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.