…but as today is officially Hallowe’en, to get you in the mood, here’s an extract from Everyone I Love Is Dead, my story in the zombie romance anthology, Hungry For Your Love.
I always vowed I would never date a zombie, until Mark turned up dead. Or should that be undead? I’m still not sure of the distinction. And if you’re confused by this, think how I felt. But I suppose I should start at the beginning.
It must have been about eighteen months ago when the first of the zombies started turning up. No one was really sure where they came from: some people said it was due to genetically modified food, others that it was caused by the radiation from cell phones or from living too close to power lines. Still others claimed it was all part of a big conspiracy engineered by the lizard people secretly in charge of the planet. You can still see them even now, arguing themselves into knots about the subject on late-night cable TV shows.
Whatever the cause, the first time one of these shambling, rotting husks pushed its way out of the cemetery dirt and started making its way in search of civilization, people were naturally terrified. They’d all seen the films where zombies gradually take over the world, killing and eating the brains of their victims until only a few hardy souls are left to make a last futile stand for mankind.
Only it turned out that while zombies were eager to feed, they didn’t necessarily need prime human rib. They were just as happy with the brains, offal, and other parts of domestic animals which would otherwise have found their way into low-grade burgers and sausages. Once that had been discovered, it was easier for them to establish their place in society. Naturally, the reaction to the appearance of the zombies varied from country to country. In Haiti, those who had originally wished them dead locked their doors, buried their heads under the bed sheets, and prayed they would live to see the morning. In parts of Africa and Aboriginal Australia, the zombies were worshipped as venerated ancestors. In Britain, they were ruthlessly hunted down and decapitated, that being the only reliable way to kill a zombie.
Here, the government decided that the sensible thing to do was to allow them to find jobs and pay their taxes, just like everyone else. Otherwise they would all have been sitting around on welfare, and given the state the economy was in that just wasn’t a viable option. There were certain restrictions—no zombie could work anywhere which dealt with the processing and handling of food, or be around animals or children—but after a while you no longer really noticed that the guy repairing your shoes or the woman behind the counter at the dry cleaner had a certain graveyard pallor and a blank-eyed, uncommunicative demeanour. Indeed, sometimes it was hard to tell them from the person who’d been working there before.
And, of course, it wasn’t long before you saw mixed-mortality couples openly kissing and holding hands on the streets. For some girls, dating a zombie was the perfect way to upset Daddy, far more shocking than running around with the big, black quarterback on the college football team could ever be. I didn’t see the attraction myself, although a couple of my friends enthused about the unique delights of lying in the arms of the undead. They claimed that once you’d tried it, you would never go back, but I wasn’t even a little bit zombie-curious.
Then one cold February evening, I was serving the last couple of customers before the coffee shop shut for the night when a familiar figure shuffled slowly through the door. My heart fluttered up into my throat for a moment as I realized I was looking at Mark—or, rather, what had once been Mark. His formerly glossy brown hair was dull and lifeless and his skin had a distinct greenish tinge, but despite the fact that he was clearly dead, he was still undeniably handsome.
When the zombies first started returning, I must admit I had wondered what would happen if someone I had known was among them, but I had been thinking more of a dead relative than the man whom I would always consider the one who got away. Mark and I had been one of those couples everyone had said was destined to be together, but it had just never happened. When I had been single, he had been in a relationship, or the other way around. He had gone to college on the West Coast, while I had stayed on the East. And then, just when we were both single, available and living in the same city once more, with seemingly nothing to stop us having a long and happy life together, Mark literally dropped down dead in the street one evening, killed by a heart condition no one had known he had. I was devastated, sobbing all the way through the funeral and grieving for months afterwards, but in time I had recovered and accepted I was simply never going to see Mark again.
Until now, as he was standing at the counter asking for a large sour-milk cappuccino…
To find out whether true love can really be rekindled between the living and the undead, you’ll have to buy the book, where you’ll also find a magnificently grotesque yet tender selection of stories from writers including Brian Keene, Gina McKee, Francesca Lia Block, Mercy Loomis, Kilt Kilpatrick and Dana Fredsti. Get it from Amazon, or good bookshops from November 5th – that’s if the zombies don’t get you first!