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Pound Of Flesh

A Big Problem

Knock Knock

 

 

 

A trio of short but sweet zombie tales.  In "Pound Of Flesh" a woman is trapped next to a hungry moldering maniac when a Halloween Zombie Walk turns real.  "A Big Problem" is a darkly humorous bizarro piece that presents a cross-eyed view of The Undead.  "Knock Knock" describes what can happen when a Trick-Or-Treater isn't actually wearing a costume.

 

 

 

 

*

Pound Of Flesh

 

 

 

 

SACRIFICE.  That's what it's all about.  Giving your pound of flesh to get ahead in this world, this modern megalopolis we have wrought with hammers and sweat and steel.  Plenty of concrete.

I've had time to finally think about stuff like that, with my left leg pinned below a delivery truck.  I was always too busy living to brood over life before.  And look where that got me.  In the end it's what we're willing to do for survival that counts.  Depending on the circumstances.  Right now the odds are not in my favor.

There are those who led privileged lives, plain and civilized from birth to death, without their world going to hell.  The world in general is another thing; it often seems to be going to hell, with this war, that crisis, yet usually isn't personal.  You can hear about it from a distance, as long as it isn't happening to you or in front of you.  There are folks who probably perceived their lot as uneventful and yearned for adventure — for something out of the ordinary to shake things up.  Perhaps they even felt deprived by the stark nature of their existence.  I envy them.  But I'm here to tell you:  They were wrong.

Life is the excitement.  It's up to you what you do with it.  That beating heart.  That steady pulse.  The rush of blood through your veins.  Hang on to those vital signs for as long as you can.  No matter what.

Lying upon cold pavement, staring at the bleak heavens, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude . . . that my leg is numb; that I'm not bleeding to death; and that the macabre melancholy sky has stopped unleashing its moisture or I might drown, in a crimson tide.

I am incredibly thankful, to the point of tears, that I didn't turn.

I'm thankful, too, that I'm just beyond reach of the zombie trapped next to me under the van's toppled flank.  He has been clawing and scrabbling to get at me ever since the accident, when the driver swerved and lost control, colliding with a vehicle, plowing through people and rolling toward me.  I had been standing in disbelief, gaping at the rosy liquid pooled in the palm of my hand, dripping wet like everyone else on the sidewalk.  We were caught by surprise in a deluge of red rain.

Why????????????????????

This is so unfair!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bruising, battering my fists on the impervious chassis of the white van, I've expended a hissy fit of stressed-out panic.  It doesn't change anything, but I feel less pressure.  It was building for hours.  I don't want to die.  There's a sharp pain in my stomach.  My guts are constricted, tangled in a thousand knots.  At least they won't be easy to consume.  I refuse to go meekly.  I'm not much of a fighter, yet I intend to be stubborn.

A pack of zombies stumble in view and I play dead.  "That's it, keep going," I murmur.

The remnant of a female clumsily trips and sprawls.  I needed a kick in the head, I reflect.  Now my day is perfect.  She staggers to her feet, treading on my hand.  Crunch.  I bitterly roll my eyes and blink back tears as the woman shambles away.

The creature at my side has increased efforts to bite me.

"Choke on this!"  I remove the shoe from my right foot and hurl it at his head.  The sneaker bounces off his brow.  Pity it wasn't a stiletto pump.  That might do some damage.

I am not the type to throw things.  I simply dislike monsters wanting to devour me.  It's abominable.  Like getting a terminal diagnosis.  No hope of a reprieve.  No waking up to find it was a bad dream.  I figured I lucked out when I didn't contract this Red Plague.  Then corpses started getting up and attacked the immune, who were no longer privileged.  They turned.

If I could I would amputate the part that prevents escape.  What good is it doing me when I'm zombie bait?  But I have no tool or method.  A small phone, that's what I carry.  Loaded with applications and various essential components, important connections, the device is utterly useless for severing limbs.  I should have carried a Swiss Army Knife.  These modern gadgets hold little purpose in the physical realm.

My kingdom for a hatchet!

This is all rather ironic.  Zombies were so popular.  People couldn't get enough.  Everyone joked about a Zombie Apocalypse, and some were devoted to the idea, dressing as voracious corpses, parading the streets.  I can see clearly that the pop-culture fascination had been a wave of foresight.  Foreshadowing, if you will.  Prophets recorded it on the pages of Fiction, as well as on film, in a stream of psychic consciousness like the biblical Revelations.  It was an omen.  We were being warned of our impending fate, of God's wrath or the spread of a pandemic.  Doomsday.  Yet we thought it was all in fun.  We considered it entertainment.

I guess we know better now.  Those who remain.  Those of us still human.

The former man beside me is already rank, his mottled flesh a lighter shade of pale than the sky, falling to ruin.  The hideous creature snarls and thrashes to unfetter his own limbs.  From his level of deterioration, I worry his legs will come loose — in pieces — granting him the liberty to crawl and enjoy the feast he adamantly strives to attain, sinking his teeth in my tender meat like the zombies of books and movies.  From what I've seen of the diseased attacking the immune, they do crave more than brains.  Their hunger is manic, insatiable.

Maybe our prophets even predicted the cause, the mysterious blood rain.  It wasn't the first time that such a shower descended.  I recall a scientist describing it as alien on one of those programs about weird phenomena.  He compared it to genetic material found in a meteorite.  Foreign cells without D.N.A.  Scary stuff.  Nobody knew how it would interact on Earth.  According to a frantic internet search on my smart-phone, persons doused by the earlier torrents had gone mad.  They developed gross appetites.  It's only a theory, but what if the organisms evolved after those first attempts?  What if, based on the results of prior experiments, the bacteria refined themselves to flesheaters that could destroy lifeforms, feeding on us and compelling us after death to feed on each other?  It's preposterous, of course.  Aren't most things that we're unfamiliar with?  Isn't that what the universe is comprised of?  Chance?  Randomness?  Elements defying reason?

I don't know.  I'm no Particle Physicist.  I don't care whether space is like a Chess Board or a game of Checkers.  The fact this occurred on October Thirty-First freaks me out even more.  Maybe it has nothing to do with aliens.  Perhaps it's just cosmic karma, the past coming back to haunt us.

My mind has been going nuts with questions and wild suppositions.  What else have I got to do?  Except wait to be eaten, which seems inevitable.  I've been trying to extricate my leg, yanking to no avail.  I tried pushing the truck, and my brain nearly burst from the strain.  I endeavored, vainly, to pry asphalt from beneath my appendage with my bare hands!  I'm stranded, witness to the end, the real deal.  This isn't some Zombie Walk staged for Halloween.  It started out that way.  Yes.  Please don't laugh, imaginary audience, or I will truly go bonkers, losing my final fragile fingernail-grip on sanity.  I am dressed for the occasion, dressed as a zombie.  Quite a coincidence, right?  I'm laughing my head off, I can assure you.

And yet this decrepit costume and detailed make-up might well have spared me from the actual zombies.  Disguising me as one of the horde.  It's crazy dumb luck, in spite of the unfortunate aspects.

The guy within breathing distance, however, isn't fooled.  The ravenous fiend is well aware of my body's warm succulence; that my skin is unrotten, untainted, smeared by cosmetics, absent the cloying perfume of decay.  Apparently, they have a great sense of smell.  I would take notes if I were you.  This is valuable information.  And if a make-believe Zombie Walk can become a genuine run-for-your-life marathon . . . then you, my dear fantasy friend, might also become more than the figment of a terrified intellect.

Whoa, that was intense.  I've been struck by a thunderclap of soberness and agony.  This isn't amusing, it's a catastrophe.  I have observed human beings rendered to slobbering beasts.  I have seen the living mauled and gutted, their lives pumping out of them.  I've heard the most horrendous sounds:  awful shrieks and whimpers; the wet noises of feeding and dying.  I have been too shocked by the carnage to be hit by gentler emotions than anger and fear.  Until it caught up to me, with the weight of the proverbial ton of bricks.  Welcome to my grief.

I have a daughter.  I've been repeat-dialing the number of her sitter, and there's no answer.  Silence can be fatal.  I believe that.  It's killing me that I can't get in touch with my child!  Have I lost her?  Social media is exploding with chaotic reports and reactions from a globe gone mad.  I'm trying to save my battery, yet was glued to the screen for a while, staring at the jumbled confusion and fright communicated.  The entire planet seems to be affected.  There are no longer language barriers, borders, political disagreements.  There is just one enormous world of woe.

The current estimate is that fifty percent of the human population was immediately wiped out.  And then came back.  Survivors were ecstatic to see their loved ones revive, having watched them collapse and expire.  They were gone.  But not forgotten.  And not forever.  For approximately thirteen minutes.

Mandy was so animated, prancing and chattering about the butterfly suit she would wear to Trick-Or-Treat.  I hugged her, kissed her hair and inhaled the strawberry fragrance of shampoo.  "Be good, Doodlebug!"  She fluttered a hand, her last glimpse of Mommy a rotting cadaver.  What if that's how she remembers me?  I couldn't bear it.

"Answer the phone!"  I'm pleading with the thing.  When did we become so hooked to these gizmos, as if our lives depend on them?

This time I hear a squeal, a mechanical click.  A timid voice asks, "Hullo?"

"Mandy, is that you?"  I'm thrilled.  Words are inadequate to measure the joy in my tone.

"Mommy?"

"Yes, it's me, Sugarplum!  Where are you?  Is Edith there?  Is she okay?  Are you okay?"  My fingers clench the phone, a lifeline, an invisible conduit extending between me and my baby as palpably as the umbilical cord that once joined us.

A solemn response.  "I'm by myself.  I don't know where Edith is."

My heart does a somersault.  She's safe for the moment, I console myself.  "Listen, Mandy.  I want you to find a place to hide.  Will you do that?"

"Uh-huh."

"Don't let Edith know where you are."

"Okay."

"Promise?"

"I promise.  Are you coming to find me?"

I hesitate.  I've never lied to her.  "Yes."

"Do you promise?"

"I promise."

"Okay.  Come quick, Mommy!"

"I will, Sweetie Pie."

"I love you."

"Love you too!"  My voice shatters.  Tears have flooded my eyes as if I'm swimming in a lake.  I'm a wreck, features crumpled, convinced I will break my word and never see her again.

Commotion.  The deadman is flailing and groping, swatting in my direction.  He growls, attracted by rays of misery emanating from my aura.  The sorrow is so thick it's tangible, a wet and squishy wall that surrounds me.  Just try and interrupt the weeping of a mother who feels helpless to protect her child!

The zombie lurches closer.  To my abysmal dismay, I glimpse that a leg has separated.  He is now a few inches from contact, a single limb confined, frayed and splitting while he lunges at me.

Like him, my mood alters.  My temper re-ignites.  I need rage.  I am now fearless, refusing to embrace defeat.  And my own leg hurts, oh boy, I'm feeling it.  I shove against the vehicle with my opposite foot.  It didn't work before; why should it now?  Maybe if I rotate, force myself over, over, over, until the limb snaps off.  I'm that determined to look for my daughter.  I want to live, but she is the motivation to surmount any obstacles . . . to exert past the peak of my limitations and ability.  Her smile gives me the willpower to budge this obstruction.  You've heard of adrenaline-fueled miracles.  It's time for one of those! I declare.  I will not lie here and perish, leaving my baby alone!

Taking a deep breath, I scream at the cosmos and heave the van slightly aloft.  Realizing belatedly that my action would liberate the zombie to launch himself straight at me.

My eyes shift during the process of lifting, amid the scraping wheeze of metal.  He has ceased his campaign temporarily.  I drag my injured leg from under the bulk, praying I can walk, then release the truck.  It smashes down, splicing the zombie's second limb rather than repinning it.  Fortunately for me, I wouldn't have to relinquish a pound of my flesh to survive.

The phone on the street chimes.  My daughter's photo fills the screen, the one we took at a park.  She's beaming from a teeter-totter.  My belly feels as if it's on a seesaw too.  "Mommy, I'm scared!" she wails.  Static.  I can faintly make out some of the words.  "Edith . . . back . . . creepy . . ."

"No!" I mourn.  And regather my courage.  "Stay where you are!" I caution.  "Don't cry.  I'm on my way!"  The phone's battery is deader than a zombie.  Did she hear me?  "I'm on my way," I vow.

First I must fend off the carcass of my husband.  He was on the Zombie Walk with me and turned from the red rain.  We were holding hands when the van hit us, its driver veering from a sidestreet, running over bodies and tumbling.  Flowers spilled from its rear, carpeting the road, scenting the atmosphere.  I was reminded of our wedding day.  Another disaster, everything that could go wrong happening.

Out of self-preservation, I had to stop thinking of the man at my side as Andrew . . .  This savage is no longer my partner, my spouse.  The man I married, the father of my child, that person is gone.  The rancid creature I must now contend with is a monster.  He may resemble the guy whose make-up I administered, whose zombie costume is now enhanced by dangling patches of blackened or pasty tissue that has rapidly decomposed.  But he is not the handsome sensitive guy I love, who sang to me and promised a future of bliss.  Not Andy; merely a disgusting husk, a molted carapace with a very nasty disposition.

"Sorry," I apologize anyway.  A twisted shard of steel dislodged from the truck as I hefted it upward.  Luckily I didn't have it sooner.  My leg would be history.  Brandishing the metal like a dagger, I ram it through the crown of his skull as Legless fumbles forth to munch me, discovering himself free.

I'm glad the prophets got it right.  The brain is the Achille's Heel, so to speak.  My nemesis plunks pavement facedown.  Rising, I lumber briskly, suppressing an impulse to race, proceeding slow enough to blend in . . . and finish the Zombie Walk at my own pace.

The babysitter's house is silent.  "Amanda?"  My heart is in my throat.  I'm strangling on it.  "Mommy's here.  You can come out."  I select a butcher knife from a drawer in the vacant kitchen, wielding the implement like a sword.  I'm edgy, roaming a hallway that bristles with suspense.  Cue the high-pitched eerie music.

"Sweetie, where are you?"  My voice echoes, mocking me.

A clamor erupts, detonations, percussive blows, along with muffled little-girl screeches.  She's alive!  Abandoning discretion, I enter a bedroom — booting shafts of the demolished door — and confront Edith.  She isn't our neighbor anymore.  The woman who claimed she didn't care for zombies and horror when I dropped off my daughter in the morning is now a full-fledged zombie.  If it were her, that is.  It isn't, I remind myself.  And aim for one of the brute's eyeballs.  I plant the knife in the socket, piercing the frontal lobe.  Zombie Etiquette:  Never say you're sorry.  It's not your fault.

Mandy was in the closet.  I tell her it's safe.  She springs out into my arms, vivid and exuberant.  What was the worst day of my life is now the best, the happiest.  Nothing is going to harm her.  Nothing.

 

 

 

 

**

A Big Problem

 

 

 

 

"HELLO?  Do you have a crisis?"  A gleeful query.  The hotline had rung, which could only mean one thing.  He chided with a snort, "Duh."  Then chirped into the bright red receiver, "Of course you do or you wouldn't have phoned my number.  Give me your address and I'll be right over!"

In Dagdon Klinker's world, if things didn't add up, it was a state of emergency — time for a new calculator.  Or a visit from a specialist.  He was sum-moned to solve those pesky little discrepancies and odd mysteries that could ruin one's day.  In short, he was a logical man in an illogical world.  It was his sole purpose to rectify abnormalities by offering the most practical of solutions to irrational problems.  What made perfect sense to him didn't always seem prudent to others.  But then, nearly everyone else was rather quirky.  The mathematician detested quirkiness.  It was the next thing to craziness in his estimation.  Those who were not quirky were completely out of their minds.  Unbalanced individuals, impossible to adjust, and Dagdon preferred to avoid them.

The people for whom there was still hope, in essence the quirkies, would pay him a fee to clear up their cluttered dysfunctional lives.  According to Dagdon, nobody else had any inkling what they were doing.  It amazed him the world could keep turning with all of the insanity and murky muddled mess it was in.  Not that the quirkies could ever become as logical as Dagdon, but they could become slightly less befuddled and that would simply have to do.

"I don't feel right," a disembodied voice moaned through the wire.  "I was feverish, and I think my heart stopped working for a while.  Then it restarted, I guess, but I haven't been myself.  Yesterday I lost some of my fingers and toes.  Today an ear fell off.  Can you help me, or do you think I need a doctor?"

"No, you made the proper choice," replied Dagdon.  "Most doctors are quacks.  And the rest should have treatment themselves.  You wouldn't hire a plumber if your life were going down the drain, would you?"

"I don't suppose so."  The caller's breathing was labored.  "Are you sure you can cure me?"

"I doubt very much I can cure what ails you, but I will indeed present you with a viable alternative.  Once we analyze, theorize, and deduce the root of your problem."

"I have no clue what you mean," the poor fellow coughed.  "Are you speaking in riddles?"

"Nonsense.  If you will provide an address, I can be there directly or indirectly, depending on whether you give me your address or the address of where you don't reside."

The man couldn't remember his street and related where he didn't live in a roundabout fashion.  Dagdon contemplated as he narrowed down the client's location that it was futile to try making sense out of a bizarre reality.  It was a foolhardy task, yet somebody had to do it.  Or, to be more precise, not do it.

The fact that he was attempting to do what couldn't be done almost created a bit of a paradox, and contradictions drove him mad.  Not the kind of mad that required a strait-jacket, obviously, for he believed he was the only truly sane person in existence.  The kind that signified being red in the face with smoke pouring out of your ears.  He hated that too because it was quite cartoonish and cartoons defied logic, which was ridiculously irritating.  It was also the source of immense frustration.  Cartoons were just squiggles and dots.  They held no value.  They were a distraction, like toys and books and puppet shows.  Worthless!  Cartoons should be banned.  It was a pet peeve of his.  But he didn't make the rules, he abided by them, and so every Saturday morning he religiously watched the colorful comic antics of absurd artificial characters.

Thinking all this put his head in a tizzy as he trudged laconically toward the spot he had identified.  A thin man in a tight gray suit lugging a briefcase, he was talking to himself in riddles and answering them below his breath, a lifelong habit.  With his mind fleetingly dazed, he felt at a loss for a response to one of the puzzles and his steps faltered.  He blinked at the ground, stupefied as to his destination.  "Curious," he mumbled.  "I'm drawing a blank.  So that's what it's like."  He would generally advise people to drink poison when this occurred.  What was the use of being empty-headed?  There was enough of that going around.  But it quickly passed before he could uncork a bottle from his case.  "Very well."  He resumed the journey and arrived on a doorstep.

The person needing assistance was extremely large.  Wide and tall.  Dagdon calculated by virtue of a measuring-tape that the fellow's breadth with arms spread was equal to his height.  "Everything appears to be in order," he concluded.

"That's it?  What about my skin?" the one-eared guy, who introduced himself as Rugbert Van Gogh, demanded.

"Is there a problem with it?"  Dagdon was surprised.  He hadn't really noticed that everyone did not possess a marbled complexion, dark circles beneath their eyes, and missing digits.  He squinted at his client, features knitted in consternation, then a quizzical expression.

"It's different colors!" the man exhorted.  His shirt was likewise stained by garish shades of blood, as if he had been engaged in barbarous activities.

"Oh.  Well.  Let me examine it."  Dagdon opened his briefcase and rummaged, whistling softly.  The inspector extracted a large magnifying-glass befitting the specimen.  "Please say ahhh.  Hmmm."  He peered into the man's mouth, his eye exaggerated from the fellow's perspective.  "Your gums don't look good.  Is your tongue always black with white polka-dots?" he inquired.

The guy gurgled something unintelligible.

"Perhaps you should zip your yap to speak," suggested Dagdon, polishing spittle off the magnifying lens with his necktie.

Rugbert sealed a pair of bloated purple lips.  That made the man's cryptic phrasing even tougher to discern.

"No, you should definitely open your mouth, but not as much."

The blotchy ample client shook his noggin.  There was a swishing sound.  "I'm not sure what I said.  My mind is mush."  And indeed, gray matter leaked from his earholes, as if his braincells had dissolved.

"My.  This is a serious dilemma."  The prim Primer scrutinized the contents of his valise.  Sifting loudly, clinking, clanging, he peered at the variegated guy through a web of strings, a tennis racket framing his countenance.

He exchanged the item for a goldfish bowl and ogled the client, his mug distorted by curved crystal.

Like a magician, the numerologist expanded a brass spyglass into a lengthy telescope to survey Rugbert up close.

He regarded the multi-hued man behind a big wooden mask.

Back into the briefcase.  "Ah."

In Dagdon Klinker's world, pie wasn't something you ate.  It might be a number.  Or a chart, a visual aid.  He fished a coconut cream pie from the case, then withdrew a knife.  Orbs bulged; dramatic eyebrows wiggled.  The blade sliced a wedge.  "Let us infer that this is your condition."

He judiciously angled the other fellow's hand.  Sliding the segment of pie onto the knifeblade, he elevated the slab of cream and pudding onto Rugbert's palm.  "And here is your future."  Dagdon folded the other fellow's fingers into a fist.  What fingers there were.  The pinkie snapped.  Pie squished, oozing.

The math expert nodded.  "As I suspected."  He clasped his test-subject's forearm in sympathy.  "I'm afraid I have difficult news."

Rugbert's chin trembled.  His face puckered, on the brink of tears.

"My initial assessment was mistaken.  You appear to be dead."  A blunt verdict.

"Are you sure?"

"There is no doubt."

Quiet.  The interior of a burial chamber.  The bottom of a deep well.  The pause between an inward gasp and an awkward exhalation.

The deceased somberly remarked, "Then I'm afraid I have some tragic news for you."

Dagdon bowed his head, wearing a patronizing smirk.  "No, no, you don't understand.  I've pronounced you dead," he explained to the brainless idiot.

"Exactly.  I'm dead.  To be standing before you as I am, I must either be a vampire, a ghost, a mummy, some kind of ghoul, or a zombie.  Did I skip anything?"

"Um, well . . . this is highly irregular!" protested the flustered Primer.  "Just a minute!"  He delved inside the case, muttering, tossing things out, digging for a solution to his crisis.  It suddenly seemed that he was the one with a problem!

The huge bother shrugged and waited, tapping a bare foot, forfeiting another toe or two.

In Dagdon Klinker's world, not every problem could be resolved.  Some were too big.  Sighing, he conceded that this was one such predicament.  The gaunt fastidious Fixer grabbed a portable red telephone receiver connected by a springy red spiral cord to the briefcase.  "Yes, hello, men in white jackets?  I'd like to report that a collection is necessary.  I have a major quandary, a fellow who has lost his mind among other things.  It seems to have seeped out.  He's a candidate for a rubber room.  Possibly a rubber tomb.  Those are my recommendations.  The address?"

He had neglected to pay attention on the way to the prodigious dummy's house, too busy daydreaming, pondering riddles.  What an imbecile!  He smacked his forehead.  (He was referring to Rugbert.)

"Uh, I shall have to tell you where he doesn't live."  Cheeks burning as red as the phone, the technician recited a series of rambling instructions, aware that support would not be punctual.  It would probably take an extraordinarily long time.  He cradled the receiver.

"Well, you are certainly not a vampire.  And you are too substantial for a ghost.  There are no wrappings.  You have neither been frozen nor submerged in a bog.  You do have ghoulish traits, but from your behavior I will wager that you are a zombie."  Dagdon grinned, triumphant, solving the riddle.  Probably, from the looks of things, his last.

The complication's demeanor was steadily crumbling, along with his mood.  "I'm sick," he grunted.  "I'm having despicable urges.  I can't resist them anymore."

"Okay then.  You're all set."  Dagdon shut his briefcase and retreated to the entrance.  "Your situation has been reviewed.  Help is on the way.  Not that the whitecoats aren't somewhat wacko themselves.  But who isn't these days?  Besides me."  A nervous chuckle.  "On the bright side, there won't be any charge for my services."

Drooling, the big problem blocked the door.  "Stay."  He clamped a paw onto his scrawnier guest's shoulder.  "It's time for lunch," he invited.  His nose dropped to the floor.  "I'm starved.  I haven't had a bite all day."

"No offense.  Maybe you ought to lose some weight.  And not just by parts of you falling off.  Go on a strict diet.  Fruit and vegetables."  Dagdon bobbed his cranium, then wagged it wheedling, "You don't want me.  I'm skinny, bone and gristle.  B-b-b-b-bad for your digestion."

The zombie glowered.  "ARE YOU CALLING ME FAT???" he roared.

Dagdon Klinker's legs quaked.  He visibly shrank before the hulking ogre.

Rugbert devolved to a snarling, grimacing, one-track-minded menace.  Hoisting the thin guy off his feet, the zombie jacked salivating jaws as if to swallow him whole.  Gulping, Dagdon clobbered his adversary with the briefcase.  The undead heathen did not even flinch.  He tore the valise from the smaller man's grip and bit a chunk out of it, then cast it aside.

"Oh, wow, that's . . . not nice!  I'm going to have to bill you for that," threatened Dagdon.  He indignantly kicked his dangling feet.  "Put me down this instant!"  It was like something out of a cartoon.  He abhorred cartoons.

The noseless one-eared zombie spat a gob of chewed briefcase at Dagdon's visage.

"That's it!"  The nerdy Fixer unbuttoned his tweed suit jacket.  Wielding a brace of disposable inkpens from the pocket-protector in the breast pouch of his shirt, he plunged them into the zombie's wildly glaring orbs with a furious battle-cry:  "YAAAAAAHHHHH!!!"

Inexplicably, no blood spurted.  A hissing sound emitted.  Goliath sank to his knees and timbered woodenly forward.  The cadaver deflated, its skeleton magically disappearing, the way a balloon shrivels to a wrinkled elasticky hide.

It took Dagdon, meanwhile, some time to land in a heap of gangly limbs.  He had hung for a moment, paralyzed, riding a wave of sentiment.  Cognizance jolted him like electric juice — no, like the tail of an eel — no, no, more like the whiplash of a dragon's wallop — that this conduct might be construed as cartoonish in manner.  He thudded the floor, stunned and revolted, yet relieved to be alive.

The man nonetheless was changed by the incident.  He thereafter would not answer the phone.  He grew allergic to bubblegum.  He suffered nightmares in the daylight about Jack-O-Lantern clowns.  And he refused to make housecalls.  The quirkies or crazies or zombies of his world would have to schedule an appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

***

Knock Knock

 

 

 

 

"ZZZ.  Huh?  What's that banging?"  Nelle was asleep when the apocalypse began, so she missed the news.  She often napped at midday:  midmorning, midafternoon, midevening.  It made no difference to her.  When the lids drooped, she would doze.  It wasn't Narcolepsy.  A doctor said she was Clinically Depressed, which could cause her to feel tired.  She dismissed the notion, believing that she simply had a more fulfilling life asleep than when she was awake.  Her days were that dull, that tepid, imbued with a listless languor.  But in her sleep she dreamed . . .  The past was the present, the real world composed of fantasies, and she lived to dream.  But this was no dream.

The woman slid three warm felines from her lap and stiffly rose, vacating a padded easy-chair in a dim parlor.  Too much sitting on her rump in the sitting-room, she thought.  At least she didn't stay in bed, she got up and dressed, combed her hair, entertaining a semblance of a normal routine.  If you could call a houseful of cats normal.  If it weren't for the cats, she wouldn't climb out of bed.  They would yowl to be fed and patted, their sleek fur stroked on a daily basis.  It made her feel needed.

Lonely and sad, she had adopted a stray that showed up at her door, naming him Rascal.  Another meowing waif arrived, to be christened Goofy.  Then another and another and another.  She welcomed each of them, seeking to fill a blackhole of despair.  The cats were companions, her family after losing a husband and son ages ago.  Was it really more than two decades?  Nelle hobbled to the front entrance.  Why didn't whoever it was ring the buzzer?  "What's the point of having a doorbell if people ignore it?" she muttered — to herself more than the cats.  Not that anyone visited.  Knocking or buzzing, it was still unusual.  It almost sent a chill through her, it was that rare.

Nelle peeked around the edge of a drape.  Probably a kid selling candy.

Indeed, it appeared to be a child.  Perhaps a teenager.  Dressed as a monster, in costume.  Not vending candy, requesting it, she presumed.  Was it Halloween?  She had forgotten, often losing count of the date.  The end of October.  That seemed about right, judging by the cooler weather, the nip in the wind.  And the resplendent transformation of trees; the turning of leaves, their descent to the ground.  It was morbid and yet serenely beautiful, the autumnal dance of death.  Like an annual Zombie Apocalypse, she mused.  Her boy loved zombies, had pictures of them plastered all over the walls of his room.  She had loved Fall and savored the changing seasons.  Now it scarcely registered since the event that ended her world.

"They" said you lost part of yourself with the death of a loved one.  Who were They?  What did They know?  She lost everything, dying with them!  In essence she was a corpse, a wraith.  A zombie, like the creatures that her son revered.  She approached the door of a figurative tomb, hesitant to unlock it, reluctant to let the undead world invade the sanctuary of her sequestered crypt-like vault.  What had the world, the land of the living, done for her except take?  She spied through a peephole in the oak door.  She had nothing left to give.

"What do you want?" Nelle asked loudly.

No answer.  The costumed kid stood out there, fidgety, silent.  Weren't they supposed to say "Trick or treat!"?

"I don't have any candy!" she announced, in a hurry to return to the placid slumber of her nonexistence.  "Go away."

He or she stubbornly remained, enduring the unfriendliness.  A twinge of remorse stung.  Where were her manners?

"I forgot to buy some.  I'm sorry!  Try the neighbors," she added, a smidge kinder.  And peered out.  The child hadn't budged.

A sudden bang; the door shuddered.  Nelle bumbled backwards.  Then marched to the peephole, frowning.  "I said I was sorry!  There's no need to be rude!"  She shook her gourd at the lack of courtesy.  What were they teaching kids these days?  And when had she become the village curmudgeon?  Oh yeah.

Feeling cold, she walked to a closet for a thicker sweater.  And stared at the jackets she occasionally donned to remind her of them.  Keepsakes.  She couldn't erase them, give what was left of them to strangers.  If the living forgot, then they would be gone as if they never were.  She had to keep their memories alive.  Thus, her Paul's workshop in the garage, her Danny's shrine to zombies stayed intact.  She hadn't touched a thing, other than actually touching their things now and then.  The tools and toys conveyed a sense of them, perhaps retained a spark of their energy, like spiritual residue.  Whatever it might be, it made her feel close to them.  Psychics used objects to commune with the deceased.  It wasn't so crazy.

The door tremored with solid percussions.  He was really impatient!  Bundled in a cardigan, Nelle hastened to the entrance.  "Knock it off or I'll call the police!"  It was a bluff.  She didn't want her privacy violated, by intruders or the authorities.  This was a pretty persistent Trick-Or-Treater.  What if he (or she) didn't grow discouraged?  Nelle decided to check the kitchen for a treat.  It was wiser than risking a trick.

Anxiously the lady surveyed the shelves of her cabinets.  She needed to restock, the pickings were slim.  She unreeled the final trashbag from a box.  Then traded it for a jumbo plastic salad bowl, the type she used to fill with candy for Halloween.  It was bare.  In a cupboard, she discovered a few red-and-white-striped rock-hard cellophane-wrapped peppermints from last Christmas.  These didn't taste good when they were fresh.  Who would notice if they were stale?

She hunted the frost-laden tundra of the freezer compartment, rejecting petrified vegetables.  Scouring her barren fridge, Nelle tossed in a wilted orange with a green spot and a partial tub of chocolate icing.  She had no idea what she would do if another Trick-Or-Treater showed up!  The woman loaded an assortment of potential goodies and carted the bowl to the door.  Unlatching the portal, she beamed at the brat with the biggest fake smile she could muster.  "Okay, here you go!"

The kid didn't have a sack.  She scurried to retrieve the flimsy plastic one and crammed it with teabags, a banana, half a tray of chocolate-stripe cookies (shoving one in her mouth because she had forgotten about those), a box of saltine crackers, a leftover cupcake from a batch she made a month or so earlier, three curled slices of bread, an old hunk of bitter chocolate for baking —

The salad bowl clattered.  A sob escaped.  She had loved to bake for her men.  She seldom went to the trouble anymore.  Just on those maudlin moments when she wanted the house to smell like it did in the past, instead of like cat urine and kitty litter.  The feline population couldn't care less about her cakes and brownies.

Winding the neck of the sack, tying a knot, she bustled to the living-room and handed over the loot.  The kid had wandered inside.  "Oh!  Here you are.  I see you invited yourself in.  Guess you're not a vampire."  A dry laugh, presenting the bag.  "Yeah, you're a zombie, I know.  My son was a fan."

Growling, the kid accepted the bag.  He was really into the role.

A thought struck.  She found herself blurting, "Would you like to see his room?  It's still decorated.  Halloween all year round."

The boy grinned in a snarly way.  Was that a yes?

"Follow me."  Nelle led him to the second floor, stepping over several lounging cats, who squealed and darted or leaped from the stairs as the kid clomped up at her heels.  His host pushed a door inward and flicked a light switch, revealing a chamber wall-to-wall with classic zombie posters and figures, books and comics, magazine covers, even cute plushies.  Her son's treasury of zombie history and memorabilia.  The ghouls had recently become more popular than ever.  Danny would be delighted.

Huffing, gargling as if impressed, the new kid shuffled into the bedroom.  He rotated, head tipped, gawping at the exhibit.  Nelle sighed, honoring her own boy.  It was nice to share his passion with someone who could appreciate it.  Nice to have somebody not a cat to converse with, even if he was pretending to be dead.

"Are you hungry?  I could make you a sandwich," the lonely widow and grieving mother volunteered.

The lad wobbled and stumped to swivel in an ungraceful pirouette then swayed, rumbling like a heckled hacklish dog.  He trailed the excited lady downstairs.  She reached the bottom and had to jump when her visitor came flopping and thumping, cascading in her wake.

"Oh dear!  Are you okay?"  Mortified, she knelt at the kid's side.

He floundered, grunting, then clutched the woman's arm.  The zombie bared his teeth, enunciating:  "Errrguhhh!"

"What's that?"  She strove to interpret the syllables.

"Mmmaaammbull."

She leaned closer.  "Huh?"

His grip tightened.

"Ow.  You're hurting me," scolded Nelle.  This kid must have been raised by wolves, she thought.

As if reading her mind and proving the conjecture, the boy gnarred in her face.  He clambered to his feet and the hand yielded — breaking, still fastened to her arm.  The lady peeled his fingers off, marveling over the illusion.

"You and my son would've been great pals," she enthused, straightening too.  Nelle admired the artistry.  With a smile, she handed him back his detached body part.  It looked so real.

The Trick-Or-Treater hammed it up, his stride hitching ludicrously.

"You deserve an Academy Award for this performance," commended Nelle, ushering him to the parlor.  "Have a seat.  I'll make you a snack."  She gestured at the sofa.

Her guest goggled, bewildered.

"Sit."  She pantomimed, jutting her posterior toward the couch.  Then spun him and gave a persuasive push, applying gentle pressure until his knees bent.  The zombie plopped onto a cushion.  "That's it!"  The lady applauded, relishing his masquerade.

The zombie perched like a stiff with an uncertain visage.  Nelle turned on the television for him and merrily ambled to her kitchen, feeling eager to fix a meal for the first time in many years.  She had loved to cook.  It was in some people's blood, a talent, a knack, whether male or female.  Peculiar how you could bury yourself and live in denial that you were alive.  She hummed, taking a clean plate out of a cupboard, swinging the refrigerator door wide.  Oops.  She had given him the last slices of bread.  What could she make?  There were cans of soup in a cabinet.  No, she wanted to prepare something herself.  She opened cans for her cats.  All it required was a can-opener.  Sometimes less, merely popping a tab.

A feline rubbed her leg, purring.  "Hey, Tom," she greeted.  Not very original.  She had run out of names and inspiration, resorting to cartoon cats.  Garfield, Sylvester, Felix.  Then the names of characters from the T.V. shows that she idly viewed to pass the time.

In her younger days she had been fiercely independent, growing up without kin, without the love and close bond of family.  Nelle had been alone in the world then as now.  Only then she had hope, and a heart that still beat.  Now she had cats.

When she met Paul, the woman dared to trust . . . she dared to believe she could be happy.  Then dared to take life for granted and feel secure.  She became a wife, a mother.  But that was asking too much of the universe.  How could anyone be so blessed?  It was a cruel joke!

Her gaiety fizzled.  Tears of self-pity shimmered.  A glass shattered, cutting her palm as she poured prune juice, the sole beverage in the fridge.  Blood and juice splashed the linoleum.  She was shivering and set the bottle on the table to hug herself.  You have company, she reminded.  And filled another glass with tap-water from the faucet.  Upset, she ripped a packet of toaster tarts and dumped them on the plate, sacrificing her breakfast.  She had company, after all.

Nelle bore the offering to the living-room with the solemnity and gait of a funeral procession.  A newscaster with a dour expression droned about the latest calamity.  His words cracked her preoccupied shell as she lowered the plate and glass in front of her guest.  "Witnesses confirm that the zombie virus can be transmitted by a bite.  The plague has infected an estimated thirty-five to forty percent of the population, within a dozen or so hours since the earliest reports of the outbreak.  Residents are advised to remain indoors.  Barricade every entry and access point.  There is a state of emergency in effect.  Stay tuned to this station for further instructions."

The woman listened rigidly, jaw slack.  A zombie virus?  That sounded like the movies her son watched.  It didn't sound like the Evening News!  Was it a hoax?  References to a Zombie Apocalypse were common lately.  Had it come true, or was this some sort of Halloween prank?  Yes, that must be it, like the stunts they pulled for April Fool's.

Nelle wheeled and shrieked.  The motley trick-or-treating zombie had risen.  It dawned on her that his uncanny make-up and hand gag were not theatrical; they were authentic.

"Ohhh . . . hello."  She flashed a grim smile.

He grinned back, or seemed to, a vicious guttural keening in his throat.

Her wound dripped on the rug.  The odor of blood incensed him.

The survival instinct was strong, and Nelle found herself afraid.  Yet she had given up on ever seeing her family again.  If she believed they might return, she would struggle until her final breath to stay alive.  They must have died, or why didn't they come back for her?

Like zombies, alien abductions had been a popular topic.  During the apex of interest and speculation, her family was taken.  Paul and Danny were driving home from the cinema.  A zombie film, of course.  To her eternal regret, she lied and said she had a headache.  She wasn't into Horror and wanted to see a show on T.V.  They were labeled Missing Persons.  There were sightings of strange lights in the sky the same night.  She knew what happened.  Everyone else thought she was nuts.  The local kook.  They didn't believe in extra-terrestrials, yet they expected her to believe that zombies were real.  Staring face to face with one, she simply didn't care.  It was too late.

Her pets tried to protect her.  The scaredy-cats who fled, who cowered in hiding as the perilous creature invaded their well-marked territory.  Myriad felines now filtered out of every nook and shadow; from beneath furniture, behind walls.  Their banshee cries united in a singular voice the town would heed with trepidation; thereafter, wonder at in whispers.

The pusses consumed the zombie, scratching and nibbling him to shreds.  They gobbled their mistress once she mutated, resurrecting, her familiar scent modified.

You might be curious, did biting a zombie infect them the same as being bitten?

A horde of cats slunk from the small door of the oak portal.  They separated, rippling through darkness to hunch on prominent posts like sentinels, licking their paws, eyes luminous and alert.  In folklore they were deemed both good or bad luck.  If you heard them at night, it augured death.

Beware the cat's bloodcurdling howl.  You could be next . . .

 

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Lori R. Lopez

Rafael Lopez

Noel Lopez