Dead was dead. Or so Jack always thought, up until the day he died, or rather, didn’t die. No one knew what caused zombie-ism, but it was inconvenient, to say the least. It struck without warning. There were no tests to detect it. There was no way to know if you would wind up dead-dead, or undead, and not the cool kind either. Vampires were mysterious and sexy. They got their own cool powers to go along with the unliving part. Those guys got all the chicks. Zombies did not. They were the Kim Kardashian of the unnatural world. You couldn’t get rid of ‘em even if you tried.
Jack had wanted to die. He’d taken those pills on purpose. He’d tried to be everything his parents wanted him to be, truly he did. Dad was a doctor, mom a lawyer; both of them financially successful, but emotionally replete. He couldn’t end up like that. He wouldn’t.
From the day he was born, his folks planned out his life. Pre-school at three, elementary school early, high school finished by sixteen. Jack excelled at homework. He was the geek, the valedictorian, the boy that headed the chess club, for Christ sake. But he’d never had a girlfriend. Sixteen years old and he’d never been kissed.
He wasn’t bad looking. Glasses, dark brown hair, green eyes, average face. He kept in shape on his mom’s elliptical. But his parents didn’t want him distracted. Dating could come later, like it did for them.
The day the acceptance letter arrived from Harvard, he knew he’d accomplished all they’d set out for him.
Fuck… this sucked.
He’d really wanted to die and being a zombie didn’t make you immortal, just more resilient. Jack would have to do some research on exactly how he could kill himself. Fire was one way he knew, but damn, that sounded harsh.
He lay on the cool bathroom floor, considering his options. Now that he was a zombie, Jack knew what he had to do. He had to register. Zombies were their own recognized sub-species, just like weres, vampires, faes and goblins. America being the equal opportunity country that it was; separated all zombies at “birth.” Cities just for zombies. Heck, they even had our own clothing line, a series featuring ripped and holey clothing, or course.
His parents were going to freak out when they found out. Zombies couldn’t be doctors, the pervasive myth that they craved brains kept that lofty goal out of our reach. Zombies couldn’t be lawyers. They freaked their opponent’s right out, it was the undead thing. Most zombies filled menial jobs in menial cities. His parents would hate that.
A grin zipped across his face.
Actually…maybe being a zombie wasn’t that bad. It meant Jack was out from under his parent’s influence. A forced racial emancipation. He’d get his own apartment in whatever city he was assigned. He’d be given a meaningless task. His heart lightened. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. He would be free.
He stood up and brushed off his plaid shirt which was tucked neatly into his ironed jeans.
This called for a change of clothes. Jack strode to his closet. Duplicates of what he wore spread out before him. He sighed and closed the door. Jack turned sideways, looking at his reflection in the mirror on the back of the closet door. He un-tucked his shirt, unbuttoned a few buttons, and messed up his hair. Not too bad. More casual anyways.
When he heard the car door slam down stairs, he jumped guiltily.
The front door opened. Jack took a deep breath and walked down the steps to meet his parents.
“Mom, Dad…” he said in a quiet voice. “I have some news.”
His mom squealed. “Oh, you heard from Harvard didn’t you!”
She was dressed to the nines; sleek navy dress, matching pumps, discrete gold jewelry and her blonde hair pulled back in an elaborate bun. Dad came up behind her in his dapper suit, tugging off his crimson tie.
“Well son,” he said. “What is it?”
“I’m a zombie,” Jack blurted.
They both blinked. His mom turned to his dad, tittering. “Oh, isn’t he funny, honey? Teasing us like this. Really, what’s your news?”
“No, I mean it. I’m a zombie.”
His dad eyes trailed down him. Being a physician, he knew about zombies. “How?”
“Pills,” Jack replied.
“Why?” His da whispered.
“I don’t know.”
“This isn’t funny, Jack!” his mother hollered and raced up the stairs past him. The distant sound of a door slamming followed her.
His dad peered at him. “She’ll never accept this.”
“I know.” Jack hugged his father.
“Where will you go now?” His father asked, arms squeezing him tight.
“I have to register.”
His dad nodded. “Write us when you get there, okay.”
The whole thing felt surreal. Jack smiled into his father’s chest. “Okay. I called the medics before you arrived. They should be here any minute. They’ll take me to the hospital and I’ll go on from there.”
On cue, sirens wailed in the distance.
The paramedics rushed in, glanced around then stood uncertain. Jack waved at them. “Here.”
The lead responder sighed. “It’s one of you.” He jerked his head to the ambulance and proceeded back to his truck.
When one turned into a zombie, certain physical characteristic became obvious. No blood flowed in their veins. Their hands became cyanotic, their hair and nails grew long and thick. Eyes became sunken. There was a change in the voice too, a hoarseness that would never go away. That didn’t get glamour’s like the vampires were reported to. No need, they didn’t stalk prey.
“Well, um, take care, dad. Tell mom I love her.”
Tears swam in his father’s eyes. “I will son, love you.”
“Love you too.”
The hospital passed in a blur. They put Jack through the standard tests. His temperature was a cool 92 degrees matching the outside temperature of sunny California. His heart didn’t beat. His blood didn’t pump. Once zombie-ism was confirmed, then came the paperwork. This form and that, it was remarkably more complicated than one would think. A lot of trees perished in the processing of a zombie.
At the end, an unmarked car drove him to the city limits.
The sign read “Raccoon City.” Jack snorted. Someone in there had a sense of humor, and/or was a Resident Evil fan.
Guards stood at the gates. Jack walked up with his papers, to find out there was, in fact, more forms to fill out. Countless pages later, they led him to his new abode.
The building was old, 1920’s old. There had to be lead paint on the wall, asbestos in the ceiling, but hey, he was a zombie now. None of that shit mattered. An old fashioned cage elevator filled the lobby. He took it up to the sixth floor and tromped down to his room, 615.
His room was just as welcoming as the building had been. A square box, it had a single bed, with a dresser and a desk along one wall. A lone closet door stood open to the right and a small box window provided a stunning view of the wall of the apartment building next door. On the dresser was a welcome basket with sheets, blanket, pillow, and three sets of clothing and shoes.
Before Jack had time to process, a knock rang through the room. Considering how unpopular he’d been at school, the sound surprised him.
“Come in.” He called out.
Kara Jacoby leaned against the doorway. “Thought I saw you, brainiac.”
Jack had been in love with Kara since he was five-years-old. She saved him from drowning in the kiddie pool at school and his heart was hers from that day forward. Said heart thumped wildly now, or it would have, if it still beat. Jack’s mouth dried up.
At school, she didn’t know he existed. What was she doing here? “Uh,” he began.
“As eloquent as ever I see.”
Kara pushed back her dirty blonde hair. She used to be Goth, but now that she was a zombie, she probably thought that would be cliché. Her soulful brown eyes drifted over him.
He could swear he heard singing. This was ridiculous.
She walked over and tapped him on the chin, pushing it back up.
Jack closed his mouth with a snap. “Sorry, sorry, it’s just that I didn’t expect to see you here. I heard you died…” Ah.
Kara’s face tightened. “My parents would have preferred that.”
Jack snorted. “Yeah mine too.”
Kara stood up on tip toe and brushed her lips against his. The contact electrified him. Jack turned his head and went to deepen the kiss.
Kara leaned back with a laugh. Her hand trailed down his cheek. “Welcome, Jack.”
They exchanged a look. For the first time, he didn’t feel so alone. All it took was dying.