Fiction Funny

Everything was ready for the ritual. Pam had brought French bread for the offering; she said the yeast represented life. Julie-- dead Julie, not Julie M, who was very much alive-- dead Julie brought the stinking carcass of a roadkilled woodchuck. It was flattened in the middle where a tire had gotten it. This was meant to represent the finality of death. Except, of course, for Julie.

Julie died on a balmy, sunshine filled May day as spring waned and summer lifted its wings.  She fell off a cliff in South Africa, her blue eyes wide and blonde hair spread out around her like a halo. They managed to find her body, but not before the rock hyraxes had taken sizable chunks out of her flesh. It was unusual because hyraxes are usually vegetarian. But then, nothing about Julie was usual. She woke up in the cargo hold on an airliner bringing her back to be buried in the US. 

Julie showed up at our monthly coven meeting, dead, gnawed on by rodents, and stinking to high heaven, with her usual tater tot casserole and acted like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. The rest of us wanted to run away. The sight of her trying to drink wine haunts me still. It spurted out of a hole in her throat and sprayed all over Julie M’s pale pink dress. She nearly fainted dead away. Candace and Pam screamed.

Turns out that Midwestern politeness prevented the four of us from asking Julie to stay away from witch’s club, which was what we called our get-togethers, most of which involved more wine than any sort of witchiness. But dead Julie had other ideas. It was at her urging that we planned the ritual that might bring her back to her former, pre-zombie self.

“Girls,” Julie said. She’d never called us girls before. Dead Julie was full of surprises. Her blonde hair was dull and her skin gray. For the first time my mousy brown hair and not-dead skin looked amazing compared to her. Julie consulted a piece of paper torn from a library book. She’d been shooed out because other patrons complained about her stink, but not before she could pocket the spell she’d found in a book about zombies.

“Zombies get a bad rap, Laura” Julie said, seeing my skeptical look. “We aren’t all flesh hungry monsters. Some of us just want to get back to the life we had.” Unfortunately, Julie’s husband had other ideas. He refused to see her since she’d come back and had taken their son and moved somewhere out west.

Julie moved to the makeshift altar next to Candace’s suburban fire ring and lightly touched the bread, the woodchuck, and the candles. “Ok, everyone, let’s do this. Touch the alter, take a piece of bread, and hold hands. I’ll read the spell.” She picked up a wad of dirt and leaves and tossed it into the fire where it smoldered. Julie read the spell and we all joined in. 

Julie’s nose fell off and landed in the remnants of the bread. We all screamed and jerked our hands away from each other. 

“God dammit, gals!” Julie said sharply. “We were almost there.” She sounded like she had a bad cold now that her nose was gone. She fished it out of the crumbs and tried to stick it back on over the gaping hole in her face. It fell off again, this time landing on the woodchuck.

Lyla, Candace, Julie M and I shrieked. Dead Julie picked up her nose again, shook it to remove woodchuck cooties, then put it in her front jeans pocket. “Try again?” I asked. I avoided looking at her nose hole.

Julie said, “I don’t think it’s going to work. I need someone professional ” In life, her attitude had been negative. She didn’t seem to have changed much in her afterlife. 

At 6 am there was a knock on my door and animated bings of the doorbell at my house in Worthington Heights. I opened the door and Julie barged in and flung herself onto the couch. Good thing the twins and Marty were still sleeping. 

“Last night I did some research. It was kind of hard because my fingers are so stiff now, but at least none of them fell off.” She picked at a spot of blood on her shorts. She hadn’t changed clothes since she died. I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of zombie thing. “So yeah, I found an expert in zombie-ism, Tina Bright. Only thing is, Tina’s in Gettysburg.” She looked at me directly. “Fancy a road trip to Pennsylvania?” she asked.

“I’ve got the twins to take care of, and Marty is struggling with the whole ‘work from home’ thing. He’s a lot more social than me and all this Zoom stuff weighs on him.” I didn’t add that Marty’s job was in question these days, which was terrifying since I’d quit working to teach the twins when school went virtual.

“Well, I won’t be able to go without you driving. I can’t control my limbs well enough to be safe. You’ve seen me lurch around. I really am a dirty zombie. Why couldn’t I just have died like any normal person?” she said, gray tears leaking from her eyes. She turned to leave.

“Wait, hold on. Maybe I can get my mom to stay with the kids for a few days. Let me see what I can do.” Julie was my best friend. I couldn’t let her down.

Twelve hours later we were in my Forester heading to Gettysbug. The turnpike was boring and the hours crept by with only sporadic conversation. Once we were off the highway, we had Amish buggies to contend with as well as some truly harrowing switchbacks climbing over the mountains between us and our destination.

I went to Gettysburg once on a trip with the kids and Marty. My memories had distilled to how creepy the battlefield was with mist hanging in the air like a window between our world and the next. That and a museum called “Tails of Gettysburg” in which famous battles of the Civil War were depicted in dioramas starring miniature cats made from clay. It was run by two sisters, their mother, and an ancient cat named Boris. Easily the best museum I’ve ever been to.

There had been the problem of Julie’s nose. She couldn’t go around with a skeletal opening in her face. After a brief discussion, I found myself in my bright yellow kitchen, the sun just starting to open her eyes, sewing Julie's nose onto her face with small, halting stitches. Julie didn’t seem to feel pain anymore, but it was still terribly strange to use a hotel sewing kit to reattach your friend’s nose. An experience I hope never happens to you.

We checked into our room in the Super 8, then went to downtown Gettysburg where Tina Bright’s tours started. We saw her right away-- A large woman sporting a blue velvet waistcoat and a purple top hat covered with fairy lights. 

“Ms Bright?” Julie asked. The woman nodded with a smile. Then she took in Julie’s sagging nose and gray skin and her smile disappeared. “Jesus! What happened to you?” 

“I died,” Julie said. “And came back, like bloody Jesus, except without saving anyone.”

Lisa looked intrigued but said, “Look, I need to start my tour. You can join us and after that, we can talk. That’ll be $25 apiece.” She clearly didn’t want to miss an opportunity to make some cash. I sighed. This trip was more expensive than I’d anticipated. I handed Eleanor the money and we joined the small group congregating by the door of an old hotel. The people stared at Julie and gave us a wide berth. 

Tina took us into the hotel, which some say is haunted by the ghost of a girl who died there in the 1800s, a house with a poltergeist, and of course the ghosts on the battlefield. She showed us grainy photos of ghosts and played some clips on her phone where some muffled sounds were supposed to be otherworldly beings. I thought the whole thing was bullshit, but then my friend was a zombie now so what did I know.

After the last people wandered off, Tina Bright switched off her 100 watt smile and turned to us. “Right. Let’s go somewhere we can talk.” She ushered them over to the Blue and Gray and I put my mask on. I wasn’t going inside somewhere this conservative and not be masked. 

After we sat at a small table in the corner. Tina signaled the waitress and ordered a Bud Light. I got two glasses of wine.  

 “So you’re a zombie,” Tina said matter-of-factly. Do you know how this happened?” She took a long pull of her beer.

Julie said, “I have no idea. One minute I was climbing out onto a rock on Table Mountain and the next thing I knew I was in a coffin in the belly of an airplane.”

“Hmm. You must be missing something. Were you bitten anywhere that you know of?”

Julie nodded shortly. “Yeah, the police said I was gnawed on by the local vermin called  hyraxes or dassies. That’s actually what I was doing when I fell, trying to pet a hyrax. They took chunks out of my legs and arms mostly.” Julie pulled back her shirt sleeve to reveal festering black wounds  

Tina said, “Well, I think we can see what happened. You fell, you died, a zombie or zombies started to eat you, but were scared away when the police found you. You got lucky.”

“Lucky? How is this lucky? Pieces of me are falling off; two of my toes broke off in the shower this morning. I don’t want to be this way… I’d rather be dead.” As she said this, she cracked her knuckles, an old habit. One of Julie’s pinkies snapped at the first knuckle and landed in my wine glass.

Tina fished it out and rolled it into her napkin. “I can use this.” She chugged the rest of her beer and said, “Let’s go to my lab.”

“Lab?” I said. “You have a lab?” 

Tina shrugged. “How do you think I figured out all that stuff about ghosts? I’m both a witch and a scientist. I’ve devoted my life to studying the paranormal.” Something told me this woman was the real deal, not a dabbler like me. She gave me her address and we reconvened there.

Her lab was indeed part witch’s lair and part laboratory. Half of the shelves were filled with small, neatly labeled bottles of herbs and stereotypical items like eye of newt and frog spawn. The other half contained beakers and what looked like most of the periodic table. A gleaming silver table was in the middle of the small room.

Julie and I sat on high stools and watched Tina. “Ok, then. Let’s see what we’ve got here.” Tina shook Julie’s finger into a small cauldron over a bunsen burner then went to the shelves and picked out ingredients-- a small vial of crimson liquid, stinging nettles, magnesium citrate, dead barn flies, and several others. She consulted what looked like a spell book, then tipped things into the cauldron. The liquid began to foam and black smoke rose from it. 

Tina consulted a thick book. “Just as I thought,” Tina said. “You’re a Selside zombie. That means you will only stay alive if you bite someone. Which of course means you’ll infect another person, though there’s a good chance that the person would survive if they have the natural antibodies against the zombie virus. Many Selsides eventually fall apart-- literally-- rather than chance consigning anyone to living death.”  

“God. What do I do?” Julie asked, running her fingers through her stringy hair. A clump came off in her hand. “I can’t infect anyone else. This is worse than death.”

“Then you’ll continue to lose pieces of yourself until you die. Again.”

“Is there anything you can do to help me?”

“I could maybe give you a few weeks more but I can’t hold you together forever. You’ll have to bite someone if you want to stay alive.” 

“I could never do that,” Julie said.

“Remember they could survive the bite, so you would be cured and the person would get sick but not die.”

“That’s quite a gamble,” I said. “Do you have any thought of what the percentages might be?”

“I’d say there’s maybe a 70 percent chance that you would create another zombie. Who would in turn need to bite a human, dead or alive,” Tina said.

“Oh, I don’t want to bite a dead person. Gross!” 

“Maybe you could bite someone who’s a terrible human being,” I said.

“And have them running around terrorizing and biting people? No chance.”

The three of us fell silent. Julie drummed her remaining fingers on the table. Her fingernails were ragged and filthy. She had been so conscientious in life.  

Tina said, as though this was perfectly common place. “I’ll give you some of this elixir and it should help with some of the symptoms you’re having.” Tina scooped some of the potion into a beaker, put a stopper in it, and handed it to Julie. It was pale green and shimmered like a pearl. Julie downed it in a few gulps and made a face. “Ugh!” She said emphatically.

Julie and I were silent on the way to the Super 8. I didn’t know what to say. But I kept coming back to the idea that I could let Julie bite me. How could I even consider it? I had a husband and two beautiful kids to take care of. 

We went to our room and flopped onto the beds and stared at the ceiling. It had been an exhausting day. I hemmed and hawed but finally, I gave voice to what I’d been thinking. “What about biting me?”

Julie sat up and stared at me. “I can’t let you do that. If there’s any chance that you would also become a zombie, I don’t want to do it.”

 “I’ve made my decision,” I said. “I think it’s worth playing the odds. And if I do turn, well, you’re my best friend and I don’t want you to be a zombie alone. Come on and bite me.” I know you want to.” It was true. I’d noticed Julie looking at me a few times like I was lunch.

She sprang from the bed and loomed over me. I felt confident in my choice. But I screamed Julie’s teeth closed onto my neck and tore, biting a piece out of me.

October 30, 2021 03:18

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Shelby Baertl
07:23 Nov 16, 2021

This was so funny! There were just a few minor grammatical things- I think you switched POV briefly with "She ushered *them* over to the Blue and Gray and I put my mask on." Also, when Laura and Julie decide to take the tour, it says they gave money to Eleanor (who's Eleanor?) Maybe you meant Tina? Other than small, nitpicky things, though, I loved the story and thought it was clever and hilarious!


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Ben Rounds
20:55 Nov 04, 2021

Ha! Dead Julie!


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