“... she said, surprisingly. ‘What of all our love before? Did that mean nothing?’
He looked at her apologetically. ‘It did at the time,’ he said firmly. ‘But not anymore.’
‘Oh,’ she sighed sorrowfully-”
“Stop, stop, STOP,” Rob exclaimed and waved with his hands. One of them looked like it was going to fall off again. “I can’t take this anymore! What is this, Sally? Are you trying to poison me? I’m dead already!”
A gasp traveled through the room. The rest of the writing circle participants looked at Rob with surprise.
“That’s a bit harsh, man,” said Joe, a rotting old farmer. “I’m sure she’s doing her best.”
The old lady up front clenched to her little writing pad and nodded fervently.
“See? She’s nodding and all…”
Rob shook his head. “What, are you all deaf? I’m just asking because that would explain how you could stand and listen to this crap!”
“Rob!” exclaimed Denise, a woman that still acted from habit and put make-up on her face. “We do not talk like that here! Only positive encouragement!”
Rob snorted. “It’s best she hears the truth sooner, rather than later.” He turned to poor Sally, who’d probably be turning all red, had she not lost all her blood already. He placed both palms around his mouth, to make his next words even more clear. “You suck!”
“Rob,” Bill said and stood up. Of all of them, he still looked the most human. “I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. This group is for supporters only.”
Rob stood up. “I was just about to. You sorry lot make me rot faster than normal.” He deliberately bumped Bill’s shoulder as he walked past him and out on the street.
What a bunch of losers, he thought. Thinking they can write just because they can hold a pen-
He turned around. It was Bill. He was waving an extra hand in his hand at him.
“You forgot something.”
Rob looked at his hands. The right one was missing. He sighed. Even with a faulty hand, I can still write better than Sally.
He stomped up to Bill and snatched his hand. “Thanks.”
“Why are you such a dick, Rob?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s the weather.” The heat was getting to him. Or perhaps it was maggots, eating at his flesh that caused all these frustrations. Constantly chewing and biting. It itched and he couldn’t really scratch because they were somewhere deep in his flesh. He could hear them feasting on him at night.
“If you keep acting like this no one is going to want to read your book, should you actually finish it,” Bill called after him.
“Good,” Rob replied. “Wouldn’t want their simple minds to twist an ankle on my fast, clean pacing!”
He limped down the street, readjusting his hand as he went along. In his mind, all those disgusting adverbs screamed to him in Sally’s high-pitched, nervous voice. Surprisingly, apologetically, sorrowfully…
He snorted. “She’s right though,” he said to himself. “First I was surprised, then I was sorry for coming and now I’m full of sorrow for the slaughtered prose.”
Being dead is no excuse for writing dead weight.
Rob limped all the way from Bill’s street to his own house. Quite a feat for a broken-legged, maggot-infested, irritated to hell by bad narration zombie. All he needed now was some idiot with a 12-gauge shotgun to spray his brains all over the street. That kind of stuff happened rarely these days, the apocalypse settled and all, but there were still human survivors roaming around. One couldn’t do wrong by being careful.
Eventually, Rob arrived at his home, hand readjusted and brains still slushing in his skull. He noticed his neighbor watering the grass with a garden hose. Poor fool. Didn't he know there was no water?
The man snapped up straight. “Huh? Oh, hey there, Rob!”
“Sprinkling, I see?”
“Yeah, man’s gotta do what the misses tells him to, you know.”
“How’s the wife?”
“Still dead, thank heavens!”
“That’s great!” Dear God, the pinnacle of conversation, right there! Still, better than surprisingly, apologetically and sorrowfully…
“Hey Rob,” Ned said before Rob would disappear inside his house and not be seen for days again. “Would you like to come to our house and have dinner tonight?”
Rob sighed. “Ned, we’re zombies, we don’t eat dinner. Unless you've got a fresh human in the fridge, then perhaps you can persuade me.”
“Oh, right.” Ned seemed confused. “Forgot about that.”
“Not surprisingly,” Rob said and grimaced. “Your brain is rotting. Cheers.”
He slammed the door and cursed when he saw Mittens, his pet dead cat, chewing on her paw in the hallway.
“How many times have I told you, stop eating yourself!”
Mittens looked up, her black tongue sticking out.
“I know you’re too slow and lazy to catch mice, but geez! Your own foot? Seems kind of desperate, if you ask me.” He shooed the cat away and walked to the kitchen. Then again, what did he eat? Nothing. The maggots were the ones eating him. And it was the damnedest thing. By all laws of physics and nature and the holy bible, he should have been dead the moment his heart stopped beating, yet here he was, still walking, talking and insulting other should-be-dead-too people.
Ain’t this a hell, he thought. Well, at least I can still write.
For some reason, perhaps the same one Ned was still ‘watering’ the grass, he checked the fridge. Of course, beer was long gone. So was everything else. Not that he needed any of it, but it just seemed right to stuff things in his mouth. Perhaps I should munch on my hand, like Mittens.
He shuffled his feet to the living room where a desk awaited him. On it was an old antique typewriter and a work in progress manuscript of a novel. Computers were out of the question as they were out of electricity as the power plant workers were out of life. Such is the nature of apocalypse, Rob guessed, planted his butt on a chair, and threw his hands on the desk.
He sighed loud and deep. Not that he needed to breathe or anything. It just helped calm his nerves. He listened to the silence for a moment. The lack of that thumping in his chest didn’t bother him anymore and neither did the lack of hearing himself breathe. The noise from the maggots in his flesh did, though.
God, they’re as annoying as those adverbs!
He placed his hands on the steel keys and began typing. The stamping of metal on paper helped to distract him from the maggot-chewing sounds and his mind soon fell in sync with the story. The words flew out like piss used to. It took a little effort, but when it came, it came in a torrent.
Rob sat there, in the zone, writing and in his mind telling Sally ‘Look here, meat bag. This is how it’s done!’ A grin crept upon his face, pulling the dried up and shriveled skin of his cheeks closer. Then, his right hand fell off. Again.
“Son of a-”
The cat jumped on the desk with a sudden spring of energy from her saggy legs and snatched Rob’s right hand.
“No, you devil! Leave that!”
He tried to catch her with his left hand, but the lack of hair on the cat’s body and her rotting skin made her slippery to grab. She jumped down and ran away with the hand dangling from her mouth.
Rob cursed and sprang after her. If she eats my hand… Nah, it was probably too big for her. But she could tear it apart.
“Give back my stupid hand or I’ll gut you!”
He heard a crash coming from the kitchen. He rounded the corner as fast as his broken leg would allow him and caught a glimpse of the cat’s back legs as she jumped out the open kitchen window. Out went the hand.
Rob sighed. Why did you leave the window open, stupid? Oh yeah, to air the house from your decaying smell…
It was hot outside and Rob didn’t have the nerve or the will to go Mittens-hunting. But he did need his hand to write. I guess I could type with just one. It would take him longer, though. But it’s not like he was in a hurry anyway. He was dead, he had all the time in the world.
Or at least before the maggots ate him whole.
And so, Rob shuffled his zombie feet back to the living room, slumped behind the desk, and continued punching the keys, this time like a granny, using only the index finger of his left hand. I bet this is how old Sally writes…
Day turned into night, and night into day, and so it went for weeks. Rob did not need to sleep, though he did occasionally lie down and pretend he was still a human. Old habits die hard, they used to say. For Rob, he died before his habits did.
As Rob continued to work on his debut novel, Mittens came to check up on him from time to time. He didn’t let himself be fooled by the sweet purr, he knew the beast was just waiting to see if anything else fell off from him. On occasion, she would jump in his lap, but he’d shoo her away.
“My wiener was the first thing to go, so scram!”
Typing with one hand proved to be slow and awkward, not only because he was right-handed, but because he was dead as well and therefore inherently clumsy. He’d press the wrong keys from time to time and fuss about it. There was no delete button on the typewriter. All your typos and grammatical mistakes were forever imprinted on the page. Stupid cat, snatching my hand…
As he continued to write, determined to get the book done, Ned would come knocking on his door once a week. When Rob wouldn’t answer, the man would walk around the house and come knock on the living room window.
“Rob!” his voice would come muffled from outside.
“Not unless it’s a human, Ned!” Rob would answer every time and Ned would walk away, bewildered at his forgetfulness.
From time to time, a fat white maggot would fall from a hole in Rob’s body and land between the keys of the typewriter, or on the floor or desk. “Ha!” Rob would smile, and pick up the maggot. “Payback time!” Then he’d eat it. Not because he was hungry, but because he was angry.
And so it went. Until three weeks later, when the last words were finally put down on maggot-stained paper, and Rob found himself finishing the book he began writing when he was still alive.
“There you have it, folks,” he announced to the empty living room. “I’ve done it! To all the critics, doubters and nay-sayers, you were right. I did die before I finished the book. But I finished it nonetheless! Ha!”
He stood up from the chair - which he didn’t move from for the whole last week - and noticed a pool of maggots where his butt used to sit. He felt much lighter. It was ironic, having suffered from extra weight all his life, even though he went to the gym regularly, to find himself losing weight by sitting and punching keys on a typewriter.
The bloody bastards are omitting me like I omit those accursed adverbs!
Rob collected all the papers of his novel and bounded them together into a neat-looking manuscript. He felt immensely proud. He couldn’t wait to show his masterpiece to the blokes at Bill’s, who were probably still writing only a page a week.
“Hey Rob,” Ned said as Rob left the house with the manuscript under his arm. “Wanna have some- Ooh, what you got there?”
“A book,” Rob said with pride.
“You finished it?”
“What's it about?”
“It’s about the attitudes we take towards life and death,” Rob explained. “It follows the story of a mortician who discovered joy and passion in corpses. Its title is Dying Alive or Living Dead, a story of a mortician’s way to happiness.”
Ned nodded with approval. “Sounds very profound and interesting. Are you going to publish it?”
“Sure am,” said Rob and felt an immense sense of pride. “But first, I’m going to rub it in some people’s faces.”
“Have fun, neighborino! When you come back, me and my wife are having dinner tonight…”
“Sure Ned, sure.”
Rob walked down the street, pride and confidence making up for the slouched neck and broken leg. His mind was soaring high up in the clouds, thinking of how people would react to his book.
Oh my god, they would say. Brilliant! Just brilliant! You're a real prodigy, Rob, a natural! Oh, I wish I’d written that!
He chuckled to himself. The thing he was looking forward to the most was to see the expression on Sally’s face when he smashes her silly prose with his gripping narration. Surprisingly, non-apologetically and triumphantly indeed.
Then a sound of screeching tires ripped him from his daydreaming. Rob turned. He stood in the middle of the road, crossing the street at a crosswalk. Another stupid old habit.
There was a car, a pickup, racing up the street. A bunch of humans were sitting tight in the back and they held guns in their hands. They were shooting innocent zombies that walked the street.
No way in hell, Rob thought. Now?! He just finished a book. He was not going to become a brain splatter, not until Sally gets her ass whooped!
Rob quickened up the pace. He couldn’t run because his leg was broken and he was dead, energy was not that high, but he could limp faster. And so he did.
The pickup was coming closer, the gunshots sounding louder. He could hear the thuds of bodies falling to the ground, his fellow zombies dropped dead again. The humans cheered and whistled.
God damn sons of-
“Hey look, Cleetus!” a voice shouted from the pickup. “We’ve got a runner!”
“Whoo-wee! Look at ‘im go!”
“Speed up, speed up, I wanna get ‘im in mid-run!”
“What’s that he’s carrying?”
“I bet it’s some zombie-invasion plans! He’s a messenger! Shoot him!”
“It’s a book, you bloody halfwits!” Rob shouted over his shoulders, but all the humans could understand was growling and grunting. They were dumb like that, didn't speak the language of the dead.
Rob heard gunshots echo behind him and bullets flew over his head. He doubled down on his limping, nearly ripping off his rotten feet. He reached the sidewalk. There was a store nearby where he could hide.
“Dang-nabbit! Don’t let him escape!”
Something hit him in the back, hard. Probably bullets. But Rob kept going. So far as they didn’t get his brain it didn’t matter what happened to his body. Don’t hit the book, don’t hit the book…
“Davis, ram the sumbitch! We can’t hit his head!”
Rob didn’t dare look behind him. He heard an engine revving up. Car tires hit the sidewalk and the humans grunted. He opened the door to the store and noticed they were locked.
What idiot locked-
Then something big and heavy slammed into his back, plowing him through the door and through the front of the store, smashing wood and glass. The pickup crashed into the building. Rob found himself pinched between the hood and the store’s wooden counter, unable to move, but still alive. Or dead, rather. Undead.
There was some coughing and some moaning, the humans complaining about hitting their heads in the crash. An argument erupted between them. But Rob didn’t pay attention to them, all he was concerned about was his book. He glanced down and noticed he still held it in his hand.
He relaxed a little. Then he smelled smoke.
“Look what you’ve done! The car’s a wreck!”
“At least we got the messenger zombie! He ain’t gonna-”
“You idiot! Them Z’s ain’t smart enough to have messengers! It’s probably a newspaper it’s holding!”
The gas leaking from the pickup ignited. The humans began taking salvageable stuff out and away from the car.
“No!” Rob growled. He tried to break free, but couldn’t. The fire was starting to lick his legs. It didn’t hurt. But his book would burn.
“NO!” he shouted and raised the manuscript as high as he could. “Take this! You bloody idiots take this!” He waved the manuscript at them.
“What in tarnation…” One human stepped closer.
“Careful, Cleetus! Don’t get bitten! And the fire-”
The human reached and took the manuscript from Rob.
“Yes, take it! Take it and show it to the world! Show everyone my legacy! My masterpiece-”
A shot from a 12-gauge shotgun splattered Rob’s brains all over the wooden counter in the back.
“Why did you do that for?” Cleetus asked.
Davis shrugged. “I didn’t like how it growled. What did it give you?”
Cleetus looked down. “Dunno,” he shrugged. “Looks like a manuscript, but I can’t read a word of it. Total gibberish.”
Davis snorted. “The poor bastard probably used to be a writer. You reckon he wrote that?”
“Nah, look at him,” Cleetus said. “He’s got one hand. And he’s a zombie. They’re dumb as f-”
The fire reached the pickup’s bed where a heap of C4 rested in a gym bag. The explosion that ensued incinerated the car, the men, Rob, his manuscript, and a good part of the building.
A few blocks away, at Bill’s house, the writing circle was in session and they heard the explosion.
“Oh my,” Sally exclaimed. “I dearly hope no one is hurt badly.”
At that remark, the fires consuming Rob’s flesh hissed and sputtered violently.