” What do you do when a dead guy shows up on your doorstep looking for cowboy boots? Cass’ first instinct was to invite him in for tea. “
By Mikey Athearn
There is something to be said for the person who is fully prepared to deal with zombies. Every family has that grandpa or brother who stockpiles ammo and freeze dried food. My uncle Joe has a detailed plan on his zombie survival commune and who will get to live there. I made the cut because I am an excellent shot with a pistol. See, the thing about these people is that they are nutjobs until the moment they’re not. If nothing happens then they fade into obscurity, just become a funny little anecdote. But if something does happen, if mad cow disease were to mutate, become airborne, and turn most of the population into brain eating monsters, well, those nutjobs are now right and will be the only ones to survive. Because of that, I can really appreciate the preparedness of a zombie survivalist.
Take my crazy Uncle Joe for example. Sure, it wasn’t a zombie, but when an armed gunman tried to rob the gas station he was in, Uncle Joe subdued him in under three minutes with no casualties. I mean, he did call the Center for Disease Control instead of the police and demanded an immediate quarantine, but he still stopped the guy. He even got to shake the mayor’s hand. And who knows, maybe the mayor really is trying to cover up a malicious plan to release a virus on the unsuspecting public and deserved to be punched in the nose. My point is, is that even if they are crazy, they are prepared to deal with anything that happens. I regularly wish I had been that level of prepared before I met Billy.
I only talked to Billy once before his funeral, and I always questioned whether or not he remembered. I was at one of his parties and he stumbled up to me, said my eyes were like deep pools of golden wisdom, called me a beautiful snowflake, gave me one of his cowboy boots, and promptly threw up in the bushes. I wasn’t surprised, that was the kind of guy Billy was. He wasn’t someone that anyone actually knew. I only ever heard stories of stories, crazy antics that always started with ‘Guess what Billy did this time’ or ‘So Billy was on a bender’ sometimes even ‘Anna told her brother who told my cousin who told Maurice who told me that Billy met the president.’ I am pretty sure I was the only person to ever question if anything said about him was true. Well, the president thing was true, but I didn’t find that out till I was standing in front of his casket and saw the picture of Billy shaking the president’s hand.
I didn’t want to go to the funeral, I didn’t think that I knew him well enough to see his corpse, but I ended up going out of some misplaced sense of guilt. I still had his boot from that time I met him months before and wanted to return it to him. His dead body. Whatever. I didn’t want to think too hard about it. So, with cowboy boot in hand, and wearing my only black dress—a little cocktail dress that I thought would be entirely inappropriate—I went to Billy’s funeral.
It was a nice service, if a little weird. There were a lot of unusual people: a clown, a girl wearing a tutu, someone who looked a lot like Elvis, and a surprising amount of people wearing suits and sunglasses. I didn’t think much of them, though. Black suits are pretty standard wear for a funeral and the sunglasses, well, compared to the guy who was pulling doves out of his sleeves, the sunglasses were practically normal. There was one girl who looked pretty normal, she was the only one actually crying.
Billy’s casket was closed for the service. He died in a hang-gliding accident, I doubted that his body could be made pretty after something like that. It did make it a little weird when I tried to return his boot, though. I didn’t want to just set it on the casket, so I held on to it until it was time to bury him. People threw stuff onto to coffins all the time in the movies. Sure, normally it was roses, but I didn’t bring roses. I brought his cowboy boot. After the walk to the cemetery which involved a few people walking on stilts and a lion, a crowd of what can only be described as a shit show watched Billy be lowered into the ground. Some people even tossed in roses, so I felt justified adding the boot to the hole, even if one of the sunglasses people lowered the glasses just enough to glare at me. I quickly left once Billy was properly buried. I heard talk of someone starting a fire and I didn’t really want to see it.
It was after I got back to my apartment that things got really weird. Everything was perfectly normal for a while; I showered, ignored some bills, and watched a few episodes of a soap opera till an obscene time in the morning. That was all perfectly normal, it could have been just another night, as long as the whole Billy’s funeral thing was ignored. No, it got weird when there was a knock on my door at 3:37 am. I was initially confused because no one comes to my apartment, then I was really concerned when I looked at the time. Why would anyone want to see me at 3:37 in the morning? I cautiously opened the door and almost had a heart attack. Billy was standing in the hallway wearing dripping wet clothes and a dry backpack.
“Hey, Cass. I need that boot that I gave you.”
See, this is what I meant when I said that I wished I was prepared for zombies. Maybe if I had been more like Uncle Joe, my life would have been a lot easier and Billy would have left me alone. At the very least, I would have be ready to deal with a wet dead guy asking me for his shoe back. But I am not a crazy survivalist and I was not prepared, so I did the only thing I could think of doing. I asked him in to join me for some tea.
It’s not that I have a problem with wet people, no, I had a problem with a wet Billy sitting on my furniture. I still didn’t know what was going on and the prospect of a zombie losing a body part in my house was unappealing. Of course he wasn’t actually a zombie, that would be ridiculous. Over a cup of Earl Grey tea I ended up asking him what was going on.
“Billy. Why are you wet? Oh and why are you not dead?”
“It was raining out. And the dead thing is a really long story. It’s epic.”
I looked past Billy’s head and out my window. It hasn’t rained in months. I started to suspect that most of what Billy was going to tell me would be a lie. But it’s not like I could actually know for sure. Billy then proceeded to tell me, and I quote, ‘The Epic Story of how Billy Faked his own Death.’ In my opinion it wasn’t near as epic as he was making it out to be, but Billy was a great story teller. I think that’s why people liked him so much, he could weave tales of wonder and magic, blending lies and truths into a somewhat believable tale of glory. I had to sort out the lies myself to figure out that Billy was either a really great planner or people were incredibly gullible.
Two weeks before his funeral, Billy texted his older sister that he was really upset about something tragic that had happened in his life and that to end things he was going hang-gliding. He then went into hiding for a few weeks until people had given up all hope of finding him and had his funeral. Somehow he still managed to fully avoid why he was wet or why his backpack wasn’t, but I didn’t want to get hung up on the details.
He was on his third cup of tea and I was halfway through my first when he finished with the how he did everything and got to the why. The main way Billy made his money was through selling drugs. I wasn’t surprised; one look at Billy and one would get the vibe that he was a drug dealer. Now, the drugs that Billy sold were on the higher end of things. He described it as the high of meth, the hallucinations of acid, and the crash resembled a hangover. Essentially all the perks without too horrible of a downside. It was why so many people wanted to get their hands on it. Billy was the only one who had a stash of them and kept them in the false heel on one of his cowboy boots. Specifically, the boot he gave to me. There had been some people after him for the drugs so he gave it to me, a random person at a party. He specifically chose me months ago to hold onto his drugs. He said that he trusted I wouldn’t tell anyone and that I would keep the boot. Plus, no one would ever suspect me to be near drugs. I chose to take his derision while saying so as a compliment. Since everyone thought he was dead, his plan was to pick up the boot from me and leave the country under a false identity. To be honest I was pretty impressed. Billy seemed to think of everything. Well, everything except me throwing his boot into his fake grave.
He didn’t take that news very well. Billy became very quiet and put his head down onto my table. It was awkward and after a while I assumed he went to sleep. Feeling a little restless, I washed our cups and went through my closet to find Billy some clothes. I still had a few items from my ex-boyfriend who left me because he said that I wasn’t fully invested in the relationship. He was right, of course, I have always done better on my own. I prefer to be alone. I still hadn’t gotten around to throwing the clothes out and was able to collect pants and a shirt for Billy. When I went back into the living room Billy was right where I left him, only he was now blinking slowly, his eyes focused on something far away. I left the clothes on the table and went to bed.
I woke up to the smell of bacon. It was strange, since no one had made me bacon in quite a while, I was a little confused but wasn’t going to complain, bacon was involved. Never question bacon. I wandered out of my bedroom to find Billy wearing clothes and whistling in front of my stove. I will admit that I was a little upset to find that it was Billy cooking, I had forgotten about him. But then again, if it wasn’t him, I would have a bigger problem of some random—well, more random—person cooking me bacon. I sat at my table, specifically not the spot where wet Billy sat because the cushion still looked damp, and cleared my throat a few times, unsure of how to actually address him. Billy ignored me until the bacon was ready. He went directly to the cupboard where my plates were and dished up several pieces of bacon for me. I wanted to ask how he knew where my plates were, but I figured that there were bigger problems to deal with. Like why Billy was still in my apartment. I should have focused on the plate aspect of things.
According to Billy, since I was the one who disposed of his boot it was up to me to get it back. I told him that I wouldn’t help him, that it wasn’t up to me to get his drugs back. He didn’t agree with me. I found out that Billy had a special talent for arguing because before I realized what was going on, I found myself at a hardware store buying a couple shovels. I was hoping that once Billy got his boot back he would leave me alone forever and go back to just being some crazy guy that I heard stories about. I liked our relationship like that, the distance worked well for me. Billy’s plan was simple: go to the grave, dig up the boot, and go on our separate ways. I liked the plan. I miss that plan. I have come to find out that when it comes to Billy, plans don’t actually work out.
We were waiting for dark in my apartment when I got a call. The call was on my landline, which I didn’t think even worked. No one ever calls me, I barely even get texts, so I was hesitant in answering. It was Billy’s sister. I don’t know how she got my phone number, but that wasn’t what I was concerned about. She wanted to know how well I knew Billy and if I remembered her from the funeral. Apparently she was the one person crying during the service, so I actually did remember her even though she left before the actually putting of Billy in the ground part. Her complete normalness made her stand out. Billy ignored most of the phone call, I figured that he didn’t want to ruin the whole dead thing by saying much, but he paid attention to the end of the call. I was trying to find a way to end the conversation without being rude when she asked if I remembered him wearing cowboy boots. I am not a good liar. I have never been good at lying, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t believe me when I stammered through how I didn’t remember any boots. Billy was waving at me during the talk and trying to pantomime me through it. It didn’t work. She kept pressing me to tell more about the boots; where I saw them, what they looked like, and other details. In a panic I told her I was going through a tunnel and hung up on her. Billy gave me a very disappointed look and asked me why his sister wanted to know more about the boots. I took the question as rhetorical and went back to watching soap operas till dark.
Digging a grave was a lot more difficult than television made it out to be. In all the shows people have a grave all cleared in an hour, tops. It was four hours into digging up Billy’s grave before we finally reached the coffin. Of course, we also had to stop pretty regularly for breaks, but still. T.V. creates unrealistic expectations for grave digging. My shirt was soaked through with sweat and I wanted to die while Billy hugged his cowboy boot. It was the happiest I had ever seen him in our short relationship. I was actually rather surprised that no one noticed us digging up a grave, but then again, it was around 2 a.m. when we finished, so I shouldn’t have been horribly surprised. Billy wanted to celebrate being reunited with his boot by going out for food, but I just wanted to get home and most cabs wouldn’t want to be running at such an absurd time. We shared a cab to my apartment and said awkward goodbyes in front of my building.
I wasn’t sad to see him go and I am pretty sure Billy felt the same, so platitudes of ‘see you later,’ ‘it’s been fun,’ or ‘let’s do this again sometime’ just felt wrong. We settled on a fist bump, which I thought was going to be a high five, so really Billy ended up just punching my open palm. I felt like it was a pretty good summation of our relationship. I had almost entered my building when Billy let out a horrible shriek. I knew that I shouldn’t have looked, but I did anyway and immediately regretted it.
Billy was staring at where the cab had dropped us off, holding a cowboy boot in one hand and trying to rip out his hair with the other. I tried to turn back to enter my apartment but he yelled for my help. I stood frozen on the stoop. He cried out that he left the backpack in the cab and I had to help him get it back. According to him, the backpack was almost as important as the boot because it held all of his new identity information. Everything for him to get out of the country was in that backpack and he thought it was up to me to help him get it back from the cab. I didn’t agree. He yelled at me for a while to help him, but when he turned his back to stare down the street, I quietly entered the building and locked the door behind me. I considered feeling bad as I made my way towards my door, but I really didn’t. Billy was more stress than he was worth and really, I didn’t even like him that much in the first place. I was just glad to finally be rid of him. I just wanted to be left alone. If anything, I was able to get my own ‘Billy did this crazy thing’ story with the added bonus of telling my Uncle Joe that I dealt with a zombie. Sort of. I got to my apartment, opened the door, and was greeted with a woman sitting in the same spot Billy occupied 24 hours earlier.
“Hello, Cassandra. I need your help finding my brother’s cowboy boot. I know you know where it is.”
I closed my apartment door and stood in the hallway. I was sure I was in a bad dream. There is no possible way the universe hates me enough for someone to come to me looking for Billy. The same Billy I just left to chase after a backpack in a cab. Of course, I learned to accept that the universe not only hated me, it also has a really horrible sense of humor. I just got rid of Billy and now I had to deal with his sister as well. I couldn’t figure out what the world had against me being left alone to my soap operas. Eventually I opened the door to my apartment again. It wasn’t like I could just live in the hallway forever. Much to my disgust, Billy’s sister was still sitting in my kitchen, pinched look on her face.
“What do you want with a cowboy boot?” I figured that I should just get the conversation over with. It didn’t look like she was going anywhere without getting some information.
“I’m a cop, Cassandra…”
“Cass. My name is Cass. Even says so on my birth certificate.” I didn’t know why I was being so snappy with Billy’s sister, I guess I was taking my frustrations of Billy out on her. Plus, my name really is just Cass. My parents had weird tastes. It’s one of the reasons why I avoid answer the phone when they call.
“Alright, Cass,” there was a lot of derision in her use of my name, “I am a cop and I need to get the cowboy boots. My brother, as much as I loved him, was a criminal. I was trying to get him to go straight before he died, but I couldn’t. He hid his drugs in a cowboy boot and I have witnesses that say Billy gave you a boot at a party.” I instantly hated Billy’s sister. She was pushy without being convincing. At least when Billy was being pushy he was convincing.
“Please, Cass. I need those drugs. It is important to a case I am working on. I promise on Billy’s grave.” I snorted at her words. She didn’t know that Billy was alive so I found it really funny. I decided to tell her about Billy being less than dead and where he was to get her out of my apartment and out of my life. I was done with everything related to Billy. Plus, I can’t lie to save my life anyway.
“Billy and his boot just went running down the street after a cab. You can probably still catch him.”
“What.” I took a moment to marvel at how she could ask a question without putting any inflection on it.
“You should hurry. He’s probably only a block away.”
“If you see Billy, tell him to meet me at the warehouse. He’ll know what it means.”
Billy’s sister then went running out of my apartment. I took a deep breath of relief. I always was able to breathe easier when people weren’t around. I blame all of my trips into the woods with my Uncle Joe for that. Feeling better than I had since Billy came into my life, I sat down on my couch and promptly fell asleep to infomercials.
Another thing that crazy survivalists are always prepared for is what to do when someone comes into their space at night. Uncle Joe sleeps with a knife under his pillow. He tried to get me to do the same, but all I did was cut my own hand when I moved around. I wish that I was able to learn how to sleep with a knife though. Well, maybe not a knife, but at least with a vague idea of what to do when someone sneaks through my window and taps me on the shoulder when I am asleep. To my credit, I didn’t scream until I saw that it was Billy who woke me up. I apparently quickly developed a very negative reaction to seeing Billy.
“Hey, Cass. I got my backpack back.”
“Billy.” I had reached the point of only addressing him with short sentences and in monotone. I hoped that he would pick up on my verbal cues and leave me alone, but he didn’t Actually, I think he did notice them, he just chose to ignore them. “What are you doing here, Billy?”
“I thought you would want to know I got the backpack back.” Billy then proceeded to tell me a glorious story of how he chased the cab for thirteen blocks, beat up the driver, took back what belonged to him, and did it all without breaking a sweat. As with how he faked his death, I didn’t really believe most of what he said. But he did have his backpack, so the details didn’t really matter.
“Your sister was here. She wants the boot. She said to meet her at the warehouse.”
“I don’t know, she said you’d know.”
“Huh. Wonder why she would think that.”
“Please go away and see your sister.”
Billy smiled at me. I have learned that when Billy smiles I am going to do something that I don’t really want to do. It was the boot situation all over again. Billy made a very good case for how he was pretty sure he knew where the warehouse was but he needed my help while there. He was vague on what exactly he needed me for, but I must have believed him because I found myself standing in the middle of a warehouse, Billy next to me with his boot and backpack. For a while I was convinced that Billy had the wrong location. There was no sign of his sister and I was growing bored and I wanted to be far away from Billy. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only an hour, Billy’s sister came from the shadows.
“Billy, I need that boot.”
“No can do, sis. See, I have this problem where I don’t like to give my drugs to cops.”
It was at that point that his sister pulled out the gun. Again, I don’t know why I was surprised. One would think that after the week I was having nothing would surprise me. Well, guns pointed in my general direction are surprising.
“Billy, give me the boot before I make sure you are actually dead this time.”
I have seen enough T.V. shows to know that cops can’t actually threaten to kill people when they are unarmed. I was beginning to think my initial dislike of Billy’s sister was well placed.
“You’re a cop. You can’t threaten to kill people.” Billy said, clearly just as confused as I was. I actually took some comfort in that. For once Billy didn’t have a plan. Then again, it was a really bad situation to not have a plan for.
“I’m not a cop, idiot.”
“You lied to me?”
“You told me that you were an art dealer!”
“I am a dealer.”
“Of drugs! That’s not the same thing, Billy!”
“But why did you lie about being a cop? Mom was so proud of you.”
“This isn’t about Mom. This is about how I need those drugs.”
“Oh man, Mom was even knitting you a cute cop themed sweater for Christmas.”
“Quit bringing up Mom!”
“Why do you hate Mom so much?”
Apparently I had reached the point where I stopped caring. I mean, I didn’t really care to begin with, so it was more of that I reached the point where I was just done. “Enough! I have had enough of you two! I am done. I am done with cowboy boots and drugs and backpacks and lies and doing things I don’t want to do. I just wanted to go back to my quiet life where I was happy and Billy free. You two work out your problems without me. I don’t give a shit anymore. Leave. Me. Alone.”
I am not a very eloquent speaker most of the time so I was pretty proud of my impromptu speech. I guess Billy and his sister were pretty impressed too because they didn’t make a noise as I turned away and walked out of the warehouse. I didn’t stop walking until I was back in my house behind locked windows and door.
I don’t know what happened at the warehouse and I never really cared to know. For two weeks I was in Billy free peace. I had reached the point where I actually believed that Billy was out of my life for good. Zombie survivalists never reach that level of calm and let their guard down. I am pretty certain that if zombies do happen, I will be one of the first to die. I won’t even make a good zombie. I’ll be killed by my crazy Uncle Joe because he is prepared for that situation. He is never unaware.
Two weeks after the warehouse incident, I got an unmarked letter in the mail. I opened the envelope and dumped out the contents. It contained a badly stained and torn hand written letter and a pearl earring. Already feeling the dread, I read the letter.
I miss you, how have things been since we last saw each other? Look, I know that we didn’t end our relationship on the best of terms, but I need your help one more time. In the envelope is a pearl earring. I need you to hold onto it for a while. I’ll come to pick it up in a few weeks. And I promise, it is nothing drug related this time. Sort of.
With love, Billy”
I set down the letter and looked at the earring. I thought about throwing it away, but that didn’t work with the cowboy boot so I didn’t see it working with the earring either. I had accepted that Billy was going to come for the earring no matter what I did, so I put it in a jewelry box and turned on the T.V. My favorite Soap Opera was on.