it open they did.

I'm guessing that my brain is rich, like a thick, delectable, triple fudge, four-teared cake. One could only eat a small amount before satisfied with the taste and forced to leave the rest of the cake behind. Perhaps that is how I was able to remain so cognitive.

Just as I did with my workers, I instantly took charge. These zombies were running amok, and they had such a small return on their efforts after being in the building for hours. This wasn't going to work for me. I was able to get them organized enough to take down the helicopter before it could leave with its latest load of refugees. So, that was one less helicopter to rescue others, and we now had a few zombies with bullet-proof vests. Not too shabby.

I marched my new colleagues down to the ground floor; managing to find a few stragglers along the way. With my organizational skills, I was able to keep the zombies well fed, and the ranks increased daily. I was always brilliant at getting good investment returns.

Months passed, and we all but took the whole of Manhattan. The president was smart enough to destroy the bridges and tunnels that would allow us to flee the island, but he didn't anticipate that I would have the intelligence to run a ferry. It kept me a few tries to figure it out, but once I did we headed over to New Jersey. That moronic president would have done better to just accept losing the lives of most along the Eastern seaboard and just nuked us before we could leave, but now there was no hope.

It was a struggle to fan out my fellows so that the infection would spread faster than the military could kill us, but I played a fair amount of Real-Time Strategy games in my life, so I like to think I was efficient enough to elude the majority of the strikes. It was right about then that "King of the Zombies" became my moniker.

A few more months passed, and I was able to march the majority of my group through Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, I took a strong contingent down to Washington D.C. We were a discrete bunch. I made sure to keep attention up by Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That way military strikes would go by just north of my little nomadic organization. I let the American government think they were winning and pushing us back. It was hard to sacrifice so many, but it wasn't personal, it was business. Sometimes you need to downsize before a big merger to make way for the new personnel. It was as simple as that.

The attack on the White House was surprisingly easy. We lost a lot, but I was able to add more into the fold than I lost. A net gain is fairly good. It wasn't as large of a margin as I would have liked, but we had control over the nuclear warheads and the military at this point. America all but surrendered just four months after I took charge of the Zombie Apocalypse. I wish all hostile take-overs were that easy.

I was getting a bit bored, though. Without the cat-and-mouse of trying to take down the American government before they could take my group down, I didn't see much challenge in afterlife anymore. There was the possibility of other nations trying to wipe the country off the map, but I snuck enough infected onto international flights that I'm sure they have their own worries. Besides, I had nukes I could return fire with.

Just when I thought that I was going to spend the rest of my undead life bored, I spotted someone slamming the doors shut at a mall.

"Wait a minute," I mused aloud, "I know that guy." I walked to the front of my horde, and saw the man still working on his blockade.

"Oh my god, is that?" I laughed as I walked up and tapped on the glass to get his attention.

"Tom? Tom! Tom, it's me! Bob! From the office down the hall at McGarron and Shmitts? It's great to see ya, buddy! How've you been? Glad to see you were able to escape that day. I have to admit, I'm pretty impressed you lasted this long."

He stared blankly at me, as if he were trying to comprehend the words I was saying.

"Oh, me? Things have been okay, I guess." I wanted to tell him things were fantastic; that I was basically the new POTUS. However, I was in a slump without that militaristic challenge. I just shrugged. "I'm good, except that, ya know, I'm a zombie now. You humans have all the fun. It's now you who have the challenge of survival. I don't really have that anymore, ya know?"

He didn't seem very interested as he called out to the others he had locked inside the mall with him. I got a chill of excitement when I saw rifles poke over the edge of the roof. They were about ready to fight back. This could be fun.

I called my guys back before too many of them could have their heads blasted off. I then spent the next three weeks slowly trying to infiltrate the mall. I had to admit, while he seemed like a pathetic office worker when I last knew Tom, as a survivalist he really found his niche. He had the place well fortified, and I was losing more people than I was able to assimilate.

I'm not a fan of diminishing returns, so I decided to give peaceful negotiations a try. That was what I was best at anyway. So, just shy of a month since finding Tom at the mall, I managed to get his attention a second time.

"Hey, Tom, it's Bob again. Man, I miss our lunch dates, buddy. I could really go for a taco right now, can't you? Well, okay, maybe not a taco for me, but you know what I mean."

Again, Tom seemed very confused at the fact that I was trying to communicate with him. I guess he just assumed all zombies were incoherent. I like the guy and all, but he always was a touch racist.

"Look, Tom, I came to see if we could negotiate some terms here. I'm not exactly a fan of my guys getting picked off by yours. They're also kind of hungry. You wouldn't want to let someone starve just because they're technically already dead, would you? Oh, I guess you would, huh? Well, just hear me out, okay?"

The riffles were trained on us, but none of my guys were really putting in an effort to get the doors open, so I guess Tom had his clan give us some good will by ceasing fire. A lovely olive branch, if I do say so myself. I knew the guy was intelligent enough to realize that this meeting could be mutually beneficial.

"Look, Tom, I think I speak for all of us," I gestured to the small cabinet of zombies I had escorting me, "when I say that I understand why you might not completely comply with our wishes. I know that our demand seems a bit harsh: 'open the doors and let us in'. Kind of unlikely, huh? But just hear me out on this. You know how negotiations work, right? I tell you want I want. You tell me what you want. We somehow find a way to meet in the middle. So tell me what you want."

He just cocked an eyebrow and yelled needlessly through the glass. "I want you to stop eating people. Isn't that obvious?"

I mean, seriously, did he really think the glass doors were so thick that I couldn't hear him? I wasn't yelling, so why did he think he needed to yell at me?

Despite his rudeness, I nodded. "Well, of course it's obvious. Just like how my demand must also seem obvious. However, we should be clear of our wants and needs if this negotiation is going to go anywhere."

"Get the fuck away from this mall and drown yourselves in the Atlantic!" Tom screamed back. Oh well, so much for a calm meeting of the minds.

"Look, Tom, I'm just trying to help you out. You might think you're doing what's right for yourself and the others you have in there, but, well, a little FYI: you're not going to die of old age in a nice warm bed. You're all going to die screaming. I'm just trying to ease that reality for you."

"I'll have them blow your fucking brains out!" Tom pressed a button on his walkie-talkie and the riffles all readied to fire.

I threw up my hands in peaceful protest. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy there, buddy. I'm just trying to be straight forward is all. I don't want to really cause more trouble than I need to. Just let us in and your deaths will be quick, that's all. If we have to force our way in, then people will get hurt. It's the natural way of things. The end result could be some of you possibly watching as we viciously pull your loved ones apart limb from limb in our hunger and determination to get to the rest of you. Now, no one wants to see that, right?"

"I could pick you off right now."

I took a step closer to the door. The riffles couldn't get me from there. Tom might, with his shotgun, but that would shatter the glass, and the rest of my colleagues could just parade in at that point. I didn't think he was that dumb, so I figured I added a few more minutes to our negotiation.

"There is an army of zombies out there. I'm the only thing keeping them at bay and semi-organized right now. Do you really want to pull the linchpin? Just calm down. We're not asking for much. All we want to do is eat your brains, that's all. Then you become one of us, and do the same thing for some other surviving human. You become one of the predators instead of spending the rest of your life on-edge as potential meat. Is that really so wrong? Look. We're not unreasonable. No one out here is going to eat your eyes or anything. You'll be perfectly whole, aside from the brain thing. Not too shabby a deal, right? I mean-"

I lifted my right pant leg where the first zombie bit into me to keep me pinned while the others went for my head. There was still a chunk of calf missing, not that it was that easy to notice with the rest of my flesh rotting around the wound.

"Look. Without some terms of agreement, and someone to hold order, they will just eat any sort of flesh. Do you realize how hard it is to find pants now? I don't fill anything out like I used to. You don't have to live like this. Just let us in peacefully, then you guys line up buffet-style, we'll just eat your brains, and we can all get on with our day. Deal?"

"Fucker." Tom spat at the glass, which just made me shake my head. There was now a smear on his side, preventing a clear view of each other. I guess that was the point, along with him showing off his distaste of my plan, but really, come on. It wasn't going to hit me. Now he has to clean that lugee up. I wasn't sure he thought it through. He doesn't really think much through.

"Look, buddy-"

"I'm not your buddy and you're never getting to any of us! This mall is our sanctuary and you'll never penetrate it!"

"I don't want to nitpick, Tom, but is that really your plan? This mall being your 'sanctuary'? You realize it's actually a prison, right? No one can get to go outside in the fresh air again – or, however 'fresh' the air is with us zombies decaying all over the place, but you get the idea. You think you're better off spending your life locked away in there? You do know you have a finite amount of food, right? Same with bullets. I have a much larger yield out here, though. I could make you waste your bullets and still come back with more zombies. Plus, what are we going to do out here, starve to death? We're already dead, Tom. One day you will be out of food and guns, and you'll have to make a call. Do you starve yourselves to death? That doesn't seem to be a win for anyone. Do you try to fight your way out, and have people suffer as zombies tear at them to hold them still long enough to eat? Sure, some of you may survive, but it's a really gory way to die, and there's no guarantee. You were in business, would you have advised someone to follow a risky move like that? Come on, now. The only other option is to willingly become zombies. I'm just putting the offer on the table now."

"We'll survive. We survived this long."

"But I keep adding zombies! We are becoming the majority. What are you going to do, run from zombies for the rest of your life? You'll never be rid of us. Seriously, Tom, you're a bit too focused on this whole 'staying alive' part. What's the point if you can't enjoy life?"

"We'll find a way to get rid of you. People are becoming better at surviving. We will take you all out. Don't you worry about that!"

I sighed. "Ya know, it's not really all that surprising that you didn't think this whole thing through. You never did have the head for all this 'bigger picture' stuff. That's why you never got those promotions. I was too kind to tell you before, but I think you should know now. Speaking of knowing, do you know what the main difference between the two of us is, Tom?"

"You're a fucking zombie, and I'm still human!"

"No need to be so hostile, Tom. Also, no. The big difference is that I can see the bigger picture. Sure, still being alive would be nice. Sure, not being eaten by zombies is preferable. However, how would that life go? How could anyone be happy that way? You'll be more likely to die from stress-related causes that way. It's just easier on everyone if they die quickly via my offer, join the ranks, and then enjoy their undead life as we eat more people. Doesn't that sound preferable to being trapped like animals?"

Tom clicked a button, and the riffles started firing. He must have set them up to be automatic and remote activated. A few of my associates were blasted apart with the large rounds. I just turned back to Tom, and shook my head in disappointment.

"You're just wasting more ammo, which means you are going to have fewer resources to last as long. It's not that hard of math, Tom. Look, I get it, you have to talk it over with the rest of your team. We'll put a pin in this and I'll come back tomorrow, alright?"

"You're going down, you bastard." There was a hatred etched across his face that was more terrifying than any zombie. I guess one of us must have killed his dog or something.

I again held up my hands peacefully and shrugged. "Hostility is not good for negotiations. This is probably another reason you were never promoted."

I grabbed two zombies and we maneuvered under cover until we were a safe distance from the riffle fire. Jimmy, the zombie shielding my left side, died in the gunfire, and I had a nasty wound in my side. I don't like losing, and Tom's team was making me look like an idiot in front of my team.

"Tom," I promised myself, "I think I'm going to eat you slowly for all the trouble you're giving me."

The next day I tried again. I had hoped that the day to calm down, take a breath, and think the facts through would have helped. Seems they didn't.

I walked up with a white flag, but they already had the guns fixed on me as I approached.

"Tom? Buddy? It's Bob again. I wanted to really lock down this issue we're having. I think we can figure something out if you want to still try to get to common ground here."

It kept Tom a few minutes to approach the main doors, and once he arrived he stood with his arms crossed.

"There is no negotiation, Bob. We're going to survive. You're going to die. No one is eating anyone's brains."

"Did I tell you that we won't eat your eyes? I feel this is a crucial bit you keep forgetting. We won't go for the eyes, and I can even throw in the tongue and ears. You'll keep all of your senses. That's super fair, isn't it?"

"Why won't you just leave us the fuck alone?" I guess twenty-four hours was not enough time to think things through and end the hostility.

"I like you, Tom. I always liked you. We were friends. Granted, we were work friends, we never really transitioned to out-of-work friends, and maybe that's where the hostility is coming from?"

"The hostility is because you're fucking zombies trying to kill us!"

"Are we trying to kill you now, Tom? No. We're here to talk. You are the one trying to kill us right now. Still, I'd really like to help you in any way I can. I think us coming to equally beneficial terms is the way to do that. I really do appreciate you working with me, though. The not killing me and my associates as we approached showed real promise."

"We need to find the most efficient way of killing you damn monsters so that we have enough ammo for when we need it." He looked away as if he were ashamed to admit that he took my advice. It wasn't exactly how I was expecting him to mill the details over, but still, he saw a flaw in his plan – after I pointed it out – and sought to correct it.

"First of all, that's great that you took my constructive criticism! Good for you. It says a lot about your character that you'll listen to someone who might be able to improve your efficiency. Secondly, I think 'monster' is a bit harsh. I'm not a monster. Well, okay, technically I'm a monster, but within the meaning that you seem to be implying I feel you're off the mark. I think I'm staying quite calm and helpful here. I'm not asking for anything outside the realm of possibility. I'm trying to make the transition as easy as possible for all involved. Does that sound monstrous to you?"

Tom opened his mouth to shout back his rebuttal - because apparently that was the only way he could communicate now: shouting. Maybe his ear drums were blown out and it was more out of a lack of hearing than it was anger and hostility? Regardless, I never did get to hear what he wanted to verbally combat me with though, because one of the zombies tugged on the sleeve of my shirt.

"What is it, Johann?" He groaned a response as he drew my attention to a smart phone I had with us. I was able to teach them how to not use it as a weapon, and how to charge it. Thankfully, no one thought to shut off power before I had the zombies take over the capital.

On the screen was a news report of another bit of my horde being milled down by a hail of bullets from an old elementary school.

"Oh dear," I shook my head and held up my index finger to indicate to Tom that I needed a minute. At least he hadn't lost his manners completely, because he complied with my request. I was baffled that people still put in the effort to report the news, but I was grateful that they did. Those in the elementary school were much worse off than Tom and his team. They needed much more help to assimilate. With a sigh, I handed the phone back to my colleague and patted his shoulder. I then turned back to Tom and sheepishly shrugged.

"Sorry, something came up. Seems I have another meeting to get to," I offered Tom a wave. "I guess we have to wrap this up. I'll try to get this other group sorted out as fast as I can. You free again tomorrow? How about Friday? I feel like I might need until Friday. Does that work for you? I'm so sorry, this is highly unprofessional, but this negotiation took longer than anticipated."

"Stay away for as long as you need." I don't think Tom realized that I noted his optimism. He was going to try to escape while I was gone. He was an idiot if he didn't think I picked up on that. Still, I wasn't going to burst his bubble. I think he needed to feel like he had a win.

"Okay, buddy. I know we're going to find some common ground-" I gestured like I was stirring the air with my fingers before shrugging again and finishing my sentence with a simple "somehow." I then thumbed behind me as I slowly shuffled backwards from my current exchange. I trusted that Tom wouldn't try to gun me down until we came to an agreement. Still, I tugged at a few of my zombie buddies to help block me should Tom's compatriots not be so inclined.

"While we try to figure out more negotiation terms, I'll report back to my colleagues-" I cut myself off as I noticed that the rest of my team had filled in the gap I had made, clearly not grasping the subtly of my retreat. I hung my head and finished my sentence, "my colleagues who seem to be chewing on the doors right now. Hey! Lillian! Rebecca! Geoffrey! Suzanne! Marcus! Knock that off! We have to go!"

The group perked up at the calling of each of their names like they were dogs. Hunched sheepishly, they lumbered over to my side. I pointed in the direction we needed to go before turning back to Tom still standing cross-armed at the main entrance.

"Sorry about that. Seems we have to table this for now. I'll get back to you about the brains thing though. In the meantime," I gave him a thumbs up with each hand. I hope he understood the good-will behind the gesture, considering my left thumb was half gnawed off. "Good job on the saving the ammo thing. I hope you improved elsewhere as well. You really do take constructive criticism well. That's one of the things I liked about you, Tom!"

I then gestured to Tom's allies lining the roof of the mall on either side of their makeshift turrets, their guns still trained on me and my associates. "I'd like to thank you all for your time. You are most gracious. I know we're all busy as hell with this whole 'Zombie Armageddon' thing. You all are a testament to the remaining human race."

Johann, the zombie that had the cell phone, pulled on my sleeve again. I waved him off. "Yes, yes, I know. I'm coming." I turned back to the main doors and gave a friendly sideways point to Tom. "Okay, buddy, I'll see you in a day or two, depending on how long this thing at the school takes. Think over what I said. We can then just put this whole thing to bed when I get back!"

"He's going to be so much easier to deal with once I bash his head open." I muttered as I gave him a wave, and escorted my group towards the survivalists trapped inside the elementary school.