(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
first day as a trainee zombie didnít start off well.
"What do you call that?" the zombie sergeant shrieked. "Do
you call that a proper parade stance?" He leaned at me so alarmingly that I was
afraid he would topple over, his spittle spattering my face. "I said stand at attention,"
he screamed. "Do you call that standing at attention? Slouch, damn you. Slouch,
you bastard, or Iíll have your guts for garters!"
He looked as if he would do it, too, and since I still
possessed my intestines and wanted to hang on to them, I did my best to slouch
as well as the best of the battle-hardened veteran zombies. I bent my knees slightly,
allowed my head to drop forward, and opened my mouth to let my tongue loll out.
He still wasnít satisfied.
"Iíll see you afterwards for punishment drill," he hissed,
the wind escaping from his torn larynx. "Just because youíre dead, you think you
can get away with anything, do you?"
"No, sergeant," he tried to mimic me, but the air leaking
from his larynx made him sound like a whistling pressure cooker, so he gave
that up. It just made him even madder, though. "Look at your teeth," he said,
after staring me up and down. "What about your teeth, hey?"
"My teeth, sergeant?" I had no idea what he was talking
about. "What about my teeth?"
"No back talk!" he snapped, his jaws clicking together.
"Look at this oneís teeth," he complained to the world in general. "I told them
once, I told them a hundred times, we have a tradition to uphold here! Look
here, you," he said, suddenly back to me again, "what the hell are you doing
with clean white teeth, hey? We zombies need black teeth, see?" He bared his
gums, a maggot squirming enticingly in the gap between his upper incisors. "Didnít
you ever watch the fucking zombie movies?"
""Iíll do my best, sergeant," I said.
"You do it," he said. "Not Ďyour best.í Youíll do it. Weíre
trying to teach you how to hunt down humans here, and thereís no Ďmy bestí to
it. The humans wonít give you a second chance." He stepped back from the line
of us, uh, fresh recruits. "Now, parade... right turn! By the left...forward
march! Left, left, left right left. Left, left..." And then he was rushing up
to me, screaming again. "You. What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"Sorry, sergeant." Quickly, I attempted to copy the others,
letting myself sag and did my best to stumble out of step. It didnít save me
from a clout in the back of the head that almost knocked me on my face. "Donít
look at me, idiot! Face forwards and stick your damned arms out before I
tear them right off!" I stuck my arms out at right angles, and waggled
my wrists as the others were doing. "Thatís better, moron," snarled the
sergeant, dropping back. "Parade...left, left, left right left. Left, left..."
Left right left.
was evening by the time I got off punishment drill. I had been rolled in mud,
made to crawl through barbed wire, and one of my ears dangled loose, only just
still connected to my head by a thread of cartilage, before the sergeant
professed himself satisfied. "Tomorrow," he said, "make sure you look the way I
expect you to look. You understand?"
In the last of the dayís sunshine, the camp looked oddly
peaceful. The barracks for those of us under training were separated from the
quarters of the camp staff by the breadth of the red earth parade ground. The
parade ground was divided down the middle by a tall barbed wire fence, which
stretched from one end of the campís outer perimeter wall to another. That was
the border between the menís and womenís camps.
Out through the main gates, I could just see a motley group
of both sexes, waiting. They would be todayís new crop of recruits, who would
be made to wait, accumulating numbers, until the next intake of trainees. Until
yesterday I had been waiting there with them, faintly apprehensive of what was
Well, I thought, now I knew.
My barracks was dark and filthy and noisome, and a great
deal of effort went into making it dark and filthy and noisome. Every morning,
new recruits had to bring in dirt from the muddy patch outside the camp and
slather the gunk over the walls and the floor. Dust had to be packed into all
cracks and crevices and clothes carefully rumpled and dirtied. The sergeants
would come and check, and woe betide any zombie who hadnít done his duty. The
sergeants had ultimate power over the trainees, and there was no court of
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