User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

You wake up. Not at home, not in your bed, but somewhere dark and confined. The air is musty and cold, smelling of wet stone, and you’re lying on a bare mattress.

You jerk your head up, wide awake. Where am I?

Squinting, you look around and your fears are confirmed. You're in an actual jail cell, six by nine feet with bars and all. Outside the bars is a tunnel cut from rock, like underneath some castle. Everything glows red in the light--a crimson light, though you don't see its source.

Your heart races. This isn't happening, this can not be happening. Sitting up, you hear something--you freeze, listening--a voice? From somewhere off to your right, you're pretty sure. Something like a grunt.

You call out, "Hello?" and wait. No response. There's another grunt from somewhere else, and a growl. Are dogs here, too? Maybe guard dogs.

You've broken into a sweat. This can't be real, but your surroundings remain undeniable. You still see the bars, hear the faint grunts, smell the stone and feel the hard floor under your shoes, and they’re not going away.

All right. Stay calm. That’s the first thing, the important thing. Deep breath. Keep calm and find a way out of here.

You go up to the bars. They're far enough apart to squeeze your head and a shoulder through, and you can see more of the tunnel now. The light does come from a red stripe on the ceiling, and cells run the length of the tunnel into the dark, all on the same side as yours. Across from those is the rock wall, featureless except for a metal box like a circuit breaker, twenty feet to your right as you face the bars.

Now you hear something else: footsteps. They echo from off to your left, approaching. You're about to wriggle your head and shoulder back through the bars, wondering what this could mean--who are they? What do they want with you and the others? Is it you they’re coming for?--when your eye catches something else: a plastic plate screwed to your cell door, with words in capitals. You squint to read:





You furrow your brow at this. But you see something else, too: beneath the plate is a second one, this one iron, with six buttons on it.

You reach for it, touch it. Why not try? Could be a four-digit combination, or five, or six...but you have nothing to lose. You tap buttons at random, hearing the approaching footsteps, and hope like hell this is your lucky day. Click-click-click, click-click-click-click.

Finally you pull back, huddle against the rear wall of your cell with your knees drawn up to your chest. A form comes into view. You were imagining someone in a black hooded robe with a skull mask, or maybe a hunchback with a leering mouth. But peering over your knees, you see it's a uniformed guard, like a hundred rent-a-cops you've seen at malls. He gives you a glance, granite-jawed like a drill sergeant, and continues on.

The footsteps are receding now. You steal back to the bars and reach around to the keypad. What are the odds? But don't think of that, just keep trying. Click-click-click, click-click-click-click, click-click-click.

The footsteps stop. Then they start back in your direction.

Damn! Should have waited. Sucking in your breath, sweat trickling down your brow, you press keys, punch them, hit the keypad with your fist. Click-click-click, click--click-click--click--


A green light flashes beneath the keys. A heavy clunk sounds, and the door swings open.


The deep voice is far too close. Springing from the cell, you see him running full-tilt. You drop to your hands and knees. He stumbles over you and goes flying, falling in a heap. You jump up and sprint for that metal box on the wall, open it, see the lever you were hoping to see.

"Stop!" He's scrambling to his feet.

You grab the lever, wrench it down. The red fluorescent on the ceiling goes out, plunging the tunnel into blackness. The grunts, growls and snarls from the other cells have increased with all the commotion, and by now you've guessed what's going on. You run with your right hand out, your fingers glancing off bars, pulling on them. Some don't yield, but one does, a door. You tug it ajar and feel your way to the next door, pull it open. Then the next. The occupants seem to understand, because more footsteps arise, the padding of bare feet. You smell rancid breath from dead, but not dead mouths.

The guard tries one more shout, then his boots race away. He's no dope, after all. You head in the opposite direction, groping in the dark until the cells give way to a flight of stairs, the metal steps ringing under your feet. There's a door at the end, but it's locked. You climb back down, go on searching and groping till you find another set of stairs. All is quiet now behind you, and your heart has a chance to slow down; you're bathed in sweat, abuzz with adrenalin.

Eventually you reach an upper floor like the bank headquarters you tempted in once, a beehive of desks with no cubicle walls. It's empty except for a janitor in blue coveralls who pulls a squeaking cart from desk to desk, emptying wastebaskets. When he sees you, his jaw drops and he flees.

Passing a glass door, you see enough of a reflection to make your jaw drop, too. Your face and hands have been painted a sickly yellow-green, and your brown hair is streaked with gray. You look at your hands and wonder who could have done this. It’s coming back to you now; it was Saturday night, you were returning from a friend's house when someone jumped you from behind. That's the last thing you remember.

Finding a bank of six glass doors, you at last exit. You're downtown. It's nighttime and the city is asleep, no one in sight. It could be two or three in the morning. You look up at the building--rows of windows, all dark, rise up thirty stories. A sign stretching over all six of the doors announces it as an auction house. You've heard of it--everyone has--though you've never been inside.

But you've seen this high-rise from the transit hub where you catch the bus every morning, and there's a police station three blocks from it. You set out.

A newspaper vending machine occupies a corner. Passing it, you glimpse a story on the front page. It's still yesterday's paper and you've already read it, but you bend close for another look.


Protests are rising about the own-your-own-zombie fad of late. Wealthier citizens have taken to purchasing them as animated exhibits and status symbols, the most valued ones being those undead the longest and in the best condition. They've proved a brisk business for auction houses worldwide. But it has a dark side: In Columbus, Ohio, some high school students pooled their funds to buy a cheap zombie, then turned it loose on their school. And in Birmingham, England, a woman took out a second mortgage to purchase her late abusive ex-husband, saying she had "plans" for him.

In addition, a group of unknown criminals abducts citizens, disguises them as the undead and sells them, going from city to city. Two such cases have now been discovered here.

Straightening up, you dust yourself off, though it'll take a lot more to remove the paint and hair dye. Then a siren wails into your hearing--you look up--a black and white squad car approaches, lights revolving. You must have set off the alarm when you left. All the better.

The car pulls up by the building, and you go over to meet it.


Douglas Kolacki began writing while stationed with the Navy in Naples, Italy. Since then he has placed fiction in such publications as Weird Tales, Liquid Imagination Online and The Fifth Dimension. He currently haunts Providence, Rhode Island.


Donate a little?

Use PayPal to support our efforts:


Genre Poll

Your Favorite Genre?

Sign Up for info from Short-Story.Me!

Stories Tips And Advice