Open Wide and Say "Ahh".

I don't know what happened. I've been trying to think about it, but the images become blurred. I mean, I know there was an explosion but I don't know why. I couldn't tell you if my wife survived; I saw my kids lose their faces with gun blasts to the head. I would have defended them, but my stone feet could not be uprooted in time. All the running, the screaming, the BANG BANG BANG of the handguns, the splatters onto the uncomfortable hard plastic seats, the thuds of bodies falling to the ground, the panic in the eyes of every man who was paralyzed with fear, the tears in the eyes of every newly-initiated childless parent. In 25 thunderous seconds, the people in the McDonalds stopped caring about their lust for extra mustard on their Quarter-Pounder cheeseburger. 40 seconds later, the survivors wished they had chosen the Burger King across the street to nourish their bodies with the glistening greasiness of the King of all Burgers. After the subsequent explosion, I wish that I had gotten out of this city before it all went to Hell.

"Macaroni and Cheese - a-gain? Why can't we ever go out to eat? I want pizza for dinner. We never have pizza anymore!" My oldest daughter, seven years old. I don't want to blame her for the demise of my family, but the afternoon started off with the classic childhood whine about dinner.

"I'm sorry, sweetie, but this is all we can afford. Your Dad's work is slow this time of the year, so we have to cut back during the winter months." How nice of my wife to cover for her failure of a husband. I've been laid off for about three months now, and I hate to make my children eat this macaroni crap three nights a week. If it's not Mac & Cheese, then it's Macaroni with "Red Sauce" powder from a packet. I'll tell you, though, the Macaroni with brown gravy wasn't half bad; I don't think I've ever seen my wife spit a mouthful of food that far before, though.

"But, Maw-om, we have macaroni like every night. I hate macaroni and cheese. I hate it more than anything in the world." My daughter, Emily the Actress, frowns and savagely crosses her arms in front of her chest. At this, I think "Yeah, we'll see how she feels when she hasn't eaten anything in a few hours."

"Well, it doesn't matter, because that's what we're having. You can eat it, or you can starve. It's your choice." My wife, Anna the Disciplinarian turned from our daughter and returned to washing the dishes in the sink. She always hated it when she had to be the "bad guy." I just figured that was what the mothers were for. Then, the fathers could come in and rescue their children from the big bad witch, forever being the knight who slew the dragon.

"Come on, Mom. You always say we can't afford anything. But, you have credit cards! You could charge it. Then, we could have pizza for dinner. Come on, Mom, just for tonight, then I won't ask again for a whole year." Now my daughter was getting desperate. She really didn't want that cheese anywhere near her semi-nightly macaroni.

My wife required a moment to absorb the severity of that statement. Then, she dropped the sponge into the sink, turned and said, "Listen, we need those credit cards to pay the bills. If you don't want to have lights, or hot water, or clean clothes, or TELEVISION, then just say so." That was the killer. My children couldn't live without their cartoons.

"Hey, I want television!" That's my youngest daughter, four years old. She had a look of sheer concern for the possible elimination of her TV privilege. She and her brother turned to their older sister with amazement and fear.

"Come on, Mom. Just one night. Please." This last word was extended for an extra-whining effect. Her hands were clasped together in mock-prayer.

"Forget it. Go outside and play. I'll call when dinner is ready." That was it. Argument over. My wife had never lost an argument with the children. She was just too smart and strong for them. I, on the other hand, was weak and stupid. I couldn't stand the sad look on the faces of my children. My oldest had put so much energy into her side of the debate, and had been shut down by the authorities.

"Well, maybe it wouldn't hurt if we ate out one night this week." My wife whipped her head around to me with shock and anger to the degree that her eyes actually started stabbing me in the forehead. I flinched slightly, looked down at her hands that were pulsating, ready to strangle me, and stated softly: "Maybe not pizza, but we could get the children some Happy Meals or something?" I tried to meet her stare with a smile, but I got as far as the frown on her mouth, and I looked back down again.

"Let's talk about this in the other room." Biting, dark, hateful: these words do not begin to describe the feeling of my wife at the time towards her spineless husband. My three children stood at attention in the kitchen, arms behind their backs, with giddy smiles of hope and anticipation.

In the living room, my wife whispered with authority, while I returned her qualms with clearly audible assertiveness. I explained how I was tired of the same drudgery of meals. I appealed to her desire of less housework by pointing out that no cleanup was necessary at McDonalds. After she squeaked out a few tears for our current economical situation, I assured her that I would find work soon. This night would not have to be about whining children, lukewarm cheese-sludge, five downtrodden faces pathetically staring down at their food, and forks meekly picking and scraping on plates. How could anyone be unhappy at McDonalds?

My hometown of Attraction: a bustling suburb of the West Coast city Turnaround. It changed from a sheltered, quiet town welcoming prosperity to the third largest home of crime in the country. I saw my government shift their policy focus from education to crime prevention, thereby relieving the schools of an adequate five-man janitorial team. My unemployment checks covered the mortgage payment and most of the bills, but everything else went on the credit cards. I always figured I'd have another job soon, since good ol' Charlie Higgins was going to retire in another month or two. Downer Middle School gave me their word that they would re-hire me as soon as "Toilet-Bowl" Charlie retired.

In the meantime, a ton of great mop-handlers were losing their jobs, along with any other non-essential worker for Attraction-area schools, while the crime rate only rose and rose. Bars, restaurants, gas stations, even the hospital was hit by men in masks with guns and explosives. Nothing was ever blown up; the dynamite was only used for extra fear-inducing emphasis. Dubbed the "Wild Winos" in the press for their use of bum costumes while committing their acts, they would stumble into buildings, smash their forty ounce bottles of Old English 800 onto the floor, and pull their guns out from under their rags. Then, one would saunter over to the cash register, or the main desk of the establishment, while the other two would stand by the door, waiting for anyone to try to escape. The leader did not carry a gun, but he would open up his torn and stained winter coat and reveal four sticks of dynamite strapped to his chest. He said nothing, only pointed at what he wanted. The Wild Winos escaped from nine different hold ups with money from the registers as well as from the people inside the building. As a result of this activity, all bums and streetwalkers had been thoroughly checked and questioned by police. The police never found anything, but received similar sentiments from each questioned: "It's about time we had representation in the criminal community!"

Other groups cropped up in the news, taking the focus off of this trio of non-lethal marauders. Some units would dress up - some as businessmen, construction workers, policemen, clowns, and one group as water-delivery men (they slammed down their giant jugs of water and two of them proceeded to slip, fall, knock themselves out, and be arrested on the spot at the Thrift Market) - with mixed results. What disturbed most non-hermits were the death and terrorist threats of businesses. Up until this time, the groups had kept casualties to a minimum; most of the thieves who were caught did not even keep bullets in their guns. Ethnicities, religious factions, professions, and even children were being targeted. However, nothing major had happened up until this point.

The press officially ordained this a "Criminal Rampage." Of course, there were the few who would refuse to leave their homes except to go to work/school and buy groceries. Most of the people in Attraction were understandably edgy, but still continued to swing in parks, scarf down tacos in El Toro, make out at the Cineplex, and read free newspapers in the public library. Even though our town had been smothered with people stealing wallets, tills, necklaces, watches and everything else valuable to most criminals, it really didn't stop most of us from ignoring the festering, spreading rash. I considered the criminal saturation; what were the odds they would hit my destination, at 6:35 pm, on Friday, October 30?

I assume this group came in differently for a reason. Overexposure of the hobo theme necessitated a change. Fresh ideas had to be enacted. All three walked in together as they always had before. The first, dressed as "The Grim Reaper," sauntered into the McDonalds with a metal scythe in his left hand. He stood still, right arm at his side, as his two henchmen followed in behind him: Superman and Jesus. I stood in line, three orders from the register, and glanced at the door after I heard "Hey fellas! Halloween's not till tomorrow." The customers collectively focused their attention on the "Trick or Treaters" at the door and laughed. Children squealed with delight for seeing their hero, Superman. Even the few devout Christians gave a smile for the homage to their "Savior." I couldn't help but hold my breath and stare at the mask of Death. I turned to my wife's smiling face and she became instantly horrified.

"Honey, what's wrong?" She stroked my shoulder, trying to calm me down.

Unable to speak, I mouthed the words "Go now," but I don't think she understood. My back was still turned as the first shots rang out. I couldn't move, but I saw my family screaming and falling over backwards trying to avoid the air full of bullets. With great precision and accuracy, the faces of my two youngest children exploded. Their blood burned on my skin. I wiped my face off only to see my oldest daughter fall to the ground. I looked around me, noticing only the bodies of children slapping against the white tile floor. Hysterical, my wife grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the rear exit. We were stumbling with twenty others surging through these two doors. My wife was still dragging me, and as I got my body completely outside of the doors, I turned to see the Grim Reaper open his black robe. He stared at me when he flipped the switch. I could no longer hear the cries of my wife. I don't like to think of the white of that explosion. It never stops screaming.

Days passed before they found all the pieces of my carcass. Shards of glass coupled with sharp chunks of metal infiltrated and demolished me. My face looked most unrecognizable to my bereaved relatives, so dental records were used to identify me. You know, something tells me I won't be having an open casket at my funeral. My severed arm, the one that my wife was holding as she pulled me out of the building (I hate to think that she was still holding that arm after I died, but I hope she survived), is on the table with me. In fact, almost my entire body is piled onto the coroner's table. Legs, torso, feet, hands, nine out of ten toes. I think I lost my pinkie finger in the explosion too. Well, anyway, they never found it.

With this seemingly infinite amount of free time at my disposal, I have been trying to gather the positive points of my life's story, but it all returns to that night. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse for a man who lives 33 years of his life in a brown, stinking, steaming pile of poverty; who watches each of his three children executed by suicidal terrorists with guns and dynamite; who hasn't eaten a decent meal in three months, and even then it was covered in dust bunnies and luke warm misery; now I lie here, head almost completely severed from my body, hanging by a thin flap of neck-skin, with the janitor for the coroner's office. He has finished mopping blood from the floor, and has now turned off the lights. Normally, bodies are not supposed to be left alone in coroners' offices, but here I am. With all of the chaos from the explosion, and the volume of bodies being pieced together jigsaw-like, my terrifying lump of mass has found a temporary home in this darkened, unnoticeable back room. I am alone with this lonely-looking janitor in a dark room. My freshly exposed esophagus and I have no alternative but to remain a dead lump of mass in this dark room. I am powerless to stop this man from pulling off his pants and experimenting with a new orifice.