Kate wasn’t always dead. It just happened.

She knew it was bound to happen one day – everybody dies right? She just thought that she’d have more time before it was her turn to kick off. But here she was. Dead. And it was too late to think about all the things she wanted to do before she died.

From behind the wheel of the police cruiser, dead Kate’s eyes stared at the stars that framed the blacked-out skyline. The car was in a small clearing in the middle of an otherwise wooded highway exit loop. While her dead body was in a cop car next to a highway, no one even noticed.

To be fair, when it’s the beginning of the end of the world, people don’t go looking for friends or co-workers. They tend to seek out family members, loved ones, shit like that. Kate had none of those.

If a dead body can have parting thoughts, or if the soul takes a minute to reflect on the time spent living, Kate was probably regretting most of the decisions that led her here. And wished she had just one more drink.

I’m not positive about that last part, it’s just a guess.

# # #

Let Me Start This Over.

The week before Kate took a bullet to the head, she was a former teen model in her late thirties, sitting behind a desk in a cube farm. She demonstrated a level of self-confidence that baffled people who didn’t know her history as the prom queen or a New York runway model.

Most people just saw an attractive woman, but not drop-dead gorgeous like she was in the 80s. She cleaned up well, and because she was still a natural beauty beneath it all, she never really worked too hard at it.

Truth be told, she’d never worked too hard at anything.

Kate graduated from high school and moved to New York City on the same day. Six years later, she walked away from modeling with a crippling cocaine habit. She returned home to Atlanta and spent several years cleaning up.

She held onto her drop-dead gorgeous body as long as she could, and then finally put it out to pasture in favor of a more relaxed lifestyle in the company of Ben and Jerry’s, Ernest and Julio, and Benson and Hedges.

The bags under her eyes weren’t so big, her waistline never expanded into wow-you-really-let-yourself-GO territory, and she could still get a gentleman to buy her a drink. But it took a little more effort and a little more makeup.

Using her charm and her connections, she eventually scored a job at a design agency as a client rep. She could wrangle the angriest clients, wine-and-dine prospective advertisers, and would frequently stroke the fragile egos of designers to get them to deliver on time.

Her brown eyes could wink most ad men into submission. But her aspirations of running the office — or even moving up from just a glorified secretary — were pretty much non-existent.

When you’ve been a runway model in New York in the late 80s, you accept that you probably won’t top that, ever again. And now she just wanted a job that didn’t suck too much, one that paid the bills and left enough to cover her vices.

# # #

On this late September evening, she was enjoying some of those vices.

“A pack of Marlboro lights, and these” she said putting the two bottles of cheap white wine on the counter of her neighborhood liquor store.

Gerald already had the pack of smokes in hand, ready for her. He asked “Do you need matches? A lighter?”

“Nnnnope” she said unwrapping the pack of cigarettes while he rang up the purchase.

She handed him her card, pulled a cigarette out of the pack, and had it in her mouth by the time he returned the card to her. He put the two bottles in a bag and lit her cigarette for her.

As she picked the bag up in one hand and her purse in the other, she said “Thernks” through clenched teeth, and sucked the flame into her cigarette.

Gerald said “See you tomorrow night!” watching her back out of the door.

Kate laughed as she thought she probably wouldn’t need another bottle until the day after that. But hey, you never know. Company, or a long day at work, or maybe a good movie on TV.

Anything was possible.

# # #

Eric was looking out the window of his apartment, staring beyond the trees. The Autumn sun was setting, casting long shadows across a park with swings, slides, and even a lake with a jogging path. But Eric wasn’t looking at any of that.

You could say Eric wasn’t looking at anything. While his eyes were open and occasionally blinked, they were vacant.

His hands went up behind his head, and began to fumble at the base of his skull, lifting up the hair.

A tiny, flesh-colored parasite crawled out of a flap there. Over the span of ten minutes, it slowly moved down his back, to the floor and slowly headed into the bathroom. Inching along. Meanwhile, Eric continued to stare out of the window, occasionally blinking.

Eric heard the plop sound from the bathroom, as the parasite dropped into the tub, which had about an inch of water in the bottom. It landed alongside dozens of identical parasites. They loved the water.

# # #

Some time after midnight, Eric abruptly turned and walked into the bathroom.

He looked down at the tub, smiled, and quietly asked “now which one of you wants to join me?”

He bent over and poked his finger into the water. One of the parasites wrapped its wings around his finger, and he brought it up. Carefully he moved it back behind his skull and held it there while it worked its way under his skin. Within a few minutes, the skin looked normal.

He closed his eyes as the connection was made. He took a slow deep breath, released it and rolled his head slowly in circles, like he was warming up for a sprint.

“Okay, okay.” he sighed to no one. He turned off the bathroom light and headed to the bedside table to find his phone.

Eric resumed staring out the window as he felt the parasite take over control of his fingers, pecking out a text message on his phone.

Keys in her left hand, Kate grabbed her purse from the passenger seat and pushed herself out of the car.

It was two in the morning, and she was almost asleep when she got a text saying, “you up?”. Her response, “keyless” was not what she meant to type. Goddamn auto-correct.

However, the sender took her “keyless” message as some form of “Yes” and immediately fired back with “come over I’ve got wine”.

By the time she was fully awake, she’d replied “K” and was on her way to Eric’s house.

Eric was in his early 30s, he was always smiling, and always looked like he’d just heard some great news. He might have been half native-american, or maybe half latino. Or maybe just Tex-Mex? She never asked him. His dark, cut features were framed by a short black haircut and enough muscles to keep anything he wore tight-fitting and sharp.

She clicked the key-car-locker-doodad, the car beeped “wacka wacka” as she glided to Eric’s apartment stairs. Well. It was a cross between staggered and glided.

There’s only so much gliding you can do on your way to a late night half-awake booty-call.

# # #

Eric poured her a glass of wine as she fell into his sofa. He’d buzzed her through the security gates, beeped her up, blinked her through, whatever they do these days. She gave him a sleepy nod along with a cool confident “heywhadsup?”

As Eric handed her a glass of wine, she fell back into the sofa and glanced at the TV. It was a talking-head show with five people in a circle barking arguments at each other, and thank God it was muted.

The stereo was playing the kind of music you’d hear while shopping for shoes. Cheap. Shitty. Shoes. Catchy tunes that would stick in your head like gum.

Tomorrow, she’d be humming this crap, whether she liked it or not.

As she stared through the tv, Eric dissected her beauty. Her shoulder length hair was a mess, but a hot mess. Her big brown eyes and smooth olive skin showcased the perfect mixture of Italian-American lineage. The t-shirt and sweatpants ensemble barely hid the delicious curves of her body.

Running her hands through her hair, Kate said, “Hey listen to what happened up on 9 yesterday! Amir was telling me about it when we were smoking. Said it wasn’t officially a walk-out, but six people quit. All within the hour.”

“Wow. Hmm. Go on.” He said, wishing she’d stop. And take off her pants. Or his pants. Hell. Anything other than stories of who-gives-a-shit back at her office.

Kate paused, then smiled and said “You’re not here to talk about the old lady and the accounting staff. It’s too late, ain’t it?”

She finished her glass of cheap wine, took his full glass, stood up and walked to his bedroom door, shaking her way out her pink sweat pants. At the door, she flipped off his bedroom light and looked back at him. “Why on earth are you still out there?”

Climbing into his messy bed, she made a mental note: next time, he comes to MY house.

It was a river of whiskey. Or bourbon. She couldn’t tell. While she floated on a sombrero down the river lined with zebras she felt the pillowcase and realized it was way too classy to be hers.

That damn pillowcase ruined another kick ass dream for Kate.

It took only a minute to look around the dark room and determine she was in Eric’s bed, and he wasn’t there.

She fumbled around the bedside table for her watch and saw it was 7:10 in the morning. She’d been asleep for 4 hours.

Kate slid into her pants and looked around for her shirt. Surely the shirt came off first.

Wandering through the apartment, naked from the waist up, she found Eric at the kitchen counter, coffee cup in his hand

“Here – I fixed this for you, figured you’d want something before you go.” Kate took the cup, sipped the sugary goodness, and remembered she was missing a top.

“My shirt? I’m sure I arrived with one” she did that purring cooing thing while pushing her elbows together just enough to draw more attention to her bare cleavage. Eric walked from the kitchen to the living room and reached behind a big brown chair, picked the shirt up and handed it to her.

Slipping the shirt on, she paused right before pulling it over her amazing breasts, waiting for a comment. They always said something right before she put the twins away. She held still, looked over at Eric, and he was looking at his watch.

Well shit. She thought. Gyat Dayamn! Cut a bitch much?

She pulled the shirt down and picked up the coffee cup.

Eric said, “I imagine you need to get to work — I can’t be responsible for making you late again. I wish you could stay … but I know you need to get going.”

Kate tried to look for a hint in that sentence. Was he saying “stay and we can fuck again” or was he saying “get out, I don’t want you.”

She couldn’t tell.

“Right – yeah – I’ve got my shirt and pants – I just need my — ”

Eric had her purse in his hand.

“purse. Wow – you really need me out of here, don’t you?” with a smile that said of course you don’t REALLY want to get rid of me, do you?

Eric smiled and said, “not at all – I just want to make sure I’m not responsible for you getting fired! Hurry up! I’ll see you after work, I hope?”

Kate mumbled “yeah okay sure” while picking through her key ring to find the car key.

She spun around and kissed him. Not a passionate one like last night. This was the “have a great day, dear” kiss that you feel obligated to drop off on your way out. He squeezed her ass and smiled as she scuttled to the door.

Booty calls were such a mind fuck. How do you fuck somebody, hair-pulling ass-slapping eye-rolling fucking, and then just return to casual buddies four hours later?

I know it’s done, but I still get that awkward feeling when we part the next morning, or even that night.

Like when you’re waiting for somebody to get off the elevator before you get on. Do you go right and they go right, or do you wait for them to get off the elevator, or what if you’re waiting for them to get off the elevator and they aren’t getting off so you look like an idiot?

Kate’s mind had a tendency to dwell on these kinds of social logic puzzles. Her friends called it obsessing. She called it looking for the best way to Act Right.

Once in the parking lot, Kate unlocked the car, threw her purse into the passenger seat and slid in. She looked back at the stairs, lit a smoke, cranked the ignition, and headed home to carpe what was left of the diem.

# # #

The car keys landed on the table just inside her apartment door, and the purse plopped next to them. After a quick inventory of the purse, she pulled the empty flask out and shook it. There was still a little vodka left from the trip to Eric’s last night. It would be ridiculous to let this go to waste.

She tipped the flask up to her mouth, emptied it, and headed to the shower.