Authors: Emily Asimov
Here are the true confessions of a zombie.
Recounting the years of his life, the zombie tells a hauntingly beautiful story full of startling revelations, danger and death, heart and hunger.
This is a story of how the zombie came to be. A story of his eternal life and the curse of that life. A story that powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, the ineradicable spirit of conflict, the raw and vivid nature of the beast that lives within us all.
Copyright © 2014 Emily Asimov
All rights reserved.
Country of first publication is the United States.
For my grandfather who taught me to believe in future possibilities and to never stop dreaming.
I want to thank everyone who read my early drafts and believed in my story. I also want to thank Mrs. Moore for professionally editing my manuscript and Jane for proofreading the final work.
“Forget everything you think you know about things unseen,” said the zombie thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the dimly lit room towards the mahogany bar. For a long time, he stood there beside the counter, running a hand along the grains of the wood. The girl watched him as he moved. The cabinet’s storage spaces were filled with spirits, glassware, and other bar items. In the center cabinet, stemware hung upside down above fine china plates and every bin of the bottle wine storage was full. She stood near the window and waited.
“But are you sure?” asked the zombie, turning now to look directly into the eyes of the girl. “Sure this is a story you really want to know?”
“Sure, I’m sure, if the story’s as good as you said it is. But it’s a good story, isn’t it?”
“I think it is,” the zombie answered. “It is the story of my life and I would like very much to tell it to you. Would you like that?”
“I would, if it’s as good a story as you said.” The girl opened her black leather purse and removed a digital recorder, making a check of the battery level. “I’m in a bit of a hurry though. It’s late and I—”
“Not the way I’d like to begin,” cut in the zombie. “This is a story I will only tell if you agree to stay until I’m done. No matter how long it takes. You must promise me this.”
The girl fidgeted with her recorder and her purse. “I think I can agree to that. I’d really like—”
“No,” the zombie said firmly. “This story, if you want it, can only be told one way, from beginning to end. Will you stay until I’ve finished, until the end?”
The girl took a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Great, then it is decided.” The zombie reached down, taking a dusty bottle from the very bottom of the wine storage.
As he uncorked the bottle of wine and filled two long stemware glasses with its deep red contents, the girl took in the rest of the furnishings of the large room, the French provincial arm chairs, the round cinnamon-finished coffee table, the king-sized four poster bed with its British colonial styling. The girl moved away from the window. She set her purse on the table, started the recorder, and waited.
The zombie walked to the girl and handed her a glass. He indicated that she should sit but he did not.
“How would you like to start?” The girl asked, looking up at him as he sipped his wine.
“I’m going to open the curtains and the windows,” said the zombie.
“Yes, it is a bit warm in here.”
“It is, but more than that, it’s the night air. Something,” said the zombie, letting the word hang in the air, the thought seemingly unfinished.
The zombie pulled back the curtains and opened each of the three large windows in turn, allowing more and more of the street noises from three stories below to stream into the room along with the night air. The girl watched him. She could make out little of his face now, having seen little enough before in the poor lighting of the all night diner where she’d first met him.
“Would a light help?” asked the girl.
The zombie watched her from a distance. It seemed he wanted to say something, thought better about it, and sipped his wine instead. “What do you think of this vintage?” he asked after a prolonged silence.
The girl hadn’t really drank the wine yet, though she had feigned a few sips. She wanted her thoughts clear and not clouded for this story—if it was as good as the zombie said it was she knew she’d need a clear head. “The light?” she asked.
“Very well, if you must,” said the zombie, turning to look out the window. He turned back, pointed. “The switch is over there, by the door.”
A flick of the switch and the room was flooded with warm white light. And the light only made the cavernous room seem grander. The girl hadn’t noticed the wainscoting before. The splendid panels extended from the floor to waist height where they met olive green walls. Beautiful, much more beautiful than she expected in a rundown building on this side of Boston.
The girl’s eyes looked everywhere. Everywhere except where she knew she must eventually look and then she did look and she gazed, speechless, at the zombie, for the bright light left nothing to the imagination.
The zombie was utterly different than she expected and utterly ordinary. He wore a black tailored suit with a black silk tie and he wasn’t tall. He wasn’t thin or fat either. But he had broad shoulders and he was muscular—well, somewhat at least. His hair was blond, medium length, with waves that were combed back, and his skin—what little she could see of it—looked normal. Light, but not the pallor she’d expected. Not that she’d expected pale white skin entirely, though she’d thought about it. Zombies were undead after all and it seemed the undead should look well, dead.
In fact, the zombie looked altogether ordinary. No different than anyone else. Except there was something different about him. Something very different about him. The girl couldn’t quite say what that was, but she knew something was different. It was the eyes, mostly, she guessed. The eyes and the way she couldn’t quite see him even though she was seeing him.
“Drink with me and we can begin,” the zombie said. “If you still want the interview, that is.”
The girl picked up the glass, gulped down half its contents. “To begin, I need to know your full name. Your real name.”
The zombie refilled his glass at the bar and brought the bottle to the table. He sat across from the girl. “Which name would you like? Would you like my name when I was a colonial hunting the headless of my kind? My name when I was a statesman in Italy leading the Republic against our betrayers? My name when I rode with Arthur in search of the Grail to end our curse?”
The girl tried to steady herself, to hide her disbelief. “I think I’ll need a refill first.”
“Do,” the zombie said. He lifted the bottle and waited to refill her rapidly emptied glass.
“Your real name will do,” the girl started to say but she never finished.
The zombie reached out over the length of the table and steadied her. The girl shuddered at his touch. She did not recoil though, not because she didn’t want to, but because she couldn’t.
“What did you put in my drink?”
“Not what you think. Take a moment. Take a breath. Clarity will come—a clarity like you’ve never known.”
Sweat rolled down the girl’s back. Her soft cotton dress was sticky, wet. “I’m unwell. I should go.”
“I think not,” the zombie said. “Trust me when I say it will pass. Now look at me.”
The girl complied but it took a moment for her eyes to focus. Then she did a double take to be sure what she was seeing was what was before her.
The zombie’s skin was stretched and thin, a white so pale it was almost a translucent gray and beneath she could almost see flesh. His eyes, fierce and sunken subtly, were a cold, cold blue. The color of glacial ice, it seemed.
“No interview if you leave,” the zombie said, releasing her arm and leaning back in his seat. “Besides, you’ll miss the best of it if you leave.”
The girl reached down unsteadily to her recorder. She was about to restart the recording but decided not to. Instead she turned the recorder toward the zombie and pushed it closer to him across the table. “What did you—”
The zombie raised a hand to silence her. He leaned forward, filled her glass and his. “Don’t be afraid. Believe me, I won’t hurt you. I’ve waited a long time for you and I want this opportunity.”
Sweat rolled down the sides of the girl’s face and beaded on her forehead. “It’s so hot. Why isn’t it cooling off? Seems more like summer than spring.”
“We can begin if you are ready.”
“I’m about to need a towel.”
The zombie offered the girl a white silk handkerchief from his pocket.
The girl used the handkerchief to mop her face. “Your real name then?”
“James the Less. James the Just, if you will.”
The girl knit her brow. “James Justice?”
The zombie smiled almost wistfully. “James Justice. That will do.”
“You weren’t always a zombie, were you?”
“No,” the zombie answered. “I was born a man in the year three eighty-seven.”
“Nineteen eighty-seven?” The girl asked to ensure she’d heard the date right.
The zombie said nothing, choosing to watch the girl instead. The smell of her growing fear was overpowering and even after all these years it aroused a hunger in him. A hunger he fought and pushed down.
The girl reached out to pick up her purse and recorder, her hands trembling violently. “I’m not sure I can continue.”
The zombie reached across the table with both hands and grabbed the girl’s wrists. He fixed his cold blue eyes on her warm brown eyes. “The first time I died the year was four eleven. I was twenty-four.”
The girl looked incredulous, but she did not dispute the point. “You died more than once?”
“Many times,” the zombie answered. “I was Sir Gawain to King Arthur, Lorenzo de Medici for Florence’s Golden Age, Lieutenant Ichabod Crane in the Revolutionary War.”
The girl was startled by the boldness of his tone. “How then did it happen?”
“You mean how did I become what I am? If you are looking for a simple answer to that, there is one but I don’t think you want the simple answer. I think what you want is the real story. I think you want the truth.”
The girl swallowed hard. “I do.”
“Good,” said the zombie finally, and slowly he stood. “I knew you would want the real story of how it came about. It’s why I chose you.”
The girl watched the zombie as he walked to the bar cabinet. Her eyes moved over the finely tailored suit she’d only glimpsed before.
The zombie started to open another bottle of wine.
The girl collected herself and her trembling stopped. “I think I’ve had enough to drink.”
“I know,” said the zombie. “This is more for me than you. I find it helps.”
“So you’ve told this story to someone before?” she asked.
“A few times, not recently, and never fully.” The zombie shook his head and looked to the window where a breeze was fingering the curtains. It was the first time the girl saw any trace of expression on his otherwise inanimate face.
“Is it painful to talk about?” she asked quietly.
The zombie returned with the wine and set the bottle on the table. He didn’t want to speak of past failures, of his inability to curb his nature long enough to tell the story fully. “I was living in Britain then. East Anglia. This was before Arthur, before the creation of the English nation, before everything really…”
“Ah, you are British…” the girl said.
The zombie stared blankly. “Does it seem so?” He started to laugh. “It has been so long since anyone thought of me as British, and least of all me.”
The girl poured the wine, filling her glass and his. It was a nervous gesture. Something to fill the awkward void. “It’s just that I’ve been trying to place you. I noticed before when you approached me that you weren’t an American. It’s the consonants really.”
“I have lived in the Americas for more than two centuries.”
The girl flustered, said quickly, “I thought maybe you were European. I never guessed British. You don’t seem British at all.”
“Not to worry,” the zombie said to reassure her. “I’m not offended. It’s just that I was a Revolutionary and I sometimes forget that I was an Anglian before it. But I’m getting well ahead of myself. I should go on from the beginning…”
The girl fixed her brown eyes on his blue eyes. “I’d like that very much.”
“I was talking about East Anglia but you were right to think of my origins. My origins had a great deal to do with it, really, my becoming a zombie that is. My people came from southern Scandinavia in my thirteenth year.