A TASTE FOR LIFE
“And how old were you when you died, Mister Beauchamp?” Joan Rothman asked, leaning back in her chair. The scientists watched her behind the one-way mirror, hands clasped behind their backs.
“Twenty-seven,” the corpse replied, more gurgle than speech, as it gazed idly around the interview room. Joan jotted down the response, then chewed pensively on the tip of her red pen. The lights flickered as the air circulators shuddered to life in the depths of the bunker, filling the observation room with a faint scent of bleach and formaldehyde.
She crossed her legs and rested the clipboard between her knee and the folding table, unknowingly flashing her slip to the men behind the mirror. Bhim Raychaudhuri smiled appreciatively at the view and spoke into the microphone wired to her ear bead. “Math, Miss Rothman.”
“Thank you,” she said to the creature, making no sign that she’d heard the command. “And how old are you now?” She poised the pen above the clipboard.
The corpse scowled, the pallid flesh of its forehead wrinkling in concentration under the single naked bulb. “What year is it?”
“It’s twenty sixty-seven, Mister Beauchamp.”
“What month?” it asked.
“April, Mr. Beauchamp. On the surface it’s springtime.”
“And I died in two thousand twelve?” it asked, wheezing.
“As near as we can tell, Mister Beauchamp.”
It grunted, a flatulent gasp of rotten breath, and scowled down at its manacled hands. It shifted its weight in the folding chair, and its good eye lolled up to look at her face. “I’m hungry.”
She nodded. “Food is coming. Please be patient, Mr. Beauchamp.”
“Real food?” the corpse asked, leaning forward in anticipation. Joan didn’t answer. Her eyes flicked toward the mirror.
Behind the glass, Bhim took off his spectacles and polished them as he turned to his partner. “Well, it looks like the memory recovery works.”
Mike Reed nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, I suppose, if you remind it who it is all the time.
But they still can’t do simple arithmetic.” He stretched one crooked finger towards the mirror. “Look at it, our most promising subject, fidgeting and hiding behind the hunger to avoid answering the question. That’s pretty disappointing.”
“Baby steps, Mike. Last time he couldn’t even remember his name.”
Mike shoved his finger under Bhim’s nose. “Don’t you ‘baby step’ me, Bhim. The time before it remembered its name and calculated its age! Is two-digit subtraction too much to ask?”
Bhim chuckled. “No, but that time he also tried to feed on Joan after three minutes of questioning. Look!” He pointed at the analog clock hanging on the wall. “It’s been nearly twenty minutes, and he’s only now beginning to show the signs. The serum works.”
They turned their attention back to the room, where Joan kept nervously glancing in their direction. The men sighed in unison.
“Okay,” Mike said. “Feed it and get it back to its cage. We’ll try Mister Lamandola.”
Four months later, Mister Beauchamp sat at the same table, staring uninterestedly at the voluptuous form of Joan Rothman. Bhim’s grin was infectious, but Mike possessed strong antibodies to good humor.
Mike grabbed the microphone and barked, “Tell it to stop stalling and tell us!”
Joan cringed at the volume, then composed herself. She reached across the table and supportively squeezed the dead thing’s hand. “Please, Mister Beauchamp. It’s been nine weeks since you’ve fed. How often do you think about it?”
It lifted its dead eye and regarded her flatly. It licked its lips, an all too human gesture with no biological purpose. “All the time, Miss Rothman. All the time. It’s hard to think about anything else.”
Behind the mirror, Mike grunted. “You see? It’s like a child molester. All we’ve done is suppress it.”
“Hush,” Bhim said.
“Really?” Joan asked. “Even now, when I was reading to you? After all this time we’ve spent together?”
Beauchamp’s lips peeled back, revealing black, rotten teeth; a smile. “It consumes me.”
“But you control it,” she said, slowly retracting her hand. “Why?”
“It makes me human,” he replied. “Your serum. It makes the urge... Not less, but somehow controllable. I don’t need it anymore. I just want it.”
Bhim didn’t need to look at Mike to feel the ’I told you so’ eyes boring into his skull.
“What about the food we give you, Mister Beauchamp? Meat? Bread? Water?” Joan asked.
“Call me Jason.” It wasn’t a request.
“Ok, Jason, what about the food we give you? Doesn’t it satisfy you?”
Jason shook his head. A clump of hair tumbled to the floor.
“Increased physical degeneration,” Mike said.
“Shut up!” Bhim replied. “I’m trying to listen.”
“...like it. Do you like steak?” it asked.
The zombie gurgled. “I used to love steak. All food, really. I was a chef...” It stared at her longingly.
Joan tapped the intercom twice. She was getting nervous.
“But now?” she asked. Outwardly, she was cool as ice.
“Now it all tastes like nothing.” It continued to leer at her with its good eye, its bad eye drifting lazily around the room. “I move, but I don’t live. I don’t taste anything. I can’t feel anything. But that’s not the worst of it...”
She tapped the intercom again. “What’s the worst of it, Jason?”
“Shouldn’t we--” Mike started.
“Shush!” Bhim’s eyes didn’t twitch from the scene in front of him.
It hesitated. “The worst of it...” It froze. Joan waited. “The worst is that I don’t want anything. Anything at all.”
The intercom clicked again, twice. “So the serum works, Jason?” she asked. “You said you don’t need to feed now.”
“I don’t need to. Haven’t for weeks. I’m not mindless, you know.”
She smiled at him.
Here it is, Bhim thought.
“What would you do if we set you free, Jason?”
“That’s simple,” it said. “I’d kill you all. And then I’d eat your brains.”
Mike screamed in frustration.
Bhim chuckled despondently. “We’re never getting out of this bunker, are we?”
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