The Dead Ones

I happen to live a couple miles from where the production of a TV show I like takes place. So, sometimes, when I’m driving back from work I’ll stop by the building and kind of snoop around to see if I can maybe get a picture of the stars, or listen in on conversations between employees or whatever.

And last night, I got lucky. I was walking around the back parking lot, where the dumpsters were, and when I got closer, I saw something on the ground. A DVD. Jackpot. At least, maybe. It wasn’t cased or anything but there was a piece of masking tape on one side. Someone had written on it with a Sharpie marker or something. It said, “The Dead Ones”.

I figured it might be the name of the next episode or maybe a trashed idea or something. Either way, I took it home, popped it into my DVR and sat down to watch.

You know how recorded TV shows are always picture perfect? The colors, the focus, the contrast, everything? Well, that takes a lot of editing that doesn’t usually get done until the last few cuts. The raw footage is a lot more, well, raw. And I could tell from the quality of this footage that I was looking at something that hadn’t been edited at all. I mean, it still had the date and time in a black box at the bottom right of the screen.

At first, it didn’t look like much. All there was on the screen was a big table with maybe twelve seats. Nice, executive seats, like it was a boardroom or something. It was being recorded from a corner of the room, like the camera was for security or something. The room just sat there like that, still and empty, for a good ten minutes.

Then they started to walk in one at a time. Men. They were all men. All middle class, twenty or thirty something looking, men. They were all kind of skinny or fit looking, and most were white, but there was one Black guy, one Asian guy, and two or three who could have been Hispanic or maybe Indian. They were dressed, I’d say, in casual or business casual clothing. Khakis, collared shirts, things like that. All were clean shaved with short, neat haircuts. There was nothing fashionable, or even really notable, about any of them. They were the kind of guys you’d look right through if you saw them in the street, because there was absolutely nothing interesting about any of them.

But the way they carried themselves was kind of weird. Confident guys look around when they enter a room, shy guys will kind of glance around quickly and then look back at the floor. These guys… they glanced around and then kind of walked directly to the chairs and sat down, and that was all. They were all smiling, but in a really distant kind of way. Like they didn’t mean it, but didn’t know what else to do.

Once all of them were in, someone spoke, I’m guessing from the door that they walked in through. “The host will be with you soon. Just stay here, okay, guys?”

None of them said yes, or sure, or anything like that. They all kind of nodded and smiled and mouthed, or maybe whispered yes, or sure or whatever. It’s like they were used to other people speaking for them when they were in a group.

Anyway, the door shut. And the guys just sat there, staring at their hands, which were folded on the table in front of them. Sometimes they’d twiddle their thumbs, sometimes they’d kind of look up and peek at one another, before smiling and looking back down.

Minutes passed. Eventually, one of them took out his phone, and one by one, the rest of them did the same. At first, I thought they were texting people or maybe browsing the internet, because that’s what it looked like. But then I realized… you know how when someone’s looking at their phone, you can kind of see the light from the screen on their face? Well, I couldn’t see that. At all. Every one of them—every last one of them—was just pretending to use their phones.

It was the weirdest thing. A bunch of really, really shy guys sitting in a room, pretending to use their phones to avoid talking to one another. At first, I thought it was kind of funny. Hell, pretty funny.

Then it occurred to me… holy shit, what would your life have to be like to make you sit in a room with other people but not so much as look up at them? And the room was friggin’ quiet. There was no music to try to drive up the tension, and no one was doing anything to make noise. There weren’t even the sounds of them breathing or fidgeting, when the guys realized that they might be heard if they breathed too loud or moved around too much.

This went on for about an hour. Then one of them kind of softly cleared his throat and put his phone down.

“S-s-so,” he said, “I, uhm, I mean I… uhm…”

And that’s all he said. He picked his phone back up and pretended to fiddle with it again. I couldn’t see if he was looking around at anyone or not because of the angle of the camera, all it could see was the top of his head and his hands on the table.

But the rest of the guys had stopped playing with their phones. They were each sitting still, perfectly still, not saying anything, not looking up, but you could tell that they were each listening, and waiting for that lone guy to say something again.

Eventually he looked up again, and apparently realized the same thing that I did. Then he put his phone down loud enough to be heard and looked around at each of the others. And slowly, one by one, they started to look back at him. And then each other. Not saying anything, not really doing anything, not even making eye contact for very long. Just kind of meeting eyes and then quickly looking away, then doing the same with the next guy. The guy who had spoken first kind of looked around one last time before he spoke again.

“Hey, uhm… thanks for not laughing at me, guys. I-I really appreciate it,” he said. Then he kind of played with his watch and looked back down.

I thought they were going to go back to the old standby of trying to look at each other without getting caught. But then one of the other guys spoke up.

“I would never have laughed at you for that,” he said. “I used to stutter a lot, so I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to be laughed at.”

He left it at that. But one by one, the rest of the guys kind of looked at each other, nodding, as if to say, “So do I.”

After that, they were almost normal. They started to shake hands and introduce each other, just saying the normal stuff, where they were from, what they did. Since they were all speaking quietly and at the same time, it was hard to listen to any one of them clearly, but I did hear a few details. A lot of them seemed to live in or around cities, and worked with IT somehow. As for what they liked to do, well, they mostly liked to work out, read comics and anime, and stuff like that. A few were into outdoorsy things like hiking and mountain biking and stuff. Some of the stuff was really nerdy, some of it wasn’t, but the common denominator for all of their interests was that they were solitary pursuits.

Overall, there was a lot of overlap between them. Too much for it to be a coincidence, way too much. But at the same time, you have to wonder how they found these guys. I mean, working in IT and kind of liking to keep to yourself, there are probably millions of guys like that in the US alone. How these guys stuck out from the crowd, when they set up their lives to blend into the crowd or be away from the crowd… I have no idea.

Eventually they were talking in a group, and kind of realizing all of this for themselves. That’s when the door burst open and he came in.

He was dressed… loudly. That’s the best way I can describe him. Purple and red suit, tie-dye shirt, and he had blue hair and cat eye contact lenses. He was wearing white makeup and too much mascara like the Joker, but the gashes on his face really were bleeding. His jaw was kind of askew, like it was dislocated or something, and he was laughing like a maniac.

He barged into the room and slammed the door behind him, and then walked around the table. He bumped into the back of one guy’s head and then messed with another guy’s hair before he took his seat at the head, still shrieking with laughter. And the two guys he’d messed with, they didn’t do anything, or say anything. They didn’t even look at him. They just kind of smiled and looked away.

“Alright, Dead Ones,” the Joker guy said, “I’m your host, Mike Hunt. Get it? Mike Hunt?” he asked. He then laughed as loud as he could, right into the ear of the guy he was closest to.

“Like I was saying,” he said, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, “I’m your host. And you, you are the Dead Ones. Now what does that mean, you ask? Well, it’s simple. It means that you’re living, but you’re dead. You’re walking, and breathing, and eating, and shitting, but you’re dead. You’re all virgins—you’ve never even kissed anyone, not one of you—and the friends you think you have? They’ll never talk to you again the second it becomes inconvenient to.

“Sure, you still have parents and siblings. Well, most of you, eh, niggy?” He said that to the black guy. “But you can’t kiss your own mothers, and sooner or later, your parents are going to die and your siblings are going to move on. But you’ll never move on, will you, you fucking losers? Because there’s nothing to move on to, and nothing to move on from!”

He laughed, then. He banged his fists on the table and laughed so hard that he had to struggle to catch his breath.

“You know, I used to be like you. But I couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t stand it, or wouldn’t stand it, because I knew that I was a waste of skin. So I took my daddy’s shotgun,” he said, “and put it to my head. I was going to pull the trigger, but Mommy came in the room and screamed, and, well, I missed. Blew half my jaw off, see?”

He grabbed his mouth with both hands and yanked it open. I have no idea what he showed the guys, since the camera was right over his head, but it must have been awful, because they—even they cringed.

“And as I lay there,” he continued, “half-conscious, bleeding, my ears ringing from the shotgun blast… I thought to myself, you know, I was going to die, I was supposed to die, but Mommy ruined it all. So I got back up and plugged the bitch in the head. And when Daddy came storming up the stairs, wheezing like the old geezer he was, I plugged him, too.

“And that,” he said, “that, fellas, that made me feel something. I really think it did. That pure, senseless violence… it was beautiful, you know? Just beautiful.”

He sighed. “So I took my shotgun and went on the run. A journey of chaos, and just doing whatever the Hell I wanted to. Three months it lasted, from Oklahoma to Texas to Arkansas. That’s where the cops caught me, the damn killjoys. But I’d had my fun. If they were going to kill me, they’d kill me, which was all I’d ever wanted in the first place. And if they put me in jail, I’d have plenty of fun there. Either way, I win, right?

“But no,” he said. “Instead, they hand me over to the company. And they ask me questions, all these questions, about who I was and who I had been. Dreadful stuff, just dreadful, and boring as Hell, and they wouldn’t tell me why. Not until today.

“They were looking for an archetype, they said. They wanted more guys like me. Like who I was. And that’s who you are. Guys like who I was. We’re like brothers, see? Brothers.

“But you know what? I can’t STAND YOU!” He got up on the table and kicked one of them in the mouth, then started to pace back and forth.

“I can’t stand who I was, and you remind me of that, you scum, you… you dead inside filth! I had the balls to kill myself, why can’t you, huh?” he shrieked. “Why can’t you? No one’s going to miss you and the world will be a better place without you, so tell me, why the Hell not? Why? Because it’s too—because it’s too scary? Fine, then, here.”

He took out a gun. A little handgun he had in the breast pocket of his suit. And then he started to aim it at each of them.

“Just say the word and I’ll do it. A little squeeze of the trigger and it’s all over. And you want it to be over, you know you do. No more dawdling around at Christmas parties, waiting for someone to talk to you, no more dreaming about having a wife and kids whenever a pretty girl smiles at you, no more lying awake in bed at 3 AM, wondering if it’ll ever get better but knowing that it won’t. It’ll all be over. All of it. Just say the word. Hell, even I won’t get in trouble for it—that clause in your contracts, at the bottom of page four, paragraph five? Yeah, I can euthanize you right now. Just fucking say it!”

His final word echoed around the room once. Just once. All eyes were on him, all of the men were sitting with their backs straight and their hands neatly folded in front of them. And none of them moved, none of them spoke, none of them, not until one of them, a shorter Hispanic guy, slowly started to raise his hand.

That was all it took. The host turned on his heel and shot him right in the head—with water. Pure, plain water. His gun was a water pistol and he was shooting the poor guy in the face with it, and howling with laughter as he did.

“Dead Ones, Dead Ones, you’re all, just, Dead Ones,” he started to sing. “No hope, no balls, you’re all, just, Dead Ones.” Then he started to shoot the others.

He started to sing another verse. He didn’t get further than a word, though, before one of the guys, one of the skinnier white guys, got up on the table behind him and tackled him off.

There was a struggle. No one moved to help one of them or the other, or to break them up, or anything. They all kept watching, and staring, until the skinny guy got the host in a chokehold from behind.

And he held that chokehold. Long after the host had stopped struggling, he held it. Long after the host’s lips had turned blue and the last trace of laughter had vanished from his face. He just kept holding, and holding, and holding, until he finally let go of his own accord.

He stood up. Panting, he straightened his shirt out. Looked around at the others. Stepped back from the host.

Another guy knelt down by the host and touched his fingers to his neck. Tapped his shoulder and shouted, “Are you okay?” twice. Then he lifted the host’s chin and tilted his neck and put his ear down by his mouth, listening for breathing.

“Nothing,” he said. “Should we try… should we try to bring him back?”

He looked around the room. A series of shaken heads answered him. So he too stood and turned to the skinny guy. The murderer.

“I’ve verified that the scene is safe and I’m certified in first aid. I’d like to offer you my assistance. May I proceed?” he said.

The killer nodded. The other guy stepped closer to him.

“Elevated breathing, you’re sweating a little bit, but your skin is normal… pupils aren’t dilated…” He put a hand on the killer’s forearm, just around his wrist.

“Slightly elevated heart rate… are you thirsty, or confused? What day is it? And who are you?”

It was a few seconds before the other guy answered. “It’s August 2nd, 2015,” he said, “and I’m not thirsty. And… don’t you remember who I am, Dillon? Don’t… you, of all people, remember who I am?” he said.

“I do,” Dillon said. “I just… I’m sorry, I was checking for shock. But you’re not in shock. You’re just… normal. Even after…” He glanced down at the host. Then he snapped his fingers.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to ask—how do you feel, Jimmy? How are you feeling?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, after a long, long time, “I feel… I feel…”

And then he broke down. He was a grown man on his knees, crying. Sobbing, even. He couldn’t talk for a while, he was crying so hard.

It was a long time before he was ready to try again, though he was still facing the ground.

“I,” he choked, “I… I feel good. At least I think it’s good. I don’t remember what ‘good’ feels like, but choking that guy, that mean guy, oh my God, I think it made me feel good. It definitely made me feel something.”

Then he started to cry again. But this time, Dillon knelt down and and held him.

And he wasn’t alone. One by one, the rest of the guys got down and kind of… kind of hugged Jimmy, in their own way. Awkward, one armed hugs, but they were more than any of them had ever done in a long time, you could tell that just from a glance. And it was way more than Jimmy had ever received in a much longer time.

So they were all kneeling there, kind of arm in arm, kind of together. More together than any of them had probably ever been. I could tell that it affected them. No one was crying anymore, but some of them, some of them looked close. Like they would have cried if they hadn’t spent a lifetime repressing that, and all other emotions.

It was a while before someone else spoke. I didn’t see who.

“I think… this is how we stop being Dead Ones,” he said. “I think we have to… kill people.

“Not random people, of course,” he said, when a few of them looked up. “But… the people who killed us. And maybe some of the people who kill us every day. I think if we do that, then maybe we’ll start to be alive. Or at least not dead anymore.”

They started to look at each other. And I swear to God, when they started to nod, I couldn’t breathe.

“It’s a pact, then,” one of them said. “We, the Dead Ones… in the name of every God or Devil that does or doesn’t exist… we swear that we’re going to do what it takes to not be Dead Ones anymore. Whatever it takes. With knives, with baseball bats, with cars, with high explosive, with our bare hands… may the very Earth cower from us. May the blood of our enemies fill the oceans. May the stars overhead cringe as they bear witness to our acts. In the name of every God or Devil that does or doesn’t exist… this we swear.”

They each extended their hands toward the center of the gathering. And they stayed like that for a good few minutes before, one by one, they started to stand up.

Now they weren’t shying away from looking at one another anymore, but those fake little smiles that they always wore were gone. Gone forever.

“We’re never going to be together like this again,” one of them said. “Heck, we’re probably never going to see each other again. Maybe we will, or maybe we’ll find others like us, but other than that…” he shook his head. Then he shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter. Now that we know what we’re going to do, we don’t need anything, or anyone, anymore.”

A series of nods were his response. He nodded back, just once, and opened the same heavy wooden door that they’d used to enter.

That’s when another guy stumbled into the room. He was probably a janitor… he was wearing a navy blue uniform and baseball cap, and he sputtered when he spoke.

“Hey, youse guys can’t go,” he said. “Youse got a contract, and if youse go, the cops are gonna come.”

“Then we’ll kill the cops,” one of them said very calmly. He was a shorter blond guy, and quicker than I could see, he drew a gun and aimed it at the janitor’s head.

“This one’s real,” he said. “It’s got eighteen bullets ready to go and I have another sixty-six on me right now. And all it takes is one. All it takes is one.”

He held the gun on the janitor-type guy until he put his hands up and got out of the way. And then, one by one, the Dead Ones started to file out of the room.

It looked like the blond guy was going to be the last to go. But before he did… before he left the room, he looked the janitor, straight in the eye. Then he shot him through the heart.

It… it was the most violent thing I’ve ever seen in my life. One minute, the guy’s on his feet, scared, but alive, and the next, he’s on the ground, his life leaking out through his chest, too agonized and sad to say a word. He crawled toward… toward something, I don’t know, but wherever he was going, he didn’t get there. He… died, before he made it five feet.

And the blond guy just watched, the whole time. Then he looked up at the camera. At me. And then he shot me, too.

The screen went blank. But I couldn’t stop staring at the TV, at the face of the guy who had just put a premature end to the pilot episode of The Dead Ones. See… I knew him. I practically grew up with him.

Drew. Drew Henkels. He moved to my town when we were in the first grade, and he was always a weirdo, so I… well, I made fun of him. For years I made fun of him. And then, in the seventh grade, I spread rumors that he was going to shoot up the school.

It was bullshit. All bullshit. But I never got caught. See, when I started the rumors, I was careful to say that I’d heard it from someone else. By the time the teachers started to hear about it, no one was really sure who had heard what from who.

The kid must’ve gotten called into the office a dozen times in the weeks that followed, and the cops searched his house and everything… but nothing came of it. Nothing happened to him, or me or anybody. I didn’t feel bad about it because the kid gave me the fucking creeps and I figured he deserved it. And… about a year later, when I was biking in the woods outside of town… I saw him. All alone, all by himself, with a fucking M16. A thirteen year old kid with a fucking M16.

This time, I didn’t try to cover my tracks. In homeroom the next day, I walked right up to the teacher, pointed at Drew and told everyone what I’d seen him doing.

I’ll never forget the way he looked at me when the cops came to take him away again. But I figured whatever, right? He’s going to go to jail because a kid that young can’t have a gun by himself, right?

But they never found the gun. They never found anything. I’m not sure what happened after that, but I think his parents sued the school and he moved to the next district over. That was the last I saw of him, until I saw him again, in the pilot episode of The Dead Ones.

I hope he’s forgotten about me. No, fuck that, people like him don’t forget about anyone. So… I hope that he dies before he gets to me. And I hope that they die before they get to you, too.

Written by JayRoberts
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