Lincoln in New York
He exits the Crowne Plaza Hotel into a swirling mass of bodies, some moving fast, some moving slow. He should have listened to the doctor and taken her advice, but he’s used to knowing best. Like how he knows from experience it’s the slow ones you’ve got to watch out for.
Andrew Lincoln, star of The Walking Dead, doesn’t like crowded cities. A virus might originate in some government-funded underground lab full of caged animals and white-coated doctors with defunct morals, but no one’s in any immediate danger until it spreads to a densely populated area. And by then it’s too late. These people, these shoppers and tourists and pizza delivery boys, sure they look normal enough. But they always do at first.
The meeting with the studio execs was a disaster. It wasn’t just the location, although he should have insisted on meeting somewhere quieter, away from the bustle of Times Square. And it wasn’t the absence of his trademark beard and chocolate Stetson. The Colt Python tucked into his Levis certainly got their attention.
‘Christ,’ said the fat executive, laughing nervously. ‘You got a licence for that thing?’
‘That’s your pistol from the show, right?’ says the other one. ‘It’s just a prop?’
Andrew’s only ever fired the gun on set but recently he’s found it hard to put down.
‘So here’s the thing,’ said the fat executive. ‘We see you as more of a romantic lead.’
‘But not like in Love Actually,’ said the other one. ‘In our film, you’d be a zombie.’
It was like they’d strapped weights to his chest and thrown him into the Hudson River. His breathing became laboured and raspy. He clenched his fists and tried to speak but no words came out. His thoughts were in the wrong order. For years he’d begged and bargained to avoid being turned into a walker and now it was happening anyway. He slipped off his chair, half nodding, half smiling, trying damn hard to look normal as he backed away from the posing table.
‘That’s amazing,’ said the fat executive. ‘He’s already in character.’
He needed air. He stumbled to the exit, his Justin boots clopping against the hardwood floor, making too much noise, drawing unwanted attention. He fumbled with his sunglasses and tried to remember how to walk normally, how to breathe, things he’d always taken for granted, but everything felt alien.
A year ago, on the advice of his agent, he went to see a doctor. ‘I’ve seen these symptoms before,’ she said. ‘But never like this. Have you been taking your work home with you?’
He exits onto Broadway, panting hard, overwhelmed by the odour of spiced meats and candy apples. He heads to Charlie O’s on the corner but, when he gets there, he finds that Charlie O’s isn’t there anymore. It’s been replaced by a Belgian waffle place called Caffebene. He goes inside and scans the menus, eventually ordering something called a green tea latte.
‘It’s him!’ says a teenage boy at the other end of the bar. ‘From the show!’
Startled, Andrew looks around, searching like everyone else for the object of the boy’s attention. It’s dark in the café so he removes his sunglasses, and a young couple at a nearby table gasp. Then he realises who they’re looking at.
The boy says ‘Any chance of a photo?’ and starts searching his pockets for his phone.
There’s something familiar about the boy and it takes Andrew a moment to realise that he looks uncannily like Chandler Riggs, the actor who plays his son, Carl.
‘I don’t know who you are,’ says the boy’s mum, smiling apologetically, ‘but would you mind?’
On the back wall is a large poster saying ‘I love New York’ but, instead of the word ‘love’, there’s a picture of a heart, only it’s not one of those cute heart shapes that get splattered all over Valentines cards, it’s a line drawing of an actual heart. The kind with atriums and ventricles. What sort of place is this? Andrew doesn’t know where to look or how to act and he doesn’t want to be here anymore but he can’t go outside and he knows he needs help but if he can just think clearly for one second, for just one second, maybe he can work out what to do but he never knows what to do in these situations so inevitably he ends up asking himself: What would Rick Grimes do?
‘Please let me take a photo with you,’ says the boy. ‘My friends will never believe me.’
Around the café, other customers urge him to let the boy take a photo. ‘Come on,’ they say. ‘Have your picture taken with the boy.’
‘We could take a vote on it?’ suggests the boy’s mum, coyly.
Andrew closes his eyes and remembers his last trip to the doctors. ‘You survived a zombie apocalypse,’ she said. ‘You killed your best friend in self-defence and then your wife died during childbirth. Your own son had to shoot her in the head to prevent her becoming a walker. If you want my opinion, I’d say you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress. Not because of events you’ve experienced personally but because of the events you’ve experienced through your character.’
Standing there, in the middle of Caffebene, Andrew Lincoln, star of The Walking Dead, slips the Colt Python from his jeans, raises it to his eye level and aims it at the boy who looks like Carl. It feels like this moment has been coming forever. Speaking in his adopted southern drawl, he says ‘There’ll be no vote. This isn’t a democracy anymore.’
And the words sound so right, so true, he pulls the trigger.
Christopher Stanley writes short stories, flash fiction and songs. Recently he’s been writing literary fiction, horror and anything in-between. You can follow Chris on Twitter @allthosestrings and find out more about his recent published writing in his blog When Only Words Are Left.
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(Picture: a still from The Walking Dead)