Chuck’s challenge this week: the Subgenre Mash-up. My mixed up genre? Zombie Whodunit.
I can remember, once in my youth, reading an Agatha Christie book, and I am sure it was nothing like this.
It’s all anybody can hope for in this world, to leave it without knowing whence the end comes. A surprise, like breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day or something. Surprise! You’re dead. And in that way, I was fortunate, because I didn’t see it coming. Middle of a dinner party. Excused myself for two minutes, and then it was lights out.
But here I am. Dead. And Alive. Which means two things.
One, somebody I know is a zombie. And two, that somebody didn’t exactly do an outstanding job covering his tracks. Just a nibble, I’m sure he thought (or she, I guess, the virus doesn’t discriminate, but it just feels like a guy’s lack of consideration), and then a total failure to kill me properly. You know, to ensure I didn’t come back.
I can feel it now, the bite on my shoulder, burning like a brand, spreading out like a fiery web. My head could be splitting open for the pain I feel; somebody must’ve clubbed me but good, to try to kill me before I came back. Nice job, that. My heartbeat sounds like the thumping bass at a rave right inside my ears. The burn is spreading. Whole body on fire. On fire with hunger.
I find myself wondering: Why the shoulder? Seems like too much sinew and bone up there to really get a good bite. Somehow, I feel like an expert in anatomy. The thigh is what I’d target, lots of muscle and fat and blood, inches of it before you tangle up in bones. Nice and soft, too, chewy and moist and…
They’re staring at me. I know this because I can feel their heat, smell their blood, hear their hushed whispers and slightly panicked breathing. All of them shocked. How could this happen? At our dinner party, no less? Right before the dessert course? Well, guess what, idiots? I may be dead, but there’s another zombie out there waiting to get you, too. It could strike at any moment.
I open an eyelid with a tiny squishing sound and they all jump. Not astute enough to catch wise to the zombie in your midst, but you don’t miss me sneaking an eye open, do you? Bunch of short-sighted jerks.
Okay. Everybody’s here. The biter is hiding in plain sight.
Could it be James? The snot-nosed trust-fund baby who’s here in a suit that costs twice the average monthly salary for a blue collar worker? He’s clinging onto the waist of his date, Barbara, like he’s more scared than she is. And she, the daughter of a hotel empire, wearing more furs than a snowbound wolf, screaming vacuously into his ear, like I’m about to get up and eat her face. Actually, that sounds rather tempting. I try not to think about how her skin would disintegrate between my gnashing teeth, how her blood would cloy in my throat, how…
Man, the bug works fast. All of them look delicious, in fact, especially tubby Vera, who’s crammed herself into a dress three sizes too small to accentuate her curves for her date, a man she hopes to ensnare in order to rescue her from the one-bedroom flat she shares with her sisters. Too bad he’s gay. Tobias there, lending her his elbow in order to keep up the charade even though he keeps sneaking glances at Francis, stands to inherit millions if he’d only marry a nice girl like Vera and give his mother some grandchildren. Poor woman knows she’s got a better chance of being eaten by zombies now than of seeing her son breed — there’s not much hiding his condition with the spangly tie, the perfectly coordinated pocket square, and swooshing sashay of his walk — but it’s nice to hope. Much like I hope to suck the meat from his fingers, slurp slurp slurp like chicken wings, and…
I slam my eye closed again to shut out the visions of devouring my ex-friend, and collectively they sigh in relief. Dead after all, they say, and shuffle from the room. Francis, the one Tobias has been eyeing, comes over to check my pulse — I know it’s him because he reeks of his cologne, smelling like cut grass and musk and cognac and spinal fluid and… maybe I’m just daydreaming a little, but he smells intoxicating — and determines that I am, in fact, dead. He announces it to the rest of the guests and they sigh in relief and move the party to the parlor. No sense hanging around in here while I lie in a pool of my own blood, going bad like the hors de’ouvres, ruining the evening the way my murderer has ruined my three-piece suit and my skull.
But wait. Francis. He’s the internet dynamo who founded a dozen different companies before he was thirty, and has been married almost as many times. Could he be my killer? It’s almost too much to imagine: as much as he’s been in the tabloids for dating this or that supermodel, that he might be the country’s highest-profile zombie to boot. How salacious. Everybody knows you can’t tell if somebody’s a zombie by checking their pulse, after all. Well, everybody except the people at this party, apparently.
Or maybe it’s Carol, who, after everybody else leaves, stands in the door frame hugging herself tightly, like all the heat’s been sucked out of the room. That’s not the room, dearie, that’s me, going cold over here on the Spanish tile. She thinks she loves me — or rather, loved me — but everybody here knows she could have done better than a third-rate investments agent. I could have bought her the mansion and the yacht, sure, but not the vacation home on the coast that she really has her heart set on. But I don’t think she could have killed me. She’s too innocent, and sweet, and delectable, and her face just looks like it would melt in my mouth, and… And there she goes.
All of them gone. Maybe now I can sneak to my feet and…
Arnulfo. The butler, of course. Pretending not to speak English so that he can simply nod and serve our drinks without a word. That ever-so-subtle limp that we all assumed was a scar from his troubled life in the third-world country of… wherever he claimed to be from. He lingers by the door, his smarmy, faintly clouded eyes lingering on me, and wipes a drop of my blood from his lip. His lip falls off, and he quickly replaces it, tamping it into place with clumsy fingers. That sneaky son of a bitch. His face contorts like he’s trying to giggle at me, or maybe he’s just moaning with the eternal torment of the living dead; it’s hard to tell which. He slips out the door toward the others.
I have to stop him before he kills again.
Shit. Did my blood congeal into glue or something? My face is stuck to the floor with sticky crimson, my limbs feel like they’re strapped with lead sleeves. I haul myself to my feet, but I feel shaky, unstable, like my body is made of jenga blocks balanced on a rope bridge. I splay my legs unnaturally to better hold my balance, throw my arms out in front to counterbalance my ungainly torso. That works. I hobble to the next room, throw the door open —
They all gasp at the sight of me, even Arnulfo, that treacherous swine. In a flash, Carol collapses in the corner with Francis, Vera starts screaming at a high C with Barbara in perfect harmony, Tobias grabs a chair and brandishes it like a medieval greatsword and James draws a little pistol from his coat pocket quick as a cobra. But that’s okay, I’ve figured it out, and I can explain it all to them in an instant, and we can kill that prick Arnulfo together.
I hold up my arms, take a shaky step toward them, and state my case: “Grrraaaaaaaaaarrrgh. Uuuuuuuuhhhhh… HmmmMMMMMMMMaaaammmmfffff.”
That’s odd. I try again: “Rrrrroooooooooooorrrrrrzzz. Nnnaaaarrrrssssshhhhhhhhhhh. Ffflllllllleeeeeeeeeeeccchhhhhhh…”
Dammit, dammit, dammit. Out of the corner of one eye, I see Arnulfo’s hand fall off. I scream at them all to look (“Blaaarrrr, BLLAAAAAAARRRRRR”), but he grabs it and shuffles out of the room, unnoticed, while they’re all staring at me like I’m some kind of monster or something.
Everybody’s shouting at me now. The girls are crying, the guys are advancing on me with their weapons, and it’s all a big mess. Still, all I can think about is eating their brains to save them from their own stupidity. I figure it’s worth a shot, so I lunge at Francis, he of the sweet cologne and flesh smell, and that’s when I hear the meat of James’s finger tighten on the trigger.
I hope he hits my brain this time.