It was the incessant knocking on his door that finally pulled Liam out of bed and stumbling out of his room, throwing up his arm to block the overly bright sunlight from his eyes. Damn Louis and his ability to talk Liam into things he always regrets the next day. Such as those last couple of Jager bombs.
"I'm coming!" he croaked out and finally the knocking stopped, though unfortunately the pounding in his head did not. Damn Louis again. Gingerly, he unlatched the door and pulled it open, leaning heavily against the doorframe as he squinted at his early morning visitor - a man dressed like a zombie. "Nice costume, mate, but you're a bit late for Halloween, aren't you?"
The zombie - man - scowled and lifted a bag and shook it; Liam could hear the rattle of presumably a full bag of candy. "Already got tons here, don't I. You knock on people's doors and all they want to do is shove sugary sweets at you and tell you to go away. I need your help."
"Oh, okay. Did your car break down? You need to call for a lift or something?" But as he peered around the other man, Liam could see that the street was empty.
"No. I wish it was that simple. I woke up in the graveyard last night. I think I'm a zombie." The man looked woefully up at Liam and held out his arms to show off his dirt covered clothes and skin. Underneath the layer of dirt, it looked like he wearing what used to be a pretty nice suit. His face looked sunken and gaunt, skin pale, and stitches on his right temple.
Liam smiled. "That really is an ace costume, mate. Very realistic. You probably shouldn't have smeared dirt all over that suit, though, that's gonna cost a fortune to get out."
The man scowled again. "It's not a costume! Look!" He grabbed Liam's hand and pressed it against his face and it felt like just a thin, cold layer of skin covering bones. He rubbed at his cheek lightly but no white make-up came off.
Liam snatched his hand back and gaped. "Oh my god. Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, I'm going to kill Louis. What did he put in those drinks?"
The man - zombie? - raised an eyebrow at him. Or what was left of his eyebrow. "This isn't a hallucination. It's real life. Or death, I suppose. Anyway, can you help me?"
"Help you how?!" Liam wailed. "Is this it? Is this the apocalypse? Are zombies really going to take over the world?"
"Relax, babe. Maybe we should take this inside before your neighbors get curious."
"Right, right." Liam stepped back and gestured for the man - zombie - to enter. "Ugh, a zombie just called me 'babe.' I don't even know what's going on anymore." The zombie patted him on the shoulder and Liam flinched. "You're really just skin and bones all over, aren't you?"
The zombie frowned, holding his hand up and turning it around. It did indeed look skeletally skinny. "Hmm, guess that's what happens when you've been dead for six months," he murmured contemplatively. "Why don't you go get a glass of water? It'll help with the hangover."
"Yeah, I think I will. You want some?" Liam asked, falling back into the polite hosting manners his mother had drilled into him.
"Okay. You can take a seat wherev - no, wait, don't go in the living room, I just had the carpet cleaned and you're filthy."
Liam rolled his eyes. He could hear the sarcasm from the other room. Great. Not just a zombie but a sarcastic one. This was turning out to be one hell of a morning. He was never going out with Louis again.
He filled two glasses with some tap water and walked back out to find that the zombie had settled himself at his dining table. Liam grimaced and made a note to disinfect that before he ate on it. He offered one of the glasses to the zombie and took a seat himself.
Silence descended as Liam tried to figure out how one makes polite small talk with a member of the undead.
"So...you ever watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"
The zombie snorted. "Really?"
Liam shrugged defensively. "Well, I've never been in this kind of situation before! I don't know where to start."
"How about we start with names? I'm Zayn. Zayn Malik."
"Liam Payne. Oh, hey, were you that uni student who died in a car accident?"
Zayn grimaced. "Yeah. Idiot drunk driver got me on my way home from the library."
Zayn waved his hand dismissively. "Not your fault." He brightened suddenly, "Hey, do you think you could call my mum? Let her know I'm okay?"
Now it was Liam's turn to raise an eyebrow incredulously. "And say what? Hi Mrs. Malik, just wanted to let you know that your son's a zombie now but don't worry, he's okay? She'd have me committed! If not scream at me and burst into tears because I've brought up bad memories for her."
Zayn slumped in his seat. "Yeah, I guess. This sucks."
Liam nodded sympathetically. "So what are you gonna do now?"
"I don't know. What do zombies do? I don't really feel like doing the walking-around-with-my-arms-out-and-moaning-all-night thing."
They lapsed back into silence, Zayn staring thoughtfully out the window and Liam swirling his finger through the condensation on his glass. Finally, though, his nose couldn't take it anymore. "You wanna take a shower? That might help you feel better."
Zayn's brow furrowed. "Are you saying I stink?"
"Just a bit like rotting death, y'know."
Zayn bent an arm up and took a sniff, then shrugged. "I guess so. It doesn't seem that strong to me."
"Mate, I think your sense of smell's off."
"Oh. That makes sense. Okay then, where's your bathroom?" He stood up and stretched, letting out a sigh as he cracked his hands.
Liam winced and looked away. "Um, I think your thumb came out of its socket."
Liam winced again at the 'pop' of it being pushed back in. He couldn't believe this was actually happening to him. He led Zayn to the bathroom and got him settled there with a towel, a change of clothes, and a spare toothbrush. Then he went back to the kitchen to have a (minor) freakout.
After a few minutes, he forcibly took a couple of deep breaths. "Okay, Payno, pull yourself together. You run into burning buildings for a living. This is nothing." He focused on his breathing and could feel his heart slowing back down. Gradually, he noticed some singing rising over the sound of the shower and he tilted his head to listen. Didn't sound like a song he recognized but, "he's pretty good." Liam grimaced. "And now I'm talking to myself. Great. Just great."
Sighing, he set about making tea and gathering the ingredients for a big fry-up. He was just plating the food when Zayn walked out looking, well, still pale and gaunt, but cleaner. There was still a faint stench of rotting flesh clinging to him but Liam supposed that's what happened when you were an undead.
"Better?" Zayn asked pointedly.
Liam nodded firmly. "Much. Breakfast?"
Zayn's eyes lit up. "Yeah, I'm famished! Oh, but I don't eat pork, I'm Muslim."
"But you're - um, never mind. Okay then," Liam skipped over the bacon and dished out a portion of everything else onto a plate for the other boy.
They sat down again at the dining table and Liam watched in bemusement as Zayn tried some of the food, frowned, sprinkled some salt, tried some more food, frowned again, and added more salt. After two more rounds of this, he finally looked up at Liam with a frustrated expression. "You got any hot sauce?"
"Maybe?" He got up and rummaged around in his condiment cabinet. He didn't like spicy foods himself but he thought he remembered saving some packets from the last time he had gotten delivery. "Oh, here we go!" He grabbed all the ones he could see - eight - and dropped them in front of Zayn.
He watched as Zayn went through the same routine - open a packet of hot sauce, take a bite of food, frown, add another packet of hot sauce, try another bite of food, frown, add another packet of hot sauce. He finally, and luckily, seemed satisfied after he had drenched his food in all of the hot sauce Liam had given him.
"Mm, that's so good. I really missed food," he moaned.
"I take it your taste buds aren't the same as they used to be?"
"Yeah, a bit," he said. "But at least I can still taste hot sauce."
"But you put so much of it," Liam pointed out. His own mouth burned just from the thought of it.
"What, this? Nah, it's only a little more than usual. I've always liked spicy foods."
"Okay, maybe that's why your taste buds are gone and not because you're dead."
Zayn stuck his tongue out at Liam. Liam returned the gesture and they both giggled. They finished the rest of their meal in comfortable silence and when they were doing the washing up, Liam decided to bring up the topic of Zayn's future again.
"Look, you can't go back home, right?"
Zayn sighed. "Right."
"And you probably shouldn't be wandering around the streets. It can get pretty dangerous out there."
"Okay...." Zayn eyed him with curiosity.
Liam took a fortifying breath. "Why don't you stay here for a bit until you figure out what to do next?"
Zayn broke out into a blinding grin. "Yeah, that'd be brilliant! Thanks, Liam!" He threw his arms around Liam, who hugged back automatically, pressed a kiss to his cheek, and then bound out of the room, calling out something about having a movie marathon to catch up on everything he'd missed.
Liam stayed by the sink, hand cupping his cheek where he could still feel the imprint of Zayn's lips. He felt a little dazed. He had a feeling this was a turning point in his life and he could only hope that it was a good thing and that he didn't just kickstart the zombie apocalypse.