It started last week. I was at work and the dead man was just there, standing, staring at me. He was clearly unaware he was quite dead. I was startled, to say the least. I turned and grabbed at my coworker in the next cubicle, frantically sputtering.
“Frank! Frank!” but Frank was on the phone. He glared at me, annoyed, his hand cupped over the receiver to mute my yell. I stopped shouting, regaining some sense, and instead gesticulated wildly toward the corpse.
“Yeah…,” Frank businesslike as always, stayed calm, but after a moment of me pointing wide-eyed with fear he added, “Robert? Let me call you right back.” He hung up angrily.
“What the hell is your problem? I’m trying to work!” Frank scowled at me. I pointed towards the water cooler.
“There! Right there! Look!” Frank turned and glanced over at the dead man whose eye dropped to the floor. The corpse’s shredded red jumpsuit was covered in grime, and his face was ripped away, exposing the pristine white bone beneath. Impossibly, he watched us, his remaining blood-red eye fixated on our conversation.
Frank kept turning, scanning the entire room. He shrugged and turned back. “Um, seriously, Stanley, what?” His face was slowly changing from irritated to concerned. He glanced again in the direction I was still staring and put his hand on my shoulder. “You feeling alright?”
I turned to stare at him, then looked back at the dead man.
He doesn’t see him.
Was I hallucinating?
“You really….” I grappled with how to ask him. “I mean … you really don’t see anything by the water cooler?” I tried to force my voice to be level and calm, but it came out far higher than I normally speak. Frank shook his head back and forth perplexedly.
“No. Seriously, are you okay? You look pale.” I nodded robotically to him as Janine, a manager from upstairs, walked nonchalantly up to the water cooler, got out a cup, filled it, and walked away, never even glancing at the nightmare next to her. The dead man swayed a bit as she brushed past him.
I swallowed my panic. “Yeah … guess … I’m just tired.” I tried to think up a reason I had been almost screaming for him to look. I remembered Frank saying he was allergic to bees. I grasped at it like a drowning man.
“I was … just pointing… I thought I saw a bee. You’re allergic, right?” Frank slowly nodded, his weird ‘this guy has lost it’ expression still obvious though I could see he was trying to hide it. I added, “I drank a lot of coffee this morning. Never could manage caffeine.” He stared at me in disbelief. “Sorry,” I apologized stupidly when I realized how lame my explanation sounded.
Frank smiled. “Nah, it’s okay. Thanks for caring. I didn’t realize you had listened when I told you that years ago. I have an EpiPen right here,” he pointed to the top drawer of his desk, “so, don’t worry. Just grab it, pull off the top, and stick me with it if that ever happens. It’s so easy even a kid could do it.” I grunted in reply, nodding, “Got it, stick you with it ….”
He glanced over again at where my eyes were still set, staring at the corpse just standing there. “So, you’re certain you’re alright?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I’m never going to drink that much coffee again. Really made me jumpy.” My voice was still high and tight, but I managed a nervous chuckle to show all was okay. Frank smiled back and picked up his phone to finish what I had interrupted.
The dead man looked at me and grinned.
I walked home that night from the subway instead of taking the bus. I needed to get some air to think. The dead man stayed most of the day, just watching me but never doing anything. Close to five, I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, he was gone. Maybe I had been hallucinating. It wasn’t like I had touched the creature; I had only seen him. And a hallucination made sense as no one else noticed the walking corpse. Not Frank, not the stoned and possibly tweaked-out janitor, Brandon, who changed the water cooler daily, not even the manager, Janine, who had brushed by the nightmare. I considered the possibility. It was true I had been having a hard time sleeping lately and had been taking sleeping pills, but could a pill from the night before cause that realistic of a hallucination?
I remembered an article I had read about the possible side effects of Ambien, a sleeping pill like the one I was taking. People who took it would sometimes walk around, eat, drive cars, and even have sex, all while sleeping. One guy even said he had murdered his wife while having a nightmare on the drug. Maybe this was kind of like that.
Yes, that must be it. No more sleeping pills….
Feeling better now that I had solved the problem, I walked home whistling.
I woke before dawn to the sound of water and birds from my phone’s alarm. I had slept through the whole night even without the pill, and I felt much better. I rolled over to silence the alarm, and my hand bumped into something.
“Kitty?” I felt around. It was far too big to be a cat. I switched on the table lamp on the other side of my bed. A dead man stared at me from beneath my clean white sheets.
“Holy fucking shit!” I scrambled out of bed, slipping, and crashing onto the floor sideways. I scooted backward until my butt hit the fake wood paneling of my walls.
“What the fuck?” The dead man did nothing, staring at me in dark amusement.
It wasn’t the zombie in red coveralls from the bank. No, this one was younger, wearing an expensive business suit that matched his mottled skin. At one time he might have been a handsome guy with clear skin and dark hair, but now he was a shade of cyanotic blue, and his hair missing in clumps, showing a scabrous skull beneath. He lay there as if he belonged. Just then I noticed the smell, an overripe rancid odor that only a rotting body can produce. He drew back his wrinkled lips and smiled, showing blackened teeth.
A small bug crawled out.
That was it. I jumped up and ran out of my bedroom as if the hounds of hell were on my heels.
Not the hounds of hell, idiot. Zombies are on your trail, my ever-helpful subconscious added.
I got as far as the front door and almost ran into the street wearing only my underwear before I reconsidered. I stood for a second, the ice-cold air blowing onto my bare legs. I couldn’t go out half-naked. It was winter and easily only twenty degrees.
You’re fucking hallucinating, you idiot! Remember yesterday….
No, I argued with myself, I didn’t take the pills last night!
My cat wandered up and meowed, hungry for breakfast. Looking down at him, I had an idea. If it was a hallucination, then the cat wouldn’t react to it. And it had to be a hallucination; what else could it be? Zombies that only I could see had now moved into my apartment? I scoffed at myself. Clearly, I was seeing things. I closed the front door and looked at my cat again. It wasn’t like the cat would be hurt if I tried my idea. I bit my lip. I had to know for sure. I picked up the cat and an umbrella — my only weapon — and inched toward the bedroom.
When I got there, I felt ridiculous for being afraid as the cat continued to purr loudly, happy at the unexpected attention. I shifted him into my other arm and poked at the door, trying to get it to open a bit more. But it didn’t work; the carpeting was too thick, and the door always caught on it, so I leaned around the corner to try to get a peek into the bedroom. After leaning as far as humanely possible without falling, I was finally able to see some of the bed, but unfortunately not the whole thing. But what I could see looked perfectly normal. A neat and tidy room, books dusted and in their correct place next to my bed, nothing out of place or strange.
I was still too nervous to go in. The dead man had seemed so real. I looked down at my cat as he stretched out on my arm.
“Okay, Sylvester. I’ll give you tuna for breakfast if you do me this one favor.” I set him down and pushed him through the door, expecting a terrible howl followed by a black-and-white streak running back out. Instead, after a moment, he came sauntering along, rubbing his sleek form on my legs, and stopping by my feet. He looked up at me.
I let out my breath. I pushed open the door. The room was empty.
Two hours later found myself waiting in my doctor’s office. I’d never been late to work in the ten years I had worked at Capital Bank. I hadn’t even gotten sick. So, when I called and asked if it was okay for me to come in late due to an emergency, Mr. Heath was quite amiable.
A woman’s voice broke the waiting room’s silence.
“Stanley Johnson? The doctor will see you now.” She leaned out from the door that led to the examination rooms. She was young and wore bright pink lipstick that clashed with her yellow nursing smock. She was uncommonly cheerful. It bothered me. I followed her back to the room.
“Dr. Jacobson will be here in a minute.” She smiled and closed the exam room door. I took a deep breath.
Stay calm, my mind advised, there’s a reasonable explanation for everything.
I made myself look around the room. It was clean and pleasant with nature pictures hung on the pale blue walls. Maybe everything was fine. Maybe I was just having a reaction to the medicine.
But you didn’t take any last night.
I told my subconscious to shut up just as the doctor came in.
A corpse was following him, and this time it was female. The dead woman was old or had been when she was alive. She was at least the age of my mother and wore ragged green polyester pants with a suspiciously red-stained flowered blouse. Spidery veins traced dark lines across her gray skin, a fleshy roadmap to oblivion. Her head lolled to one side: her neck clearly broken.
The doctor, oblivious, sat as he thumbed through my paperwork. The zombie stood behind him, studying my paperwork over his shoulder. The smell of rotting meat was almost too much to deal with now. I felt like I was going to start screaming.
It’s getting worse; they didn’t smell that strong before, did they?
“So, let’s see here … you’re having some issues with the sleeping pills I prescribed. You say here they are … um … causing hallucinations?”
I nodded automatically, trying to not let the doctor know how panicked I was, but he picked up on it anyway.
“Now, now. No need to get anxious. This kind of thing can happen with any sleeping medication. Just discontinue it and we can try something else.”
Relief flooded through me. I couldn’t believe I had even been worried. Obviously, dead people weren’t following me around. What a stupid idea! The doctor started scribbling on his prescription pad. The zombie watched with interest. I pointedly ignored it.
“Here, try this one instead. And don’t worry. Medications affect everyone differently. It’s perfectly normal that in a semi-dream state you might see things from your dreams as if they were in real life.”
Suddenly confused, I asked, “But you mean … well, I mean…listen, in some cases, can’t the pills last a long time and cause people to see stuff when they are awake? Like the next day for example?”
He furrowed his brow. “No… I haven’t heard of it doing that. These pills should be out of your system within hours. Why do you ask? Are you seeing stuff during the day?” He began to look concerned. I wasn’t so sure I should say anything. Maybe I was mad. I started to open my mouth but closed it. I didn’t want to tell him. I wasn’t sure what’d been happening to me, but it was better to keep quiet until I did understand. The zombie kept looking at me.
“Um… no. I was just curious.”
“Well, good. Glad we got this sorted. Let me know how the new medication works out.” He handed me the prescription and began to walk out the door. He stopped and turned, a vaguely perplexed look on his face.
“Do you smell something bad, sort of a rotting smell, Mr. Johnson?”
I almost wept. “Nope.” I grimaced a smile as the doctor sniffed, shrugged his shoulders, and walked out.
I left the doctor’s office in a rush, heart beating, panic beginning to wash over me. Why was this happening? At first, I thought of going home, but immediately realized I couldn’t; the other zombie might be there still, and I lived alone. I needed to be someplace where I could know the zombies weren’t real. I needed to have other people present as a reality check. I realized I had no other choice but to go to work. At least there I’d be around other people even if dead people stood around watching me. From there I would try to figure out what to do next. I knew logically dead people couldn’t be following me around, much less walking, and thus I must be hallucinating.
As I walked to work, I told myself reassuringly that my doctor had simply been wrong. Doctors had told me things before that weren’t correct; they were only human, after all. I must not have processed the drug out of my system completely. This whole fiasco couldn’t last forever, as zombies don’t exist. And because I knew it was crazy that I was seeing them, I couldn’t be mad, as crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.
I arrived at the bank a little after one o’clock feeling somewhat better. Most of the regular morning rush customers had left. The building was cool and quiet. I breathed a sigh of relief. By the time I had turned on my computer and began to work, I had lost much of the anxiety that had been plaguing me. I had almost convinced myself I was okay now when I saw another dead man. And he wasn’t alone.
Near the entrance to the bank, a whole group of dead people stood, staring at me. I counted them while trying to look as if I was simply contemplating my work; Frank had been eyeballing me all afternoon. I desperately didn’t want anyone to know I was losing my mind, certain the hallucinations would stop sooner or later.
Eleven … fucking eleven of them….
I bit my nails, unconsciously ripping one off and spitting it on the floor.
“Um, you okay?” Frank looked over at me from his desk.
“What?” I turned nervously towards Frank.
“Your nails? Do you normally spit them on the floor at home like that? Better not let Darcy see. She’d freak.” I felt my face flush red.
“Oh! I wasn’t thinking. How gross, sorry.” I got down on my hands and knees and picked up the nail. As I stood back up, I ran into someone.
“Oh, excuse me.” I turned, and Red Coveralls was standing there.
“What did you say?” Frank was on the phone again, leaning back in his chair.
“Oh, nothing,” I shakily stammered. “I’m just sorry,” I babbled as I squeezed past the dead man and back into my chair. I could feel his cold flesh touch my own.
Dread now coursed through me. I struggled to repress it, but Frank knew something was wrong. He kept looking at me strangely. At one point he looked as if he were about to ask something but lost interest when his phone rang.
“Hello? Oh, hello, Mr. Ramos…”
I turned back to my work. After a few seconds, I cautiously glanced up. Red Coveralls was still standing right next to me. He looked down at me. I quickly looked away. The stench was so overpowering that I had to breathe through my mouth the rest of the day, shakily trying to work.
Finally, my clock ticked over to five and I jumped up, desperate to get someplace where I could sit and think alone for a minute.
“So, who is it?” Frank asked as he continued typing, finishing up whatever he’d been working on, then glancing in my direction.
“Huh?” I was baffled but excited. Did he finally see the zombie too?
“You’re hot to get out of here, and you’ve been acting weird all day. I just wondered if you had a date?”
I laughed a little too long and too loudly. “Oh, yeah. Hot date. Yup, gotta real killer date….” I laughed all the way to the exit. I could feel Frank staring at me even after I had left the bank blocks behind.
I decided to walk around instead of riding the bus. When I went to get on, I was met with crowds of the undead. They were in suits, in heels, all of them packed next to the oblivious living. One wore a sheet from a morgue I guessed, his decayed skin sloughing off as if the skeleton beneath was bent on escaping its fleshy cocoon.
“You getting on? You’re holding up the bus. Make up your mind,” the bus driver said.
I realized I’d been delaying the bus, standing, and staring at the undead who were staring back at me.
“Sorry, wrong bus…” I stammered. I stepped back, retreating to the relative safety of the street where I could only see a few of the dead bastards walking about.
Now everywhere I looked, I saw zombies. They huddled in groups by the streetlights; they walked out of alleys and businesses. There was even a horde of them walking behind me, only a few paces away. If I stopped, they stopped; if I walked, they walked. I tried ducking into a 7-Eleven to wait for them to go away. But after ten minutes of dawdling, the cashier shouted, “Hey, you can’t just hang out here! You gotta buy something and leave.” He pointed to a sign that read ‘No loitering.’ I left immediately, hot with shame. I’m not someone who likes to be noticed, and lately, that was happening way too much.
Finally, I’d had enough. I turned and shouted at them.
“Get the fuck away from me! I know you aren’t real! Dead people don’t walk, or haven’t you heard?” A woman walking near me moved away, a look of fear on her face. The hipster with her put himself protectively between us and grabbed her arm, pulling her along and more importantly, away from me.
“Don’t worry, Madison, this city is full of cray-cray.”
I turned to apologize but then saw two other people, live ones this time, watching me with frightened looks on their faces. A man sweeping outside a small grocery leaned and whispered something to his coworker, who went inside. I turned and looked back at the 7-Eleven. The cashier was standing at the entrance, a cell phone in his hand.
Probably going to call the cops if I keep it up.
I walked away as quickly as I could, zombies in tow.
I began to aimlessly wander the streets, trying to devise a scheme to get rid of the rotting bodies now numbering at least twenty, following my every move. I even tried running, but despite being dead, they were quite fast. I couldn’t get away.
I began considering jumping off the bridge. If I did it exactly right, would it maybe somehow stop the hallucinations? Like a shock to wake my partially sleeping mind? And even if it didn’t work, at least I would be in a hospital where they could help. I began to head towards the footbridge, thinking of how I could jump off without dying when a group of teenagers caught my attention.
“Ewww, dude! Holy shit!”
“Hit it! Hit it, lady”
I walked up behind them, ignoring the zombies standing there smiling stupidly, my entourage of corpses blending in easily with the new group. A bank of old TVs displayed in a pawn shop window flickered in technicolor. On the screen, a filthy young woman watched as a zombie tried to eat a police officer who’d been trying to kill the zombie but had failed miserably as evidenced by his now missing forearm. I remembered the movie. It was one of those classic 1980s zombie horror films. Another kid shouted, “That won’t work! Use the fucking gun, you idiot! Shoot it in the head!”
As if the actor could hear the kids shouting, she took the gun that the police officer dropped and pulled the trigger, blasting the corpse in the shoulder, and knocking it off the policeman. Bits of rotting flesh flew everywhere.
“Yeah! Get ‘em!” one of the skaters yelled, his acne bright against his pale face and green hair. I became interested. I was excited that the woman had gotten rid of the corpse janitor, but I realized the zombie janitor wasn’t actually dead. He was still moving.
“Why won’t it die?” I absentmindedly muttered. The skater kid turned and laughed, “Dude, you’ve gotta shoot ‘em in the head. Haven’t you played a videogame before, man?”
A light went on in my head.
Yes. Why should I hurt myself escaping these stupid zombies? Instead, I should act. I would shoot them. Then everyone would see I wasn’t crazy. And even if that didn’t happen, at least I would be free from the dead men shadowing me. I would be a reasonable and wise gun owner. I would only shoot the already dead. Smiling, I turned and flipped the zombies off.
“Got you now,” I said, walking into the pawn shop.
The skater kid looked at his friends and laughed, “Nutjob….”
At first, the man wouldn’t let me take the gun I wanted, a shotgun. It was the only type of gun I had ever fired, and that was only because my gun-loving father had forced me to. I hadn’t handled one since but figured I should get the biggest and most familiar gun possible if I was planning on killing people who refused to die.
“Listen, we don’t have a waiting period for handguns. For someone like you with so little experience, I would recommend a smaller gun, one that’s easier to shoot but will still hit a target without much practice. Like this one.” He brought out a .45 with a long barrel. “See this one? See its barrel? That will make it so that even if you’re inexperienced and not good at aiming, you’ll still hit your intended target. And it’s smaller than that shotgun. It costs a little more, but it’ll be worth it.” I nodded and smiled, trying to look interested and relaxed despite the rising anxiety in my gut. I wanted to leave. I have always hated guns, but I had to get rid of these fucking zombies.
“Yes, sounds good. I’ll take that one.” The pawnbroker looked surprised but smiled.
“Well, great! A man who knows what he wants. I like that. Let’s get you fingerprinted and run the background check. It’s a weekday, so it should go quickly. While that’s going, let me show you how to load it.”
After he fingerprinted me and sent it into whatever agency decides whether someone can have a gun, he carefully showed me how to load the thing. I felt weird even holding it. I kept thinking of being a kid. My father always insisted that only real men had guns and only ‘pussies,’ his words not mine, were against them. I felt like throwing up, but I had no choice. I couldn’t continue to live like this. A light “ding” sound caught the pawnbroker’s attention. He walked over to the fax machine.
“You came back clean-knew you would. Let’s get you bagged up and ready to go.” He picked up the gun and began to unload the clip when one of the skater kids came in with his skateboard.
“Hey, you aren’t allowed in here anymore, Jonas! Get out!” The pawnbroker set the handgun down on the glass case along with the bullet he’d taken out. He left the rest of the clip full, more concerned now with the teenager who was riding his skateboard down the videogame aisle, laughing.
I grabbed the bullets and slipped them into my pocket and then took the loaded gun with my other hand and placed it in the gun case. As the pawnbroker came back, I had just managed to snap it shut.
He smiled at me again though he looked irritated and red-faced. Sorry about that. That’s my brother’s kid, and he’s about as awful as they come little shit.” He huffed and composed himself. “Okay, now, where were we?” I smiled back, butterflies in my stomach worrying that he’d find out I had packed up the gun loaded. I didn’t want to have to struggle loading the damn thing in the middle of the street if the zombies bothered me.
“Um, you were just finishing checking me out.” He looked suspiciously at me for a minute, and then seemed to change his mind.
“Alright.” He placed the box of complimentary bullets in a plastic bag along with the gun in its case. “I get it, sir. The city is full of fucking animals anymore. Live in this city long enough, and sooner or later someone will fuck with you, and without a gun, you’re pretty much dead meat.” He rang up my purchase. I handed him my credit card.
“Remember to send all your friends to Cristo’s Pawn and Gun. Keep your receipt for ten percent off your next bullet purchase.”
I nodded as he handed me the receipt. “Thanks.” I took the bag and headed to the exit. Cristo shouted, surprising me, “Sir! I almost forgot ….” He came out from behind the counter and quickly walked up to me. I was certain he’d just remembered he hadn’t unloaded the gun. Instead, he leaned forward and whispered low, “Be careful, now. That’s a powerful gun and it’s loaded still. And let me know if you need something … a little bigger.” He winked conspiratorially and he walked back to the counter, motioning for the man who had been behind me to come forward now with his clearly stolen box of iPads.
Only then did I go home, feeling better than I had in days, even taking the bus the rest of the way despite the presence of the dead who were packed in like sardines around me. As I sat down in my seat, I hefted the bag onto my lap. I liked the solid weight of it. I liked the knowledge that I could defend myself now against the living or the dead. Around me, the zombies seemed to be multiplying. The bus was so full now that as one of them standing in the aisle pushed against me, a slimy bit of something clung to my arm where it had touched me. But despite this nastiness and their numbers, I was no longer so frightened. Instead, I was becoming angry. Out of nowhere a small voice inside my head spoke, Stanley, what the fuck are you doing? You hate guns! Are you seriously going to try shooting hallucinations?
I briefly considered it. Maybe I finally had gone around the bend, but then I remembered how I could smell them; I could feel their breath on me, and even the damned doctor had noticed the rancid scent. I glanced around the bus. They drooled and dripped everywhere. I had proof on my arm they really existed, and all of them were watching me. How long would they watch? When would they do more?. I shook my head. They were real.
So, what are they then, Stanley? A bad bit of cheese like in “The Christmas Carol?” Maybe ghosts are here to teach you something? Jesus, wake the fuck up. You’re going batshit mad!
“No, I am not,” I whispered. I pushed the thought away, but I still argued with myself for the rest of the ride. By the time I reached my stop, I’d decided that even if they were hallucinations, I would be damned if I let them destroy my life. All I wanted was to go back to being normal and boring, and this gun would help me do that.
No wonder people like guns.
I got off the bus and walked toward my street, noticing that my zombie followers weren’t with me. I stopped and looked around, but I didn’t see any. Had they stayed on the bus? I almost began crying in relief. Why had they left me?
I laughed at the realization. They must have known I could kill them now.
I didn’t even have to use the gun!
I began to laugh even harder when I felt someone looking at me and turned to see who it was. My elderly neighbor was watching me suspiciously from the other side of the street as her small Pomeranian shit on someone’s lawn. I swallowed the laughter with some difficulty and waved at her in a friendly way. She did not wave back; she just glared at me. Just then, I heard feet running behind me.
God damn it!
There was my rotting entourage, coming up the rear. Like the other people I’d been around that day, the old woman didn’t see the corpses, but her dog did. It began yipping, pulling at the leash, baring tiny needle-sharp teeth, dying to get at the people who were by all rights violating a basic law of nature-dead things don’t walk around.
“Missy, Missy! Stop that! That’s our neighbor!” The old woman shouted. My mouth fell open in surprise. She thinks it’s me the damn dog is barking at. I began shouting back before I thought about what I was saying.
“Ma’am! No, ma’am, it’s not me, it’s the zombies.” That’s when one walked out from behind a tree near the old woman. He was a hulking, rotted beast of a corpse, purple and bloated almost beyond his skin’s breaking point. As big as a college wrestler, he looked positively murderous. He glanced over at me, and as if my being there decided him, he moved towards the old woman, meaty hands extended in a strangling posture. I waited, expecting nothing to happen, believing the stupid manifestations were just messing with me again, but I was wrong. So terribly, terribly wrong.
This latest zombie grabbed the old woman by the neck and began to choke her while my other zombies watched. They were clearly excited by this new development, jumping and gnashing their teeth, seeming to silently applaud their cohort’s actions.
“You there! Stop! Stop that! God damn it, stop it!” I yelled as loud as I could, terrified and unsure of what to do, but the thing didn’t stop. Instead, he pushed her down onto the lawn and kept choking her. Missy the dog broke free then, took one look at the corpse strangling its master, and ran away, barking wildly in its high-yipping tone, clearly aware of the pointlessness of biting a dead person. The dog vanished into the hedges.
I couldn’t think of what to do, and then I remembered.
I ripped the carrying case out of the plastic bag and began fumbling with the zipper. The gun tumbled out onto the sidewalk. I picked it up as fast as I could and loaded the bullet into the chamber and took aim.
“Goddamn it! Stop it, or I’ll shoot!” I took the best firing stance I could remember, trying to look in control and ready to kill if necessary. But the zombie didn’t care; he just looked up at me and grinned, pressing harder onto the almost-unconscious old lady. I sucked in a breath, and I fired, hitting the old woman right in the head.
The zombies behind me let out a collective sigh as if they had just had a good meal. It was the first and last noise I would hear them make.
“No, no, no, no … no …Oh God … No …” I whispered.
“What was that? What’s going on out here?” A man came out of one of the apartments near my own. I didn’t recognize him. He was dressed in bright green jogging shorts, a potbelly hanging over the elastic. He saw the dead woman on the lawn. He looked up and saw me with my gun still pointing at her. And he began yelling,
“What the … Holy shit! Call the cops! Someone call the fucking cops! Active shooter!” He ran back into his apartment, slamming the door. I heard shouts. A group of men poked their heads out of one of the garages of the houses across the street.
“He’s got a gun! He’s shot, Ms. Applebaum!” Another shouted, “He’s killed Ms. Applebaum!” as I started waving my hands, unaware I still held the loaded gun.
“No! No, listen! I didn’t mean to hit her! I’ve never even owned a gun before today! I don’t like them! I needed protection against the zombies! Don’t you see him?” I shouted, but obviously, they didn’t listen and only slammed their door. After a few seconds, I could hear sirens.
“Get him, Jamal!” Someone slammed into me, and I went down hard, face-first onto the asphalt of the road. Someone ripped the gun out of my hand.
“Get his arms! Get his arms!” Now a group of people was around me, but I couldn’t see any of their faces, only their shoes. Someone wrenched my arms back behind me and began to wrap them with duct tape. I was shouting idiotically, trying to get someone, anyone to listen.
“No! You’ve got it all wrong! It was the zombie! The zombie!” I began bawling, gibbering like a madman, no longer caring how crazy they would think I was. “Please, listen! I’m serious! It was the zombie! He was trying to choke her to death! I’m telling the truth! Please listen!”
Someone started to laugh bitterly.
“Holy shit, Jamal. That guy’s a fucking fruitcake. Thank God we’ve got a cop like you here!”
I was rolled onto my side and could now see the crowd gathered around the corpse of Ms. Applebaum. One of my neighbors was holding my cat and looked at me with scorn and disgust. She turned and walked away, taking my poor cat with her.
At least he’ll be okay, I thought mindlessly, in shock and completely spent.
I looked back over at the corpse, and as I watched, one of her hands began to move a bit.
“See! I didn’t kill her! She’s still alive! See?”
People shook their heads. Someone draped a blanket over the body of Ms. Applebaum. I lay there until the police came and arrested me.
The lawyer clicked off the interview tape.
“So, that’s your story, Stanley? You sure you didn’t leave anything out?”
I took a sip of the lukewarm coffee the officer had brought me. I shook my head sadly. Ms. Applebaum’s corpse stood nearby with the other zombies, her head gaping open from the gunshot I’d given her. She waved at me happily.
“That’s what happened. Hand to God.”
My lawyer pinched his thin mouth as if trying to keep from saying anything. He began to pack up his tape recorder and my file, slipping them into a battered brown leather carryall.
I wondered if he had a gun.
“Well, that’s quite a story, Stanley. Tomorrow a doctor is going to come and talk to you. Just tell him what you’ve told me, and I think we can get you into a hospital to get the help you need.”
Frank Gonzalez sat at his desk, going over the news he’d watched that morning. He just couldn’t believe what he had heard. Stanley, nervous Stanley, had murdered someone in cold blood? With a gun? He could barely believe it. He kept mulling it over and over.
And hadn’t Stanley hated guns? But the woman was dead; a fact was a fact. And there were multiple witnesses, one of whom was a well-respected cop who’d tackled poor Stanley. Frank glanced at his cell phone. A breaking news story said, “Old Woman Killed in Cold Blood by Zombie-Obsessed Madman.” He sighed. The story was all over the local and national news now because of how bizarre the crime turned out to be. Not only had his mild-mannered coworker gone postal and killed some poor old lady out walking her dog, but her corpse had also vanished from the morgue.
The city really is full of sickos. Maybe it’s time for us to move somewhere else now that Eliza is pregnant.
He yawned and scooted back away from his desk. He was thirsty. He looked up and that’s when he saw the dead man in the red coveralls standing next to the water cooler.
The dead man grinned.