Chess finally got to take a shower, as the sun was rising. It was a long shower, and afterward he still did not feel clean. His skin was red and irritated where the dirt had poured in and acted like sandpaper inside his uniform. His entire torso was bruised from his team’s bizarre victory celebration.
Because the field training exercise had ended early, the next twelve hours were free for them: one of their last days at the camp. That day, they also received a paycheck for the first time since they had arrived there, and that evening they would hold their graduation ceremony. Then they would be officially soldiers, Chess realized… and within forty-eight hours, they would all be divided up and shipped off: most to go overseas, and Chess along with them.
In the early afternoon, word started traveling around the barracks of something planned for late that night.
“There’s a place not too far from here,” one of the recruits told him cryptically. “Someplace we can all go celebrate. You’ll need to bring money.”
Chess squinted at him, trying to understand. “Like a… nightclub?” he asked hesitantly.
“Not exactly,” another recruit answered. “More like someplace we can go and have a good time. There’s girls there.”
“Oh,” Chess said. “Huh. There’s places like that, uh, near here?” Surprised, he considered the idea. Back in the city, there had always been rumors of brothels on the outside, but Chess had never thought much about the possibility of going to one: for one thing, they were outside. Some of the guys from his old game had bragged about sneaking out to one, but, honestly, he had never believed their stories. In his current situation, though, the idea was awfully tempting.
“Well?” The recruit sounded impatient and Chess looked up from his musings, embarrassed.
“Uh, how much money?” he asked hesitantly.
The price named was high, and Chess considered how much he had just received as pay. No, he decided, he wanted to send as much as possible home to his family. He was not about to blow it on, well… He frowned. And yet, he argued with himself, with all that he had just been through and where he was about to go, well, didn’t he deserve just one night of enjoyment?
“No.” He shook his head, feeling dejected and still very tired. “Thanks anyway.”
“Come on, it’s tradition,” another recruit insisted.
“What’s with all these traditions, all of a sudden?” Chess asked, becoming exasperated. “How come I’ve never heard of any of them before?” He turned abruptly and headed toward the small commissary next door where he could send money to his family, before he changed his mind.
By the time he came back to the barracks, Chess was in a foul mood, thinking about the opportunity he was missing. Dallow was sitting on his cot by then, shining his shoes in preparation for the graduation ceremony.
“I guess you’re going out with everybody tonight, too?” Chess shrugged, feigning disinterest.
“Naw.” Dallow sounded disgusted. “Not everybody’s into that. Some of us are staying here.”
“Oh, yeah, me too,” Chess sighed, grateful that at least he would not be the only new graduate left out of the party.
“You are?” Dallow exclaimed in a shocked tone.
“Too expensive,” Chess mumbled, turning to pick up his own dress shoes.
“Oh.” Dallow, weirdly, seemed disappointed at that, but said nothing further on the subject.
That night, after the graduation ceremony, after the truckloads had headed off for adventure in the woods, Chess decided to take another shower. It was the best he could do for his burning skin and bruised muscles. He stood under the warm water, imagining that the indigo priestess was covering him with a healing ointment. With a sigh, he opened his eyes… and saw Mal standing before him.
Continued next page...
Wichita: Avoid the vanity mirror!
Little Rock: Relax, okay? I just passed for a zombie. What I would give for a show-
Wichita: Do NOT say S-H-O-W-E-R, okay?
Okay, let’s get away from all this real war for a bit and talk about… the zombie apocalypse! Here’s something I have to admit: zombies have to be the most horrifying of all monsters to me because, just like in Torchwood: Miracle Day, even death might not let you escape from the danger. I don’t watch much stuff about zombies, but it does sneak into my viewing once in a while. I actually had a dream one time about traveling with the three groupies from Dr. Horrible in a truck to rescue Jawaharlal Nehru from zombies. I’m reporting this because I’m sure there’s some deep meaning in it, which I have not yet uncovered.
Whenever I am in a public building and especially a public bathroom, I look around for escape routes just in case the zombies come in -- kind of the same way Chess looks around for escape routes in his city. However, my projected escapes usually involve climbing up on something, which is ridiculously useless because I cannot even do a solid pull-up without the weight-assist at the gym. But it makes me feel better to have a plan. You know, just in case. (Rule #22: when in doubt, know your way out.)
Columbus: So until next time, remember: cardio, seat belts, and -- this really has nothing to do with anything, but a little sunscreen never hurt anybody. I'm Columbus, Ohio from Zombieland, saying good night.
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