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Bored as Shit

Processing the horde was already a slow, tedious process, but when we were about three-quarters of the way through, when we found ourselves at that strange juncture at which one realizes most of the work may be done but a substantial portion of it remains, our boredom hit an all new peak. Everyone still had jobs to do, but other than the shifts directly involved in loading and transporting the boxes, most of the tasks were manufactured by our lieutenants to keep us from getting too comfortable, and, while it should be obvious that mundane piecework was a luxury by comparison to, say, fighting one’s way out of a siege with an axe handle, there has always been something inherently terrible about the realization that any amount of your labor, your very life energy, is being squandered in toil: once most people realize they’re being pushed to do things, not necessarily to produce anything worthwhile, but simply for the sake of doing things, they will usually shirk or cut into the work or else find a hundred clever ways to trick themselves into believing they are doing all this by choice, and in this way wrest back some small semblance of life from the supervisors and masters of the world. In the last years of the American empire, for instance, I remember a lot of my coworkers going very slowly, making every job take twice as long as it should, taking every opportunity to escape into the alternate realities of their smartphones, checking their social-media accounts for new marginalia, texting with friends to see what was up with the outside world, listening to an endless stream of podcasts and songs—or, alternately, and more intelligently, getting all one’s work done as quickly as possible to open up uninterrupted blocks of time to call one’s own. With Plymouth, however, none of that was an option: the lieutenants wouldn’t let us loll about, for one, plus all those little rectangular screens we used to endlessly eyefuck were now useless relics of a bygone era. So, as we settled into this last bit of drudgery—fill box, close box, drive box, fill box, close box, drive box—the men mainly tried to reclaim their lives by talking while they worked. You might have expected the topics to vary, that minds seeking to free themselves from the toils of the body might prefer to let their minds range far and wide, but it is another peculiar feature of work that, when we try to escape it by changing the subject, we can’t help but circle back around to the same—such as when coworkers escaping the office for lunch would invariably talk about nothing but work—which is why these men, who ostensibly wanted to free themselves of the zombie toil, talked almost exclusively about zombies this and zombies that. Indeed, they discussed zombies to a degree not only obsessive but probably also pathological, so that for some time men would be jabbering about   scientific explanations for zombies, but, of course, the second people started talking that way, others would feel compelled to lay out cases for more supernatural origins, and yet something in the very act of discussing the origins invariably reminded everyone to go on and on and on—and on and on and on—about the myriad zombie depictions prefiguring the apocalypse, that is, all the movies and TV shows and books and videogames that foreshadowed our very fall, which, through a certain internal logic, led to debates about why those of us who were living in America, arguably the most broadly affluent and powerful empire in the history of the world, were so fucking obsessed with narratives in which the whole thing went to shit in an instant.

But then something happened, if not to change the entire course of our stint, then at least the nature of these rather exhausting conversations. Which is to say that, while Plymouth’s men were toiling and talking, and talking and toiling, the strangest thing arrived: an industry newsletter called New Horizons. It was nothing fancy, just one white 8.5 x 11 sheet, printed on the front and back in nothing but black ink, a jumble of tiny, poorly matched fonts—and there were maybe five copies of this to pass around. The top story was about our current extraction:

 

Plymouth Strikes “easy Bonanza”

2,000+ Z’S TO BE EXTRACTED

 

SBS Plymouth has struck a blow for humanity and nearly completed processing a horde one roughneck described as an “easy bonanza.” While the location is proprietary information, 1st Lt. Starbucks reports an efficient extraction expected to yield upwards of 2,000 Z’s with virtually no loss of life. “There might be hordes like this all over the metro, but it’s rare you find one this big, this cohesive out in the country, much less one that’s safely contained,” Starbucks said. “Our men are in high spirits.”

 

 

This newsletter was obvious propaganda, nothing but a way for various Majority Shareholders to buoy morale out in the field and, like all propaganda, it exaggerated the perks by burying certain operational costs, particularly the life they counted as “virtually” not lost—a man, an actual man, a self-cutting man whose name I will never know, whose very head had been whipped apart by a cable and here was treated as a mere problem of accounting—and yet, if the other members of the crew even noticed such semantic sleights of hand, they didn’t seem to mind very much, rather enjoying the simple pleasure of seeing themselves and a couple people they knew reflected in New Horizons. 

Ragnar, tattooed with his gods and giants and draugrs, sat on the dam reading, blinking, rhythmically flexing and uflexing his forearms, overlooking the remaining horde of draugrs below currently clamoring vaingloriously upward for his booted feet so far above. 

 

“Hey, man. What’s the good word?” Huckleberry asked. 

 

“Have at it,” Ragnar said, standing, slapping the paper against the other’s chest, and proceeding to unzip and relieve himself over the edge on any number of upturned faces.

Huckleberry was himself a real case study, the kind of man who probably used to have one of those stickers on the back window of his Dodge truck featuring a cartoon character named Calvin pissing on the Ford and Chevy logos—a tired, inane brand rivalry dating back several generations. He was not a big man, but fairly small, a wiry Scots-Irish dude with a scraggly reddish-brown beard and a smirky face just made for punching. He presented himself as some sort of gunslinger of this new wild-west, sporting hip holsters and a pair of Colt Pythons, the same gun, he’d tell anyone within earshot, that Rick carried on the TV show The Walking Dead. As if this affectation weren’t stupid enough, he also had himself a catchphrase: “I’m your Huckleberry.” Almost every day for one reason or another: “I’m your Huckleberry.” I shit you not, even to zombies: “I’m your Huckleberry.” He never explained its origins or why he said it, but neither did he have to: I’m certain he picked it up from watching a western from the 1990s called Tombstone. [1] Everything about Huckleberry—his strut, his lazy drawl, his notions of manhood, his very persona—seemed to emerge from TV screens playing on an endless loop in his head, so that you never knew if you were talking to a man or some bastardized composite of gunfighter characters and slogans from old pickup commercials. The dude was insufferable. 

 

Here, Huckleberry read over the newsletter, clearly engaging with it, grinning, shaking his head, literally replying to lines in the articles as he read them, but when he finished, he only feigned indifference and said so someone might hear, “Tell ya who they shoulda interviewed: me.” 

 

He was referring to a profile of a man the reader has already briefly met, our cook, the skinniest man alive: Lard Ass. In it, he was described as “tall and lean.” In truth, the man was a 6’4” skeleton wrapped in denim and fleece. He was described as “serious about his work.” In truth, this sallow man was serious about everything, never more so than whenever someone was making a joke. The writer described him as “a resourceful cook.” Resourceful? It seemed like he could make ten sausages out of a single squirrel. The profile said he had been a cook in the Navy, stationed for several years with the fleet at Yokosuka base in Tokyo Bay. You never would have pegged him for someone who had even spent a day abroad, so that part was a little surprising, but of course he had been a military cook. This made perfect sense. Not only was he good at managing meals for so many people, the man’s skinny head seemed to have been made for one of those white skull caps. He didn’t even want to read the profile of himself—in my opinion, a rare and admirable trait. I overheard him tell several men he already knew plenty about himself, thanks, but, while he had no problem rebuffing them, he was constitutionally incapable of refusing one person in particular, his assistant, Pippin, when the young man started bouncing around him, telling him over and over how good it was, telling him to just look and see. 

“Fine!” Lard Ass finally shouted, grabbing the paper from the boy, and giving it a slow, serious read. 

Pippin was a singular individual. He was one of the few black members of our crew and, as such, tended to accrue more attention than he was strictly comfortable with, not necessarily bad attention, not so much negativity or any of the more overt kinds of racism, but more often a kind of condescension peculiar to white people who think black people are categorically cool, treating them like exotic pets or fetishes. Pippin didn’t seem to mind, but then, what would he have said? He was very shy and preferred to steer conversation away from himself. He was rather light-skinned, at least by comparison to our African immigrant friend, Jason, and with short but unkempt hair that went out in every direction, a slightly husky build, no older than 15, maybe 16. He had a nasty check-mark scar above his right eye that made him seem like he was always raising one eyebrow, dubious of everything—and perhaps that was the case, after all. There was something subtly feminine about his mannerisms, particularly about the way his dark eyes settled on things like two little blackbirds already anticipating flight the moment they lighted. The first time I met him I thought he might be a girl only pretending to be a boy to protect herself around all these men, but I soon came to suspect that it was probably something more long-term than that, that he was transgender—that is, a young man who was born a girl but whom girlhood never suited. I have no proof of this, mind you. I didn’t seek to pester him or try to find out. Imagine how threatening it would have seemed if some random white dude known for listening with freakish intensity and staring at everyone for as long as they allowed just suddenly walked over and whispered, “Hey, dude. You trans?” or better yet sidled up and asked to check out his genitals? No, I just employed the golden rule—treat others as you’d have them treat you—and let Pippin be Pippin. But there were times when he got comfortable enough, when he seemed to let his guard down, so that his eyes stopped flitting about, and he settled fully into himself; in those moments, he would sometimes sing, and when he was singing, a whole universe of things unspoken seemed to escape him, as naturally, as sincerely as in birdsong. There was at once a profound sadness and a depthless joy in his voice and in his eyes. Some of the men who noticed his effeminate ways tried to call him Pippi for a time, but this didn’t stick. No, there was a distinct Pippinness about Pippin, reminiscent of one of the naïve but deeply good hobbit characters from The Lord of the Rings—that is, the one called Pippin.  

 

“What did you think, Mr. Lard Ass?” Pippin asked when the cook passed the newsletter along to yet another reader.

 

“That ain’t how I fuckin talk,” Lard Ass grumbled.

“Dude, whatever! that’s like exactly what you told the dude over the radio!”

“Whatever yourself, dipshit.”

“Dipshit!” Pippin squealed. “Haha!”

The two of them carried on this way for a while and then went off to the mess tent to turn a couple raccoons into a meal for fifty.

***

And yet, for all the excitement these other stories stirred up, it was another brief on the back side of the newsletter that sent more of a shudder through the men, turning our bored minds toward the rather more exciting prospects of conspiracy: 

 

AWOL roughneck found, zombified

 

A missing Plymouth roughneck was recently found trapped in a leg snare — and zombified. The man, a fuel-truck driver known as “Madmax,” was overheard in the days before his departure talking about his “intent to breach contract and go AWOL.” After an intensive search of the area, Cpt. Custer’s private security specialists found him about 3 miles from camp. Madmax was “dispatched quickly and humanely.” 

 

Much of this was news to the men. They knew Madmax was missing, of course, but that there had been “an intensive search”? that he had been found? zombified? dispatched? To our knowledge, there hadn’t been any search, at least not as such. Sure, the call had gone out on the radios; men had gone to the edge of camp and called out for him; maybe a couple of those closer to him, his fellow fuel truck drivers and operators, had wandered around the woods near camp a bit; but one would be hard-pressed to call that an “intensive search.” Most assumed he’d bugged out, as men were known to do from time to time, but, as men began to talk about this, some other details started coming out, and a new story started to unfold and spread among the men.

In the days before Madmax went missing, it seemed that someone had overheard him mocking Custer’s white zombie fetish. Madmax, as the moniker implies, was not the sanest man among us and, to top it off, his was a rather loose impersonation, something on the order of, “I’m Custer! Gimme some a that sweet albino bunghole!”

 

The captain’s obsession was ripe for satire, of course, but was public mockery prudent? Apparently not. 

And what of the mercenaries? Maybe, some men wondered, they had searched when the rest of us were busy toiling and talking. But Chief, for one, didn’t believe this. He told Jason, through a series of signs and gestures, that he’d kept a close eye on the mercenaries since their arrival and that he’d seen two of them leave one evening. Like they were going searching? No. They’d set off into the woods very purposefully, as if they knew exactly where they were going, and were gone no more than two hours. When they reemerged from the woods, according to Chief, one of them nodded conspiratorially to their leader, Number One, who nodded back. 

Had this nod meant something akin to mission accomplished? 

For many, this was all the evidence required, but, being an insufferable type, I adopted a more sociolinguistic approach that would have bored the shit out of most of my fellowmen, turning my attention toward a line-by-line deconstruction of the article itself. Indeed, I’d suspected the whole newsletter for purest propaganda from the beginning, so it only followed that this story must also be and, from that critical position, I scrutinized the wording, knowing that, for propaganda to work, the wording is not so much the butter on the bread as the bread itself. 

What I quickly ascertained is this: the headline (“AWOL SBS Roughneck Found, Zombified”) and the opening sentence (“A missing Plymouth roughneck was recently found trapped in a leg snare—and zombified”) were both structured in such a way as to suggest, not that someone had found a zombified Madmax, but that someone had found Madmax and then turned him into a zombie. [2] In short, if I were to revise the dispatch based on what other crew members claimed to have seen and the obvious entendre lurking in New Horizon’s sentences—as well as to locate the story in a kind of broader sociohistorical context, as is my wont—this is how it might read:

            

Cpt. Custer’s Mercenaries kill madmax, 

turn him into zombie, dispatch him, 

plant article in newsletter 

to make example of him

 

Cpt. Custer’s henchmen, having recently heard about a Plymouth fuel-truck driver named Madmax who had been mocking the captain’s “Moby-Dork” obsession, apparently held the roughneck at some black-ops site in the woods, turned him into a zombie, (re)killed him, then planted a story about the murder that is just spare enough on details and syntactically amorphous enough as to strike fear into the hearts of any who might dare question, challenge, or mock Custer, his obsessions, or motives. The history of power suggests that the captain and his henchmen are using intimidation tactics and propaganda in order to ensure compliance with future orders, which, it is not unreasonable to surmise, he suspects his own crew will soon have good reason to question.

 

Yes, bored minds may spin strange tales, but perhaps we roughnecks weren’t too far off the mark with our conspiracy theories, because, as you will see, that very evening, while we were congregating around the orange glow of the burn barrels, warming our hands, two scouting parties returned within a couple hours of one another and Custer’s responses to the conflicting information they bore lay bare the true nature of the man. 

 

***

The first party, headed by Buttplug and the giant ex-footballer, Christopher Martin, returned with a great commotion. Word passed like a shockwave: there was another large horde to the west. No, it wasn’t quite as large as the one we’d been processing, and the extraction wouldn’t be nearly so safe or simple, but securing this much flesh so quickly in a stint all but assured a profitable three months. In fact, if this luck held, the roughnecks would all be set up for some time to come. 

 

Rumor was we were going to finish the current extraction and head out ASAP. We watched Custer’s trailer like voyeurs hoping for a glimpse of bare thigh. Starbucks and his scouting party were still out, but Neo and Buttplug were in the captain’s trailer and it was clear something was afoot. 

Then word came down. 

It was official: we were going to be heading out first thing in the morning. 

Lard Ass, under the captain’s instructions, broke out a barrel of rotgut, and the men got loose, carrying on around the burn barrels, talking about what they would do when they struck it rich, how they’d escape the dead once and for all, before delving into the standard set of comfort topics that always picked away the scabs of our many wounds—what zombies were, the zombic origins, etc.—and they continued carrying on this way even as the second scouting party returned. 

The mood was such that no one really paid them much mind, but I did, because Chucho had gone out with Starbucks, and so I immediately seized on the long, blank expressions on their faces as they climbed out of their humvee. Something was the matter. I asked what was up, but Starbucks only waved me off and disappeared into the back of one of the trucks where, based on what Chucho was about to tell me, I suspect the good lieutenant was praying for guidance. 

Chucho joined me to warm his hands over one of the burn barrels. At first he didn’t want to talk about whatever had happened out there, so I filled him in on everything, about the horde that Buttplug and the others had found, about our plans to move out in the morning, then about New Horizons, and about our concerns about the possible murder of Madmax.

“Cool,” he said absently, glancing toward the truck where Starbucks had gone.

“Cool.”

It was most assuredly not cool, so I said, “Cool? Seriously? What happened out there?” 

“I don’t know what I saw,” he said. “Or if I saw it.”

“What was it?”

“Something wh—”

He stopped short, cast a glance over his shoulder. 

“Something white.”

“The white zombie!?”

“Shh,” he said, looking to the men by the next burn barrel. 

Was Huckleberry glancing at us out of the corner of his eye, smirking? or was that just his normal cocky look?

El fuego es cálido!” Chucho said to throw him off.

I had no idea what that meant but this seemed to work. 

“Where?” I whispered.

“Confluence at Skykomish River. But I was probably just seeing shit.”

“But definitely … blanco?”

Si! fuego es excelente!” he said, then shrugged and whispered: “But if you’re looking for a ghost, everything’s a ghost.”

“Ghost?” Huckleberry asked. 

The jackass was making his way over, or rather swaggering and smirking his way over.

 

“Ghost stories,” I said. 

Historias de fantasmas,” Chucho said.

“Awesome, dudes!” he said sarcastically. “But I wanna hear one about this white fantasmo.”

Qué?”

“Knock off the Messican. I know you speaky Ingles, hombre.”

It was hard to take Huckleberry entirely seriously. He may have been pretty quick with those matching revolvers, but it didn’t stop people from mocking him. “I’m your Dingleberry,” they’d say behind his back, so that he’d spin around, place the heel of his hand on his pistol grips. To shoot someone would have been a clear breach of contract but, while it was hard to imagine anyone being that stupid, that reckless, that impulsive, as to risk certain death—or worse—there was something unhinged about this wiry little man, something constantly daring fate. For all he knew, everyone backed down because they were actually afraid of him, when the truth was that everyone knew, if things escalated any further, they would probably have to kill him, and that would put them in breach.

“You don’t know jack shit,” I said. 

“Settle down, peckerneck,” he said. “I ain’t interested in saying nothing to no one about whether Mr. Vato here speaky English or don’t speaky English. But I know he saw something. Something white? But the gold is all I’m interested in.”

Huckleberry was still looking at me, as if he still believed I was translating. Chucho wasn’t looking at him either, but into the fire, watching a large burl burn down slowly to a cinder.

“Buenos noches, pendejo,” Chucho said, dismissing him.

“I’d sleep better knowing what you saw.”

“Mist, motherfucker. Fog.”

“Fog? That’s what we’re calling him?”

“No. That’s what we call fog.”

You could almost hear the plastic of Huckleberry’s face wrinkling as he forced a grin. 

“Listen,” he whispered: “I ain’t trying to cause you no problems. But I know you saw the Dork out there. I got big ears and they work fuckin good. And I get why you maybe don’t wanna say shit. But think: how much is that fuckin golden buffalo worth? What we got to gain?”

“Don’t talk shit you know nothing about.” 

“Listen, I could just tell Starbucks I heard you fuckers talking. We say you think you maaaaybe saw it. Starbucks’ll go to Custer. And if we find him, we cut the coin in half. If we go out and can’t find him? Well, we still got this whole other horde. It’s a win-win, man.”   

Chucho looked up from the fire for the first time. 

He tried to see something in Huckleberry’s face, but shook his head. 

“Then don’t say nothing,” Huckleberry said. “But I aim to.”

“Look at me,” Chucho said. “I said look. If you say something, they ain’t gonna be able to stop me. This face’ll be the last thing you see.”

Huckleberry gulped, but he tried to stand strong: “These other pussies’re scared of all this vato bullshit. But I ain’t.”

“Yeah you are. Disappear, leprechaun.”

Huckleberry nodded his head and started walking backwards with the heels of his hands on his pistols, speaking loudly enough that the men at the burn barrel behind him might hear how scared he wasn’t: “Yup, that’s right. I’m your Huckleberry.” 

I turned to Chucho. “Maybe he’s just bored. This work’s tedious.”

“No. Something bad’s coming.” 

“Maybe not.”

“Better sort this out with Starbucks.”

“Have you already told him?”

“He asked me to hold on. He’s not sure what to do either. Now I think we gotta do it before Dingleberry.”

“He won’t say anything. He’s too scared of you.”

“You can’t predict stupid.”  

With that, Chucho decided, and went off to talk to Starbucks.

A few moments later, the two emerged from the back of the truck. 

Chucho returned to the burn barrel while Starbucks strode directly across the grounds toward Custer’s trailer, now silhouetted in dying light.

***

Chucho and I smoked a small dry nugget by the burn barrel and stood there, gazing up at the early evening stars as if it might be the last time we ever got a chance to do so, identifying new constellations as they emerged one by one, doing everything in our power to see anything but zombies up there in the night sky. Chucho pointed at a cluster of far-off stars.

“Hmm?” I asked.

“You don’t see it?”

“What?”

“The Beautiful Chica Wants All Chucho’s Lovin.”

We laughed, but it was more sad than funny; the truth is, we both missed women, and not just a part here and a part there, but whole women, from head to toe, from heart to humor. I felt like being very direct so I just asked what I was wondering: if he’d had a hard time with women because of the tattoos. He said he had, but, then again, he’d had trouble with women his whole life, and men, too—“or whatever,” he said, “people in general”—because even as a kid, or maybe more so as a kid, he’d had ideas about how the world should work and how people should treat each other, but that wasn’t what happened, and everyone knew it, but instead of changing it, starting with themselves, then moving on to bigger fish, most everyone, including himself at some long-ago point he could no longer even pinpoint, had just said “fuck it,” and waited for the apocalypse to clean the slate for (and of) them. 

It was the most consecutive words he said in a row to date and I wish I’d had an audio recorder to capture it in its entirety, as I can barely remember it now, only the gist, really, because it was quickly overshadowed by a commotion. 

Which is to say Custer’s trailer door burst open and he thundered, “Break camp!”

Starbucks came tripping out the door after the captain: “Sir! Again, it’s our duty to consider the pecuniary interests of the—”

Custer whirled on him. “Enough!”

“But sir—!”

“We can get the other horde after,” he growled, then pointed at the other lieutenants, who seemed frozen mid-step, and barked, “I said break camp!”

Custer’s mercenaries filtered in around him, creating a barrier between the captain and his lieutenant. Starbucks stopped and looked up at the sky, chest heaving, hands on his hips; he looked like I imagine some poor officer must have looked after advising General Custer against dividing his forces before the Little Bighorn. 

“Captain,” Starbucks said past the men. “Can it wait till morning? We still have a few hundred units to extract here. Just let us push through the—”

“You are boring me to tears, Starbucks! Don’t you hear yourself?” 

Here Custer pantomimed a wide-eyed Starbucks: “‘Sir, prudency’s the ticket! a zombie in the box’s better’n two afield! let’s invest in municipal bonds! bonds are the ticket! O, golly, please do, sir! whatever beats inflation is the ultimate good, sir!’”

Starbucks frowned at the mockery and Custer seemed to take this to heart. He sighed and stood still, placed a well-meaning hand on his lieutenant’s shoulder. 

“O, you do counsel me well, Starbucks, weller’n I deserve. But the universe: it also counsels me well. And that leaves me torn. Whose counsel to heed? Starbucks or the stars? I hear you making sound arguments several times a day. It’s true. You’re a logistical force of nature, man. Don’t think I’m unaware. But that’s just it: the stars counsel me every second, of every minute, of every day. And their counsel says only one thing: Seek him, destroy him, seek him, destroy him, systole, diastole.

“What do you make of it, Starbucks, that this single message seems to have somehow synced-up with the very beating of my heart? I’m not being poetic. Poetry bores the shit out of me now. I can’t focus to hear lines and how frustrating that—no, what I’m talking about is discourse with the unknown! something more primitive in us yet than sound! Can I ignore such a thing? I can pretend to, but it’s still there, same as my blood. I suppose you could ignore it and I’m in awe of you for it—but, Starbucks: I warn against that! It’s the turning of hearts against the universe that brought us here and now, Starbucks. We all ignored it. Every last one of us in our day-to-day before our little apocalypse: we forgot our very legacy, took the very forgetting as a good, almost as a god. We forsook a deep kind of knowledge even Paleolithic man must have wielded—and look how he grew in his time! 

“Don’t turn away! It’s no mean lesson the stars are telling me, Starbucks. Forget what science says about mass and energy and the speed of light blah blah blah blah blah. Stars, like anything else, are not that! they are as we see! a billion pinpricks of white light through a black shroud of unknowing! and if the pinpricks reveal light, then beyond the darkness lies more light yet than these stupid mortal eyes can possibly comprehend! We all get there, but how? when? Each man must follow his own guide star, Starbucks! as the men follow you and you follow me! only headlong! headlong into the whiteness!”

 

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[1] Before The Collapse, young men who thought they were tough and cool had often quoted the part of this film in which Doc Holiday, a real-life old gunfighter, stepped into the mix with a cocky villain named Johnny Ringo. Holiday drawled laconically, “I’m your Huckleberry.” Ringo said this wasn’t their fight and tried to weasel out of it. Holiday said he begged to differ. They talked manly. They drew. Holiday shot the man in the forehead and slipped his gun back into its holster before the other could fire. Ringo tottered forward like a zombie and then dropped.  

[2] Most of the men were not interested in the particulars of my linguistic analysis, and shut me down pretty quickly with their shouts of “Knock it off, Professor Fuckface,” but this was more or less what I might have said if they had let me: First, one must look at the headline: “AWOL SBS roughneck found, zombified.” The sentence’s passive construction leaves out the agent of the action. In other words, who did this finding? The mercenaries. To reconstitute the sentence, I might write, “Custer’s mercenaries found, zombified Madmax.” Now, while “zombified” can be used as an adjective—as in the sentence “We found our zombified friend”—here it is not used that way but rather as one of two verbs—found and zombified—that are connected by a comma rather than with the coordinating conjunction “and,” which is to say the sentence, at its core, delivers this message: “Custer’s mercenaries found and zombified Madmax.” In other words, they found him out there and then they turned him into a zombie. I might be willing to concede that this was accidental, since most of our civilization’s grammarians have died and it’s at least possible that the ad hoc editor of New Horizons learned the language through text messages and Facebook posts; however, my analysis showed further meaningful ambiguity in the story’s lede: “A missing Plymouth roughneck was recently found trapped in a leg snare—and zombified.” That dash is unnecessary. Perhaps, then, it was only intended to emphasize the drama/tragedy of said zombification, to amplify the drama, but another possibility is that the very superfluousness of the punctuation was intended to draw attention to itself, to signal to the reader something like “This dash is not needed, so you should really think about why the author chose to include it and what that inclusion might mean, not just for the sentence’s meaning, but for your own safety,” and therefore to imply a warning for readers; to put a finer point on it, the dash could be taken to mean that the modifying phrase “and zombified” was not just being dramatized but spliced-in out of place, that it wasn’t supposed to describe a second state besides “trapped in a leg snare” that the mercenaries found him in, but rather to suggest to the reader that Custer’s agents recently found  and zombified (that is, made a zombie of) him. Yes, one or the other of the headline and the lede could arguably have been an accident, but that both blur the meaning along the same point suggests conscious intent. Whether the men reading the newsletter would have noticed is irrelevant; in fact, from the propagandist’s perspective, it would be better if readers didn’t notice such grammatical games at all, but only felt them, internalized these weirdly ominous sensations as they read, like something lurking beneath those sentences, something unnamed, dangerous, threatening—the sentences zombies of intent.