by Brianna Ferguson
On the very day he met Jenny, Sam’s penis fell off. For weeks, it had been hanging by a thread of rotting zombie flesh, but he hadn’t found the courage to yank it the rest of the way off. After twenty-eight years of roadside pissing and clumsy fucking, (and then another eight years of zombified rotting), he just couldn’t bring himself to part with it. When the seam had first appeared, and it became clear that the digit was going to inevitably detach, he didn’t eat a single brain for close to a month. It was all just too much. Up to that point it had seemed that everything could still be reversed, no matter how bad things had gotten. Sure, his left eye had clouded over and the occasional maggot could be seen wriggling behind his pupil, and sure, his right hand had broken and now the last three fingers poked incessantly up at him in the wrong direction, but that was all fine. People lived long, healthy lives with far worse.
But this...there was just no going back from this one. He almost wished the last remaining scientists would never find a cure, and he and those like himself could go on living in peace without being forced to mourn their missing bits.
But he knew they’d made all kinds of recent advancements in the field of reverse-zombification. He’d seen the flyers posted to stop signs and telephone poles by the few remaining free-range humans in the area. He knew they were going to announce the cure soon. It was only a matter of time.
Soon, in place of flyers, there would be milk crates full of ready-to-inject needles for any zombies still cognizant enough to recognize what they were and fumble their way through the self-inoculation. Sure, many would die as soon as they came back to life—having no way of knowing just how deteriorated they truly were on the inside—but many would not. Many would straighten up and look around with newly-widened eyes at what had become of their world. They would hitch up their sagging, moldy jeans, walk into the nearest supermarket, crack open some canned goods and set to re-establishing themselves among the living.
Some would be battered, but otherwise good. Some would be barely touched at all. And some, like Sam, would be minus a key piece or two that could have made the whole thing worthwhile...
If his tear ducts hadn’t been full of hatching maggot eggs, Sam would have cried. Instead, he shuffled down Main Street, howling up at the broken buildings and trying not to think about his penis sitting in a clump at the base of his pant leg. He could feel it scraping against his shin with every step he took. It was caught on the tongue of his moldy skate shoe and couldn’t seem to find its way out. He wanted to bend down and pull it out, but he wasn’t entirely sure his back wouldn’t break from the effort—and honestly, he just couldn’t take any more losses today.
Shuffling along as he was, headed downtown for no particular reason, Sam let his mind wander, as it usually did, back to the life he’d had before the illness. (He liked to refer to it in his mind as “the illness,” as it sounded so much more temporary and treatable than the festering death sentence it actually was.)
He thought about the day he’d started to feel kind of sick and hot and oddly hungry for the contents of his colleague’s heads. At the time, he hadn’t had a name for it. No one had been diagnosed yet. There’d been rumors of something strange happening to some of the homeless folks in Vancouver who’d suddenly started growling and trying to bite and spit on pedestrians, but most people had chalked their behavior up to hallucinogens and left it at that.
But in the weeks to come, when more and more people with jobs and houses were arrested for biting and spitting on their friends and family, the story was picked up by every major news source in the world. And then the panic started to spread. Soon it seemed that everybody was biting and spitting on everybody and no one could figure out why. Until people’s hearts stopped beating, but they kept right on biting and spitting. By that time it was clear what was going on, but it was far, far too late.
In the last television broadcast he ever saw, Sam was treated to footage of an apocalyptic Prime Minister Trudeau warning everyone to stick together before yanking an intern on-camera and making a meal of her forehead. After that, everything fell apart.
By the look of the sun it was around five o’clock when Sam arrived downtown. He was always mildly surprised at how long it could take him to shuffle from one place to another. But then, without work or school or groceries to worry about anymore, time really wasn’t much of an issue. Apart from eating the brains out of occasional passers-by, getting from one place to another was really the only thing Sam had to do.
Picking clumsily through the stranded vehicles and piles of uncollected garbage bags, Sam made his way to the fountain at the center of town.
A shabby version of the Parisian Fontaines de la Concorde, the fountain was generally a destination for only the very laziest of tourists, but Sam liked it. He liked to sit on the edge of it and look around at all the quiet destruction of the town. He liked to listen to the gurgling guts of the fountain still trying to pump water over the relief carvings of young, naked, French warriors. It made him feel like Life still had a chance at coming back—perhaps only a shade of what it had once been, but Life just the same.
Today, though, he was not alone in his desire to sit by the fountain. He could see as he rounded the last bend that there were already thirty or forty zombies waiting in a haphazard line for something that was going on inside a hastily-erected tent situated to the left of the fountain. The usual grunting and shuffling sounds that always accompanied zombies rang out in the otherwise quiet square, making Sam roll his eyes up into his broken head. Couldn’t they shut up even one time? Did they really have to stand there moaning and creaking away like some black and white B Movie? How much more cliché could you possibly get?
Prodding at his left eye until it rolled back into position, Sam shambled as quietly as he could over to the zombie queue, hoping against hope that his severed penis wouldn’t take the opportunity to slide out of his pants in front of his peers.
The zombie at the back of the line looked up when Sam took his place behind him. Whoever the zombie had been before all the madness took place, Sam didn’t know. But judging from the zombie’s tattered white shirt and black slacks, Sam guessed he’d been a lawyer.
The tufts of hair that still clung to the zombie’s head were smooth and brown and well-coiffed. On the zombie’s bony wrist, dangling loosely along with the detached flesh and tendons, was a handsome watch that must have cost one pretty penny back in the day.
Sam nodded to the zombie, but the zombie just stared back at him as if he were of no consequence whatsoever.
“Fuck you, too,” Sam said, raising his soggy hands to chin-level in case the snobbish zombie decided to take a swing at him.
But the zombie just went right on staring as if Sam hadn’t said a thing.
Sam lowered his arms and shuffled his feet.
“What are you all waiting for here?” he asked, as crisply as he could.
The zombie turned towards the tent, grunting and pointing.
“Yeah, I see that. But I’m curious what’s going on inside the tent,” Sam said, surprised and pleased that he could still form words so well, despite a bit of a clicking sound in his jaw.
The zombie checked his watch and turned away without answering.
“Right. Thanks,” Sam said, stepping forward with the rest of the line as the zombie at the front disappeared through the plastic curtain door leading into the tent. Sam was sure he saw a white gloved hand reach outside and usher the zombie in, but he didn’t know what that meant, or what to do about it. So, he did nothing. Soon it would be his turn, anyways, and he would learn all there was to learn of the mysterious tent, which was clearly run by a few humans holding onto the last vestiges of order.
The sun had disappeared from the square by the time Sam reached the front of the line. By now he was certain that something medical was going on inside the tent—something that hurt, given the screams and bellows he’d heard pouring out of the curtain door. Despite the ruckus, he hadn’t been able to think of a reason to leave his place in the queue. Whatever it was that was causing such commotion, it couldn’t be much worse than another sleepless night spent wandering the streets, sniffing out brains to drop into his leaky sieve of a stomach.
When the gloved hands he’d seen before finally reached out for him, he let himself be taken inside without a fuss. He couldn’t make out the face of the person inside the Hazmat get-up, but then he wasn’t particularly interested in their identity. It was what they were doing with the slack-jawed locals that interested him. Besides, if it turned out to be something that didn’t pertain to him, he could always come back and eat the person’s brains later on. He always preferred to eat the brains of strangers. Even as a mindless zombie, he struggled with the notion of anyone he knew having to suffer.
The Hazmat suit guided Sam through another curtain door, past two men in military fatigues holding guns that looked more than capable of cutting off every last zombie penis in a ten-mile radius. Sam bit a tiny piece of his lip off in vexation as he prayed that now, of all times, his penis wouldn’t fall out before two such virile figures.
The room beyond the second set of curtains was filled with a stainless-steel table, a Rubbermaid bin full of needles, and a young woman with straight red hair and a large, welcoming smile.
“Good evening, sir. I’m Doctor Jenny Miller,” she said, extending her hand towards Sam.
Sam gulped and extended his hand to meet hers.
“P—pleasure to meet you, Dr. Miller,” he said, thankful as hell that his words came out alright.
“Goodness,” Jenny said, shaking his fetid hand with her cleanly-gloved one. “You speak awfully well for a zombified-person, if I may be so bold.”
“You may,” Sam said, shaking her hand back as firmly as he could with three fingers facing the wrong direction.
Jenny took her hand back and looked at the bin.
“Do you know what these are?” she asked, laying a hand on the lid.
“I believe so, yes.”
“And what are they?”
“They’re needles,” Sam said, quickly adding “full of The Cure,” before Jenny could shake her head in disappointment at his zombie brain.
“That is correct,” she said, licking her lips, which were very red and whole. “Would you like to receive it?” she asked, looking him square in the eye and clearly trying not to be disgusted.
“Will it kill me?” he asked.
“Well...it’s hard to say. Have you been ill long?”
“Oh yes...” Sam said, oddly proud. “I was in Vancouver.”
“Oh my,” Jenny said, her hand flying quickly to her mouth. “Ground Zero.”
“Mr. Samuels, I’m afraid that is an awfully long time to be a zombie—I mean, to be infected...”
“Yes,” Sam said, nodding his head and staring gravely at the floor.
“I’m afraid the odds that your brain is still intact are very, very slim.”
“Yes, no doubt.”
“If I were to administer this cure to you right now, it would almost certainly restart the heart of an otherwise very decayed body, which would lead to a kind of combustion we call Zombustion.”
“Almost certainly,” Sam said, absently scratching the foggy surface of his bad eye.
Jenny leaned across the table between them and rested her hand on Sam’s shoulder.
“Do you…want me to give it to you anyways?”
Sam staggered backwards slightly—from his rotting knees, or her gentle touch, or both.
“The shot, Mr. Samuels, do you want me to give you the shot?”
“Samuel is my first name.”
“Oh goodness! Please forgive me,” Jenny said, laying her hand over Sam’s as she turned a very attractive shade of pink.
Somewhere deep in the confines of Sam’s right pant leg, he felt a twitch.
“I understand if this is too big of a decision to make so suddenly.”
“It’s not that. Of course I want to be human again.”
“I want to eat food and feel the sun on my skin.”
“I want to settle down in a beautiful home with a beautiful wife and a big, sunny yard filled with laughing children.”
“Well, in all likelihood...I mean the sperm need to be kept at such and such a temperature...and even if the procedure...”
“I’m not saying, Dr. Miller, that I actually believe such a thing is a possibility for me.”
Jenny cocked her head and stared into Sam’s eyes. His skin may have been rotting off, and he may have smelled like a rendering plant, but there was something undeniably attractive about him. It might have been the sad, quiet look in his good eye. Or it might have been that he still had a full head of hair (which was, admittedly, humming with lice—although he held himself so nobly she hardly noticed). She realized she could kiss him if she wanted to—just to give him a nice send-off—and he wouldn’t resist her. She didn’t have to get any of him inside her...she could keep her lips closed nice and tight…
Sam stared back, realizing the same thing.
“If you...ummm…” he began, spluttering. “If you wanted to KIMMEE”
“I’m sorry, if I what?” Jenny asked, blinking attractively.
“I sorrah,” Sam slurred. “Id sees ny jaw’s falla oth.”
Jenny realized what was the matter just as Sam’s bitten lip swung loose and fell to the table along with half his lower jaw.
“It’s quite alright.”
“I belee, I wi tay da cyuhh.”
Sam pointed at the needles.
“Oh yes. Of course,” Jenny said, prying the lid off and extracting a single needle with her slender fingers.
“Wi id hurr?” Sam asked as a single maggot crawled out of his tear duct and fell onto the table. Jenny pretended not to notice.
“I’m afraid it will hurt.”
“Ca you uh...” Sam gestured at the men with guns standing outside. Then he pointed at his head.
Jenny smiled sadly.
Sam nodded, extending his arm shakily towards her.
“Plee...make i quick.”
Jenny took his arm, a single tear falling to join the wriggling maggot on the stainless steel.
“I promise, Sam.”
She looked deep into his eyes.
“It was lovely to have met you.”
“Liewithe,” Sam grunted.
The needle pierced his arm, tearing through vein and muscle as if they weren’t even there.
They waited on baited (and nonexistent) breath, but nothing happened.
Jenny frowned. She pulled another needle from the bin and plunged it into Sam’s arm so vigorously that it poked through the other side. But still, nothing happened.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” Jenny said with tears in her lovely green eyes. “I believe your heart’s just too far gone to come back.”
Sam nodded, secretly relieved.
“S’awrigh” he said, taking a step back and nodding to the men outside. “Day gonna ki me now?”
Jenny followed his gaze and nodded, unable to look him in his glassy eyes.
“I’m afraid so. Yes. You pose too much of a risk to the remaining population.”
Sam nodded and tugged distractedly at his pant leg, lifting it just high enough for his penis to dislodge from his shoe and tumble onto the floor.
Jenny perked up.
“What was that?”
“Your what?” Jenny asked, raising herself up slightly to glance over the table.
Sam blinked, staring at her lively face.
Jenny blinked, staring at the maggoty digit on the floor.
Then they both burst out laughing. Jenny leaned on the table, gasping for air as tears streamed down her cheeks. Sam fell towards her, knocking a few teeth from his head as more and more maggots crawled out of his eyes and bounced down his cheeks.
One maggot bounced so hard that it flew right into Jenny’s gaping mouth.
Instantly, Jenny jumped back, as rigidly alert as the men standing outside. Her cheeks lost their luster and her eyes bulged. Having barely any lungs, Sam couldn’t suck in a shocked breath, but he tried, anyways.
And then the unmistakable sound of a heavy gulp filled the room.
Sam’s one remaining eyebrow shot up.
Jenny’s two intact eyebrows shot up in response.
“Wha...” Sam began. But Jenny just smiled and shrugged.
“Well…it won’t take long for me to cross over. I’ve seen some people take only seconds… What’s say we blow this popsicle stand and go get something to eat?” she asked, jutting her head towards the men outside.
Sam followed her gaze, a slow, quarter smile stretching across the remaining pieces of his mouth.
“Doh mine I do.”
Jenny stepped around the end of the table and slid her arm through Sam’s. Her gaze flicked briefly to the fleshy lump on the floor, then quickly back to Sam’s happy, cloudy eyes.
“Does it hurt—transitioning?” she asked softly.
Sam smiled and shook his head.
Jenny smiled back.
“Good,” she said. “I think I’m done with pain for a while.”
Brianna Ferguson earned her BA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in 2016. Her writing has appeared in The Minola Review, Polychrome Ink, Femmeuary, Mistake House, Effervescent, and the upcoming anthology, Another Place.