Publish Date: 09/20/2015
“Werewolves and zombies and vampires, oh my!” —Julia Emery
What does one wear to minimize body decay? I didn’t think they made a deodorant for that. Three steps into my room, I stumbled over a shoe and broke another toe. I really had to be more careful before parts started falling off. There was the matter, too, of my arm, which dangled uncomfortably at my side, thwacking against my leg as I walked. First things, first; I needed to get dressed and call my doctor and my dentist. That was going to be an interesting couple of conversations, trying to tell the receptionist why I needed an appointment.
Well, I have a couple of broken toes and my arm is dislocated. Oh, and by the way…I also appear to be a walking corpse.
Thinking about trying to explain this to another person should have been more upsetting, but I was feeling oddly calm for someone who was apparently a reanimated corpse.
Being a zombie—if that’s what I was—felt a little like being on drugs. Like Xanax or Prosac. Or maybe Xanax and Prozac. I suppose it made sense. My brain, like the rest of me, was not really working at maximum capacity. In the past, a pimple would have sent me over the edge. Now I had dislocated body parts, sloughing skin and hair that was falling out and…nothing.
A couple of years ago, I called 911 when I was cornered by a mouse in the kitchen for the better part of an hour. It just sat and stared at me, unmoving, as I dialed emergency. The operator politely told me that they didn’t cover mouse-related emergencies, but two frantic high-pitched screams later, an EMT climbed through an open window on the side of the house to ensure that I wasn’t in need of a trip to the crazy-house. Once he realized I was perched on the counter, paralyzed with fear over a mouse, he offered his assistance, laughing the entire time.
I didn’t think he would laugh if I called him right now; and if he did…well, let’s just say that calling 911 was out of the question for more than one reason. First responders sounded more like food than help at the moment.
Dragging a pair of skinny jeans and a white long-sleeved shirt from the closet, I gingerly dressed myself, abandoning the bra altogether. Snapping a slingshot around my body with one arm was not on the horizon of possibilities. My breasts had shrunk so much, wearing a bra would seem as if I were mocking them. Pulling a white camisole from the dresser, I donned it and buttoned the shirt, wondering where I had left my jacket?
Two minutes after I put on the shirt, it was clear that white was no longer my color. A pinkish ooze slowly permeated the fabric under my arms. What I wouldn’t give for plain, old-fashioned human sweat. Heading into the bathroom, I stripped off the shirt and jeans, added a layer of antiperspirant and two mini-pads to cover my armpits. I dressed in two shirts to hide my gauntness and an over-sized black turtleneck sweater, switching out the jeans for a pair of loose black dress slacks.
Surveying the outfit in the mirror, I decided that, despite looking like an escaped mortuary employee, I was presentable.
Somehow, in the process of discovering that I was dead, I had completely forgotten about Kim.
Fearful of making any sudden moves lest a body part should fly across the room, I reached the door too late to prevent Kim from bounding into the room. Dressed in a big pink robe and fuzzy slippers, her long blonde hair wrapped in a white towel, she hurled herself on to my bed with a bounce.
“Hey,” I replied, a little louder than I should because my stomach was now rumbling like an outboard motor on a fishing boat.
“Can I borrow your blue cashmere sweater? I have an audition in an hour, and then I’m going to Bellingham to have dinner with Luke’s parents. By the way, thanks so much for watching Andy for me!”
“No problem. The sweater is in the dresser. Third drawer. Have fun meeting the parents!” My attempt at humor sailed toward the mark but fell just shy of it. I silently willed her to get the sweater and leave, but that would be too easy given the day I was having.
Kim slid off the bed, her hands in the pockets of her robe, and stepped closer, squinting at me.
“Are you okay, Jules?”
Good! She hadn’t put her contacts in yet. If I played this right, I might be able to duck her before she saw the new me.
“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know…your voice is sort of monotone and your face is a little…flat?”
“Botox,” I said.
She exhaled, letting out a soft laugh. “Ohhhh. Bowwtox! Gotta fight those wrinkles!”
“I don’t have any wrinkles,” I said, irritated.
“That’s because you fight ‘em!” she chirped. I tried not to imagine what her soft shiny pink cheeks would taste like on a cracker.
“Being twenty-eight helps,” I said, shaking off the image of my friend as a good source of a high protein breakfast.
“Then why did you get Botox?”
Not waiting for a reply, she stepped inside the room.
“Hey, where’s Andy?”
Body blocking her before she could get a solid view of the empty bird cage, I said, “Let me get that sweater for you. It’s the perfect shade to compliment your eyes.”
“I know, right?” she tittered, scooting after me and reaching with eager hands for my prized cashmere sweater; a sweater that I’d saved two months to buy. Now I would have to give it to Kim to make up for eating Andy. Unless…maybe I could replace him before she got home from Bellingham.
Placing a hand on my stomach, I turned away from her and searched my dresser for absolutely nothing hoping she would just go away; somewhere far, far away, so I wouldn’t have to smell the delicious scent of her. Or fantasize about eating her brain. I was aware of a vague sense of disappointment in myself. Always one to walk to the beat of my own drum, I hoped I wouldn’t be that type ofzombie, all staggering gait and gnashing of teeth. It seemed clichéd, so your-mother’s-zombie from the ’60’s. Still, there was no denying it. Brains smelled good. I was pretty sure they tasted even better.
“Thanks so much for this!”
“What are best friends for?” My ravenous, irritable mind answered the question for me: Loaning you sweaters, eating your favorite bird, possibly eating you.
She stepped into the room, touched my arm, and said, “Jules? Are you okay? You still sound a little drunk. Ewww! What is this gunk?”
She pulled back a hand covered with tiny bits of gray damp skin, remnants of my ill-advised shower.
Backing away, she wiped her hand on her robe, looking at me with utter horror.
I turned a little too quickly. My arm, swinging loose in the socket, hit the dresser with a thunk. Kim screamed and backed up, saying, “Oh my god! Did you have a stroke or something?” She scooted close to me, squinting and then jumped away.
“Whoa! Your shoulder is falling off your body! And…oh my god! You’re so—gray!”
She flitted in and out of the doorway waving her arms, stopping every so often to steady the towel wrapping her wet hair.
Her voice shrill, she said, “I think you’re in shock! I think I’m in shock! Okay, think Kim, think.” The towel fell to one side, making her look like an inquisitive bird. She dislodged it and kicked it to one side, thrust both hands in her wet hair and paced for a minute. Pointing a finger at me, she shouted, “You should lie down.”
She tried to push me onto the bed. Reflexively, I pushed her back and she slid across the floor on her butt.
“Oh, Kim! I’m sorry.” I had barely pushed her.
“I’m calling 911!” she hollered, scrambling to her feet. She fled down the hall as I stumbled after her, cursing my slowness.
“Kimmie! No! Wait!”
She turned toward me, her cell phone in hand and said, “It’s okay! You’re in shock! I’ll take care of you, Jules, don’t worry.”
“No! Stop saying I’m in shock! I am not in shock.”
“Jules, your arm is hanging to your knees, and your skin is the color of an elephant.”
I wracked my brain for an explanation. My eyes landed on the dry erase board behind Kim’s head. Pretty as she was, Kim destroyed the notion of what a nerd should look like, but she was a nerd nonetheless, and one with a wicked case of OCD, which I usually found to be a complete pain in the ass. She was also a television junkie who listed every television show she watched by title, date and time.
Holding up the hand of my good arm, I said. “Wow, my costume must look really good!”
She eyed me and said, “Costume?”
“Well, yeah, sure. You don’t think I really look like this, do you?”
I tried to muster some indignation.
“This is my costume for a PR event the magazine is hosting. They want the writing staff to audition for parts as extras. They’re going to use the photos for props at the, er, uh…streaming video launch party.”
“What streaming video launch party? You never said anything about a party.”
Feeling my inner bitch rising to the surface, I smacked her ass and sent her back to the corner, working overtime to seem excited. Okay, excited wasn’t happening, but maybe eager? Okay, calm it is then. Calm was good. I had to get control of myself or Andy would have company in my stomach.
“I don’t know all the details. I’m just auditioning for the part because Simon made it impossible to say no.”
I marveled at what a good liar I was. Who knew? Maybe being a little dead was good for the imagination. I reminded myself to focus.
Kim narrowed her eyes, and stepped a little closer. “Audition? Since when do you audition for parts?”
“Never, usually, but I was at one of those launch parties last week, and Simon—you remember my boss, Simon, don’t you?”
She nodded. “The sweaty, loud guy? Fifty-percent slob, fifty-percent asshole?”
“That would be Simon. Anyway, he’s friends with that guy who directs The Walking Dead—,” I tried to snap my fingers but couldn’t coordinate the movement, settling for a hand wave instead.
“What’s his name…?”
“There are like twenty directors on that show, Jules. Which episode did he direct?”
“I can’t remember. The one who does the special make-up. Greg something or other.”
“Nicotero!” she said, clapping her hands. “He’s fantastic! And soooo talented!”
Fighting the urge to clap one hand over the ear that Kim had just shouted into, and the other over her mouth, I wondered for the umpteenth time how we’d ever become friends. Kim really is the biggest nerd I know. I say this with complete love in my heart, but it gets annoying, because it is impossible to lie to her. She knows everything, and what she does not know, she senses. She smells lies like a dog smells a crotch—with gusto and a complete refusal to back away unless pushed. Shaking myself mentally again, I tried to hang onto the last thread in my rapidly expanding web of lies.
“Whatever. Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to be an extra…you know one of the…” I drew a blank. Damned zombie brain fog.
“Walkers?” Kim helpfully inserted the word, and like a coin falling into a slot, the vision of all those actors tricked out in the grossest of the gross make-up, gnashing and growling their way to and fro, flooded my memory. Well, this should be easy because I was now the grossest of the gross. The only difference was that I didn’t actually need makeup.
“Ohhh, that is soooo cool. I am completely jealous!” She stared at me for a minute, wrinkling her nose, plugging her nostrils with two fingers.
“You stink! How did you get that stinky funk?”
“Oh, that!” I tried to laugh in spite of a sudden urge to fall weeping to the floor. “A little trade secret. Leave some raw chicken in the sun for a few hours and then rub it on my arms and voila! Stink.”
“That’s weird. The viewers can’t really smell you. Why would they have you do that?”
“It helps the main characters achieve those looks of complete disgust.”
A smile slowly spread across her face. Nodding her head in appreciation, she said, “Look at you, Jules! You’re a method actor!”
She circled me, giving my ‘costume’ the once over.
“Not bad. Not bad. There’s just one little thing that’s sort of coming across as fake.”
“Well, gee, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m a fake zombie,” I said.
“I’m not criticizing—you look great—but fans of this show are really meta about the details. If they think you’re not true to your character, they’ll rip you apart.”
Not if I get to them first.
I looked like someone buried me, dug me up, re-buried me, and dug me up again. I smelled like spoiled meat. With all the control I could muster, I faced Kim.
“Pray tell me, BFF, what in the world is missing? Because I definitely want to get my zombie portrayal picture perfect.”
“Well, the slurred speech thing is really good, but I don’t think zombies can actually talk.”
“I won’t talk on the show, but it really helps to use speech when I’m talking to you.”
“So…why are you slurring your speech then?”
Giving her a conspiratorial look, I said, “Okay. Can you keep a secret?”
Her eyes bugged, she nodded so vigorously I feared her head would fall off her neck.
“I’m not supposed to say anything, but they’re experimenting with a new angle for the show.”
“Zombies that act like us…what’s the word for that?” I wondered how in the world I was going to write my column with a vocabulary that was buried under a thick pile of mental sludge.
Squealing, she clapped her hands again and I felt even more like pinching her head off and drinking from her brainstem.
“Sentient zombies? No way! Wow! I can picture them now, huddled together, plotting, and planning who they’re going to eat next! Talk about upping the ante for the survivors!”
She turned in circles, staring at the ceiling, her eyes closed while she imagined…I had no idea what she was talking about, I was just grateful she was buying my story.
“Hey, maybe you could get me a part, too?” She was practically twitching with delight at the idea of staggering around dressed like a bloody, ripped up corpse.
“I’ll see what I can do. But put down the phone.”
Realizing that she still held her cell phone, she plunked it on the kitchen counter, giggling.
“Duh! Oh man, that would have been so embarrassing.” She held a hand up to her face pantomiming a phone receiver, and said in a sing-song Sarah Silverman valley-girl voice, “Hello, 911? Uh. Yeah. It appears that my roommate is a zahmmmbie! Could you, like, come over and shoot her in the head or something?”
“That would definitely be embarrassing,” I agreed, feeling the corners of my mouth twitch into what must be a garish smile. My stomach rumbled again, so loud that Kim burst out laughing.
“Whoa! Somebody needs a yogurt!” she said, adding, “Oh shit, I’m going to be late!” Fifteen minutes later, she was dressed in my blue cashmere sweater, a charcoal gray skirt, and black Christian Louboutin shoe-boots.
Mentally chanting, please leave, in Kim’s direction, I opened the fridge hoping to find…what exactly? Brain pâté?
“Jules, I don’t get it! How did you make yourself look so skinny? I mean your breasts are the size of melons!”
She did the tight-skirt-stiletto-trot across the room, reaching a hand out to touch my chest. I smacked her hand, a little harder than I meant to do and she yelped and held it to her chest, cradling it in her other hand.
“Bitch! That hurt!”
A little shocked at how fast I had struck her, I went for the simplest explanation, lacing my words with what I hoped was just the right amount of eye-rolling to be convincing.
“Sorry Sweetie, I didn’t mean to over react, but it took me hours to get this look.”
She rubbed at her hand, wincing, her lip quivering.
“I really am sorry, but it was a nightmare to get this makeup and all the binding right. I don’t want you to poke around in there and mess it up.”
Her blue-gray eyes, luminous with unshed tears, reflected her confusion. I could see a large nasty pinkish-purple welt forming on her rapidly swelling hand. Just how hard had I hit her? From the delivery end, the smack had felt like a tap.
I studied the bruise on her hand. The damned thing looked broken. I took a step toward her, but she backed up. I could have kicked myself. I knew Kim’s history with a father and a boyfriend who’d been abusive. Smacking her was the worst possible betrayal of her trust.
“Kim…I am so sorry. I can’t believe that little smack bruised your hand that much! But in my defense, you were poking around my boobs. Since when do you do that?”
“Since my friend’s 36DD boobs shrank to the size of walnuts.”
“Walnuts? That’s a little hostile, don’t you think?” Pushing my chest out, I said, “These babies are full on fried eggs.”
Kim laughed despite the tears sparkling on her cheeks.
“Can you move your fingers?” I asked.
She wiggled her fingers, a tiny flutter of pain pinching her brows together and said, “It really hurts…but I don’t think anything is broken. What the hell Jules?”
“I’ve been working out a lot lately. I guess I don’t know my own strength.” Moving a few steps closer, I said, “Do you forgive me?”
“I’ll forgive you if you back off at the gym,” she said, sniffling.
“It’s a deal. You want a smoothie?”
“Thanks, but I have to be at the cattle call in half an hour.”
“Temp agency,” she said, backing toward the door. Opening and closing her hand, she said, “I hope they don’t want me to type.”
“That’s not an audition. That’s a job interview.”
“I have to act like I want the job, so believe me, it’s an audition.”
“What happened to your job at Trattoria? I thought you were making good money slinging spaghetti.”
“Not enough hours.”
“I really am sorry about hitting your hand.”
“I’ll forgive you on one condition. You text me about your audition and let me know if you got the part. Maybe we can meet at Java Joe’s and celebrate your new-found zombie status over coffee,” she said, blowing me a kiss and then she was gone, the door banging closed behind her.
Fishing my cell phone out of my pocket, I phoned Dr. Graves’ office and asked the receptionist to fit me in as soon as possible.
“What seems to be the problem?” she asked, in that I-have-to-ask-but-I-really-don’t-care voice.
Fighting the temptation to tell her I had come down with a slight case of zombieism, I told her I had a shoulder injury.
“He can see you Tuesday at 3:00.”
I needed to come up with something more serious if I wanted an appointment immediately.
“I think I’ve been exposed to hepatitis and I’m worried that I might have liver failure.”
She snapped out of the receptionist auto-cloud and said, “I’ll check with the doctor, but it sounds like perhaps you should go directly to the emergency department, Ms. Emery.”
Rookie mistake. True to form, I was overselling it. Crap.
“I’m sure a visit to the office will be fine,” I said, “I think I have a fever and it’s making me say all kinds of shi—stuff.”
“Hold on, please.”
I held on. Literally. To the kitchen counter. My knees were weak and my stomach still rumbling. I couldn’t reconcile these bouts of weakness and incoordination with the freakish strength that had sent poor Kim sailing across the floor and left a cookie-sized welt on her hand.
“Julia?” I was surprised to hear Dr. Graves on the other end of the line.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“How much time do you have?”
“Lucy said you were describing a possibly life-threatening condition. If this is the case, you need to hang up and dial 911.”
“I’m not sure that’s going to help. In fact, I’m not sure you can help me either. I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I seem to have come down with a case of…well, there’s no other way to say this, so I’ll just say it. I think I’m dead.”
“Yes, but not that weird psychological condition that makes people think they’re dead. Other people can see the changes, too.”
“It’s very hard to describe, but I look a little like a zombie.”
“I see,” he said. He turned away from me and spoke in mumbled tones to someone I could only presume was Lucy. A minute later, he said, “I want you to come in as soon as possible.”
“I’m so grateful you can work me in today. I don’t now what I would have done if…well, let’s just say that I’m holding on by a thread.”
“I just asked my assistant to move some appointments. You just get here as soon as you can.”
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