Please note that the following text has not yet been copyedited. Pardon any typsos. -AB
The Loving Dead
By Amelia Beamer
For Charles N. Brown,
whether or not he would have appreciated it.
I owe my gratitude for advice and support to Mars Jokela, Gary K. Wolfe, Tim Pratt, Liza Groen Trombi, AAron Buchanan, Francesca Myman, Jeremy Lassen, Cecelia Holland, Nalo Hopkinson, Joe Monti, Alan Beatts, Michelle Boussie, Zachary Smith, Joel Brandt, a number of Beamers and Jokelas, and the Second Draft writers group.
“Everyone was gray and speaking in monosyllabic tones. There was no class, no race… We’ve been beaten up. I mean, it’s so much easier to forgive a zombie.”
—Alaina Hoffman, in the Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2009
The sun had set by the time Kate left the bellydance class. Jamie, the instructor, had stayed late showing Kate a move called “the sprinkler,” where you swing your hips in a smooth figure eight, then four sharp ticks back to center. It looked like a lawn sprinkler when Jamie did it. Kate, watching herself in the mirror, thought that her attempts looked more like a dog with a hose. But after a few minutes, after all of the other girls had left, she got it.
They walked out together from the converted warehouse. This part of Berkeley was mostly artist studios.
“See ya next week,” Jamie called. She turned, away from the streetlight.
“See ya,” Kate called. “Thanks again.” Despite her best intentions, she didn’t attend every week. She walked towards her car, pleasantly tired. The party Michael was throwing would be in full swing soon, but she would have a few minutes of quiet between now and then.
“Hey,” a woman’s voice called. It sounded like Jamie. Kate looked back. Some guy had pushed Jamie up against a van. His face was dangerously close to Jamie’s. She was pushing him away. “Fuck you,” she shouted. She kicked at him. “Hey, anyone, help?”
Kate felt a rush of panic. She dropped her finger cymbals, which made a clatter on the sidewalk like a tiny, demented marching band. She ran towards Jamie, her shoulder bag bouncing against her thigh, wishing she had a weapon. There was the little Swiss Army knife on her keychain. As if that would scare anyone.
Kate found her voice. “Hey! Jamie?”
Jamie turned to look at Kate. So did the guy. It was enough of a distraction for Jamie to wiggle away from him. Kate, at full speed, ran into the guy anyway. He fell. The back of his head made a wet crack on the curb. Kate stumbled, finding her balance against the van.
“You OK?” She turned to Jamie. They both moved away from the guy.
“Shit, honey.” Jamie spat to the side, then wiped her mouth on her bare arm. She let out a long breath. “Fucking drunk, thinking with his dick and leading with his chin,” she said. “Yeah, I’m all right.” She didn’t sound all right. She spat again.
“What happened?” Kate asked, brushing hair behind her ears. “I heard you call out. He attack you?”
“Something like that,” Jamie said. “You just don’t expect that, not in Berkeley. Panhandling, maybe, but not this. He just came up on me before I knew what was happening. I was looking in my purse, for my keys, you know? And before I even hardly see him he’s pushing me up against my van and trying to stick his tongue down my throat.”
Both women looked down at the sidewalk. The guy’s eyes were closed. He was in a bad way: obviously homeless, judging by the layers of clothing he wore against the still-warm summer night. Never mind the smell. His hair looked dirty in the yellow light from the street lamp, and his face was smudged. A liquid seeped from near his groin. It bubbled on the sidewalk. Malt liquor.
“Man.” Kate nudged the guy’s leg with her foot. He didn’t move. “Um,” she said. He could be bleeding to death from a head injury. “Hey,” she called softly. “You all right, man? Anybody in there?” Kate knelt. If he died, it’d be her fault.
“Don’t touch him, honey. You’ll wake him up. Fucking drunk,” Jamie said. “Thinking he could rumble me for a few bucks so he can go get a Chore Boy and a rock.”
Kate didn’t question Jamie’s interpretation. It had looked to Kate like the guy had been trying to rape Jamie. “Um,” Kate said. “Don’t you think we should call the cops or something? Report that he attacked you? Get him help?” She didn’t like police any more than the next twentysomething, but it felt wrong to just leave the guy. He didn’t seem to be bleeding, though she couldn’t tell in the low light, and she didn’t want to touch him. She thought of spending all night trying to explain to the so-called peace officers what had happened, again and again, under migraine-inducing fluorescent lights. Who would she call to bail her out if they put her in jail? Michael would be drunk already.
Jamie gave Kate a look. She’d thought the same things, about cops and trouble.
The guy stirred, letting out a low moan. So he wasn’t dead. That was a relief. Kate backed away from him. She glanced around. The street was dead. No one had seen what they’d done.
“You’re right,” Kate said. “Let’s just go. My housemate’s throwing this party tonight,” she found herself saying. “There’ll be people, and food, and we’ll be safe.” The idea of being indoors, surrounded by doors that locked and people she mostly knew and trusted, sounded very appealing.
Jamie shook her head. “I need a cigarette,” she said. She pulled a pack from her purse, and lit one. She smoked Kools, which Kate found odd. Bellydancers were supposed to smoke American Spirits, or roll their own. Jamie lit it, then fished a set of keys from her purse. The metal gleamed in the low light.
“I don’t want you going off alone. Not after this. Just come for a little while, check it out.” She didn’t normally invite people over to Michael’s parties, but she didn’t normally attack dudes on the street, either. “Come on, let’s go.”
“All right,” Jamie said. “Should I follow you, or…?” She used two fingers from the hand that was holding the cigarette to smooth a strand of her long hair.
“Sure,” Kate said. She looked around again. It was unnatural, how quiet the street was. “I just want to go before someone else happens along. My house is up in the hills, and it’s easy to get lost, so yeah, you should follow me. I’m just down the block, I’ll go get it.”
“And leave me alone here?” Jamie glanced around the street. The end of her cigarette glowed.
“Well, how about you drive me to my car—” Kate said. She saw movement. The guy was sitting up, bracing himself against the curb. His mouth was bleeding. He blinked, touched the pocket that now held the shards of his beer bottle. He moaned in dismay.
“Come on. I’m getting spooked,” Kate said. “He’s going to be able to describe us. Pick us out of a lineup,” she whispered. She was ready to run; ready to shove Jamie into a car if that was what it would take. She took Jamie’s hand, pulling her to the other side of the van, so the guy couldn’t see them.
Jamie unlocked her door, moving fast. “You get in on my side.” Her tone had changed: she sounded scared. She was starting to get it.
Kate obeyed. She barely knew Jamie, had been going to Jamie’s class off and on for a year or so. They hadn’t spoken outside of that context before tonight.
The guy struggled to his feet. Kate saw him through the window. She covered her mouth with her hand. Jamie started the engine. The guy touched his jaw, then put his hand to the side window. The van lurched forward. The guy followed, but they soon lost him. His handprint remained.
Hardly had Michael brought in Audrey and Cameron and showed them to the drinks than there was another knock on the door.
“Let someone else get it,” Audrey said. “Check this out; I want you to admire my getup.” She wore a black vinyl dress that showed off her legs. “And the nails,” she said, offering her hand as if to be kissed. She had applied long black acrylics. “I already knocked off one of them on the way here,” she said. In her other hand she held a small single-tail whip. The cutest girl at Trader Joe’s and a redhead to boot: Michael still had a bit of a crush on her.
“If I had a hat, I would tip it,” Michael said. “And your partner here, also a very fine job of costuming.”
“We didn’t really come together,” Cameron said. “I mean, we came here together, but we’re not together.”
“We’ve come together before, baby,” Audrey said, interrupting.
“Which is by way of saying,” Cameron continued, “that if there’s any particularly nice girls that I don’t know who are coming to this party, you should point them out.” Cameron wore a white T-shirt with a pair of handcuffs around one wrist, which he promptly applied to the cap of a beer bottle.
“Dude, it’s a twist-off,” Michael said.
“So can you tell who I am?” Cameron said. He held the open beer as if it were a microphone. “‘Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time!’”
Audrey turned to Michael, holding a plastic cup she’d filled with wine. “Would you please introduce Kanye here to some other girl? He’s going to think that we’re back together.”
Cameron shrugged. “‘George Bush hates black people?’”
Michael wasn’t sure if Audrey was joking. It was always hard to tell with her. “Chick on the couch there was in my AP English class senior year,” he pointed. “Natalie. Top hat, holding the golden gun? She did a dramatic reading from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the speech about the hippie zeitgeist that would roll over the nation with the unassailable force of nature. You’d like her. I’d introduce you but I’m afraid of her myself. Excuse me. I hear the door. Again.” Derek and Amy were standing in the foyer; Derek must have let Amy in, and now that she was there, Derek would see no reason to open the door ever again.
Michael opened the door. It was already nine o’clock and Kate wasn’t back from her dance thing. He’d thought of texting her but had decided against it. Henry stood there, holding an IV pole. “Hey man, come on in.” Michael shook Henry’s hand. “Nice digs.”
“Thanks.” A few drops of Henry’s costume dribbled onto his chin, and he wiped at it with the back of his hand. He was wearing a hospital gown. His IV pole held a clear bag filled with red fluid, with a tube leading to his mouth. “It’s Merlot. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since they stopped making the metallic spacebags and started making them clear. You know, box wine? Transfusion bags, I call them. I stole all of the medical gear from work, in between cleaning up people’s vomit.”
“You sure you won’t come back to TJ’s?” Michael asked.
“What, and leave show business? Naw, dude, I’m going to go to nursing school. Nurses work four ten-hour shifts every week, or three twelves, and I can arrange them so that I get a week or more off at a time.”
“You’d have time for a second job! What about the generous employee discount?”
Another knock sounded on the door. “Drinks over there,” Michael said. “Go ingratiate yourself with all of the people you left behind.” He opened the front door and studied the young man holding the pizza boxes. The costume was impeccable, down to the baseball cap emblazoned with the Cybelle’s logo. But the guy didn’t look familiar. He must have heard about the party from someone. “Friend of the bride or the groom?” Michael asked. Then he remembered. “Shit, the pizza’s here.”
“Um, it’ll be sixty-three forty-five. You said you had a coupon?”
“Just a second.” He went and found the coupons, and tore off the applicable ones. He felt dumb. How many beers had he had already? Only three or so. He counted out cash, and paid the driver, giving him five bucks extra.
“Soup’s up.” Michael put the pizzas on the ancient gas range, making sure that he didn’t accidentally press any of the buttons that turned on the burners. He set plates on the table.
There was a fumbling at the door. Michael went to check that it was unlocked. He turned the lock, then the knob. Finally he managed to pull the door open. Kate was standing there, holding the doorknob, her keys in the lock. She looked worried.
“Hey, roomie. You OK? Your timing’s perfect: pizza just got here,” Michael said. “Oh, hi,” he said, seeing the woman Kate had brought. “C’mon in. I’m Michael.”
Kate pushed her way in and shut the door behind them. She took something from the woman and hung it up on the keyrack by the door. Keys.
“What are you supposed to be?” Michael asked.
“I told you I was coming as a bellydancer,” Kate said. “This is what they wear to practice in. Also this is Jamie. She’s a bellydancer, too.”
“That’s cool. So, you sure you’re all right?”
“No shit. You won’t believe what just happened,” Kate said. “Seriously. Well, maybe you’d believe me. We’re leaving class, and – oh, man. I just remembered that I left my finger cymbals on the sidewalk. Anyway, this guy straight up attacks Jamie. And then,” she glanced at her friend, who had found her way to a couch and sat down.
“It’s a good thing you were there, no shit,” the woman said. She picked up a magazine from the low table. She was gorgeous, no two ways about it. Michael made a mental note to hang out with more bellydancers. Kate could introduce him. He could take up playing drums or something. Start dreading his hair.
“You’re kidding,” Michael said. “No, you’re not kidding.” He turned to the woman. “Are you OK? Would you like some pizza? Or a drink? Or should I call the cops or something?”
Jamie nodded and then shook her head no, then smiled. “I’ll check it out. Thanks.” She went towards the kitchen.
“So what did you do?” Michael asked.
“I shoved him down, and he conked his head on the sidewalk.”
“Shit. No kidding.” This wasn’t the Kate he knew.
“I thought he might have been dead, but he was breathing,” she said, lowering her voice. “He scared the daylights out of me. I thought I might have killed him. There was beer everywhere; it must have broken when he fell. I wanted to call the cops, but I didn’t. We just left.”
“Sounds like he was just a drunk. He’ll walk it off,” Michael said. He wasn’t sure whether it was true, but he didn’t want to make Kate feel bad. “You OK, though? Want a Xanax?” he asked quietly.
Kate ran a hand through her hair, which smelled of cigarette smoke. “Yeah. I think so. At least until the cops show up and arrest me for leaving the scene of a crime, anyway.” She lowered her voice. “And yes, on the Xanax. Also, my car’s still on the street in Berkeley. Maybe you can take me there in the morning to get it? We ended up driving back here together. To tell the truth, I didn’t want her to go off alone. Not that I don’t trust her, I just didn’t want her driving any distance by herself. She lives in the city, I think in the Sunset, by the ocean.” They both looked at Jamie, deep in conversation with Natalie.
Michael put his arm around Kate’s shoulders. She didn’t shrug him off. He suspected that Kate didn’t trust Jamie. That they barely knew one another. Jamie was a witness to whatever it was that happened, whether or not it was a crime. “I could make an anonymous tip, you know. If you were concerned about this guy. Have the cops go check on him. It wouldn’t come back to you.”
“And what would you say? No, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. He’s fine. I’m just overreacting.”
“I believe you,” Michael said. He didn’t, not entirely, but he didn’t want to make an issue of it. His arm was still around her. He had an urge to lean in, kiss her ear. Instead he took a tiny pill from his pocket and handed it to her. She smiled her thanks. He knew that she knew that there wasn’t enough Xanax for everyone, and he appreciated her being quiet about it.
“You got one more?” she asked, her mouth near his ear again. He could feel the tickle of her words on his skin. “You know. For Jamie.”
“My last one. For you, baby.” He liked her. She had to know that. She must enjoy it, knowing that she had his attention. He could play this game as long as she could. He handed another of the tiny pills to her.
They went into the kitchen. Kate poured herself a glass of wine, surreptitiously put a pill in her mouth, and drank.
“So I was studying, like every afternoon, at Cato’s,” Sam was saying. He was holding court, leaning against the kitchen counter and gesturing with a slice of pizza. He was dressed as a hooker from the early 1980s, with teal leggings and black tube top. His long hair was curled into a Farrah Fawcett, and he wore fake eyelashes. “I look up, and there’s this lady zombie looking at me through the window. Less than a foot away, through the big glass windows, you know? And I scream and spill my beer, because she caught me by surprise, and I see that the whole street is full of zombies. Walking slowly, with their arms out. Limping and staggering. Groaning and rolling their eyes.”
“Dude, you study in a bar?” Michael asked. “You’re going to paramedic school; don’t you have to be smart for that?” He helped himself to a slice of pepperoni and mushroom, not bothering with a plate.
Sam didn’t stop. “Zombies!” he was saying. “Walking down Piedmont Avenue! And everyone in Cato’s is laughing. That lady zombie gives me a big grin, and she’s got most of her teeth blacked out, and then, only then, do I see that it’s makeup. There isn’t even any on her neck, although her face was gray. Like a B movie. She blows me a kiss and then walks away.” Sam heaved a theatrical sigh. “I chased after her, trying to get her number, but I lost her in the crowd.”
“You hadn’t heard about the Zombie Walk?” Audrey asked. “I missed that one because I was in L.A., but I’m totally going to do it. A bunch of people meet up and walk around, and then go on a pub crawl. You’re not supposed to chase after people. But you can also arrange to be waiting on the route, and get turned into a zombie in public. It’s all very consensual.” Her tits jiggled as she laughed. “Did none of you know about it?”
Heads around the room shook, a few nodded.
“Let me know when it is, if you do it,” Sam said. “That zombie stole my heart.”
“You wouldn’t judge a woman on appearance alone,” Audrey teased. She and Sam had dated, years before, and they still got along pretty well.
“Carriage and vocals count for a lot,” Cameron said.
“You got it,” Sam agreed. He helped himself to another beer from the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator, and levered it open with his lighter.
Michael pulled a bottle of Jack from the cupboard above the range. “Who’s doing a shot with me. Kate? What’s your friend’s name?”
“Jamie. Hey, Jamie, do a shot with me?” Kate called.
“I will. Give it here,” Audrey said. “I’m not driving anywhere tonight.” She smiled at Cameron.
“Somebody say shots?” Freddie came into the kitchen. Dressed as Heath Ledger as the Joker, he had already eaten most of his lipstick. He accepted a drink. “Here’s to the best parties of all time!” Plastic cups converged in a toast. They did some damage to the bottle, and then Freddie got a group together for Rock Band in the living room. Audrey brought out a pipe, which circulated, leaving a sweet smell. People sat outside on the deck, smoking cigarettes and laughing. The house was full of happy, drunk people, some of whom could even sing. Kate and her friend seemed like they were having fun. Michael relaxed. Time passed. People started to say goodbye and leave, but that was OK. It must be getting late. He thought about picking up some of the dead soldiers. But he was comfortable.
Someone screamed. Inside the house. A girl. Michael stood, spilling his drink. His head swam. There was truth to that old rule about how you can drink twice as much sitting down, but then when you stood up you were twice as drunk. He stumbled into the hallway towards the bedrooms.
Jamie pulled Kate away from the group while they stood in the kitchen, after a round of shots. “Give me the tour?” she said, putting her arm in Kate’s. Kate’s heart sped up. The booze and food and company were calming, but Jamie made her a bit nervous.
“Hey, this is for you,” she handed Jamie the pill. “Xanax. You know. It’ll help you relax. My friend Michael’s got a scrip for it.”
Jamie took it. “What’s the dose?”
Kate tried to remember. “The little one. Whatever that is. That’s all he could get.”
“Point two five micrograms. That’s still very nice. Thank you, my dear.”
Kate grabbed an open wine bottle with her free hand. She led Jamie into the hallway. They passed a few people whom she knew from work or previous parties, and she nodded and said hi without getting entangled in conversations or introductions.
“You saw the kitchen and living room,” she said. “Bathroom on the right. Master bedroom next door on the right, with another bathroom inside, that’s Michael’s. The guy who opened the door? He rents the house. My bedroom’s on the left here, and Lena’s is in back here. She’s out tonight, probably with her boyfriend. She’s not a big fan of these parties.” Kate looked at Jamie, trying to gauge how Jamie felt about them. “I’m not much for them either, sometimes, although the costumes are good. Michael’s got a hard-on for costume parties.”
“That hooker was pretty hot, for a dude,” Jamie said.
They went into Kate’s room, which was messy enough to be embarrassing. She flicked on the desk lamp rather than turning on the overhead, then slipped her arm out of Jamie’s and pushed the clothes and books from the bed. “If you’re tired I can make up the bed with clean sheets for you. If you wanted to stay over. Would you like to go to bed? I mean, to sleep?” She blushed, and was grateful for the low light.
“Not yet,” Jamie said. She closed the door. “Sit down.”
Kate sat on the bed. Jamie perched behind Kate and started rubbing Kate’s shoulders. Kate was surprised. She tried to relax into it. She took a sip of wine and held out the bottle to Jamie.
“Don’t want to mix the grape and the grain.” Her fingers worked Kate’s muscles and tendons, at just the right pressure.
“You’re really good at this,” Kate said. It had been a long time since anyone had given her a halfway decent shoulder rub, and this was better than halfway.
“I’m also a massage therapist, though I don’t do it much these days; the lupus fucks with my hands. I also don’t normally give it away for free, but you’re being good to me tonight.”
“Thanks,” Kate said. “I didn’t know you had lupus.”
“It’s mild, and it’s not contagious, don’t worry. Just means I have to watch my energy level and sometimes I have to take steroids. It’s an autoimmune thing, in my joints.”
“Oh, that sucks,” Kate said.
“I suppose so,” Jamie said, sounding unconcerned. Xanax did that; it was supposed to be for anxiety.
After a while, Kate said, “You know, I think our generation is possibly a little too concerned about zombies. You ask anyone, they’ve got a zombie contingency plan. The bat under the bed, or whatever, that’s not for thieves.”
“And yours? You have one?”
Kate pointed at the bamboo sword in the corner. “I know it’s not much, but it makes me feel better. The whole zombie thing is a joke, and everyone knows it. That’s how I met Michael, actually. Before he convinced me to work at Trader Joe’s, back when I’d just moved here. We used to stick fight every week with this group in People’s Park. Shinais, like the bamboo slat sword there, plus padded knives and swords and nunchucks made of PVC and duct tape.”
Jamie laughed. “That’s rad.”
“It’s exercise, at any rate. We’d always play this game called Yojimbo, after this old Kurosawa movie. It’s like reverse tag. One person is It, and everyone chases them. Whoever landed the killing blow is the next It, and then anyone who got killed by the previous It gets to come back. The point is to kill everyone, and sometimes you can do it, if you’re really lucky.”
Jamie leaned forward and brought one of Kate’s sleeves to her nose.
Kate froze. She probably smelled of sweat. The way Jamie exhaled, the hum in her throat, made it clear that she was enjoying herself. So maybe Kate didn’t smell. Or whatever she smelled of, Jamie liked it. There was an inherent contract; smell led to taste. Kate felt a warm tingling in her belly. She knew where this might go. She was trying to decide if she wanted it. Jamie seemed to. She seemed to expect that Kate wanted it.
Jamie kissed Kate’s shoulder. Once, as if tapping a microphone to check that it was on. “So do you have any brothers or sisters?” Jamie asked. She ran her fingers through Kate’s hair.
“A brother, three years younger. Still lives with my parents. If you wanted to go home, I can get Michael to drive me to my car in the morning. I just didn’t want you going off by yourself. I was worried.”
“That’s sweet. But I’m too drunk to drive now,” Jamie said. “Just relax. Don’t worry about it. So tell me, where are you from?” The smile in Jamie’s voice told Kate that Jamie knew she was just teasing by making small talk. Prolonging what she was trying to make inevitable. Her fingers dug into Kate’s shoulders.
Kate found it hard to talk. “Wisconsin. Near Madison. The Berkeley of the Midwest, except for Ann Arbor claims that. Calls Berkeley the Ann Arbor of the West.” She stopped. Jamie was kissing her shoulder. Jamie bit, just hard enough. Kate shivered. She decided that she wanted this. It was the easiest way. And maybe it was the right thing to do, after what they’d been through already tonight.
“You’ve never been with a woman, have you?” Jamie smiled like she found this amusing.
Kate nodded, forcing herself to meet Jamie’s gaze. During the bellydance class, all of the girls would watch Jamie as she demonstrated the moves. Jamie would raise her shirt, tying it off to reveal a long, muscled torso. Sometimes Kate found herself watching the oroboros tattoo that coiled around Jamie’s hips, the snake’s mouth open to eat its tail above her navel. If Jamie didn’t have that tattoo, Kate might have been able to pay more attention to the moves. Not that she was normally attracted to women, or that she would ever have acted on it. Maybe she had a little crush, she admitted.
“That’s OK.” Jamie touched Kate’s cheek. “It’s hard to meet women, you know? I think that’s why some girls come to the bellydance class. It’s why I started dancing in the first place, to meet women. Gay guys, they got it easy. Everybody knows they’re gay: they’re the only guys who style their hair, and when they check each other out, you know what they’re thinking. But women check each other out no matter what. I’m walking down the street, and I see a chick, and I don’t know if she thinks I’m cute, or if she’s just trying to figure out where I bought my shoes.” Jamie leaned forward, turning Kate to face her. Their mouths met. What happened then was complicated and friendly and different than anything Kate could remember.
“My boyfriend doesn’t kiss like that,” Kate said when Jamie pulled away. Boyfriend wasn’t really the term for what Walter was, but the situation was too complicated to explain.
“Guys don’t know. At least, not any guy I dated, when I was a kid. Sucking face, we called it, and that was basically what it was. People who think youth is the high point of life should be condemned to the lousy sex we all had back then, while the rest of us get it together and figure out what we like. Women don’t hit their sexual peak until their thirties, anyway. You’ve got time.” Jamie toyed with Kate’s hair while she talked. She smelled so good. Kate wanted very badly to please her.
Kate understood that Jamie wanted to be kissed. Kate moved slowly towards Jamie, enjoying the tension. Jamie tasted of lipstick. Kate learned how Jamie liked to be kissed: starting gently, and building up. Jamie rubbed her thumbnail over Kate’s nipple, through her shirt. Kate took an involuntary breath.
“Does your door lock?” Jamie asked. Her voice was low and husky.
Kate put her hands over Jamie’s. “Yes,” she said. She stood to lock the door. The room tilted just a little as she found her balance; she didn’t think she was drunk enough that she’d regret this later. Muffled laughter came from down the hall; everyone was busy. They wouldn’t be interrupted.
“You’re beautiful when you smile,” Jamie said.
Kate stood next to the bed. She was always nervous the first time with someone new. Things changed after you let yourself get naked. There would always be that between you, the vulnerability that comes from letting down your guard.
Jamie smiled, and held out a hand. Kate let Jamie pull her onto the bed. They lay together. As Jamie kissed her neck, Kate concentrated on remembering everything, so she could play it back later and understand it. She found Jamie’s earlobe with her mouth, and nibbled the length of it. She put her tongue inside, tasting skin and wax, and was rewarded with a gasp. Jamie took Kate’s hands in her own, kissing Kate’s fingertips.
“First, this,” Jamie said. She removed Kate’s shirt and bra. She took Kate’s nipples in her fingers. She pinched them gently, moving them around in slow circles. She bit Kate’s shoulder. The sensations induced by Jamie’s mouth, her hands, her proximity, were intense.
Jamie took Kate’s pants down. She licked her fingers. Slipped one finger inside Kate, then two, and then three. She kept her fingers moving, in and out with a knowledgeable come-hither pressure on Kate’s G-spot. She whispered gentle words. With her thumb on Kate’s clitoris, Jamie kissed the insides of Kate’s thighs, then her belly, working her way up to take Kate’s painfully hard nipples into her mouth. Kate gasped. The world was collapsing to this; there was nothing else but this, and there was no shame in it. She had her hands in Jamie’s hair.
“Don’t stop,” Kate said. Over and over, until she couldn’t speak. It was a beautifully long orgasm. As it ebbed, Kate couldn’t help but laugh. Lying on her back, she felt the tension leave her. She kept her eyes closed. She squeezed Jamie’s fingers, still inside her, and Jamie took that as a signal to withdraw.
Jamie licked her fingers, then smiled. “You’re not so straight after all,” she said softly. She lay down next to Kate and put an arm around her. Their faces were close. “That’s okay. Every girl can eat a little pussy and still be straight. Women’s sexuality is more fluid, anyway.”
“Thank you,” Kate managed.
Jamie put a finger over Kate’s lips. “That’s not what you say.” She stood and removed her shirt and bra, revealing a tattoo of a pomegranate on the inside of her left breast, and the oroboros tattoo around her waist. Her pubic hair was light brown, trimmed short, and her labia emerged beneath it like lips; her clitoris like a tongue.
Kate was transfixed. Jamie was so hot. Why hadn’t she really seen it before?
Jamie took her bag from the floor, and removed something from it. She held out a length of rope. Two lengths of rope, it turned out. “I can’t come without being tied up,” she said. “So you get to do it. You don’t have to hit me or anything. Not on the first date.” She winked. “Seriously though. Don’t hit me.”
“Thank you for trusting me,” Kate said. The rope felt awfully heavy. This wasn’t how she’d expected to spend the evening. But she wanted to do this. Wanted to do it right. Jamie demonstrated how to tie what she called a rolling hitch. Around and through, around and through, and then the circle went around Jamie’s wrist. She pulled to tighten it, and tied the other end of the rope to the bedpost. Jamie tied a second rolling hitch, and told Kate to tie the other end to the bedpost.
Kate looped the rope around and started to tie it.
“Tighter,” Jamie said. “Please, honey.”
Kate pulled the rope tighter, until Jamie’s arms were splayed and the skin was taut over her ribs. It was funny, and awkward, and sexy. Kate kissed the inside of Jamie’s wrist, working her way up Jamie’s arm as she finished securing the rope to the bed frame.
“I’ve never done this before,” Kate said. “And I can’t imagine why not,” she added.
Jamie laughed, then grew serious. “Please. Come here,” she said.
Kate kissed the spot between Jamie’s neck and shoulder, then bit gently, and was rewarded with Jamie’s intake of breath.
“Yes,” Jamie said.
“Yes,” Kate said. She put her tongue in Jamie’s ear. Jamie’s arms tensed, pulling against her bonds. Kate thought about where else she could put her tongue. She kissed the pomegranate tattoo on Jamie’s breast, tracing it with her tongue. She circled Jamie’s breasts with her mouth, enjoying the feeling. Finally she allowed her tongue to graze one nipple, and was rewarded with a gasp. She’d never had a woman’s nipple in her mouth. It felt so large and sensitive.
“Harder,” Jamie said.
Kate obeyed, wanting to please. She straddled Jamie’s body, tonguing her nipples until Jamie’s hips thrust upwards. Only then did she allow herself to kiss Jamie’s stomach, marveling at the oroboros tattoo. She kissed the snake’s head, flicked her tongue inside Jamie’s navel, then moved down. Jamie spread her legs, and Kate started at one knee, moving to the other.
“Like that, yes,” Jamie said. Her voice was deep and husky. “Oh.”
Kate concentrated, kissing from knee to knee. She wanted Jamie to come, wanted to hear and feel her orgasm. Jamie’s thighs were wet with saliva.
“Yes,” Jamie said.
Kate moved Jamie’s panties to one side, and flicked her tongue into Jamie’s warm center. The taste was strong but not unpalatable. She did it again, hoping for a gasp or a moan. She put one knuckle of her index finger inside, resting her cheek against Jamie’s thigh, waiting for a reaction. She brushed Jamie’s clitoris first with her nose and then her tongue. Jamie was still.
“Jamie?” Kate said. “Am I going too fast?”
Jamie’s breathing had slowed down. “Um, something’s happening,” she said. “It’s not you, baby. Something. Wrong.” She let out a low moan. Kate lifted her head.
Jamie was looking up at the ceiling. She let out another moan, deep and strange. “Something’s happening,” Jamie said. She grimaced. She tried to sit, but was stopped by the ropes. Jamie looked from one tied hand to the other, as if surprised.
“Jamie?” Kate said. She backed away until she fell off the bed. She stood up, stumbling over the clothes and books on the floor. “Jamie?”
Jamie moaned again, and pulled on the ropes.
Kate backed into the light switch. She turned, and fumbled it on.
Jamie’s eyes were milky white, as if cataracts had suddenly developed. Her mouth was open, her teeth bared. Her skin had turned ashen gray. Jamie licked her lips with a tongue the color of well-done burger.
Michael ran to Kate’s room. The door was locked. He was sure the scream had come from inside. “Kate, are you all right? What’s going on?”
There was a low moan. “I can explain,” a weak voice called.
The remains of the party had made their way to the hallway by the time Kate emerged. She shut the door behind her. Her top was on inside out, and she was still pulling up her terrycloth pants. “I can explain,” she said. Then she burst into tears. “Something happened!”
Another moan from inside the room only added mystery. “Where’s your friend?” Michael asked. “She OK?” He reached for the door handle.
Kate blocked the door. “Don’t. You don’t know.”
Michael could smell the sex. This was hot. But Kate was clearly upset. Something was going on, more than just embarrassment. He turned around and waved his hands, shooing at his friends. “Nothing to see here, ladies and germs. As you were.” The guys let out a collective “Aww.” They stayed where they were. Audrey and Natalie headed back towards the kitchen, sensing Kate’s embarrassment, or maybe just ready for another drink.
“Kate, you all right?” Cameron asked.
“Clear out, please. Give us some space,” Michael said. “Your friend drunk in there? Do we need to bring her something to vomit in, maybe?”
A low moan came from inside the room.
“She’s not well,” Kate said.
“Let me check it out.” Cameron wore the classic stoner expression, eyes half open and an amused, closed-lipped smile. He pushed past Michael. Kate blocked the door. She had stopped crying, and now just looked frightened. Michael wished he were a little more sober, so he could say something smart to calm her down. He patted her arm. “Kate, doll, what’s going on? You can tell me.”
“She’s tied up,” Kate said in a small voice. “She made this terrible moan. I think she’s sick.”
“Let’s check it out,” Michael said. “You can trust me. I’m not going to make fun of you.”
Kate moved aside, just enough to let him pass.
Sure enough, Kate’s friend was roped to the bed. Naked. She wore white contacts, and her skin was a fine gray. Her gaze moved among the men, and she licked her lips.
Michael was stunned. He knew Kate had a sense of humor, but this was beyond expectations. She’d turned her friend into a perfect sexy zombie. He turned to her. “You had me all worked up! You two must have been doing makeup all this time. And I never thought you were such an actor.”
“I’m not,” Kate said. She wasn’t grinning like she should have been. “I don’t know what happened.”
“My compliments,” Cameron said. “She looks awesome.”
“Wow, Kate,” Sam said. “You know, what would be even better is if you’d put some blood on her. Or some black goo, or something. I guess you don’t want to mess up your sheets, though.”
“Kate, you can cop to the joke,” Michael said. “It was masterful. Smile already.”
Kate blushed. “It’s not a joke. I swear. She wanted me to tie her up. Before she turned into this. We’d been talking about zombies, and then…”
Michael examined the girl in the bed. She pulled on her ropes, moving towards him. There was a blank look in her eyes. He took a step back. She was an amazing actor.
“Where’d you get the contacts?” Sam asked. “They’re perfect.”
“I’d better get the girls so they can see this,” Henry said. He didn’t leave the room.
“Guys, you have to help me figure out what to do,” Kate said. There was panic in her voice. “Michael, please.”
He leaned forward, inspecting the rope. Maybe she wanted him to play along. Take the joke a little further. “The knots are pretty good.”
Jamie moved towards him, licking her lips. Even her tongue was dark.
“I didn’t think you knew how to tie knots like this, Kate,” Michael said. He tried to pitch his voice so that only she could hear it. “You know how I like rope, and knots. Is that what you were doing?”
“What?” she said. “I don’t. She did it. We were,” Kate let out a breath. “Well, shit. You know what we were doing.”
“Hey, check this out,” Cameron said. He locked Jamie’s ankles together using his handcuffs. He climbed onto the bed and straddled her, sitting on her hips. She was straining against the rope to sit up. Her white-eyeball gaze was locked on Cameron. She winked, and pursed her lips.
“She wants me,” Cameron said. “Michael, I knew you’d come through and introduce me to someone who could really appreciate me.”
“Don’t!” Kate said. “This isn’t a fucking joke!” She grabbed Cameron’s arm, but he shrugged free.
“I’m in love,” Cameron said.
“Love,” Jamie said. She could make her voice sound amazingly deep.
“Get off, Cameron,” Kate said.
“I’m fin’ to get off, that’s for sure,” Cameron said, slipping into his Kanye voice. He ran his hands up Jamie’s stomach, cupping her breasts. “You cool with that?” he asked Jamie.
She moaned. Her nipples were a deep red, maybe painted with lipstick. She wore enough black makeup to make her eyes appear to sink in her face.
“We’d better take pictures,” Sam said. “Cameron, get off of her before you mess up her makeup.” He reached over and undid the handcuffs, freeing Jamie’s ankles.
“Off!” Kate said. “Dude! Seriously.”
“Her nipples are so hard,” Cameron said. “Holla, girl, can I get a holla back?”
The woman tied to the bed did not holler back. She struggled to get closer to Cameron.
“So, Kate, how much is Michael paying you and your friend to do this?” Henry said. “Because I’m going to have a party. Everyone can come as different kinds of zombies. Bellydancer zombies, zombies in hardhats and shit. You know how in the movies, the zombies are always, like, a naked chick, and a bloody bride, and a businessman, and a fat dude wearing a bathrobe and a stained wifebeater, and a kid in a baseball uniform. Like, to show that zombieism strikes equally across all demographics, when really it would probably be a group of people who were all in the same place at the same time. A common interest group. Like if Trader Joe’s were overrun and we’re all Hawaiian-shirted zombies.”
“Dude,” Cameron interrupted. “You want to give us some privacy, or you want to see me whip it out?” He turned around to grin at the guys, and then moved his face towards the zombie’s. “I don’t want to mess up your makeup. I just want a quick –”
“Cameron! No!” Kate screamed. She grabbed his arm and pulled. The zombie was biting him.
Cameron howled and fell back onto the floor, holding his hand to his mouth. Blood seeped between his fingers.
“Na funny,” Cameron said. “I don’t haf healf insuran’. You are hepin’ me wif da bill fo dis.”
“Cam, are you okay?” Kate asked. She knelt.
Cameron took his hand away from his mouth. Part of his lower lip was missing.
In the silence, Kate said, “I told you guys. This isn’t a fucking joke.”
The zombie in the bed was chewing. Michael took a step back, and then another. The rest of it he could believe as a joke, a joke that got steadily sicker, but not this. Cameron would have had to have been in on it, and he wasn’t this good of an actor. Michael closed his eyes and opened them. Reality hadn’t changed.
“Why didn’t you tell us this was a real zombie?” Henry asked.
“I tried!” Kate said.
Sam bolted from the room, and shut himself in the bathroom. The door didn’t block the sound of his retching.
Kate picked up the open bottle of wine from her desk, and took a sip. “We’d better clean you up, Cam,” she said tonelessly. “If there’s any hard alcohol left, will someone get it?”
The bedroom door opened. Audrey and Natalie came in, each carrying tumblers of a mostly clear liquid. The ice had been used up hours ago.
“Oh, my God. Cammy, what happened to you?” Audrey went to him, raised her hand to his face, but didn’t touch him.
“We have to smash her head,” Henry said. “That’s the only way.”
“No,” Kate said. “Jamie wasn’t hurting anyone until we got close. That’s her name, Jamie. If Cameron had treated her with respect, none of this would have happened.”
“What’s going on?” Audrey asked. “Cammy, what did you do? Kate, um, why is your friend tied to your bed? And what’s with the makeup?”
Jamie licked the blood from her lips and chin.
Cameron pointed at Jamie. He looked scared.
“I need to get some gauze.” Kate left the room. “You explain,” she said to Michael as she passed.
“I don’t know if we should hang out in here,” Michael said. Jamie was moaning.
“We shouldn’t,” Henry said. “But Cameron’s infected now.”
“We don’ know dat fo’ sho’,” Cameron said.
“We should get you to a hospital,” Michael said. “Who’s sober enough to drive?”
Henry shrugged. Natalie and Audrey both shook their heads, looking worried.
“Damn,” Michael said. Cameron didn’t want to go to the hospital, anyway. Michael was reminded of their friend Rich telling him about how he’d had a bone spur in his foot, and had smashed it against the pavement in order to fix it. Rich hadn’t had health insurance, either.
Kate came back into the room. She held a fresh bottle of Jack. Michael was glad that someone was thinking straight. It must be the Xanax. She pressed gauze over Cameron’s mouth. He fainted.
“We need to wash this out,” Kate said. “We have to get him into the shower, and Sam’s in the bathroom. Michael, we have to use yours. Henry, hold this.” She handed him the bottle. Kate put her hands under Cameron’s armpits and started dragging him across the carpet. Cameron moaned softly. He was bleeding everywhere; the carpet would be ruined. A small, distant part of Michael observed that this would wipe out the security deposit.
Jamie let out a low moan as the group left the room. Henry shut the door behind them.
“Shouldn’t we, like, tie him up or something?” Henry said. “Isn’t he going to turn into a zombie now?”
“What the hell’s going on?” Natalie asked. She was pale.
“Your boy here done got himself bitten, and we’re trying to clean him up,” Michael said. He suspected, nauseatingly, that Henry was right; they should tie Cameron up. He picked up Cameron’s ankles and helped Kate move him. They maneuvered his head and shoulders into the shower. Kate took the bottle from Henry, and uncapped it. “Alcohol’s an antiseptic,” she explained. She poured the booze over the side of Cameron’s face. “I’m sorry, Cameron,” she said softly.
Cameron cried out, coughing and spitting. His eyes opened. “Ah, fuck, fuck,” he gurgled.
“You OK?” Michael asked. “Dude?”
“Ow,” Cameron said. He reached up to wipe his face. His eyes were watering. “Dat fucking hurts.”
“I’m sorry, Cam, I had to. Here, try sitting up. Michael, a towel?” A mixture of blood and booze was dripping down Cameron’s shirt, coloring the white fabric.
Michael handed her a hand towel from the rack. Cameron sat, leaning against the tile wall of the bathroom. Kate applied the towel to his lip. He flinched.
“You’re going to be OK,” she said. “Faces and heads bleed a lot. And there’s a lot of germs in the human mouth. I just wanted to make sure it was disinfected. I know it stings.”
“Fuck,” Cameron said.
“Here, use this.” Audrey leaned over them, holding out a bag of frozen peas. “Stop the bleeding, at least.”
Kate took it, wrapping it in the towel and applying it to Cameron’s face. She seemed so calm; like she knew what she was doing. She was glowing with sweat, a smear of blood on her cheek. It was disturbing, how attractive she was.
“I don’ feel so good,” Cameron said. He sounded spacey, and he still wasn’t pronouncing consonants very well. The frozen peas on his face probably weren’t helping.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” Michael asked. “I can call for an ambulance. Just give me the word. There’s a fire station a few blocks away. They’ll be here fast.”
“Naw, dude. Gimme a minute.”
“We shouldn’t have let you climb on top of her,” Michael said softly. “It wasn’t cool.”
“See, the bleeding’s slowing down,” Kate said. “Let’s just call you an ambulance, and get you taken care of. I’ll go with you. It’s going to be fine.”
“No way,” Cameron said. He took a breath, let it out slowly. “Ah,” he said. His voice was deep. He looked at Kate, his eyes wet. “Momma,” he whispered. “Somefing’s happening.”
Kate recoiled. She didn’t scream. She dropped the frozen peas, but managed to hold onto the towel. She gripped both ends of it, pushing the middle into Cameron’s mouth.
“Shit, shit, shit. No,” Kate said. “Cameron. Say something. Stay with me.”
“Uhh,” he said into the towel.
Cameron’s eyes had gone white. He pushed his head towards Kate. She held the towel in his mouth. He reached both hands towards her face.
“Michael, help,” Kate said. “Rope. Something.”
Michael moved as fast as he could. He grabbed a length of rope from a drawer just outside the bathroom. “Natalie,” he called. “Help me get his hands.”
Natalie shook her head, backing away.
“Michael, hurry. Please.” The matter-of-factness in Kate’s voice nearly undid him. Cameron was touching her cheek. Michael was panicking. He tied one of Cameron’s hands to the shower door.
“Fuck,” Michael said.
“Ulh,” Kate said. Cameron had a grip on her throat with his free hand. He was trying to pull her closer. She held tight to the towel covering his mouth, trying to keep him at a distance.
“Can we get some fucking help here? I need to get his other hand.” Michael shouted. He looked to his friends. They stood in the doorway, wearing identical expressions of bewilderment and fear.
Audrey seemed to snap out of her trance. “Hey, Cameron, come here,” she said. She moved into the bathroom, waving her hand. “Cameron, babe, look at me.”
Kate’s face started turning red.
Audrey switched her whip, hitting herself in the ear. “Fuck,” she said. She lashed the whip, making it snap.
Cameron looked at her. “Fuck,” he said, through the towel. He let go of Kate and reached towards Audrey. Blood ran down his chin.
Kate fell back onto the floor, coughing and breathing hard. Cameron spat out the towel and smiled at Audrey. Michael hoped like hell that Audrey was going to keep distracting Cameron. He heard the whip snap.
“Look at me, Cam,” Audrey cooed. She stayed outside of his reach. He strained towards her.
Michael tied a length of rope to the shower door and made a clove hitch. Now he just had to get Cameron’s hand inside it. He took a breath, then lunged. Grabbed Cameron’s hand. Secured it next to the hand he’d already tied.
Michael backed away, pulling Kate and Audrey with him. Cameron’s skin was turning gray. His teeth clicked together.
Cameron had been right: something was happening.
Kate coughed and spat. “Gag,” she said.
“Seriously,” Michael said. “You OK? He looked like he really had you.” They stood in the hallway, catching their breath.
“I meant,” Kate said, “gag him. I know you’ve got something we can use.”
Michael understood. “Not really. My gear is mostly blindfolds, feathers, and shit I got from the pet store. All the good stuff is expensive.” There were online catalogs full of it. Leather and metal. Gags and hoods and cuffs and rope. That’s what you really needed when the zombies came.
Cameron’s tongue protruded from his mouth, licking at the air.
“Plus I’m not touching him again,” Michael said. He didn’t realize he’d spoken until he heard it.
Michael shut the bathroom door, leaving the light on for Cameron. It seemed like the least he could do. It was a pity that the bathroom door didn’t lock from the outside. “Fuck,” he said. “I need to sit down.” He could see haloes of light around people and objects. He moved to the living room, and his friends followed.
“What happened in there?” Audrey said.
“You ever seen Night of the Living Dead?” Michael asked.
“But you know what zombies are, right?”
“You’re not saying what I think you’re saying,” she said. “Because we’re all high. This has to be a joke.” She giggled, as if to prove it.
They walked past Kate’s closed bedroom door. No one said anything.
“What do we do now?” Natalie asked.
“I’m going to sit,” Audrey said. There was the sound of couches sighing.
Michael went into the kitchen. Kate followed him. They washed the blood from their hands with dish soap. The sink was full of plates.
“Dude, how do you work your TV?” Natalie called. “We gotta check the news.”
“Universal remote on the coffee table,” he said. He looked to Kate. She seemed small, after all of this. “Your cheek,” he said softly, pointing to his own face.
Kate wiped at the wrong side.
“No, I mean this side.” He raised his voice over the sound of the TV. “Like a mirror.” He hadn’t intended to touch her, but there was his hand, grazing her cheek. Her wet skin under his. His hand stayed there, longer than he had any right to. She didn’t push him away. They’d shared something in that bathroom. Now everything would change. The world was broken, and they were going to have to try and put it back together. He leaned over to kiss her. She stepped towards him, opening her arms and turning her face away. He put his arms around her, startled by how thin she was. He could feel the outline of her spine and ribs. Her shirt was still inside out. He wanted to pick her up and carry her away. He settled for kissing her neck.
She pushed him away. “What was that about?” She dried her hands on her jeans. The blood was still on her cheek, smeared now.
He shrugged, unable to explain. She’d held him close. He picked up a dishtowel and offered it to her. “Your cheek.”
She wetted it under the tap, and brushed at her face. She looked as tired as he felt. “You didn’t gag him,” she said.
“The ropes will hold.”
“You should have gagged him.”
“Why? What do you know that you’re not telling me?”
She shook her head, moving away.
He was ashamed that he’d raised his voice. “Sorry, Kate, I’m just… I don’t know what to do. Let’s go check out the news.” He went into the living room, as much to get away from her as to get to the TV.
The space was large, as living rooms went, with three couches in a U shape facing the TV. Two of the walls were entirely windows, which he normally loved about the house. The view of the blossoms on the plum tree outside had been what had convinced him when he had been looking for a place to rent, though it cost more than he’d intended. Now the expanse of windows seemed like a dangerous oversight. There was no way to board them up, even if he had any wood. The plum-tree side of the house didn’t matter, because you needed a ladder to access those windows from the outside, but the other wall had a deck built right outside. He locked the sliding glass door and turned on the outside lights, half-expecting to see a crowd of the living dead standing there. The deck was empty, save for the picnic table. He thought about bringing it inside, using it to barricade the windows. That would probably be overreacting. The zombies were inside the house, anyway.
He sat down and took the remote from Henry, who’d been watching a music video with a few guys in sunglasses and a dance floor full of quivering booty. Michael looked at his friends for their reaction. They looked dazed. Sam was gone.
“Did Sam leave?” he asked.
Audrey looked around. “I guess so. Didn’t say goodbye. He could have offered me a ride.”
“Well, I guess we’ve got enough, then,” Michael said. He dug into his pocket, feeling bad about how he’d told Kate that he didn’t have any more pills. “Xanax, anyone?”
His friends held out their hands, and he distributed the pills. “This is the body of Christ,” he said. He took the last one for himself, swallowing it dry.
“What do we do?” Henry asked, chewing his pill. “Are they safe?”
“They’re tied up,” Kate said. She swallowed her pill with a swig of wine. “They’re safe enough. Now I’m worried about what might be wandering the streets out there.” She sat down next to Michael, her thigh brushing his in a distracting way.
Michael remembered the remote in his hand. “If you guys know anything about zombies, you know that this won’t be an isolated case. We should check the news.” CNN had a story about a poodle show. NBC had some heads talking politics. He flipped through channels. Commercials, Top Chef, a rerun of a lousy episode of Saturday Night Live, and a black and white documentary about Hollywood at the end of World War II on PBS. Nothing about zombies.
“Jesus,” Michael said. He closed his eyes. The room spun. There were too many things that didn’t make sense. He looked at Kate. She bit her lip. He moved his thigh towards hers. She didn’t move away. His head was starting to hurt, and he couldn’t bring himself to believe that they’d hallucinated everything. Touch was the only thing that made any sense.
“Night of the Loving Dead,” Kate said.
“What?” He was sure that’s what she’d said. No way was there a zombie movie with that title. He’d have heard of it. He imagined a romantic comedy. Two girls are in bed, and one turns into a zombie, then a guy tries to fuck her and he turns into a zombie. Everything would end well, somehow. Either that or it was porn, and everything always ended well in porn. Maybe they could Netflix it.
“The Romero one?” Kate elbowed Michael. “Night of the Living Dead?”
Now he was sure he’d heard her correctly. He was disappointed. That one ended badly; zombie movies always did. If anyone survived, they did it by losing the very things that made them human. He got up and put on the DVD.
Michael sat next to Kate, leaning his knee against hers.
“Is this really what we’re doing?” he said softly into her hair.
“What are we supposed to do?” Kate whispered back.
“We’re all going to die, like this. The zombies are going to get us.” He inhaled. She smelled of smoke, and sweat, and fear. And shampoo.
“Oh, God,” Kate said. She put her head on his shoulder. “We deserve it, don’t we.” It wasn’t a question.
“No. That’s not what zombie stories are about.” He put his arm around her. He waited for the movie to get underway. He fingered her hair. She’d never let him do that before.
“What the hell are we doing?” Audrey asked. She’d spent the last few minutes holding her head in her hands. She sat up straight now. “Why aren’t we helping him?”
“It’ll show up on the news soon,” Michael said. “We can’t be holding onto Patients Zero and One here. It’s only a matter of time. If we go to the hospital it’ll be like the Day of the Dead scene when everyone is turning into zombies. Or, worse, the CDC, or FDA, or whoever, will quarantine the lot of us. Imprison us and run tests. Who knows if this is transmitted by contact, or by blood, as well as by bite?”
“Or even through the air,” Kate said. “And that movie was terrible. Plus the Food and Drug Administration won’t have anything to do with zombies.”
“We have to do something,” Audrey said.
“Right. Absolutely,” Michael said. “What do you propose?”
“Well, I’m calling an ambulance,” Audrey said.
“That’s five hundred dollars right there,” Henry said.
“Then we can take him ourselves, both of them,” Audrey said, but there was doubt in her voice now.
The group was quiet. On the screen, the young woman ran through the cemetery.
“OK,” Michael said. “All those in favor of trying to wrestle our friends into a car and avoid getting bitten while we take them to the hospital, also dealing with whatever other zombies are out there wandering around, please raise your hands.”
No one did.
“We could call the cops,” Audrey said.
“I tell you what,” Henry said. “If it were just a little thing, like his bits were burning, he can go to a doctor and pay a couple hundred to get himself sorted out, but for something like this, he wouldn’t get out of the hospital for less than a million dollars. That’s if they don’t just cut him up for sport. I mean, research.”
“Oh.” Audrey said. “What do you want to do, then?”
“Fuck if I know,” Henry said. “At least now, they’re still in one piece.”
“Michael?” Audrey turned to him.
“Sober up until we can think straight? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m sorry. Excuse me while I lock the doors and windows.” Michael stood. He wished someone had a better idea. The way things were, it seemed like the zombies would be safe, for a while. Secure. He wouldn’t fall asleep, not with them there. In a few hours, he’d be able to make a better decision.
Kate interrupted. “Hey, does anyone else think that scene in Living Dead, where the white girl slaps the black guy, and he clean knocks her out and then lays her on the couch and undoes the buttons on her jacket — does anyone else think that scene is hot?”
“Racist,” Audrey said.
“Liberal,” Henry said, in the same tone.
Michael was stunned. It was the sexiest thing anyone had said in a long while. Deliberately provocative. And a total non-sequitur. It took his mind off of their zombie problem for a blessed moment.
“It was 1968,” Kate said. “You know, the same year as the first interracial kiss in Star Trek. Don’t you get it? They were trying to push buttons. But, no, what I meant is the tension between them. It’s almost romantic. She’s going nuts, and he’s trying to hold them both together and keep the zombies at bay—”
“Shh,” Natalie said. There was a zombie on the screen.
“I’m going to shower.” She stood as Michael sat. He watched Kate walk, wanting to follow her. She obviously had more to say. Michael found it engaging, more so than the movie, which most of them had seen. It sounded a little like the third-wave feminism stuff she’d been talking about from one of her community college classes. He wouldn’t have known what third-wave feminism theory was without her; at first he thought she’d said third-rate feminism, which just sounded mean. Still, he couldn’t very well follow her into the shower. He imagined it for a while as the movie played. After they’d soaped one another, he’d lay her on her back in the tub, warm water falling over both of them. He focused on little things; things he’d done with girls in showers, and things he’d like to do. Her hand tight in his hair. The way the shower washed away a woman’s taste, so that you had to put your tongue inside to find it. Her hips lifting. The way she’d be unsteady on her feet, after. Leaning on him and smiling that precious satisfied smile which always went away after a minute, as if she was embarrassed. He’d go down on Kate until both of them were pruney and the hot water ran out, if she’d let him. Trace the alphabet, over and over. Whatever she liked. His fantasies always centered on a girl’s orgasm. He’d heard of women who could imagine their way to orgasm, literally no-handed. He wondered what they fantasized about: whether they thought about someone touching them, or if, like him, they thought about giving someone else pleasure.
A moan came from deeper inside the house. Henry took the remote from the table and turned up the volume. Michael was facing the movie but he wasn’t paying attention. Images registered like patterns in clouds, and then disappeared. He found himself thinking of how much smarter than him Kate was. It shamed him. They both read books, and watched movies, and listened to music, and had conversations about culture and how well it was doing whatever it was that it was supposed to do. But Kate was probably brighter, and definitely more studious than he was. She actually talked about going to college full-time, whereas he hadn’t managed to take a single class since high school. Maybe he just needed a study buddy. If they took classes together, that would get him on track.
Kate came back, her hair wrapped in a towel, wearing SpongeBob-printed pajama pants and a white T-shirt. She smelled edible. Lemony. She sat next to Michael, and he had a hard time not leaning over and putting some part of her in his mouth. He’d teased himself rigid, thinking about her. She dropped the towel on the floor. Normally that would bother him. He supposed that if there were zombies in the house, one wet towel on the carpet didn’t matter.
“All’s quiet,” she said. “For whatever that’s worth.” She rested her head on his shoulder. There was such trust in that gesture. He decided that would be enough for him. They could take things slowly. She relaxed against him. A moment later, he worked a hand under her shirt. Up, over her belly, the skin soft. She wasn’t wearing a bra. She tensed, and he slowed down. Ran his fingertips over her collarbone, down the center of her chest. Back up. He circled around her breasts. By the time he had a nipple in his fingers, it was hard. He put his tongue in her ear, enjoying her struggle to stay quiet, not caring if anyone was awake to see them. She pulled away from him, sitting up, then leaned back, unfolding a blanket over herself. She slipped a hand inside her pajama pants. He kissed her neck, surprised and pleased and a little jealous. He put an arm around her, so that he had access to both of her nipples under the blanket. She shuddered, and then her breathing became calm. He knew enough to let go. He put his nose in her hair, his hands wrapping around her waist.
If anyone had been watching, they had the decency to pretend to be asleep. The room was quiet, save for the movie and the regular breathing. Kate disentangled herself and went into the kitchen. She didn’t turn on the light. The faucet ran for a while, like she was washing her hands. He’d never been with a woman who did for herself. It was sexy, how unabashedly in control she was of her own desire. He wanted to take her to bed, but he didn’t want to frighten her off. Never mind the zombie in his bathroom.
She came back with two glasses of water. She held one out, and he took it. He found that he was thirsty. She was silent. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking, if her expression indicated lust, or shame, or worry. Some combination. Something else entirely. He patted the couch next to him, wanting her to be near him. He ached for her to touch him. She hesitated, then sat. Two empty glasses were set onto the coffee table. She put her arm around him and leaned into him.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “That was really inappropriate of me. First you catch me in flagrante lesbiano, or maybe it should be lesbiana. And now,” she put her fingers in his hair, tightened them. “You’ll think I’m such a —,” she didn’t finish.
He touched her cheek. “I started it. We both need to remember that we’re alive. And you’re not a —” He pulled her face towards his. She dodged his mouth, biting his ear gently. Her hair was wet against his cheek. He could feel her chest moving with her breathing, and all of the words she wasn’t saying.
Impulsively, he took her hand and brought it to his crotch. He flexed, wanting her to know the effect she had on him. It was painful, how much he wanted her. She fingered his bulge, then lowered her head to his lap, inhaling. He gripped the couch so as not to grab at her, willing himself to hold still. She pulled away, her hand closing on his arm with surprising force.
“I can’t do this,” she said. She let go. “We should check the news.” It was as if she’d turned on a light.
He realized that the movie was over. The introduction music had been looping. Kate found the remote and flicked through the channels. Nothing. Weather and sports. She sat at a distance from him now. Michael waited for his erection to go away. It didn’t. He could feel the beginnings of a hangover. He closed his eyes. At least his head wasn’t spinning any more. He stood, sick of it, sick of the tension between him and Kate. He went to the hall bathroom and closed the door. The mirror was opaque from the shower steam. The temperature in the room was slightly warmer than the living room. It made what he did easier. He came into a handful of toilet paper, then flushed it. He washed his hands, watching as if someone else was doing it.
Kate had put on Shaun of the Dead. She was lying on the couch, asleep. He worked up the nerve to join her, taking the side closer to the floor so that he’d be the one to fall off if she pushed him. She stirred as he slipped under the blanket. She wrapped a sleep-heavy arm around him.
He held her hand to his chest, not sure what he was supposed to be feeling. There was the emptiness that he got after masturbating, and the warm and real closeness of her. The way she’d arched her back when he had her nipples in his fingers. He listened to the movie for a few minutes. It made him think about zombies. He didn’t know how to feel about them, either.
“You know, I think we’re going to die,” he said.
She tightened her fingers in his shirt, but didn’t say anything.
Come back next week, Monday March 15, for Chapter 5: bookmark the direct link to the online serial of The Loving Dead, or subscribe via RSS.