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Prologue: Zombie Picnic
The graveyard is calm at this hour, an appropriately full moon shining down on acres of freshly mown lawn and miles of evenly spaced headstones. Their endless rows are surprisingly calming; it’s almost like I’m staring at a big mouth with thousands of teeth smiling just for me. Though the air is chilly this time of year, it’s clear, making everything clean, crisp, and high-resolution — death in hi-def.
I always thought this was a particularly nonspooky cemetery as far as cemeteries go. Most of the ones you see on TV or in the movies are purposefully creepy crawly, gruesome affairs, with crooked headstones leaning and fences broken and the graves overgrown with dried, dead bushes and looking, I suppose, about the way you figure a cemetery should look.
Here in Florida, they take their graveyards pretty darn seriously.
The fence doesn’t creak when you walk by, there is no pack of feral black cats roaming the grounds, the grass is ballpark green, the headstones are all straight, a nice unbroken sidewalk runs the length of the graveyard, the grave markers are clean, and the flowers are all fresh.
I use the moonlight to inspect the contents of the picnic basket at my feet.
Four cans of Mountain Dew?
Plastic forks and knives?
Handcuffs if things go south?
Leg chains if things go really south?
Hatchet if things go really, really south?
I smile, shut the picnic basket, clasp it tight, and pat the top for good measure. Clouds move across the moon but, thanks to my new zombie vision, I can still see fine, thank you very much. (Even if everything looks a little…yellow. But that’s okay. You get used to it after a while.)
The grave at my feet is fresh. Half the folded white chairs are still lined up in the back with the rest stacked neatly on a metal dolly someone forgot to haul back to the funeral parlor come closing time. Well, no surprises there. After all that’s gone down in the last few days, who can blame the gravediggers for being underpaid and overworked?
I don’t need to look at my watch to know it’s been nearly 72 hours since I turned him, so by now he should be just beginning to stir down there, six feet under. I sigh, grab the shovel I brought from the back of the truck, and start digging. It’s hard work, true enough, but I like the constant motion. Zombies tend to get a little stiff after a while, so anything we can do to keep moving, to keep our joints from freezing up and stiffening out, well, more’s the better, I always say.
I make quick work of the top layer of soil, step into the grave itself, and dig some more. I take my time. No use exerting myself before our big reunion. I form a kind of musical rhythm here in this empty graveyard on this moonlit night: shovel in, scoop out, over the shoulder, back again; shovel in, scoop out, over the shoulder, back again. Like that, over and over, until finally the rhythm is interrupted by my shovel hitting casket wood, giving off a shower of fresh, varnished splinters.
I step aside, squeeze alongside the casket, and use the hard end of my shovel like a trowel to carefully scrape away the thin layer of dirt covering the top. When the coating is gone and wood is all that remains, I lean on my shovel, stretch my back, wipe my forehead out of habit (zombies don’t sweat), and listen for a minute or two.
I smile at the sounds of shuffling coming from inside. Nothing too terribly urgent, just the generally spooky sounds of funeral tuxedo against coffin satin. (Trust me: once you hear it, you never forget it.) Just to make sure I’m dealing with a good zombie and not a bad one (yeah, actually, there is a difference), I tap the top of the coffin with my stiff new army boots. Tap, tap, tap.
I wait, glad for the still, autumn night, until I hear the urgent response beneath my feet: tap, tap, tap. That’s my boy. I use the end of the shovel to pry the casket open and listen to the hiss as the hydraulic cover slowly rises like the back door of Dad’s reliable old station wagon.
Inside lies a statuesque young man with pale skin, a blue tux, and the most delectable curl dangling across his marble white forehead. I know I haven’t been a zombie all that long, but I actually think it’s ruined me for regular guys.
Back when I was a Normal, I always had a thing for jocks. You know, the robustness, the ruddy skin, the muscles bulging out of sweaty gray tank tops, the suntans…the tan lines. But now? I gotta tell you, something about the pale skin, the 0 percent body fat, the no heartbeat, and those deep, dark circles under the eyes is really bringing it home for me.
And this one? This one’s got all that in spades.
He smiles faintly, though aimlessly, perhaps in response to the flooding moonlight rather than the girl who put him in the casket in the first place. At any rate, he certainly doesn’t seem too panicked about waking up six feet under in a wooden box, satin-lined and expensive though it may be.
“Who are you?” he asks quietly. “And why are you carrying that shovel? And where am I? And whose tux is this? And why is it . . . blue?”
Ah, Fresh Meat, always with the questions. I shush him with a pale finger to my gray lips, tasting fresh grave dirt and shovel splinters and swiftly wiping them off on my black cargo pants. Then I haul him out of the casket, drag him up out of the grave, sit him down, open the picnic basket, show him the fresh brains, and watch his eyes light up.
As he makes short work of the first brain, I sigh, filling in his grave a little more speedily than I dug it out and patting down the top layer so it looks relatively undisturbed. By then he’s halfway through the second brain, and before I can say, “Hey, save some for me,” he’s sitting back in his musty tuxedo, patting his stomach and burping.
I crack open a fresh can of Mountain Dew and hand it to him.
“Thanks, Maddy,” he says finally, sleepy eyes full of recognition, drowsy smile full of gray matter and gore. I shake my head, sigh, and join him on the fresh sod next to his even fresher grave. Hey, we’re not exactly Leo and Kate on the bow of the Titanic, but when you and your boyfriend are both dead (sorry, undead), trust me, you take what you can get.
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