This is not the world that was promised to us, I thought as, I looked around the fetid mess left behind by my loser of a roommate- scratch that, former roommate. The EMT crew had just removed his body, bloated and stinking from his room. Never a small man in life, the last several years of Cheetos, Mountain Dew and a life spent in various virtual simulations had not helped matters- waking dreams that reminded me of the enchanted groves in fantasy novels with soft pine needle beds that lured adventurers to their death via sweet dreams. I made a move to leave the apartment, but when I made a right turn at the kitchen, my stomach mutinied and lurched left. I leaned on the counter for support and took a few breaths, trying to stop my organs from rearranging themselves by sheer force of will.
A moment or two later, I realized someone was speaking to me. My brain sent an urgent request to my ears for any information I might have missed.
“…Somewhere you can stay? Sir?” It was the police detective, a short bla- african america- person of color? What was she saying? Something about my house? “Sir.” She reached her arms to steady me and I looked into her green eyes. They were nice. Odd but- another lurch from my stomach. “Sir, we can have the paramedics take a look at you, but you’re going to have to vacate the premises until CSI and a cleanup crew get here.”
I shook my head. Where would I go? I couldn’t afford a hotel until the 15th and that was at least a week away. The homeless shelters wouldn’t take me, since I wasn’t ‘technically’ homeless, and my parents (well my dad and Cheryl) lived halfway across the country.
As I was searching for options, the vision of my roommate’s corpse in a coroner’s bag- VR kit still on, geez, they didn’t even bother to take it off him, reared its ugly head, and my stomach defended me by emptying its contents… right onto the helpful detectivewoman. Crap.
“I am SO sorry,” I said, and turned to heave into the sink. Nothing came out of course, I hadn’t eaten much other than protein shakes with peanut butter for flavor in several weeks, and that decorating the now struggling-to-remain-professional police detective. I offered her a dishtowel from the fluff-and-fold service I’d hired when it because clear that my roommate would not be helping with any of the household chores, or even leaving his room most days.
Crap. How the heck was I supposed to rent this apartment now?
“Wanted: Roommate, please no VR-addicted fatties, my last one died in your bedroom” just didn’t seem very likely to attract anyone.
That night I wandered the parks looking for a place to go. Apparently there was a backlog and the cleanup crew wouldn’t be there until the next day. Or the one after. Thanks Obama. Okay, wait. Before you go flying off the handle and calling me names- I voted for the guy. Twice. I like him. This is just me- engaging with a meme- from that time. Lighten up. As I was saying, Thanks Obama. After the streetlights came on and illuminated the change in the parks from day to night, I realized just what a tactical error my choice had been.
I can’t afford to live in some gated community, so the public parks near my bus stop are really, REALLY public. I remember reading the sign on the statue of liberty when I was a little kid. Remember that quote?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I remembered it that night and it struck me that no only did all of that wretched refuse seem to congregate in the park half a block from my house, just because she was lifting her lamp beside the door didn’t mean she was inviting them in.
Seems to me, when you put a sign on the door asking to be sent the homeless and dispossessed, that there should be some addendum added like “And I’ll totes make sure they have a place to crash, no worries.” Just at that moment, when I was feeling like I should do something and try to help, a terrible apparition came at me from the darkness, like the ghost of Jacob Marley. He was covered in rags and sores and possibly mold. His hands stuck out one finger pointed at the palm of the other and he lurched at me, mouth gaping like a zombie bull seeing a matador made of money.
I’m not proud of what happened next. I panicked. When I say I panicked, I mean, I PANICKED. When he got close, I stepped aside and pulled him past me, thankfully into a bush. Unfortunately the bush was love nest of two other homeless people of indeterminate age and gender. They jumped up and advanced toward me, righteous in their fury and pants around their ankles.
Great, there’s a homeless zombie apocalypse and I’m the one who got the horde moving. I thought, as I turned and ran. I ran and I didn’t stop running until I got to my friend James’s house about a mile away. Banging on the door, I screamed for him to let me in. The lights came on and I heard his footsteps on the stairs. It was taking forever, surely the huddled masses would be here any minute, yearning to tear me limb from limb. It wasn’t my proudest hour, but that moment I was too scared to be embarrassed.
Embarrassment came shortly after James opened the door in his underwear. Not yet…
“Paul. What are you doing here?”
“Let me in, they’re going to kill me.”
He crossed his arms.
“The zombies man! I mean, the homeless.”
He looked at me.
“Just let me in, I can explain.”
He looked at me, still as a statue. Silent as the grave. I froze, sure that any second there would be- silence? There were no sounds now that my hysterics seemed to be over.
“Can I come in?”
“What’s going on? Why are you banging on my door in the middle of the night like you’re in some shitty B-movie? Are you on drugs?”
“I’m sorry. Look, Dylan killed himself, well died. I can’t go back to my apartment to sleep and so I was walking in the park.”
“At night? No wonder you’re freaked out. That place is weird.”
“No, I was fine. At least, I was as fine as you can be after someone kills themselves by cheese doodle and you get kicked out of your apartment.”
“What? They can’t kick you out! You pay your rent! Call the tenant association, I’m sure they can sue. Get ‘em for everything they-“
“Look I’m not going to sue Mrs. Esterbocker, she’s a nice old lady.”
“That’s how they get you! They act all nice, fixing your plumbing, making sure the heat works, until one day- *wham* they kick you out because you’re too-“
“Dude. Let it go, this isn’t college and the noodle incident was your fault. They were well within their rights to make you leave student housing, after they expelled you-“
“What? I can’t believe you’re taking their side even after all this. You know what fu-“
“Dude chill! Mrs. Esterbocker didn’t kick me out. She made us cookies last week, remember? She is literally the best landlord I’ve ever had, plus… she’s like a million years old and she was friends with my mom.”
“Then who kicked you out?”
“What? Fuck the police!”
“Dude. Chill. Neighbors, remember?”
“Right. Well, fuck ‘em anyway.”
“I don’t know man, I mean it’s just bad luck. They said he’d been dead almost a week by the time I noticed and I had to leave until a hazmat crew gets there. Apparently there was a mess and he was starting to decompose.”
“Plus, he probably shit himself.” The bastard actually snorted when he said this.
“And that.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, desperately hoping it would work like some sort of mental delete key. No such luck. “Look, can I come in?”
“Sure man. But you can’t stay more than just tonight- And I have family coming in to town tomorrow so you’re on the couch.”
I followed James into the house and shut the door behind me. Paul turned on the door alarms, and turned to back.
“So how did you manage to run into the an army of the homeless undead? And was it Sam Rami zombies or like 28 days later zombies?”
“Sort of both. I mean, one was a shambler and the other two were fast, or well- they jumped up fast, but I think they tripped on their pants.”
“What? Why did they attack you?”
“Well…” and that’s when the embarrassment hit. A yawning anti-black hole of empty shame dropping my insides into nowhere, “I sort-of judo-flipped the shambler into the bushes and ran.”
“Did he attack you?”
“Actually, I think he was panhandling, but I sort-of freaked out and went on auto-pilot.”
“And his buddies wanted to help him after you attacked their friend, oh brave warrior?”
“Well, they were in the bushes. I think they were having an intimate moment.”
He failed to suppress a smile. “Hence tripping over the pants. So let me get this straight, your roommate ate himself to death, so you got kicked out of your apartment till… whenever. So your best idea is to attack a homeless person by throwing him into a bush full of other homeless people trying to get down? Okay, you can stay for the weekend.”
“Because then when my dad tells me I’m a loser, or my mom starts telling me I’m a bad person, you get to tell them this story.” He laughed and went upstairs and threw some bedding and pillows downstairs.