Hungry for Love
by Heather J. Frederick
part 1 of 2
The worst part about being a zombie wasn’t the food.
That was bad, believe me, but they taught us how to survive the real raw food diet in “fleshovore” culinary school.
The worst part wasn’t even that my first class was taught by Donny Limpton, the only boy who had asked me to prom, and I still turned him down.
On the day I became a zombie, I woke with a giant sneeze and a feeling like the walls were circling the drain. On the chair was a pile of clothes I must never wear again but which Mom wouldn’t let me throw out. On the floor, a heap of dirty laundry so tall it might be composting in the middle. In the rabbit cage, Roger, smelling delicious.
And a stranger in black leather sitting on my bed.
“Mom!” I screamed.
The stranger smiled. “Garden club, remember?”
Oh yeah. It was Saturday. How could I forget? Maybe my brother was awake. “Howie!”
The guy smiled again, shook his head. And stuck out his hand. “Welcome, Allison. Welcome to the club.”
That wasn’t creepy or anything. But his hand was warm, and his grip was strong. Reassuring, even.
Besides, he was kind of cute. He was old, at least thirty-something, but handsome in a rugged, I-know-what-to-do-with-a-gun kind of way. And he smelled amazing: Old Spice, perhaps?
He handed me a white, plastic bottle. “You’ll need this, for the first few days. Then your skin will adjust.”
“Adjust to what?” I reached for the bottle, got it on the second try, and looked at it for answers. Unhelpfully, it said “SUNBLOCK” in big, black letters. I wondered if I was still dreaming — the world had that you-might-fly-towards-the-ceiling-at-any-moment kind of feel to it.
He leaned back and rested on his hands. “Your new life. Also, may I recommend faking your own death and picking a new identity? It’s what most of us do eventually.”
Keeping my legs under the covers, I sat up and pulled my knees toward my chest. My vision was swimming, and this was probably a dream, but I was only sixteen, after all. I leaned toward him, smiled conspiratorially, and said, “What new life?”
He raised an eyebrow. His crooked half-smile made parts of me melt. “Do you remember your ‘date’ last night?”
A hot blush crashed over my body. Jimmy Kazinsky had taken me to a real drive-in movie. Although he still hung out with guys like Donny Limpton, he went to university with my brother. After weeks of debating, I had succumbed to his persistent requests, and in the tiny back seat of his mother’s Prius, had finally let him kiss me.
The man on my bed waggled his eyebrows at me. “Next time, pick your boyfriends more carefully. Zombiehood is a sexually transmitted disease. One kiss is enough. Believe me, I know.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Strangely, that was the first and most imperative thought. The second was: He’s quite handsome for a zombie. That should have been my first clue. Maybe it was his eyes. Maybe it was the woozy feeling in my head. For some reason, I believed everything he said.
“Seriously,” he said. “There are punishments for those who forget. You’ll never be seeing Jimmy again.”
That was fine, the Man in Black was much better-looking. “Okay.” I scooted closer. And almost fell off the bed.
He rolled his eyes, pushed me back to something resembling vertical, and stood. With one leather-booted foot, he kicked a foothill of crumpled clothes away from the bedside. Then he took a step and loomed over me. He reached into his jacket and handed me a card with a date and time scrawled on it. “You need to be at class at 3:00 pm today in the basement of the downtown library. Unfortunately, Jimmy has been busy all over. Sorry it took us this long to track him down.”
I stared into his deep blue eyes. All four of them... I blinked. Two of them stared back at me in a way that felt heavy and dangerous.
I knew what that look meant. I crossed my arms over my chest. “I didn’t do anything illegal.” It came out a lot thicker and slower than I’d intended, like I had bubble gum on my tongue.
He let out a deep breath. “I’m not a cop... anymore.”
I glared at him anyway. Until he turned his back to me. “Miss,” he said, between what sounded like muffled sniffles, “you’ve got a lot to learn about Zombiehood.”
He rushed toward the door. I felt horrible. I’d made a Zombie cry. Then my eyes fell on Roger. “Wait! What should I eat today?”
“Nothing,” he called over his shoulder, his voice strangled. His arms were clutched to his sides. The poor guy, he was so upset he was shaking. “Especially no one in this house.”
That should be easy, I thought.
Then he was gone.
* * *
I dove for my phone in the pile of discarded clothes, intending to tell my best friend Lilah all about the handsome stranger. With a thump, I landed on the floor.
When I woke up an hour later, I looked at the card still clutched in my hand.
Nope, it wasn’t a dream. I texted Lilah: U wont belienbve whatt hapopenened too ne last nite! And this monornig!!!
A few seconds later, my phone chirped.
Lilah: ruok? me neither! u 1st!
Me: I kissssed JK! muwst b on drugs!
Truthfully, I was wondering what Jimmy might have slipped in my Diet Coke. Why else would I suddenly kiss a boy I’d resisted — for weeks!! — during a preview for Spy Kids 4? And I still felt a little woozy this morning.
Lilah: !!! how was it?
Me: kinsd of wet LOL
And then, just because it was true: dfweel like a xzombie thisd morning!
Lilah: need coffee gotta go mom coming
* * *
Lilah was useless before she drank her coffee. I could use a cup myself. But what would it do? Was it worth the risk?
On any other day, I would have said yes, anything for java.
Unfortunately, I was a Zombie-novice. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the stranger’s news. But I had to admit, I did feel... different this morning. And how else would he know about Jimmy Kazinsky?
What little Zombie knowledge I had was peripherally acquired from my older brother Howie and his friends, like Donny, who had been sleeping over at my house since they were seven. They had probably watched Dawn of the Dead in our basement a bajillion times. Until last year, Donny had either teased or ignored me. Then, it was like I’d sprouted mutilated limbs.
It’s not that he was too old for me. However, Donny said things like, “If there’s a dark, eviscerated fear driving the political machinery of the country, isn’t it a social responsibility to rebel?” It was weird that he thought my older brother was the coolest thing since Friday the Thirteenth. Also, he had sweaty palms. Scary Movie wasn’t even that scary. He might smell like dark spiced rum, but I never went on a date with him again.
I looked in my dresser mirror at my pale brown hair and mildly pimpled face, average for a human teenager but more than good-looking for a flesh-eating creature of the dead. If what I knew about Zombiehood was true, I had a shot at living forever. If I kept out of the sun and didn’t get slaughtered by angry mobs, I might even get to look good doing it.
But did I really have to eat brains?
I turned on my laptop and started research. I was huddled under my covers with my pillow over my eyes, halfway through Night of the Living Dead, when Mom called up, “Allison, are you ever going to come downstairs and eat breakfast? Lunch? Anything? Even your brother is up!”
“Not hungry!” I yelled. It was 1:30. I was starving.
“Darling, are you okay?” I heard her footsteps on the stairs.
“Fine, fine!” I squeaked.
Footsteps paused, retreated. Advanced again.
“Sometimes, when I was a teenager, I used to not feel great on Saturday mornings, too.” She tee-heed. “Grandma even used to bring me the garbage can and hold my hair back. Can I get you some ginger ale? Toast? Aspirin?”
Mom was president of the Garden Club. She wore live flowers in her hat to church. Now my brain was stuck with the image of her throwing up in Grandma’s porcelain trash can.
“I’m not” — I started to say “hung-over” but realized that was the perfect malady from which to recover in an hour — “feeling that bad, Mom. Thanks anyway.”
Then I was alone with my hunger.
Once again, I glanced at Roger. He wasn’t eating his food either. I didn’t dare change out his kibble or clean his cage, after my bizarre craving to eat him. He had smelled like... Chinese food. Salty and savory and mouth-wateringly delicious.
If I could use soy sauce, maybe being a zombie wouldn’t be so bad. I’d find out at three o’clock.
I could barely keep my eyes open, but before I went to class, I needed to go shopping.
I was completely out of clean clothes.
* * *
Three o’clock came, and I was standing alone, smelling like cocoa butter, outside a tiny room in the library basement. It held nothing but a single podium and frail-looking chairs. My caffeine headache pounded behind my eyes, and I was freezing in my new black skirt and t-shirt.
The only hope of improving my mood was seeing Mr. Leather Chaps again. Footsteps shuffled in the hall behind me. I turned, heart thumping.
It was Lilah.
My heart tripped on its new black Converse sneakers and fell flat.
“What are you doing here?” I threw the accusation at her tan face and shiny blonde ponytail. Although boys had been falling at her pedicured feet, she had gone to the prom with my older brother.
Dark and handsome, that was her type. Surely she wasn’t a victim of Jimmy Kazinsky, too.
She stopped well out of my reach and shrugged. Shoulders covered in a white cardigan bumped into dangling gold earrings. “I didn’t know how to tell you this morning. I slept with your brother last night.”
“Howie?” I gargled. Compared to Lilah, who had sung solos in chorus since kindergarten, my voice always sounded like raw sausage.
She rolled her eyes. “No, Allie, your other brother.”
I didn’t have another brother.
So it took me a second — Wait, that means Howie and Lilah... yuck! — before I got to the obvious. “O-M-G, if you’re here, too... then my brother is a zombie!”
“We prefer ‘Fleshovore’,” said a deep voice from the stairs at the end of the hall. Black Doc Martins came into view, followed by well-worn jeans, then the rest of the mysterious stranger.
Except it was no stranger.
Copyright © 2014 by Heather J. Frederick