“How do you feel?” asked Ethan.
“I dunno Ethan, how am I supposed to feel right now?” Jonathan snapped. The interview was just getting started and he was already feeling like a lab rat, but then again he supposed that’s exactly what he was.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t know what else to say,” Dr. Walters sighed. “I think we both know that there’s nothing here that covers this situation,” he said as he looked down at the stack of Psychology books that were piled carelessly at his feet.
Three months ago Dr. Ethan Walters earned his keep by playing the role of psychotherapist to bored, frustrated housewives of the Upper Westside. His days in the office were long but, it afforded him a life of wine cellars and frequent trips to the Caribbean. Now that life seemed to have happened to someone else and a long time ago. The awards and diploma on his wall seemed like relics of an ancient civilization. Psychotherapists were no longer needed in this world but hunter gatherer types were in great demand, sharpshooters even more so. So much had changed in so short a period of time. Here he was in his office interviewing Jonathan Knowles, friend and neighbor, with a big Ruger .357 Blackhawk sitting within easy reach. He was trying to cope with this new situation by doing the only thing he still knew how to do: probe analyze and then...digest.
“Maybe we can gain some insight into the nature of all this, something useful I can pass along. I imagine this can't be easy for you Jon, but what's happening to you is going to happen anyway. There isn't anything either one of us can do to stop it. The more we learn about this the better chance we have of being able to cure it.”
Jonathan felt that he was being fed galactic levels of bullshit. He knew that the social infrastructure was falling apart so rapidly that by the end of the month the few sane people left would be too preoccupied with the busy work of day to day survival to care one whit about what happened in a double-wide trailer. Jonathan was non-confrontational by nature and usually avoided needless arguments if he could help it. It was a trait he always disliked about himself, it made him feel small and cowardly, but at the same time he could sense a different, more aggressive, nature begin to well up in him, one that was the result of the new world they were all flung into.
“How much time you think I have left?” Jonathan asked.
“Depending on how much you weigh...”
“Ethan, I wasn't bitten by a fucking rattlesnake! I don’t think this will work like a poison. I was bitten by Rosie, my wife, my dead wife.” his Adams' apple started to work up and down rapidly. Ethan had seen the signs countless times before, the man was about to start sobbing.
“I'm sorry Jon. I didn't mean to be so clinical. It could be five minutes or five hours. I honestly don’t know.” He said and glanced at his gun out the corner of his eye. Originally Jonathan tried to convince Ethan to tie him down to the couch but Ethan refused. Now he was beginning to have second thoughts. It was true he had no idea how long the change would take. There were no medical formulas or calculations he could make and that troubled him. As far as he knew the rate of change followed no rhyme or reason. He'd seen small children go slowly and big husky adults go rapidly, it seemed as if the more meat you had on your bones the quicker the disease ate you up.
Leave the bones for Henry Jones 'cause Henry don't eat no meat! His mind cackled. He quickly placed a hand over his mouth to stifle a poorly timed guffaw. For the first time he seriously considered the fragile state of his own sanity. After killing men, women and children alike he began to wonder just how much of his own mental stability was left. He felt that the world was taking little bites out of him just as sure as the zombies would…eventually.
The agnostic in him stubbornly refused to believe what he'd seen. Around a month ago the dead started to walk and their numbers were growing exponentially. Those still alive turned to drugs, alcohol or God for answers. Ethan had his couch.
“My arm stopped hurting. You know where Rosie bit me,” Jonathan said after a long pause. “I think when it happens it's gonna start from there.” He looked at the wet dark stain on the right-hand sleeve of his shirt and remembered what his wife looked like when she came at him. Her skin was a sickly white and her once light brown eyes were dull and vacant, like a stuffed animal. He stopped looking at his wound; he didn't want to think about her anymore.
“What do you think started this?” Jonathan said.
“I'm not claiming to know what it is or where it came from but I do know what it's not. It's not supernatural. There is a reasonable explanation. We just haven’t found it yet.”
Jonathan was surprised to find that he still had some laughter left inside him.
“Not supernatural? You're kidding me right? Was that supposed to be gallows humor or bad bedside manner? Even you have to know that science can't explain away what's happening. We've both seen dead people walk with skin and meat sloughing off their bones like pants off a teenager’s ass. Tell me how they can still be moving with all their muscles and tendons rotted away?” his voice was becoming raspy and dry, as if he had smoked a hundred cigarettes in the last few minutes. Ethan doubted whether Jonathan even noticed the first sign of change.
“Just because we can’t explain it doesn’t mean it’s supernatural. I need more information before I start to believe in that.”
“That’s okay Ethan; you hang on to your theories and avoid the obvious. God may want us to believe in him, but what’s coming doesn’t care one way or the other. It’ll be bringing its own religion with it. And I bet the first thing it’ll want to do is to take Communion.” Then Jonathan chuckled at his own joke and was frightened when he didn’t recognize the sound of his own laugher. It sounded like the bark of an extremely old lapdog. The two men sat quietly for a moment, going back over their former lives, faces of their wives and children floated up to them. Then Jonathan broke the silence, startling Ethan back to the world.
“Aaaahhh,” Jonathan let out a long sigh, sounding like a man who was lowering himself into a hot tub of water. “It's starting from my chest not from the bite.” his new voice sounded relaxed, like he was high on heroin. He actually managed to produce a little smile.
“I'm feeling it now. It's like I'm standing a few feet behind my eyes and something is pulling me back…further and further, like I’m being moved out of my body.”
Ethan caught a whiff of Jonathan's breath and turned his head away. It smelled like spoiled milk mixed with rotten potatoes. The change was coming on swiftly. I’ll be needing the gun pretty soon I think.
“Can you describe what’s happening to you Jon? Talk to me for as long as you can.” Ethan remained detached and clinical on the outside but inside the moorings holding his sanity in place was starting to give way.
“Where are you Ethan? I can't see anymore.” Jonathan's eyes had turned a dull muddy brown.
“What's going on Jonathan? Tell me please.”
“Emptying out? What does that mean? Do you feel warm? Cold? Is there...is there another presence in there with you? I have to know, I've got to know!” All pretense of doctor patient formality were gone. Ethan was just another mortal standing at the mouth of the abyss, desperate for answers.
“Rosie? Is that you? I miss you sweetness. Still hungry? Me too, I'm getting so hung...”
Jonathan spoke his last coherent words and died on Ethan's couch gasping for air as he lost control of his basic brain functions. After his convulsions were over his lifeless body raised stiffly from the couch, his hands questing blindly out in front of him. It could smell Ethan in the room but it didn’t know where to find him. Apparently its sight hadn't returned yet.
They’re born blind like puppies! Ethan thought.
Its directionless shuffling suddenly gained purpose and it slowly made its way towards him. Ethan leveled the pistol at its head, ready to pull the trigger and watch it shatter it like a vase. Then he changed tactics and maneuvered himself so his back was to the door so could open it with his free hand without taking his eyes off of Jonathan’s corpse. He watched it get closer and closer as he cocked back the hammer of the pistol and placed the muzzle inches away from Jonathan’s forehead. Then just before it was close enough to grab him, he turned the knob and gingerly out of the way and let Jonathan’s corpse walk right out the door and into the bright sunshine.
There must be millions of them out there by now. One more couldn’t hurt. Just look at him go, he hardly has a mark on him. He'll make a handsome zombie, for awhile at least. Maybe he'll find Rosie again. And when I get tired of this new world, maybe I'll just go out and take some communion too. But in the meantime, somewhere between that couch and this Ruger I bet I can find some answers. Then Ethan moved away from the entrance, locked the door behind him and sat down on the couch with his pistol in his lap.
Bio: Ancel K. Houchen is a horror and science fiction writer who sometimes infuses his stories with characters from West Indian folklore.