Iron Pen is a monthly writing challenge modeled after Iron Chef. Participants are given a secret ingredient and half an hour to write. The resulting work is posted anonymously on Twi Network's profile and readers vote to select that month's Iron Pen.

The following piece was my submission for July. The secret ingredient? Max Brooks' "Guide to Zombie Survival".

This was written in thirty minutes and has not been beta'd.

"He just disappeared?" Alice looks as if she can't believe it.

I don't blame her. I can't believe it, either.

Mike and I had been dating for about two years. Even if it never really evolved into anything more than casual monogamy, I thought I was I was at least worth a text message telling me he wanted to end things. Not as far as he was concerned. A Saturday-night stand up and a week of unreturned phone calls later, he might not have sent me a message, but I got it loud and clear.

"I wouldn't say that he disappeared," I say. "I mean, he's been using his phone the same as he always had—calls connected by the same cell sites. I just know he isn't answering when the calls are from me."

"How do you know all this?"

"I looked it up in our billing system."

"They let a peon like you have access to that stuff?"

I roll my eyes. Alice has been up my ass to do something about my "dead-end, soul-sucking indentured servitude" pretty much since the moment I took it. While I agree that working at a Verizon Wireless mall kiosk is hardly my goal in life, I earn enough there that I'm able to pay my rent, not default on my enormous student loans, and put gas in the hand-me-down pimp mobile bestowed upon me by my grandmother when after hitting a parked police car, she came to the conclusion that maybe she shouldn't be driving. I don't want to work in retail my whole life, but for now it beats starvation. That I get to have lunch a few times each week at the mall Food Court with my BFF is an added bonus.

"You know," I say, "a good best friend would ask how I feel about the break-up."

"So how do you feel about the break-up?"

"He has a fuckton of my stuff! Everything from my iPod, to my netbook, to my well-worn copy of "The Zombie Guide to Survival". He's a pussy who can die in a fire for all I care, but I want my stuff back from his place–" I hear my phone beep and look at the display. "Shit. I have to get back to work. One of the other sales reps called in sick."

"Wait," she says, grabbing my wrist. "You're okay, right? I mean, most people would be upset."

"I'm more upset at the prospect of not getting my favorite book back than I am losing him. I guess that says a lot, huh?"

"I'm here if you need me."

I stand and pick up my tray from the table. "I know. Thank you for that."

When I return to the kiosk, there's not a customer in sight. My manager leaves almost immediately, claiming he has a "pressing matter to attend to". I nod and smile, all the while pretending I don't know the only he's pressing is his dick into our nineteen-year-old greeter. It doesn't bother me. In the absence of any real work to do, I lean on the counter and play Plants versus Zombies. I make it to flag twelve in the endless mode when a voice jolts me out of my zone.

"You don't have any idea what to do with cannons, do you?"

"Well," I say without even looking at him. "In all fairness to me, I'm more used to working with BB guns. By the way, never believe anyone who says big guns do the same as little ones. Believe me; they don't."

He laughs. I smile but I stay focused on my game.

"As much as I hate to interrupt anyone slaying zombies, I'm having a problem with my phone. Is there someone who can look at it?"

I shouldn't be annoyed that I have to wait on customers while at work, but I can't help—I am. That my boss is getting off in the parking lot right now isn't making it any easier. Begrudgingly, I pause my game and look at the guy in front of me.

Holy shit.

He's perfect—gorgeous and tall, slender but muscular, with full lips I want to lick.

"That would be me," I say. "What's going on with it?"

"It doesn't have your number."

I punch it in and hand it back to him. Maybe things are looking up.

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