The Importance of Being Eaten
The zombie apocalypse began under unclear circumstances. The government denied responsibility all along, which was to be expected. Shaky cell phone videos of people gnawing on other people went viral and were soon covered by the mainstream media. Everyone had an opinion. Was it some sort of live art social commentary about class warfare? The first victims were homeless, after all. Could it be terrorism?
Nope. It was goddamned zombies munching on innocent folks too inebriated or, in one instance, legless to escape.
Several specimens of the first wave were apprehended for scientific research and the rest were exterminated. The initial panic abated some, and the American people were outwardly proud of their government for the first time since the abolishment of segregation. A congressman accidentally “Tweeted” a link to a scat fetish website and zombies disappeared from the headlines for a few months.
Then, the zombies swarmed and overran Nashville in the span of three days.
That’s when we learned there was more than one type of zombie.
The most common type of zombie should be familiar to anyone who has turned on a television in the month of October. These guys have very little going on upstairs, but will walk across of field of Legos (without shoes!) to get a nibble of sweet human meat. The corpselike appearance, vacant stares, and propensity to stumble over the smallest of rocks are a few more characteristics of this particular type. About 70% of the zombies stumbling around outside belong to this category. Scientists believed (before they all got eaten by zombies) that this variety was created when a person dies from a zombie attack. Within about an hour of death they return to quasi-life with a very specific hunger pang. Due to the nature of their conversion, this zombie generally looks walking shit.
The second type of zombie is what gave us the false sense of hope many months ago. When a victim is attacked by a zombie and survives, he does not immediately turn. As Nashville learned, it can take a few weeks. The metamorphosis is gradual. The infected enter a state of purgatory between being alive and being undead. One day, sandwiches just won’t cut it. The next thing you know you’re chomping your sister’s ear cartilage. Many people kill themselves before they turn, as the transition is said to be a maddening experience. Those that do turn generally look more presentable, which is a good way to distinguish between the two types.
The final variety is rare and more dangerous than the others. I wish those shitting scientists had survived long enough to explain these fuckers. Some victims that should fall into the second category, those bitten that survive, do not become zombies. Well, let me elaborate. They don’t become zombies in an obvious way. They develop the appetite of a zombie, but appear normal in all other respects. Why is this more dangerous?
You answer the door and, what do you know, Girl Scout cookies! You turn your back for just a second to find your wallet and BAM! That adorable girl with knee-high socks takes a palm-sized chunk out of the back of your neck. If you die, welcome to the horde. If you survive, just wait a few weeks.
And that brings us to today.
Call it good fortune.
My neighbor, Raymond, was what might conservatively be referred to as a survivalist. While the world burned to cinders Raymond busied himself erecting barricades. He smiled the entire time.
Today, I am glad I never joined others in the neighborhood in mocking Raymond, openly or behind his back. Was he a bit strange? Yes. But, was he harmless? Well, except for all the guns and landmines I would say yes.
One of mankind’s greatest instincts is to flee during times of strife. I worked as a cashier at a grocery store as a teenager, and I soon learned that a hint of bad weather was a sure sign of a busy day. We accept that we might die, from a tornado or a zombie attack, but we want to be well fed in the mean time. Memphis and Louisville fell after Nashville. By the time the hordes were spotted outside of Chicago, most of the neighborhood had drawn up stakes.
I’m still not sure where they went.
Those of us who stayed behind assisted Raymond in constructing a fence around our block. We did not enclose the entire neighborhood, as many of the houses were abandoned. Raymond’s suggestion was to consolidate into as few houses as possible so that we had less territory to manage. I was lucky to keep my home.
My name is Jane and I am on patrol.
The chain-link fence is about eight feet tall, and two interlaced coils of razor wire run along the top. I’m standing about three feet away from a zombie, but feel no terror or fear. This fellow is a new zombie. I can tell because he almost looks human. His skin is a sickly hue between gray and yellow, but the eyes are not completely vacant. He fixates on things, a rock or his own shoe, for a few seconds until the gaze glasses over.
The new guy bumps into the fence and rebounds off of it. The metal rattles but does little more than quiver. This has been going on for some time now. I take a step closer to him and narrow my eyes.
Yes, it’s him.
I went to school with this one. He was a quiet kid who excelled at art and nothing else. To be honest, when Jack (I think) wore a trench coat to school, I stayed out of his way.
He’s not much different now. He still mutters and avoids eye contact. There’s a lot of blood and vomit on his Metallica shirt, and the cavernous wound on his neck is swarmed with flies. Other than that, he’s pretty much the same. My presence does not affect him as it should. We learned that zombies hunt by scent. Jack is too fresh to understand that I am now food, or he has a stuffed nose.
“To Jack, if that’s what your name was. I hardly knew ye,” I say.
Jack groans. There’s liquid leaking from his wound that looks like pond water. I raise the barrel of the AR-15 and aim at his mouth. Before I squeeze the trigger I consider how normal this has become. It’s quite amazing how quickly people adapt to terrible situations when they have no other choice.
I squeeze the trigger once, remembering that it was set to burst a second too late. Jack’s gray head disintegrates in gory ribbons. Brackish blood flows from the ragged stump of his neck, but there is no arterial spray. Zombie hearts pump slowly, or so the scientists said. His body teeters for a moment. I have seen these things remain upright for days following decapitation. A slight gust of wind whips through my black hair and Jack’s rigid body topples.
The gunfire will garner no attention, but if there happened to be anyone outside they might amble over for a gander. There is a bit of chill in the air today, and the clouds look heavy with rain. I suppose the suggestion of inclement weather is enough to keep people indoors. I check my watch. Two hours left on my shift.
It gets lonely out here sometimes, especially when there are no zombies to kill. I continue my stroll around the inside of the perimeter. The fence encompasses eight houses, and it takes about five minutes at a slow pace to complete one circuit. The kill was the first action I’d seen all day. Damn I wish I had something to shoot.
It begins to rain.
The backyards are overgrown with tall grass and vegetables. It is tiring trudging through the dampened lawns while toting my rifle, in addition to being boring. Although, I suppose I could shoot Sally.
Sally showed up about three weeks ago. She looked to be around seven years old and was wearing a yellow dress. The ribbon in her hair might have been yellow as well, but it was matted to her head and caked with blood, so we can only assume. Sally was in rough shape. A portion of her skull was missing, and a congregation of a couple hundred flies endeavored to patch the hole. She was disgusting even for a zombie. She opened her nasty little mouth to moan, as zombies do, and a couple dozen flies flew out and returned to her head wound. This cycle repeated in two-minute intervals, with flies burrowing into the tissue and exiting the mouth only to return in a few minutes. Occasionally, maggots would fall from her lips.
It was fascinating and revolting. I called out to Raymond and Mona, who were throwing a football nearby. As the pair trotted over, a coyote exploded out of a cluster of bushes, snagged Sally’s right leg, and made off with it. When she fell to the ground her left arm snapped and cruel shards of bone burst through the skin. She attempted to stand but was unable.
“Look at that,” Raymond said, more to himself than Mona or me.
“Poor girl,” Mona said.
So here we are, three weeks later. Sally must have an impressive set of abs by now, because she has done about a million sit-ups in the past twenty days or so. She alternates methods, but the result is always the same. She sits up and attempts to push her body off the ground with her left arm. The arm is pretty much gray jelly with flecks of bone and it invariably buckles. Or, she will sit up, stabilize her body with her right arm, and attempt to stand with her right leg. You can guess how that turns out.
Why haven’t we put her out of her misery? I don’t know. I suppose she is our unofficial mascot. Also, I just want to see if the little bastard can actually stand.
Let me be honest about one thing.
I don’t trust my neighbors.
I can’t say they’ve given me a reason not to trust them. I just don’t.
I close the door to the basement behind me and secure the lock. I place the skeleton key inside a compartment in my bra. I didn’t know it was a maternity bra when I bought it, but it has come in handy during the apocalypse. My belly is swollen and taut. I eat like a maniac but never feel satisfied anymore. I guess the end of the world takes a lot out of you. An aspect of my mistrust has led me to hide food in my basement. Raymond horded food well before the apocalypse and gives it freely. By his calculations, he has enough stored food to supplement the sixteen people in the neighborhood for a decade. In addition to that, we’ve planted gardens in every yard and Raymond’s green thumb is working miracles. Still, I can’t suppress the desire to keep a private, personal supply.
I do not feel guilt about hiding my food. It’s simply a survival mechanism. The zombie apocalypse has taught me many things about myself, and chief among them is my newfound lust for life. In my former existence I had little going for me beyond work and school. Now, I have a purpose.
My front door opens as I pass by on my way to the kitchen. A smiling moon-face appears that I know all too well. Danny beams when he sees me, revealing an adorable diastama where his central incisors should be. There was a baby tooth there when I’d seen him the previous day.
“Wanna know what the tooth fairy brung me?” he says, tripping over the consonants as his tongue adjusted to the lack of teeth.
“Um, is it a pile of poo?” I ask, to which he shakes his head.
He giggles as he says, “Nope! Guess again.”
“I know, a Barbie doll,” I say.
His face collapses into an exaggerated grimace. The idea of the doll seems more disturbing to him than the imagery of finding a pile of shit under his pillow.
He reaches inside his pocket. As he does I consider how unfortunate it would have been if he’d barged into my house thirty seconds sooner. I don’t know that I could explain the hidden food or trust that he would keep my secret. Raymond says it’s only a matter of time before we are attacked. We can handle zombies well enough, but people are a different story. That is the real reason for the patrols.
Danny holds up a pocketknife. After a bit of fumbling, he flicks the blade out and holds it up for me to inspect. I take the knife from him and turn it over in my hands. It’s a respectable blade, but probably would not save him if zombies got ahold of him. The metal was thin near its tip, and would likely break off instead of penetrating a zombie’s skull.
“Not bad,” I say and hold it up as if inspecting its balance.
“Mom says I can’t have a gun yet, but I can carry a knife cause Ray showed me how to use it,” Danny says.
“So, what would you do if you a saw a zombie right now?” I ask.
Danny chews his cheek for a second then retrieves the knife from his pocket. He releases the blade and carves through the air in looping ovals. As he does this he makes little grunting noises.
“Whoa!” I say, and hold my hands up.
He continues slicing the air.
“Okay okay. I believe any zombie that had the misfortune of meeting you would be properly diced,” I say.
Danny is momentarily out of breath as he slides the knife back into the pocket of his jeans.
“Wanna see something?” he asks.
I check my watch. My shift doesn’t begin for six more hours.
“Sure,” I say, and follow him outside.
There is no evidence of yesterday’s storm. The sun looks like a phosphorescent pearl on a bed of baby blue. It would appear to be a typical late summer day in suburbia, if not for the fence, razor wire, and lawns overflowing with vegetables. Raymond and Lynn, Danny’s mother, are in crouched positions in front of a row of tomatoes. Raymond waves at me and then continues his discussion with Lynn. He is wearing camouflage, as usual, and this seems much less ridiculous than it did six months ago.
“Follow me!” Danny shouts.
I jog to catch up and he sprints ahead.
“You have to see Sally,” he says.
Did she actually do it? I wonder.
Danny is hunched over a few feet shy of the fence, trying to catch his breath. With his black hair and caramel eyes he could very well be my little brother. He points at Sally.
Sally looks so pathetic I resist the urge to scale the fence and stomp her skull into slush. She sits up, looks left and right, and reclines to the ground again.
“Bill said another coyote came and took her good arm,” Danny says, his voice cracking.
He looks up at me and I see tears brimming in the eyes that look like my own.
“Her name isn’t Sally, by the way. It’s Jessica. I used to like her,” he says.
He lowers his head and I see his tiny shoulders hitch a few times. He is weeping now and I’m not sure how to comfort him. I place my hand on his back between his shoulder blades.
“There there,” I say.
I finish my shift without incident. I killed three zombies, but that hardly qualifies as an incident. I venture outside the wire, so to speak, at night to forage for food. Raymond has never withheld food or supplies of any kind, but I can’t stand feeling indebted to anyone. I have to know, for my peace of mind, that I could survive on my own if necessary.
Rodney is on the midnight shift tonight and he’s a both an oaf and a pervert. I am at the window of my upstairs bedroom, watching him through a set of binoculars. He made two rounds in the last half hour, which is an improvement over previous nights. He is two houses over now and has stopped his patrol. He looks over his shoulder as if he’s heard something. I groan, understanding his intentions based on past surveillance.
Rodney approaches the house with its glowing windows. This is Danny and Lynn’s residence, a single-story ranch style home. Rodney places his rifle on the ground and thrusts his meaty right hand down his pants. He peers into the window and I see the arm, ghostly white in the night, begin to shake.
This is bad news for Lynn and good news for me. I sling the AR-15 over my shoulder, grab a flashlight, and exit through the back door. I wonder if Rodney has ever looked in on me before. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight thus far in the apocalypse, but my figure is not completely boyish.
What am I thinking? Why would I care if Rodney found me attractive?
The backyard is lush with vegetation and cumbersome to traverse.
“Shit,” I say as I kick over an okra plant.
I can’t risk the flashlight yet. I stop and cock my head to the side. During a pause between cricket songs I hear labored breathing that indicates Rodney is nearing his climax. Disgusting.
I scale the low wooden fence separating my yard from my neighbor’s, and take a few leaping strides. I found the loose section of fence here while making my rounds a month or so ago. There are clumps of grass here that disguise the gap between the fence and earth. I drop to all fours and slink beneath, scraping a bit of skin from my back in the process.
I’m watching the man from a distance of about thirty feet. We are in a wooded area a couple of miles east of the neighborhood. He appears to be alone. I surmise many things about him based on his appearance and behavior.
The fact that he has constructed a fire suggests that he is either an idiot or has only recently adopted this nomadic lifestyle. Fire attracts many things and none of them are good. His cheeks are concave and his beard is a patchwork of tufts and stray hairs. His eyes bulge in strange spasms, giving him the appearance of a person who is alternately terrified and apathetic about his situation.
Remember that elusive third variety of zombie I mentioned? We accidentally let one into the neighborhood two months ago. Three people died before we figured him out. Now, we kill all zombies and turn away the living. And, we meet force with force when necessary.
It’s impossible to know if this guy is a zombie in disguise. Based on his overall inept appearance, he is simply a wealthy man who ran out of supplies and had to abandon his fortress to search for food. My stomach rumbles, reminding me of my purpose.
If he filled out a bit he might be handsome, but now he looks thin, frail, and useless.
I expertly maneuver around rocks and branches until I am just a few feet away from his camp. I can feel waves of heat from the fire. I release the safety.
“Don’t move! I have a gun on you!”
The man shrieks and withdraws a Desert Eagle. He fires in my direction and the gun falls out of his hand and into the fire.
“Goddammit, you’re going to draw every zombie for three miles,” I say.
He looks up at me, shocked. He throws his hands up in surrender while some crackling whine escapes his trembling lips.
I aim my rifle at him.
“You’re coming with me. We have a place a couple miles from here. You better run!”
We sneak back through the gap in the fence and sprint to my house. Rodney is either asleep somewhere or masturbating outside of someone’s window. Within a minute we are inside my house.
“Are you hungry?” I ask as I drop my rifle on the couch.
He doesn’t reply and seems confused by his surroundings.
“Food?” I say, a bit louder.
He turns to me, seemingly seeing me for the first time, and smiles. How flattering.
He nods his head.
“I thought so,” I say.
I was afraid, based on his haggard appearance, that Dave would be tough. He told me his name as he ate his third slice of buttered bread. But, he wasn’t tough.
I knocked him out with a well-placed blow to his skull, near his occipital bone, with the butt of my gun. He fell like a pile of laundry onto the floor of the living room. I slipped my forearms under his armpits and dragged him towards the basement. I carried Dave to the top of the stairs and nudged him with my foot so that his limp body tumbled to the basement floor.
I’m pretty sure something snapped as he flipped down the steps, but it didn’t really matter. Not for me or Dave.
My biggest fear is that I will be discovered some day. As such, my first concern was preventing any suspicious noises, namely screams. Chains and manacles secured Dave to the far wall of the basement next to the waist-high pile of bones leftover from previous guests. I pried his mouth open and set a baseball on the incisal edges of his mandibular teeth. He had a little mouth.
I pounded the baseball with a hammer twice. Several teeth broke and blood pooled in his mouth, streaming from the corners in thick rivulets. His body trembled as he made terrible, wet sucking sounds. I noticed his left forearm had swollen to about twice the size as the right. So something had snapped.
I must confess I do not enjoy the terror. I simply must feed.
Dave woke at around four in the morning. His half-lidded eyes fell upon me. How strange it must be to witness someone eating something so familiar. I was seated at my desk with my legs propped up on a stool. I was naked, which probably served to confuse Dave more, but only meant an easier clean up process for me. The room was poorly illuminated, a single 60-watt bulb serving as the only source of light. I’m not sure if Dave understood what was happening until he craned his neck to the side and saw the gory stump there.
He looked from the stump to me. I waved at him with his own hand. He began to cry. I take another bite.
Dave wasn’t tough at all.
Okay, so I have a few secrets.
I cut the body parts off of my victims before I eat them. This way, I do not infect the person and ruin a good meal by having them turn mid-bite. We have no refrigerators in which to store the meat, so I have to keep my guests alive for as long as possible. I assure you this breaks my heart. I am not a cruel person, or zombie if you want to get technical, just very hungry. I am quite good at cauterizing wounds now.
I return home from my patrol and Danny is standing at the top of the stairs leading into the basement. Did I leave it unlocked? He can likely see Dave’s torso on the floor down there.
“Danny,” I say, smiling, “did I invite you over for dinner?”
He is patting his pockets, searching for his knife.
You know what I haven’t had in a long time? Veal.