Here is an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published short story in Stupefying Stories. From the first time I began submitting stories, one clear constant shows up in the guidelines–No Zombie Stories! We’ve seen it all!
Life is hard for a zombie.
Check that. Existence is hard for a zombie. We’re not alive in the traditional sense, anyway. We don’t breathe, defecate, urinate, or (heh) masturbate. But we eat. Boy, do we eat. And we’re not entirely picky about who we eat, either.
For instance, I remember the day I changed. A late-bloomer, I still didn’t have anyone nearby to shepherd me through the process. Those first few days were a blur, what with my brain dying and all. My only clear memories from that time are of my wife. And how she kept trying to kill me. I retained enough of my mind to attempt to change her—even ignoring my overpowering hunger—but she kept hitting me with that damn shovel.
So I ate her.
Sue me. I held out as long as I could.
Once I got my mind back, I felt bad of course, but the change does more than give you a taste for human flesh—it allows you to compartmentalize your emotional self from your consumer self. Or so I’m told. Frankly, I was just happy the sight of her remains didn’t make me chuck her up all over the living room floor. There was already enough of a mess to clean as it was. Thank God for laminate flooring. I buried what was left of her in the back yard using the shovel she tried to kill me with. A few months later I headed south to escape the growing cold.
Cold weather is hell on zombies. With no functioning circulatory system, any day that dips below freezing turns us into statues. Then I am just one more corpsicle for the dogs to chew on. Or the humans to decapitate. Bastards. Our brains don’t stop functioning just because you separate the head from the body. Fire, on the other hand… well, that’s final.
The doorbell growled at me as I stared at the static on the TV screen. That’s another thing—our ability to process sounds changed profoundly after the infection ran its course. Most sounds hold no inherent meaning, and come across as simple grunts, growls, and rumbles.
I miss music.
Even after we got the local power plant functioning again, about the only thing we used power for was to heat our homes. Buster Keaton was making a comeback in the theater, though. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a theater full of zombies laughing at a Buster Keaton flick.
I peeled myself off the sofa and shambled to the door. Opening the door with my good arm, I saw Bob standing there swaying slightly from side to side.
“Hey Jeff,” he said. Or growled, actually. Our speech centers are all screwed up, too. It was replaced with a cool form of telepathy, though, so there’s that. We don’t really get words, but the pictures and emotions that come across make things clear enough.
“Hey Bob,” I returned his greeting. “Be with you in a second.” He was late meeting me for the walk to work, but time is a relative thing to a zombie. I picked up my coat, shrugged it on, and joined him on the front porch as I closed the door behind me. Bob was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Brownsville that first winter two years ago. He even helped me clean out the owners of the home I now occupied. They were delicious, by the way. One of them was a local politician, and they, like the rich, had the best flavor. Well-fed, with the perfect fat to muscle ratio. Damn easy to take down, too. It’s a shame there aren’t any left.
We set out for the high school where we kept the livestock, passing neighbors as they began their days.
“Oh hell. What’s Judy think she’s doing?” Bob sounded exasperated as he chucked his chin to point ahead. As well he should. There was Judy—again—sitting in the middle of the road chewing on a stray. They wandered in from time to time, drawn in by the lights. Judy was one of those oddballs that wouldn’t let go of her preconceptions. Her legs were gnawed off by dogs shortly after her change, and even though she could damn well use a wheelchair, she steadfastly refused to do so. Nope, she just dragged herself from place to place with her rotting stumps in tow.
She looked up and waved, a length of small intestine hanging from the corner of her mouth. “Hey guys,” she said. “Breakfast?”
“Nah,” said Bob. “We’re late for work.”
“Suit yourself,” she said as we passed her, and she bent back to her meal.
“I’ll never understand why she keeps doing that,” Bob said as he shook his head.
“Yeah,” I said. “The least she could do is call for someone to herd them to the pens. We need more breeding stock.”
Most of what we had on hand was too young to breed, and many of the older females had skills we needed, so they couldn’t be taken out of service for a long gestation period. Eating maintenance and repair guys was strictly forbidden, and we also kept around a few doctors to treat the rest. All that left a huge gap between what we needed and what we could use.
Bob and me were responsible for the care and feeding of the town’s livestock. We kept them in the school because we could house them in small groups that way, and we had ready access to teaching materials and a field for exercise. The Council recently decided to separate them based on intelligence and ability, and I had to say I didn’t approve. I always felt it was best to crossbreed for vigor, but they thought it would be better for testing and assignment. Whatever.
“Hey,” Bob said, “do you hear that?”
I turned my good ear to where he was looking. The school, of course. There was a mix of growls and high-pitched keening coming from the closest building. I shuffled faster. “It’s the engineering wing!” Shit. There was a push on right now for more engineers, due to the need to keep the power plant operational. I argued for more scope in their education, but was overruled. The Council saw a need and focused on filling it. Next year it would be farmers to grow food for the stock, or something else entirely. It was all about filling a niche with those people. I sighed as I leaned into the door.
Spoiled. The whole damn herd.
Bob looked at me and shrugged. “Great,” he said. “I’ll get the flamethrower.”
It was standard procedure. Once the contamination entered the building, all the stock would soon be infected, and we couldn’t afford to have any more mouths to feed. If we acted quickly, we might be able to save a few. It looked like the teachers were the first to go down, though, so saving any might be moot at this point.
Bob pulled the flamethrower from its position on the wall next to the fire extinguisher. As he shrugged on the heavy harness and fired up the pilot light, I grabbed the extinguisher. No point in having the whole building go up.
He looked at me and asked, “How did the infection get in, do you think?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure I know who will get the blame.”
Bob snorted once at that. He knew the pecking order as well as I.
A blond ran toward us, stopped and screamed, then turned to hide in a closet. Normally a stupid move, but luck was on her side this time. Bob burned down the dude chasing her. When he stopped twitching, I put him out.
We walked the halls, side by side, methodically setting and extinguishing forty or so fires as we cleared the building of infection. Out of the nearly two hundred head of livestock, I think we saved about two dozen. Three of those had to be sent to the tables due to injuries.
Overall, it was a very bad day.