Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Misprint!" - The Course Overload Novella, Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Life as the Living Dead

Don’t tell me you thought that plan was going to work. Yes, it was a great plan, maybe even the best. But if the story had ended there, what did you think the rest of these pages were for? Were you all giddy at the prospect of grabbing your copy of Misprint! and marching down to the local H&R Block, triumphantly exclaiming that they didn’t need any paper to do your taxes on because you had plenty? Were you psyched at the concept of using all the blank pages I left as a nice place to calculate your tips longhand? Or perhaps you wanted to use it as an impromptu coaster when company you don’t want to waste the good coasters on come over.

I hate books like that. You know, books that pretend that there’s going to be a resolution towards the middle of the story, and yet, there’s about 60 pages left? (Which, ironically, means that I should hate my own book.) Who do these authors think they’re fooling with their unresolved plots and their fake climaxes?

So, as you and the other 98 percent of the people reading this right now and not thinking, “My, that was a short book. And it ended so abruptly!” can see, Kara’s plan failed by the narrowest of margins. Were it not for Joe Shurize or that evil paper swan, I’d have been considered among the living once more. But the truth is that Joe messed things up, and that terrible paper swan… well, who knew where it had gone; I assumed it was sucked back down into the bowels of hell where it belongs.

Yet, Kara’s plan wasn’t a total wash after all, because no one thought that I was a ghost anymore. Essentially, Kara’s plan resolved half the problem, which is more than I can say about anything I had done up to then.

After the plan went horribly awry, there was nothing left to do but go to the local diner and cry face down in a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Kara and Shannon eventually had to leave, so I drove home in a stupor listening to sad love songs on the radio, because there weren’t many sad songs about mistaken deaths played that night. When I arrived, I saw my father’s car sitting in the driveway in its normal place. Judging by the light coming from the computer room window, I figured he was surfing the Internet.

My father is a good man and no one can deny that. But, like everyone else, he has a few small flaws. For example, sometimes he leaves the refrigerator open, and other times he eats kittens. You know, small stuff. One of his most noticeable problems is that once he’s on the computer, he tunes everything out until he’s finished, like fire, dinner and Mom. So, when my mother tried to tell him about my supposed death, it went something like this:

Mom: Oh my God Dave! Our poor son is dead!

Dad: Ian?

Mom: No, the other one.

Dad: Matt needs what now?

Mom: He needs a funeral because he’s dead! Our loving son is gone!

Dad: Another good semester, huh? He’s so smart.

Mom: Listen to me, Dave! Listen!

Dad: Yes, I don’t know how the Ying-Yang Gang keeps getting away either.

Mom: (Sounds of agony and deep seeded grief.)

Dad: My credit card is on the table. I love you and I’ll see you at dinner.

So, although Mom tried to get through to him for several hours, Dad still had no idea that I was supposed to be dead when I schlepped wretchedly into the house.

My dog Bailey was pretty happy to see me. He danced around me, wagging his tail and licking my hand. The poor thing had no idea that he should have been afraid of me because I was dead, but not really because I was still alive. Poor stupid animal; I was glad he had me to protect him.

The sound of Bailey’s jumping must have finally broken my father’s monitor induced trance. He walked to the living room to see me. “Hi Matt. How was your day at school?”

“Hi Dad. Everyone at school thought that I was dead, and when Kara and I tried to fix it, it didn’t work like we wanted it to.” I tossed my book bag on the couch. “How was yours?”

“It was fine. I had potato salad for lunch.”

“Well, that’s nice, I’ll bet it was… wait a minute!”

That night, dinner was surreal. Mom spent much of the time lamenting over her lost son and crying in her macaroni, while Dad and I slowly broke the news to her that I was still alive. I kept asking her to pass me the salt, the milk, or more macaroni, and every time she obliged, I could see that the wheels were turning inside her head. Sometimes, Mom would start to convince Dad that I really was dead and it was his grief-stricken mind that was projecting my image in the seat next to him, but I would always wind up reeling him back in. So, a few hours later, after the intense reprogramming session, Dad and I managed to convince my mother that I was still alive. Now at least I’d have a family (and new video games) again! Sometimes, though, Mom had her doubts, like when I slept past 5 a.m. But being awoken at the crack of dawn to frantic maternal anguish is a million times better than having no family.

Thus began the long Winter Recess. Kara and I talked every day, sometimes for hours, about how to resolve my dilemma. She felt really bad about going home and leaving me in that condition, but if it weren’t for her and Shannon, I might be on display at some carnival in Arkansas.

Kara was full of good ideas over the break. So many, in fact, that we’d come up with a new scheme practically every week. For example, once I tried sending out Christmas cards; sure it was January, but that’s not the point. On the front was a picture of me giving a thumbs up and sporting the biggest grin I could muster. Instead of some cheery holiday greeting next to me and my huge toothy smile, I wrote in large caps, “I’M STILL ALIVE.” This seemed like a fantastic strategy; everyone would see that I was still alive with a festive yet functional holiday salutation. And it was a good idea too, except for one little problem: The studio that made the cards for me ruined the picture. Somehow, the negative was used instead of the developed photo. What had once been a thoughtful holiday hello had suddenly become sinister – I looked like a horrific zombie. My teeth were bulbous and seemed to be ready to start gnashing into tender flesh. My thumbs up gesture was no longer encouraging and playful, it now looked like I was reaching my decaying limbs toward my next helpless victim. I looked as if I wanted to turn everyone into foul creatures of the darkness.

Needless to say, my greeting of “I’M STILL ALIVE” was indeed taken at face value; however, it wasn’t the way I had intended. By “alive,” people thought I meant “undead,” and the card had been a friendly reminder to lock their doors at night, lest they become a part of it… The night, not their doors. For weeks people thought I was telling them to have some sort of belated zombie Christmas and that the New Year would be besieged by hoards of the living dead.

Every day another plan ended in colossal failure. I was forced to spend most of my time hanging around the house in my underwear and doing nothing but eating cheese while playing video games. Now I know that sounds unbearably hellish and you might be wondering how I survived the ordeal, but I’m not going to lie to you: It was freakin’ awesome. After a while, I stopped caring. I had my family, I had my girlfriend, I had my video games and I didn’t have to go to work. Really, what could be better?

Yes, day in and day out, the same thing, with no social interaction and a very limited diet… Well, towards the middle of January, I felt like my life had slammed into a brick wall. I had enough video games and ramen noodles to last me until 2010, and that would have been fine – if I didn’t have Kara or any of my friends. I didn’t want Kara to have to visit me in seclusion, never being able to go out to the movies or nice restaurants like Burger King for fear of everyone thinking I was a ghost again. I wanted to frolic in the summer sun, holding my friends’ hands and thanking God for the simple miracle of a warm sunny day. I wanted to live! I wanted to live, damn it, and I was going to find a way to finally be myself again! I can’t even begin to tell you how pissed off I was to have to give up my dream of playing video games all day, every day, for the rest of my natural existence and maybe a few more years as a soulless cyborg of the 21st century, but my love of friendship and humanity were more important to me in the long run.

But not by much. The new superhero action game, Dynamite Barslut, was due out later that year. I mourned for days.

However, how could I do it? Kara and I had been trying to come up with a viable solution for weeks now to no avail. I felt like Wile E. Coyote from those old Road Runner cartoons – I had tried everything, and my plans either backfired or were foiled by some one-in-a-million occurrence that left me sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, flat on my ass.

As time crept on and I meditated on my previous failures, a critical piece of the puzzle fell into place one afternoon as I gazed out my window. I’d been going about the whole thing all wrong! Every plan, every tactic, every move I made up to that point had been focused on undoing what had already been done. However, that was a mammoth task that had proven nearly impossible over the past few weeks. I had been trying to solve a result, not a problem, not the cause. I needed to attack the root of the disturbance to get any results!

Quickly, I grabbed my cell phone and dialed Kara’s number.

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