Here are the first three chapters of My Brother The Zombie (The Zombie Revolution: Book One). It’s available at Amazon for only 99 cents–just click
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“When Zombies Weren’t Cool”
My older brother was a zombie when zombies weren’t cool. He became a zombie like most people did in those early days of greater innocence: through the alien plague that the giant (for insects, anyway) six-foot-tall beetles known as the Blaxons from the (much-maligned in science fiction novels) Sirius galaxy brought with them. The Blaxons weren’t here on a mission of conquest or expansion; that was the damnedest thing about the whole miserable outcome of their arrival. They arrived on Earth on Christmas day on a mission of peace, unlike the Europeans who colonized the United States and infected the native population on purpose with smallpox-ridden blankets.
Peace & love, and good will to all men; that is the message they wanted to spread. Instead, they spread a virus that caused people who came into contact with it, like my brother Ben, to turn into zombies.
Ben didn’t die, or anything dramatic like that. He just happened to be one of the first people to greet the aliens who landed in the world’s major cities. Ben shook the hands of the emissary Blaxon Major Slycon Glunk in Chicago, Illinois, when my brother was on a band trip to play his melophone on Navy Pier. He was the only one, the “lucky” one, from our band to be chosen for the dubious honor. That one handshake was all it took. Of course, beetles don’t actually have hands, but you get the idea.
Then, later that night where they were staying at the Westside Clarion Hotel, Ben started to feel feverish. He had the sweats, and complained of stomach cramps. He doubled over from the pain, and Mrs. Jessica Irons, the band director, even considered taking him to the hospital, though Centralia High’s insurance would take a hit. Within the second hour, Ben’s fever broke, so Mrs. Irons changed her mind. His chills did away with his temporary fever.
Since the closest disease to Ben’s symptoms, to Mrs. Irons’s recollection, was malaria, but she knew that malaria had been eradicated in America, she told my brother:
“Maybe it’s just the stomach flu. Or, a mild case of the West Nile fever. Would you like me to notify your parents?”
“No, that’s alright,” my brother said, “I’m feeling really much better, and seem to be getting my appetite back.”
“Well, that’s good,” Mrs. Irons said. “Especially because tomorrow, there’ll be an all-you-can-eat breakfast downstairs. And, we’re going to Casa Juan Bufo’s TexMex restaurant for lunch, for a genuine taste of Old Mexico, and for supper, we’re having our meal catered here by Mama Mia’s Pizzaria. You don’t want to miss out on that.”
“Do you think I could get Casa Juan Bufo’s to make me fajitas with raw steak?” Ben asked. “I know it sounds kinda gross, but I likes my steak to moo!”
“Hmm…” Mrs. Irons pondered. “I suppose that could be arranged. I’ll have to check up on that later and let you know. I just wish you weren’t still looking pale, but I’m sure that will pass once you get some food in you.”
“Yes,” my brother said, not wanting to alarm the band director, and believing that the yummy food that was on the horizon would vanquish his hunger pains. “I can hardly wait to tear into a leg—er—chicken leg, that sounds good, or a breast, or a—um—breakfast burrito or two would be great”
“O-kay then,” said Mrs. Irons. “Well, we’re going to have another busy day tomorrow, so perhaps it would be best for you to get to bed now and rest up.”
And that’s exactly what Ben did, or at least, what he tried to do. He went to his room, which he shared with Franklin Stubbs, who played the trumpet.
“Dude, I thought you were going to start throwing up all over Mrs. Irons’ designer shoes or something,” Frank said. “Are you sure you’re feelin’ better? Your eyes are dilated and rolling around like pinballs. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have it be all like it’s ‘Game Over’ for you. I don’t want to sleep in the same room with a dead body. It wouldn’t be good for my image.”
“It’s like I told Mrs. Irons, Frank,” Ben said (or so he told me later), “I’m fine. It was just a, um, bug I must have contacted from the, um, giant bugs. Can you imagine if I started to turn into one, just like in that story by the Kafka guy?”
“Yeah, that’s the one! Denise would drop me like a hot rock if I began to grow feelers out of the top of my head, and mandibles!”
“Nah, dude, she’d probably get into it, and it’d be the newest cool trend at Centralia High. Any guy who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sprout feelers and mandibles would be an Untouchable!”Stubbs said.
And, maybe he was onto something, for whatever my brother did, it somehow ended up making him more popular and solidifying his role as the leader of the “Cool Brigade,” as they were called back then.
At the time all of this went down, I was fifteen, and a lowly sophomore, and my brother was seventeen and a senior, with the girls flocking to him as if he was the star football player. He always had a certain animal magnetism about him, but more about that, later. He was like the Alpha male lion at the top of the food chain, and I was like a groveling hyena to him, supposed to be more than satisfied with the scraps he left behind.
That night, the hunger was growing in Ben. However, his lusting after the flesh was not sexual in nature, but more like the craving for food that a bear awoken from hibernation feels. Unlike Yogi, though, no amount of picnic baskets would be able to satisfy his hunger, unless they were stocked with human body parts and brains. Even the host of That’s Bizarre, Anthony Zimmer, would probably turn up his nose at the sort of meal Ben was contemplating at that moment. So, he did the only wise thing he could think of doing: made up an excuse to put as much distance between himself and Frank as he could. The hotel maids’ lives were probably difficult enough without adding getting blood stains out of the carpet, the drapes, the bedspread, the everything, to their duties.
“Frank, man, feelin’ nauseous here—need to get some fresh air,” Ben said, heading towards the door. “I’ll be back soon, but don’t wait up or worry about me. I’m a big boy.”
“Dude, if whatever teacher who’s chosen to make the rounds notices you’re not here, you’re going to be in some big trouble,” Frank said.
“Yeah, well,” Ben said. “I guess he or she will just have to get over it. I won’t be gone too long. After all, I have to be rested for tomorrow’s list of scheduled activities and carb loading. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.”
“I’m not good at making up excuses,” Frank said. “I suppose I could say something like you’re downstairs in the Exercise Room, but if someone checks—“
“I’m outa here. Later, Frank!” my brother said, leaving the room.
Somehow, Ben made it outside without slaughtering anyone in cold blood. He considered that to be a great accomplishment in itself, taking into account the intense cravings he was experiencing. There were no cops he could see anywhere, though there was no telling if there were any surveillance cameras pointed his way.
Lake Michigan would be an ideal place to dispose of any bodies, Ben mused to himself. Then, he shook his head, and muttered: “What sort of crazy thoughts am I thinking? Disposing bodies of my victims in Lake Michigan? Who do I think I am, Al Capone? Or, perhaps Dexter, or some unholy combination of the two?”
Pondering about how foolish he felt, and the insane direction his thoughts were taking him into, did not do anything to alleviate his insatiable hunger pangs. Also, his muttering to himself did nothing to put the only other person on the sidewalk, a young woman who looked like she was in her early twenties, at ease.
Ben wasn’t paying attention to where he was, and was barreling down the sidewalk directly towards the woman. Startled, believing she was about to become the victim of a mugging (or worse), the young lady stepped off of the sidewalk and into the path of a speeding electric hybrid car. The driver, more concerned with reducing his carbon footprint and saving his own butt than the life and welfare of the woman he’d ran over, kept on going as if he had done nothing worse than running over a squirrel.
My brother was filled with righteous indignation, but he was more filled with hunger. He checked her pulse first—he’d learned that from when he was a Boy Scout—and, finding none, he thought: “What the hell. I may be a cannibal, or I may be turning into a—zombie—but at least I’m not a killer. Not yet, anyway. But I’m sure I don’t have much time—the police or paramedics may be here soon—so, I’d better dig in while I can. But, I need to be careful, also, not to get any blood on my clothes, and to try to make my bites look like they’re just a part of the damage the car must have caused. Not that anyone’s likely to jump to the conclusion that after having died, someone decided to then dine on this young lady.”
And, dine is what Ben did, wanting to bury his entire face into the woman’s body, and suck out her brains with a straw, but showing a careful restraint, ripping big gobs of flesh from her stomach and then moving to her face. Next time, he thought, I need to bring a lobster bib, or something similar. Then, the inevitable distant sirens came to his ears, and my brother became the second person to flee the scene of the unfortunate accident.
Next time? Ben thought. There I go again, thinking crazy thoughts.
“Dude, you’ve been gone like an hour,” Frank Stubbs said, “and the shower woke me up, and I then go into the bathroom to take a piss and the floor’s covered with your wet clothes, stinking to high heaven. What gives, bro?”
“That stench,” Ben said, “would be the smell of Lake Michigan. Not the most polluted of the Great Lakes, but if you jump into almost any lake with all of your clothes on, you won’t come out smelling like a daisy.”
“You went swimming in Lake Michigan? In April, when the water’s still cold, and in the middle of the night? What were you trying to do, wash off evidence of some grisly crime, or something?” Frank asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of what he’d just said.
“I happen to be a very health conscious sort of guy,” Ben answered, “who was feeling like he was about to throw up his toenails, and thought that a brisk swim in Lake Michigan might be just what the doctor ordered to clear my head and stop my urge to purge.”
“Too much information, bro,” Frank said.
“You’re the one who asked. I’ll gather up my clothes in the morning, and put them in my empty duffle bag that I brought along for my dirty clothes. The morning will be here before you know it, though, so right now, I’m going to get some sleep.”
“That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard you say all night. Maybe the swim in Lake Michigan really did clear your head.”
I didn’t really see my brother very much during that band trip. He was too busy with his own concerns, and I was busy with mine. Just an age difference of a couple of years can sometimes seem like an eternity, and can distance even close family members like brothers, especially once they hit their teen years. I suppose your brother becoming a zombie can do that, too, in some cases. Oddly enough, though, in some ways, Ben’s becoming a zombie brought us closer together. But, there were a few tough moments….
At home back in Centralia, Arkansas, everything was as it always had been. Mom and Dad suspected nothing, and I thought Ben had just been a little under the weather, and nothing more. Ben seemed like his usual self, though if we passed by the meat department in the supermarket, he liked to linger there in a rather creepy manner. Also, he had always liked his hamburgers and steaks medium well done, but when we returned, he insisted that they be barely browned at all. But, then again, Dad had always liked his steaks rare, and Mom sometimes ate raw hamburger meat, so they just thought that maybe his tastes were changing, and perhaps it was just a part of maturing into an adult.
They had no clue that it was really a part of transforming into a zombie.
Zombies, though, weren’t cool then. As I’ve mentioned, everything my brother did was cool, so even if they, or I, had some small inkling that Ben was exhibiting decidedly zombie-like tendencies (or, at the least, vampire-like ones), we probably figured that the changes had to be the result of anything else other than that he was becoming a full-fledged zombie. And, besides, didn’t zombies rise up out of graves? Weren’t they created by practitioners of voodoo, or hoodoo? Weren’t they mindless, shambling husks, more dead than living? And, didn’t they, like fish or relatives that have over-stayed their welcomes, begin to stink after a week’s time, max? And, zombies never, ever got the girls to fall all over them, though they did get them to sometimes trip and fall, the better to catch and eat.
There was no way, no how that my brother was becoming a zombie. You’d think that I, his own brother, his own flesh and blood, would know if he was undergoing such a drastic change before anyone else would, right? But, I didn’t even see it coming.
“Kyle,” Ben said later, “you probably didn’t see it coming because, well, being a zombie just wasn’t cool until I became one. It’s like the fad just wasn’t going to start, just wasn’t going to get off of the ground, until Fate gave me a big nudge and a wink, and said ‘You are a born trend-setter, lad. Zombies are the newest cool thang to set the world on fire, so a zombie you must become, even if it takes an alien peace-keeping mission gone horribly wrong to make you become one.’” And, who was I, I thought, to argue with such logic as that?
“Are you trying to tell me,” I asked, somewhat amused at the possibility, “that being a zombie is now suddenly cool? Is that what you’re asking me to swallow?”
“Well, after all,” Ben replied, “I’m a zombie, and I’m cool; ergo, now zombies are cool. I don’t really blame you—you just wouldn’t know what cool was even if it was a snake about to bite you.”
“A snake?” I said, stunned. “I believe I would know if there was a snake if front of me. It would be pretty obvious, wouldn’t it? It’d be either all coiled up, ready to strike, or it’d be slithering about on the floor, acting all snake-like—“
“Fine, Kyle,” Ben said. “so you know what a snake is. But, not what cool is, nor what sarcasm is—you’ve made that fairly apparent.”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” I said. “I probably know more about zombie factoids than anyone else I know, and I know that everyone knows that zombies are the living dead, and that they are only driven by hunger. It’s like an instinctual urge. They kind of lurk about, then BAM, they lunge at you when they get the chance. When they catch you, it’s pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition, unless they attack en masse, or a bunch of zombies have you surrounded. Then, you might as well just give up and face the inevitable fact that you’ll either become a zombie yourself, or get eaten. If that happens, then just your leftover bits and pieces will wiggle about, refusing to have the decency to lie still and accept death. Not a pleasant fate, and you, my brother, are not a zombie.”
“My brother, the idiot,” Ben said. “You may know most of the ways someone can become a zombie, and most of the so-called ‘facts’ about them. But, you know nothing about the type of zombie I am.”
“Oh?” I asked skeptically. “And what kind is that?”
“The kind created by alien-borne viruses, that’s what kind, idiota,” Ben said. “the kind I must have gotten when I shook hands with that Blaxon cockroach, or whatever sort of beetle he is, Major Slycon Glunk. So, you see, I am a zombie, whether you want to admit it or not. Still, I intend, my bro, to be the coolest zombie there ever was, so cool that everyone else will be wishing that they could be zombies, too. I’m going to change the entire world’s point of view about zombies.”
“What about the factoid that zombies are killing machines? Is that also untrue? What about them hungering for human flesh? Is that just the rumors people like Anderson Cooper tell the public on CNN?”
“Well, no,” Ben said, “those things are true. We’re scary fast and scary strong, and while the Blaxons never had any desire to take over the world, we do.”
“Instant Fame Made Easy”
Despite my brother’s claim, I didn’t believe him for a second. Oh, I believed he believed he was a zombie, but I was used to his jumping from one fad or hobby to another, throwing his whole body and soul into it, and then dropping whatever it was usually within the space of a week. That had to be the way it was with Ben’s belief that he was a zombie. And, he was just trying to mess with me, get a rise out of me, with that overly dramatic statement about zombies wanting to take over the world. Even if there were such things as zombies, I reasoned, and even if their goal was to take over the world, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Instant fame wasn’t that easy, no matter what my brother might say to the contrary.
One question I hadn’t asked my brother is what, or who, he was eating. It was a question I definitely wanted to know the answer to, yet also definitely didn’t want to know the answer to, if you know what I mean. Other such questions included: If he was a zombie, who were his helpless victims? Did they suffer much? How many people has my big brother killed so far to satisfy his bizarre hunger, if he really was a zombie? Were the police hot on his trail, and did the tell-tale chain of evidence lead directly to our door? Was there a SWAT team, even now, outside our door, armed with shotguns to blast Ben’s head clean off of his shoulders? That was, after all, one of the better-known (and most assured) methods to kill a zombie.
The next day, the Centralia High School’s newspaper had an ad taken out in it that drew my rapt attention. Its headline proclaimed:
INSTANT FAME MADE EASY
Fame, popularity, the ability
To attract the opposite sex: Do
You Want It All?
Then Try The Zombie Method
Or Your Money Back
The phone number seemed oddly familiar. That was probably because it was my brother’s cell phone number!
I had to put a stop to Ben’s insane money-making scheme before it started. I would do it the only way I knew how to: by getting the parental units involved. But, I couldn’t do that until after school, and I was still only in my first period Home Room class, English. It was an American Lit course, and the book we were slogging through was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was difficult for me to pay attention, as my mind was on my brother’s twisted money-making (and, I feared, zombie-making) scheme to turn his affliction and his “Zombie Method” into a Get Rich Quick method.
Just how low can a person sink? I thought to myself. Then, I was abruptly snapped out of my reverie by Mrs. Slocomb’s grating and whiny voice calling my name:
“Kyle! Mr. Brooks! Earth to Kyle Brooks, come in, Kyle Brooks!” she said.
“Wha-wha-what?” I asked. “Is class over already?”
“No, Kyle—class is not over yet!” her Harpy-like tones assailed my ears, bombarding them like twenty-four-foot tall stereo loudspeakers of Doom. “It has barely even begun. With that kind of attitude, young man, the rest of the semester is going to seem ver-y long to you!”
“Oh, it already has seemed that to me, Mrs. Slocomb, ma’am,” I said. “This entire hour has seemed very long, actually.”
“As I said, it has barely begun. And now, it is your turn to read aloud, Mr. Brooks, and to rejoin the land of the living. We were on the part of the novel where the narrator, Nick Carroway, finally learns of how Jay Gatsby got his wealth, and becomes at least somewhat disillusioned by his knowledge. Knowledge does that sometimes, doesn’t it, Mr. Brooks?”
“Hmm…yes, I suppose it does, Mrs. Slocomb,” I replied, wondering if she was possibly somehow tuned into my thoughts about my big brother. Naw, that was just not possible!
“Begin with the first paragraph on page 107, please, Kyle,” my English teacher said.
“’And it was from Cody that he inherited money—a legacy of twenty-five thousand zombies–er—dollars’, I meant to say. ‘Zombie didn’t get it. Zombie never understood the legal device that was used against zombie but—‘” Laughter was erupting all around me. My cheeks flushed red in embarrassment.
“Mr. Kyle Brooks!” Mrs. Slocomb shouted. “Come to my desk this instant! You may think you’re being funny, but it’s not funny to disrupt an entire class and interfere with the education of others, and their appreciation of a classic American novel!”
“Not even a little funny?” I asked. I thought, hey, I’m already in trouble, I’d already crossed that invisible line, so why not infiltrate that enemy territory further? In retrospect, it was not my best idea ever, not one of my shining moments.
Yeah, well, watcha gonna do? The morning seemed to be going steadily downhill. I was never one to get into trouble, never one to buck authority. I had only my brother the zombie’s best interests at heart, and here I now was, the new Black Sheep of the family, on my way to Principal Don Delay’s office.
He was not one to waste time in idle banter, chat you up, nor delay; not Principal Delay. He was a stalwart soul, hardy of spirit, a no-nonsense sort of guy—all qualities that spelled Instant Infamy to anyone, like myself, who crossed his path. I had a definite feeling of imminent calamity about to befall me as I entered the office and sauntered to the secretary’s desk. And, wouldn’t you know it; Principal Delay was not in a conference, nor on the phone. There would be no delaying my encounter with Principal Delay.
“Ah, Mr. Kyle Brooks,” Principal Delay began, smiling a very crocodilian smile at me. “What brings you to my office today? It’s not the time of the year for the Yearbook pictures to be taken, that can’t be it. It’s not a matter related to the PTA or Honor Society, is it? I’ve got it! Your brother is in trouble and you’ve come to see me before he does, to try to get me in a good mood and not go so hard on him as I otherwise might. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“No, not really, Principal Delay, sir,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m here on my own behalf. Mrs. Slocomb sent me out of her room to see you because it’s her belief I was disrupting her class.”
“And, were you, Kyle? Disrupting her class, that is? Or was she somehow badly mistaken? Did you get into trouble for what someone else did, but that she is blaming you for, perhaps? You don’t want to get the other person in trouble, out of fear of retaliation for tattling on him or her? Come on, tell me the truth,” Principal Delay said. “I haven’t got all day, though it might appear that way, just because I’m not particularly busy right now.”
“Oh, there’s no denying that you are very busy, sir,” I said. “We were reading aloud from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and somehow, I kept saying the word ‘zombie,’ whenever I should have instead said a pronoun, like ‘he’ or ‘his.’ I really don’t know what came over me, sir. I wasn’t intending to disrupt Mrs. Slocomb’s English class. In fact, I have enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby so far, and I like reading, in general. It was like a mysterious compulsion came over me, making me say things I didn’t really want to say, and do things I didn’t want to do. I have had zombies on my brain a lot lately, though.”
“Hah!” Principal Delay laughed. “Zombies on the brain! In movies, they eat brains, and here you are, thinking about them and blurting out the word ‘zombies’ at inappropriate times, when your own brain should be on your class work. Well, I actually believe what you’re telling me, Kyle; but, that doesn’t excuse your behavior, it just explains it.
“I’ll go easy on you, because this is the first time you’ve been sent to my office for any offense; but, I still need to punish your behavior. One day’s worth of detention, shall we say, today, for a half-hour after school. Just report to Room 111 Mr. Fergusson’s Shop Class, at 3:00. And, Mr. Brooks, try to make sure that you keep the subject of zombies off your brain while you should be paying attention to the subjects your teachers are trying to teach you.”
“Today?” I said, thinking that today was the worse day possible for me to serve detention. I needed, instead, to get home, have a heart-to-heart talk with my older brother, and convince him to stop his money-making scheme and, if he had any ideas about turning his fellow classmates into zombies, to take the advice of The Sopranos from TV and “Forget about it!” If he wouldn’t listen to me, I’d have to spill the beans to Mom and Dad.
“Yes, ‘today,’” Principal Delay said, wondering why I was still in his office, and questioning the words he’d handed down to me as if he’d been given them in a moment of divine inspiration from atop the Sacred Mount. “Would you rather try for two days? No? Then take this pass back to your next class, and get outa here! I hope that in the future, you will only come to this office because you’ve been sent here on school business, and not because you’ve been a discipline problem.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, backing out of his office with the pass he’d handed to me. “Room 111 at 3:00; I’ll be there, sir.”
“See that you are. Have a good day, Kyle,” he said, then looked back down at the papers on his desk, having dismissed me.
I then walked slowly to my second period class, Mrs. Angle’s Advanced Geometry, after first stopping at my locker to pick up the textbook for her course.
Somehow, I got through my other classes of the day without another repeat of my uncontrollably blurting out the word “zombies” as I had done in my Home Room English class. I relied on Ben for transportation, so I had to tell him in the parking lot before I went for Detention that I needed him to stick around until 3:30 because Mrs. Slocomb had sent me to Principal Delay’s office.
“You, Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, got sent to Delay’s office?” Ben asked, incredulously. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet, bro. Maybe you’ve got at least a speck of coolness inside of you, struggling to surface. All I need to do is to help you bring it out.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “One day’s worth of Detention is more than enough for me, thank you very much.
“Anyway,” I added, “I’ve got to get to Shop Class, and spend the next half-hour with the Ferg-Man. I’ll see you in thirty!”
There I was, surrounded on every side by Centralia High’s Who’s Who of delinquents. I’d grabbed The Great Gatsby to read ahead, and a couple of other textbooks I needed to do homework in when I got home, and I was trying to make the best of a bad situation by spending the thirty minutes constructively, by doing my homework. Getting good grades was important to me, and besides, it helped keep Mom and Dad off my back. Maybe getting a little ahead in my classes would prevent my parents getting too angry at me for getting Detention—that was my hope, anyway. I crossed my fingers that I wasn’t deluding myself.
I heard whispered talking around me. I thought that was not very unusual; it happened in every class, every day; of course, it would happen in Detention, as well. But, then I began to listen to what was being said. Brandon Taylor and Calvin Smith were nodding their heads and pointing towards me.
I didn’t hear everything they said, but they were talking about my brother, also, and how he’d changed since the band trip. And, they talked about the ad in today’s school newspaper.
“There he is, the zombie’s bro,” Brandon said, under his breath. “What’s a nerd like him doing here?”
“I was in the same American Lit class, Old Mrs. Slocomb’s, when it happened,” Calvin said. “Slocomb asked him to read, and he just freaked, saying ‘Zombie this, and Zombie that,’ instead of what was really in the book. I think it was some book called The Great Fatsby, or something like that.”
“Cal,” Brandon said, “you must mean The Great Gatsby.” This impressed me, in spite of myself. One of the high school’s most notorious bullies knew the correct title of the book I was reading. Will wonders never cease, I thought.
“Yeah, whatever. The point is he got sent to the principal’s office. Maybe some of his brother’s coolness is rubbing off on him,” Calvin whispered. “Maybe what Ben said to us about the Zombie Method really works. It’s guaranteed; maybe we ought to give it a try.”
“But we’re already cool, so what do we need with it, Cal?”Brandon asked.
“You can never be too cool. Hey, if it helps in the Love Life department, I say it’s worth the ten bucks. If it doesn’t work, and he refuses to refund my money, I can always get the fun of beating him up, at least,” Cal said.
“When you put it that way,” Brandon said, “why not? If the Zombie Method to give someone instant fame can even work for Ben’s brother, Kyle, there’s no tellin’ what it’ll do for us.”
Crap. Things seemed to be going steadily out of control, from bad to worse. If I didn’t convince Ben to shut his newly created business down, he might get in trouble from the school, our parents, and the law. He might mean by the “Zombie Method,” that he would bite chunks of flesh from whomever paid him the $9.99, enough to satisfy his perverse appetite, and in turn, cause them to change into zombies like himself (though slightly nibbled on ones).
Yet if I did talk him into forgetting about his mad money-making scheme, that would piss off everyone who might have already paid him money. They were expecting to become cool; they were expecting, as Ben had advertised: “Instant Fame Made Easy.” At best, they would simply demand their money back, and Ben would be forced to hand it over. At worse, my brother would have spent the money already, and he would get beaten up by those he’d cheated out of their money, and I would also get beaten up, just because he was my bro and we shared the same last name. Talk about a no-win situation….
The drive home to our house at 1776 Washington St. was tense. As we were going down the road in his used but cherry black Trans-Am, I brought up the subject of having read the ad in the school newspaper. He tried to brush it off, and downplay any potentially bad outcome.
“I have a fool-proof method here, Kyle,” Ben insisted. “It will work. I will make it work. As long as you or no one else rats on me, I’ll make a pot full of money. Mom and Dad don’t have to be the wiser. We won’t get beaten up because I will succeed, and besides, I’m much stronger than I used to be, so if anyone tries anything, it won’t be us that is getting beaten up—it’ll be them. The Norms. The UnChanged. The UnCool.
“And, Kyle, here’s the really important part, the beauty part, which I didn’t want to tell you until the Zombie Method had made me loads of money. I know how much you want to go to college, and how you’ve been worried that maybe Mom and Dad couldn’t afford to send you there. I know how you’ve been busting your hump and studyin’ trying to earn a full scholarship so our folks won’t have to struggle to come up with the money needed to pay for your tuition if you don’t manage to earn a full scholarship.
“I was going to set aside a quarter of all the money I made, that’s right, 25%, and then give it to you as a surprise whenever you got the letter sayin’ you’d been accepted into whatever college it is you want to go to after you graduate from Centralia High. I won’t lie; I’m not doin’ this entirely for you, though you’re my bro—but, I do want to see you get the chance to go to college, if that’s what you want to do with your life.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
“How about sayin’ that we’ll be partners, partner,” Ben said. “But it means you can’t tell anyone about our deal. Not Mom, Dad, or any other adult. Do you agree? Do we have a deal?”
My brother could be mighty persuasive when he wanted to be. Though it made me uncomfortable to the very bone about the wrongness and craziness of the whole scheme, and my role in it, I stuttered my agreement.”D-D-Deal.”
“That’s the Kyle I know. You are really going to go places, bro,” Ben said. “Go places and do things and make something of your life. And you just might end up being a little bit cooler, too. And don’t worry, if you are—I have no plans to bite you, and turn you into a zombie.”
“You don’t?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “For one, it’s just gross to think about biting my own brother. For another, it wouldn’t be that great of a business decision to zombify the person you’re askin’ to be your business partner, now would it?”
I’d gone from wanting to give my brother the zombie a stern talking to, to agreeing to be his business partner in the space of five minutes. I had the feeling that I’d be taken in by the cheesiest sales pitch from the sleaziest used car dealer whenever I got old enough and money enough to buy a car. My firm resolve had melted like a popsicle on a hot August day. What would Ben have me doing next, sell T-shirts from a stand in Centralia High’s hallways with “I Was Bitten By A Zombie And I Liked It,” written on them?
“Don’t Give a Sucker An Even Break”
“It’s a simple matter of salesmanship, bro,” Ben said to me. “You’re gonna be the poster boy for the Zombie Method, the lure for the masses, the stink bait for the masses of catfish we’re gonna reel in, the manure for the—“
“Hey, hey! Let’s not get too personal! You’ve already compared me to stink bait, which is bad enough—but manure?” I asked. “Isn’t the Zombie Method supposed to make people cooler, not stinkier?”
“Yes, and it does, Kyle,” Ben said. “But who’s better as a Before Zombie Method poster boy than you? And, it’ll make the After Zombie Method results look even more impressive to our potential suckers—er—clients.”
“If it works so well,” I said, “then why call our clients ‘suckers’?”
“Oh, ye of little faith—now, where have I heard that expression before? Never mind; I was just thinking of a famous saying of the black-and-white comedian W.C. Fields, ‘Never give a sucker an even break.’ Of course, I didn’t really mean that our clients are ‘suckers’—what would give you that silly impression?”
“Why, you gave me ‘that silly impression,’ that’s who,” I said, “probably when you called our clients ‘suckers’.”
“Let’s not split hairs here, and argue who called whom ‘suckers,’” my brother said. “The point is, one of the best sales tactics there is involves showing suck–clients—how well a product works by showing them an example of the outcome of using said product. That example, bro, will be you.”
“Let’s say for argument’s sake that I agree to be your ‘example,’” I said, “what would you plan to do with me to convince people that your Zombie Method actually works, and is on the level? Remember, nothing that requires me to get bitten by you or anything or one else!”
“Relax, Kyle! Geez, you whine more than our neighbor’s Chihuahua, dude!” Ben said. “I already told you; you’re safe from me; I’m not going to bite you; we’ll get you a couple of concert T-shirts, hair gel, stylin’ tennis shoes, squirt you with some Zombie Extract, so you’ll be irresistible to the fairer sex–”
“Hold on, hold on!” I said. “Watcha mean, ‘squirt you with some Zombie Extract’? Just what are the ingredients to this stuff? Is it approved by the FDA? How do I know it’s hypoallergenic, or doesn’t cause cancer?”
“Trust me, bro.” Ben said. “It’s an all-natural, very Green formula. It isn’t technically approved by the FDA, whoever they are—what are they, a bunch of scientists in some secret government facility?”
“They’re not that; the initials stand for the Food and Drug Administration.” I answered my brother. “They tell us what’s safe to use, except for slip-ups, like with Phen-Phen, or Restilax, which was supposed to relieve the symptoms of people with the Crazy Leg Syndrome, but which actually caused severe stomach cramps. It was later remarketed as a cure for constipation, and made the company, PleasureX Industries, beaucoup dollars. Don’t you listen to CNN or read the newspapers?”
“As little as possible,” Ben replied. “Zombie Extract, to answer your question is a special formulation I developed that is the whole key to our success, Kyle. It is made from various herbs, quality H2O, fruit extracts I got at the Gorgon’s Head Natural Health Food Shoppe downtown to give it a pleasant odor, and zombie pheromones made from my own—“
“Don’t say it; don’t say your own sweat, don’t say it!” I said.
“From my own perspiration,” Ben said. “just like the perfume that used to be made in the times of the ancient Roman gladiators, K-Man. Groupies would buy up bottles of the gladiators’ sweat by the cartload, to attract the man or woman of their dreams.
“Hmm…K-Man—that could be a great nickname for you, another good way to increase your popularity, Kyle,” my brother continued, “not that you’ll need anything besides a daily squirt from a bottle like this one here, which just so happens to have my picture on its label.”
“Where do you get the ‘perspiration’? Your armpits?” I asked. “No, wait—don’t tell me—I don’t think I really want to know the answer to that. But, what makes you think that people will want to spray that stuff all over their bodies? What makes you think that I want to spray it all over my body?”
“Oh, you’ll do it,” Ben said, “for the Instant Fame, and for the hot bods that are sure to follow you. You’ll have as many followers as Ashton Kutcher after you use this for a week, Kyle. That’s why you will want to use it. And of course, think of attending the college, of driving fancy sports cars, holding hands and pressing lips with actual girls…”
“I’ve held hands with girls before!” I indignantly said.
“Helping elderly ladies cross the street doesn’t count, Kyle.”
“I’ve held hand with more females than those, Ben!” I said. “Oh, fork over the bottle—I will try anything once—but, if it starts to burn my skin—“
“It’s not going to burn your skin, Kyle! Just try it, and stop complaining!”
So I did. I tried it, and it did not burn my skin off. It tingled a bit, but my brother said that was what it was supposed to do; it just meant that it was working its magic on me, that its special mojo was interacting with my piss poor mojo, and counteracting it. And, it did not smell like sweaty gym socks or armpits, which I’d feared. It actually smelled pretty nice, kind of like apple shampoo, not that I usually use apple shampoo or anything. I hoped that it would work like Ben claimed it would, but I wasn’t about to hold my breath.
Zombie Extract just might be the next Big Thing, I found myself thinking, if my brother was correct and it actually did attract the opposite sex. I felt like cruising the Centralia Mall, or even—gag—like going to school, just to (you understand) check out whether or not heads would turn when they got close enough to me to inhale a whiff of the magical Zombie Extract. Could it be that my brother really had hit on a Get-Rich Quick scheme that really worked? Would Instant Fame & Fortune be his, and by extension, mine?
The following day at school, I exuded a brand-new confidence. I had on a Maroon 5 T-shirt, and walking down the hallways, I had moves that Mick Jagger would have been jealous of, if he’d seen me. Heads definitely turned as I strolled by, and this time, not because my fly was down, like that oh-so-embarrassing moment back in ninth grade when I didn’t notice it for half the day, but wondered why I was getting a definite chill below the belt. At the mall, the female cashiers had seemed more pleasant, flirting with me and my zombie brother; but, then I wasn’t sure if it was just him that drew their attention, or if I had played a part in it, also. Now, I knew for sure: the Zombie Extract was some potent stuff, like sexual lightning in a bottle.
“Nice tennis shoes,” Adele Morgan, one of the cutest cheerleaders at Centralia High, said as we passed each other, “and are those new designer jeans?”
“Why, yes, they are.” I said. “Thanks for noticing. Maybe we can hang out with each other this Saturday, maybe take in a movie?” Please, please, please, say yes! I was thinking to myself. I hoped she didn’t notice how nervous I felt.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” she said, then quickly jotted her cell phone number on a scrap of paper, and handed it to me, saying “Catch you later! I gotta get to my Latin class before I’m late! See you, Kyle!”
“See you later, Adele!” I said. She actually knew my name! I thought I was too unimportant or ordinary or geeky for her to pay any attention to; but, I thought as I beat the buzzer and plopped into a seat in my English class, maybe I was wrong. Or, maybe the apple-scented Zombie Extract was what made her suddenly pay attention to me. I was fifty percent sure that I was one hundred percent sure that it was the Zombie Extract that had transformed me into a babe magnet.
In Mrs. Slocomb’s English class, all heads turned my way. But, that was probably because I had started to sweat profusely, and I had a sudden attack of stomach cramps that twisted and churned my guts like kids at Halloween ripping out the innards of pumpkins to make them into Jack-O’Lanterns
I ran to the restrooms, doubled over, without bothering to slow down and asking for permission, and barely made it there before the projectile puking commenced. That would have really impressed the ladies. Fortunately, I hadn’t got any vomit on my clothes or new tennis shoes, but my breath smelled rank. I rinsed my mouth in the sink (like that would really help) then grabbed my Tic-Tacs from my front pants pocket and crammed them into my cheeks until a looked like a chipmunk. Then, head lowered, hoping I wouldn’t be busted for being in the halls between classes without a pass, I headed back to Mrs. Slocomb’s class.
I was thinking that this would be two days in a row I was going to wind up in Principal Delay’s office and then detention, and I was feeling sorry for myself, and still sick to my stomach. And, there was another urge I was experiencing, that I couldn’t place my finger on; I was feeling so empty, so drained, so…hungry. Hungry for…flesh, for a delicious platter full of brains, maybe with some Nacho Cheese sauce—oh, yeah, that’s what the Kyle-ster wants!
What was I thinking? Where did those thoughts come from? Those were more the kind of thoughts that, well, my brother the zombie told me he’d thought. The urgings and cravings I felt were—his. What was happening to me?
Then it came to me, the horrifying realization that I was becoming like my brother Ben, probably because of the Zombie Extract! I had learned that people could catch certain diseases through the transmission of bodily fluids, but it just hadn’t occurred to me when I sprayed myself with the Zombie Extract that by doing so I might infect myself with whatever alien virus that had caused my brother to become a zombie. The active virus must have seeped its way through my pores into my system, into my blood.
But, I vowed I would fight the urges. I would not give in. I would not eat human flesh like my brother did. I would not be a part of any plan to spread the cult of Zombieism that my brother was attempting to cultivate through his totally screwed-up invention, Zombie Extract.
“Don’t give a sucker an even break, Kyle. Never give a sucker an even break.” Ben’s words kept running through my brain, infiltrating my thoughts, taking control over me. I was like the character of Jack Nicholson in The Shining—by spraying the Zombie Extract on myself, it was like I had listened to the creepy twin girls in the corridors of the Overlook Hotel who said: “Be one of us, be one of us…forever and ever, and ever.”
Mrs. Slocomb took one look at me, and said “You poor dear!” Maybe the animal magnetism that was the one good thing about the Zombie Extract’s effects was still at work. Maybe it was just because I looked as sick as a dog. She continued: “Here; take this pass and go to the school nurse’s office right away, Kyle. I was about to hand out a quiz, but you can retake it when you feel better.”
“Thanks,” I said to Mrs. Slocomb. “I don’t know what came over me. It must be a, um, bug. My brother had it a while ago, and—“
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to turn into a zombie like him, now would we?” she asked as I was almost out the door.
“What was that? A what?” I asked, refusing to believe my ears.
“A zombie, Kyle,” Mrs. Slocomb said. “Oh, I’m just teasing you. I’m sure you’ve heard the ludicrous rumors that have been floating around that your brother is a zombie. I’m just messing with you. Everybody knows that zombies aren’t real, Kyle. You didn’t think I was being actually serious, did you?”
“Uh no, ha, ha,” I said. “Of course not. Like you said, everyone knows zombies aren’t real. I’d better get to the nurse’s office. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Slocomb!”
I guess I couldn’t escape my fate. I was doomed to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I was destined to become a zombie just like him.
After the Blaxons first landed on Earth, there were rumors, of course (just like the “rumors” that Mrs. Slocomb had heard about my brother), about zombies that walked the land, zombies that were somehow linked to our would-be alien friends. Many people believed that the Blaxons brought the zombie curse with them. Other people, and scientists, vociferously stated the impossibility of that idea.
“It’s just another wild conspiracy theory,” said Attorney General Lamar Romero. “There’re no such things as zombies,” he said to the American people. “I’d stake my life on it.” And he did.
He was some months later tied to a wooden stake outside of huge but hastily-constructed wooden gates that his city’s inhabitants had erected, at the height of the Zombie Epidemic. Attorney General Lamar Romero was torn to pieces, eaten alive by a pack of roaming zombies. That was the type of revenge that was enacted by the populace upon scientists, doctors, and other people in authority, like politicians, that lied to them (whether knowingly or not) during those days.
But such things were hushed up, as best as the government could manage, even when famous people like the Attorney General were involved. Witnesses disappeared; people were paid off; what was the truth became called “the crazy speculation of extremist rednecks,” or of “right-wing religious fanatics.” New media “talking heads” replaced the old ones.
There were stories of Blaxon spaceships being swarmed by men with shotguns, or blasted from the skies by heat-seeking missiles, to come crashing down to Earth as giant fireballs. Men with cans of Raid aimed them at any Blaxons they saw, and killed them dead. And then, even the Blaxons had enough, and eventually they retaliated. But, I am getting ahead of myself by several years. All of this happened in the era when zombies were once again no longer thought of as being “cool.” But, they once were…I and my brother are proof of that.
“Ben,” I said on our way home after school, “we need to stop selling your Zombie Extract. We need to find all of the bottles you’ve already sold and gather them together and set fire to them. They must be destroyed!”
“What are you talking about, Kyle?” Ben asked. “You seemed fine with being the Zombie Poster Boy yesterday. What’s changed your mind?”
“I was never really ‘fine’ with it,” I said. “I just got my mind clouded up with ideas of wealth, and college, and other things I could do with the money if the Zombie Extract worked and your money-making scheme really succeeded.”
“Yeah, and it is succeeding, Kyle,” Ben said. “It’s succeeding like a charm. I’ve sold all of the bottles I had already. I was thinking of lifting weights when we get home, to really get the sweat flowin’, so we can have more Zombie Extract to sell tomorrow.”
Oh, no,” I said. “That just can’t happen, Ben. That stuff works, but I think it’s changing me into a zombie, just like you. Instead of selling more of the Zombie Extract and spreading the virus, we need to figure out a way to cure it, and prevent the spread of Zombieism.”
“What about the Instant Fame? What about the girls? What about the piles of money, and going to college? What about the girls?” Ben asked me.
“You said ‘What about the girls,’ twice,” I said.
“Yeah, but it bears repeating. I was tryin’ to do you a favor, a solid. What’s wrong with the world when an older brother can’t help out his younger brother?”
“Help me by turning me into a flesh-eating zombie, like—“ I said.
“Like me, you mean?” Ben asked.
“I was going to say, like the ones in ‘Night of the Living Dead.’”
“You’re my bro, bro,” Ben said. “I may not like giving suckers even breaks, but I was honestly just tryin’ to do what’s best for you. At least, best in the long run.”
“What do mean, the ‘long run’? I asked.”How’s being a zombie any better in the long run? Zombies are zombies, after all.”
“Ah-ha!” Ben said. “They’re not at all the same, Kyle. And, you just asked the most important question of your new life as a zombie, whether or not you realize it.”