I wouldn’t say business casual was really a style so much as a concession offered up to capitalism in exchange for, in my case, minimum wage. As far as concessions go, I wouldn’t have minded it so much if I hadn’t died in it. I met eternity in khaki pants and a polo shirt with KATIE in easy-to-read block letters on the magnetic name tag, (though I’d put Kaitlyn on my application and said I preferred Kate in my interview). At least I’d done something with my hair that day; pulled back out of my face, I felt less obligated to rattle chains.
Maybe in Heaven or Hell you get the chance to change into flowing robes or a loincloth or something, but I wouldn’t know. Whoever was managing the whole “death” thing was really fucking it up lately, and I’m not just saying that because I’m still hanging around (though I’ve some words about that, if I ever get in touch with the manager upstairs). There’s a lot of hanging around going on, and unfortunately it’s not limited to the spectral sort. If it were, then maybe I’d have some company, some casual conversation, a hi how are ya? Oh, fine fine, still dead, but everyone else’s soul was doing a bang up job getting out of Dodge. So well, in fact, that the bodies were still kicking after they left.
Something about not having a soul makes you real hungry, I guess.
A large majority of conversation between tangibles (I’d say the living but that’s not strictly true) these days is either groans, gurgles, or unintelligible screaming, which is really only fun if you’re getting to participate.
The lanky figure lurches over the curb, too slight to lumber and too hunched to loom. In an unusual show of dexterity for a dead body, it manages to not collapse into a heap or bust its narrow jaw on the concrete again . Instead, it stumbles forward, takes a moment to rally itself, and shuffles on, aimless and determined and utterly alone.
Pieces of loose paper drifted from trash bank to trash bank. The wind sidled its way through creaking doors and shattered windows, churning knotted brown waves around a blank, gaunt face. It had lost the hair tie a while back, and looked fresh from some deep well filled with jagged rocks. Its teeth were too big for its mouth, and it compensated by simply letting it hang open. Maybe it’d get lucky and something would fly in.
I call her Zombody.
We do everything together; walks in the park, walks in the street, walks through the burnt out McDonalds where we sometimes shake it up a little and trudge through the rotting ball pit while I wonder how plastic can scream tetanus. You know what they say, be your own best friend.
Even if “you” are a reanimated corpse.
The grim silence of my apocalyptic afternoon was shattered like a convenience store window being acquainted with a brick. Zombody didn’t talk, didn’t make much noise in general, but I felt her non-existent dog ears swivel towards the sound, and so rushed to get ahead of her appetite.
Three tense backs disappeared into the gloom of the 7/11, heavy boots crunching on broken glass. I sighed, to no one’s benefit but my own, and drifted inside after them. It had been a while since I’d gotten to play invisible charades, and I could use the exercise in futility.
“There’s nothing here,” one of them hissed under his breath, skull cap pulled down over his eyebrows, shoulders hunched. Maybe he thought dressing like a burglar would make him quieter.
“The back door wasn’t locked,” I said, watching them scour the shelves, making a lot of noise for people who weren’t dead by this point. “The brick was a bad idea. You should really get out of here.”
I swung my arms through the second one--tall guy, nervous, clutching a bat like a teddy bear and side eyeing the shadows. He shivered, but continued deeper.
“Maybe in the back…” contestant number three offered, wearing elbow pads and a helmet over a dingy, oversized hoodie, toeing at a broken jar of cheese dip that was turning green.
“Do seven-elevens have backs?”
Zombody wouldn’t be long now. I tried yelling.
“ Obviously, all stores have backs.”
I shouted Boo! for the theatrics of it.
“Excuse me, didn’t realize you were a store expert.”
Emotions made a difference, right? That’s how poltergeists worked? I swiped my hand through the surviving cheese dips, trying to feel angry.
“Don’t be a dick.”
“We should’ve just gone for the houses, you know stores are the first place-”
“Yeah, ‘cause I really want to run into another band of-”
As Zombody pitched herself over the lip of the shattered window, making a horrible wheezing sound on her way to the ground, the feeling in my ghost-stomach dropped right past disappointment into pity as thick, rust-colored sludge crawled out of my flesh-stomach.
It’s not like I wanted to see Zombody eat people, but watching the survivors shuffle around her and scramble back out the window while she groaned and flailed weakly was just sad.
The living ran off down the street to find somewhere better to starve, and I sat beside Zombody like it made a difference.
I’d never been inside a police station before, dead or alive, but now I was two-fold and it was underwhelming. It wasn’t even as turned over as things typically were now; it had the sense of being packed up for the night and waiting for the morning, but that had come and gone several times over. Evening light streamed through privacy glass windows pressed up against the ceilings like breathing holes in a box, summoning dust motes to hang in the dead air.
I liked to think the dust swayed a little bit more when I passed through it. I tried to knock stacks of papers off the corners of desks with large, sweeping motions, swinging my ghost-arms, kicking my ghost-legs, huffing deep, ghostly breathes.
It did a great, ghostly-heap of nothing, but it was entertaining for a few minutes. Zombody was skulking around the far end of the room, arm loosely held across her lacerated stomach, intent on whatever it was empty flesh shells are intent on. The cut from the window had congealed into a large scab-thing without causing Zombody too much trouble, it seemed, but she’d kept her arm there anyway. I suspected it might be stuck to the dried blood.
I floated over, scowled at her stupid gawky face, and tried to see any kind of acknowledgement in her milky pupils. I moved from one side to the other, slow at first, then with sudden jerks, but she just swayed.
“You’re no fun.”
She shuffled forward and I slipped out of the way, bored again.
Ghosts don’t feel. From what I could gather, ghosts can see and hear, but they can’t smell, taste, or touch. The closest thing to sensation I’ve had since kicking my bucket was when I thought maybe I could just climb back into Zombody. Figured it was worth a shot, up until I actually tried it and felt, felt, like someone had attached jumper cables to my funny bone, if my funny bone had been my entire me.
Zombody hadn’t sounded like she enjoyed it either.
Papers rustled on the other side of the room. I went to have a look. Maybe it’d be mice. Maybe I could possess a mouse. Smaller brain, like pushing dust...
There was a girl in the evidence locker. She’d been there a while, judging from the empty food boxes and the nest of squared fleece, likely pilfered from a supply closet somewhere. She was knitting, the soft clacking of the metal needles a steady rhythm, yarn feeding from the large hiker’s bag propped open beside her. Nothing fancy, she seemed well into a scarf that changed from purple to green, sporting only a few dropped stitches. A maroon beanie sat on her short, dark hair. I wondered if she’d made it herself.
I drifted down in front of her, listening to the tik tik tik and pull of thread. It was...nice? Nostalgic, reminded me of my grandmother. It was better than Zombody’s labored breathing, which tended to be irregular and wet and…coming from directly behind me.
The girl looked up through me at...well, me, and scrambled backwards out of her nest. She was older than I’d first thought. She seemed soft but looking at her directly, she had a compactness to her, hard ends to her rounded edges. Her pupils were pinholes in her grey irises in their whites in her brassy face. She dropped the knitting needles.
The doorway wasn’t very wide, the room wasn’t all that big. I was very tired for someone who didn’t need sleep.
Zombody stumbled through the nest. Her feet decided to check it out a little longer than the rest of her, but managed to catch up in time to run her into the shelves while the girl had rolled off to the side. Zombody knocked some boxes over. The girl rose to her knees and made for the door as Zombody turned, lashing out.
I was impressed by the duck. Maybe I wouldn’t watch someone die today.
She grabbed her hiking bag as she went. The door handle caught the strap and she was back on the ground.
It had been a pleasant thought while it lasted.
“Maybe we could just let this one go, yeah?” I turned to ask as Zombody stepped into me.
Jumper cables. Funny bone.
Zombody made a horrendous noise while I took a heavy step forward that dragged and a deep breath that didn’t help my nonexistent lungs. If I doubted this stupid corpse couldn’t see me before…
“ Why!?” I snapped, whirling back around. Zombody ignored me in favor of terrifying the living (and doing very well for once).
“If I have to follow your stupid ass around, the least you could do is listen!” I swung at Zombody’s head. It hurt but it was something. I was sick of this, sick of nothing and nothing and nothing and blood and more nothing. I was sick of being supernatural in the most bullshit way possible.
Zombody lashed out blindly at me without even the decency to look upset. She sounded upset. She sounded like a dog when you step on its paw, but it came from her slack jaw and blank face and I wanted to choke it out of her.
Her hands came up around her own throat, waved through my arms as I followed her to the ground where she screamed and writhed and clawed at air. There wasn’t anything to hit, but the blows landed and I found myself screaming too.
Having static in your brain is somehow worse without the brain. Maybe it’s because I’m all thought now, just the idea of a person, and that idea was fraying at the edges. I clung to her throat like it would hold me together, hoping that it would just dissolve me for good.
I didn’t have lungs, so they couldn’t burn.
I didn’t have ears, so they couldn’t ring.
I didn’t have eyes, so I couldn’t cry.
But she could.
I didn’t think zombies could cry, figured it wouldn’t come out right, like their blood. But the fucking rotting corpse could cry.
I didn’t dissolve.
The static got louder.
There might’ve been a thought of pulling away, but I misplaced it in the tumble of real and spectral limbs.
Too much. I was nothing and now I was every nerve ending and it was too much. I held the breath I didn’t have, pulled it in tighter and tighter and tighter, trying to make every disjointed concept of me stop, hold still, come back together.
A whine slipped past my thin-pressed lips as I pulled my knees to my chest and held and trembled.
There was a click.
Zombody was handcuffed to the evidence shelving by one wrist. I'd been worried she’d just knock them over, but they seemed to be bolted to the ground, so not the dumbest move on part of the girl. Sitting just out of Zombody’s other arm’s reach was a much stronger contender.
“I love a good base as much as the next guy, but this one’s got zombie,” I said, watching her watch Zombody’s limp hand flail through the air. “It’s terminal. Lost cause.”
She couldn’t hear me, but the pensive look in her hard stare disagreed nonetheless. I turned my attention to the unfinished scarf. As I followed the strip of knitting from green to purple to gray to blue and back to purple over the course of several feet, I got the impression the scarf would never be finished. Maybe that was the point.
If she killed Zombody, would I disappear? Could you kill Zombody? The sheer amount of blood caked into the polo and khakis, most notably across the gut, suggested no. There probably wasn’t all that much blood still inside Zombody. The arm was no longer stuck to laceration (instead swiping through the air gracelessly), and I half expected it to start seeping again, but it seemed...fine?
“Can you...hear me?” The girl’s voice was deep, but hesitant. I looked at her, surprised, but she continued to stare at Zombody.
I sat beside Zombody, who simply waved unrelentingly.
One could admire the equity of Zombody’s disregard (the operative word being could ).
The girl huffed, leaning in to squint. I reflected the motion like the world’s worst mirror.
“Why are you talking to a zombie?”
“Why’d you stop?”
“Pragmatism often serves much better than romanticism, especially when dealing with flesh eating monsters . Why are you still here?”
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
“Because she doesn’t have a brain. If Zombody wasn’t an idiot, you’d be-”
An arm clipped through my torso.
“GNHHH!” Zombody and I garbled out.
“You’re doing it again!”
“I’m not sitting next to you anymore,” I grumbled, crawling away.
“What was that?”
The girl waited.
I drifted back to Zombody, which the girl watched intently.
I poked the hand chained to the shelf, fighting the urge to pull back.
It wasn’t...as bad. Maybe because it was only a little bit of overlap. Zombody stopped flailing and instead groaned out a low, sustained, unpleasant noise. I stopped touching it and the noise stopped too, went back to wheezing.
Invisible charades was a bust, but morose code had some potential.
“So...one groan is yes?”
“And two groans is no?”
The girl paused, arms crossed, chin resting on her thumb and finger pressed to her lips.
“...Am I crazy?”
“Awesome…” The girl sighed, shifting from The Thinker to This Is Stupid (a cheek on the knuckle and a slight pout). “...Are you god?”
“ Ugh. ” A pause. “ Ughh... ”
“Damn, I had a couple complaints.”
She let out an amused breath, the corner of her mouth quirking up.
“I bet you do…” The smile slipped away. “You eat a lot of people?”
“Ughhhh...” Zombody was really bad at being a zombie “Ugh.”
“You’re rockin’ a lot of blood, there...Are you lying?”
“...That’s not a lot to work with.”
Yeah, well, imagine how I felt. “Nghnnnn…”
“Guess it could be your blood...”
I mostly felt like my hand had fallen asleep; quite an accomplishment without a hand. “Nnnnnn.”
“So your name was Katie?” She asked, pointing to the nametag.
“Hgh.” I hesitated. “Ugnn.”
“Nice to meet’cha Kaitlyn, I’m Circe.”
Circe was turning something over behind her eyes. That worried me. I didn’t usually like her ideas.
She reached out.
Zombody reached back.
I got in the way.
Funny bone. Jumper cables. Static. Static. Static.
Thousands and thousands of pins and needles and oh my god my stomach hurt and she hadn’t moved back.
Zombody jerked, as if to get around me. I pushed further into her space. Why didn’t she move back? Move back! Back!
“-aCK! Baahhhhnnnn” I squeezed my eyes shut. “Dumb. Dumb. Dumb dumb dumbdumbdumbdumb-”
“Kaitlyn?” Circe sounded out of breath.
“-ucking Stu pid!”
“...Does it hurt?”
“Yes! Yes it hurts, every fucking time it hurts, what the fuck were you thinking- ”
“Well, you know what they say, ‘bout pain an’all…”
I glared at her, vision blurring, angry and confused.
“Means you’re alive.” She grinned down at me.
Hot tears slipped over my cheeks.
The soot from the burnt out Mcdonalds ran down the street like cheap mascara in the rain. I caught a few drops of water on my fingers. It didn’t actually feel too bad to me, but I ran cold these days, shitty circulation or something; sure , my blood would pump, but it wasn’t going to be happy about it.
I added another loop to the stupidly long scarf already drowning my neck, and tried not to flinch at the hand that brushed the small of my back; it made the sloppy stitches across my stomach pang.
“You wanna eat before we head out?” Circe asked, leaving her hand to hover. Maybe she was worried I’d fall over. I’d done quite a bit of that initially, mostly because I forgot to walk around things.
“I think there’s still a burger or two in the ball pit,” I said, leaning into the touch.
“I’ve had worse.” I shrug, and everything ached. “And I’m pretty sure they keep forever.”
Circe snorts in amusement, but I see the wheels turning on her face out of the corner of my eye. “Have you really-”
“I was a shitty zombie.”
Rain pattered on the asphalt.
“...Well, you didn’t really commit, did you?”
I laughed. It hurt. “I guess not.”