Friday, October 24, 2008
Call him Fishmeal. He was not called this in life, nor was he called this in death, but one name is as good as any other when you refer to the living dead. His true name is zivumbe in the language of the Old Religion, which has come down to us in its corrupted form as zombie. The zombie lived by the sea when he was alive, as he did now as one who is dead and yet lives. The zombie was born by the sea, grew to manhood by the sea, surfed unceasingly in the sea, and died in the sea. When his remains washed ashore in a tide of blood and Gore-Tex, his body, or what remained of it, sat undisturbed for three days, and then the zombie walked the earth again. The zombie did not know why he lived again: if he was chosen, if it was a terrible accident, if it was related to some fluke of God or Man or Science. The zombie was quite certain that he was not a product of the Old Religion as he had no master to serve or to be summoned by. So, masterless, the zombie walked the earth, up and down the boardwalk with his shuffling, undead gait. Again, as opposed to the traditional zivumbe, the zombie did not crave the taste of human flesh: all the zombie craved were answers as to why he still lived this horrid half-life, who he had been when he lived, and who he could possibly be now that he was among the undead.
When the zombie approached the living on the boardwalk, he made quite an impression: his two most severe injuries were to his right leg, which was missing a large half-moon chunk from its thigh, and his midsection, which was strewn with scars above a jagged tear through his belly-flesh which allowed his entrails to flop lazily out against his abdomen. In addition, his left eye protruded from its socket on a stalk, lolling back and forth against his cheek. The zombie approached everyone he saw, slowly shuffling, and attempted to ask them the questions that plagued him: Why am I here? Who am I? What do I have left to accomplish? Unfortunately for the zombie, all of these questions emerged as “hhhrrrnnhhhh” and caused panicked fright rather than intellectual discourse in those he attempted to communicate with. As these people assumed, logically enough, that the zombie was a horrifically injured war veteran, they pressed upon him many paper dollars of cash money and the occasional tiny American flag or magnetic yellow ribbon. Soon, the zombie was the most moneyed of all those who begged along the boardwalk, the yellow ribbons arrayed around his neck in a decorative lei and the tiny American flags proving their usefulness as wadding to keep his prodigal organs from wandering any further. The zombie marveled at his luck at being a zombie in America, easily the most comfortable and comforting homeland one of the undead could ask for. Often, in moments of repose he would raise his hands above his head in fists and chant “USA! USA! USA!” to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, to anyone who listened the zombie’s chorus would only sound like “hhhrrrnnhhhh” and his rabid patriotism went unheralded.
But still, many questions and few answers. The zombie sat beneath the boardwalk and stared at the surf, listening to the pounding of the waves and watching the living surfers dance along the crest of the water. The vague muscle memories that lay within him yearned to be released upon those waves, but the zombie was now possessed by a terrible fear of the water, which he could only assume was related to the manner of his death. But still he watched, and yearned, and watched and yearned more and more silently.
One day an eight-year-old boy came and sat beside the zombie on the sand beneath the boardwalk. He was not afraid for he had seen many horrible things in his short, sad life. The boy sat silently beside the zombie for a long time before he turned to look the zombie in the face. Several more minutes passed before the boy spoke.
“Hi,” he said tentatively.
The zombie turned to him and nodded in return.
“What happened to you?”
The zombie responded to the boy that he did not know, but, as before, the only sound that emerged was “hhhrrrnnhhhh”. However, a strange thing occurred this time. It was as if there were subtitles to the zombie’s groaning, because the boy understood him perfectly.
“You don’t remember?”
The zombie responded that, in fact, he did not.
The boy paused several moments before continuing. “Are you dead?”
The zombie answered thoughtfully that, although he possessed many of the aspects that characterized the living, i.e. movement and thought, he no longer needed to eat or drink or eliminate waste or breathe air so, ultimately, was unsure if he was truly alive or dead.
The boy looked away. “I think you’re dead.”
The zombie grunted noncommittally.
The boy looked back at the zombie, studying his putrefying face. “Is it scary, being dead?”
The zombie let loose a soft, slurrying noise that approximated a chuckle. He responded that it wasn’t any scarier than being alive, but that was scary enough in its own way. He added that other people seemed scared of him, except for the boy.
The boy exhaled through his teeth. “I’m not scared of anything.” The boy’s eyes dropped to the zombie’s extensive belly wound. “Could I touch it?”
The zombie responded that he did not mind, as he could no longer feel pain.
The boy tentatively ran his hand over the highest line of the wound, then began to slowly probe the ragged edge, feeling the gangrenous slime of the rotting organs. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain and pulled his hand away quickly. The pad of his middle finger was now bisected by a cut, oozing blood. He held it up to the zombie, who shrugged. The boy returned to the wound, searching for the source of the cut. He poked and prodded for several minutes before something dislodged from the upper edge of the wound and fell into the blood-soaked organs and flag material. The boy picked the object out of the zombie’s offal, wiped it on his shorts, and held it up so the zombie could see. It was white, triangular, and very, very sharp.
“I think this is a tooth.”
The zombie looked from the tooth to the boy.
“I think you got killed by a shark.”
The zombie slowly turned his gaze from the boy to the sea, and the memory came flooding back to him.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Cagey looks up from his soup to see two figures seated across from him. Cagey lowers his spoon, the soup in it uneaten. The girl, a blonde, appears to be mentally retarded, or at the very least brain damaged. However, unlike most mentally retarded individuals Cagey has observed, the girl is very beautiful, and her hygiene is impeccable: waves of long hair shine in the restaurant light, her makeup is restrained but effective, and her teeth are perfect. The overall effect is ruined by the small string of drool that collects at the corner of her mouth as she laughs her idiot laugh. Her eyes are glassy and deadened as she stares across the table at Cagey.
The dark-haired man seated next to her, on the other hand, radiates intelligence shot through with malice. His hair is slicked back from his high, proud forehead in a widow’s peak, and his arched eyebrows accentuate the eyes. A thick, flaky crust obscures those eyes, however, and its grayish color reflects the light in silvery glints. Although the face around the eyes is very animated, the crusts never crack, and the man never blinks. He just sits across from Cagey, next to the blonde moron, grinning a sickening, toothy grin. Neither speaks; they only regard Cagey silently for several minutes until he finally speaks.
“Um, is there something I can help you with?”
The dark-haired man giggles, mocks him: “Uh, uh, is there something I can help you with?” The idiot girl laughs her idiot laugh. They sit and continue to watch him.
“Why did you sit down here with me?”
The dark-haired man shrugs. “Didn’t. We were already here.” The blonde looks confused, nods, her jaw slack.
Cagey’s irritation begins to supplant his feelings of unease. “Sooo, I sat down here, at your table. Where you were the whole time. That’s what happened.”
The dark-haired man shrugs again. “You should come with us. We have some things to show you. Some things you’ll want to see.” The blonde imbecile nods emphatically, grunts, spittle flecking her chin.
“Wow. Wow, I don’t think so.”
The dark-haired man grins again, and Cagey’s stomach tightens up with apprehension. “You’ll end up going, one way or the other. It can be now, or there’s a bus that’ll take you later.”
The man’s grin grows even broader. “Yeah, a bus. You don’t want to meet the bus driver.” The idiot girl laughs gutturally. The dark-haired man turns to her, grinning, looks back at Cagey. “Yeah. The bus driver. He’s, like…binary, man.”
“Yeah, you know: if we’re all Ones, then he’s a…”
The idiot girl shouts it: “Zero!” She laughs and laughs, clapping her hands awkwardly together. The man laughs as well, continues staring at Cagey through the flaky gray crusts.
“Mm-hm. That’s right.” The dark-haired man jerks his thumb over at the blonde. “He touched her once, and part of her came off in his hand.” The blonde continues her nodding and giggling. The dark-haired man gets up, motions the blonde out of the booth. She pushes herself up and nearly tumbles out, steadying herself on the table. “My name is Charles. My sister’s name…is Suzie. We’ll see you again. You won’t forget us any time soon.”
Cagey chuckles mirthlessly. “No, no I won’t.”
The pair moves towards the door of the restaurant, the girl leaning into her brother for support. Cagey watches them walk out into the parking lot to a long, boxy black car of indeterminate make and vintage. A man gets out of the driver’s seat, at least it looks like a man, all dressed in black. It is hard to see across the dimly lit parking lot but he appears to open the rear driver’s side door to let Suzie into the car. He assists her as Charles gets in on the passenger side. The man in black appears to turn back to the restaurant, and it is then that the music coming through the speakers begins to warp, sounding as if a child were playing with an AM dial, voices and snatches of music coming in and out through the strange echoes of the sine waves. The man in black turns, gets back into the driver’s seat, and pulls out into the night without his lights on. The restaurant’s radio returns to its regular program of frothy j-pop. Cagey turns back to his soup bowl and exhales, palms down before him on the tabletop. He then gets up suddenly, almost runs over to the waiter tabulating bills at the register by the door. The waiter looks up, smiles as Cagey approaches.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yeah, did you see those two people just leave? What was wrong with that guy’s eyes?”
The waiter looks confused. “Eyes…?”
It takes Cagey about ten seconds to realize that the waiter’s English extends to menu items and “Can I help you, sir?” Cagey smiles uncomfortably, waves him off and returns to his table. His soup is cold. His dinner is ruined. Cagey throws down a twenty, not feeling able to wait for the bill this evening, and stalks out to his car.