CJ’s life read like a country song. His kids had married and moved away, his wife had passed seven years earlier and his dog, almost ninety in human years, was on his last leg. But CJ still had his job.
During his career he had only called in sick three times. He loved his job. Now, however, with a recent onset of unexplained memory loss he had doubts. Should a lapse in memory happen while working, it could cost him his job or much worse. Yesterday he had forgotten to lock his deadbolt, and when he arrived home tonight the coffeepot was still on.
“Good job CJ! burn your house down!” he thought as he scoured the remains of charred coffee from the bottom of the pot. He tried to remember how to clean a burned coffee pot before giving up. Fetching his laptop, he searched his documents, and found the article he was looking for. Before closing his lap top he glanced down at the no “internet connection” reminder.
“Yeah, yeah, so what’s new.”
Following his every move, his old dog Ryker reminded him that he needed to be walked.
“ I know..c’mon boy”
They returned inside a short time later.
After Feeding his Golden retriever, CJ fixed himself a plate of left -over’s, a flank steak, tater tots and a vegetable medley. One tot sailed into Ryker’s mouth before he sat down in his lazy boy. As he drank a beer he caught the evening news and weather report.
“Huh! Check that out Ryker.” The dog lifted his eyes to CJ, got up, and placed his head in CJ’s lap.
“Snow coming tonight. Just a dusting probably” he rubbed Ryker’s head.
CJ turned off the TV, walked into a spare bedroom converted to a workshop.
Turning on the overhead fluorescent, he opened a nine volt, hooked some wires to it and stuck a detonator in a small lump of white putty. He completed his work forty minutes later stacking four packages on the kitchen table.
At 6am, his alarm buzzed him awake. CJ looked out his blinds to watch a steady fall of snow. The first layer had nearly melted although in other parts of his yard, they were accumulating.
After the morning rituals, he opened the door before glancing at the unplugged coffee pot. After loading the gifts into his Forerunner he double checked the deadbolt. He opened the garage door, backed the truck out while adjusting the volume on the radio. He was greeted by the ecstatic voice of David Kopar on 99x.
“Good morning Atlanta! HO- HO- HO we’ve got snow! and you know what the means! Let’s turn to Christie Veer with traffic. Christie how’s it looking out there this morning?
“You’re a ‘tard ,David!”
But Christie was a cutie. CJ had recently seen her in a commercial. She looked to be about thirty, petite with dirty blonde hair. He could listen to her sweet voice all morning. Kopar’s was irritating. He sounded like a cross between a preacher and a desperate car salesman.
“Well, David, we’ve got a four car insurance seminar on 285 south, 400 has a few cars now off to the side and we have police and fire on the scene of an accident involving a semi on 75 south. One has traffic backed up for miles.”
The news sucked, but coming from her it didn’t matter to CJ. She could make a hurricane sound like a spring shower.
CJ arrived to work on time in spite of the traffic. After clocking in he moved the packages from his Forerunner to a white delivery truck.
After a few hours of sorting, two cups of coffee and a Kool, he loaded the final container of mail. He gave his delivery truck the once over, then headed for the security gate.
CJ flashed his laminated credentials to the six foot three black man wearing tactical gear with an M4 across his chest.
“Morning CJ…what’cha think of our early Christmas snow?”-
“It’s fine if you don’t have to drive in it.”
The gate lifted.
“See ya, CJ! Be safe!”
“Will do!” CJ shifted gears and was off.
By four o’clock he was almost finished with his route. The snow which was supposed to only amount to a quarter of an inch, had reached an inch.
Coming to a stop at the Brennan’s house he was greeted with a warm smile from Mrs. Brennan and a wave from her nervous husband. She looked twentyish. He looked sixty. CJ could never figure that one out. Mr. Brennan looked past CJ and down the street. In his arms, with the muzzle pointed down, he cradled a Ruger mini 14.
“Morning folks!” CJ extended his hand. On his forearm a faded green tattoo with the words Ranger were partly hid in the hair. In its day the tattoo had been quite detailed. Today, forty years later, it was barely recognizable.
CJ paid no attention to Mr. Brennan’s rifle.
Mrs. Brennan moved toward CJ.
“Got some warm cranberry muffins if you’re interested.”
She extended a small white bowl and removed the towel keeping them warm.
CJ smiled reaching for one.
“Don’t mind if I do. Here I’ll trade you…these are for you.”
He handed over a stack of envelopes bound with a thick rubber band. “You want the junk?”
“It’s funny how just a year ago I’d throw all this away without a second thought…now I kinda look forward to it. So CJ, did you hear about the man down the block?”
“Yeah CJ.. his house blew up! They say he had a meth lab in the basement.” Mr. Brennan said.
“Oh, you mean the one near Parkwood middle school? Yeah, I heard something ‘bout that…pity.”
Mr. Brennan gave CJ a small grin. Stepping closer to the truck he took notice of the new tires as a welcomed blast of warm air hit his face.
“Nice all- terrain’s ”
“Yup bought em’ myself. Whatcha think of the bumper?”
Mr. Brennan stepped forward.
“ It looks like serious business. I wouldn’t want to get hit with it CJ.”
“That’s the point.”
“So it’s official now, CJ. You guys working only two days a week ?”
“ Federal government fell apart after the events.” He made a quotation gesture. “Not much of a budget left. My days are numbered Mr. Brennan…my days are numbered.”
In the blink of an eye, Mr. Brennan had diverted his attention down the street.
“CJ! behind you! Two of em’!”
Pivoting in his seat CJ leaned out the window.
He checked his watch. “They’re getting a late start today” he said . Stepping from a nearby thicket a man and woman drifted into the center of the street. In the distance they were completely silent. They stood for a moment in the flurries before continuing forward. Mr. Brennan put the rifle’s red dot on the first one while CJ sifted through the mail for his next delivery.
Their pace quickened.
“This pair’s got some agility, CJ!”
Mr. Brennan’s finger disengaged the safety as CJ looked up.
“Save your ammo, Nathan”. He patted the Glock .45 on his hip.
“We’ll be fine. So, the kids in town for the holidays?”
Nathan’s eyes shifted back and forth.
“Yeah, coming home this Friday.”
“Good…good… be nice to see them again. They doing well in school?”
The couple were now forty yards away.
“Yeah..I guueesss…” Nathan said.
CJ looked over his shoulder as Nathan’s eyes never left .
Nathan had already backed away from the truck, his rifle at his shoulder.
Thirty yards the couple slipped in the snow. When they rose, blood trickled from their noses. They continued forward.
“CJ you better get going.”
Their gurgling sounds now audible.
“Ok, head inside Nathan…I’ll see you next week. I got this…trust me.” He smiled as he reached behind him.
“Later!” Nathan said .
Nathan was almost to his front door as he waved goodbye. CJ remained in his parked truck as he started to sing.
“Oh, you better watch out…you better not cry…”
He gave a looped wire extending from the box a tug. Santa and eight tiny reindeer sailed out the window.
Landing in the snow, the box rolled once before returning to an upright position. It caught the attention of two pair of grayish blue eyes in pools of yellow pus.
They stopped and the woman reached down picking up the gift.
As CJ turned up the radio to “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” he drove away. Through the softly drifting snow there arose such a clatter, as CJ’s Christmas gift spread cheer and zombie brain matter.
CJ looked back through his rear view, with a large grin on his face.
“And to all a good night!”