This story has been published in two previous fiction magazines.
“Step right up ladies and gentlemen,” yelled the carnival barker, “and see Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes. See the greatest show on Earth for just a dollar. Step right up and see Herbie, the only zombie who ever performed for European Royalty. Show starts in five minutes. Hurry, hurry.”
The barker didn’t have to convince Wilma. She couldn’t wait to see the zombie after reading about him in the newspaper. The part that really caught her eye described Herbie as tall, dark, and exceptionally handsome.
Once inside the tent, she noticed one end of the stage was blocked from view by black curtains. She figured the handsome zombie was probably behind them preparing for his performance. The idea of being just feet away from a famous celebrity gave her butterflies.
At the other end of the stage, a man sat facing a machine loaded with dials, switches, and flickering lights. Wilma thought it looked like something from a mad scientist’s laboratory.
The barker appeared onstage and said, “What you’re about to see will amaze you. But before we begin, I have a few announcements. First, that bouncy accordion music you heard when you came into the tent is from Herbie’s latest CD album, Herbie Plays Polka Greats. It’ll be on sale after the show, along with Herbie T-shirts, and photos. Herbie will sign every photo you buy. Finally, if you look toward the back of the tent, you’ll see bright yellow exit signs.”
“Is that where we’re supposta run in case the zombie goes nuts and attacks us?” yelled a drunk.
The audience giggled nervously, as two carnival bruisers dragged the drunk toward an exit.
The barker blew a whistle to draw attention back to the stage. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, Doctor Zangara’s Amazing Traveling Shows is proud to present Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world!”
Everyone applauded, as a spotlight illuminated the curtains. The barker opened them to reveal a zombie in a yellow jump suit sitting in a steel chair. Steel cuffs bound his wrists and ankles to the chair. Wide chains pressed against his chest. His bald head was bowed, as if he were in utter despair.
“Why’s he tied up like that?” somebody asked.
“There’s nothing to worry about. He’s very comfortable,” the barker replied.
“Aren’t those chains hurting him?” asked Wilma.
“No. Zombies don’t feel pain. Nobody feels pain when they’re dead. And Herbie’s dead as a doornail. That’s why we tie him down—so his lifeless body won’t fall outta the chair.”
“How did Herbie get to be a zombie?” asked a little girl.
“He useta live in Haiti. One day He got sick and died. After they buried him, a witch doctor dug him up and made him a zombie. Somehow, Herbie wandered into the jungle and got lost. Dr. Dumont of the Haitian Zombie Institute found him. Dumont invented a machine that could bring Herbie back to life, but for only six hours a day. The doctor taught Herbie how to sing, dance, tell jokes, do magic tricks, and play ten musical instruments. Herbie was so happy to be alive for six hours every day, he became very friendly. Dumont was trying to find a way to bring Herbie back to life forever, but he died before he could make that happen. I’ll take one more question, and then we’ll get on with the show.”
“I don’t get it,” somebody said. “Did Dr. Dumont bring Herbie back to life in a way that you and I have life? Or does he have a different kinda life?”
“I don’t know. What does it matter, if he’s friendly and can put on a terrific show? Okay, now we’ll bring Herbie back to life for six hours like Dr. Dumont did by using a Renticular Renificator. It’s a special machine Dumont invented to animate zombies. So let’s get started. First, I’ll put this headset on Herbie. Then I’ll ask James, who’s sitting in front of the machine, to send an electrical signal through the headset.”
When the barker put the headset on the zombie’s bowed head, he said, “James, set renticular renification to zero point three, and press start.”
James twisted some dials and pressed a button. Suddenly, the zombie’s head jerked upward, his eyes popped open, and his face broke out into a brilliant smile. “Hi everybody,” he said in a rich, bubbly voice. “I’m Herbie, the friendliest zombie in the world. Welcome to my show.”
The cheers and applause were deafening.
“I can do lots of things,” Herbie said. “I can play the Beer Barrel Polka on my accordion. I can dance, or sing Jingle Bells and a hundred other songs. I can ride a motorcycle while standing on my head. And lots of other things. What should I do first?”
The crowd shouted a hundred different requests.
“Let’s make it Herbie’s choice” the barker said. “Well, Herbie, what do you feel like doing?”
“I’m in the mood for ballet. James, would you please play that CD I love so much—the one with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies?”
“Sure thing,” James said, inserting a CD and pressing a green button on the Renticular Renificator to release the zombie’s restraints.
Herbie sprang from the chair and donned a pair of hot-pink ballet slippers. “How do you like my slippers, boys and girls?” he asked, standing on his toes and twirling.
The kids screamed with delight.
The zombie ran behind the black curtains, removed his jump suit, and slid into a hot-pink leotard.
While Herbie twirled and danced on his toes, Wilma felt a flutter unlike anything she’d ever experienced. As he pranced across the stage, she noticed his pouty, fleshy lips, his muscular arms and thighs, his tight glutes. She found herself staring at the bulge below his stomach and how it strained against his tights. Fanaticizing about holding him close, she could almost feel the bulge pressing against her. In all her forty years, Wilma had never felt so wicked.
“That’s very nice, Herbie,” said the barker. “How about showing us how Elvis Presley used to move his pelvis.”
James played raunchy music, and pressed more buttons on the renificator. Herbie went into a frenzy of gyrations that brought squeals from his female admirers. Mesmerized by his frantic pelvic thrusts, Wilma found herself lightheaded and gasping for breath. When sweat broke out on her forehead, she realized Herbie was the man for her.
After the spectacular show, Wilma raced to the back of the tent so she could buy a souvenir photo. Dozens of women had the same idea.
Giggles and flushed faces greeted Herbie when he arrived at the table. Wilma thought he looked like a dashing, fairytale prince.
“Ten dollars, please,” Herbie said with a charming Caribbean accent, when Wilma selected a photo.
“Would you autograph it?” she asked.
“That’ll be five dollars extra,” he said, flashing a gorgeous smile that turned her insides to mush.
As she paid Herbie, his fingertips brushed her hand. Though they were ice cold, Wilma was too overwhelmed to notice.
“What would you like me to write on the picture?” Herbie asked.
“Whatever you wish. But please sign it, With Love, Herbie.”
“What’s your first name, Dear?”
The zombie scribbled across the top, “To Wilma. You’re a sweet, Southern gal. With Love, Herbie.”
She thought she’d faint when he squeezed her hand and said, “Thanks for coming to the show, Sweetie.”
She wanted to tell him how handsome he was, but he’d already turned his attention to the next woman. When he made flirtatious comments to the woman, Wilma felt a jealous flash. She reminded herself that he was just conducting business. All handsome celebrities flirted with fans. It was part of the fame game. It meant nothing. How could it, after the way he squeezed her hand and called her Sweetie with such intensity?
Wilma attended the rest of Herbie’s shows that night. Sitting up front, she waved every time he turned her way.
Herbie did something different in every show, which increased Wilma’s fascination. But she was alarmed during the last show when he sang, I Gotta Be Me. His voice was weakening. Her wrist watch showed five hours and fifty minutes had passed. It was almost time for Herbie to die again.
Right before Herbie’s time ran out, he sat in his steel chair and waved goodbye to the audience. When his head dropped abruptly to his chest, the barker closed the curtains, James threw a switch to activate the chair’s restraints, then turned off the renificator.
Wilma ran from the tent weeping.
On the way to her car, an inner voice reminded her that Herbie wasn’t gone forever. They’d revive him again tomorrow, and she’d see him again.
She decided to attend every show while the carnival was in town. She’d buy mementos after every show. That’d give her three opportunities every night to shake his muscular hand, look into his passionate eyes, hear his glorious voice. Soon, he’d remember her, perhaps even look forward to seeing her. And maybe he’d even want her.
Soon the carnival would move on to other Southern towns. Wilma, an affluent spinster, decided to follow no matter where it went. Realizing nothing could stop her from seeing Herbie three times nightly gave her a deep sense of peace. She fell asleep thinking how he’d succumb to her charms when he recognized her inner beauty and unlimited ability to love.
Next day, she went to the carnival early, hoping to find the barker. She found him at a hot dog stand. She sat at a table facing the barker. “I wanted to tell you how impressive your zombie show is.”
“Glad you like it. I noticed you were at all the shows last night. Are you from the Herbie Fan Club?”
“No. I love the show. Herbie really is the friendliest zombie in the world. He’s also the most handsome and entertaining performer I’ve ever seen. Have you ever thought of having him try out for a Broadway musical?”
“I don’t think that’d work.”
“I can’t imagine why. He does everything remarkably well. He’s extremely talented, and he’s the most dynamic performer I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, he does come across that way. But there’s lotsa complicated stuff involved to make that happen. More than you’d ever imagine.”
“How complicated can it be?” she asked. “ James throws a switch on that machine of yours, and off he goes. Look, I’d like to make you a proposition. As a patron of the arts, and considering how talented your zombie is, I think he needs someone who has the means to sponsor him and lead him to higher things. Plays. Musicals. A concert at Carnegie Hall. Perhaps he can even play his violin with the New York Philharmonic. Or sing with the Metropolitan Opera. Frankly, I can offer Herbie a better life than a traveling carnival. I want to buy Herbie. How much do you want for him?”
“He ain’t for sale.”
“Not even for a million dollars?”
“You wanna pay a million dollars for a dead zombie?”
“For goodness sakes! You make it sound like he’s lower than a maggot. I’ll pay you a million for Herbie and that ugly machine that James operates. Of course I’ll need an operator’s manual, the restraining chair, and whatever else is necessary to make everything work smoothly.”
“Like I said, Herbie ain’t for sale.”
“How about renting him?”
“I never heard of renting out a zombie. Come to think of it, we shut down the show from Thanksgiving until mid-January. Money gets pretty tight. If I agreed, you’d hafta set up a place for his special equipment, and get a backup generator in case of power failures. You’d also hafta sign papers promising that you wouldn’t use him in any public performances. Let me think about it. How can I reach you?”
“I’ll be at every show from now on.”
That night after the last show, the barker approached Wilma. “Herbie ain’t for sale or rent. I like things the way they are. Besides, if we lose control of him, there might be trouble.”
Wilma cried all night.
The next day, the carnival departed Charleston for Atlanta. Wilma checked into Atlanta’s best hotel. For the next week, she waved to Herbie from the front row and bought his autographed photos.
By the time the carnival reached Birmingham, Herbie was used to seeing Wilma at every show. He acknowledged her presence by asking her to stand and wave to the audience.
When the carnival played Chattanooga, Herbie called Wilma to the stage, put his arm around her, and introduced her to the applauding audience. When he told them she hadn’t missed a single show for two months, they clapped louder.
Herbie autographed the photos she bought after every show with a different caption every time. The messages had grown warmer. One evening, he wrote, “Wish we could meet and talk.”
Wilma wept with joy.
The next day, she spotted the barker sitting alone at the carnival’s pizza stand. “How’s it going, Tom?”
“I’m fine. I gotta say, you sure are one helluva gutsy woman. I never figured you’d go to such lengths to be around Herbie. Why are you doing this?”
“I’m in love with Herbie.”
“Geez, Wilma. Are you gonna spend your life pursuing a zombie? He’s dead. He was buried over fifty years ago. Dr. Dumont’s journal says Herbie doesn’t even have a heart. All his internal organs are gone. He’s filled with embalming fluid to keep his body from collapsing. When he waves his arms, and you’re standing close enough, you can hear fluid sloshing inside.”
“But he has charm, and spirit, and gusto and—”
“That was all programmed into the electronic gadgets Dumont put into his skull after all Herbie’s brains were sucked out. Do you know that the top of Herbie’s head has hinges? James has to open his skull once a week to blow compressed air through all the electrical equipment in there? If James didn’t do that, we’d never be able to rouse Herbie from his death trance. Think about what it is you love. Herbie’s a dead man who was turned into a zombie by a witch doctor. He’s a cadaver that doesn’t rot, because of high-tech embalming fluid. He’s got no heart. No lungs. His head is full of electronics. A head that has hinges. A head that needs to be cleaned every week with compressed air. How can you sit there and tell me you love such a thing?”
“You don’t know what love is, Tom!”
“Not the kind you’re talking about. What if I told you I was in love with a vampire? One that sucked blood from little kids. What would you say?”
“I’d say that vampires need love too. Just like zombies. And werewolves. And ghouls.”
Figuring Wilma for a harmless loon, the barker never mentioned her actions again.
Wilma followed them to New Orleans. Then Miami. That’s where she discovered Herbie had a dark side.
During the final show on closing night, Herbie was doing a handstand on a bicycle’s handlebars. A teen threw an egg that smashed against Herbie’s head, throwing him off balance. He fell off the bike and hit the ground hard.
Wilma screamed. The barker tried to help Herbie to his feet, but the zombie roughly shoved him aside. The barker yelled to James, “Reduce renticular renification to seven point nine.”
James turned switches and pressed buttons like a madman. Herbie’s growls were so unnerving the audience rushed to the exits screaming.
Wilma ran to the stage and threw her arms around Herbie. His behavior changed instantly. He smiled and called to the audience, “Hey, y’all. C’mon back. It’s all part of the act. Don’t be alarmed. Everything’s cool.” He kissed Wilma’s cheek. Eyes twinkling, he said, “Thanks, Wilma. You’re a sweetie. We oughta hug more often.”
The barker couldn’t thank Wilma enough for what she’d done, though he wasn’t sure which had calmed Herbie: Wilma’s embrace, or renificator signals. Even James was uncertain if he’d completed the calming sequence before Wilma hugged the zombie.
As a reward for preventing a potential disaster, the barker included Wilma in Herbie’s act. At first, she did little things: passed him juggling balls, setup tables for his magic acts, rolled out the bicycle on which he performed acrobatics.
Wilma was never happier.
But after a year, Wilma felt that something was still missing in her relationship with Herbie—something she couldn’t articulate. On one hand she wanted to find ways to get closer. On the other, she wasn’t sure how to bridge the chasm that separated them. When the answer came to her in a dream, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it sooner. After careful consideration, she explained her plans to the barker.
“Are you sure, Wilma?” he asked.
“Positive. I can’t think of anything I want more.”
“Wilma, you’re one helluva a gutsy woman. In fact, you have more guts than any ten men I know.”
“It’s not guts, Tom. It’s love.”
Wilma disappeared the next day.
Months passed. Few people remembered Wilma had ever existed. But Herbie didn’t forget. Her name was the last word he uttered every night, before he dropped his head and died.
* * *
On a beautiful Spring evening in Biloxi, Mississippi the barker stood outside the zombie show tent. In his proudest voice, he called out, “Step right up ladies and gentlemen. Step right up and see Herbie…and Wilma…the friendliest zombies in the world.”
BIO: Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 150 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.
The boy—I guess it’s a boy—is nine or ten years old, but there’s no way to see his face. He wears black trash bags, one covering his torso, others on his arms, legs, and face. The seams are duct taped. An old ski mask conceals the eyes. He wears vinyl gloves and black galoshes. Not a trace of his skin is visible. He even took the care to write the insignia on his chest and CLEANUP PATROL on back in yellow paint. Crudely done, but accurate. So accurate that it makes my stomach feel as if it’s bottoming out.
–Trick or treat, he says, his voice muffled in plastic. He sounds like them. The PATROL.
Mutely, I hold the bowl of candy. Do I tell him? Does he have a grandfather to tell him the stories? Statistically, a living grandfather is unlikely. He’s a survivor’s child, and there weren’t many survivors.
He’s too young to understand. He knows the CLEANUP PATROLS from history, not memory. If he had lived through them, he’d never dare such a costume.
The kid shifts his feet, and the swishing plastic throws me back twenty-nine years. Houses were abandoned mausoleums. Their tenants roamed the streets, eyes vacant, heads sunken and bruised like rotting melons. We, the survivors, hunkered in the school gym. For months at a stretch, we guarded the exits, checked one another for infection, waited as the adrenaline ground our nervous systems into dull, useless knives.
Then the cavalry came. Fleets of bombers criss-crossed the nation’s skies, spraying the antidote to eradicate the infection and give the diseased their eternal rest. Then came the sorting of the dead. CLEANUP PATROLS rolled the dead into the center of the street and swept through town, wearing airtight vinyl suits, guiding the bulldozers that pushed the dead into The Incinerator, the hastily built monolith that devoured the dead and exhaled human smoke nonstop for two years. The haze smelled like burned pork. It still hangs over the city.
–Hey, old-timer, you okay?
I look down. I’ve dropped half the bowl of candy on the ground. I stoop down to pick it up. Old-timer. Twenty-nine years AZA—After the Zombie Apocalypse—the world population has yet to reach three hundred million. Many of those are survivor children.
Do I tell him the stories? How my wife, who before the ZA was a professor and endowed with one of the sharpest minds I knew, became a drooling, moaning thing as her cerebral cortex turned to soup? Tell him what it was like to see the CLEANUP PATROL roll my wife and son into the road for the ‘dozers? To watch the plume of smoke rising in the distance, choking the city in a brown haze?
Once the infection was done, some survivors took up looting, tribal violence, and reckless promiscuity. The world had nearly ended, the savage survivors argued. What outdated moralities could possibly hold us back? I never participated. I returned to my empty home, pilfered only what I needed to survive. I never indulged darker impulses. Except once. It was an old Colonial wreck down the street, more eyesore than house. My wife was gone, my son was gone, all my friends and family were gone, and that ugly heap of boards still stood. I got roaring drunk and threw Molotov cocktails in the cracked windows until I was sobbing, howling, and my shoulder felt like molten lead. In the crackling, red-hot silence I heard children screaming in the attic. They must’ve been hiding up there for months but not known the ZA was over. I tried to tell myself they were infected, too, and I was doing the world a favor. But I couldn’t get myself to believe it. Just like I couldn’t get myself to walk away. I just stood there in the street until the cries stopped and I smelled burning meat.
I put a candy bar in the kid’s bag, then a handful of them. I lose count; it doesn’t matter. No stories tonight. Let the boy keep the holiday in his own way, and I can keep it in mine.
–Happy Halloween, I mouth. The boy looks at me, then into the bag, then walks away without saying thanks.
I am a writer and teacher in northern New Jersey. My stories have been published in several anthologies, including Song Stories, Vol. 1, The Big Bad Anthology, Told You So, Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever, and Villainy. I have also ghostwritten a non-fiction book, and am under contract for two more.
This story was previously published in A Quick Bite of Flesh: An Anthology of Zombie Flash Fiction (Hazardous Press, September 2012).
@Bree The Embers Burn, and Gentle is the Arrow’s Stinging ‘Neath the evening sky. The wind is in my face. I am free.
11:08 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Sparkles burn out of my eyes. The cola is flat. I can barely swallow it. I won’t let it win. I’ll jump out the window first.
09:08 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Aspirin kills the fever for a few hours. Six pills left in the emergency kit. You still there? Please be there. Can’t be alone.
05:08 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Managed to get to the attic. They can’t reach the hatch, but my arm has a scratch. Don’t know if it’s a bite.
04:03 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Run! Don’t try to make it here! I can hear them banging on the door!
02:31 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Leave him! If Jake has the fever, he’ll die like Clay! I read on the wiki that if he doesn’t have the fever, we can burn out the wound to prevent infection.
02:04 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree What’s left of Clay is screaming.
01:33 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Should have paid attention in class. This Russian guy knows what he was taking about. Thy foes encircle thee and watch with gleeful laughter and bended bow. Just like them. All at once. No mercy. I thought they were moaning or crying. All I hear now is laughter.
01:24 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree When are you getting HERE! Cable’s out. Power’s out. The only left if the generator and I don’t know how to set it up. I need to hear a voice. A human voice. A living voice.
01:19 PM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree I’m alone.
01:14 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree I handcuffed Clay to the wall in the basement. I couldn’t do it. Not with a shovel. I can’t still see bits of him in there. Don’t know what to do.
01:01 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree I’ve never seen him cry before. His eyes turned white. The infection spreads too quickly. I gave him one of the hits of acid. Don’t want him to face this in pain.
12:47 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree They broke through the window. I didn’t hammer in the nails deep enough. Clay killed three of them. Ran of out bullets and time. You ever smell one of them? Like a dead wet dog. I think one of them was our neighbor. She bit Clay’s arm. We’re trying to clean the wound.
12:17 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Forgot the fucking cigarettes! There will be no survival! Seriously, thinking of going to the car to get my extra pack.
11:39 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree We just fought one of the gangs. Killed Zombie Nelly. Didn’t feel as bad as I should. Clay picked up more gas for the generator. Should be able to survive for a few days until help can arrive.
11:37 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Be careful. The radio says that the streets are still pretty bad even with the military. Make sure you bring the Molly. If the world’s gonna end, I don’t want to be sober. All we have is a couple hits of acid.
11:20 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree The only thing to read is a book on Russian poetry. The world might be ending, but I’m not that desperate.
10:11 AM Oct 17th via phone
@Bree Can’t get a signal for the phone, but we can text out. Weird, huh? Are the dead really rising? You don’t think it’s a joke? Come over for a party!
09:17 AM Oct 17th via phone
Jason Andrew lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife Lisa. He is an Associate member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Active Member of the Horror Writer’s Association, and member of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
By day, he works as a mild-mannered technical writer. By night, he writes stories of the fantastic and occasionally fights crime. As a child, Jason spent his Saturdays watching the Creature Feature classics and furiously scribbling down stories. His first short story, written at age six, titled ‘The Wolfman Eats Perry Mason’ was severely rejected. It also caused his Grandmother to watch him very closely for a few years.
His short fiction has appeared in markets such as Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF (Harper Collins), Frontier Cthulhu: Ancient Horrors in the New World (Chaosium), and IN SITU (Dagan Books). In 2011, his story “Moonlight in Scarlet” received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s List for Best Horror of the Year.
In addition, Jason has written for a number of role-playing games such as Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, and Vampire: The Masquerade. His most recent projects include Hunters Hunted 2 (The Onyx Path), Anarchs Unbound (The Onyx Path), and Atomic Age Cthulhu: Terrifying Tales of the Mythos Menace (Chaosium). He currently holds the position of Developer for the Mind’s Eye Theatre line published through By Night Studios.
Arthur ran as fast as he could, scrambling through the forest plagued by rotting trees and skeletal creatures. Bony snakes hissed, the skin rotting from their skulls. Arthur fled through the woods until there was nowhere else left to go.
“Death is almost upon you,” an encroaching zombie wizard shouted. The grand elder council paced forward, surrounding him. Arthur reached for his sword but was grabbed from behind. A sage tore away Arthur’s neck with awful teeth.
“No more heroes,” another mage yelled. “The age of quests is over! The zombie wizard apocalypse has begun. The world has gone dead!”
Matthew Frassetti is a college student acquiring degrees in creative writing and game design. He also loves hockey. You can find him on twitter @MattFrassetti.
My name is Daniel Moore and I am living my last days on earth. There is no way to tell if I am the last human alive but at the very least I am among the last. The plague first struck during my teenage years. Now, twenty years later, I am a tired, defeated old man.
Many of the initial survivors predicted that mankind could not survive the onslaught. Far many more, though, knew that Man survived other plaques, averted nuclear annihilation, and by sheer perseverance would survive this disaster as well.
They were wrong.
Honestly, I cannot quite explain my compulsion to write this short history of the last twenty years. Within days or weeks there will be no one to read it, ever. But intelligent life on Earth evolved before; why not again?
But that process took billions of years. This history is written with paper and pen. Perhaps my history will exist for a few hundred years, maybe more and maybe less. Who knows, I chuckle to myself, maybe a space alien will find it!
So in the end, I suppose I am writing this just for me.
Chapter Last: The Final Horror
By the twentieth year mankind settled into a sort of equilibrium. Survivors dotted the planet and the occasional stragglers brought stories of both valor and defeat.
My small colony took refuge on an abandoned aircraft carrier that expended its nuclear fuel. We made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of deadly forays to the mainland and brought back tons of top soil and seeds. Much of the flight deck of the carrier became our garden. We grew enough to feed ourselves but just barely. But there were almost no animals anywhere. While fish provided protein when they were plentiful, many of us were chronically anemic.
And we had no capacity to absorb any of the stragglers.
Fights broke out over our small crop. Perhaps, fortunately, only a few still hoarded ammunition for their guns. Cave men probably existed like this, in a constant state of war.
On the day of the final horror I stood guard on the bridge. Three rifle bullets remained in my pocket. One of them belonged to me in case we were ever overrun. My binoculars swept the ocean on the shore-side of the aircraft carrier. A swirling wake in the distance caught my attention.
“Stragglers,” I sighed. “Or worse, marauders. Another fight coming.”
Nothing appeared sinister from a distance. A decrepit speedboat led a flotilla of small vessels across the flat ocean. But when I recognized the operators I screamed out load. And I continued to scream until every one of our colonists gathered on the flight deck.
The sight of a zombie driving the boat ended all hope for mankind.
Twenty more boats also driven by zombies followed. When they reached the side of the giant ship, they actually looked up at us with blazing yellow eyes. They snarled and lunged at the ladders. But the one in the lead just sped away. The rest stared at us for along time, their hunger evident.
The zombies had evolved.
In twenty years the clumsy instinctual monsters changed into creatures with the skill and dexterity to drive a boat and to attack our floating home.
The onslaught by thousands of the skilled undead defeated our crew and the monsters overran the carrier. We fought them with a few bullets and knifes and stakes and spears. My friends and I never stood a chance.
This history is being finished from a locked cell in the brig. My old friends are snarling and growling at the bars waiting to devour me.
The door will not hold much longer.
To not have answers is the most frustrating aspect of the end. In fact, more questions have occurred to me as history draws to a conclusion.
What will happen to the undead once their food supply is exhausted? Will they slowly starve or exist eternally as mindless wanderers across the entire earth? Will Zombie evolution continue and will the things regain actual intelligence?
There are only a few clues. We found a zombie in the brig on our uninhabited ship. Alone for years, the undead thing prowled its cell and desperately attacked the human who discovered it.
There is a single shell in the chamber of my rifle. I am reminded of the old riddle. If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, did the falling tree make a sound? No one will hear my shot, not even me.
So human history ends with my words. I wish I had something philosophical to say for the ages. But all I have are questions with no answers. My honest opinion is that Man will flourish again. And if he is to flourish, he will have to find the answers.
August 21, 2025
Mike Warren stared at the half-finished limerick on his sheet of paper:
“There was a zombie named Jewell
Who the ghoul met in a duel”
Mike decided the last line would be something about “zombies rule” but the middle two lines defeated him. When his English teacher assigned the limerick for homework, Mike had no idea it would be so difficult. He decided his future did not lay in poetry.
As a matter of fact his future might not lay anywhere. His father told the family that they would be living in a cave by candlelight within a year or two.
Matt turned around at the sound of the front door opening. Instead of his mother one of the undead walked towards him. Matt committed the cardinal sin of carelessness. His pistol lay in his backpack hanging from a dining room chair.
Matt leaped towards the chair and just barely beat the zombie. He grabbed the backpack and rolled under the table. The creature growled and reached for him.
“Jesus,” Matt said aloud. “If that thing even scratches me …..”
He kicked the arm away with his foot and struggled to get the gun free. Finally he found salvation in his hand but the thing’s head remained out of sight. And shooting the arm would do no good. His choices were to continue to fight off the arm or risk dashing out from under the table.
The thing thrust his arm deep under the table and grabbed Matt’s ankle. Matt pulled and pulled but the creature held him with a death grip.
He cocked his gun, took a deep breath and relaxed. The thing slid Matt’s body out from under the table. As soon as the zombie saw a section of Matt’s leg, the thing bite at it. At the last possible instant Matt fired.
The creature fell face first on Matt and joined the real dead. Repulsed by the dead thing Matt struggled to his feet. Without warning something grabbed from behind. Another zombie somehow entered the house.
Matt struggled against the thing wondering how it snuck up on him. The monster whirled around coming face to face with Matt. The thing bit Matt on the neck drawing blood and condemning Matt to an undead hell.
The creature hoisted Matt up and impaled his back on a coat hook. Matt squealed in agony with all hope gone.
The thing sat down at Matt’s desk and stared at the unfinished limerick. He picked up the pencil with clumsy fingers encrusted with blood and flesh.
The thing completed the limerick,
“There was a zombie named Jewell
Who the ghoul met in a duel
Th unded wold corode
An thir brans woud explde
When th zmbies did rle”
The zombie walked over to a screaming Matt and ripped off his left arm and sauntered down the road munching on his noon day snack.
Linda and Karl Buckley made love unenthusiastically in front of their cave and then watched the sun slowly dip in the western sky. A few hundred yards below they saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of zombies making their way up the mountain side. They walked, not lurched, making slow progress on the steep terrain.
Karl counted their ammunition. Four rounds remained for the pistol and five for the shotgun. But the couple, chronically hungry, filthy and exhausted from exertion in the thin mountain air, decided that killing a few more of the creatures was of no value.
Linda took his hand and raised the gun to her forehead. Their eyes met and Linda nodded. The two shots came in rapid succession.
Mrs. Rita Carlyle, an 86 year old widow, rarely drove. But this night she tucked her duffle bag on the seat next to her and drove very carefully. No other cars were on the road, of course, but she maneuvered through rusting hulks of vehicles that were everywhere. She turned into the bank parking lot and parked in front of the building. She steadfastly refused to use a handicapped spot. A flickering light inside the bank surprised her and invited her inside..
Inside a teller named Joe Madison sat behind a desk with two candles and a lantern cutting through the gloom. A pistol lay on the desk in front of him. He picked up his gun when he heard the door open and then laid it down again when he recognized Mrs. Carlyle as human.
She sat at the desk and money, a lot of money, spilled from her duffle.
“I’d like to open an account,” she said.
“Certainly. May I see your driver’s license?” replied Joe.
Mr. Tobin holds a degree in mathematics from LaSalle University and is retired from L-3 Communications. Zombie Despair marks his fourth appearance in The Were-Traveler. His work also appears in River Poets Journal, Static Movement, Cruentus Libri Press, The Speculative Edge, Rainstorm Press, Twisted Dreams, The Rusty Nail, In Parentheses, and the Whortleberry Press as well as various websites and ezines. He is a member of the South Jersey Writer’s Group. Follow him on Twitter @TimTobin43.
Shit, unlife is boring. How in the hell long have I been staring at this wall? I know I’ve been sitting here, carefully writing this out for a while now; but every now and then, I just zone out for a few minutes… or hours… or days. I’m not really sure which. Time just doesn’t mean much when you’re dead, and there hasn’t been anything in particular to do ever since we got the last brain, and ate it.
Something most living people haven’t caught onto yet, is the fact that while we zombies don’t see, hear, taste, smell, or feel as well as we did before death; the virus gives us something of a sixth sense for brains, to compensate. We know when there are brains to be had, and what general direction they can be found in. That’s why we keep on showing up no matter how many of us have been killed. Why the brain? I don’t know. But while guts taste good; brains are the only part that taste great. We’ll walk across ocean floors, jump off cliffs, and shamble for days on end to get some brains. But we were too good. We finally got the last one.
The other thing the living don’t realize is how much of their lives are taken up with the process of living. You need to eat, sleep, use the bathroom, keep your minds occupied, maintain your bodies… But we don’t. The only thing we ever had to do was hunt down more brains. With no more brains to hunt, we haven’t had much to do.
We shambled around for a while. We bumped into each other, and wandered everywhere we could think of; or wherever our feet eventually lead us. But it was no good. No human brains. Nothing anywhere. So now we’re bored. And since there’s no one else around, nor anything else to do, some of us have started doing stuff like we used to. I mean, we’ve still got all this stuff left over from civilization. No one else is using it. And there are more than enough of us. So now we change clothes, and there’s no one around telling us to hurry up. We pass money around, but we don’t use pockets very much anymore; it’s easier just to hold it. We sew pieces that have come off, back on; and we’ve figured out how to use duct tape again.
Driving kind of sucks since we don’t have the reaction time anymore; but when we hit a wall, or a few pedestrians; or go off a cliff, no one minds. We grab the zombies who don’t have functional legs, and we drag them with us, or put them on something with wheels. One guy found a particularly long runway, and tried to fly a plane again, but if I heard right, while the take off went well, the landing was a pretty spectacular failure.
We’ve gotten some tv and radio stations back on the air. The shows kind of suck, but music from before we took over is still pretty good. Oddly or sadly enough the dancing after the fall of humanity looks suspiciously similar to the dancing that was popular right before the fall. Those of us who feel so inclined have re-mastered the Bernie, the water sprinkler, the humpty-hump, the freak, and the mosh-pit. Live concerts tend to suck worse than TV shows though; unless it’s something electronic that’s already programmed. Oddly enough, books have gotten popular again, for those of us with the eyes and the patience to read them.
Electric scooters, golf carts, and powered wheel chairs have gotten pretty popular, and I see a bright future for them for as long as we’re here. Sometimes we even have street races. We’ve got electricity turned back on, and those of us with enough brains to do so have programmed robot arms to build new fridges. No freezers though. We figured that out pretty quick. One lady is even working on a fridge suit… I think. I want to say that I heard that a while ago, but I’m not sure anymore. Portable refrigeration and heating technology have both been in demand for a while now so we can continue to unlive our collective unlifestyles.
On the domestic side of things we’ve begun mowing lawns again. Painting up houses, pulling down the bars and boards on the windows, fixing the holes in the roofs, and putting doors back on their hinges. This causes a lot of accidents, from the inevitable zombie dropping through the roof, to run-away lawn mowers; but again, nobody minds. Marriages are happening again, and there are all kinds of families in all kinds of housing. The neighborhood’s actually looking livable again; and the newspaper even comes by every couple of weeks.
You may think it would be lonely, but it isn’t. For some reason the only brains we hungered after were the human ones, so animals are doing pretty well. You can have any kind of pet you want, if you can find one, trap it, and get it home. In fact it said a couple of papers ago that our new president was thinking we might have to do something about certain animal populations running out of control. Bob from a few doors down said that he tried taking up hunting again, but after he squeezed the trigger, he just wound up down one arm, and impaled on a tree branch; so he doesn’t think hunting will be going anywhere. Or at least I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant when he gestured to his taped-on arm, the hole in his chest, and the paper article.
Good news is that the space program works again; and it’s making more progress than ever before. With a couple of years to read books, and a few NASA heads still left laying around, we got things up and running again. We put some former-humans on both the moon and mars. A rocket leaves for one or the other every few years or something, so anyone who wants to go can. We eventually figured out that we need heated space suits to shamble among the stars; and with them… I think I heard there were a few of us heading for the asteroid belt, with some going to even farther planets. Given time some of us will get to see the sand or rocks of Pluto with what’s left of their own eyes. There was some kind of meeting a while ago asking if we should look for alien brains actively; but no one really cared, so we scrapped that.
Other good news: We finally put an end to war and religious differences. There were still a couple of violent assholes, but after more years than any of us bothered to count of pure violence, most of us are kind of tired. And the majority of the few who still want to fight about something usually kill themselves off for good doing things like trying to make explosives, or sharpen a knife on a belt sander. The few who survive those kinds of mishaps generally stumble back out, suitably screwed up, and willing to rejoin polite society. The last handful of holdouts who insist on overcoming the apathy and decay to become problems, give the zombie cops something to do.
All in all I sometimes think that maybe things aren’t so bad now. Maybe death is what it took to make all the other crap in life seem stupid enough to ignore. We’ve still got guys playing with the stock market like it matters, we’ve still got lawyers, and insurance people; but we all know that none of it really matters anymore. On the other hand we have eco freaks cleaning rivers and oceans a rock or a handful of sand at a time; because now they have the time and the stamina to do so. We have people fixing broken oil rigs, pulling up nuclear garbage for us to shoot into the sun, or deep space… we haven’t decided which yet. We never bothered to start counting how many zombies climbed Mount Everest, and turned off their heaters so they could freeze up there and become part of the mountain. But we have explored the Marianas trench, found Atlantis, explored Antarctica, and gone as deep into volcanoes as we can before we combust.
One day I had an epiphany while I scanned books into the computer systems at the library: There will be something after us. I don’t know whether humans released the virus, or nature did; but it didn’t end all life on this world. Maybe the remains of humanity will eventually leave Earth for good. Maybe we’ll just break down physically until there’s nothing left. But whatever happens or doesn’t happen to us, life on Earth will go on. Something else will evolve after us. Maybe it will take millions of years. It will probably take millions of years. But when it happens I want whoever comes next to know what came before. I want them to know we were here. I want them to know that humans existed. And that we meant something.
When we killed off the last living human, we left the world to you; whoever you may be. We also left a lot of frozen human sperm and eggs we found in fertility clinics, buried in Antarctica and the Marianas trench. That way if you ever want to bring us back and meet us for yourselves; you can. We leave it up to you. Just know that once you gain the ability to decipher these words, then this is your official welcome to the world that’s been left for you.
“And that’s where the book ends.” The squid says, releasing the knobs to let the pneumatic arms lower. She looks around at her companions: A coconut crab, a dolphin, a wolf, and a culture of plankton in a self-contained suit.
“This might finally confirm my theory!” The wolf shouts. “This whole expedition was worth it! I’ve been theorizing for years that something dramatic must’ve changed our entire world! The artifacts we’ve found, the scraps of things that we couldn’t explain… Some super-virus invaded their world, and if it modified us after it was through with them; then that could explain everything!”
“And yet,” the coconut crab says, “as an anthropologist I have to advise you all, that this represents a major amount of social upheaval if we bring this find to light. Until now we’ve just been working with theories. Now we may have actual facts. So we should tread carefully from here on out with regards to what we say and do; and how we say and do those things.”
“But think about it!” the wolf squeals, “I’ve always wondered, why after all these years of divergent evolution, we suddenly: as the entire varied species, of a vast planet; seem to have come to the same convergent evolutionary conclusion! I mean, we all reached sentience at roughly the same time! Sure, tentacled creatures haven’t developed legs like dolphins and whales, or lungs like insectoids, or thumbs like most terrestrial mammals; but the fact that you’ve built these hydraulic suits says something.
And why have insectoids gotten so big over the last few thousand years? Why have any of us; much less most of us, developed the vocal apparatuses to talk? Why are we using tools, when before it was unnecessary? What if the agency who created the super-virus the creature spoke of wanted this to happen? Wanted us to happen!?! The creature who left the message for us said that he, or she, or it; didn’t know where the virus came from, or why. But what if someone else did know the origin of the virus? And even if no one knew that they were clearing the way for us; if the virus was released intentionally, then that would still make our genesis an intentional event! Either way, our intelligence was probably designed. Built into us from or with the genetic code of these creatures who came before us. This could answer everything! Or at least be the cornerstone and foundation of the answers to everything.”
“I believe,” the plankton culture says, “that the correct thing to do is to sleep on this until the morning. Right now we are all high on the success of our find, and its proper translation. Consider though, that we may have mistranslated it; specifically because we all know how much damage a simple mistranslation can do. So let’s have clear, well rested heads, and properly considered data before we begin changing the world. In the morning we’ll double check everything, and then, if we conclude that the original translations were correct; we can begin making decisions. What do you think Shawna?” the culture asks turning to the dolphin.
“I think it’s been a long day of diving, and I’m asleep on my feet already. I’m way too tired to be properly excited one way or another.” The dolphin says. “Bob is literally nothing but brain cells. I say we trust the brain. Goodnight people.” The dolphin says heading to her bunk.
“It seems we’re decided then.” The hermit crab says. “We shall retire for the evening, and reconvene in the morning.” The crab bows, “I shall see you all again on the morrow.” And then scuttles off to his bunk.
“It’s not that we’re not excited Allison,” the plankton says turning to the wolf. “It’s just that we want to be sure of everything before we begin changing the world; so that we change it properly. Sleep well.” He says turning, and floating down toward the men’s dorm.
Allison gives a sigh, and looks back at her find, then up at the squid which hasn’t moved. “And I suppose you’re heading off to bed as well Patricia?”
“I’m not sure I’ll be getting any sleep tonight.” The speaker on the front of the suit crackles while the squid within types furiously. “There is much here to consider. But the good news is that the surface world and its inhabitants aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I will think hard tonight. Goodnight Allison.” The squid says, bowing slightly within her suit, and settling down behind the device.
The glowing monitor in the darkness beckons to Allison like a moth to a flame, causing her tail and ears to perk back up a bit. But there’s nothing to do for the moment; especially with Patricia keeping watch over the find all night. ‘This isn’t anywhere near over yet; and it is not up for discussion.’ Allison finds herself thinking as she heads off to her bunk. ‘I’m going to bring the truth to the world. And anyone trying to stop me from doing so will need all the forces this world possesses on their side to survive my fury.’
Bryan Nickelberry was born with scales and webbed feet like any lifelong resident of the greater Seattle Metropolitan area. He now lives about half an hour from any kind of real civilization, and he spends his time away from work hunting for well-written stories in any format. Ask his friends, family and associates about him, and the stories will probably be long, but gracious.
The zombie looked up guiltily, hiding the cigarette in the cup of his hand. Then he realised the greeting had emanated from a small child, standing in the shadow of the fire escape stairs. He brought the cigarette back up to his lips and took a long draft. He nodded a greeting to the boy as he slowly exhaled. His audience stared in unembarrassed fascination.
“My mum says smoking is slow death.”
The zombie shrugged.
“I’m in no hurry.”
“She says only silly people smoke.”
“Yes, and she says if she ever catches me, she’ll knock me into next week.”
“She sounds a treasure. Why don’t you go back to her?”
“I’m seven,” said the boy, as though that were a complete rebuttal of the zombie’s suggestion.
“You want to make it to eight?” said the zombie. The boy nodded. “Then go back to your mum.”
“Mum’s not here.”
“No, I can see that.”
“Mum’s gone out with Uncle Jack. He’s not my real dad.”
“Really? I bet he’s disappointed.”
“My real dad lives in Wales. I go and visit him sometimes.”
“I don’t suppose you could go visit him now?”
“No, it’s a long way away, and it takes all day on the train, and I’m only seven.”
“Look, you shouldn’t be out on your own, kid. Who are you meant to be with?”
“My sister, only she’s talking to some boys, and she’s pretending I’m not there, so I’m pretending I’m not there either, so I’m here. Why do you look like that?”
The boy waved his hand in front of his face.
“You know, all white and green and funny looking.”
“Just a general tip to take with you through life, kid. Don’t make personal comments about people that are bigger than you, not if you want to see nine.”
“No, but why do you look like that?”
“I’m a zombie.”
The boy nodded and looked around the alley, as though he’d never seen the backs of buildings before. Then he turned back to the zombie and said, “What’s a zombie?”
“One of the undead.”
“What’s one of the undead?”
“I don’t know. Someone who was dead, and now’s alive. Walks around eating little boys’ brains.”
“Uncle Jack says if I had a brain I’d be a vegetable.”
“Really? He sounds a wonderful father figure. So he reckons you don’t have any brains?” The boy shrugged. “Oh well, I guess a snack is out of the question then. Didn’t your mum tell you not to talk to strangers?”
“Yes. Do you eat anybody’s brains, or just little boys’?”
“I don’t know. Anyone’s I suppose, them being in such short supply. Seriously kid, you need to go back to your sister before you get into trouble.”
“Would you eat a man’s brain too?”
“Would you eat Uncle Jack’s?”
The zombie shook his head and dropped the cigarette onto the ground. “You don’t get on with your Uncle Jack?” he said, grinding the cigarette out under his foot.
“He’s okay, I suppose,” said the little boy. “I mean, sometimes he shouts if I don’t do what I’m told.”
“Oh, but I bet that hardly ever happens, you not doing what you’re told.”
“Sometimes. But Mum says it’s because he’s not used to children, but Dad is, so maybe if you ate Uncle Jack’s brains, then Mum would let Dad come back.”
The zombie looked away from the boy, towards the other end of the alley, as though searching for something. After a moment he coughed and turned back.
“Look, I’ll tell you what. I’ll put him on my shopping list, okay? And if the supermarket runs out of brains, I’ll see what I can do. No promises, mind, and it might take a long time, but you just hang on there, okay? Come on.” He held out his hand, and the little boy took it. They turned and walked towards the front of the building. They had taken a few steps when a young girl rushed across the entrance of the alley, saw the boy and skidded to a stop.
“Jason, you little toerag, where have you been? When Mum finds out about this she’ll skin you alive!”
She marched into the alley.
“That’s my sister,” said Jason.
“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed,” said the zombie.
“You are so in….” Her eyes finally managed to shout over the panic-fuelled anger of her brain and her mouth formed a large ‘O’ as she registered what was holding Jason’s hand.
“Seven-year-olds need a lot of looking after,” said the zombie.
“Yeah, you’re telling me.”
“No,” said the zombie, still holding Jason’s hand. “I mean they need a lot of looking after. They get bored easily, they like exploring, they’ll talk to strangers without a second thought. That’s why your mum put him in the care of his seventeen-year-old sister.”
“Fifteen,” said the girl.
The zombie took in the makeup and the clothes.
“Really? Right, fifteen-year-old sister. Because fifteen-year-old sisters can be trusted to look after him, and not get distracted by, oh, I don’t know, boys who think she’s seventeen. Probably best for everyone if his mum doesn’t get to hear, I expect.”
He held Jason’s hand out, and his sister took it.
“So, you big Michael Jackson fans?”
The girl shrugged. “He was all right. It’s somewhere to go for an afternoon.”
The zombie jumped back and held his arms out straight in front of him. He la-la’d the intro to Thriller and treated the pair to a jerky dance. After a few bars he spun, pointed a finger at Jason and winked.
“The front doors must be open by now. Enjoy the show.”
Then he turned and walked back through the stage door.
Bob Simms is an IT trainer by day, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. He was bitten by the writing bug in the Autumn of 2006 and is now totally addicted. He lives in the UK with his wife. His wish for the future is that other people would find him as funny as he thinks himself.
His debut novel – The Young Demonkeeper – reached the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2011
Catch up with all his books at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bob-Simms/e/B004HQG246/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
(The UK is that little theme park off of the coast of Europe.)
“How late are your parents going to be out?” Jared whispered into my ear as his hand groped toward the edge of my shirt. I wiggled away and reached for the remote control to the TV.
“They should be home in about an hour, why?” I handed him the bowl of popcorn from the coffee table and moved a little bit over on the couch. Flipping the buttons on the remote until it hit the Horror Movie channel, I settled back against an overstuffed pillow and tried to stomp the growing irritation that was threatening to boil over. It had taken me weeks to arrange this date and everything was going wrong. Everything!
“Jared, can we please just watch the movie?” I growled.
His lips curved into a smirk. “Why? Am I rushing you?”
I scooted down to the other end of the couch and stared at him, annoyed at his assumption. He was supposed to be different. “What did you expect? That I was going to fling myself at you the moment my kid brother went to sleep?”
An unpleasant smile crossed over Jared’s face and I wondered what had possessed me to even consider this guy as date material. All he was was a football jersey with more notches in his belt than I could count.
“Haley. I can’t sleep. They’re outside again.” Christopher stumbled into the living room, bleary eyed.
I rolled my eyes and slowly nodded. He had been listening in on my date again.
“Kid, your sister said to go to bed.” Jared huffed off the couch and loomed over my brother. “Look, there is nothing outside for the hundredth time. See?” Jared stalked over to the back door and opened it, stepping out into the yard.
“Close the door!” I shouted, panicking slightly.
Slamming the door and locking it, Chris grabbed my hand and we peered through the blinds.
Jared was surrounded by the shambling undead. He backed away and tried to run, but they were faster. Chris’s pet zombies had him by the neck and they dragged him to the ground. The beautiful sound of screams and ripping flesh echoed through the night and brought a satisfied smile to my face.
“Thanks Chris. He was really a jerk, you know?” I flipped the blinds shut.
“Yeah, well. I had to feed them, right?” He peered up at me. “You really need to be careful about the uber douche lords you keep bringing home.”
” Yeah. I know.” I sighed. “You wanna watch the rest of Legions of the Undead?”
“Okay. The guys are going to be busy for awhile anyway.” Chris peered out the back window looking dejected.
“Hey. They had to eat. You can play with them tomorrow. Just make sure you put them away before Mom and Dad get home.”
“Hey. You want some popcorn?”
“Yeah. Extra butter!”
“You’re so disgusting.” I shuddered, and went into the kitchen to toss a bag in the microwave.
Maybe next week would be better.
Dana Wright has always had a fascination with things that go bump in the night. She is often found playing at local bookstores, trying not to maim herself with crochet hooks or knitting needles, watching monster movies with her husband and furry kids or blogging about books. More commonly, she is chained to her computers, writing like a woman possessed. She was a contributing author to Siren’s Call E-zine in their “Women In Horror” issue in February 2013, a contributing author to the Potatoes Anthology Wonderstruck Anthology, Shifters: A Charity Anthology and the Roms, Bombs and Zoms Anthology due in late 2013 from Evil Girlfriend Media. Dana also reviews music for Muzikreviews.com and has been a contributing writer to Pagan Living, Eternal Haunted Summer and Fabricoh Magazine.
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“Do you believe in zombies,” asked the beautiful, leggy lawyer representing Galaxy Pictures.
“About as much as the Tooth Fairy,” replied Brinker, a private investigator.
“I’ll bet you’d change your mind if Galaxy Pictures offered you a lucrative contract to find some.”
“Why come to me? This town’s full of hungry PIs who’ll do anything for a buck.”
“You’re the only private investigator in Los Angeles who used to be a successful bounty hunter. If you found elusive fugitives, we figure you could find zombies. But before I say more, I’d like you to sign a confidential nondisclosure agreement.” Removing a document from her attaché case, she handed it to Brinker.
“Hmm,” he said. “It says when I sign this you’ll tell me about one of Galaxy Pictures’ confidential projects. And if I mention it to anybody, especially to Galaxy’s competitors, your company will prosecute me to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Right. If you violate this agreement, I’ll make it my personal crusade to ruin your life. I assure you, Mr. Brinker, I’m very good at my job.”
Brinker couldn’t believe how such a gorgeous, innocent-looking woman could sound like a Mafia bone buster.
He signed the agreement out of curiosity.
Tucking the document into her case, she said, “Galaxy is planning to produce a spectacular new movie. Something no studio has ever dreamed of, much less attempted to produce. This will be the biggest project in the studio’s history. I’ve read the script. It’s dynamite. We expect ticket sales in the billions. Plus it could lead to a dozen sequels. Mr. Brinker, Galaxy intends to make the first movie in history that includes real zombies.”
Brinker chuckled. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard. Zombies don’t exist. Better inform your boss in case he hasn’t heard.”
“You’re wrong,” she said. “I’ve been to Haiti. I’ve seen one. Let me get to the point. Galaxy Pictures will hire you to go to Haiti and capture three dozen of them. We have lots of parts to fill in the new movie. However, you must include one female to play the key role—Queen of The Zombies.”
“What happens after I snag them?”
“Take them to the airport where we’ll have a chartered airliner waiting to fly them back here to Los Angeles. The company will pay $5,000 for each one you capture, as well as $500 per day for expenses. And once the zombies reach Los Angeles, you’ll receive $100,000 bonus. Do you believe in zombies now, Mr. Brinker?”
“For that kind of money I’d believe there was an Emperor of Mars, and deliver him to Galaxy’s main gate. By the way, is it true that zombies eat human brains?”
“No. That’s an invention of Hollywood.”
“What do they eat?”
“Human intestines. Don’t worry—you’ll be protected. Our model shop has developed tummy armor that’s thin, extremely strong, and very flexible. We’ll fit you before you leave. Make sure you wear it when you go zombie hunting.”
“How long do I have to catch them?”
“I’ll do it,” Brinker said.
Four days later, Brinker arrived in Haiti. He was in a holiday mood until he stepped off the plane. Though he’d been in a lot of weird places during his bounty hunting days, none had ever made him feel so creepy. Something about the atmosphere seemed unholy. Ethereal sounds of jungle drums rode on humid breezes, fading in and out. Strange voodoo symbols festered on graffiti-covered walls. He found himself getting the willies.
On the way to the hotel, he asked the cab driver where he could find zombies. The driver laughed and said he’d seen too many horror movies.
The hotel clerk said the same thing.
Somebody knocked while Brinker was unpacking his suitcase in his hotel room. A chambermaid entered, carrying a vase of flowers. “Compliments of the hotel,” she said, putting the vase on a table.
When Brinker handed her a tip, he noticed a small black figurine with two heads and red eyes, hanging from her cheap-looking necklace.
“That’s very interesting,” he said.
“What is, Sir?”
“The black thing on your necklace. What is it?”
She tucked the figurine inside the top of her maid’s uniform. “It’s nothing, Sir.”
“Then why did you hide it so quickly?”
“It is not for the eyes of unbelievers. Please, Sir, I do not wish to anger the gods.”
“I must leave now,” she said in a shaky voice.
“See this? It’s five American dollars. It’s yours if you answer my question.”
Grabbing the money, she said, “Mazuzu and Azolu. The jungle gods who protect me from zombies.”
Brinker dropped another five on the table. “So, I assume you’ve seen zombies.”
She picked up the money. “Yes. Many times. Like everyone else in Haiti.”
“I have ten more of these five-dollar bills. They’re yours if you sit for a few minutes and answer some questions.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Let’s start with your name.”
“Well, Bahody, here’s the situation. I made a bet with some of my friends back in America. They said zombies don’t exist. I bet them $10,000 that they do. So to win the bet, I must find some zombies and take their pictures as proof. Where can I find them?”
“Zombies prowl everywhere in Haiti. Especially tonight under the full moon.”
“Perhaps you can tell me exactly where to go, so I can find some, especially females.”
“You should never have made such a bet,” she said. “Especially about the living dead. It’s bad juju.”
“I’ll take the risk. Tell me where to go.”
“Café Rico,” she said. “Not far from this hotel. It’s an unholy place. They say rats drop dead when they get too close.”
“When I get there, who should I see to get in touch with zombies?”
“Don’t go. You’ll lose your soul.”
“It’s more important that I don’t lose my $10,000 bet,” he said. “How do I get there?”
“Any cab driver should know the way.”
“It’s such a nice evening, I prefer to walk. Who knows, I may even see a zombie or two along the way.”
Clasping her two-headed black figurine, she hoped the gods would forgive her for leading the foolish American to zombies. But she needed the money he offered.
“When you leave the hotel, turn left. Go three blocks. Turn right, and go six more.” She grabbed the money and hurried out.
Brinker strapped on Galaxy’s stomach armor, slipped a blackjack into his pocket, and left the hotel. On the way to Café Rico, he noticed wretched-looking people meandering slowly in the bright moonlight. Many seemed stupefied. He wondered if any were zombies.
Arriving at the outdoor café, he ordered rum. When the waiter brought the drink, Brinker said, “I hear this is the place where I can find zombies. Any around tonight?”
“No, Sir. They don’t come here anymore. They stay away ever since the new owner brought in priests to exorcise the café.”
“Where can I find some?” He flashed a ten-dollar bill.
“They say many have gone to Zambulu.”
“In the jungle. They say it’s a terrible place of black magic and terrifying voodoo ceremonies.”
“How do I get there?”
“I don’t know, Sir. But I urge you, for the sake of your mother, don’t go.”
Brinker gave him the ten and pondered his next move.
After three drinks, he went from table to table offering fifty dollars to anyone who’d take him to Zambulu and back. He figured he’d take a quick look. If it seemed promising, he’d rent an SUV and go back the next day with his zombie-capturing gear.
Nobody would take him.
“What the hell’s the matter with you people?,” Brinker said loudly. “Doesn’t anybody want to earn fifty American dollars? Know what that can buy in this miserable country?”
“Perhaps Mizra will take you,” somebody said. “She’s from Zambulu. Some say she’s a zombie. There she is—in that carriage across the street. The one with the large horse.”
Brinker asked the waiter if the woman in the carriage was a zombie.
“I don’t know. Ask her to come to your table. The exorcist sprinkled blessed salt around the café to keep those monsters away. Zombies cannot cross the salt.”
“Hey, Lady,” Brinker called. “Come over here, and I’ll buy you a drink.”
When she didn’t move, Brinker went to her carriage. “Take me to Zambulu,” he said, waving fifty dollars.
“Do…you…believe?” she asked.
“Believe in what?”
“Yeah, sure. Next you’ll tell me you’re one of them.”
“And I’m Spiderman,” he said, snickering. “Do you wanna make fifty dollars or not? I don’t have all night.”
As they rode slowly along a jungle path, she hummed a strange voodoo melody. It was the weirdest thing he’d ever heard. He found himself so unnerved, he wondered if she really were a zombie.
“Stop the carriage,” he said. “If you’re a zombie, prove it.”
He was astonished when her countenance took on a greenish glow and vibrated.
“That’s a pretty neat trick. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but it might be good enough to convince people in Hollywood to give you a part in a zombie movie. They might even let you play Queen of the Zombies. Not only that, if you point out more zombies when we get to Zambulu, I’ll pay you two dollars for each one. Maybe they can be in the movie too. Is it a deal?”
When he offered to shake her hand, she lunged for his stomach.
Slamming her head with the black jack, he knocked her out of the carriage. When she hit the ground, he heard growls. Dozens of figures with green vibrating faces came out of the jungle and headed toward him.
As he tried to get away, the horse bolted, throwing Brinker out of the carriage. Dazed and disoriented, he didn’t realize he was staggering toward the zombie mob.
Mizra knocked him to the ground from behind. She ripped his shirt open and went for his stomach.
“Stop it!” he yelled, pounding her with his fists. “Don’t you wanna be in a movie?”
He screamed horribly when her teeth pierced his armor and tore into his stomach.
His body flooded with so much adrenaline he managed to break loose and disappear into jungle thickets. He ran until he blacked out.
When they asked him at a hospital how he got there, he couldn’t remember.
Galaxy Pictures paid his medical bills for a few weeks. But when he didn’t improve, they canceled his contract, reinforced their stomach armor, and found somebody else to round up zombies.
Medical doctors couldn’t understand why Brinker’s stomach wound continuously leaked pus. Nor could they comprehend why powerful space-age drugs didn’t stop the flow. They scoffed when he told them it was a zombie bite.
But Haitian shamans understood. Though many exorcised Brinker, pus continued to flow.
Desperate for a cure, Brinker consumed putrid hoodoo potions and sacrificed countless chickens to Mazuzu, Azolu, and all of Bahody’s jungle gods. But nothing stopped the puss and horrible nightmares in which Mizra feasted on his infected guts.
One morning he awoke screaming in a blood-soaked bed. Mizra was chewing his intestines.
Too weak to fight her off, Brinker barely managed to say, “You coulda been a movie star.”
After munching the last putrid morsel in his abdominal cavity, she burped loudly and asked his corpse, “What…is…movie…star?”
Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 149 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.