Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Episode 7: Warning: Graphic Content

 

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They’re running scared and Leo's lungs are burning, legs turning into jelly. At least the skater is sticking with him and not ditching the poor, flabby guy. Ditching the fart is probably the logical move but the hell with that. Things look dire.

 

The indomitable creepers are going to get them. Hmmm......maybe not.

The pair run by a cluster of office buildings and see something familiar. Yes, this is where Leo’s buddy works: radio station CKWY, classic rock all the time. Leo almost falls over as he heads for the door. Sure enough, the glass door opens and a familiar, welcoming face appears. Lucky buggers!

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"Leo, hehe, hey what are you doing out here? Come in, come on in." All right, yes! It's Ned O'Brien, his clumsy and goofy friend. This is so excellent. He's known him for years, although only conversed with Ned on social media the last couple of years.

 

Ned is the traffic and weather guy here. Why is he still here? Ned is a big, always cheerful fella who loves wearing black. He also loves to crack a joke or two seemingly all the time. Not the most athletic guy, safe to say, but he's good people. But poor fella, in his youth it was much harder for him to be a rebel since both parents were Satanists.

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Now Leo is with his friends, locked tight in the radio station that’s still playing Stuck in the Middle With You…Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right…what a fitting tune.

 

Lights and air conditioning are working, water cooler full and plenty of big replacement bottles in the hallway. The sinks and toilets are working as well. Leo and Laszlo have found sanctuary, and it's clean and cool. They walk past the empty studio and offices to the staff lounge as Ned explains how the rooftop generator is making things comfortable. Seems the staff one by one stopped showing up, trying to take their families to safety.

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Some Canadian army guys showed up and stayed for a few days, taking off abruptly and leaving a couple of machine guns behind. Having plenty of childlike mannerisms, Ned thinks it's all so hilarious. And, really, it is!

The offsite transmitter is also working, enabling Ned to play that Stealers Wheel song in a continuous loop.

The quirky introvert chuckles as he shows Leo and the skater the only remaining food supply: boxes upon boxes of barbeque flavoured corn chips.

                                 ned

Dropped off there by some screwed up delivery person. Ya, just a messed up joke, Ned concludes, but the big punchline is still to come.

Leo realizes he's still carrying a bag full of dope, so the three kick back, light up and go over old times and have a few laughs. This is surreal. So cool, relaxed and comfortable. What's even better, there's a couple of dozen comic book boxes stuffed with cool comics.

 

Ned was smart for taking his prized collection here for safe keeping. After a few bags of chips it's time to relax on the program director's couch. Leo is bothered by the fact he's not upset about hitting that poor guy, nor the way he suffered.

This is a fricken palace! Ya, messed up.

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Six days later, Leo has had enough of the corn chips but Laszlo is still going to town. They had already eaten the can Leo obtained from that schnook's backpack. The dude and the skater didn't tell Ned what happened with the pedestrian. Meanwhile, nobody is willing to volunteer to go outside to search for food and supplies. Comic books and empty chip bags are strewn about.

 

Ned spends his much of days in the station CD library reading comics and blaring new wave hits from the early 80s, while the skater spends his time by himself in an upstairs office getting high.

                                 pot

Laszlo has zero intention of following the path of his best friends who got together during the fall of civilization for one final house party, where they offed themselves with hot doses of heroin. It was an epic party until that last bit.

Last night while relaxed on the new leather furniture in the staff room, Leo took a nice puff before trying to explain to his pals that had the U.S. Air Force in the Second World War heeded a critical warning, Joe Kennedy's would not have flown that plane that blew to pieces, and he would have eventually ended up in the Oval Office. His presidency would have directly resulted in a series of events that would have seen Elvis not only not dying but thwarting the New Wave music scene in the early 80s. Really.

 

The skater, meanwhile, is kind of confused why he's still alive but doesn't want to give it much thought anymore. Ned has already let Leo know he doesn't care much for this smirky Laszlo guy - but oh well.

 

The TV channels are off the air as well as all the other radio stations. Leo can see through the big windows more and more of those groaning plague roamers shuffling aimlessly through the streets. Vance was right that this is their world now. The dead rule the Earth....tell us something we don't know! But wow, this happened so bloody fast!

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"So Ned, what's the plan dude. Like, we need to find food and stuff, right?"

"What? What do you mean? Going somewhere?  That's crazy. Why would I want to go anywhere?" he answers, amused at the mere suggestion they venture outside. "I'm not going anywhere. You go!"

The lights and music then cut out abruptly, leaving them with only that ugly daylight.

"Oh crap. You know anything about fixing generators?" Ned asks rhetorically. He takes a seat on the carpeted stairway and provides another easy grin. Always, that grin. Even when everything is falling apart, a grin.

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"Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger."

 

That late afternoon is the first period of real uncertainty for the three bumblers who really have no business still being alive.

That unnatural, alien yellow tinge through the window makes the entire place seem more like an absurd dream. Maybe they're already dead and languishing in purgatory. The following morning, they don't say much. Then, another lifeline - lucky buggers….again!

 

Someone's tapping incessantly on the glass door. The skater is off god knows where in the building but Leo and Ned race down to the station lobby to see a sight to behold. There she is….Anna LeBlanc.....awesome!

Smoky and super cute, as well as somewhat feisty, she demands, "Let me in, god damn you! Come on!"

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She's with a cool looking fella, a Japanese guy sporting a big pompadour and wearing tight blue jeans and jean jacket. A real rock-a-billy guy. You've gotta be kidding! Anna gives Leo an enormous hug. This French girl was introduced to Leo through a mutual friend, Andrew, a math and computer geek who always wore pleated trousers. Likely dead now, Andrew was Kate’s brother.

 

Leo and Anna were only acquaintances, though, and never formed a close friendship, let alone had a thing going. Artistic and vivacious in the old world, the foul-mouthed survivor has jet black hair and wears it in a ponytail. The petite but busty firecracker is looking as good as ever, especially in her tight green camouflage tank top and jean shorts. Let's not forget those adorable pink running shoes!

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She's holding a hunting rifle and sporting a cute little backpack, looking like she belongs in one of Ned’s comic books. Man.... that magical bod! Leo never had any misconceptions he had a decent shot or was even in her league.

 

After the greetings in the lobby, the feisty spitfire with the Quebecois accent introduces her Japanese friend, a seemingly nice enough guy named Ray. He's a darker and somewhat sardonic character, a shadowy figure, the dude observes.

 

As Laszlo makes his way down to the lobby to meet the new guests, Anna already gives the dufusses Leo and Ned some of her famous attitude. It's just what they need to help save their sorry asses, especially when she finds out they're living off comics and corn chips.

 

"You're joking right? Living off corn chips? This place isn't safe, you know. You're not safe here, not anymore! What the hell you guys doing?"

  

Leo and Ned look at each other for answers as Laszlo wisely hangs back with Ray. What on Earth can they say other than hum and haw and shrug their shoulders? They don't want the pressure.

Ned can't help but giggle, much to Anna's consternation. The little alpha tells them she knew someone was probably here because Stuck in the Middle With You was playing ad nauseam.

 

She and Ray were hiding out with a group of others, including entire families, in a bowling alley but their food and supplies were running low. The guy who was running the show there recently came back from a supply run and had fallen ill. He caught that nasty bug that's killing the world, so barricaded himself in a back room so as to not infect the others.

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His last instruction before he turned into a monster was to tell the group to find another safe place.

 

Some decided to try the army camp up in Vernon, a few took their chances and tried for Alberta, while others were convinced the safe camp just across the border in Blaine was the best way to go. There was also talk of a safe zone at the Yukon border as well as a bunch of people holding up in the downtown Vancouver hockey stadium. Problem is, the dead are everywhere in a world turned upside down mirroring some cheesy horror flick, indeed

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Anna and Ray grabbed the last of the vehicles and headed for the radio station but are left disappointed that these three slackers are the only ones here. Corn chips and comic books...just lovely.

 

"I risked my life to get here. I lost so many people, so many…..damn…I'm not dying because of you! Things are changing now, you understand? I'm not dying cuz of you!" Oh yes, she's livid all right.

 

They nod their heads for the new boss, captivated. At least she's hot. Leo tells her that he, in fact, has a bold plan: going to Archie's Island.

It's cooky but Anna finds it acceptable. That's it. Odds of survival just shot up. It also doesn't take long for Leo to start getting ideas. Perhaps if she's the last girl and he's the last boy, and if he can impress her enough, maybe a relationship is on the horizon? This is whacked, Leo!

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He'd love that. Hopefully she sees him as good enough boyfriend material.

Yes, it's an exciting possibility. Hey, something to live for now. Wow, the human race is coming to an ugly end and here is Leo, more interested in getting himself a chic. Ummmm....priorities? The five spend the next couple of hours in the staff lunchroom getting to know each other and going over a plan. There’s plenty of bags of barbeque corn chips available for them on the table.

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This seems like a pretty good group, Laszlo assesses, also starting to set his sights on the sexy Anna. The rock-a-billy guy…..he's still trying to size up his odds with this new group. The perpetual smile hasn’t been rubbed off Ned’s face and Laszlo is still smirking too.

 

After the meeting, Leo and Anna continue their conversation, a dim flashlight between them.

He doesn't want her to know that's he's a smartass small-time drug dealer and pothead…just be vague. He can tell that she knows he likes his pot and she doesn’t approve, but she'll leave him alone on that sensitive topic.

      

As far as Anna, she wants to survive so badly but is now straddled with leadership responsibilities. And Ray? He seems like a pretty smart guy who can handle himself, but how is Anna expected to keep the other three geeks alive? All she knows is that she's got to make it to that island, somehow, some way. Hopefully anyway.

                               

She stands in the dark boardroom in front of the big windows and barley makes out a single plague monster walking slowly back and forth on a stretch of filthy street, swaying from side to side. Everything else is dark, empty, desolate, lifeless, and sad….yada yada. The city is dead.

Within days it seemed almost everyone got sick and died.

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The first cough to falling in a coma was usually two or three days at most. Then death, always. Within an hour, sometimes a little longer, corpses would rise and want to begin tearing the living apart and eat them.

One hundred percent guaranteed…no exceptions..no reasoning with them…no memories or feelings.

Just aggressive, nasty monsters.

 

Now just decay and putridity. Primeval, instinctual, evil.

"Do you think it suffered? That used to be someone. My boyfriend, he died at our place. Tried to kill me. I locked him in the bedroom. Blocked the door. We were supposed to get out of town, you know, my sister's place outside Lethbridge. We were supposed to go and he got sick. Why? Why him? He didn't deserve it," a sullen Anna tells Leo in a hushed voice.

 

Leo stands briefly behind her....so beautiful. Her hair has a slight hint of peach. She seems so delicate. He then stands next to her and lets his guard down. No humour shield. No bull.

"I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I don't know why this happening. It's not fair," he tells her. He doesn't know what else to say. He wants to say something smart to make her feel at ease, less sad, but he's empty. He's got nothing.

The tough little chic’s eyes well up but she refuses to cry.

 

"Leo, it's time to sleep. We have so much to do. I think we'll make it. Get to that island. You'll see. We'll go to that island."

He gives her a quick hug. She can feel her nervous energy. It's as if he's holding onto a little bird.

 

She leaves him alone in the lunchroom. He's contrite but not about the poor goof he ran over and ransacked. For whatever reason something bigger, an unwanted insight, is going through his forehead like a bullet, as he realizes his whole life is such a waste.

His face falling, the dude continues to observe the stinking piece of rot swaying from side-to-side. Leo is pretty sure Vance was right and that monstrosity is the logical outcome of all of man’s self-indulgences, including being glued to cell phones and general lack of empathy.

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Yup, we all had it coming, all that negative energy that needed correcting. We’re all god, vibrational wave-patterns within a vast field of cosmic thinking energy, and perhaps it’s Leo’s role to put everything back into proper sync.

When he wasn’t baked, he often wondered about his intrinsic capacity to understand this intelligent, dynamic organization, something he kept to himself as a guarded adult in order to avoid the occasional involuntary commitments to mental facilities he endured as an outward child. Maybe she’ll understand, though.

Should he risk telling Anna of his intuitive ability to see this field-intelligence, only to receive an unmannerly response that he’s a whack job? Hmm, it all does sound like a bunch of hooey, at first, but is it?

His thoughts drift to Vance, hopeful the muscle man is making out fine out in the land of the vanquished.

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In another part of the radio station Ray the rock-a-billy guy sits beside Laszlo on the top of the stairs. Ray declines the skater dude's offer to toke. Ray lived a clean, moral life and always went to church, so no point in changing now.

 

They talk about the island plan with apprehension but know it's their best shot. Ray also wonders why they're still alive but Laszlo isn't into such a philosophical discussion. Ray then tries to throw one more out, "So, you think this is all just a bad dream, an illusion?

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After he takes a drag and absorbs the question, the skater throws back, “Always has, bro, always has been."  The skater admires Ray’s coolness and when things settle down he wants to get to know this interesting fella better.

 

After Ray strolls away, Laszlo begins to wonder if this world can put it's eggshells back together. Man, things went bad so fast. Nope, it's not real. If there's not a group of some kind out there on top of things, getting stuff organized, what in the heck can this inexpert bunch do to survive?

He reaches into his backpack for a paperback, pulling out Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics for a little light reading.