We all know toddlers can be picky eaters. This can be a challenge to any parent in the best of times. During the zombie apocalypse, this personality quirk can become well-nigh impossible to deal with.
So when my little Mortimer refused to eat the canned chili we were having for dinner last night, you can imagine my frustration. I mean, cooking meals isn’t as easy as it used to be back when we had electricity. Nowadays, I have to scavenge for firewood, keep Mort from playing with the matches or lighter, and figure out how to actually start the fire. We at least have a fireplace in this house with a working chimney, but it’s still quite a production.
And after I go to all that trouble, how does Mortimer thank me? He takes one little nibble and says, “This is too spicy.”
“Too spicy? You loved this same exact chili when we had it a couple days ago!”
“It’s too spicy.” He pushes his bowl away.
“If you didn’t want to eat chili, why didn’t you say something before I went to all that trouble cooking it up?”
“Too spicy.” He pushes the bowl even further away from himself, almost knocking it off the table.
I snatch the bowl away and almost fling it at him.
“Okay,” I say, trying to keep my cool. “What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you like to eat some noodles like yesterday?”
“No. Noodles are too yucky.”
“Do you want a pickle? You love pickles.”
“No. They’re yucky too.”
“Olives? You said they were your favorite the other day.”
“I’m not in the mood for olives.”
“Well, what do you want to eat?”
“A cheese quesadilla.” He smiles at me.
“Honey, all the cheese in the world has gone moldy by now. You have to pick something else.”
When you’re doing your best not to yell at your kid, and your kid starts yelling at you, it’s really hard to keep your cool. I take a few deep breaths to keep myself from shoving the chili in his face, then I brainstorm.
Okay, not all the cheese in the world has actually gone bad yet. The apocalypse didn’t happen that long ago. Hard cheeses such as parmesan can last months under the right conditions. The problem is, Mortimer doesn’t like hard cheeses. What else? I know some people will freeze things like shredded cheese to keep it from going bad. With the power grid down, I’d need to search in a house with solar power. It’s a long shot, but I do know at least one place I could check.
I turn back to Mortimer. “How about this? We can try to find some cheese, but if we can’t find any, you’ll have to eat something else.”
“Okay. I promise.”
“Are you sure? Yesterday, you promised to clean up your toys, but you didn’t do that.”
He shrugged. “My promise broke.”
“Well, make sure your promise doesn’t break this time, okay?”
We head up the street to the Unitarian Church, the one place I know of around here that has solar panels. Mort and I easily outpace the few zombies shambling around. I don’t even have to run. Just a brisk walk is enough to leave them in the dust. Yes, they’re that slow. It’s one of the reasons the two of us have been able to survive on our own without being a part of a larger community.
To my surprise, we do end up finding cheese in one of the freezers at the church. Mort insists on carrying the bag home even though it’s too heavy for him. He has me help him carry it, which means I’m stooped over the whole time.
Carrying the big bag of shredded cheese slows us down, so a couple zombies are actually able to get close to us on the way back. I don’t like to waste bullets, but I don’t like them getting this close either, so I end up taking out a few who get a little bit too close for comfort. Each bullet elicits a splatter of blood, but they’re far enough away that none of it gets on us.
Mort isn’t traumatized by this as you might think. To him, mommy killing zombies is normal. Just the way the world is. He complains about how loud the gunshots are, but that’s about it. He’s certainly growing up in a different world than I did.
When we get home, Mort plays in his room while I figure out how to make a cheese quesadilla over an open fire. When it’s finally ready, I bring it out to him.
“I’m not hungry for a quesadilla. I want noodles.”
“What? You promised you’d eat this!”
“No I didn’t. I promised to eat something else.”
“No,” I said. “I went to a lot of trouble to make this and you’re going to eat it if I have to shove it down your ungrateful little throat!”
“But it’s got a red dot on it!”
“A red dot. There.” He points.
Sure enough, there is a red dot on it. Possibly zombie blood. And I’m usually so careful.
If Mort had eaten this, he might have died.
I hug him tightly to me. As frustrating as he can be sometimes, I love him fiercely and I don’t know what I’d do without him.
“Okay, honey. I’ll make you some noodles.”
“No. Noodles are yucky. I want a churro.”
D. J. Moore lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and daughter. He edited the literary magazine Megaera and holds a degree in English from the University of Utah. His fiction has previously appeared in Factor Four Magazine and the steampunk anthology Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel among other places. When not working at the day job, sleeping, spending time with his family, or writing, D. J. Moore can be found trying desperately to catch up on all the TV shows, video games, and comics everyone was raving about five years ago.