(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
I went down the street at high noon, wobbling
slightly, a loop of intestine flapping against my right thigh (the very latest
fashion – last year we all went in for it dangling against the left thigh,
those of us who went in at all for intestinal display, that is), my hands held
out loosely ahead of me in the prescribed fashion. I let my head loll a bit on
my shoulders, since my neck muscles – those of them that were left – were
tired. My jaw sagged open, and I felt the drool on my chin.
"Graah," I said. As everyone knows, this
means "Hello," in Zombish, or "I’m happy," or "Fee-fi-fo-fum," or anything one
wants it to mean. At this moment I didn’t really intend it to mean anything at
all. I just said it.
"Graah," someone said. I turned my head and
shoulders until I could see who it was. I recognised her at once. I’d seen her
being changed just the day before yesterday. She’d been caught out in
the open at dawn, probably a straggler from a foraging party. I had tried to
get at her myself, being somewhat peckish at that hour, but I’d been too late.
By the time I’d reached her she’d been bitten several times and was beginning
her change, so I had had to leave her alone.
I looked at her appreciatively. Apart from
a piece missing from her left cheek, her face was intact and decidedly pretty.
Her black forager’s outfit was badly ripped, and one breast hung bare, the
nipple fetchingly bitten away. She staggered as she walked, because her right
leg had lost most of its calf. She was gorgeous.
"Grafowhhl gurk," I said companionably.
It’s a pick-up line I’ve used many times, with fairly high levels of success.
The main thing is to pretend that one has no sexual interest in one’s quarry,
or else she catches the innuendo in it and that’s the end of it right there. "Rrrf."
"Bskrgl frf," she agreed. "Gro pu grankawl
mado?" she added unexpectedly. "Mrahwlk g gois."
I looked at her sharply. It’s not true that
we forget everything that we experienced before we changed, as you
probably found out for yourselves; but it is, of course, true that the memories
fade quite quickly after only a few days. At this time I, for instance,
couldn’t even begin to tell you who I used to be. But this woman was offering
me something that I could never have expected her to be able to offer me – the
hiding hole where a whole (yeah, yeah, I know; I’m a lousy punster) bunch of
humans were holed out. I knew I’d have to move fast on this, before she forgot.
"Krkawl grooh," she added, as though I’d
miss the point. Her cheek wound gaped open, showing a flash of the bone of the
zygomatic arch, slender and achingly lovely.
"Zgral," I agreed. But she and I couldn’t
do it alone, as I had to make clear to her. Two of us wouldn’t be able to take
on a group of prepared survivors and have any chance of success. "Grom kvral."
Of course she wasn’t happy about it, but
she agreed eventually. "Grom kvrooh."
I sought out Ghoom. I found him after a long
search, sniffing around a department store a pack of humans had hit two nights
ago. He was searching, he informed me, for a scent trail.
I told him what the girl had said. He
looked at her doubtfully with the one eye remaining to him. The right side of
his face had been seared to the bone by a Molotov cocktail a human had thrown
six months ago. "Hagrama?" he asked.
I shrugged. It was a chance we’d have to
take. In any case, we needed food. Pickings had been low recently, with the
ranks of the humans thinning out; many of us had wandered off or gone into
hibernation. I didn’t want to hibernate, but if I didn’t get food soon I’d have
to; the last time I’d eaten was nearly three weeks ago and my body’s chemical
defences against degeneration and decay were beginning to break down. I had
begun, almost unconsciously, to move more slowly, both to conserve energy and
because moving too damned fast might conceivably cause me to begin to fall
That’s the one thing I miss about my
pre-zombie life. Like the humans, I must have lived in constant terror until I
was caught and changed, whenever and however that happened, but, going
by the evidence, the average human (while trembling in permanent terror of us)
doesn’t actually need to be afraid that a hasty movement might cost him a leg
and an arm.
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