by J. Saler Drees
I have a pet zombie in my basement. I hear him howling in hunger as I open the front door. His loud raging vocals sound like a dog in heat so I don’t think the neighbors will suspect.
The gineapig in my duffle bag is also scratching and wiggling around. Today it took me over two hours after work to find food. I had to drive to another promising neighborhood and cruise up and down the sidewalks hoping to catch a cat lounging in a yard outside. But I couldn’t find one so instead had to take a Guinea pig I found in an outside cage. One woman in garden hat asked what I was doing. I lied and claimed the Guinea pig to be mine.
I throw my car keys on the kitchen table and run down the hallway toward the basement door. Scuffling sounds from under the floor, he must be upset it took me so long. The supply of cats has been dwindling since I captured all the cats in my own neighborhood. Plus I’m so tired of Mrs. Pear coming to my door and asking if I’ve seen her Patches. I can’t just tell her my zombie ate it. That will break her heart.
I’ve posted several ads online asking for cats and even considered going to the animal shelter, but that gets expensive. I work as a cashier at Target, and it just doesn’t pay that much. Yes, I know having a pet zombie is costly and a big responsibility. I used to want children, thinking that would fill the void, but then Gilbert came along.
Beyond the door, close movement, the knob itself doing little twitching jerks from another force on the other side. This is strange. I have to keep my zombie, Gilbert (I named him Gilbert because he semi resembles my first crush in elementary school with the big ears and big teeth) tied up by the ankles otherwise he’s just so excited to see me when I enter the basement that he tries to tackle me.
I unlock the door and it swings open. Out pounces Gilbert, gnashing his decaying teeth in grimy gums. His milky eyes don’t seem to recognize me today and his grey fingers reach out to grab me. He must be angry I’ve taken so long with dinner.
“Gilbert, it’s me,” I say, jumping back, the Guinea pig in the duffle swings out and hits him in the jaw. “I’m sorry I took so long. See, I have dinner here.”
But Gilbert tears the duffle out of my hands and throws it, Guinea pig and all, down the hallway, obviously upset it’s a Guinea pig and not a cat. Slobber drips from his chapped cracked lips and he growls. A new gash has formed on his forehead and clumps of hair are missing that hadn’t been before. He must’ve struggled to get undone from his binds so hungry he was desperate to escape and find food for himself.
Gilbert limps toward me, his ankles twisted, making it difficult for him to walk. Evidently he broke his bones in order to get out of the ropes. He leans against the wall for balance as he drags his gimpy ankles toward me.
I step back. “Look, Gilbert, it’s not my fault you’re such a picky eater. It’d be a lot easier if you liked goldfish or hamsters.” I slowly back away. “And the fact that you’re allergic to dogs, well, I can’t help that either.”
He keeps coming toward me, his foul stench of rotting flesh, (the kind you find in your pierced ear hole) overcomes my senses and it’s hard to think. I should press forward, shove him back into the basement. I did it the first time I found him. And with his ankles crippled, it’s be even easier this time. Except he smells so bad, I don’t want to be near him. He needs a bath. I need to hose him down again, and the basement floor too. With some bleach. No, lots of bleach. Usually I give him a bath every Thursday but skipped last week since I had to work overtime.
“Come on,” I say, “Let’s be reasonable. I brought you dinner. Why do you have to be so ungrateful? Let’s sit down, eat and then I’ll give you a bath afterward.”
He yowls in response, a wolf longing for the moon. Lurching forward, his hands grip my wrist. Slimy they slip off as I retract. He keeps reaching for me. I know I’ve been neglecting him, haven’t let him out of the basement in the while, and now skipping his bath and bringing him home a Guinea Pig instead of a cat. Still, I need to get him under control.
I glance about for an object to push him back. I rip a picture down of me and my ex-husband from the wall. We are at the beach. I hold the frame out as a shield. He lunges, his gnarled gray fingers mottled with sores, wrap around the edges of the picture frame. I yank it away, and smash it over his head. Gurgling noises emit from his throat but he’s not deterred. I run into the kitchen. He crashes after me, hitting his shin on the kitchen table.
I lean back on the fridge. “Look, you’re just hurting yourself being out here. You need to go back to your room.”
Squinting his milky eyes, he focuses on something beyond me. I turn to see out the window, Mrs. Yang walking her Chihuahua.
“No,” I say alarmed, inching my way toward the knife block on the counter. “Don’t even think about eating one of the neighbors.”
He stumbles toward the window. I pull a knife out and swing it at him. It slices into his arm. He falls backward toward the couch in the living room. Scrambling on all fours he crawls, toward the large living room window.
“Stop, Gilbert! Don’t leave!” I shout. “You’ll fall apart. You know the idea of zombie came from lepers, right? This isn’t Dawn of the Dead.”
He doesn’t head my warnings and barrels through the glass, shards of it raining down on him. He keeps moving, wanting to get out into the world after Mrs. Yang. But the state he’s in he won’t get far.
I chase after him, but trip, my feet falling away from me, knife skittering across the floor. A hard force hits me in the back of the head and I see bright white.
My eyes blink open to the ceiling. Kitchen light is on. I turn my head to see the broken living room window. Oh, God, Gilbert. A massive headache pulses in the back of my skull but I pull myself up anyways. I have to go find Gilbert. He’ll be so lost out there in the world and no one will understand him. He will try to bite someone. People will scream at his presence, will shoot him, will haul him away to some science facility where he’ll be poked and prodded. No, he must stay safe with me.
The walls around me, the couch and the chair and the broken window all seem to shimmy and shake like evaporation waves. I lean on the kitchen table to catch my bearings. What will life be like without Gilbert? No, don’t think that. When we first met, he was on my porch, looking hungrily in at me from the very window which is now broken in the living room. I was rather shocked at his appearance at first, but there was a familiarity about him and the hungry expression in his wide milky eyes expanded over his whole face. He looked like he was about to break my window so I went to open the door a crack and ask him what was wrong.
Yet, instead of behaving like a normal person, waiting to be invited in, he barged right into my house without permission, trying to grab at me. At first I was shocked, but then flattered. This man really wanted me! Yes, even as he was trying to bite at my neck, I knew could tame him. I tricked him into following me into the basement where I locked him in and thus adopted him as my pet. Before him, I was so lonely. After two years of marriage, falling into a routine of same, same, same, my husband left. I said children could help us but he said he didn’t want children with me. I was a bore. But with Gilbert I’m no longer a bore. My life sparks with purpose and excitement.
I stand up from the table and go out the front door. The sun is setting. A trail of blood starts from the porch and down the front steps onto the sidewalk. I follow the drops of blood, drying now on the cement a brownish rust stain. Up ahead I see a caterpillar-like form laying on the sidewalk. Except it’s a lot larger than a caterpillar and as I near I see it’s a finger. The pointer finger, curled slightly with blood coagulating at the stump where it had fallen off. I quickly pick it up and notice by a mailbox another one rests. The thumb. Gathering it up, I hear a woman scream. Rapidly I hurry to see an arm and Mrs. Tuckett trying to pry her Doberman away but its teeth already have sunk into the forearm. It shakes the limb back and forth, little nub tail wagging.
“Stop!” I cry out rushing over and grabbing the hand, now with only three fingers attached. I tug and the Doberman tugs as well, growling playfully, apparently thinking this is a game. No, this is war. My Gilbert will need his arm back. He’ll need me to sew the fingers back on and then the arm back to his body. I’ve done it before when he got his foot stuck in the heater vent.
“Give it back.” I snarl at the dog. I can’t have dog teeth marking it all up. Poor Gilbert, already as messed up as he is.
Mrs. Tuckett keeps screaming. “Oh my God, is that an arm? An arm? Oh my God!”
I bear my feet into the sidewalk, and lean away with all my weight. The hand pops off and the dog bounces back, its rump ramming into Mrs. Tuckett who is crying now. She collapses into the grass lawn on the other side of the walk, letting go of the Doberman and it prances off with its prize down the street.
“Have you seen Gilbert running around? He’s hard to miss, all decayed and rotting.” I no longer care what others think. He’s out in the open for all to see.
“What’s happening?” Mrs. Tuckett keeps crying, attempting to push herself back up. She is no use and her damn Doberman is a pain, ripping Gilbert apart like he is. Now I only have the hand.
“You owe me an arm,” I tell her and run off down the street, where the blood trail expands wider and wider, the rusty stains spreading out over more and more area of the sidewalk.
A few feet up, I spot a leg flopped over tree roots, the knee bending about the trunk. With my free hand I lug the leg up by the ankle. It’s slippery with blood and I push it under my arm, continuing my quest, calling out now, “Gilbert! Gilbert!”
Mr. Guerro, a drama teacher at the high school, is sitting on his porch reading the newspaper. He peers over its edge, “What on Earth are you doing? Are you in some show at the theater?”
“Have you seen my zombie?” I ask.
“Not a zombie. But there was a strange man trying to attack little Rico earlier,” Mr. Guerro says. “We called the police but he was gone by the time they came.”
My insides warm with hope. “Where was Rico attacked?”
“Just outside his yard. He’s fine, really. The attacker was rather slow and evidently crippled. He may’ve escaped from that nursing home.” Mr. Guerro stands up and stoops over to demonstrate Gilbert’s posture. Then he stands up straight, eyeing me. “Say, you should save those pieces for Halloween. They’d be very creepy lawn decorations.”
Clearly he’s doesn’t understand the predicament I’m in. I trudge on faster now with the hope that Gilbert is near. Lamp flicker on at the coming of night. Leg weighs heavier and heavier. Fingers and hand keep dropping out of my grasp, and I repeatedly stoop down to pick them up again.
I arrive at the end of the street where it turns onto the main road into town. Fast cars drive by, the noise of the tires on asphalt deafening. I’m out of breath, panting. Severed leg slips, the sleek, bloody stump slides out from the crook of my arm, and slaps on the ground, the skin on cement producing an unnerving smack.
Looking away, I see out in the center of the road, Gilbert’s head, jaw torn off, skull bashed in, eyes blank. Head lights flash and pass by. My throat tightens, chest squeezes, as though I’m under water, and everything heavy closes around me.
Cars continue on like he’s just another roadkill, although there’s no sign of the body. I know he’s gone but part of me still wants to wonder. Did he make it? Did he roll, headless and with two limbs across the lanes? What is it he wants on the other side? Nothing but an auto shop, recycle plant and storage units over there.
I leave the leg on the sidewalk and run through the cars toward the battered skull. Honks and screeching tires, followed by curses, trail after me. Knees buckles and I plunder to the ground next to the skull in the center of the two lanes. I cradle his head in my arms, no longer caring about the smell or the slime of oily blood. I hug him to my chest and rock back and forth. My Gilbert, come back to me. I promise to never be late with dinner again. I promise to always bring cats. And to bath you and let you roam free in the back yard. I will take care of you. Come back, come back, come back.
J is finally submitting their work out into the public. After many workshops and reading critiques, J feels ready to share to a larger audience and hopes that readers will engage with their work. J was born in California and has lived in many different parts of the state. They plan to die on California soil. And then the ashes can be scattered into the sea and go everywhere they please, including fish bellies.