There is a guinea pig in my living room. We are enemies, but neither of us will kill the other. There are only threats. He is besieged and I the besieger and when he needs food or water he squeals and whistles at a volume seemingly impossible for such a runt.
“He is ungrateful,” I tell the dog as I gather a carrot and lettuce from the back garden.
“As are all living things,” she replies.
“You never seem so,” I say.
“Let me revise,” says the dog. “Gratitude is fleeting. We are grateful in the moment. Then the feeling leaves because we need or want again.”
“Your platitude doesn’t differentiate,” I argue. “Regardless, the rat is never grateful.”
“Because he is entitled,” says the dog, “and you must acknowledge the difference to understand him.”
“Come with me.”
“Okay,” she wags her tail, “just don’t accuse me of banality again. I was attempting to engage you in a meaningful way despite my boredom with the topic.”
“You want a treat?”
The dog dances around me and licks her jowls as we walk through the house. I give her a biscuit and her indignity seems to disappear.
We make our way to the guinea pig’s cage. I look inside. As always, his food bowl is flipped over and he is hiding in his pine hut. I open the cage, right the bowl, and place the produce.
“Hey, rat!” I call.
“Screw you!” he growls.
“Come out. We need to talk.”
“This is always pointless,” says the dog. “You will curse at him and pull him from his home and try to pet him. He will clatter his teeth, spit at you, and threaten to kill you before he succumbs to one of his agoraphobic panic attacks.”
“I know,” I sigh, “but maybe if I can understand him — as you say — I won’t hate him so much.”
“Understanding does not equal acceptance,” says the dog.
“I don’t want to hate him,” I say.
“What’s the difference?” asks the dog. “He will squeal and you will feed him. He will whistle and you will water him. Your hate is irrelevant.”
I laugh, “I feed him because I hate the squealing.”
“You feed him because he needs.”
“I could kill him,” I resolve.
“No,” says the dog, “you are cruel in certain ways, perhaps necessary ways. But not that way.”
Before I can reply, the cat enters the room and purrs, “What’s up, plebs?”
“Pardon me,” says the dog, “I have my own futility in which to engage.”
The dog whines at the cat and snaps to her play-with-me position.
“Hooliganism!” the cat hisses and jets away.
The dog pursues.
The guinea pig screams, “Get off my lawn!”
I close the cage and turn to see my wife geared up and holding her grenade launcher.
“Come on, Jack. We have inbound,” she says. “Blue smoke from the southeast sentry.”
“Where’s our son?” I ask.
“He’s upstairs on the machine gun.”
“He’s only seven, Betty.”
“Well,” she shrugs, “he’s already moved it into position. I promised he could use it the next time they show up.”
“Fine,” I concede. “Support him and keep an eye on the right flank.”
Betty grunts, “I was happier when we were the middle of the block, not the right flank.”
“That was six houses ago,” I say.
“Seven,” she counters.
I nod, “Yeah. That’s right. Let’s not be the eighth.”
I retrieve my lever action and my bandolier of .45-70 and exit onto the front porch. It’s a clear day. The neighborhood has run out of tires and cars and whatever else to burn. I can see across the field, past the charred ruins of our defenses, all the way to the river about half a mile away. I look to my right, at the seven heaps that were my neighbors’ homes. “Seven,” I mutter to myself and chamber a round.
“Still using that antique, huh?”
I turn to my left and wave across my driveway. Kyle is on his porch slinging two AKs over his Nickelback tank top.
“You’re still sporting that mullet,” I say.
“Want a beer?” Kyle asks.
“Is it cold?”
He laughs at me and brings me a can. I sip my beer and survey the newly erected breastwork running down the middle of the street.
“Crazy, right?” Kyle says. “Anyway, I was thinking last night. That field across the street. No houses rebuilt after the ’72 flood. Now the enemy floods it. Figure that out. Zombies coming out of a river. A friggin’ river.” He lights a cigarette and chuckles. “So I figure we should start calling them The Flood.”
I smile, “What? Like from Halo?”
“I miss video games,” Kyle says.
I look at the breastwork in the road, “I miss my awnings.”
“Contact!” Betty yells from the second floor. “Eleven o’clock!”
Kyle looks through his binoculars, “Yep, here they come. Right up out of that friggin’ river.” He runs back to his porch and releases three long blasts from an air horn.
“Hey,” I call to Kyle, “is Bob ready on the left this time? We don’t need to lose another garden.”
“What’s the matter?” Kyle laughs. “Are you sick of roasted river zombie?”
“Liam!” I lean out past the eave of my porch and call up to my son. “Don’t open up until they reach the utility pole with the yellow stripes.”
“Five hundred yards!” Liam yells.
“Five hundred yards,” I confirm.
I watch the monsters approach. The bass line of their groans and snarls becomes audible. The dog joins me on the porch, wagging and panting.
“Tired of chasing the cat?” I ask.
“I’ll return to that,” she says. “I don’t want to miss you killing river zombies. Oh, can you get me a femur?”
Kyle interjects from across the driveway, “We’re calling them The Flood now.”
“Not very original,” says the dog. “Since they come from the river, why not call them The Crest?”
“No, no, no,” Kyle disapproves. “A river can crest below flood stage. Hell, Jack, your dog doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
The monsters near the painted pole. Their groans and snarls become violent roars. My son yells, “Come at me, bro!”
The machine gun erupts.
Between the bursts I hear the guinea pig squeal and whistle.