Part 1: The Apocalypse
My grandparent’s crazy is the new normal.
Normal is still pretty crazy, well, because it isn’t normal. We don’t want it to be normal, but unfortunately that is what normal is to me.
Does any of that make sense?
My grandmother and I talk a lot about that. I’m so glad she’s still around. She’s the one who encouraged me to go into reporting and photojournalism. She is also the one who encouraged me never to color my hair. But enough about me.
The crazy stuff started to happen when my parents were in college. First were the pandemics in China that spread through most of Asia wiping out millions of people in most of the large urban centers. To this day most people of Chinese descent live outside of China.
After that happened, along with a shit load of political fall out, there was another plague of a sorts. Radioactive and other unidentified debris started falling from the sky. The governments of the world claimed they didn’t know where it came from. From the sky was all they could say. From the fucking sky.
Shortly after the first zombies showed up in Australia. They were already dealing with the aftermath of the third big wave of fires when the population started to die, but not die. Roaming packs of shuffling virus infested humans with rotting flesh attacked the normal living. When bullets ran out flamethrowers were used, and even more fires started. Entire cities burned.
From Australia the zombies moved slowly across all continents gnawing and rotting along the way. In the United States the Midwest and the Chicago area were hit especially hard. It is estimated that almost forty percent of the population between the ages of fifteen and seventy became zombies before the epidemic died down. The zombie attacks were compounded by an never ending Midwestern winter.
Governments continued to crumble. Strange deadly disease continued to pop up, and then vanish after massive causalities.
After the first wave of zombies someone in what was once known as North Korea shot off a nuclear warhead claiming the USA had caused most of their population to die of the Black Crow flu. The bomb landed on Tokyo, Japan. That started yet another war and more tolls on the already weak human populations and wild life.
By the time I was born the Southern Hemisphere was for the most part totally uninhabitable. A few brave souls still lived there but not many outside of the research stations and military posts.
After that all hell broke loose againfor a short time, then things got really bazar. Some yahoos from the rogue Canadian Space Frontshot the alien research station out of the sky thinking it was a Chinese space station shooting zombie virus bombs down over rural Alberta.
The alien space station landed in the middle of Nevada. Seriously, as if Nevada didn’t already have their share of alien based urban legends and whack jobs crawling all over the desert. Unfortunately all but two of the twenty-four aliens on board were killed. The two who survived managed to say that they’d been watching us for a while and were frankly shocked at what they’d seen. Then they too died. We never did find out where they were from. The funny thing is that they looked like us except their skin was kind of a baby blue, and their eyes were slightly larger like anime characters. When I was a kid I wanted to go visit the site but my parents would never take me.
After the proof of life outside of our planet was proved, religious groups and cults started to pop up preaching the end of days, and other crazy ass biblical prophecies. I remember my mom telling me that she didn’t think things could get any stranger, but she was wrong. Things did get stranger, right in her own home. In her own womb in fact.
Around the time of my birth another new and unique phenomenon began to happen. PAM otherwise known asPost Apocolypitic Mutations. I know all about that one personally because I’m a PAM baby.
I was born with dark hair, but by the time I was a year old my hair had turned steel gray. By the time I was in college white and silver highlights grew in. My eyes are the same steel gray color as my hair. My most unique feature, one that I rarely share with others, is the ability to conceal lies from others, including PAM babies who have the ability to catch lies. And if you’re asking, why yes, it does come in handy.
Other PAM cases were more extreme than mine. There were kids with seven fingers, tails, and odd multicolored eyes, but those weren’t the really interesting cases. Some children displayed traits that came right out of the old super hero comics. There were people with extrodinary hearing, or could see miles away. Every kind of physical strength and endurance you could think of was showing up with PAM kids.
One girl known as Emily Seventeen could read minds. Every government and nut job religious organization wanted her. She died of a brain hemorrhage the day she turned twenty-one. Her brain was studied but nobody could ever figure out how it worked.
After much study it was discovered that all of these people with extraordinary strengths had their weakness that would make then “normal.” They all had their proverbial kryptonite. The most famous example of this was my friend HarrietO’Malley who could disjoint her entire body, every single bone, and creep around like a giant ameba, as flat as a pancake. She was tired of the mess, the sloppy rejointing, and the general discomfort of her particular skill set.
After a lot of trial and error Harrietaccidentally found a fix to put an end to being ameba girl. When her younger brother died in a car accident Harriet had a large memorial tattoo in his honor put on her upper back and across her shoulders. It was a play on words because when she we feeling depressed he always told her “I have your back Harriet.” The ink on her back was absolutely beautiful and in full color. When the tattoo was done and completely healed she was asked to go flat. She couldn’t do it. The tattoo held her together. Her brother did indeed have her back. A simple tattoo was her kryptonite. Who would have guessed? Or maybe it was simply giving over to grief and love. It always seemed far-fetched to me, but she was my friend so I believed her.
Part 2: The Assignment
So that brings us to now. I’m a science and political reporter for TCN, I might add, the largest and most prestigious news agency around. TCN is unique in that it is not associated with any political party, religion, or even region. It is completely neutral (like Switzerland before the zombies ate everyone there.)
One day I was sitting in my home office in Laguna Beach, drinking coffee, and working on the possibilities of more alien visitations, when I received an assignment to interview Sam Judge. Yes, the over the top ultra famous famous Sam Judge.
Like me, Sam Judge is also a PAM baby. Unlike me, his unique features were more along the lines of my friend Harriet O’Malley – high on the super hero scale.
I caught a flight out the next morning with Harriet, who by the way is my photographer, and our sound/camera guy Phil Steen. At security our I.D.s were checked showing Harriet and I were PAMs.
“Do you have any special powers we should know about?” I was asked by the security woman.
“No,” I told her. “Just my funny hair color.” What I didn’t tell her is that I can lie and nobody, not even a PAM with special lie detecting powers, can detect my lies.
Harriet told the security officer that she could liquefy at one time but wouldn’t do it on the plane. Phil isn’t a PAM so he went right through despite his shaggy un-kept beard, tacky pink and green plaid pants, and orange jacket.
On the flight to Chicago Harriet and Phil talked about taking making some side trips to interview famous zombie hunters old, and slept. I read up on Sam Judge.
At the time Sam Judge was a twenty eight year old PAM. His birthday was three days before mine. That was interesting.
His powers are extraordinary physical strength, and the ability to read lies. He also possesses well-honed leadership skills.
People love Sam Judge. As a war hero he’d single handedly slain entire armies of remaining zombies, unsavory cannibalistic humans, and took on monster mutant lizards, dogs, and elk. Sam Judge never lost a battle. That didn’t mean that he never lost at love.
Same Judge was left at the alter when his bride ran off with his best man. He didn’t take it to well and exacted revenge upon everyone she knew by digging into their rather unsavory business practices. Both of her parents, her brothers, and the ex best friend were now in prison. That was interesting.
He mentioned later that she never told him that she loved him. He would have known it was a lie. Nobody can keep a lie from Sam Judge if he wants to hear it. If Sam Judge doesn’t like what he hears he will be one badass vindictive bastard. I know if he’d known me than I could have told him she was trouble and saved him a lot of grief.
Since then woman had captured Sam’s heart. He was not dating anyone seriously. There were no prospects for serious relationships. Handsome Sam Judge does not give his heart away.
Sam was born into what I would consider a cult, called Chosen Followers. They are a hybrid of Catholic and fundamental evangelical beliefs mixed with doomsday prophesy weirdness. Just for kicks and grins add in some crazy stories about visions of the Virgin Mary.
Sam Judge’s mother, Isabelle McCarthy Judge, said that Sam was chosen by God, and that it was God who gave Sam his powers. She refused to call him a PAM or use the termPost Apocalyptic Mutations when describing her son. Mrs. Judge went all the way to the Supreme Court of the Untied States to get the title removed from all of her precious Sam’s paperwork.
Most interesting of all was that with all of the attention on Sam Judge over the past ten years nobody had ever figured out what his kryptonite was. Nobody. Well, nobody so far. I intended to find out exactly what made Sam Judge tick.
Part Three: The Interview
As usual Chicago was freezing. I’m surprised the plane was able to land due to the current snowstorm. Current snowstorm is an understatement. They had below zero winters that lasted for nine months out of the year.
I wanted to be professional but in no way frumpy. A black skirt, pared with a bright sapphire blue sweater, black tights and flat black boots. I didn’t put any clips in my chin length gray hair. Because this would be filmed I had on the full face make-up.
Gabrielle dressed similar in a forest green wool wrap dress, tights and flat over the knee boots. Phil showed up in all black save for a purple and yellow tie. He’d shaved off his shaggy beard that night and showed of a handsome face that I’d never seen before. He’d also pulled his shoulder length hair up into a neat man bun. Phil actually looked really good for a change. I had to compliment him on making the effort.
It took us about a year, ok maybe an hour, to go though security at the Judge mansion. Not only were we patted down, and all of our belongings checked, we were also asked detailed questions that we’d already answered in a preliminary email.
A pale young man who introduced himself as Timothy Ryan led us to a large living room filled with artwork, comfortable furniture and flowers. One side of the wall was all windows overlooking the new Chicago skyline. Harriet made a beeline to the huge stone fireplace and thawed out her hands. Timothy showed us where an antique sterling silver coffee, tea and water service had been set up, then left the room.
“Modern Prairie mansion overkill,” said Phil looking around.
“I like it,” I said. “I could live in a place like this, you know, if it was back home. I wonder when Sam is going to show up?”
“Right now,” said a voice, followed by a laugh.
There he was, Sam Judge in all his glory, looking better in person than in any video or photograph. Despite his impressive body builder physique, the first thing I noticed was his eyes. Bright hazel, the color of the winter waves, with genuine happiness showing through. Those eyes were in a gorgeous, handsome, beautiful male face. His famous hair, a glossy caramel color, fell down his back and to his waist.
“Welcome. I’m so glad you made it. I’m Sam Judge.” He approached me and held out his hand.
As I took his right hand he put his left hand over it in almost a protective way. I looked right up into those beautiful hazel eyes. “I’m Lilah Wolfe. Good to meet you Mr. Judge.”
“Call me Sam.”
I introduced Harriet and Phil, and then noticed nobody else had joined us. Usually men like Sam Judge had an entourage or at least a few minions hanging about, but it was just Sam.
“You’re known for your strength and speed. What else do you want people to know about you?” I asked.
Sam gave me the answer I was looking for. “I never enjoyed the things I had to do. Dealing with zombies, violence, mutant insects, isn’t fun for anyone.”
“You dug a classroom of children and their teachers out of the rubble of a building. You got to them faster than any machinery could have.”
“Lilah, I just went on auto pilot. When I found them.” He paused to compose himself. “The children were so small. The only thing I could think of was getting them back to their parents. When I saw the teachers all I could think of was getting them back to their own children.”
We talked a while longer about Sam Judge’s heroic achievements. Then I asked the question that nobody dared ask before.
“Your mother claims you’re not a PAM baby. She even went so far to have a hint of post apocalyptic mutations removed from all of your medical records. How do you explain your strength and speed? How do you explain the fact that nothing injures you?”
He turned on the charm all the sudden and almost threw me off of my game. “I’m not immune heartbreak.”
“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t immune to the entanglements of romantic love. You also can detect whether someone is telling a lie or the truth. You’re 100% correct all of the time. Sam, how do you explain that?”
“I can’t. My mother always said my gifts are from God. She had a vision when she was pregnant that said I would be infallible and a seeker of the truth.”
“She was also in Las Vegas at she got pregnant with you, the same weekend the alien research vessel was shot down. She was exposed to cosmic fall out when she was pregnant with you.”
“A lot of women were exposed to fall out from space, and nuclear fall out from wars, and more toxic crap than we can count. Their children all turned out fine. Let me ask you something Lilah. You’re a PAM baby. Where was your mother when she became pregnant with you?”
“San Francisco. Safe in San Francisco. You have a point. So you honestly believe your powers are from God?”
“I don’t even speculate on where my unique abilities come from. I accept who I am and what I can do. I try to make the world a better place with my gifts.”
“What’s your kryptonite?”
Sam smiled another dazzling smile that made my heart skip a beat. This was so unexpected. Was there something he wasn’t telling me?
He laughed and put his hand on mine. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is something that will break my spell.”
“A kiss maybe?”
“Is that an offer?”
“No. I was just kidding. So tell me about your work with the arts?”
The interview went on as expected. I asked a lot of questions. Sam was charming and engaging. I knew he’d capture every single heart of every single person who saw the interview. I’d done my job.
Part Four: Off the Record
Harriet and Phil went shopping on the Miracle Mile. Sam and I went to lunch at O’Joys, the best deep dish pizza in New Chicago.
Over a bottle of Chianti and pizza we talked off the record.
“I know you’re a PAM baby. Sam you can’t believe that you’re part of a biblical prophecy like your mother tells everyone.”
He smiled and took my hand, “I have to keep her happy. Frankly the belief has become more of a detriment. I’m starting to look like a fool.”
“What about your dad?”
“He goes along with whatever my mother says.”
The proliferation of religious extremists since the big break down of society due to wars, pandemics and the existence of aliens, had always disturbed me. The very idea that the man sitting across from me seemed totally immune to what was going on seemed the height of hypocrisy. Phil had once told me Sam’s kryptonite was probably women. What I saw in Sam was a man who, contrary to his own worldly views and sophistication, was letting himself be used as a symbol of strength by a group that many considered to be a religious cult.
I changed the subject and we talked about other things. After lunch Sam’s driver took us to the Art Institute of Chicago where we wandered the halls getting to know each other better. I couldn’t believe how much Sam Judge and I had in common. We both loved the same art and music. We both loved dogs but neither one of us had time for one right now. We both wanted to have families one day but worried about being PAM kids. We both had our secrets that we never told anyone else. I found myself telling him things that I don’t share with other people. And he shared with me. I promised him I wouldn’t put any of it in the press. He believed me. I didn’t exactly tell the truth. I kept the idea of using some of his secrets in the back of my mind.
From a wonderful lunch, to a somewhat romantic afternoon in the museum, we ended up back at Sam’s house. From there we had dinner in his kitchen. Aside from security on the parameter of the building, no other staff was present. Sam cooked. I drank wine and listened to him tell funny stories about growing up with a mother who thought she was in charge of the strong boy who saw right through her. I told him stories of my work, and my life in California, growing up as a PAM child. Sure we talked about ourselves but we talked about everything else too. We discovered we both liked the same books, the same music, and laughed at the same silly jokes. Our lives were so different but we clicked as if we’d been friends for years.
As we finished cleaning up Sam put his arm around my waist and gently pulled me close.
“Lilah,” he said. Just my name. That was all it took. I kissed Sam Judge before he could kiss me. But oh how he kissed back.
The next morning I woke in Sam’s bed wondering if I’d done the right thing. It felt so right in my heart, and with every cell in my body (OMG did it ever) but logically I knew it was wrong. I’d crossed the professional line.
Sam brought in coffee, but it went cold as we made love again.
As we lay in the afterglow I whispered, “What makes you so strong Sam Judge?”
Sam laughed. “Don’t tell a soul, but my mother always said it was my hair.”
I knew he was telling the truth.
“I can’t imagine anything so crazy,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t catch my lie. I could imagine it was his hair. Damn, it I needed to know, and the story would make me millions. On the other hand, how could I even think of harming this beautiful man who was so sweet and trusting?
Chapter 5: The Attack
I had lunch in the famous Olde Pope’s Bar and Grill with Harriet and Phil. We talked over stuffed potatoes and beer. They teased me about spending the night with Sam. I told them that I could easily fall in love with him, them I laughed it off. I didn’t want them to know that I was falling hard for Sam Judge.
“Did you find out what would take his strength away?” Harriet asked.
I should have said anything, but these were my two best friends. “He said his mother told him that it was his hair. That’s why he won’t cut it. I doubt that but you never know.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted it. Harriet and Phil glanced at each and smiled. That wasn’t a good sign. “Don’t even think about it,” I said, but I knew they already were.
That night the sky had cleared. Sam took me out to his roof to see a sky full of trillions of stars, more than I’d ever seen. While I gaped in wonder, he pointed out constellations and galaxies.
“Sam, where do you think the blue aliens came from?”
“I’ve always thought they were from the heart of the Milky Way,” he said. “I’ve imagined they sent research ships out to the far ends of the spirals of the galaxy to find like minded civilizations. When you think about it, they must have had families and friends they left behind. You have to wonder if they fell in love, or suffered heartbreak.”
“You’re such a romantic.”
“Maybe. To be honest, and don’t tell me I’m crazy, but Lilah I think I’m falling in love with you. This is more than an infatuation. I don’t mean to sound like a cliché but…” He held me close. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
I rested my head on his chest. “Yes, I do. Sam, I absolutely believe it,” and that was no lie.
Savor those perfect moments in life, because in today’s world they never seem to last, especially in the freezing war torn Midwest.
Later that night, as we finished dinner at one of Sam’s favorite places on the edge of Lake Michigan we held hands and talked. I told Sam that the lake looked like a frozen ocean. The only difference was that I couldn’t smell the salt in the air.
Just as Sam was about to speak, a loud voice shouted “WHORE WHORE. Stay away from him. She’s nothing but a harlot sent here to seduce you and take you from us.”
Obviously they must have seen the interview that had been aired the day before.
“Ladies,” said Sam, as he stood. “Please stop.”
“Whore, whore, whore,” a group of a dozen women yelled as they ran towards us.
Then the unthinkable happened. Hell, it seems like everything is unthinkable these days, but this was personal. One of the women came at me with a knife. Sam stepped in her way and I can still hear myself screaming as she plunged it into his heart.
The poisoned tipped knife that was meant for me went into Sam’s chest. The women continued to scream at me. They pushed me down and started kicking me and clawing at me. Suddenly I was pulled up by Sam’s strong arm. The knife wound barely fazed him. I’d never seen anything like it.
“Leave her alone,” he growled at the women. “Be gone.”
Sam indeed did have super strength. The press showed up and he told them how he’d saved the woman he loved, and gave a stern warning to anyone who would come between us. I was in in a world of hurt, but overwhelmed with emotion when I heard his words. I started to cry, not because of the pain but because my heart was breaking. I didn’t know what to think. I was falling in love but there was no way I could stay in crazy land with Sam Judge.
Medical crews on the scene put a butterfly bandage on a cut on my forehead. Sam’s wound was stitched up. They said the knife had been tipped with Zom-bee poison. It would have killed me, but it didn’t even seem to faze Sam.
The women were arrested. Sure I thought my nightmare was over, but it had just started.
Sam took me back to his house where, after a few strong painkillers, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
I woke to a sound of something like water sloshing. I looked over to see a glint of metal by Sam’s head. There in her ameba form, slithering up the side of the bed was Harriet with a pair of scissors. Phil was by the door. Before I could say WTF Harriet had cut off Sam’s hair right at the bottom of his neck. I screamed. Phil screamed. Harriet dropped the hair on the floor and took her own shape.
Sam sat up in the bed. “I feel sick. Lilah, I can’t see. I feel so weak.” Then he passed out.
I’ve never been so angry in my life. All I can remember is screaming at Harriet and Phil.
“You told me you couldn’t transformed anymore,” I screamed Harriet.
“I lied, and you didn’t even catch it,” she said to me her eyes smoldering red. “You’re not even a real mutant you gray haired freak.” Then she grabbed up Sam’s hair off the floor, and ran from the room. That was the last time I ever spoke to Harriet.
After the paramedics showed up I kissed Sam and told him that I loved him. He opened his eyes and said, “I love you Lilah. Oh shit, what happened to my hair?”
Like the coward I am, I left Chicago leaving Sam and any romantic thoughts behind. His mother said I took his strength. I was branded as a whore and a horrible person. Screw them. I didn’t care. My only concern was about Sam.
Sam told everyone it wasn’t my fault. But it was. I knew it was all my fault. I should have never been involved with him. I should have never had told his secret to Harriet and Phil.
Chapter 6. Revelations
About a month later, as I was sitting on the beach drinking coffee and feeling sorry for myself Phil came up and sat next to me. I hadn’t seen him since that night in Chicago.
“What are you doing here Phil?”
He gave me a weak smile. “I’m sorry. I tried to stop her, Harriet. She just liquefied and I couldn’t stop her. I am so sorry.”
“Screw you Phil,” I knew he was telling me the truth but I was still angry with him. “Harriet sold Sam’s hair on eBay. Can you believe that? I will NEVER forgive her. Never.”
“Listen, Lilah, I have some news about Sam.”
“I know, he is doing better. Sam is better than ever. Blah blah blah. But he’ll never trust me again.”
“You’re wrong. It wasn’t his hair. What took his strength and eyesight was the Zom-bee poison on the knife. With your kiss you gave him the enzymes he needed to survive.”
“But Phil, I’d kissed him before that.”
“Your enzymes your body produced were activated by fear. When you thought Sam was going to die your body chemistry kicked in. There are others like you who also created these healing enzymes. Scientists are calling the enzymes the love bugs.”
I went home and tried to process the information Phil had told me. I didn’t know if I’d ever forgive Harriet. People were still calling me a whore and blaming me for taking away their hero. I didn’t take anything away from anyone. I saved Sam but the truth never mattered. Jeeze, if the truth ever mattered mankind wouldn’t be in such a fucked up mess.
Sam contacted me about once every week or so just to see how I was doing. I was cordial but embarrassed. He was friendly but never romantic. I couldn’t bring myself to even think of going out to see him. I wasn’t part of his weird culture. The thought of seeing his mother terrified me. My heart broke every time I saw one of texts or emails.
Everything seemed to be a mess, but I pulled myself up, ignored the hate mail and moved on. I landed a new job as the Host for the 62ndseason of The Bachelor. As far as I was concerned, personally I was done with love, but at least I could help some other poor fool try their hand at it. The good reviews knocked me off my feet. They were THAT GOOD. Fans loved me.
I also redecorated my house and adopted a medium-sized six-legged rescue dog named Muffin. My mom, who’d been my rock through this whole ordeal, told me that happiness would be mine to have. I hoped she was right. Oh, and she took in Muffin’s five legged, three tailed sister Cookie.
On morning, of my 30thbirthday I heard that Sam Judge was starting a foundation for the advancement of research on PAM babies. He had also donated millions of dollars to research into combatting harmful and deadly viruses and poisons that proliferated after the last biological warfare cluster right before Sam and I were born. There was something else I found out. Sam Judge had a PhD in Biochemistry. Who would have known? I sure didn’t and it wasn’t anything he advertised.
Sam Judge was strong without his superpowers. He was strong with his compassion and his mind. And here I was hosting a dating show. Hey, I guess somebody had to do it.
I heard a knock on the door. I almost didn’t get it. Seriously, I never answered my door these days. Half the time it was a bag of dog shit, or something equally nasty. To my surprise Sam stood on my front porch.
His hair had grown out to his shoulders. The addition of glasses made him look even sexier than he already was.
I hardly got the words out, “Sam what are you doing here?”
“I got tired of the cold. Are you going to invite me in?”
It turns out The PAM Center for Biological Research was being built just down the road from me at University of California, Irvine. Sam was also going to be teaching there.
We got married six months later and I’m expecting our baby. Yes, we had all the tests done and the baby has no mutations.
Yesterday as we walked along the beach a giant fireball came from the sky and landed about a quarter mile from us. We ran to see what it was. Another alien spacecraft. Yes, I finally got to see the aliens. I hugged Sam and told him I loved him more than all the stars in the sky. Yes, my grandparent’s crazy was the new normal, but life is good, and I know it will only get better.