Angela and the Zombie Village
For Zombiepalooza, author Jason Letts contributed his YA short story Angela and the Zombie Village. For more information about him and his Powerless series, visit his site: www.powerlessbooks.com
Somewhere along the east coast, a rabble of zombies built their community in the grime and muck of a shrouded marsh. Between black, muddy huts, rough passageways were carved into nature’s wallowing world away from the light. They gave their disordered colony the unimaginative name of Zombie Village, a place where they could exist in peace without the interference of humans. In this town, the zombies went about their undead business, which would seem completely incomprehensible to any human who laid eyes on it, though no human ever had.
Zombies are essentially anomalies of nature, trapped in animation long after they should have been laid to rest. Only people who die on All Hallow’s Eve with an intact body become zombies. Morticians and morgue attendants know this to be true because bodies vanish at the slightest inattention. Still, personality and memory are lost, as if the spirit has escaped and left the body to toil onward.
These conditions explain why very few zombies exist to share such an infamous fate. One might pop up one place, another somewhere far away, and so it is very rare for zombies to have known each other in their previous lives. And the odds of it being someone close are next to nothing. And it would be unthinkable for an entire family of zombies to exist.
In Zombie Village, however, it just so happened that there was a group of four zombies who had once been a family. A formerly happily married couple, a boy of twelve, and a girl of ten sit around a makeshift table of collected garbage and sticks. They had been doomed to an eternity of semi-life after an assailant entered their home while attempting to satisfy a drug addiction. The man left, no bodies were found, and no one knew what had happened to them. Now they feed in the dim gloom after spending the night aimlessly maneuvering the nearby sludge, their faces blank as a new canvas.
In their new, undead existence, zombies utilize a guttural form of language, stripped to the bare essentials. Words are never wasted, and this economy-driven speech applies to names as well. Forgotten names are replaced with monosyllabic utterances. The only zombie in existence that this did not apply to was the ten-year-old girl, who retained a necklace with the six letters of her name on it.
Angela was unique among zombies for more than her name. Far more astonishing was the heart that still beat in her chest. While her family members were murdered on that blustery and cold night, the single gunshot she took never actually caused her to die. Maybe whatever force draws the curtain of gray over these creatures couldn’t bare the thought of leaving a poor girl alone and in pain. It malevolently claimed her too.
Contrasting the black strands around her, Angela’s silver hair hung down on her worn and sullied clothing. Her skin was as pale as the rest, and her movements and reactions just as slow. Spiders and centipedes crawled all over her fingers before she felt the first tickle of their presence. Her state had so dulled her senses that she didn’t even know she was any different from the rest.
It had been her job to collect food for those she lived with for as long as she could remember. Not that she could put it into words, but she always wanted to do a very good job and bring them the best food possible without hurting anyone or anything. She liked wandering alone in graveyards, preferring to serve brains of the dead rather than those of the living. Her ability to sense things in the dark without seeing them was uniform to all zombies, but more than the ripples of sensation she received, she most enjoyed the freedom. No one would know if she decided to turn left or right or wherever she pleased before she returned to the empty dirt paths and oozing hut walls of Zombie Village. As long as she carried enough food for them to eat, she could walk for quite a ways without anyone criticizing her.
“More,” gurgled her brother, Dar. The carcass of a fish lay in pieces before him. The skull had been cracked open and cleaned out. Flies surveyed the remains.
“Look,” replied Angela. She reached into her pouch and removed a lifeless frog. It lay still in her hands, as if it had never moved on its own. A frog would be a nice treat by any zombie’s standards. Had the parents not been engaged with the rotted brains she brought, it would have been likely for one of them to try and steal it.
Dar snatched the frog from her hand and began greedily ripping at it. Angela watched him. Only a few worms remained in her pouch. Moans and groans drifted in through the door-less entranceway, momentarily distracting the foursome from feeding. They watched a small group hauling a decaying deer into a nearby hut. Mud covered its hide, but each member of the hunting party glared at it with fixated anticipation. This was a boon for them beyond comprehension.
Angela turned back to the people who had been her family. Dissatisfaction contorted their faces. The paltry scraps in front of them now seemed both unappealing and insufficient in light of the neighbors’ gluttonous meal.
“I want that!” accused Gam, the adult male, who was writhing with anger.
“Sorry,” Angela retorted. Her pupils dilated and the rising and falling of her chest quickened.
“You done bad,” he growled. Angela looked over at Dar. He had been looking at her, sitting very still. She couldn’t tell if he condemned her also. Set, the adult female, bore a look of hatred so intense her entire body shook. It is hard to say if the response perfectly matched what she felt or if her body acted on its own.
“Get more now,” Set demanded, the tone of her scathing voice threatening violence. Angela rose and stalked out of the hut as quickly as she could. The piercing glances burned into her back.
Others occupied space in the cramped passageways between mounds. She tried to avoid them, slipped, and fell at their feet. She pulled herself up and continued on. The feeding frenzy next door came into view and she felt something. It was not about the deer but about what had just happened to her. She didn’t understand the sensation in her body. The food she had brought would have been enough for them.
The unknowable feeling persisted as she trudged through the swamp. She walked through a vacuum of sound and movement. She put one leg in front of the other and walked father than she had ever gone before. The ground firmed under her feet, and the sky seemed a bit lighter. The urge to turn around came over her, but it was too late. The air carried strange sounds that enticed her to go on. They didn’t sound like they were made by an animal, but the ripples were continuous and somehow appealing.
She turned a corner and emerged from the foliage. Before her was a sight that took her breath away, leaving her mind blank with astonishment. Angela gazed at a giant spinning wheel of lights that looked like it reached to the tip of the moon. The music from the accordion and the carousel intensified and her stare gradually declined to ground level. A mob of human beings wandered the grounds together. They trapped themselves in the shiny, glowing machines only to emerge moments later as completely different people.
The wheel looked magical to her, and the urge to be closer to it overwhelmed all of the obvious danger. She wondered how something like that could exist. She couldn’t remember ever encountering a structure with a purpose other than to provide shelter. Ducking under the tape, she met with the crowd, ready for whatever happened, even the end of her existence.
“Hey you! Get away from there!” A voice shouted at her from a nearby booth. An attendant gave her a critical look and reached for his radio. A voice from the crowd piped up.
“I told those idiots at the dunk tank there was a leak! Now look you’ve gone and slipped in the mud,” said a large woman who waved away the curious attendant.
“Your hands are freezing!” she said, pulling her hand away after trying to take Angela’s.
“Now that I notice it, you look like you’ve already gotten sick. I’ll take you to the medical tent and we can find your parents and get you some help.”
“Not sick,” Angela said, and the woman gave out a big laugh and pushed her forward along the gravel path. Angela kept her eyes on the ground. She was scared people would see her and know she was different. The woman quickened her pace as they got to the medical tent. She got the attention of a nurse who looked at Angela with scrutinizing eyes. He reached into his bag for a piece of equipment. The woman also peered into his bag, and while they were both distracted, Angela disappeared.
Slipping in between the oblivious carnival patrons, Angela milled about the grounds trying to figure out which path would take her to the monstrous wheel that towered overhead. Its light shined down on her and made her feel light, like she could float into it and it would hold her and nurture her. Every instant though she expected for a scream, a yell, some sound of utter disgust. She was not like the other children who frolicked and played.
To her left she spotted a small stand adorned with colorful pictures. An artist sat on a modest stool and sketched a caricature for a patron. Angela stopped for a moment to settle her confusion. She couldn’t understand why a drawing should exist. It served no purpose to her. You could not eat it to satisfy hunger or hide behind it for protection. And yet the colors reached out to her eyes and again she had the unnamable feeling. The fake smiling faces touched her without moving or threatening her. There was a safety somewhere within their charcoal and acrylic eyes.
A flush of fear came over her and she moved on, wary of staying anywhere for too long. She passed by games and rides, simple amusements that stamped peoples’ faces with a single look. Cheeks were raised, jaws slightly open, eyes wide. They smiled. The noises that came out of their mouths also mystified her. They were laughing.
She began following a small group of people who led her to the Ferris wheel. A threatening attendant managed the ride and she shuddered with anxiety over what might happen to her. He opened the gate and began admitting passengers into the rotating compartments. Her group reached the front of the line and she ran out and got in. The others didn’t know her and assumed she was with other people. The attendant hadn’t noticed and he looked into the dark cabin, realized someone had already gotten on, and rotated the wheel to position the next cart.
Sitting on the cool, steel bench, she held her knuckles to her mouth with her elbows on her knees. She wanted to be imprinted with that look, the smile that would make her human and make everything come alive for her. She wondered when it would happen. The thumping in her chest made her shake.
Suddenly, her compartment began to rock and she realized she was trapped. The door didn’t open when she tried it, and then when she looked through the window she discovered she was so high up that her body would break if she fell. Her mind went blank and she was sure she would be caught.
She had heard stories about things humans did to catch zombies. Members had left Zombie Village and never returned. It all became so clear to her that she was not caught earlier because the humans were ushering her into this giant machine to dispose of her. They had all known. Soon everything would be blank and she would return to the dust of the earth. Her realization paralyzed her and she glared out of the window as the forest and the ocean came into view.
Nothing made sense as she swirled around in the giant machine. It was a mistake to come and soon this little life that she had would be extinguished. The ride stopped and the door opened. The attendant stood there, obviously daydreaming, and behind him stood impatient people waiting in line.
A smile burst from her lips as it dawned on her. The machine had been terrifying, but it had worked and now she was human. Climbing out of the chair and onto the ground, she looked down at her hands. They appeared the same to her, grayish and decaying. Angela accepted that her appearance remained unchanged and believed that only this flood of emotion marked her transformation. Without fear, she milled about the grounds and took in all of the exotic sights and sounds. They filled her with joy, like they were little pieces of magic that jinxed her with their own little feeling of happiness.
Her eyes caught a small wooden stand in the corner. It looked forlorn despite the beautiful flashes of color decorating it. The flowers of red, yellow, blue, and gold drew her in close enough to faintly smell their sweet fragrances. She placed her hand on a soft petal and the sensation was like it was talking to her body. She loved that they were alive too and she felt a connection between them.
An old woman abruptly regained consciousness in a folding chair near the stand. Thick glasses grooved her nose and gloves covered her hands despite the heat.
“How long have you been here?” she asked, a little surprised.
“I don’t know,” Angela replied. She inspected the stand for a short while before thinking how these plants had never been seen in her village and realizing she needed to return to her home. She slowly backed away from the stand.
“You don’t have any money, do you?” the old woman asked.
“No,” Angela replied.
The old woman reached into her bag and produced a small envelope. It had a pretty picture of a pink flower on one side and words on the other. When the woman held it out to her, Angela took it in her hands and inspected it. Tiny specks inside rattled back and forth. Again, the ends of her lips curved.
“I knew you would like that. Take care, dearie.”
Angela walked away. She turned to look back on the place she visited, one more fantastic than anything her limited imagination could have envisioned before. Fewer lights glimmered in her eyes, and most of the rides had stopped. A glow bloomed inside of her and it stayed with her while she disappeared through the forest and into the swamp.
Forgetting that she had been sent out to find food, her preoccupied mind wondered how she would keep her secret. Angela practiced making her face blank and draining her voice of any tones or inflections. She tried to tell herself she was tired when she wanted to jump. She wanted to slow down when everything was happening so fast.
Entering Zombie Village, she felt as afraid of the other zombies as she had about the humans when she first entered the carnival. She kept her head down in the dim twilight and tried not to be noticed. It felt cold to her, the blackness everywhere. She noticed the lack of color and the lack of life like never before.
Only when she walked into her hut and faced the three individuals standing there waiting for her did she feel the gravity of her mistake. She did not bring back any food and that would lead to trouble. The adult male did not need to ask to know she had failed. The rage bubbled through him. In desperation, Angela held out the small envelope to him, hoping anything would happen. Sensing its insignificance, he ripped it in half and flung it through a gaping hole in the wall. It emptied itself of its seeds in the air and floated down to the ground.
No words exchanged between them, yet the result was understood. The three of them stalked out into the passageways in a manner that was universally recognizable among zombies. Sensing the impending hunt, other zombies gathered around and followed them into the open swamp. By the time they left, not a zombie remained in the village. The massive horde marched out into the darkness, intent on satisfying its one intrinsic need.
“No!” Angela pleaded. She slithered around inside the aggressive throng, yelling to anyone who would listen. The zombies moved in a direction that Angela had never been before and she wondered if it was intentional. She looked and listened as hard as she could for food sources to slow their progress, but she perceived nothing.
“No!” she said again, fighting her way to the front. The swamp must have been narrower on this side because they had already reached firmer ground. The trees thinned and more moonlight shone down from above. Angela felt nervous. A flush of dread overcame her. She had no idea where they could find a substantial enough food source.
The mob came upon a solitary cabin. The house in clear view view, they now marched on cut grass and climbed through wooden fences. Angela strained her neck looking for a graveyard, hoping it would be enough, wishing they would all turn around and leave. Moving her legs as fast as she could, she struggled closer to the front.
But finding a graveyard was not the intention of the group. They could smell their food in the air and they zeroed in on it with swift precision. The sound of laughter and happiness rang bittersweet in Angela’s ears. Intermingled with voices, the sound of splashing sifted through the air. A hedge enclosed a backyard swimming pool. Its occupants wouldn’t be able to see what was coming for them and the zombies could emerge simultaneously from three sides, ensuring no chance of escape.
The zombies silently took their positions for the ambush as they shimmied through the cedar hedge. Angela opened her mouth to scream but a slimy hand covered it. Another took hold of her and pulled her back. She could see through the hedge. A small number of humans waded in the water. They bobbled a beach ball, blissfully unaware of the overwhelming likelihood of their imminent deaths.
Another feeling came over her, one more intense than any she had felt before. Their life suddenly seemed so precious. They had infinite opportunities to express their heart’s deepest desires as they created a life that stood for what they believed in. She saw a man, a woman, and a few children who could surround themselves with a beauty matched only by their limitless spirit, their lives threatened by a senseless twist of fate.
Angela struggled and broke free only to hear her screams echoed by those in the pool. The water made a swishing sound as the humans clamored for the steps. The delirious, brain-craving zombies emerged on the cement and shuffled closer to their imperiled victims.
Angela outflanked the other zombies and ascended first onto the patio, where she saw the huddled family clinging to each other, trying to open the door. A streak shot through her, and the faint pulse of her heart offered a vision of herself and the three zombies leading the pack. They had been a family once and the closeness tingled inside of her and fluttered her eyelids. She turned back to the attackers, her parents and her brother.
“Stop! We can’t!” she cried out. Her words fell on deaf ears. Zombies attempted to scale the sides of the patio as the humans struggled to dislodge the jammed door. The zombies on the stairs quickly ascended, forcing Angela to back up until she was nearly on their victims herself
“We are a family! Believe me! Stop!” she screamed with all of the emotion and courage her heart could contain. She let it bleed out through her voice and the words popped like fireworks in the air.
The zombies continued to press closer and they lunged for their attack. Though her brother Dar had tried to save her, Angela bore the brunt of the first wave clawing as she shielded the huddled, moaning humans with her small body. The cuts ran through her and a new sound caught the horde’s attention.
Her chest torn open, Angela’s beating heart was exposed to the starry night’s sky. The sound struck the zombies’ attuned ears and they peered down at the red organ palpitating in a black mass, its last few beats petering out.
“Now I’m everything,” she said in the silence and stillness. The blankness came over her and her head fell back. Before she became the dust of the earth, her mind received the image of a torn screen and the sound of a starting engine.
No ritual and no ceremony were performed for Angela. No tears were shed for her and no solemn words shared. The horde returned home, leaving her body where it had fallen. They continued their existence just as they always had. Zombie Village, however, irrevocably changed from the dull, dreary place it had been.
Her seeds, the object of her emerging fascination, germinated and spread throughout the alleys and crevasses. At first, the zombies embraced the crooked thorns and brambles, believing them to be a reflection of themselves, but the first bloom of the radiant, pink Swamp Rose shocked them and left them mesmerized by the bold explosion of the vigorous spirit of life.