Chapter 1: Velvet

Distraught. He was while sitting in the lonely cubicle. Well, at first distraught, but that soon changed. Stalling in the stall—which wasn’t lost on us—him. He smirked and then flushed, pausing before forcing his back, framed via vertebrae, forward, and then legs (femurs, patellas, fibulas, tibias) unbend ‘til vertical to warrant himself stand. One of them—the legs—was then aimed horizontally to kick open the left-unlocked, grey, graffitied, door. The door served as scenery while corporate drones did their dirty work. One scrawled-in-sharpie message reads, “wake up.”

The Zombie examined his “face” in the mirror, his lurid eye lured by a glimpse of his reflection caught in one of the many dingy faucets bearing over a row of sinks beneath the long, rectangular looking glass. Looking back at him, he saw mostly a ratty red scarf that he kept wound up around his neck. He found it outside the little black swinging gate that marked entryway to the Zombie’s—and before that his family’s, dating back generations—property, where he now lived, alone, of course. Dakota. 1951.

The cherry cloth encircled up over his chin to cover up what would otherwise be exposed and very varicose blue rotting flesh. Evanescent relief embodied from nose hairline, that area insofar relatively unscathed—but still encroached upon—by his condition, and where his eyes were then and tended to be drawn to in regard to his reflection; that part of him was still handsome. Near-black, stern eyes that could still and did glint with humor so noticeably, and brows slightly thicker then that of your average man, with low, imposing arches. Crow’s feet were beginning to set in at the edges of his eyes, just beyond the reach of his periphery. He was slick. His good attitude summed savior for him. Patches of his hair fell out constantly, which could be and was covered up with the black, wide-brimmed fedora he was always sporting. But there were always those stray grey strands nestled inside when he took it off.

He’d only been out of the military hospital a month, his whole platoon killed; him the sole survivor, if you could call it that. The infection from the bite that…that three-legged dog—mongrel—gave him, weaving back and forth like it was, and then so suddenly alert, like nothing he’d ever seen, the bite like nothing the doctors had ever seen, and it had spread and got worse, until, as he understood it and they explained, he did die, the infection went away, and he miraculously woke up an hour later, fine after being pronounced. War stories.

Where luck kissed fate: due to Devils Lake, North Dakota’s frigid temperatures, chunks of his skin didn’t and wouldn’t accompany his hair’s escape, not until summer, and then he could just stick them back on. A khaki trench coat and black suit, complete with a dirty white shirt and black tie, and a pair of dull cordovan shoes, their tips gnawed by pavement, all-in-all disguised the rest of his disgusting: there was thought in his ensemble. His hands were another matter, a more troublesome one.

Gnarled fingers and exposed bones and skin taut over exploded veins preserved by the cold. Such was the reality that plagued the Zombie’s ten-digit appendages annexed by his arms, and very tough to keep clandestine considering life’s many demands for one’s hands: eating, driving, handshakes, high-fives; the Zombie lived in constant fear that one day one of these activities would take a hand with it, and he’d be found out in a most embarrassing and gruesome way. Gloves were the preferred method, but when at work, the leather black necessities that otherwise kept him incognito were damn near a dead giveaway. His only choice was to keep as low a profile as possible, get his work done efficiently, and cross his arms when speaking or feign an emergency trip to the bathroom whenever approached: mostly just hiding in his cubicle. And approached he was moments ago, hence why we found our protagonist in the water closets. But, also, especially on account of whom exactly it was whom did the approaching, of him, our Zombie.

Her name was Annabel. His name, by the way, was Franklin, Franklin Beverly. But she called him Frankie.

“Frankie,” she cooed as her familiar hairspray scent and blonde beehive hairdo, seen above the office’s quadrants of desks, moved in his direction.

“Frankie,” she called out again, in a deep, sexy voice, closer this time.

“A moment, young lady: nature’s a, uh, hollering,” he stammered, then grunted in a gritty tone, transmuted through tarnished, misshapen, cigaretty vocal chords. He hurried over to the door that was labeled “men.”

“I’ll be at my desk when you get back,” he heard.

Annabel was the company’s president’s secretary. And daughter. And the apple of Frankie’s eye. He’d been with the firm for a decade now, his time justified by pitiful promotion after petty pay raise, and he had in the meantime witnessed Annabel, having at first come into the office with her father when she was 13, blossom into beautiful. A real beauty. Beaut. Unfortunately for Frankie, her desk was in sight of her father’s, through a giant window dividing their offices, and the last thing he needed was his boss, the most powerful man in Devils Lake, North Dakota, to notice that he was a Zombie, which his boss, Mr. Lee, was particularly inclined to do if he—his boss, Mr. Lee—happened to notice Frankie sweet-talking his daughter. The quandary had had Frankie lost in space in the quadrants and now still, while the pewter faucet spewed water all over his scrubbed but numb hands. And then, an idea, and he wasn’t so very distraught anymore.

Chapter 2: Le Corbusier

Todd’s Bar after you’re off. It’s dire—Frankie, read the squarely folded yellow sheet of loose-leaf paper. The note had been slipped ‘neath Annabel’s door while she was busy brewing coffee in the office’s kitchen. The handwriting seemed frantic.

“Oh, I hope he’s okay!” Annabel thought to herself, eyes closed and hugging the message to her chest. She’d always nursed her thing, her affection for Franklin: “He was always so mysterious!”

She opened her eyes, neck craned to peer into her father’s office. He was immersed in paperwork, his giant wooden desk swamped in a storm of the stuff. She folded the note back up into a square and then tucked it into the white breast pocket of her pink shirtwaist dress; her mind was made up.

And so, after clocking out at five and saying goodbye to her still-working, always-working father, Annabel obliged Frankie. She dutifully navigated her old Chevy through the February snow, closer and closer toward the old, run-down brick building that served town as local haunt for the seedy. It was already dark.

The futility of brakes. Rubber desperately seeking traction to ice. Whiplash. The shattering of everything rains shards of shattered glass. The rear windshield. Darkness. Streetlights! As buoys to cling onto while swimming, in and out of existence pressure, more like drowning than swimming. Blurred figurine. Annabel was being moved. She could feel it. Extracted—from her seat, excavated—from her car, and hoisted. Over a cold shoulder while cold too. Off a shoulder into a seat of a car. The door closed. The ignition sounded. She kept her eyes shut.

Chapter 3: Chartreuse

“Water?”

“Yes, please.” Meek, a little ever-so-slightly defiant.

She was strapped to a Frankie-rigged operating table in his garage, bound by tan leather restraints on her wrists and her ankles. Shelves, densely populated by mason jars housing pickling body parts, next to dismembered limbs of mannequins, next to a gridded wall mount where hung sharp objects of all kinds: saws to knives to scythes, as views to left and right. If she looked straight up, Annabel saw the single light bulb suspended from the ceiling: it bathed the room in a damp green light.

Frankie stepped from the shadows out into her view. He was shirtless, gloveless. She shrieked at the sight of his body. At his segmented and patchy skin, and its welts, and infected and unhealing and unending cuts and its oozing tumors.

And then she giggled.

Next.

***

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