I really hope she gets here before it’s too late and that shit goes slamming through my head. Not so much because I want to keep on living, because, technically, I’m already dead, but because I honestly do love her, despite what’s happened between us, and I need her to know that I love her — preferably while my head’s still in one piece on top of my neck like it’s supposed to be. Even if she doesn’t want me anymore.
If only he’d stop yelling and calm down a little, he’d discover that he is capable of understanding me without any great difficulty. I know that, at times, I talk somewhat slower since I got the Z-virus, but I can still manage to communicate reasonably well.
Unless, of course, I’m trapped in the corner of an unfamiliar basement with a shotgun pointed at my head by an angry and distressed father, which happens to be the situation in which I presently find myself.
In periods of great emotional stress, all my rehab, as well as my speech and physical therapy, go swirling down the metaphorical drain, and I end up just like some mindless re-animated corpse, controlled by a Haitian witch — that kind of Zombie. But I’m usually totally functional, I swear.
In fact, unless someone were to stare at my chest long enough to notice that I don’t breathe, or listen with a stethoscope and discover that I have no heartbeat, or pop out my colored contacts and see that my irises are murky white, no one would even suspect that I’m Z-fected. This, however, happens to be a seriously upsetting situation I find myself in, and my body feels like a ragdoll-marionette controlled by someone who’s dropped the strings, so excuse me if I’m not my usual suave, debonair, sophisticated self right at this particular moment because I happen to be terrified out of my Z-ravaged wits.
If I could cross my fingers, or get down on my knees, or just hold up my hands in supplication to Distraught Dad with the Shotgun, I would, though I am in no way superstitious, devoutly religious, or even remotely philosophical. But the Z-virus — after immediately razing your immune system — attacks the brainstem, robbing you of your ability to do anything that requires fine motor co-ordination, physical dexterity, or highly articulate speech. When you’re under duress, these symptoms worsen.
Like when someone is pointing a loaded shotgun at your face and screaming at you.
So the most I can do is hold up both hands, flap them around like I just got caught in a fisherman’s dragnet, and make noises that, apparently, Distraught Dad and Mr. Shotgun find incomprehensible.
What I’m saying, as clearly and patiently as I possibly can, given the distressingly fraught circumstances, is this: For the love of God, if you’d just wait till she gets here, you’d find out the truth for yourself.
But I suspect it’s coming out more like, Don’t God shoot, which probably makes no sense to him whatsoever.
Not that he’d believe it even if she told him herself.
I mean, what father wants to believe that his own daughter is a Zombie?
Not only is his daughter a straight-up, Z-fected Zombie, she’s one that’s passing as a human.
I know what you’re thinking: once a person is infected with the Z-virus, his brainstem is forever altered and destroyed, completely eliminating any traces of human awareness and consciousness. While it’s true that the brainstem is permanently altered, it’s not necessarily true that it’s completely destroyed.
That’s just a rumor spread by the pharmaceutical giants to frighten us all into getting annually injected with their outrageously expensive Z-vacs, none of which has proven effective — despite the vaccines’ being updated whenever a new strain of the Z-virus is discovered — which is why Z-vacs aren’t covered by any country’s health insurance. Please, don’t feel bad about not knowing the Z-vacs are in no way efficacious. I’m guessing that most people outside the pharmaceutical companies don’t know that.
During the last two years, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of Zombies out there that can do a perfectly good imitation of an uninfected human, depending on how severely they were infected in the first place, on how much time and energy they devote to rehab, and on whether the virus is in remission. No, I never knew any of that either, so don’t feel morally obligated to run out and sign up for any Z-Sensitivity Training classes.
I learned the truth about Zombies in the worst way possible: by getting infected myself.
But I’m telling you, there are Zombies that can pass as humans to the point where they hold down jobs, live in apartments by themselves, are in relationships, and drive cars better than mine.
If a Zombie’s passing, though, it only means that absolutely nobody knows he’s infected. Technically, he’s still a Zombie, because a Z is a Z is a Z. Dead-Headers are, undeniably and without a doubt, dead.
Of course, we’re not talking about golems here, which aren’t even human in the first place since they’re made of clay or dirt or something else that gets magically or miraculously animated. We’re not talking dybbuks either, so a Zombie’s not a dead body possessed by some evil, malicious soul intent on revenge. And don’t even get me started on Frankenstein’s Monster on a good day.
We’re talking about Zombies, and, you’re right: there’s no way around the incontrovertible fact that the Z-fection attacks the human brainstem, causing speech difficulty and co-ordination problems, along with a host of other body-brain abnormalities.
What I bet you don’t know is that there are ways to overcome those handicaps after Z-fection. Ways to compensate if you have a milder form of the Z-virus, or if it’s in remission. It takes a lot of rehab, determination, and hard work, I admit, but all over the world, every single day, Zombies are passing.
I know because I’m one of them.
So is his daughter.
One of the reasons his daughter is able to pass is partly because of the way she dresses, so I don’t blame her dad for not having known that she’s Z-fected. There are plenty of Goths, male and female, completely devoted to that whole morbid Victorian cult of mourning: intentionally paler-than-pale skin slathered in white pancake makeup, Marine boot-polish-black hair, heavy black eyeliner, black lipstick and fingernails, and the de rigeur vintage Salvation-Army-Goodwill black wardrobe.
Maybe he and his wife really don’t know that their only child has had a mild form of the Z-fection for years, and that it’s in remission, besides. And since she’s an only child, I don’t condemn them for not knowing that most Goths drop the Bela-Lugosi-look once they’re out of their teens or have otherwise escaped the cruel bullying and petty tyranny of high school cliques.
By the time she turned 20 — 21 at the latest — she should have been dressing like regular, uninfected people, especially since she was working at Marie’s Maisonette, one of the posh-est of the renovated Downtown’s eating establishments. Her passing as an uninfected human was even fooling Maisonette’s sophisticated clientele and worldly tourists.
While she was wearing sunglasses at night.
If the discriminating restaurant patrons didn’t realize that she was only wearing sunglasses to hide the fact that that she had the Z-virus, how could her own parents be expected to know?
“Just put the shotgun down and let me explain,” I say to Distraught Dad, but I think he hears it as nothing more than unintelligible gobbledy-gook, probably increasing his desire to splatter my brains all over the fleur-de-lys flocked wallpaper.
He not only doesn’t put down the weapon, he shouts more nasty things at me before he starts crying. Like about how I’m the one who infected his daughter in the first place, which is so outrageously unfair and patently untrue that if he weren’t holding a shotgun to my face — aimed right at the bull’s-eye formed out of my eyes, nose, and mouth, which is the target you have to hit if you want to eradicate the Z-fected brainstem that animates Zombies — I’d be forced to argue the point with him.
Furthermore, I’ve never eaten one single bite of human brain, as he’s now insinuating. I’ve never even had a desire to taste human brains. You see, I read the entire Twilight Saga. Not voluntarily, I admit. All right, I only read the first book. Okay, I skimmed it, to please this girl I was dating.
The point is, after I got Z-fected, I did the Twilight-thing myself, in an attempt to retain some vestige of my humanity. Only instead of drinking the blood of mice and rabbits and squirrels and such, I just ate their brains, which is the only part of an uninfected host that has any nutritional value for Zombies. I lost a lot of weight at first from not eating enough to keep up with all the calories the Z-virus was burning up, but eventually I figured it out, and it worked.
At least, so far.
Just as he sights me with the shotgun, I hear footsteps running around upstairs, and I hope it’s her. Please, God, I’m begging You, if You’re still anywhere in the Universe, and You can hear me, let it be her. Yes, that’s about the extent of my ability to pray anymore, and, yes, I do realize it’s all about me, me, me, absent any expressions of praise or veneration or love of God, but considering my rather desperate situation, I think even God Himself would be more than slightly forgiving.
After I’ve finished my flimsy excuse for a prayer, I realize it might only be her mom upstairs, frantically calling in neighbors for reinforcement; or the police, who’ll be even better at shooting me in the head than her angry and grief-stricken dad; or the International Z-Squad with its paramilitary expertise, which might try to capture me for its secret experiments at its rumored underground installations. That’s when I get totally panicked and truly discouraged.
Still, those running footsteps make me stop moving my hands around even though I’m still holding them up in a futile attempt to protect my head. For some reason, that seems to calm Distraught Dad down a little. He lowers the shotgun so it’s aimed more between my chest and my intestines, toward my left side, which probably won’t do as much damage to my body even if the shot hits me before I manage to lunge away, although it will make a huge mess on his den wall. But what do I know? I’ve never been shot before.
I try talking to him again, to give her a chance to get down here and save me — if that is her upstairs — but I simplify things for her dad. Like she did for me when I first got Z-fected.
I know what I’m saying in my head, but that doesn’t mean my words are coming out exactly the same way to him. That’s one of the worst things the Z-virus does to you. Besides kill you, I mean. It mostly destroys your ability to interact with the rest of the world, including the majority of other Zombies.
“Windy,” I say, as slowly and clearly as I can, over and over. “Windy.”
I don’t know what kind of parents would name their daughter “Windy” in the first place, but who am I to judge? I just keep repeating her name till the shotgun’s pointed more toward my lower legs and feet than at my body, until he starts wiping his face with the back of his free hand, until his shouting settles into whimpering.
If her dad would just listen to me for a few minutes, if Windy would just get down here to help me explain, if his wife would talk some sense into him — if any other scenario were happening other than the particularly horrifying one which is unfolding, Distraught Dad with a Shotgun would realize there’s still a living, breathing guy in this body despite my being a Zombie.
Okay, not living and breathing in his sense of the word, but a guy just the same.
A guy who loves his daughter Windy so much, he’d let his own head get blown off to protect her.
I wasn’t exactly sure how I got Z-fected, but I can guarantee you that it wasn’t by having any of my fingers or toes torn off and eaten by a Zombie, nor by having huge chunks of my arms and legs bitten out after they’d chased me down. Zombies don’t have teeth that sharp. In fact, it’s much more likely that a Z’s limbs will snap and drop off like dead tree limbs, not a human’s.
Don’t get me wrong: Zombies can bite you. Just the same as any uninfected human could bite you. But for Zombies to Z-fect you, they have to draw enough of your blood to get it intermingled with theirs and then get the Z-blood back into your circulatory system. So, Zombies ripping an arm or leg off and chowing down on it, turning you into a Dead-Header in the process, that’s just Hollywood melodramatics. Entertainment or scare tactics? I don’t know: you decide.
This is according to the revised educational materials from the Centers for Disease Control and from the World Health Organization, and I’m quoting verbatim here from their updated, online publication, The Zombie Pandemic: How Will You Survive When There Are No Designated Safe-Zones?
It is only possible to get Z-fected if a Zombie — Scientific name: Homo Caput Mortuum (Vernacular name: Dead-Header) — bites you hard enough to break the skin, draws sufficient blood for your blood to intermingle with its own, and said Z-fected blood then gets circulated back into your own bloodstream.
See, that’s how the Z-virus, or ZIV as it’s officially called, is spread. In blood. Not in saliva or other bodily fluids. Not in the air through sneeze-droplets, not by contact with public toilet seats, and not from not washing your hands enough, like some Apocalyptic preppers would have you believe. In blood.
Yes, that means you could get Z-fected from a blood transfusion, and plenty of people did unwittingly get ZIV in exactly that way before doctors and scientists realized what the Z-ness was, and got the world’s supply of blood transfusions tested, as well as all potential blood donors screened. But I can assure you, no Zombie has to tear off and eat an entire part of your body for you to get Z-fected.
What about those Zs walking around minus a finger or two, absent a foot, hand, arm, or ear? First of all, stay as far away from them as possible because they’re Dead-Headers: they have full-blown ZIDS, and they will try to eat your brain, which must be a gruesome death since you’re still alive and fighting while they’re trying to break into your skull.
But as far as those missing Z-body pieces go, I’m guessing they got torn off in fights with other Dead-Headers, after advanced Z-fection by all parties involved.
In reality, then, getting ZIV is much simpler than having your limbs eaten in toto by Zombies. Blood infects blood, so it’s actually much easier to get contaminated than any of us had been led to believe, which I find even more frightening than the Hollywood portrayals of Zombies feasting off uninfected humans like they were picnic hams.
But let me set the record straight right now about something that scares almost everyone and his grandmother. No, you most definitely cannot get ZIV from sexual contact. Unless, of course, you exchange blood during said interaction. I myself have never been into doing girls during their monthly cycles, or into any of that BDSM-stuff, not even when in a monogamous relationship.
So, I was almost positive I got infected — on my last day as a human — in the gym, of all places, where I was trying to stay in shape and remain healthy.
Oy vey, the irony.
I’d gone to the gym after work to run a few miles since it hadn’t been safe to run on the streets after dark for ages. During the day, it was still relatively safe even if you did happen to catch the attention of some Dead-Headers, because a kid in a wheelchair can outrun a Z. I still enjoyed running outside then, though the beauty of the river along the running track that circled the Downtown Green Space was obscured by all those Dead-Headers trolling the banks for worms or fish-brains or tourists who might be stupid enough to ignore all the giant red Warning: Zombies on Banks signs posted all along the 10-foot fence on both sides of the river.
So, in the evenings, I did most of my running on the track at the gym or on one of the treadmills. That night — my last night as a human being — all the treadmills were occupied, so I ran around the gym’s indoor track before I went to take Stacey out to dinner.
Stacey and I had been dating about six months, and she was calling herself “Bella” then in honor of her Twilight heroine, but I didn’t mind. At that time, she was my kind of girl: pretty, smart enough, not too demanding, and satisfactory in bed, which, to me, meant we could basically do it whenever I wanted, no matter how tired she was. She didn’t mind my working in Public Relations & Advertising even if it’s not the most exciting job on the planet. She taught Kindergarten despite the fact that, with her allowance from her parents, she didn’t have to work at all until she got married and had a husband to support her. She also had her own rent-controlled place downtown, which she no longer had to share since her original roommate had gotten married and moved out.
Stacey-Bella’s place was just a few blocks from mine, so I could walk there, instead of taking my car out of the garage and spending half an hour searching for a good parking spot. As long as I kept a lookout on my surroundings and didn’t dawdle while walking over to her place when she didn’t feel like spending the night at mine, I was safe. And just so you know, keeping a lookout when you’re walking has always been a good idea in any neighborhood, even before the Z-ness hit.
Anyway, I’d finished my 5K around the gym’s track, not paying too much attention to anyone on the treadmills or the weight machines since, in my head, I was polishing up my presentation for the next day: going over what I was going to wear, what visuals I was going to use, exactly what I was going to say. I’d taken a nice, long, hot shower, and had just finished toweling off when I noticed the cut on my knee.
It wasn’t much of a cut, I can tell you that, but I didn’t remember bumping my leg against anything, and for some reason, that really bothered me. My suit-pants looked fine, too, so I didn’t think I’d done it at work, though you can get bruises and bumps and scrapes all the time without damaging your clothes, especially with all the metal cubicles and file cabinets and such at Hirschmeier & Hirschmeier. They’d switched out all the wood for metal, and the carpeting for linoleum, after it was clear that the Z-festation was spreading rather than being contained, claiming it was easier to keep those office materials sterile, but it made the ambiance pretty sterile and boring, too, if you don’t mind my saying so.
I’d gotten my fair share of slight cuts and scrapes grabbing my briefcase from under my desk or bumping my shin on an open file drawer, so I kept a box of bandages in my desk, and another box in my locker at the club. Right after I saw the cut, I just pulled a bandage out, took it out of its paper wrapping, and Whammo! dropped it on the floor of the gym.
Actually, I thought the bandage had landed more on my wet towel than on the painted concrete, and I hadn’t yet removed the protective paper covering from either the pad itself or the adhesive bands, so I thought Sterile Till Opened still applied. I just slapped that baby on the cut on my knee, which wasn’t even bleeding, by the way, got dressed in a clean shirt and my suit, this time sans tie, and headed out to the restaurant, where Stacey — sorry: I mean, Bella — was already waiting at the bar.
And that was all I thought about that little cut on my knee.
Mistake of my life.
I gave Stacey-Bella our usual “in public” chaste-kiss-on-the-cheek so as not to disturb her hair and make-up, which were always completely impeccable as well as in the latest fashion. Before I’d taken my place at the bar next to her and ordered a beer, they called us for our table.
We were seated near the windows, which annoyed Bella-Stacey because you could see the Dead-Headers on the riverbank when they stumbled under the fence-lights. I liked looking at the trees, even at dusk or in the dark, and at the stars, so I basically ignored her suggestion that we change tables. The place was pretty crowded, too, and I wanted to eat as quickly as possible so that I could get back to work and finish my presentation for the next day. Stacey-Bella turned her chair so its back was to the windows, and continued sipping her wine, nibbling at her Jiazoi (GowGee) dumplings with Ginger-Sesame sauce. I was about halfway through my usual appetizer of Grilled Shrimp and Sugarcane wrapped with Bacon, when I felt chilly. I remember looking up to see if we were under an air-conditioning vent, then glancing around to see if anyone else seemed to be cold.
Stacey-Bella was chattering away about some of her students who’d just learned the Z-Drill recently and had been practicing it all morning: Drop, Roll, Run Like Hell; Drop, Roll, Run Like Hell. I thought there should’ve been a Jump Back up to your Feet between Roll and Run Like Hell,but I didn’t mention it because I was too busy noticing that Bella-Stacey’s dress was sleeveless and she didn’t seem uncomfortable at all, while I was getting so chilled that I began to shake a little.
Bella-Stacey was recounting some cutesy little incident where the kids playing Zombies had caught a couple of the kids playing uninfected humans and pretended to be gnawing at their arms, causing a huge fist-swinging, leg-kicking brawl between the two sides, with her having to break the groups up and stop Z-Drill for the day. Meanwhile, I was shivering like I was standing under the ice-cold pricks of a gym-shower which had been entirely depleted of hot water.
At the same time, I was sweating so fiercely that my clean shirt was clinging to my back, chest, and abdomen. My stomach was starting to do jumps and rolls on its own though I’d eaten only one of my two plates of Bacon-wrapped Shrimp & Sugarcane, and drunk only about a quarter of my Guinness, when our waitress came up to ask if we were ready to order our meal.
Usually I don’t pay that much attention to the wait-staff at Marie’s Maisonette. They’re all super-efficient, diligent, and attractive. They also appreciate good tips enough to remember your name, your favorite dishes, and give you even better service the next time you come in. I rarely even look at their name-tags because all the wait-staff is so good that any one of them will do just fine.
This one, however, caught my attention.
Or rather, her sunglasses did.
It was, after all, past sunset, and the place was pretty dimly lit. The sunglasses and the whole Goth-look got my attention fast. I was under the very strong impression that the wait-staff at Marie’s Maisonette had a dress-code, and Goth most definitely was not in vogue at any of the Downtown establishments. Yet there she was: total Goth, from her straighter than straight boot-polish-black hair to her shinier than glass spit-shined Doc Marten army boots. Her departure from the usual dress-code, and the way she just kept standing there, looking at me, without saying anything or writing anything down despite the fact that Bella was attempting to give her the dinner order in great detail made me forget about my shivering long enough to look up at her.
Finally, Bella got annoyed. She never liked being ignored. She cleared her throat until the waitress stopped looking at me and glanced over at her. That’s when Stacey-Bella went into her I’m obviously better than you because I teach Kindergarten and you’re only a waitress routine, which I really didn’t like very much, and which I thought made her a lot less attractive than she thought she was.
“Sunglasses?” said Bella. “At night?”
“I forgot my contacts.”
“You’re wearing sunglasses, indoors, at night?”
“I can’t read without them,” said the waitress.
“You can’t read?” said Stacey-Bella in that snotty-snobby tone that I’m pretty sure she’d invented herself. “You’re not writing anything down.”
“You usually order the same thing…”
“I can’t change my mind?”
“Of course, you can, Miss. So, you don’t want the Cobb salad with extra bleu cheese dressing tonight?”
Bella glared at me, like it was my fault that the waitress remembered our usual orders. I glanced at the waitress’ nametag before gazing at her paler than chalk-dust face. She had really interesting features. Not what I’d call pretty, but interesting. Attractive. Yes, very attractive. In a way that Stacey-Bella, despite her perfect hair, clothes, and make-up, could never hope to achieve.
Next thing I remember, I was staring really brazenly at the waitress, though all I could see besides her sunglasses and black hair was this gorgeous pink mouth. I was trying to decide if she was wearing lipstick or if that beautiful pale-watermelon color was natural when Bella-Stacey kicked me pretty hard under the table.
I huddled deeper into my jacket, which wasn’t stopping the chills in any event, and told the waitress to bring me the Daily Special without even asking what it was.
“You don’t want the Fettuccine Alfredo with extra sauce and grilled shrimp?” she said.
I snuck another look at her name again, to make sure I’d read it correctly.
Windy. With an i, not an e.
Soon to be the love of my life.
What was left of it anyway.
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