BY AIMEE BENDER
One zombie met another zombie on the road.
One zombie said to the other zombie: How do you do? Shall we go eat some people?
The second zombie did not answer. They stood for a second, swaying. Then the second zombie leaned forward and took a big bite out of the first zombie's head.
He ate the first zombie over the course of a sunny July afternoon. In a minipark, by a wooden bench. Only one zombie, this second zombie, was at all interested in eating his fellow zombies. Most found that bad-tasting. The idea was to go after live blood, live humans, the zombies like vampires, preying on that which they did not have - the life force of a living being. Dead people eating live, as opposed to live people eating dead. Even plants, one might think, would have greater culinary appeal to a zombie than another rotting zombie corpse. But this was the latest zombie, the newest re-reincarnation of zombie, an evolutionary glitch in the reanimation process, and the eating of his fellow zombies just made him crazier and hungrier. He grew. He roared in the dappled light of the minipark. He doubled into himself.
After all, he had been dead, and then wasn't dead, so he was already being overused as a commodity. Let the poor guy decompose in peace.
The salmon farm in Ketchikan, Alaska, ran out of funds. They could not keep feeding their salmon brand-new fish food just made for salmons. So they stirred leftover salmon bits into the salmon food. It seemed like a good idea at the time: the salmon bits were free, because they were taken from the leftover dead salmon guts that had not been good enough to package in tins and send to the humans. But the salmon, when fed salmon, became poisonous to eat. Toxic. People got sick. When investigated, the farm was slapped with a giant lawsuit and has since gone under.
In England, the cows, when fed cow bits, became mad: cows like to eat grass, not the bonemeal of their cousins. The people who ate the mad cows got sick and died. A sickness in the brain.
My friend's mother came over for dinner. She lived across town. She didn't get out much.
My friend's mother usually cooked for herself, but he was worried about her, so all three of us were going out to a restaurant together. She sat on the couch. She was one of those people who did not lean back on couch cushions but sat up perched on the very edge. In another life, she was surely a small bird. She watched out the window at an old man walking down the sidewalk using a silver walker. Then she turned to us, bright-eyed, in her scarf with what looked like hard-boiled eggs on it.
So, she said. What do we want for dinner?
My friend thought about it, tapping his fingers on the table. But I couldn't help cringing, over by the bookshelves. A kind of thick, sludgy rage gargled through me.
My friend was listing restaurants. After ten, he trailed off.
I don't know, I said slowly, when they turned their heads to me. Where do you want to go?
We might like Italian, she said cheerfully.
But do you? I said. Do you want Italian?
She looked at me, quizzical.
Or are you, perhaps, a queen? I asked. My friend shot me a look.
She extended her neck, higher.
A queen? she said. I don't understand. If we don't want Italian, what might we like instead? Are we hungry? Do we prefer French?
I ran out of the apartment. I ran screaming down the street. I called her later to apologize. I never asked what they ate.
There is a movie written by an unusual screenwriter from the final year of the previous millennium in which a portal opens in the city and people can slide down it and enter the brain of a famous actor. It is a world unto itself. Later in the movie, the famous actor himself finds the portal and slides down it and enters his own brain. This causes such disruption in the system that while he's in there, everyone forgets how to talk and they can only say his name, over and over again. It is all they know how to say.
Usury, says the man on the radio, is money that makes money.
It is money that climbs on top of other money to make more money, but there is no service rendered. The interest rate is exorbitant. Most world religions outlaw it; it is a bad sign of greed, of the avaricious nature of a financial situation gone awry. What people need are services or products: now those are a worthy exchange. It is, they say, one of the foundations of the current economic crisis, because we are living off debt, off credit-card offers from banks so eager they mail applications addressed to pets, off mortgage-loan mismatching, off corporate loan errors and sketchy pricing for risk, off all these questions about regulation, off mountains of promises made based on air.
The big zombie who ate zombies?
He ate and ate and ate.
But more decay cannot reverse decay, and eventually he grew sick. He was large and used to be strong, and he lay in a park, breathing hard. The other zombies feared him, but when they saw he was ill, they surrounded him in a circle.
They grunted. They shambled. They swayed. After a while, they grew bored and lumbered off. Alone, Big Zombie died, again. He was reanimated shortly after. This time, worse. He was too hungry to look for another zombie, so this time he ate his own arm. His own leg. His own head, all eating, until he started to digest himself, until all that was left was a mouth and a GI tract. A mouth, an esophagus, a stomach, intestines.
And, finally - a true story.
I was at the house of a man who had recently gotten divorced. He was sixty years old, and his wife had kept the household together for forty years, and then all of a sudden decided she was done with him. She left him, all at once. He did not know how to boil an egg. He did not know where to buy toothpaste.
A friend recommended he have people over, since he was dying of loneliness, of the sounds in the new house that felt like the clanging of death bells. At sixty, the rest of his life was a vacancy. He'd met one woman online who seemed like she might be willing to take over his life for him, but the woman moved in after two days and he found her rifling through his wallet and looking too closely at his stock statements, and about money he was clear, so he threw her out. He put her piles of shoes in rows in the hallway. She yelled at him from outside. She forgot his correct name and called him the name of her ex-lover, by accident.
He had five of us over to watch TV together, a show. I knew him from work; others knew him from church. We ate pizza and drank beer and watched TV and talked.
At the end of the show, he looked around the room.
Thank everyone for coming, he said.
We all nodded and smiled.
You're welcome, we said, filing out. Thank you for having us.
But it stuck in my head, a little, walking down the stairs to my car. What had he said?
The show was a series, so we were back again the next week. Each of us needing somewhere to go on Wednesday nights.
Thank everyone for coming, he said again, at the end.
I waited a week, to be sure. The following week, the same.
I drove home. The traffic lights were green. The city, black silhouettes. Golden lights in front windows.
Thanks, I thought. It should have been thanks.
Thanks, everyone, for coming.
But he had said: Thank everyone for coming.
The bugs, inside. The jittery bugs. The lurch, the shamble, the arms, the groan.
Two miles from my apartment, stalled at a red light, I had an idea.
He was a smart man, and English was his first language. He surely knew the correct verb and grammar. He spoke fluidly at all other times. The only explanation I could find was that this is what he had been told to say to guests. Most likely, they had had people over for years. She had invited the people. She had made the food. She had picked out his clothes. At the end, she told him, John, go thank everyone for coming.
And he had so fully stepped out of his own point of view that he simply echoed her words, exactly. He was so far gone from himself that he did not do the natural act of conjugation that would make the words fit his point of view.
They say it's all fantasy - zombies? It's all made-up goofiness? It's all silliness we create for our own delightful fear?