Be Alive by Peter Kispert
Associate fiction editor Hayley Fitz on today's bonus story: I dig stories about perspective. That's why we read, isn't it? To listen to other folks spin things in a way we wouldn't have thought up on our own? In "Be Alive," Peter Kispert spins zombies in a way only he could. I never would've made the connection between zombies and meeting a boyfriend's parents for the first time, but now I can't pull them apart. The relationship is messy and it may take a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable, but then again, maybe it's best not to get too comfortable around zombies.
We’re on our way to the city, finally, when Glen tells me the chainsaw got him this time. He was out of ammo, so he hid under the bed. “Who knew,” he says, looking out the car window at the lit night skyline, “zombies could crawl?”
Early December. The roads are still without ice, but the air is bit through with cold. My boyfriend Glen and I are driving to a dinner with his parents in Chicago, a city I loathe for its constant chill, the way you can turn a street corner and be jarred into another atmosphere. Glen once used the phrase “Melting pot” to describe the city, the place he’s from—a reminder he’s fourteen years younger than me and still not clear that everywhere is a melting pot. Some places just wear the title better than others.
“Which is crazy, right?” Glen says. “Thinking zombies. With chainsaws.”
“That is crazy,” I say. “Aren’t zombies not conscious?” I try my best to make it sound rhetorical. I can hear myself using accountant-voice, which is to say, sounding leave-me-alone bored, like I do at work.
“Exactly,” he says. “It’s crazy. Be dead or be alive—there’s nothing in between.”
There’s everything in between, I nearly say. But I detect the awkward shine it would give conversation. So I say nothing.
Here is what I’m not saying, what I learned three hours ago: My brother has been committed, finally, to the psych wing of Mass General for swallowing the bleach our mother keeps hidden behind the washer. It is like the universe is saying Deal with this. Look at this. Acknowledge this. Which is to say, I no longer care that Glen’s parents will learn I am not, in fact, twenty-six. Or that I am likely to pay for a dinner I cannot comfortably afford. This is to say my brother has now absolutely missed the part where he transitions to being self-sufficient. My mother’s words through the phone: Mark, he is never going to get there.
“I shouldn’t have lied,” I say. I rest a hand on Glen’s knee. “About my age.”
“You look thirty,” he says. And then, more sincerely, “Really.”
This is another problem: I’m in love with Glen, a love misunderstood by even many of my gay friends. Sometimes I think it hurts too much, to detect the interrogating thought of others when I’m around him. And then I imagine my life without him.
I slow for our exit, signal the turn. There is a chain of cars ahead of us, their lights blinking red. Glen starts again about a zombie that came after him with a syringe. He was running up these cement stairs, so many stairs, and the zombie was gaining on him. But it was a new release, he says. They let it out too soon, and the game had this glitch—those stairs didn’t end. He just kept running but it didn’t matter how far, and then there was the blood dripping down the screen, and there was the refund, and how unrealistic is that anyway, a zombie that can think like that, that knows what it wants and always gets it.
Peter Kispert is the editor-in-training at The Indiana Review and has worked with Electric Literature and Narrative Magazine. His stories have appeared in Tin House, The Journal, Slice Magazine, Ninth Letter, and other journals. He is finishing work on his debut collection, I Know You Know Who I Am. For more, visit www.peterkispert.com.