Ben’s only been dead a week and already he’s forgetting things. Like the word for when you bite into someone’s arm and they taste all rotten, and the letter that makes him more than an ‘Ombie. But, as with all smart ‘ombies, Ben knows the only place to go for that sort of help is the library…
Ben’s losing letters. He wasn’t too bothered to begin with, but it’s irking him more than he wants to admit. X went first, and he could live just fine without it. But he’s lost Z and that’s a different matter. It’s one thing to not be able to speak about obscure school instruments, but it’s quite another to know you’re not an ‘Ombie, but not be able to remember what you are.
He hefts himself out of his armchair and clears his throat. It sounds more and more like a blocked sink being plunged, and he chuckles. The laughter doesn’t sound much different, and the feeling it brings makes no sense to him.
Ben ambles out of his lounge, wrinkling up his nose at the smell that hits him when he walks in the kitchen. It’s sweet and makes his stomach rumble, but there’s a small part of him that thinks it maybe smells a bit funky, too.
His kitchen looks different, now. The colours are muted and the crushed pink he painted around the cooker resembles a dull blood colour. The rest of the walls, once a cool vanilla, now remind him of blood that’s been mixed with water. The worktop, once a rich shade of dark wood, reminds him of blood that’s sat in the sun until it’s baked dry.
In fact, his entire house seems to have adopted a blood theme, which would bother him only he keeps feeling hungry. Speaking of which…
Sarah’s still on the kitchen table. She’s lasted… how long is it now? He thinks at least a week, but it may be two. He should watch the TV and find out. He lifts one hand and examines his fingers. They’re puffy and clumsy and he’s no longer sure he’ll be able to work the remote.
He absent mindedly tears what’s left of Sarah’s left leg off and stuffs it in his mouth. The bone makes a nice gnawer and he chews and chews as he shuffles back into the lounge.
He misses her. Possibly. She never tasted this nice when she was alive. But there’s a gnawing in somewhere other than his gut and he thinks it’s loss. It may be indigestion, but he can’t really remember what that feels like these days.
His favourite chair is stained. He’s been soiling himself recently. It’s another thing that he knows, deep down, isn’t right, but can’t bring himself to care enough to change.
He settles back into the familiar warmth of the chair and reaches for the remote. It takes a few tries to pick it up and, once he has, he fumbles for what feels like hours with the buttons. There’s nothing doing, so he throws it across the room.
At least, he tries to throw it across the room. It goes about two feet and thuds to the carpet, which only enrages him further. He lurches out of his seat and stamps on the controller. It stares belligerently up at him, refusing to break, so he stomps out of the room.
Sarah’s still on the kitchen table. He’s not sure why he’s still expecting her to move. He’s eaten her arms and legs so it’s highly unlikely she’s going anywhere, but it still surprises him when he catches sight of her wide, unmoving eyes and stretched open mouth.
She looks… what’s that word again? He grunts and knuckles his forehead with one clumsy, shaking hand. He can’t remember words now, let alone letters. And it’s only been a week.
Ben drops to his knees on the laminate wood flooring and lets out a cry. In a fortnight, there’ll be little left. In a month he’ll be nothing but a cliche, a wandering monster searching for food.
Maybe he should go easy on Sarah. Once she’s gone, he’ll have no choice but to go out there and he still remembers the crowd mentality. He doesn’t know how long he could watch them chase after the live ones before he succumbs, before he forsakes those parts of himself that survived his death and subsequent rebirth.
But the letters thing is bugging him. He’s gone through so much in the last week. The whole city has. And he has to be able to describe it. For a man who’s spent a large part of his life writing instruction manuals for microwave ovens, being able to explain himself is as natural as breathing.
But he can’t remember all the letters and, if he stays here any longer, he’ll go mad.
Without quite knowing how, Ben finds himself outside on the pavement, shifting back and forth like a tall tree caught in a stiff wind. The others are out. Dave from three doors down has his mother tied down in the front garden. She’s lost most of her back and arms, so she probably doesn’t need to be tied down anymore.
In fact, judging by her sightless, staring eyes, she’s not likely to do much of anything at the moment. Ben looks at his hands and shrugs. If Dave’s anything like him, he probably can’t manage the knots.
What he’s curious about is why he tied her down in the first place. Sarah was sleeping when Ben went for her, which was why she didn’t succumb quite as fast as he did. But Dave’s mum was really elderly and slow, there was no need to tie her to anything.
What is he doing? He needs to find the letters. He needs to get his letters back so he describe himself. And there’s only one place he needs to go to get his letters.
It’s a walk, further, perhaps, than he feels his legs with take him. But the librarian might be there, and though he felt quite different about her whilst he was alive, there’s every chance she’ll be tasty now. Indeed, he feels confident that most people will be tasty.
He scowls. He wants to watch the news. He wants to know stuff. Like why he’s a zombie and Mrs Dervish next door isn’t. He pauses outside her gate and stares longingly at the front door. Between him and the door are the bodies of three of his companions, others who made the mistake of trying to take on Mrs Dervish.
He wasn’t sure which was worse, hearing her screaming ‘fuck you, you undead freak’ at the top of her voice, or realising he’d been living next to a gun-toting maniac for the last ten years. He and Sarah had used the occasional ‘fuck you’, though not often with the undead bit, so he was going for the latter.
It was bad because, hell, ten years! But it was even badder because it meant he couldn’t eat her.
Even badder? Was that even correct? He rubs his eyes, dragging off chunks of decaying skin, and sets off down the High Street.
The first thing he comes across is a huge gang of ‘Ombies. They’re laying waste to a book keepers, trashing the machines until money comes pouring out. Once the coins fall in a stream to the floor, they grab them and stuff them into their pockets. Then they run away.
It’s a ludicrous sight that brings a lump to Ben’s throat. All that energy wasted on something so entirely pointless, when they could be finding food. His stomach rumbles and he looks back to the house. He could go back and have a chomp on Sarah’s left boob.
But he can’t. It’s taken him a week to get out of the house, he can’t go back when he’s only come this far. So he sets his eyes forwards and resumes his stumbling, trying to ignore the cramps in his gut.
Oo, free money. The floor of the bookies is covered in cash and he can’t stop himself as he falls into a lurching, quasimodo run towards the shining coins. He drops to his knees and joins the others in scooping them into his pockets.
All this money and— Ben groans and sits back on his haunches. His stomach still aches and the money’s not helping. He was supposed to be doing something, going somewhere.
The library. He’s got letters to find. The gang leave the bookies and Ben watches them stagger and weave across the road. To the pub. Bloody typical. He wouldn’t mind a pint, actually. He leans to the right and ambles after them.
The door to the pub’s been wedged open, but it still doesn’t hide the smell. His mouth waters as he trips inside. The bar stretches the whole side of the pub and he stares in wonder at what lies atop it. Bodies. Not just one or two, but ten or twenty, stacked high.
Regulars sit both sides of the bar, chewing on skin and flesh like they’re sitting at a sushi bar. Ben stumbles across and tucks into the first body he comes to. It’s vaguely familiar. He’s eating the landlord! It’s not a bad thing, the guy was always grumpy and he had the strongest feeling he watered the beer.
Outside, he’d thought he fancied a pint, but inside it’s the worst idea in the world. Even as the blood runs warm and welcome down his throat, his stomach rebels at the thought of drinking anything else.
He moves on down the bar, tasting a leg here, a nose there. Half of the bodies are untouched, save for throats that have been ripped out or heads crushed in. Where did they all come from?
It doesn’t matter. A week ago, Ben died, along with half the population of London. Until just now, he thought he’d gone to hell, but now he knows different. He’s found heaven right here, and this is where he’s stayi—
No, he can’t. If he stays here, that’s it, that’s the end of everything.
He was going to… he scrunches up his forehead and stares into the dripping stump of one of the waiting staff, absently moving a chunk of gristle around his mouth.
He spits and chuckles at the soggy lump of denim that splats onto the bar. Maybe he should take their clothes off fi—
The library, that’s where he’s going. He closes his eyes to hide the feast laid out so temptingly before him, and stumbles out into the street. He wanders on until he reaches the crossroads. The library’s just down here on the left. He’s got here quicker than he expected.
He thinks about the librarian and licks his lips. Letters first. He has to remember to ask for the letters before he eats her. He opens and closes his mouth. Does he remember how to talk? What happens if he can’t remember the right words?
He shudders and quickens his pace. This increase in speed brings him to a monstrous two miles an hour, making him positively spritely compared with the ‘Ombies stumbling this way and that in front of the library.
Just seeing the building brings another part of him back. He’s been coming here since he was a young boy, taking adventure stories out and reading them by torchlight beneath his bed sheets. So many wonderful things began at the library. So many worlds, so many lives.
He bumps into the door and stares blankly at the sign. The first letter is P, but he’s not sure what the others are. His face crumples a little more than usual and he wishes he’d brought a packed lunch. He could have brought a few of Sarah’s ribs in a tupperware.
He fumbles around for a bit before thumping onto his backside and staring at the door. He’s come all this way and he can’t g—
The door opens from the inside as an ‘Ombie staggers out. Ben lurches to his feet and grabs the door just before it shuts. With a shiver of glee, he ambles through it and into the silence beyond.
The room is peaceful, so blissfully peaceful. He can see three ‘Ombies from where he stands, all quietly nibbling on pieces of flesh, or browsing the history section. But his eyes are drawn central, to what lies right before him.
The librarian. She’s standing behind the desk, same as always, and she isn’t an ‘Ombie. She smiles and beckons him closer. He hesitates, suddenly forgetting everything he wanted to say. She looks so edible and so succulent.
‘Hi, welcome to the Zombie Reader Referral Unit. We’re here to bring you back to the wonderful world of reading.’
That’s all it takes. Z. He’s found it. As the hole in his brain fills up, the tiny fragment of Ben that has survived the disease that’s ruined his body, vanishes. The zombie that remains lurches forwards, and the librarian is dragged over the desk and into his waiting maw.
A few moments pass before another sunken eyed creature looks up from his half chewed leg and growls. Ben understands, blushes, and tries to eat more quietly.