Little Katie Deatherage was understandably alarmed when she answered the door at her parents’ home in the country anddiscovered on the doorstep a slobbering, rotting zombie. Zombies sometimes knocked on doors to beg for a handout or a place to stay but that was mostly in large cities. It was unusual for a zombie to find its way to the Deatherages’ modernistic steel and glass house in the country, especially since it was situated a half-mile back from the main road.
It was dark outside but the porch light gave Katie a clear view at the zombie. She could tell the creature had been an old woman in life. Her hair was white and wild, hanging in thick strands to her stooped shoulders. Her nose had rotted away, leaving a gaping skeletal hole in the middle of her face. Bits of skin had sloughed off her cheeks and forehead, allowing Katie to see the unsightly masses of purplish muscle tissue we all wear under our skin. Ivory colored sinew stretched taught as a violin string connected her upper and lower jaws. She wore the dress in which she was buried, a fine gown turned gray and tattered, and stained with the dried remnants of bodily fluids.
And then there was the smell—a nausea-inducing mix of rotted meat and maple syrup. Katie’s father had told her once there was no smell more unpleasant than the odor of a decaying human corpse, by which he meant there was nothing that smelled worse than a zombie.
Katie was eight years old. Her grandmother died before she was one and she had no memory of her. Yet there was something familiar about this zombie’s eyes. They looked like the eyes of someone ehe should know, or at least someone she could know.
“Hello, sweetie,” the zombie cooed. Her words were slurred, portions of her tongue having rotted away. Katie had an uncle who talked that way when he drank Jim Beam.
“Mom,” Katie called uncertainly over her shoulder, “someone’s at the door.”
The zombie apocalypse had not been what people had been led to expect. It started in more temperate regions as early as January. In the American midwest the undead did not start to emerge from their graves until mid-March. It was theorized that frozen ground during winter prevented the resurrected bodies from clawing their way to the surface. There was evidence that many succumbed while digging their way out of the grave like subterranean insects that emerge from their pupae but expire before reaching the daylight. There were numerous theories about what caused the zombie epidemic.
Some believed it was caused by a previously unknown virus. Some thought it was orchestrated by extraterrestrial aliens.
Still others assumed it was the End Times, compelling evidence portending the Second Coming of Christ.
The zombies themselves were not the shuffling, robotic monsters intent upon consuming human brains people had been led to expect. To the contrary they were more like decomposing vagrants, wandering about in bewilderment about what had happened to them. They were unsightly, of course, and they smelled awful. Mothers would say to their children, “Come away from there. Those people are zombies.” Employers shunned them because of their appearance and odor. No one wanted a zombie serving fast food when a finger or piece of an ear might fall off into the large fries.
In Great Britain, a zombie created a stir when he ate a dog. And a zombie in Seattle was arrested after murdering his adulterous widow. By and large, however, zombies were less criminally inclined that the rest of the population. Your chances of be killed or harmed by a zombie were significantly less than your odds of being assaulted by another human being.
Still, the zombie population was shunned and marginalized by the living. The streets of large cities were littered with homeless zombies panhandling for spare change or food. The only people happy to see zombies were lawyers. There were legal issues about whether or not a newly resurrected zombie could reclaim assets he or she had left to their heirs. A case headed toward the Supreme Court would determine whether or not zombies could vote when, technically, they were dead.
The newly elected President swept into office on the promise to voters that he would do something to address the zombie issue. “We’ve got too many zombies in this country,” he told voters. “Got to do something about them. Get rid of them. Send them back where they came from. America First.”
Katie’s limited understanding of zombies and the zombie issue had come from what she had gleaned from watching the news on the oversized media center in her parents’ living room. She understood the issue in broad strokes only. At eight years of age, she had more interest in dolls, video games and playing with other children her age. She left it to people of her parents’ age to wrestle with the zombie issue.
“Mom,” she called again.
“I’m coming,” Katie’s mother Sarah called. Sarah Deatherage stopped in mid-stride several steps from the front door. “Oh my God,” she blurted.
“Hello, dear,” the zombie slobbered, trying to smile.
“Yes, dear, of course,” the zombie answered. “Who did you expect? I heard you when you told my granddaughter that you would give anything to have you mother back to talk to, even if it was only for a moment. Well, here I am. I need a place to stay, and you and Devin have such a big house here.”
Sarah heard herself involuntarily scream, a sharp, piercing scream that cut through the night.
But the scream was not enough to drown out her mother’s voice: “You should be careful what you wish for, dear.”
Dave Ambrose is a retired journalist and public relations specialist living in central Illinois. After a 40-year career of writing non-fiction, he has only recently turned his attention to short fiction.