Zombies and Old Lace
a Halloween Story That Moves Very Slowly by Martti Nelson
“Jesus of Jerusalem, Dorothy — he’s getting away! I hustled faster than this when I was alive and used a walker.” Phyllis shimmied her right hip; it hadn’t been going the right direction since their run-in with the Girl Scouts a couple of nights ago.
Phyllis wobbled like the world’s lowest-rent burlesque dancer. This notion birthed the giggles in Dorothy, even though mockery was un-Christian. “I’m trying! You’d think Zombie-things like us would be able to outpace a wheelchair.”
But it was no use. Mr. Robertson had rolled clear down the block in his fancy motorized scooter. He hadn’t even noticed the two horrible, man-eating Zombies chasing him. Maybe they shouldn’t have worn their Sunday best.
Dorothy put her arm around Phyllis. A shifting under the shoulder of Phyllis’ flowered dress told Dorothy more of her friend’s skin had chunked off. Oh, dear. “There’s no need to take the Lord’s name in vain, Phyllis.”
Phyllis wrangled her leg bone into the hip socket with a squishy pop. “Ahhhh. We’re the evil undead, Dorothy. I don’t suppose He’s our Lord anymore.”
“I am not worshipping Satan just because I tried to eat little Susanna Hopkins. The Lord turned us to Zombies, and he don’t make no junk.”
They plopped onto a bench under a streetlamp, the yellow pool of light emphasizing the antique-newspaper quality of their decaying flesh. “We need new outfits.” Dorothy tugged the straw hat from her head. “We aren’t being taken seriously as monsters.”
Phyllis’ cotton-candy halo of white hair bobbled in assent. “I told you we should break into the motorcycle dealership and get some leathers. Nobody fucks around with biker chicks.”
“Sure, everyone’s intimidated by ancient biker chicks.” Shuffling to her slippered feet, Dorothy said, “Let’s scoot home. It’s time for Wheel.”
On the shadowy street one block over from their house, they passed a group of kids playing ball in the moonlight. The brats didn’t even blink at them.
Dorothy had written a letter to the editor of The Polk County Register declaring Florida the latest state to be under attack by Zombies (namely, Dorothy and Phyllis), but he’d refused to run it. How were the humans supposed to be stupefied with terror? And how would other Zombies know to send reinforcements? By Dorothy’s accounting, she and Phyllis were the only two walking dead in the sunshine state. Trouble was, they blended right in with the general population of meth addicts, old folks, and slimy politicians.
No one expects to become a Zombie at eighty-three. Estate planning seminars just don’t cover that sort of thing.
A rumble erupted from Phyllis’ empty belly. That made the teenagers pause. The two ladies shook their heads in unison. If they couldn’t catch a pack of ten-year-old Girl Scouts, they wouldn’t overcome any hormone-fueled neighbors, either. Dorothy’s mouth overflowed like a geyser at the thought of sinking her dentures into some muscley youth. Teenager tartare.
They hadn’t eaten — not once — since Phyllis’ boyfriend Ed bit them in what Dorothy was convinced was his botched attempt at a three-way. That filthy man always had been the clumsiest lothario this side of Winter Haven. And then he’d gone and gotten himself eaten by an alligator, bless his heart.
Dorothy’s glasses slid to the pavement with a crunch. “Oh, dear.” She leaned down to fetch them, a whispery moan wheezing through her parched lips.
“Dorothy, it’s high time you faced the fact that your nose is gone.”
“It is not!”
Phyllis’ hands planted on her hips. “Dorothy, you are in denial! You nose is missing, my right foot only has one toe left, and we need to catch us some real, live food or we’re done for. Shit on a twig!” She huffed and scratched her head. A chunk of her coiffure fell off.
Finally, they crept over the stoop and into the house, the cheery white shutters belying the fiendish creatures within. Wheel was over, but the overstuffed couch welcomed them just the same, its old wicker frame creaking under their weight.
“I’ve got a plan, Dorothy,” Phyllis said. “We’re gonna capture a bona-fide dinner tomorrow night.”
Zombies could only walk the Earth in a cursed fashion after dark. Dorothy sure did miss matinees.
Phyllis set her feet on the matching wicker coffee table. “I’ve been on the internet. Lots of our kind there. This computer chat place gives tips on how to improve your huntin’ speed. Did you know a Zombie in Texas clocked in at one mile per hour on foot?”
Dorothy’s glasses fell to her lap. “Foot or feet?”
“Feet.” Phyllis scratched at her knee. “For zip like that, he musta had both. Come on. We gotta get on our nefarious scheming.” She started for the kitchen, a determined spring almost breaking through her Zombie shamble.
Dorothy followed to rein in Phyllis, whose plots veered too close to the “Lucy Ricardo” end of the shenanigans spectrum. She stumbled over something. “Well, I’ll be!” Dorothy peered at the avocado shag carpet. “I found my nose!”
Dorothy examined the card table they’d erected. On the front hung a sign reading “Grandmothers’ Coalition to Feed the Hungry Bake Sale.” She’d decorated it with glittery comedy and tragedy masks, as befitting their location outside the community theater’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. “Check.”
They sat on folding chairs to wait. Phyllis tugged up the lace hem of her sunshine-yellow dress to scratch her thigh, already scored with oozing cuts. Oozing with…not blood, exactly. Perhaps a substance that should not examined with vigor.
“Phyllis!” Dorothy jerked the cotton over her friend’s knee. “This is a bake sale, not a hooker convention.”
“It’s not a bake sale, it’s a human trap, you daft old lady.”
Dorothy sniffed through her re-attached nose. “I simply believe that we can conduct ourselves with a modicum of ladylike manners. Nobody wants to see an old Zombie’s support hose.”
Phyllis snorted. “Your nose looks pretty.”
Patting either side of her nostrils, Dorothy said, “Thank you! You can’t even see the staples with my glasses on.”
“Nope. It turned out real nice.”
They waited for a few minutes, staring at the gun shop billboard, and the different gun shop next to it. “What did you put in the cupcakes, anyway?” Dorothy asked.
“Oh… ” the corner of Phyllis’ slack jaw crept into a smirk. “A bit of sleeping pill, a little Benadryl, and just a pinch of — ”
The wooden doors of the theater split wide with a crack. The two Zombies wobbled upright and clasped each other’s hands. Dorothy opened her mouth to speak. An inhuman howl poured forth from betwixt her lips.
“Shhhhh!” Phyllis leaned close. “They can’t understand us, remember?”
With a sweep of her arm, Dorothy indicated their wares to the elderly theater-goers exiting the play. Cupcakes for fifty cents, grape juice for twenty-five. Fixed income retirees could not resist such diabetes-defying bargains.
Customers swamped them. They’d situated themselves in the shadows supplied by the roof overhang and, thanks be to sweet baby Jesus, none of the normals seemed to realize they were buying the baked goods of Beelzebub. The Clark brothers lingered around the table, eating cupcakes two bites at a time and winking at Dorothy and Phyllis. Sixty-five and handsome, the twins were by far the sexiest action the ladies had seen in months. They even possessed a majority of their hair.
Were good-looking people more delicious? Dorothy cackled for a moment, until a sharp elbow from Phyllis poked her back to sense.
Soon, the rush ended. The humans sauntered to their Lincolns and Crown Victorias. Carlyle Clark winked at Phyllis and beeped open the door to his Cadillac, parked in a handicapped space near the entrance. Cleveland Clark stumbled a bit, his hand fluttering in the direction of his heart.
Dorothy and Phyllis exchanged a nod as they quickly, er, relatively quickly, put their bake sale supplies in a rolling grocery cart.
Cleveland seemed to recover. He sent a bright smile over to Dorothy before they drove away.
“Now!” Phyllis said.
Dorothy dove, as fast as her creaking bones would allow, under the pawpaw hedge behind them to retrieve their secret weapons.
Secret weapon number one: her grandson’s scooter.
Secret weapon number two: neighbor Ricky’s skateboard, which he always left on their property, though Phyllis repeatedly asked him not to.
“Ha ha, you snotty shit,” Phyllis muttered, one foot sliding the board back and forth across the cement. “That’ll teach you to get the fuck off my lawn. Let’s ride!”
They took off behind the white Cadillac, which was driving a sensible ten MPH below the speed limit. After some swiveling and swerving, Dorothy got the hang of keeping her right foot on the deck of the scooter and pushing off with the left. She hadn’t coordinated this many muscle groups since she’d played craps in Atlantic City.
Phyllis rushed past Dorothy and hooted into the night air. That girl sure did keep an amazingly firm grip on the skateboard, especially as she’d lost another toe only last night.
A mile or so from the theater, the Cadillac slowed, thank the saints. Dorothy and Phyllis slunk into the pines beside the road to observe their prey.
Anticipation choked Dorothy’s chest. She supposed, now that they were actually going to eviscerate two pleasant gentlemen who never meant them any harm, that she should feel the poke of Jiminy Cricket. But nope. The thought of sexy Cleveland’s warm, succulent flesh sloshing down her gullet made Dorothy nearly faint with the vapors. She licked her lips. His beautiful, deep brown skin would taste salty-sweet to her parched pallet, sure as a Zombie rots.
No movement, no sound from the car. It idled and spluttered. Phyllis jerked her hand; Dorothy followed.
The two men sat stone-still in their plush, leather seats. Knock, knock, knock, Dorothy rapped on the passenger window. Cleveland’s head made a slow rotation toward her. She smiled in what she hoped was a non-murderey way. His face split wide in response.
“Phyllis,” Dorothy whisper-moaned through the side of her mouth, “are you ready to overcome them with the power of our monstrous hunger?”
“Wait a moment.” Phyllis bustled Dorothy aside and pulled the door handle. Both Carlyle and Cleveland looked pleased at the ladies’ arrival.
“Phyllis!” Dorothy swung shut the door. “You said you put sleeping pills, Benadryl, and something else in those cupcakes.” She took another peek inside the car. Cleveland blew a dizzy kiss. “What was the ‘something else’?”
Her eighty-four-year old best friend snickered. “Ed’s leftover Viagra.” Phyllis fell against the side paneling of the Cadillac, brown tears of mirth streaming down her hollow cheeks. “We can’t eat them yet, Dorothy. Let’s make hanky panky first!”
Dorothy’s fingers crept upward to clutch her pearls. “My mother taught me not to play with my food!”
Phyllis opened the rear passenger door and shoved Dorothy in. Still laughing, Phyllis circled to the driver’s side and removed a turgid Carlyle. She deposited him in the back beside Dorothy, then sat up front and put the car into gear.
Carlyle turned to Dorothy, who shifted into the corner, lest he spy her rotting whatnots and become alarmed. That might not exactly be a problem. He teetered, obviously high as a hippie at a Woodstock. “Hey, Dorothy,” he said, slurring his words and depositing a palm on her leg. “It sure is wonderful to see you.”
Dorothy nodded, not unhappy at the unexpected groping. Why, if her heart worked, it would have been pounding.
Cleveland twisted around to get in on the action. His eyes glassed over, the corners crinkling into an alluring spider web of lines. Light and easy, his fingers traced whirls into the fabric of the dress over Dorothy’s lap. “You better not be gettin’ fresh with my girl, Carl.”
Phyllis took to cackling more.
The warm-fuzzies, a feeling absent from Dorothy for twenty-odd years, bloomed through her body. Phyllis was a genius. Surely making whoopee with a single gentleman, and then devouring his organs, couldn’t be much worse than simply eating him. It seemed a waste of one particular organ not to fool around. Dorothy had not suffered through World War II to be wasteful now.
The car stopped. They were home. Phyllis grabbed a rubbery Carlyle and pulled him toward the porch. Dorothy perked her dirty pillows and sashayed inside, Cleveland dogging her steps like, well, a dog with a bone(r).
Phyllis had wisely left the house in darkness. She and Carlyle were gone.
“Where’s your bedroom, sexy chickadee?” Cleveland asked. Dorothy pointed. He stooped beside her and slowly lifted her into his arms. A high-pitched whoop burst from her. “I lift weights at the YMCA,” he said. He stumbled a step or two, but managed to steer them into Dorothy’s room.
She tried not to consider his carrying problems a commentary on her weight. That man thrummed with so many dang drugs, it was a wonder he still stood upright. Upright! A bit of hysteria broke through Dorothy’s blood lust — and normal kind of lust. He sure was upright. His willy smushed against her leg as he leaned over her prostrate form on the four-poster.
Just as Cleveland placed a large, warm hand on her right boob, a scream shattered the heavy-breathing (him) and not-breathing (her) atmosphere of carnal desire.
He fell off her, clutching his chest. “Carlyle!”
Uh oh. Dorothy rolled onto her feet to beat Cleveland out the door.
Carlyle, one hundred percent naked, crouched at one end of the couch. His hand clutched another hand. The extremity belonged to Phyllis, who hunkered down (also naked) at the other end of the sofa. “Cleve, her hand snapped off!” Carlyle hollered. “It snapped off!”
Cleveland hurried to help his brother. Dorothy extended a leg. Down he crashed, face-first into the carpet.
Dorothy sauntered to Carlyle, grabbed the family Bible from the doily on the end table, and smacked him upside the head with it. She said a prayer of remorse for having misused the Lord’s words, but His sturdy book had been the closest weapon, besides the lamp she’d received at her wedding. She wasn’t about to break that. It came from France.
Gracefully, Carlyle flopped onto the couch, his hard-on spiking heavenward. Saints alive, those pills were something else.
“Phyllis, you are the clumsiest woman who ever lived. Or died. I just got to second base.” Dorothy shoved Carlyle to one side and sat beside him. “What do we do now?”
“Eat them, I guess.” Phyllis pried her broken part from the grip of her cold-cocked boy toy.
“Are you… Zombies?” They turned to Cleveland, who crouched against the wall next to the TV, his arms wrapped around his knees.
Phyllis bayed in assent. He shrank into himself and gaped at Carlyle.
“I have an idea,” Dorothy said. She haltingly made her way to the kitchen, found a note pad, and scribbled on it. She showed what she’d written to Cleveland.
“What are you telling that man?” Phyllis asked.
“I’ve offered him a choice: be dinner or a Zombie.”
The two friends blinked at one another. Phyllis nibbled on her severed hand. “I’m hungry, Dorothy.”
“Don’t you see? If Cleveland and Carlyle were turned, we’d have twice the Zombie forces we have now. Two are a joke, but four are the start of a terrifying revolution. I bet the snooty newspaper would pay attention to us then.”
“Dorothy?” Cleveland said, his voice small. “Will you let me discuss your proposition with Carl?”
She nodded and vacated the couch. Pulling Phyllis by her truncated limb, Dorothy led them into the kitchen, from which they could give the Clarks privacy, but still watch them.
Cleveland shook Carlyle awake. One naked and the other not, the brothers leaned their heads close together and discussed the situation.
“You’re too soft, Dorothy,” Phyllis muttered. Duct tape screeched as she wound it around her arm, reattaching wrist to palm.
The gentlemen stood and faced their captors. Carlyle slunk into the bedroom while Cleveland approached their undead dates. Keeping his distance, he twisted his fingers together and said, “Carlyle has cancer. And we figure it’s just a matter of time before some other, not so kind as y’all, Zombie eats us right up. We decided we’d rather be on the winnin’ side of things.”
A howl of approval issued from the Zombies.
Cleveland fell a couple of steps backward, but quickly found his courage. He stiffened his spine. “But before you bite, we have a question… Will we still be able to do…it…when we’re Zombies?”
Phyllis shrugged. “We dunno all the rules.”
Carlyle, now sporting pants, joined Cleveland and they again conducted a short conversation between themselves, their backs toward the gals.
After the brothers’ whispering stopped, Carlyle turned to Phyllis, his eyes growing wider as she gnawed at the tape around her wrist. She shoved her arm behind her back.
Carlyle said, “Since you, uh, ladies brought us here for hokey pokey… maybe we should get friendly before you Zombify us, just in case.” He glanced at this tented trousers. “We’d like to go out with a bang.”
Phyllis and Dorothy giggled.
Cleveland and Carlyle grinned. After all, there’s more than one way to eat people.