Lori R. Lopez dips her pen in poetry, prose, and art. A resident of Southern California, the wearer of many hats, she also writes songs and enjoys filmmaking. Two of her poems were nominated for 2020 Rhysling Awards. Books include The Dark Mister Snark, Darkverse: The Shadow Hours (nominated for a 2018 Elgin Award), Leery Lane, Odds & Ends: A Dark Collection, The Witchhunt, and An Ill Wind Blows. Lori’s verse and prose have appeared in The Horror Zine, Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Space & Time Magazine, Altered Realities, Bewildering Stories, Impspired, Terror Tract, plus a number of anthologies including H.W.A. Poetry Showcases, Dead Harvest, Fearful Fathoms, and California Screamin’ (the Foreword Poem). She and her talented sons co-own a creative company, Fairy Fly Entertainment. They have a Folk Band called The Fairyflies.
Please hold this poem at arm’s length, if your arms are six feet that is, for it may be infectious and should be handled with care because you never know what might be going around, even if not a Pandemic or Apocalyptic Virus to transform Society, Civilization, people in general — the vast majority or minority of us who haven’t already been too warped to tell the difference — into an unrecognizable condition, whether temporary or as they say for good — which isn’t necessarily great unless you like that sort of thing, whereas I personally am not so crazy about Change. What I am trying to get across isn’t an actual warning that you should run away this very instant because it would defeat the entire purpose of writing a poem, which is to be read, whether softly or silently or loudly at the top of your lungs . . . possibly at the bottom if you’re inclined to draw deeper breaths than the rest of us, while I tend to inhale and exhale shallower than the average bear (not that I’m a bear; it’s a figure of speech), as if I am half-alive or less, like a mutant oxygen-deprived semi-corpse-state, but that’s beside the point . . . which isn’t quite as clear to me now. Pinching myself to determine whether I am human, or alive, or whatever — it isn’t the most scientific of tests to begin with keep in mind — I know what you must be thinking, that I have the infection, that it could be contagious and reading this poem will spread it to you, if only by virtue of thought (yes, a notion or suggestion can be infectious like a grin or a mood), yet I beg not to leap or spring to such conclusions, for it is fouler by far the spurning of literature than to catch a bug (virtually, virally) or mental illness (in your head) since we all have some form or other of those, at least part of the time (in my case I have many and have named each one, for I consider them family). I will attempt once more to transmit — correction, convey to sound less disease-carrying — the meaning of my verse that I first sought to share in a non-physical sense, maintaining a safe distance, heeding guidelines imposed by health experts (more arbitrarily, inconsistently by governments), purely through the hypnotic power of poetic lines without a need for direct contact, for sharp hypodermics to be involved, as the written word is a much pleasanter pill to swallow . . . an oft-proven cure for sicknesses of heart, mind, soul . . . and I, under extraordinary circumstances or not, just wanted to wish you well in the best or worst of days. Whichever it is — you be the judge — and wash your hands after reading this whatever you decide, for it’s usually a pretty good policy, even if you aren’t a Germaphobe like me — not that this poem is crawling with Cooties, but it might be, you never know — why take a chance? — and I guess that was all I had to say really, so it’s okay to ignore the remainder as it will primarily be a rambling piece of unnecessary closure running on and on with another sentence, another statement, a clear case of nonsense and who needs that I ask (along with “Are we done yet?”), as if we’re not terribly busy to be reading lengthy poems anymore anyway (it seems to be a consensus, not a contagion), in which case you should probably stop — two stanzas ago. Too late!
The Whistle Stop
Before everything went to Hell, some believed in Guns. Some of them still do. I put my faith in Whistles — stockpiling a broad assortment, accumulating an array of noisemakers. I called it a collection instead of an arsenal, yet it served the same purpose. Who could menace you to the tune of a Calliope, a note from a Fife or Piccolo? What villain possessed the heart, or lack of one, to bash a face tooting a merry melody through a hollow tube? It worked in theory, though I never found it necessary to put my plan to the test, until the aforementioned Apocalypse. I dreamed it up as a little kid, back in the day when Train after Train of polished Politicians might show up to compete like stray dogs over a vote, shaking fists full of empty promises. Born in a town that squatted squarely on their route of Middle American Whistle-Stops . . . an impulse, a whim crept into my brain to be as loud and raucous, as grating. Blow as much hot air as they did, but through a Whistle! It might drown their drivel, whet their appetites for quiet and drive them away. The scheme had proven pointless once riding the Rails was replaced by branded deluxe Coaches on paved highways; emblazoned Buses that could go anywhere directly. Gas was cheap, and the pungent pundits started skipping my town. Which led to a general slipping of loyalties, concerns, values, appearances. I aimed my bleats and blats at common hoodlums; bullies; the stagnant, now in abundance. And disaffected youths, never in short supply, to wake them up! Armed to the teeth with each manner of Whistle: Penny, Pea, Police. Bobby, Bosun, Band. Drill-Sergeant, Dog, Distress. Sport, Scout, Slide. Cuckoo, Crow, Canary. Pigeon, Predator, Panpipes. Nickel, Brass, Tin. Wood, Bamboo, Cane. Varying degrees of Plastic. Expelling, expending my breath on bleeps and trumpet blasts. Did it do any good? Actually . . . I can’t say that it did. Looking back, I had grown a tad older and wiser. By the time Society collapsed, I all but abandoned my fanciful notions on Whistles saving the world. But then a curious thing occurred. It turned out, Zombies do have a distinct aversion to shrill noises — high pitches; frequent loud tones. Yet are, simultaneously, attracted by the sounds — drawn in scurrilous shuffling hordes toward such audible becks and beacons that might be food, akin to ringing a Dinner Bell. They couldn’t resist. I discovered this fact while pinned in a corner by an undead graveyard-shift Waitress after The Turning. I whistled like a Teapot in trouble . . . I chirped and warbled, blared my brains out. A single Zombie became an infestation. Swarming, bumping, snarling. Listening too. When I ceased blowing my horn, they stopped arriving. Deem it instinct or habit, sensing my doom whether by one or a hundred, I played that Emergency Whistle with heightened steam . . . A multitude of Biters grimaced and groped at their heads, clawed their ears. An audience of corpses reeled in disgust, and the lethal ragtag mob retreated! My unexpected survival defied logic. Peering in wonder at an instrument both of peril and of rescue, I vowed to use the miracle, my contradictory conclusion for a greater good — rather than merely to salvage my own skin. Many a close scrape would be had with gross blighters in my wake, staggering, lurching, stumbling toward a Pied Piper’s siren call. Chased by an increasing herd, a vicious cycle of shriek and wail as I lured the oafs but repelled them with my subsequent breath. Striving to control the tweets and lead a crowd of unburied human remains in my footsteps as if I were John, Paul, George or Ringo. It would be my legacy, my contribution . . . Enticing Zombies to a trap. Saving lives. Passing out piffles and twiffles to everyone I met. We took back our town. Then boarded Buses and Trains and traveled city by city to protect against an endless legion of expired cannibals. Monsters. Sometimes family or friends. Guiding, guarding, moving on. There was always another town. Like candidates on the most ferocious campaign trail. Word spread far too slow. This dire infection communicated faster. Until a Dog Whistle caused the biggest uproar. And not in the form of innuendo, a hidden message. Not political. Accidentally I chose a rejected silent tube — carried by error as a back-up. I had dropped my Boat Flute and wildly fished for a replacement. Discerning no refrain, no cosmic deliverance out of the burnished stem; in panic I realized the mistake and puckered dryly, my lips unable to make a peep without a pipe. Feeling lost, needing luck . . . I beheld, wide of orb, the useless Whistle had produced a brain-splitting current of stark agony — wrenching throes and spasms — the cretins dropping onto knees or writhing upon pavement. Shuddering, screeching before a throng of hideous gourds exploded in gruesome Technicolor. Emboldened, we identified the exact level that would harm only Zombies, then transmitted a shocking inaudible signal via radio crystals, channels, airwaves, across land and sea, connecting every possible method, through wires and batteries, beams and high towers, antenna to antenna. It wasn’t a cure. We couldn’t return to the Past, reset to Normal. Pandora’s Jar had spilled an ugly undeniable truth . . . Zombies were the Future, not machines, corporations, dystopian societies. They were us. Our next stage in Evolution. Beyond Death. Bodies would still decay — ere they festered, lingered, lumbered, undying. A warped version of Eternal Life. What Mankind had sought for countless generations. Oddly gaining sharper senses: Vision, Smell, Hearing. Even as intelligence, health, vitality waned. To halt it we had one resort, just one defense, The Whistle Stop. Where it failed to reach, a regular Whistle was favored over bullets, blades or clubs that sprayed blood, promoted violence. Doctors quit battling the Pandemic, resources spent. My brainchild was the final hope — Humanity’s best and last stand.