Thomm Quackenbush, author

01.09.07 1:33 p.m.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.  

-Epicurus

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen applied for jobs. Then he got one that required moving and a wife.

New Years

It is a bit past midnight on New Year's Eve and I am in bed, alone, with a book and two spastic cats for company. I feel utterly boring. I had offers from Dan Kessler and vaguely from Melissa, though she never returned my call.

I denied Dan so I could go to the annual family party, where I overate and beat my younger brother in Dance Dance Revolution. This is one of the less wise combinations. There is this weird quirk to my social programming when it comes to food at parties. I am physically aware that I am well past sated, that I do not in fact need more weak "hot" wings or six-foot sub with proportionally two feet of meat. However, the programming reminds me that I will not have the option to eat these foods later - whether I would like to or not - and should therefore keep eating to make up for those times when I might absently wonder if it would be wise to gorge on food I don't particularly like. Gluttonous overconsumption as ersatz socialization, as though enough bad food will make the occasion more special. As eating disorders go, it is rather a specific and lame one.

My infant niece Alyssah - she of my biology and not merely affection - has discovered the social smile and thus the majority of our activities post-DDR focused on provoking her. I think it happens to every family, in awe as a barely formed new being experiences our cultural eccentricities for the first time, as though she will remember more than a glimmer of any of this. Emily claims to remember the bars of her crib, but I remember nothing before my parents telling me that the dog had chewed the face off my favorite toy, Elka. I wrapped it in toilet paper as a burial shroud and put it in the bathroom garbage. They let me. I doubt I was younger than three, meaning that Alyssah is going to have a couple more New Year's Eves before her brain realizes it is capable of remembering as well as drooling. Right now, it pushes her toward the latter as she shows a prodigious aptitude.

I suppose it is just a night and it is silly to put much emphasis on it. I couldn't kiss Emily at midnight, as she was a country away and, I would later discover, asleep when the ball dropped in our respective time zones. This hardly dooms our coming year. So many superstitious develop simply out of the fear and the need to feel that we are in control of our lives. Some cultures refuse to clean on New Year's Day, some require a dark haired stranger to be the first one to pass through the threshold. Yet the scientific method hardly applies. Our minds grasp for patterns and reason in the chaos of life. Some even make predictions for the coming year, ignoring the paltry success rate for those who do. Random guessing would prove more reliable than celebrity psychics, who employ an art little better. We even try to make resolutions for how we will change our lives in the coming year, promises made to the universe broken before we can manage to clean up all the confetti or find our missing underpants. I refuse to resolve anything amorphous and I certainly don't wait for some inaccurate milestone to do my resolving. All I am willing to wager is that this will be a very different year than the past.

Night of the Day of the Dawn

If the zombies break in, I would almost certainly die. In the prep school theater where I am to endure a week of orientation, there are only two exits. One goes outside to the small campus the other goes deeper into the building. Neither goes to a tenable position, like the roof or anything that can be fortified. Maybe I can convince some of the other faculty members - most whom have lived more than twice as many years as I and thus are ripe for noble and futile sacrifice - to try to battle the revenants. With enough distractions between the undead and me, I'm sure I can hide in the basement of the kitchen until all the heroic above are zombified and get bored enough to move on to a more populous area. I will wait a while longer, at least until I run out of non-canned food. Once that happens, I will steal the prep school's bus and escape with as much canned food as I can. On a conservative campus such as this, I hold out absolutely no hope for decent distance weapons. There are some field hockey sticks in the storage area, but I have no interest in getting close enough to the zombies to use them.

One of my new coworkers keeps coughing through the speeches and lectures - a dry, hollow hack - and I wonder if she is one of the infected. I'm not about to check for bites or fresh wounds, for the viscous, black effluence that serves for the blood of these ghouls. If she becomes one of the walking undead, I pray one of my colleagues will show her the mercy of a chair to the skull. I just hope no one is fool enough to get bitten by her because it goes without saying that they can't be allowed to "live" to spread the Walking Plague.

I am not surprised that my mind drifts. I am the only new faculty member, as well as being one of the youngest. Yesterday, I was formally introduced and a staff member motioned for my attention so she could mouth that I have dimples. Cuteness hardly correlates with professional respect, nor does it do much for my reputation that I cannot go by the last initial of my surname as is my fashion. There was a Mr. Q who was recently fired and with apparent good reason, though no one feels the need to tell me what this reason is. I imagine somewhere between serial arson and kiddy diddling given their vehemence.

I want to bring more boxes to my apartment and unpack rather than sit through further orientation. I know enough about state and national educational policy from getting my Master's, though I understand the need for these lectures. The school paid for these faculty members to go to these conferences and classes and this is one way to get their money's worth. Possibly not the best way - the faculty members themselves want to keep their speeches short - but certainly a way.

Now if someone could discuss where the armory is and the best plans in case the dead should rise, I would be all ears.

The Bleach Apocalypse

"It will be an adventure," I state, channeling someone more Pollyanna given the daunting task before us.

"Moving your furniture is not an adventure," Zack informs me. He looks at the rear window and asks the blueberry muffin none of us wished to eat for breakfast. He responds in its stead in a quavering falsetto, "Nah, he's right. Now, please don't eat me." We had appointed the muffin the mascot of our day and, in naming him Blueberry Muffin, assured that no one would eat him. You cannot eat something you name.

I try maintaining some external positivity to combat the hesitancy within. I want all of this to feel right, to feel the spark of the divine patting me on the tapping my shoulder to tell me, "This is a part of your path." And it is, of course, simply by the fact that I am on it. It does not mean that this is the right path, though it is a path I will be forced to continue to walk for a while longer by my amorphous contract.

Even if it is to move to a rent-free apartment, the time I spent moving while Emily was in Cozumel inspired an empty sort of sadness. As every bit of minutiae so easy to confuse for life (ten points for knowing the reference) was purged from my apartment in Wappingers, put in boxes and taped shut, I felt a likewise vacancy spawning within my chest. Carload by carload, I abandoned the life I built. While it is likely for the best - almost certainly so given the state of my finances - it was something I built and something I topple over for an ambiguous opportunity. I like the balance of Wappingers Falls, our countrified city or vice versa. I like seeing my hometown finally getting its due through gentrification. I like the proximity to culture or even a movie theater. The closest movie theater to my Anemia apartment seems to be Wappingers Falls.

It is not the physical distance that bothers me as much as it is the responsibility into which I was duped. One or two nights on call has turned into four as the administration realized I was actually moving on campus full time and abandoning my current apartment.

During a private meeting with two of the deans, I was told that I have to make sure I give all the boys in my dorm equal time if I invite one of them into my apartment. The man went on for a few minutes, musing the permutations, before I cut him off and made it damned clear that the students are not now, nor will they ever be, allowed in my apartment. That is my space and I am no more going to allow my students into my space now than I did as a substitute teacher. One, doing so creates a very inappropriate relationship with people who do not understand the appropriate boundaries by their very natures. Similarly, the parents will never get my home or cell numbers. Two, I have no interest in anyone who doesn't already know me touching my things. I know the school prescreens these children and are well aware at the strictness of punishment at this school, but they are still teenagers and prone to bad choices. Three, in a situation such as this, it is crucial that I keep my home space separate from my work space and do not commingle the two; I need my sanctuary. Four, Emily and I hang huge pentacles and death masks from our walls and I do not fancy the retired Catholic priest who hired me inquiring as to their purpose. Far from being offended that I was so vehement, the dean seemed to be impressed that I gave a correct answer to a question I didn't know I had been asked.

Zack and Cristin prove adept at packing all of our furniture in the U-Haul. As they come in for another load, they keep commenting how unnaturally clean the truck smells. I had smelled it too, but none of us processed that there was no reason for anything in the truck to smell that way. Nor did it make sense that the scent was growing stronger. I am not sure who figured it out, though imagine that Cristin bumped against the hamper and found it a little too warm even given the unseasonable temperature that graced our day. Emily had put the bottle of bleach in with the dirty clothes. The bleach somehow decided that this was its one chance to shine, to have a night on the town and see new places, so it exploded. I feel "exploded" is precisely the right term because one of my black t-shirts was not only white but in pieces. Likewise, Emily's cashmere sweater seemed to have encountered a burrowing cave mole with contagious albinism, who chewed a sizeable hole on its way to the brown earth. The Bleach Apocalypse was, however, the worst thing that happened all day.

During lunch - the recompense to Zack, Cristin, and her brother for providing us their services as movers - I looked over at the young couple being seated next to us. The blonde wife cooed at her small baby and I realized that she is a girl with whom I went on one unsuccessful date at Dutchess. The years' difference is obvious on her face. She does not seem to recognize me, but I wouldn't expect her to. Perhaps it isn't really the same girl and I simply project too much. How strange to again cross paths with this acquaintance, both of us just beginning huge life changes. I would not even know what to say to this girl in the best of situations, to say nothing of when I am unshowered, exhausted, and sweaty in the middle of my labor. She would not have approached me when she was in the same situation.

As night falls in Anemia, I watch as our possessions fit into the tiny apartment, as the walls seem to flux and twist to accommodate furniture that seemed so much larger in my mind's eye. It won't be easy and will require creativity to make this look good, immediately evidenced by the useless diet books propping up our glass table so we can fit our TV underneath, but it is within our abilities. Actually, as my teaching begins Monday, it will mostly be Emily's skill as decorator.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching.

last watched: Breakfast at Tiffany's
reading: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
listening: Avenue Q

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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