Thursday, October 31, 2013: Sherman Park, NY, USA
Eric Pearson gave the hot water knob another turn, wanting more than anything at that moment to scald away the invisible layer of fear coating his entire body. He winced sharply, but didn’t back away from the steaming spray showering down on him. He’d been standing there for the past 20 minutes and was planning to keep standing there until the hot water had completely run out.
The Department of Homeland Water Conservation could fine him double for the violation, for all he cared.
It was another twenty minutes before the water heater that served his small ranch-style home, tucked away in a small closet in the small galley kitchen, gave in and the water finally began to cool. By then, he’d finished off the last half of a bottle of body wash, lavender-scented to sooth his jangling nerves, and his mahogany skin seemed to glow a faint red.
As a New York City policeman – and prior to that, as a combat infantryman in Iraq – he’d seen some of the worst atrocities the human mind could imagine. From gangland executions and crazed serial killers to minefield amputees and bullet-riddled fellow soldiers, he didn’t believe there was anything left that could knock him for a loop. Especially nothing he’d expect to come across in the sleepy suburbs, where roadkill was more common than homicide.
But Anthony DiBlanco’s mangled remains had done exactly that, knocking him for a loop he was still spinning out of eight hours later, and it had taken almost an entire bottle of Jack Daniels to blur the edges of the still-fresh memory in his mind, and two separate showers to stop his skin from tingling in revulsion.
Fifteen minutes later, air dried and in only a pair of boxers, he was sitting at the small wooden desk in the spare bedroom that doubled as his study, turned on his computer, waited for what felt like forever as it booted up, and opened his internet browser, logging on to Google. He typed in “rottweiler,” stabbing at each letter with one determined finger, and began scrolling through the pages of results, clicking links at random, attempting to fill in the considerable gaps of what he knew about the breed.
On one web site, dogbreedinfo.com, he learned that the breed was allegedly descended from the Italian Mastiff. Bred in the German town of Rottweil, in Wurttemberg, they were practically extinct in the 1800’s, but they began a comeback in the early twentieth century thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic breeders centered in Stuttgart.
“The Rottweiler,” it continued, “is calm, trainable, courageous, and devoted to their owner and family. They have a reliable temperament. Protective, he will defend his family fiercely. These are strong fighters that seem immune to pain. Serious, steady and confident. Firm and careful training is essential for this breed, otherwise you may end up with a very powerful and overly aggressive dog.”
Another web site, pooch.org, contradicted its ancestry, suggesting the Oriental Mastiff instead and tracing its origins back to the ancient Roman Empire. It also referred to the breed’s fabled reputation for viciousness. “In Germany, these dogs were used to drive cattle to the market and to haul meat-laden carts. Butchers also tied their day’s earnings around Rottweilers’ necks so the money would not be stolen or lost. From this, they got the nickname of ‘Butchers’ Dog.’ Germans used the Rottie in military and police work. They also became popular as guard dogs, and television shows did the breed no favors by often choosing Rottweilers to portray mena [sic], ferocious, guard dogs that would kill on command.”
Ironically, it was that negative reputation that TV shows exploited, and drug dealers had openly embraced years earlier, that had made them popular once again in the suburbs with the increase in, and eventual acceptance of, zombie sightings in recent years, as they were widely believed to be the one breed zombies feared most. The evidence for this theory was, of course, purely anecdotal, but enough people believed it that it eventually became accepted as the truth.
Confirming that, within the first three pages of search results, he’d found six different breeders listing “proven zombie deterrent” as one of the primary advantages of owning a purebred Rottweiler.
He typed in “rottweiler zombie” next and was a bit surprised when the search results turned up pages and pages of links to Rottweiler breeders from all around the country, despite the fact that, officially at least, confirmed zombie sightings had been limited to New York City and its immediate surroundings. Ten pages into the search results, his attention beginning to wander as the Jack Daniels worked its way through his bloodstream, something caught his eye. He scrolled back up the page to find it, clicking on the link entitled “Monsters of Quake hate one another.”
He scanned the unformatted page of text, trying to find the reference Google had picked up on. “Quake” was a computer game from the 90s, he vaguely remembered, that featured, among other things, killer zombies and he had apparently clicked on a fan’s homemaed FAQ for it. The “rottweiler” Google had found was one of the monsters in the game, its relationship to the breed of dog, if any, unclear and unreferenced. There was an entry for “zombies” a couple of paragraphs later, though.
“It seems, that they throw their diseased flesh to everything that moves, even to one another. And after that monster comes closer and try to make some damage against them. But I think that only Ogres could ‘blast them into chunky kibbles.’ But I’ve seen ogres only using their chainsaw against Zombies. After some sawing zombies drops down and after a while raises back. Guess twice, who stays ‘alive.’”
Eric shook his head nostalgically, remembering the simple video games of his own youth, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, before the graphics had become hyper-realistic and the games’ storylines more violent and nihilistic, at one point instituting a ratings system like the movies, ostensibly to help parents control what their children played. A series of games called Grand Theft Auto, where players took on the persona of a street thug, running the streets committing crimes, stealing cars and killing civilians and cops, all to a slickly produced soundtrack was one of the most popular games with kids despite is rating of M for Mature.
Reading a reference to zombies that was written back when they were still a figment of the imagination was a bit of a surreal, through the looking glass kind of moment for Eric.
After another fifteen minutes of fruitless searching – fruitless because he wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for – Eric shut down the computer and went to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. The “Quake” game stuck in his mind and he tried to remember the specifics of the game. He was pretty sure it was a first person shooter, where the player viewed the game as if through the eyes of his off-screen avatar, giving the feeling of being immersed in the game. He remembered it was especially popular with the computer geek set, for whom a session of blasting zombies and other monsters wasn’t so much a diversion from reality as it was a way to feel in control of some aspect of their lives.
He also remembered that the zombies always came back to life, but couldn’t remember if there was a way to kill them once and for all.
Reluctantly, he let his mind wander back to the DiBlanco house, picking over the periphery of crime scene, purposefully avoiding the kitchen and the horror on it floor. Something was gnawing at him, a fleeting memory at the back of his brain, something his subconscious must have picked up when his stomach had decided to give out.
Leaving the kitchen, he flicked off the light and headed to his bedroom. The digital clock on the pine dresser read 10:30PM. He sat on the edge of his bed and looked around the room, his eyes settling on the bookcase, scanning the spines of the assorted novels, biographies and textbooks, his brain chewing on something he couldn’t make out.
“Sleep on it,” he said aloud. “It’s been one hell of a day.”
Across the street, just beyond the first line of trees that separated Rolling Hills Road from Leitas Pond Park, a figure shifted in the darkness as the last light in the Pearson house flicked off.