The Brown-Eyed Girl and I parted ways a little while back so, to help lift my spirits, my friend Phil took me to the rifle range to blast cartoon zombies with his AR-15. I know what you’re thinking, high powered rifles and breakups don’t mix. But hey, it works for me.

“The rifle’s zeroed in at 100 yards,” Phil says as I tuck the weapon into my shoulder. “Just put the crosshairs on where you want the bullet to go.”

“Cool,” I say, placing the reticle on the grinning zombie’s head. “I’m gonna get you, you zombie commie.”

“Let ‘er rip.” Phil says.

I flip the selector switch to fire, steady the crosshairs and pull the trigger. BOOM! A small hole appears in the zombie’s head.

“You got him!’ Phil says.

“Beginner’s luck,” I say. “Let me try again.”

I look back through the telescopic sight, reacquire my target, hold my breath and pull the trigger again. As the 5.56 millimeter slug explodes out of the barrel at 3000 feet per second a burning pain suddenly sears itself into my neck.

“OW! OW! OW!” I shriek.

‘What’s the matter?” Phil shouts.

My first thought is a that I’ve been hit by a freak ricochet. But when I put my hand to my neck I discover the source of my pain. A hot shell casing has roasted itself onto my flesh.

“Shit,”’ I grunt, swatting the casing away. It hurts like hell.

Phil laughs. “Dude,” he says. “I told you to wear a hat.”

“Man,” I say, rubbing the traumatized area, “That burns”

I put the rifle on safe and standup. Phil examines my neck. “Not too bad,” he says. “It’s just a little burn.”

“I think I need some ointment or something.”

“Oh suck it up,” Phil says. “You’ve got zombies to kill.”

Ignoring the pain I get back down on the shooting mat and blast through several magazines of ammo. During my outings with Phil I’ve discovered that shooting relaxes me. Because what you’re holding in your hands is so deadly you have to be totally focused on what you’re doing lest you blow your head off. As I shred my zombie enemy to pieces I discover that all the thoughts and feelings crowding my mind just disappear. When I’m finished I’m totally relaxed. I guess it’s some sort of Zen thing.

“I think you killed him,” Phil says, observing my handiwork.

“Yep,” I say in my best John Wayne voice. “I surely did.”

“Let’s pack up all this shit and get some beers,” Phil says. “Get you near some women.”

“Right back on the horse?” I say.

“Damn straight,” Phil says.

Phil and I drop the heavy weapons back at his house and cruise over to a local bar for some libations. Truth be told, the bar doesn’t have a target rich female environment. It’s a local yokel place and the girls are either too young or don’t have the requisite number of teeth. Actually I’m kind of relieved. I’m not into flirting right now. But don’t worry. I soon will be.

Phil and I put away some burgers and beers and call it a night. When I get up the next day I discover that the burn on my neck has blistered into something purple and ugly. Just great. Putting on my workout clothes I head over to the gym to sweat out the badness. As I huff and puff on the treadmill one of the girls I’m friendly with walks up to me and grins.

“So you had fun last night, huh?” she says.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ve got a hickey.”

“Oh that,” I say, reflexively putting my hand to my neck. “No such luck. Just a burn.”

“How’d you get a burn there?” the girl asks.

I think about saying, “Oh it’s burn from a 5.56 millimeter shell casing,” but think better of it. “I was cooking and some grease splattered on my neck,” I say instead.

“Hmmm,” the girl says. “Well, it looks like a hickey to me.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” I say, winking.

The girl walks off and I rev the treadmill to a higher speed. As I break into a light run I start to perspire and the salt from my sweat starts burning the sore on my neck. I ignore it. I haven’t run in ages Everything feels rusty and hurts. My goal today is a half a mile running and half a mile walking. That’ll probably kill me. But next week I know it’ll hurt less and I’ll be able to do more. One day at a time. Slow and steady.

As I run the pain subsides and I start breathing smoothly. Everything I’m thinking about fades into nothingness. In this moment of sweat and exertion I’m just me. For now it’s enough. I guess it’s a Zen thing.

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