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Finding Strength & Surviving

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Feeling Trapped and Imprisoned

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Poem by Sydney Ross

  • Art by Morgan Belden

“Grief, but make it Sing”

Poem by Luka Russo

  • Art by Angel Lopez


Poem by Sara Guizzoti

  • Art by Miriam Ridout

“Ocean Currency”

Poem by Ezra Maloney-Dunn

  • Art by David Hurley

“Ode to the Mannequin, The True Feminist”

Poem by Luka Russo

  • Art by Morgan Belden

“Safety Blanket”

Poem by Angel Lopez

  • Art by Morgan Belden

“What it takes to Live”

Short story by Ian Rule

  • Art by David Hurley



Sydney Ross


a stranger sat beside me

this morning as the sun rose

over the damp parking lot,

purple clouds reflected

in puddles on the pavement

like bruises across my skin. 


silently, we stared out 

at dark sky as swollen gray waves

of exhaustion streamed down

my cheeks. bright light peeks

from behind the clouds: a new day.

my mind twisted into tight knots


all I could think about

were your hands:

empty, caught

constantly grasping

you never learned that

some things were just

too fragile to hold.

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Grief, but Make it Sing

Luka Russo


My heart has this hot habit of glaring at me

from across the room, pounding on stucco walls

it throws drummer boy tantrum fits 

turning your urn ashes into nail-biting bangs

beating like

 “hey you, remember?’’


and I whisper back, foreign tongue

feebly coax it into my ribcage.


Telling it to waltz 

on home.

Telling it to stop 

all that pounding.

Telling it that 

people are staring. 

Telling it sometimes

“goodbye” sounds a lot like “I miss you                

don't leave.”



But my heart is a deaf music conductor trying

to keep time and I am a ticketless 

schmuck. That muffled clamor, that tiny horror show 

chorus telling me that


heaven must be a concert hall with a

steep cover charge and no refunds, where

everyone whistles 

unending violin notes, reeling like

the last moment I felt happy.



opening night, line around 

the block happy. 

That glance up, taste sweet sky sweat 

dripping down happy.  

That last look, what your eyes saw

 before they didn't.



I bet you still look like that. 


And when there's a rest between songs,

those doors swing open, and I hear you

shimmie shake “hey you.”

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Sara Guizzoti


The air chilled my face

as I stood staring, unblinking.

The ocean mist blends with my tears 

while sobs echo the pain.


Independent and strong,

recalling days of warm sunshine

I remember my grandmother’s laughter,

the way she use to smile, claiming the jackpot 

from her sons at poker night. 




red wine,


this was her legacy:

nonconforming to standards which 

she belonged. 


I look around.

Seagulls hover, waves crash into rocks.

It is time.


Seeking comfort in my sister’s hand 

I watch as the waves engulf her ashes,

blending essence with sea.

Turning away, 


it is done. 

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Ocean Currency 

Ezra Maloney-Dunn


When I was little my grandfather had 

a collection of sand dollars. 

I would peer above 

the edge of the table, marveling 

as he brushed the sand off of his newest 


It wasn’t until I was older 

(after he had passed) 

that I learned he had been collecting 



I still pick up sand dollars when I walk 

on the beach. I handle them gently as 

the ocean bids farewell to the life it 

once sustained.

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Ode to the Mannequin, the True Feminist 

Luka Russo


I see you.

Dramatic cadaver queen,

no strut, prominent and street-wise

behind window graffiti tags  

like a gala party

no one is invited to. 



I see you

naked corpse zombie, 


while they dress you

up in frilly pink garb, laced 

back corsets welcoming

gawking passersby.


I see you there, 

amputated arms 



bite sized and tiny, 

a swallowable fashionista






you stand

like a dogface soldier 

saying “go 

gift my limbs to strangers on 

the corner,

wrap them up 

tight in pale 

pastel ribboned boxes

and invite everyone inside.”


I see you and  






For the I times I have been catcalled,

that two step calamity serenading at dark, 

for hand-me-down hoodie armor shielding my frame, 

for freeing one headphone tryna side step that 

shimmie shake “hey you” 

boom boom 

 make me “pocket sized” squeezed into pepper spray cans, 



getting home safe. 


Damn, I see you.

To be an unmovable 

riot watcher.

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Safety Blanket  



She holds me tight  

at night 

wrapped around her  


wrist and bundled in her fist  

I have soaked up the tears  

the fears and all the snot  


that comes from the  

nightmares that keep her up  

at night  


She finds solace in me even though 

I myself am frayed at the edges and  

have holes that need patching 

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What it Takes to Live 

By Ian Rule




        Arthur took a calming breath and raised the pistol to his head. Candles cast a soft light, filling his living room with a mockingly gentle atmosphere. If it weren’t for the disturbing sounds coming from every direction, it would be easy to relax in the warm embrace of this summer night. Cries for help and heart wrenching calls for mercy gave voice to the false sense of peace. 

        Arthur's sight drifted over to the dead television, and he was momentarily taken aback by his haggard reflection. He briefly thought it would be nice if the flat screen worked, so he could drown out the horrors of the night. Maybe play something funny, like Family Guy or Whose Line is it Anyway, maybe even one of Sammy’s favorite Disney movies. Anything to push him, so he could get to the business of ending this horror movie turned life. 

        “No,” he muttered. Why should he have it easier than everyone else? The thoughts sickened him, yet they kept hammering away at his broken mind. You don’t deserve to have a happy ending. No one else will, not Sammy, or Jackie. You will die facing the truth, not the lies you have always lived. The truth is lying at your feet, still warm, yet very much dead. The reality is they got it easy, it's the living who truly pay. 

        This shouldn’t be happening. The words ran through Arthur's head over and over again, in an insane jumble of mental pictures and thoughts. The sickness wasn’t here, the town had taken precautions. Only the cities had fallen, God damn it! How had his beloved family become ill? 

        Shaking his head in a vain attempt to banish the images and thoughts, his hand pressed the barrel hard against his ear. The pain briefly cleared his mind. His eyes left the twisted visage of himself and settled on the two bodies lovingly laid side by side in the middle of the room. 

        “I am so sorry,” Aurthur’s voice little more than a breathy sigh. “I should have done more, but hopefully I can catch up to you before you get too far.” The finger began to squeeze.

        A deafening shriek of metal and splintering wood from outside jerked his finger to a stop. Two more massive crashes filled the night. Before the echos had faded, a new sound blasted through the neighborhood. Shock and confusion froze him as the new sound finally broke through his mental barriers. Music. 

        The lyrics were deafening, and the accompanying instruments seemed to shake the house. Unable to fight his curiosity, Arthur lowered the pistol and pushed himself up out of the chair. His legs unsteady, he made his way to the front door and opened it. 

        Total chaos greeted him as he took in the spectacle in the streets. Smoke drifted across the neighborhood, smelling of plastic and cooking meat. Light blazed from the direction of the mountain pass, which was the only access to the town of Greenswick. The music was also coming from there. Other light sources were sweeping through the streets, cutting through the haze in strobe light fashion. These were held by groups of people who appeared to be attacking the rampaging infected with guns and hand weapons, stopping to rescue the few uninfected out in the night. 

        Despite the actions Greenswick had taken, the rabies virus had made its way here. The music smothered everything, and combined with the light, actually seemed to distract the feral beasts from their assault on the healthy. Arthur was incapable of understanding what was happening, and stood on his porch in open-mouthed astonishment. His sudden arrival, unfortunately, attracted the attention of a group of the sick, and they started to climb the steps of his house. Arthur stumbled back with an unheard cry, but his legs tangled, dropping him on his ass. 

        Before the monsters could make it up the stairs, a dark shape leaped into the group with slashing weapons. In a matter of moments the pack was down, and the figure nodded to Arthur before racing off into another pack of infected. Arthur lay there, trying to catch his breath. The insanely loud sounds of Pat Banatar’s “Invincible,” robbing him of the ability to grasp what was going on. 

        This is not happening, his mind kept saying, before continuing on. Am I dead? Or did I finally snap all the way? After all, how else could I have just been saved by Batman? 




        “You want to tell me what’s going on out there?” Kyle didn’t take his eyes away from the battle down in the streets of Greenswick as he addressed the man next to him. The smoke cut down on visibility, but his vantage point allowed a clear enough view of the fighting below. His voice was mildly exasperated, yet friendly. The two of them stood on top of a massive dump truck turned battle wagon. 

        The dump truck had been picked up on their long and costly retreat from the city. Nothing had remained of civilization as they had trekked across the burned and vacant towns on what may have been a fool's errand. What few people they had come upon had readily agreed to join their seemingly hopeless search for somewhere safe and clean. 

        With nothing but fumes left in the gas tanks, they had reached the edge of the mountain range and the quiet one-horse town of Greenswick. It was here that they would remain, for better or worse. Unfortunately, the infection had beaten them here. 

        But the town hadn’t fallen yet, and Captain Kyle Richards aimed to keep it that way. He’d had plenty of time to work on strategies to combat the diseased monsters. Terrible and deadly though they may be, the infected had little in the way of mental prowess. As long as his soldiers and these civilians fought the rising panic, human ingenuity would and could prevail. The battle for Greenswick would be the crucible that either turned the tide or drowned them all. 

        They both wore sound-suppressing headsets with microphones, which let them hear each other over the blaring sounds of music. The music was one of Kyle's ideas; having noticed that sound was one of the main ways that the infected tracked their victims, he had begun to experiment with ways to rob them of that sense. Creating something that would overpower every other sound was the easiest way. Mixing that with several high powered spotlights at different points caused the unthinking beasts great difficulties focusing on any one target. This was the first time they were using the new tactics, and as they watched the unfolding battle, it appeared to be quite effective. It wasn’t enough, though, to just remove the use of sound. Kyle wanted something that would also give heart to the fighting women and men. Having always loved how music could give inspiration, Kyle figured the emotionally charged songs of the eighties would be perfect for the trial run. In his opinion, nothing fit better than Pat Benatar’s “Invincible,” with its do-or-die lyrics and strong instrumentals. Plus, he fucking loved this song. 

        The two men looked like they could have been brothers. Both were average to the point of improbability. Everything about them was normal: their height, build, facial features, and casual stance. Even the color of their hair and eyes were a basic brown. Nothing about them would stand out in a crowd, and both were perfectly happy with that fact. 

        "I would say," the pause was slight, but noticeable as Kyle's companion searched for words, "our boys are handling the situation rather well.”

        “Humm.” Lowering his binoculars, Kyle turned to his friend and subordinate, eyes gleaming in the powerful light behind them. “Really, John? You don’t see anything that may strike you as odd?” 

        “Well. I, um,” John responded hesitantly, “may have overheard the men talking about an idea to give hope to the surviving towns folk. I hadn’t stayed to hear what they had planned though.” John finished in a mumble, deliberately not looking at his superior as he answered. 

        “So, you’re telling me that you knew nothing about this?” The humor in Kyle’s voice gave lie to the seriousness that he tried to convey. “Fucking Batman? Who the hell is that, and how did they manage it?”

        “That would be Marcus, sir. He modified his riot gear with a costume found at our last stop.” John finally looked over at Kyle, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Apparently he figured people seeing a superhero fighting for them might lessen the terror of their situation.” 

Kyle gave John one last long look then turned back to the clearing of Greenswick. “Well, it does seem to be working. I’m just not sure it fits with the music,” he said with a chuckle. 




        The next days were a blur to Arthur, as his mind slowly righted itself. A makeshift triage area had been set up in the center of town. At first it was packed beyond belief, but as injuries were cataloged and houses cleared, it slowly emptied out. By the second day Arthur was one of the last in the massive tent. He had been approached multiple times in attempts to relocate him. Every time, he just ignored them as he tried to come to terms with the horrors of this new world. 

        All throughout the time he was in that dark funk, soft music played over a portable speaker system. The songs were varied, but all were from the eighties, with lyrics made to capture the heart and minds of those listening. Arthur grew to hate the uplifting and impassioned shit, and it was that festering anger as much as anything that finally drove him to rejoin the living and leave the temporary hospital. 

        When he ventured out into the still recovering town he found that the inhabitants of Greenswick and their new friends had been busy. Groups were everywhere, clearing wreckage and cleaning the streets and walls. Bullet shells and broken glass had been swept up into piles on every street he passed. Scorch marks and blood decorated shop fronts, their lingering stench still heavy in the air. As he walked, he heard the people talking about the battle and aftermath. 

        The purifying of Greenswick had taken somewhere around 48 hours before it had been assured there were no more infected. While the hunt was going on, groups of both towns folk and the newly arrived soldiers began the sad process of counting and disposing of the dead. Over four hundred souls had been lost, nearly a quarter of the population. When Arthur finally arrived at his house, he found a large red X had been spray painted on the partially open door. Anger and fear warred within him as he made his way up the steps. With shaking hands, Arthur pushed the door fully open and stood there looking into his home of over 20 years. 

        The living room spread out beyond a small entryway. The open floor plan gave a clear view of the room from where he stood at the front door. Muddy tracks crisscrossed the white carpet heading off into the rest of the house. The bodies of his wife and child were gone. The only sign they had been there was the large burgundy stain in the middle of the room. 

        For a little bit, the anger surged back with the absence of his family. How dare these people come into his home and take his loved ones? The anger faded as the feeling of hopelessness settled back. Tears streaking his face, Arthur turned and left the place that would never be his home again. In a daze of loss and anger, he began walking towards the closest group of busy people. 

       As he approached, he could hear them talking about what had happened. Speculating on how the infection had gotten here and what was happening in the rest of the country. When he had asked what had been done with the dead, he was told a massive grave had been dug at the highschool field. The staggering amount of casualties made it impossible to give each victim a private grave. He was assured a fitting marker was being made with all the names of the dead, so no one would be forgotten. 

        The anger that he felt was joined by soul crushing grief. They mixed and began to grow at the thought of his precious wife and daughter laying in some giant hole. They deserved so much better than that. To be discarded like a piece of trash in a landfill sickened him. How dare these people toss his loved ones away, marking it with a stupid plaque and calling it good!

        Everywhere he looked, people were going about the business of rebuilding the town. A few recognized him and called out greetings or asked him how he was doing. 

        “Dr. Sanders! God, am I glad you made it!” 

        “Dr. Sanders, how are you? I was so worried when I saw you at the hospital tent.” 

        Arthur paid them no mind as he made his way to the high school. His hands kept curling into fists and his jaw was clamped so hard it felt like he might break a tooth. Every greeting sent a new pulse of rage through his psyche. Over it all, the cursed music played softly from randomly placed speaker stands. A torrent of black thoughts filled him, threatening to send him over the edge as he fled down the street. 

        When he got to the field, the grief and rage blinded him to the large crowd of grieving people already there. Staggering to the edge of the freshly piled dirt, Arthur fell to his knees and wept in bitter anguish, all anger leaving him. Yet this offered no release, and he wished only for death. 






        Kyle sat behind the high school principal's desk. Other than clearing the desk, he had left the room as it had been. Pictures and certificates hung on the wall. Reminders of happier times, times that may never come again. Kyle turned and gazed out the large window overlooking the field where so many now lay buried. 

        Memories of life before the outbreak drifted through his mind, and he didn’t fight them, even though there could be only one outcome to this line of thought. It had been late December and bitterly cold. Kids were out for winter vacation and the stores were swelling with Christmas shoppers. The world had just started to get some kind of normal back after the craziness of the last couple of years, an almost tangible feeling of excitement thick in the air. Laughter and good cheer marking the return of hope, giving Christmas a joy absent for too long.

        All that was swept away in an orgy of blood and death with the biological attacks. As far as he knew it was never found who released the new and improved rabies virus. Hundreds of malls across the US had been exposed, making the perfect vector to infect millions. The country was mortally wounded within days. 

        Kyle shook his head in a vain attempt to dispel these thoughts. Can we get that back? The question reverberated within. Is there any way to rebuild from this nightmare? One of the reasons he kept all the nicknacks of the previous occupant was to remind him of what they were fighting for. But memories were a two edged sword. What empowers a person to fight all the harder can just as easily cripple them and leave them wishing for death. That, thought Kyle, was the real enemy: lack of the will to survive. 

        The unit had chosen the school as their temporary headquarters, since it was large and unused. No one in the town had voiced any objection. Not only was it available, but it helped to keep his people separate from the townies. Until they fully accepted the unit, it was best to give them their space. 

        His train of thought was interrupted by a knock at the door. Kyle turned back from the window to face the entryway. Lifting a pack of Camel cigarettes, Kyle took one out and lit it. He would miss smoking when there were no more. Knowing they were a terrible habit did little to hinder his desire for the little bastards. 

        “Come in.” Small puffs of smoke chased his words from his mouth. 

       “I got those numbers you wanted. They're as bad as you thought.” John spoke as soon as he had opened the door, never being one to beat around the bush. He continued as he approached the desk and sat in the chair facing Kyle.

“Somewhere around a quarter of the population died in the outbreak. It seems the epicenter was the church, as the first reports came from that area, and well, we found something in the basement.” 

        Anger flashed in John’s eyes at this last part. Kyle could understand the feeling. Before arriving here, before they were even a unit, they had fought to save the city where they lived. During the battles to save the city, a lot of the devout hadn’t taken the outbreak well. Either embracing the pandemic as proof of the end times, or using it as an excuse to kill the infidels. Both of which just added to the death toll, either by spreading it, or mass slaughter. 

        “What did you find?” Kyle asked in a monotone voice. 

        “Infected. Tied to chairs and bled out.” John could barely control the rage. “The fuckers probibly tainted the communion wine, or maybe the holy water at the entrance. We will never know for sure—most of the congregation is laying in that grave behind you.” 

        “Shit! How many in the town know about this?” His own rage burned in his gut. 

        “At this time, I don’t think anyone knows for sure.” The heat in his eyes had faded, leaving the same tired and stressed look that everyone had now. 

        “Clean it as well as you can. I think it would be best if this stayed with the unit.” The need for secrets did not sit well, but what other option was there? 

        “That’s what I figured, I already got the ball rolling.” 

        “What the fuck are we going to do? The ferals are only part of the problem. If we can’t give people hope, then the suicide rate will only continue to climb.” Kyle put out his smoke; it wasn’t helping anymore and he didn’t want to waste it. 

        “I’ve been thinking about that,” John gave his commanding officer a serious look. “First off, your crazy idea about the music did some real good. Not only did it work distracting the ferals, it actually did give heart to the survivors.” 

        A smile lit up John’s dour face as he continued. “Not only that, Marcus’ hairbrained idea was so shocking, people are still talking about it. How they had joined the Justice League when they battled alongside The Batman. He’s an honest to God hero to the civilians. 

        “All in all, considering what Greenswick has just gone through, the morale couldn’t be higher.” John paused to pull out a paper and looked at it. “We also have word that a full blown psychiatrist lives in town and has survived. The medics told me that he left the field hospital. We are looking for him now.

        “No shit! That’s amazing!” Kyle tried not to let the hope from this news get too high. “With his help, we might be able to stop the inevitable collapse in morale. This sense of victory will fade and the reality of our situation will come crashing back with a vengeance.” Sitting up straighter, Kyle spoke. “We need this doctor, John. I want you to use whatever is needed to find this man and bring him to me. ASAP.” 

        “Yes, sir!” With that, John stood up, turned and left, closing the door behind him. Thoughts raced through the officer's mind. Maybe it was a false hope, but at this point any hope counted. If there could be a chance to fight the despair and hopelessness that killed so many, he must take it. Anything to stop a repeat of the tragedy that had befallen the city and forced their exodus. 




        Arthur had no idea how long he had been laying at the burial site when the gentle shaking roused him from his stupor. After wailing in anguish, he had curled up into a ball and just checked out, his mind taking him to a happy place where everyone was still alive and the world didn’t suck quite so much. 

        The shaking was accompanied by a quiet voice calling his name. As he became aware of his surroundings, the first thing he noticed was how cold and wet he was. He struggled to sit up with a body that didn’t want to obey, and he noticed rain falling on his chilled skin. 

        “Dr. Sanders? Dr. Arthur Sanders? Can you hear me?” Raising his head, Arthur saw a soldier looking down at him, his arm out to give another little shake. The man’s voice was filled with compassion and his eyes conveyed an honest worry. 

        Arthur stared blankly at him, still trying to process the situation. When the man’s hand reached out to him again, Arthur raised his own to ward it off. Getting the message, the man withdrew his hand and stood up.

        “I am sorry for your loss, Doctor. I truly am, but we need to talk with you. My name is Lt. John Forman, but you can call me John. Would you be able to come with me?” The soldier’s face wore a serious expression, but again his tone was one of understanding and sympathy. 

        Arthur supposed that most likely everyone had suffered similar horrors in this new and terrible world. This thought caused his own grief to flood back in, momentarily blanking his mind and glazing his eyes. 

        “Stay with me, Doctor.” John’s soft voice reached through the pain, and brought him back to the present. He opened his mouth to answer the man, but only a dry croak came out. He coughed and cleared his throat before trying again. 

        “I… I would like to be left alone.” The lifelessness of his voice matched the haunted look in his eyes. 

        “I understand, Doctor. I really do, but it is paramount that we speak with you. Let me help you up and get you something warm to eat and wear.” With this, John thrust out his hand again. Despite the desire to be alone, the real emotion in John’s voice, mixed with the physical discomfort he was feeling, forced Arthur to take the hand and get to his feet. Looking down, Arhtur saw he was soaked and muddy. A lifetime of presenting a professional image won out and he mumbled an agreement. 

        “Thank you Dr. Sanders. Just follow me. We’ll go to the school locker room first, then something to eat,” John politely stated, then turned and began walking. 

        Thirty minutes later, John led Arthur into the waiting room outside the principal's office and asked him to take a seat. He knocked quietly on the door, received a muffled reply and slipped inside, leaving Arthur alone with his misery. 

        Though Arthur was now clean and warm, his insides felt cold and dead. Thoughts as black as a cloud-covered night swirled within him. What was he doing here? For that matter, what were any of them doing here? There wasn’t any point in “carrying on” as John had said while they were getting food. Hopelessness consumed him, leaving nothing but pain and anger. 

        He began to stand up in order to leave, having decided to go back to his house and finish what the arrival of the soldier had interrupted. Wishing nothing more than to end this travesty of life. The door opened and John came out. 

        “Sorry to keep you waiting. The Captain would like to talk with you, Doctor.” The simple, polite quality of John's words caused Arthur to change his mind and see what this was all about. Stepping into the office, he was surprised to see that it looked just like what he would imagine a school official’s work space to look like. The small part of his mind that wasn’t frozen in despair had assumed that this Captain would have turned it into some kind of war room. A man sat behind the desk, striking in his similarity to John, almost as if they were twins. Even the look of humanity and compassion were matched. 

        “Come in, Doctor.” The man’s voice was calm and professional, but not uncaring. “I truly wish we were meeting under other circumstances. Yet, I can think of no one else that I would rather meet in this tragic time.” What little emotion that laced the words were ones of honesty and weariness. “Please have a seat. I have much I need to talk with you about, and time grows short.” 

        Taking a seat, Arthur found the man’s eyes compelled him to look at them. It had been days since he had looked someone in the eyes and surprisingly, it pushed the crushing grief and simmering anger back just a little. 

        “My name is Captain Kyle Richards. I am the leader of the unit that, combined with the heroism of its citizens, defended Greenswick. We have been on the move, looking for a place that hasn’t fallen to the sickness which has destroyed so much of our country.” The man’s piercing eyes held a conviction burdened with tiredness that chipped a little bit more at Arthur’s self-imposed emotional isolation. 

        “I am deeply saddened by your own personal loss, Doctor. I fear that few out there have not been devastated by this virus. It is because of your and everyone else's loss that I desperately need your help.” Kyle leaned forward now, his eyes flashing with intensity. “I’ll be blunt, as I think you have no wish for sugary words. The nightmare we now live in may never end. Even if it can, it will not for a very long time.” 

        Hearing these words from the man behind the desk did little to impact his already defeated spirit. None of this was a surprise to Arthur, not anymore. His naivety about this new world died the second he pulled the trigger on his wife and daughter. Hope lay buried in a mass grave with most of the people he knew and cared for. The only things he had left inside were despair and a muted anger. The words just cemented this position. 

The soldier continued, “Holding our own against the infected is just not enough. The will to live is dying, and without the will to go on, we can never win.” Sorrow and a trace of fear infused Kyle's voice. 

        “At the beginning, we were in the city. The fighting was beyond description, no one knew what was happening. Just that huge numbers of people had gone mad, attacking everyone in sight.” Arthur couldn’t help but listen, drawn in by the naked emotion. “Through the sacrifice of countless men and women, a section of the city was successfully secured from the infected. Plans were being made to expand the area and for the first time in days, people were able to relax their guard. 

        “While those who were able to fight stayed at the barriers, a different kind of sickness had taken the survivors. A sickness of the spirit. Unknown to us at the walls, the population had begun to give in to despair, and mass suicides and murders decimated those we had tried to protect.” Kyle visibly shuddered. “The fall of the city did not happen at the hands of the ferrals. It happened at the bottom of a pill bottle, or the end of a rope.” Arthur saw pain in the man’s eyes that he knew mirrored his own. 

        This revelation finally cut through Arthur’s mental block, breaking down his walls of grief. In its place the anger surged forward, and he felt his face flush with heat. “Why the fuck are you telling me this shit?!” His voice was low and venomous. Kyle flinched back as if struck. Shock covering his face, he asked. “What?”

        “I said, why are you telling me this shit?! Why should I give a flying fuck about anyone else, when I have nothing!” The anger now filled him completely, the sorrow and hopelessness driven down deep within him. Spitle flying, Arthur continued. 

        “You come into our town like some kind of gift from God. Music blasting, lights blazing, and fucking idiots in costumes. Gunning and hacking down our loved ones in a Hollywood orgy of violence.” Hate, so strong he could taste it, poured out with his words. “Now you want me to help you? Maybe pity you? Feel sorry for your fucking loss? Well, welcome to the shit show crowd! Your precious city actually got something right for a change. There is no fucking point! There never was, life has always been a lie!” 

        A cold steel gaze met the doctor’s wide, frenzied look. “Is that your professional opinion, Doctor?” It was Arthur’s turn to be stunned with shock. “Are you done, Doctor?” The gaze, if anything, got even more intense. “Yes, Doctor, I need your help. More to the point, I think we can help each other.” 

        Confusion battled the rage as he attempted to process what was just said. “You see Arthur—may I call you Arthur? I wonder if you even heard yourself just now. You claim it has always been a lie—life, that is. You said that with a great amount of passion too.” Kyle’s eyes never wavered from Arthur’s, but the tone changed back to one of calm discussion. “I just wonder why you call out other people, when you are guilty of the same thing? I would think that finding another charlatan would give justification to your own deceit.” 

        Kyle paused to light up a cigarette, then spoke again. “That is neither here nor there, though. What I need from you, and what I can give you, is a reason to continue this shit show of a life. As you so elegantly called it.” Smoke swirled around the space in between them, not unlike the thoughts in Arthur’s mind. 

        “I need people to have emotional motivation. I don’t really care at this point what kind of emotion fuels them, just that it is strong enough to keep them in the fight.” Kyle took another drag and pointed at him. “What you are feeling now, judging by the fire in your eyes, is rage.

What you haven’t realized is, there is no room for doubt or hopelessness while that rage fills you. You have a reason to keep going now. A mission, so to speak.” This sent a shiver through Arthur and his rage faltered, the inferno dampening, the snarl easing from his face. 

        Leaning back, Kyle gave Arthur a questioning look as he continued to smoke. “When we came here, I needed something to jump start that emotional response in both your town and my soldiers. I needed passion, heart and soul. Otherwise there would be no chance at a real victory.” Shrugging his shoulders and flashing a sheepish grin as he spoke. “The music I chose and the conduct of one of my men gave that to everyone. Killing the infected isn’t hard. It's the aftermath that is hard. I did my best to give those tools to the people.” 

        Kyle leaned forward suddenly, snubbing out his smoke. “I am not a psychiatrist, I just threw the dice and got a lucky number seven. I may not be able to do that again. Luck is a fickle bitch. But you, Doctor, by your own words, have always peddled lies. With your help, maybe we can make the lie a reality. Or at least as much as it ever was.” 

       Arthur just stared at the man, his mind, desperate to hold on to anything, latched on to the diminishing anger. “You are putting the lives of this town on me? You want me to help you give people false hope? To trick them into giving a shit?” The insanity of this conversation was almost too much. “Whether it be anger or hope doesn’t matter?” 

        “Frankly? No, no it does not. Look at yourself Arthur. You came in here with only one thought: to kill yourelf. Now? I…” 

        “Now I hate you and think you're insane!” Arthur cut Kylie off before he could finish. 

        “Well there is that, to be sure. But, there is something else. As I said, you have a reason to keep going, a mission. That hate can be used to fight me, or it could be used to give this town a shot at surviving.” Kyle stood and gestured for the doctor to join as he looked out over the mud filled hole taking up most of the football field. 

        “The choice is yours Arthur. Do we build something, or do we dig a bigger hole?”

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