Picnic in the City (On My Lonesome), by Gary Murphy
Previously this story appeared in ‘Tales of the Undead – Suffer Eternal 3′
The heavy lump smashed into her skull, ripping through her face and taking out each eye, as the once miniscule nose shattered.
Frances Boatman’s knees buckled. She dropped her cup; it fell to the floor and shattered in a splash of liquid. Frances crumpled to the ground, her elbow striking the floor and smashing into the broken shards of the mug. They slashed into her breasts and the right side of her face, as blood oozed from the cuts.
She lay there, on her side, motionless, curled up in a ghoulish mockery.
For the briefest of moments, she regained consciousness. It might have been a split second after the torment’s demise, or three hours later, she could not say, couldn’t think. But she saw it; there was no doubt about that. She saw the feet, the two ravaged, dirty blood-soaked feet, not two feet from her face – demons feet. But then her pain and her injury closed over her again, and she knew no more.
As the monster awoke it was in a place unknown to it – a new world – its eyes switched on to glow a deep penetrating emerald green as it looked about its surroundings, having no memory, no understanding to guide it. It knew nothing.
It looked down at itself and saw it was tall, its body ugly, mutated and deformed, disjointed, macabre with more than twelve deformities and sprayed with blood. Its right arm was half-raised. It was holding it out straight in front of itself, its fist clenched, and as it flexed its elbow, it opened its fist, and stared at its hand for a moment. It lowered its arm. It moved its head from side to side, seeing, hearing, and thinking, with no recognition of experience to guide it along.
It looked down to the floor and saw a body lying on its side there – a bloody, putrid mess – its head near its feet. The crumpled form of a young woman, a pool of blood growing around her head and the upper part of her body; and it recognised the concepts of woman, young, beautiful, the answers flitting into its awareness almost before it could form the questions. Yes, the sweet, coppery tastes of blood. A taste like, in its fluidity, soaked its mind, the taste of a human, it was almost holy, and already it craved more.
Some answers, it seemed, wouldn’t be given. Its brain could not – or would not – help it with those questions. Woman? Young? Blood? All these questions were unanswerable. It knelt down, peered at the woman more closely, and then dipped a finger in the pool of blood. This revealed it was rapidly cooling, coagulating. The principle of blood clotting snapped into its mind. ‘It should be sticky,’ it muttered, and tested the notion, pressing its forefinger to its thumb and then pulling them apart. ‘Yes,’ it said, adding, ‘a slight resistance.’
A dead human…
A strange sensation stole over the Undead one, as it knew there was some reaction, some intense, deep-rooted response that it should have – some response that was not there at all.
The blood was pouring around its feet now as it rose its full 6 feet height again, and the zombie found that it did not desire to stand in a pool of blood but instead wished to leave this place for more pleasant surroundings. It stepped clear of the blood and saw an open doorway at the far end of the room. It had no goal, no purpose, no understanding, no memory. One direction was as good as another. Once it started moving, there was no reason to stop.
It departed this, this Irish pub, wholly unaware that it was leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind. It went through the doorway and kept going, out of the bar-room, out of the building, out into the city. Hunger starved its very soul.
They endured loneliness admirably, these former human beings, but they came and went, and to some blood was nourishment, incense, the greatest pleasure, whereas to some it was no more than poison.
While another day at Downing Street, Sinclair Rothchild lifted his left hand, tilted his index finger just so, and his manservant pulled back his chair with perfect timing, getting it out from behind him just as Sinclair was getting up, so that the chair never came into contact with his body as it rose.
In this house, there was quite a fashion for using detailed hand signals to command butlers, and the PM was a skilled practitioner of the art.
Sinclair turned and walked away from the breakfast table, towards the door to the main gallery, George Besson, the butler in charge of the Boss’s every whim and fancy, hard on his heels. The door swung open as he arrived at it.
The man on the other side of the door had no other job in the world but to open it. Besson marked out his existence by standing there, watching for anyone who might approach from his side of the door, and listening for footsteps inside the room.
But Sinclair Rothchild had no time to think about how menial folk spent their days. He was a busy man.
Sinclair was a small, rotund man with a round sallow face and hard gimlet eyes of indeterminate colour. His hair was glossy white, and just barely longs enough to lie flat. He was heavy-set, there was no doubt about that, but yet there was nothing soft about him. He was a hard, determined man dressed in a rather severe military-style black suit and blue silken tie. His gait said it all, one powerful and power-hungry hombre, he had a mean streak.
Sinclair smiled to himself. That was getting to be a bad habit – thinking in speeches – he thought, as he crossed to the far side of the gallery, towards the office, as another aide – more like a robot – swung the door open as he approached. He entered the room, quite unaware of Besson moving ahead of him to pull out his chair from his desk for him.
Besson smiled too.
But he did not sit down.
Instead, he made a subtle gesture with his right hand and Besson was at his side immediately, and in less than two seconds there was a sherry available.
‘I expected brandy,’ said the Boss. He suddenly noticed a green, glowy tinge in his butler’s eyes.
Sinclair would see no more. He was a dead man…or rather, undead.
It walked into the night, and it burned with curiosity. Now, it was a great distance from its starting point, now in a quiet residential area of the city with the streets all but completely deserted at this dark hour. The homes were large and widely scattered, like nothing it had ever seen, or ever planned to see, with great lawns, some of them getting a bit dry, scruffy, and thin looking, that separated the houses. In this part of town, it seemed there was little traffic to speak of, and judging from the absence of a road wide enough for large vehicles, travel to and fro by car or foot might be rare.
But a dying lawn was no less wondrous than a live one to it. The entire world was new to it, and everything it saw was a fresh and vibrant wonder. Stars. It saw the bright pinpoints of light in the sky and wondered what they were. It noticed a few bits of litter blown against a fence and wondered how such a strange combination of objects had come to be there.
‘EARTHQUAKE OPENS DOORS TO HELL – WORLD UNDER SEIGE.’
This meant nothing to it, nothing at all.
Everything now was just oh so peculiar. Perhaps understanding would emerge in the future, or maybe not, not ever, never. The newspaper said it all.
It was content for some time to wander the city and passively absorb all around whatever the mind saw fit to tell it about what it saw.
It spotted something. ‘Telephone Kiosk’ it said, and briefly, just briefly, a smile bore function to its worn, bedraggled face. A toothless smile, crooked and vile – the kind you would see on the face of someone you loathed and detested.
Then it stopped in its tracks and tried to experiment. The outside world seemed to fade from its sight, and suddenly it was looking down on a mass – schematic heaps of bodies in the area it was in, done in bold primary colours – carefully designed symbols of vast destruction.
‘You…are…dead..?’ it slurred through bruised, chapped lips. ‘Not…alive…anymore…are you dead…?’
It tried to push onward from that point and was greatly pleased to discover that the simple act of wishing it to be so allowed the creature to visualize the entire city, or focus in on any part of it. Nor, it found, did its sub-virtual viewpoint have to stay above the city – the cracks in the ground base exposed burning, and a thrashing hell. It could move down from ground level and see the buildings and hills towering above. It could visualize it from all angles.
There were signs. Maps offering information on the buildings – names and addresses, and in many cases the names of whatever businesses went on there.
It moved on.
It needed to eat to exist.
Darkness had passed, and dawn had come over the horizon, and the morning was well begun, and Raymond paced the room listening to the routine interrogation of yet another routine co-worker, one Michael Anderson. Anderson wasn’t normally up and at the mortuary by this hour, but he did live quite nearby and all the commotion had wakened him. He had wandered over to see what was going on – or so he claimed. Police officers throughout history had been a little slow to believe witnesses who explained trifles such as coming to work with such elaboration – and Raymond Anciano was tempted to uphold the tradition in the present instance. With everything going on, hell unleashed, swarms of zombies everywhere, it wasn’t wise to treat everyone as a suspect. Clearly, the dead were walking the earth, and by coagulation their numbers were expanding.
This night had been a long, hard journey through the darkness to the day, and crime scenes and all-out chaos could be gruelling.
Ray looked at his shoes – at the floor – sighed – and said: ‘It was only a matter of time, eh?’
‘Yes,’ said the voice from over his shoulder.
Ray spun at intense speed and almost tripped over in doing so.
It was over…
About to begin.
Limbo waited. Limbo and the rescue of this world. Frances Boatman had lived, and died, and now lived again shortly after death, whilst living next door to the laboratory-mortuary meant access to fresh meat – even if it was a bit old and chewy. Frances grinned grotesquely as she leaned over DC Ray Anciano and snapped the bone of his nose as she plucked out his left eye with a hard finger.
She spoke the words, ‘Thank you, Mr Anciano. You put yourself in a most grave situation on my behalf. I have a feeling of owing you a great debt.’
Like so many, Frances began to feast.
We can now, if we wish, call them zombies. Though they were not remotely human, they were flesh and blood and when they gazed over the city panorama, they felt dismal, and they felt awe, and wonder – and loneliness. As quickly as these monsters resurfaced they began to seek fellowship amongst the cities.
In these explorations, they encountered life in many forms, some like themselves undead, while there was those ultimately destined for undead status. They watched the workings of evolution in a thousand cities, towns and small communities. They saw how often the first faint sparks of intelligence flickered and dissolved as day turned into night.
And because, in this entire world, if they had found nothing more precious than blood, they encouraged the night everywhere. They became farmers in the in the fields of cities. They sowed, and sometimes they reaped.
The great dinosaurs had long since passed away, their morning promise annihilated by a random hammer blow from space. The forging together of brain cells was becoming increasingly harder, and the zombies required particular horrid nourishment almost all the time in order to survive and help interpret thoughts.
Spread out beneath them, these new-age gods saw a world swarming with life, whilst for the underground years, they had studied, collected, catalogued, and when they learned all they could, they had begun to modify. They tinkered with the existence of earthly animals, species of insects, birds, on the land and under the seas. But which of their experiments would bear fruit, they would not know for millions of years.
They were patient, but they were not yet immortal, and in this new world which as people was a home, as now in death it was too; the glaciers came and went while the changeless Moon still carried its secret from the stars. Hell was overflowing with the damned, old and new, the cursed, and the thoroughly evil; positively teeming; and now it had burst at the seams…
Into pure energy, therefore, they would presently transform themselves; and the shells discarded in a mindless dance of death would crumble into dust. And sometimes they would discover and seek goals of their own.
Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged e-zine, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, monsters, short stories, The Were-Traveler, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.