I hate the word Run. Lately, I keep hearing it.
See what I mean?
“Run, you idiot!” Finn ordered again. I was on the sidewalk, with my back to the Weta Cave – a geeky shop that displayed and sold all things Lord of the Rings. Finn was inside a school building directly in front of me, the windows were open, and both of his hands were pointing at Manuka Street which was to my left.
Not too far away, there were three human-shaped figures headed towards me. Even from a distance, I could tell they were infected males. One was missing an arm, and the other two hobbling alongside him resembled Freddy Kreuger if Freddy Kreuger were twins, and also a meth addict.
All were wearing the same black hoody with an angry, frowning ape printed on them. I blinked. It’s like they were a boy band for the undead.
If you squint, you can just about make out the text embossed on their hoodies – Crew: VFX Artist.
“RUN!” Another yell, coming from behind me. It was a voice I did not recognize. I turned around and saw a flash of red hair, partially concealed by the trees in my line of sight. A girl, maybe around 12, crouched on top of a Weta Cave troll. With a huge rifle on her shoulder.
“Holy Shit! That kid has a machine gun!” I made a fist pump, then gave the girl a thumbs up.
“That’s a paintball gun!” Finn looked at me in disbelief. “Get out of there now! Run!”
“Run!” The girl on the troll parroted Finn. Then added, “Run, run, RUN! RUUUUUNNN!”
Something in me snapped. Maybe I was sick of running, I don’t know. Or maybe I have a problem with people telling me what to do. Or just maybe, I’ve lost my fucking mind. I steadied myself as I tightened the hand that gripped the fire poker. The pavement beneath my feet crunched as I stepped on some loose pebbles while I sucked in air so cold it gave me brain freeze. I moved to charge the zombie version of the Backstreet Boys.
I was outnumbered, sure, but I was faster and smarter. They were slow, uncoordinated, and clearly liked to matchy-matchy their outfits.
I raised my weapon, gave a war cry that Xena would have been envious of, then skidded to a stop.
Behind the three Twitchers, there were two more. And at the back of those two, there was a factory-like structure with a double door that was partially barricaded by a Mr. Whippy truck. My first thought was, someone must have tried to take the truck then found out it was to keep what’s inside the building trapped in. My second thought was, I really want some ice cream.
Another infected made its way out, squeezing through the narrow opening. Uh-oh. How many were still in there? Ten? Twenty? Could it be hundreds? For fuck’s sake, how many people does it take to make one movie?
Before I could take a stab at a guess, my heart rate suddenly spiked up. Fast. I’m talking hummingbird speed level here. But it’s okay, it was a rhetorical question anyway. My ears started to ring, and my palms greased with sweat. Because like a newly hatched baby chick – if the baby chick was really ugly, covered with maggots, and wanting to eat my flesh – a hulking form emerged from the door.
I backed away. He was easily 6 feet 7, or maybe 9. His arms were the size of my legs, and his fists were the size of my head. I couldn’t believe it. My name wasn’t Jack. I didn’t have a bean stalk. So why was there a giant in front of me?
From where I stood, the asshole was actually smiling. It was the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen.
The trio that was originally my target crowded into my space. I aimed at one skull and used enough force to crack it, then immediately pulled back my arm to bash the second one. I broke the knee cap of the third, kicked it down while thrusting the poker blindly. It pierced a rib cage.
The huge, grinning Twitcher was almost upon me. I pulled at the poker. It didn’t budge. I pulled again, but no dice.
I hastily reached into my back pack for anything I could use as a weapon. Got an eggplant for my efforts. Hell no, I put the vegetable back. For tonight’s dinner, I was going to grill eggplants and mushrooms, shred them with a fork, mix them with loads of smoky barbeque sauce, then pile them inside the softest slider buns known to mankind. Mmm, yummy.
“My little brother, Carter! He’s inside, in the lavatory!” The girl’s voice broke through my thoughts. Just as well, because Big Smiley was still coming for me. And I needed to focus on surviving, instead of menu planning.
Finn was already outside the school, a few yards away on Camperdown Road, fighting off two infected in the middle of the street.
“Kid, go help my friend with your paintball gun! I’ll get your brother!” I didn’t wait for a reply, just sprinted into the store, rushing past a life-sized Uruk-hai statue, and Gollum holding a fish.
I flung open the toilet door, and came face to face with a toddler with ginger hair. He looked about 4. Or he could be a 20 year old midget. I don’t know anything about children!
His eyes were wide as saucers as he asked me, “Where’s Kit?”
“Who’s Kit?” I replied.
“Is my sister.”
“She said to come get you.”
“What’s the passwoid?”
“There’s a password?” As soon as I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. The boy’s baby blues narrowed suspiciously as he lifted a silver thing that was dangling from a chain on his neck. It was a whistle. Oh shit.
He blew on it, cheeks stretched so wide that he looked like a puffer fish. In between intervals, he started screaming, “Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!”
I slammed the door close. On cue, Big Smiley stood by the cash register, leaving a trail of slobber on the floor. As he advanced on me, I quickly scanned my surroundings.
I grabbed a Sword of Boromir from the shelf directly behind me. If it was good enough to battle Orcs and Ringwraiths, it should be more than enough to kill a VFX Artist!
I reared back my arm, swung with everything I had. I aimed fast, I aimed true. Directed the long sword towards the Twitcher’s face.
It shattered on impact.
What the hell! I grabbed the box, inspected the disclaimer: From The Master Swordsmith’s Collection – Film Prop Replica.
From across the room, Gollum’s eyes bored into mine, judging me.
“Fuck off, Gollum. Don’t judge me.” I scampered away from Big Smiley. He gave chase. I was going to die.
I found myself by the counter, desperate for anything to defend myself with. There were key chains, post cards and pencils. No chain saws or rocket launchers or… wait a minute, pencils! Finely sharpened pencils!
Big Smiley raised an arm, and I ducked under his massive bulk. Then before he could twist around, I tackled him from behind and slammed him down. I got on my feet and pushed the Uruk-hai statute on top of him, just as he turned on his back.
Up close, I realized he wasn’t smiling. His mouth was completely torn off, revealing all his teeth.
I stabbed a 2B lead pencil through one of his eyes, pushed deep into the cranium. Then an HB, followed by an F. Until there were 10 pencils in. I worked on the other eye, kept going until he finally stopped moving. It was a gruesome sight, barbaric and violent.
They weren’t people anymore. That’s what I keep telling myself.
Shit, the boy shouldn’t see this. There were T-shirts on the counter that were marked on sale. I ripped one open and covered the Twitcher’s head with it. I’m so sorry.
That was when Finn and the girl walked into the shop. The girl went to get her brother, and Finn asked if I was okay.
I nodded, but I don’t think I will be okay ever again.
I’d spare a minute or two to feel sorry for myself, but the sun was starting to set. I needed to go home. And misery is better with chocolate and whiskey.
When Dita saw my newly picked up strays, she raised an eyebrow. “When you said you were going out to get some things, I was thinking along the lines of coffee creamer or 2-minute cup noodles. I didn’t realize you meant children.”
— RECIPE —
- 2 large EGGPLANTS, cut in half
- OLIVE OIL, to drizzle
- 250 grams PORTABELLA or SHITAKE MUSHROOMS, cleaned & stalks removed
- 3/4 teaspoon SMOKED SALT
- 150 grams BARBEQUE SAUCE *(I used BAXTER'S)
- 8 SLIDER BUNS
- 10 grams BUTTER
- 3 large SHALLOTS, sliced
- 1 MINI CUCUMBER, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup NOBLE CHEESE, grated
- 10 LOTUS LEAF BUNS, steamed
- 2 SPRING ONIONS, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.
Smear olive oil, and rub the smoked salt all over the eggplants. Lightly coat the mushrooms with the oil too.
Grill the eggplants in the oven's top rack until spongy, around 15 minutes. Take out and let it cool for a few minutes. Then shred with a fork, leaving the skin out.
While the eggplants are cooling down, grill the mushrooms until cooked through, around 5 to 7 minutes. Then slice thinly.
While grilling the eggplants and mushrooms, caramelize the shallots with the butter in a pan. Set aside.
Put the eggplants and mushrooms in a bowl, then pour your favorite barbecue sauce in and mix.
Assemble your slider buns: Layer the filling, starting with the pulled eggplant and mushroom, placing cucumber slices directly on top, then add the noble cheese (or cheese of your own choice), and last to go on it are the shallots.
Assemble your steamed lotus leaf buns: Spoon in the eggplant and mushroom mixture, then top with spring onions.
Makes: 8 Slider Buns & 10 Lotus Leaf Buns