Cpl. Meadows and the Vanished   by T. Beard

I watch two deer eating frozen clover in my backyard from the kitchen window. The sun was rising on the front of my house, casting a shadow over the deer standing in the first frost of the year. The two animals periodically raise their heads up to look around at nothing in particular; the air turns to smoke as they exhale through their nostrils. More and more wildlife has moved into my subdivision since the world went to hell. I sip a luke warm Monster energy drink and leaned over my sink as I watched the two deer. Oblivious that anything extraordinary has happened just as they were oblivious to my truck in an earlier life. We should all be lucky enough to be a stupid deer.

This is my favorite time of the day. Everyone is still asleep. Everything is quiet. No one to protect. Its just me. Just me. Things would be so much easier if it was just me, but its not. One wife, one two year old son, one four year old daughter, one twenty two year old brother in law, one border collie, one lab, one ankle biter, and two cats. In a half hour or so there will be as much chaos in my house as there is outside my house. So I watch the deer and I sip my drink and I wait.

Daddyyyyyy. Zoe is up. The whine spooks the two deer who run off through my vinyl sided subdivision. I watch the two white tails until they disappear behind an HOA approved six foot wood fence.

Dadddyyyyyy! The standard 7AM Zoe crescendo is about to reach its highest point.

Dadddddyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! She has the same set of lungs I had when I was her age.

You can come downstairs Zoe. I call up from the kitchen. I turn around and lean my back against the kitchen counter and take another sip of the Monster. I listen to the feet of a four year old girl jumping off of her bed, running down a hall, and down the stairs to a baby gate. I listen to her struggle for a few seconds with the baby gate and now the sound of bare feet slapping hardwood floor. She turns the corner in front of the laundry room and sees me. Her face lights up behind her glasses and she sprints four feet straight into my legs. She wraps her arms around my knees and kisses my thigh.

Daddy I missed you.

I take it back. This is my favorite time of the day.

I havent gone anywhere baby. I lean down and hug her back and kiss the top of her head. Its the same conversation every morning but I dont care; it feels normal and normal feels good. I pick her up and set her on the counter. She is wearing red pajamas with white stars peppered all over. Her hair is braided into pigtails; its the only way to keep her curly red hair from knotting up. When my wife can get her hands on all the hair products I dont know the names of to straighter her hair it reaches the bottom of Zoes back.

She already has on her glasses. She has worn glasses since she was eighteen months old so she really doesnt know life without them. At least she can see ok without them. If she lives long enough to outgrow the glasses she has now I may never find glasses that work for her again. I pause for a second and my mind drifts briefly to the thought of life without Zoe as I watch her finger a button on her pajamas.too early for that.

So what are we having for breakfast?

Ummmm..I want some cheese toast and waffles. No no no..I waaaaaant Mickey Mouse pancakes! I took Zoe and Jack to a little diner up the road called the Country Kitchen on most of my mornings off from work. They always ordered Mickey Mouse pancakes which were pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouses head. They always thought it was a treat and I was always willing to spoil them. Its been a long time since I could treat my kids to something as awesome as those pancakes.

You know we dont have any of that Zo bear. I put my hand on top of her head and shook it back and forth like I was petting my dog. Zoe laughed a little.

Stop daddy. She pushed my hand away.

I opened up the pantry door and looked at the random boxes and cans of food, some expired, I had gathered over the last few months. I found a small box of Frosted Flakes from one of those variety packs you used to be able to buy at Wal-Mart. I opened up the small package inside the box and hand it to her.

Put milk in it.

We dont have any more milk Zoe you have to eat it like that.

I know but I like milk in it. My stomach is saying I want milk daddy I want milk. She makes a high pitched voice for the sound of her stomach requesting milk. I reach down and dig my finger tips into her chest making the proverbial iron claw. I tickle her until she cant breathe.

Go eat your cereal baby. Zoe walks into her play room and sits down with some Barbies and starts playing while she eats out of the small box. I find a juice box and walk into her play room and set the juice box beside the cereal box.

Thanks Dad, mmmmmwwuuahhh. Zoe kisses her hand and slaps me across the back of my leg as I walk back to the kitchen.

I look back out of the window over the sink. The sunlight is reaching the backyard now. The frost is melting. I check the locks on the window and then check the locks on the sliding glass door the opens up to the back patio from the kitchen. I check the child lock on the sliding door and then check the rebar that is lying in the tracks of the sliding door. I hate having sliding glass doors in the kitchen; it is by far the most vulnerable part of the house. No one would be able to open it but it wouldnt take much too simply throw a brick through it. The only thing I have are some 2x4s I could nail across the width of the doors for reinforcement but I keep putting that off. We havent had any of the violence that was going on in the cities before everything finally blacked out and all communication was lost, but Im sure its coming.

I walk out of the kitchen and look into the playroom. Zoe is now dressed up a Belle from Beauty and the Beast and twirling around. The box of Frosted Flakes has been knocked over and she has stepped on a few of them. I walk into the living room and sit on the recliner. I only sit on the edge, Im not reclined, Im at attention, back straight. I look at the 50 inch flat screen TV that I used to stare at so often before. The screen is blank and probably will stay that way for as long as I am alive. Even if I had electricity there wouldnt be anything to watch. I guess I could watch a movie on my PS3 if I had electricity or even a generator. That would be a waste. I start to relax some in the recliner and I feel my eyes getting heavy. I havent gotten a good nights rest in months. I miss sleep. I miss a lot of things.

Im on the gun range at work. Im in my SWAT gear not my regular patrol uniform. Digital camo BDUs, Camo vest with rifle plate, throat and groin protector, drop leg holster for my Glock and my single point sling for my AR-15.

Make em duty ready! Three yard line! Two shots in two seconds with your strong and strong hand only! Fire! Staff Sergeant Reznick announced while standing behind the line of SWAT operators beginning their handgun qualification course. The sound of seventeen handguns firing two rounds each is muffled by the foamies I have in my ears. The air is filled with the aroma of gunpowder. One in the X and one in the 9 ring at six oclock; same thing I do every time I shoot one handed at the three. I have done this course of fire hundreds of times at this point in my career. I have been on the SWAT team for three years now but I am still the youngest guy on the team. I work in a city where the population is right around 50,000 so there is no need for a full time SWAT team. My primary job is simply working patrol but when there are barricaded subjects or high risk warrants to be served the SWAT team is called out. Im not the most tactical person by any means but Im better than your average cop. Im not all gung ho into the SWAT stuff. I dont read the magazines and I dont watch the videos showing the latest and greatest in handgun lasers. I simply like the job, do the job, and go home.

Shooters move back to the seven yard line! Reznick yells. He isnt yelling because he is angry he is yelling because everyone has hearing protection on. Ive been a cop for six years now. I made Corporal three months before I was technically eligible. Why they put year requirements for promotion in policy is beyond me. A lot of the guys that had been at the police department longer than me and hadnt made Corporal were pissed off about this. Not all but most. To hell with them, Im not apologizing to anyone for getting promoted.

Corporal! Reznick yells, and he IS yelling this time. WINSTON! Reznicks voice but his mouth isnt moving. WINSTON! Thats not Reznicks voice, whose voice is that? I recognize that voice.

I open my eyes and I immediately realize that I had drifted off. How long? I can see sunlight in my backyard through a window in the living room. It must be at least eleven AM. Have I been asleep for four hours and no one woke me? I look to my right and Zoe is gone. The TV is still off though, it hasnt all been a dream.

Winston would you get your ass up? There are people outside? Its my brother in law. He always talked about how he was going to be a cop when he graduated from college. He ended up being a car salesman and did pretty well, at least until everyone disappeared and no one bought cars any more. I finish shaking the sleep out of my head and stand up. I walk down the hallway to the front door where my brother in law is staring out of the small window that sits at the bottom of my stairs. I open the small linen closet that is on the opposite side of the front door as my brother in law and pull out an AR-15; one of many that are strategically placed throughout my house. I snap the AR on to the single point sling that is, now, always wrapped around my neck.