A Stand-Alone Tale Occurring After the Events of The Zombie Gospel
Peter Jason Payne
Copyright © 2016 Peter Jason Payne
All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When FoodMart turned down Brian Svenson’s application, he wasn’t too upset. Life isn’t fair. It’ll kick you in the nuts and laugh in your face. He’d come to terms with that hard fact long ago.
But then days went by, and none of his other applications panned out. So he went back to FoodMart, curious to know who scored the position he applied for.
He walked out the store fifteen minutes later, buck-eyed, slack-jawed and gobsmacked. He raced home, accelerating through green lights, burning through fuel he’d carefully conserved, forgetting frugality in his anger.
“They hired some zombie kid, probably to fill their quota.”
Brian stared at Tommy’s back as they stood in the kitchen. Tommy’s ponytail was wispy between gaunt shoulder blades, the disks of his spine prominent.
“This is dinner,” Tommy said, turning around and holding up a half loaf of bread and a can of ravioli.
Brian jingled the car keys dangling from his hand, and nodded toward the front door. “Let’s go to the Red Cross. I’ve got enough fuel.”
“We stocked up there, Wednesday. They won’t give us more food. Not until next month.”
“Tomorrow I’ll go to Grace Baptist Church,” Brian said. “Their food pantry…”
Tommy pulled away from his hug.
“What about tonight? What do we feed the kids? They’re starving. I’m starving.” Tommy threw the dented can of Chef Boyardee across the room, and dropped the stale, expired bread on the counter. Brian flinched at the ravenous hunger in Tommy’s wide, glowering eyes.
“No more excuses from you! I want meat, Brian,” Tommy said. “Steak and potatoes. I want a big fat slice of cheesecake. I want a gallon of milk, cold and frothy. I want sizzling bacon, and eggs with butter. I want a plate of waffles drowning in syrup…”
“I know, babe.” Brian tried hugging Tommy again, but his young spouse pushed him away, his palms hard against Brian’s gaunt chest, and suddenly Brian was falling to his knees, weak and dizzy, the hunger so strong that he wanted to cry.
The couple robbed FoodMart that night. The bastards who ran the store had it coming. Brian hid sirloin steaks under his jacket, and so did Tommy, but when Tommy reached for a huge pack of ribs, Brian pushed his hand aside, telling him “don’t get carried away.”
Brian saw that zombie kid again, wearing his new associate manager’s vest. The clueless fuck walked right past him, not noticing the stolen loot under Brian’s shirt. Brian had twice the qualifications of that wanker, but the kid had gotten the job, because nowadays zombies were tax breaks, and so everyone was hiring them. Brian used to support equal opportunity―after all, he was gay―but now, walking out the store with his husband, the two of them driven to petty theft and desperation, he wanted to know… he demanded to know… what the hell had happened to his opportunities?
When they got home Brian unlocked the kids’ bedroom door and woke them―Lisa, four, and Callie, five―and they did a happy dance as Tommy cooked up a mountain of mouth-watering steaks. Brian watched as his precious little girls ran around in his threadbare tees, repurposed as nightdresses, the hems skimming their ankles. They were little skeletons in see-through cotton, and he knew that if things got any worse, Child Protective Services would take them away.
The next day Brian left the car in the driveway and pounded the pavement. The fuel was all gone, and so he walked from building to building, filling out applications while snooty secretaries eyed his sweat-soaked shirt with disdain. Everything in his life was running out, even deodorant, and it was absurd that such a trivial thing could ruin his chances at employment. Sometimes the glares were enough to keep him from applying, and he felt his sense of self-worth diving with every claim of ‘Sorry, we’re not hiring.’
And the zombies! At least one-in-ten of the employers were undead! My oh my, how the world had changed! He hadn’t realized their sheer numbers until now. Those parasites should have been in their graves instead of stealing jobs from the living!
For lunch Brian hid in a bathroom stall and ate one of the last pieces of steak that Tommy had wrapped for him. He peeled away the napkin paper and pocket lint that clung to the meat. It was a nasty mess, but once he got that delicious meat in his mouth he groaned from the satisfaction.
Back at the house, Brian presented Tommy with the grocery bag he had picked up from First Baptist Church’s food pantry.
“Not bad,” Tommy said, taking out boxes of mac and cheese and angel hair pasta, “but it’s all dry food. The kids need fresh produce, milk and meat.”
The couple walked to FoodMart later that night. Despite their hunger, they couldn’t bring themselves to shoplift again.
“I can’t live like this,” Tommy said while they stood in the parking lot, watching undead shoppers exit with carts overflowing with synthetic protein goods.
Brian grabbed his hand. “Let’s go inside.”
They walked through the sliding glass doors and into heaven itself. The spic-and-span floors were squeaky clean, and the bright fluorescent lights were radiant. They walked to the section for the living in the back of the store and eyed the shiny, nutrient rich produce and juicy slabs of cellophaned meat. Oh, it was celestial! They wandered around in a daze, surrounded by a bounty they couldn’t afford.
While Brian walked the aisles, he considered his application. He had struck out at being a FoodMart employee, but what were Tommy’s chances?
He led his husband toward the customer service desk. “Apply for a job.”
“They won’t hire me,” Tommy protested, his angry voice drowning out his grumbling stomach. “They never do, not when they realize I’m illiterate. I couldn’t even fill out the application. I’m nothing but white trash.”
“No you’re not,” Brian said. “I believe in you. You quit meth. You’ve been drug free for five years. You’re learning how to read and soon you’ll be going for your GED.”
Brian placed a hand on his young spouse’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you. Now go ahead, apply for the job. At least try,” he said. “I’ll help you fill out the paperwork,” and then as a jest, “Pretend you’re a zombie.”
Tommy’s frown curled into a smile, and then he asked the undead salesgirl for an application.
FoodMart called the next day, saying they wanted to hire Tommy. Brian woke his husband, and played the message for him on the answering machine.
Tommy didn’t share in Brian’s joy.
“I wrote down ‘zombie’ as my living status,” Tommy chuckled, “and I probably spelled it wrong.”
Brian went hot and cold all over, with that buck-eyed, slack-jawed, gobsmacked expression. He slid down the bedroom wall until he was sitting on the floor, the strength gone from his skinny legs. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Tommy said. “I know you were joking when you told me to do it… but I wrote it down anyway. I thought they didn’t hire dropouts or illiterates… but if you’re a zombie….” Tommy shrugged and lay back in bed, with his robe askew, his scrawny body skinny as a famine victim.
“It’s Goldsmith Enterprises and their lobbyists, subverting Congress into passing unfair laws! If you’re a zombie, I guess you get a free pass and companies will hire you no matter what!” Brian clenched his fists. “It’s not fair!”
“Be quiet. You’ll wake the kids.”
“Why are they sleeping?”
“They’re tired, and hungry.”
“I just fed them!”
“Keep your voice down,” Tommy said with a yawn, and pulled a blanket over himself. “They’re growing girls. They need more than mac and cheese, Brian.”
Is that what I’ve become? Brian thought bitterly. A deadbeat dad, reduced to malnourishing my family with cheap charity-crap from a food pantry?
As Brian sat on the floor, sickened by his inability to provide for his family, he considered killing himself. Maybe he’d come back as a zombie, showered with special privileges, smothered by a cornucopia of government handouts. No, with his luck, he’d probably die and stay dead, and then his family would really suffer.
“Everything will work out,” Tommy said, and the young man’s words of hope banished Brian’s dark thoughts. “Your unemployment check will come in soon. We’ll make it. We’ll get through this.” Tommy slipped out of bed, knelt beside him, his blue nylon robe soft and sleek against Brian’s arm. “You’ll find a job, Brian. Things will work out.”
“How do you know that?”
“I believe in you,” Tommy said, with a childlike faith that made Brian weep.
When Brian came home with the good news, Tommy didn’t understand him, but once he took a closer look at Brian, it all made sense. Brian was gorgeous, his skin smooth and sheen, his haggard appearance reversed to sheer vitality. He had been gone an entire day: just enough time for a complete cell repair treatment.
“Get the kids and let’s go,” Brian said as Tommy sat bleary-eyed in front of the television, watching the evening news report. “There’s a van waiting outside.”
Tommy shut off the television, his full attention now on his tall, radiant husband.
“Where have you been?”
“Someplace wonderful,” Brian said.
Brian hesitated, and then said “St. Enoch Medical Center.”
Tommy’s worst fears were coming true. “St. Enoch Medical Center?” It was a sprawling complex of hospitals and research labs, exclusively for the undead. “Brian? What’s happening?” Tommy’s voice wavered in fright.
“Take a shower and get dressed. Quickly,” he said. “You’re getting tested.”
“Tested for what?” Tommy was playing dumb, clinging to his delusions.
A wonderful smell had filled the room. The scent was coming from Brian: a spicy, musky cologne, rich yet subtle. Tommy knew zombies loved smelling good; it was cliché. So when he saw Brian pull out a vial of cologne and spritz his neck, chest and arms with conscientious care, Tommy could no longer pretend.
Was Tommy infected? Had the virus inside of him gone active? Was he dead too, just like his husband?
Brian put the vial back in his pocket and crossed the living room. “Come on. Get dressed. I’ll get the kids.” His face was a Botticelli painting, his body a Michelangelo sculpture.
“Get off me!” Tommy said when Brian bent down to grab him. Tommy clutched the chair’s armrest, his knuckles white.
“Yes, I’m undead!” Brian blurted out. “But it’s not so bad.”
“You said you’d rather kill yourself, blow your brains out, than become a zombie. So overnight you changed your mind, just like that?” Tommy said, snapping his fingers.
“I don’t have time to argue with you!”
When Brian reached for him again, Tommy didn’t resist. Brian lifted him from the loveseat and Tommy went limp in his strong arms. Brian smelled so good, his vigor so overwhelming…
Tommy was paralyzed by conflicting emotions. His husband was a zombie. He was now one of “them,” one of the people Tommy had always despised and mistrusted.
Tommy had feared this moment. For the last week he had deteriorated. So had Brian. Brian had stunk like death, and had been too weak to leave the house. Tommy had told him it was the flu. Brian had agreed it was the flu. But Tommy had known the truth. Brian was changing. Transforming. Life had beat him down so bad that now the virus had taken control.
“An advocate from Goldsmith Enterprises referred me to St. Enoch,” Brian tried to explain now as Tommy stood motionless in the living room, with Brian’s hands on Tommy’s shoulders. “They gave me free cell treatments.” Brian spun around, like a foppish dandy in new clothing. “Come on. Tell me. How do I look? What do you think?” he said, running a hand through silky, luxurious black hair that was no longer thin, gray and brittle. “It can’t be that bad, can it?”
“You’re beautiful,” Tommy admitted, amazed by the handiwork of medical nanotechnology. Even Brian’s crooked nose had straightened. How had they managed that?
Tommy managed a weak smile. “Go get Lisa and Callie,” he said, relenting to Brian’s enthusiasm. Tommy couldn’t fight this. There was nothing to do but accept the inevitable.
Brian went upstairs. He came back carrying their two young daughters, holding one in each of his arms.
They touched his face. “What happened to you, Pa?”
“I got better,” he smiled. “You will, too.”
Too tired to change, Tommy kept on his flip-flops and house clothes, and followed Brian outside to the waiting van. The driver nodded as Tommy got in. “Hello, Mr. Svenson,” the driver said.
“Hello, Sir. Nice to meet you,” Tommy replied, the politeness instinctive. In truth, there was nothing nice about this situation whatsoever.
“Are we safe?” Tommy asked Brian.
Brian was fastening Callie’s seatbelt. “Don’t worry,” he beamed, giddy as ever. “Everything’s going to be alright!”
The driver talked to Brian, telling him wonderful things about St. Enoch Medical Center. Tommy hummed to himself, blocking the words out, not wanting to hear the propaganda.
“Here, try this,” Brian said, as the van shot down the highway.
“What is it?” Tommy said, turning from the merciful distraction of the window and its scenery. Brian had reached over the kids and was offering him something. Tommy read the label and shook his head. “I don’t want a protein drink made for zombies!” he said, and slapped Brian’s hand away.
When they got to St. Enoch, the attendants processed Tommy and the kids with an efficiency that surprised him. The lab results came back in forty-five minutes.
“You tested negative,” the advocate said.
Tommy rubbed his arm, where they had stuck the IV. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he said. “The Lazarus virus is dormant. You’re still a Minus, an Lv negative.”
“And our daughters?”
“Negative as well. But it was very close. Had we not given you Vitalia intravenously… it would have been a matter of time…”
“Before the virus went active and I contracted necrogenesis.”
“Yes,” The advocate replied. His name was Steven, a smelly balding man, with a greasy, pimply face and deep wrinkles. The man’s imperfect looks, and gross unattractiveness reassured Tommy that he was very much alive. “How long have you not taken the drug?”
“Vitalia? I haven’t taken it for months. Couldn’t afford it.” Tommy put a hand on Callie and Lisa’s shoulders, who sat on either side of him. The children were thin and pale, but they were alive, and a healthy diet would whip them back into shape.
They were alive. His babies were safe, and that’s what mattered most. Tommy didn’t understand why a foundation for the dead would go out of its way to help the living, but he knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thank you, Steven,” Tommy said, and then stood. “Can we leave now?”
“I have more to tell you,” the advocate replied, to which Brian smiled, and gave Tommy a wink.
Tommy sat back down with his arms wrapped tight across his chest, unsure of what to expect.
“They’re going to help us, hon.” Brian had refused a seat, and was now pacing the office floor. He seemed elated, euphoric, like a man who had just won the lottery.
“What sort of help?” Tommy asked.
Steven cleared his throat, and began the pitch. “Since your husband was unemployed when he turned and became a Plus, your family qualifies for hardship assistance from the Goldsmith Foundation. We offer educational training for the attainment of your GED. We can also provide your husband with job-search assistance and vocational rehabilitation if necessary. In fact,” Steven said, turning to Brian, “you might qualify for a job right here, in our Human Resources department.”
Brian grinned, eating up every word.
“Our medical school just expanded to a new wing. We’ve been doing a lot of hiring, looking for Administrative Assistants…”
“Assistant? He was a manager!” Tommy said.
“We’re in no position to be picky!” Brian turned to Steven. “I’ll be happy to take whatever you’re offering.”
“We can also move you into transitional housing, until you find an apartment at Goldsmith Communities…”
“We have a house!” Tommy said. “And it’s almost paid for!”
“Can you afford it right now?”
“No, but…” Tommy looked to Brian. “We’re keeping the house, aren’t we?”
“Best to let it go.”
“No! Goldsmith Communities? Brian, I’m not living with the undead!”
“Please excuse my husband,” Brian said to the advocate, and then: “Tommy, I’m in no position to handle the mortgage. We’re in over our heads.”
“Apartments at Goldsmith Communities are much cheaper. I think we should move there, and save our money, invest it for a rainy day, so that something like this will never happen again.”
“Alright, and I’m sorry for making a scene,” Tommy said, conciliatory husband that he was. Yet he was confused and frustrated, his conflicted heart still trying to accept it all.
“Are you ready?” Steven said, laying out paperwork for the couple to sign.
“Yes,” Brian said, and sat at the chair in front of Steven’s desk.
Tommy joined his husband, and held his hand. The girls sat behind them, playing with toys Steven had given them. Callie and Lisa were NG negative, thank God. And Brian, zombie that he was―or Plus as the advocate called him―seemed to be coping. The sky hadn’t fallen. The earth hadn’t stopped spinning on its axis. These zombies had even fed the family, no charge, at the cafeteria downstairs. This couldn’t be real. Or was it? Tommy’s mother had always told him to never trust a zombie, but now Tommy wasn’t so sure.
Brian read the paperwork to Tommy. Then Tommy took a deep breath, and with a shaking hand, picked up a pen and began scribbling his Hancock.
Peter Jason Payne creates thought-provoking LGBT literature for queer and heterosexual readers. He holds an Associate of Science in chemical technology and a Bachelor of Science in organizational management. He currently lives in Brevard County, Florida.