A Boy and His Zombie (a Short Story)
The crate was not addressed to him or to anyone in his family. Nonetheless, Tommy enthusiastically signed for it when the delivery man arrived with it at his door.
It was a heavy wooden crate, and Tommy had a great deal of difficulty scooting it even a tiny bit from where the man had placed it in his foyer.
Determined to get his mysterious new treasure out of sight before his parents came home, Tommy attached ropes from the garage to the crate, fashioned a harness for himself, and dragged it along the floor toward the door to the basement. He left some nasty scrapes on his parents' hardwood floor in the process, but, with concentrated effort, his endeavor proved successful.
When Tommy reached the basement stairs, he removed the ropes and simply tipped the crate over, letting gravity take its course. The crate crashed and banged, its contents making oddly moist, sploshy noises as it dropped from one step to the next, finally coming to rest at the bottom of the staircase.
Tommy was a bit surprised that the crate hadn't broken open from the fall. He bounded down the stairs after it, eager to examine it more closely.
The crate had a lot of big words printed on it, like "perishable," "volatile contents," and "biohazard." It was sturdily made of thick wood and sealed with large, thick nails that had clearly been pounded very deeply into its structure.
Tommy was going to need a crowbar.
Every Boy Needs a Best Friend
It took him the better part of the afternoon, but eventually Tommy managed to pry off one panel of the heavy wooden crate.
He was puzzled by what he found revealed beneath. Where he had broken the crate open, thick metal bars were exposed. As far as Tommy could surmise, he had come into possession of a box within a box. The contents of his mystery crate appeared to be a solid metal cage.
What made this discovery infinitely more interesting was that the cage seemed to contain an animal of some kind. It was difficult for Tommy to guess at what type of creature it might be; it was dark in the crate and whatever it was must be huddled away in a corner. Tommy had not seen it, but he knew it was there. He had distinctly heard the sounds of a flurry of movement as he had wrenched the lid from the crate.
Leaning his face in toward the bars and peering into the darkness, Tommy could make out nothing except a faint glint that might have been eyes. Then, as if to reassure him of its presence, there was a new flurry of rustling sounds that could have only been produced by a creature scurrying around in the small space.
Tommy smiled with satisfaction. To try to draw it out into the light, Tommy smacked the crowbar against the cage, banging it loudly a few times, causing a reverberating clang. Then he began to rake the edge of the crowbar back and forth across the bars as though he were running a stick across a whitewashed fence. Clack-clack-clack-clack.
Although extremely resourceful, Tommy was still just a ten year old boy, after all, and was a bit on the small side for his age to boot. Cracking open the sturdy crate would have proven a Herculean task for even a full-grown man. While Tommy had accomplished it with no greater toll to his overall well-being than a few needling blisters on his palms, the undertaking had taken him a number of hours. While he was still engrossed in the job, his parents had returned home from work and begun to go about their evening routines. Now, while intent upon coaxing the animal into sight, Tommy was roused from his labors by the sound of his mother calling him to dinner.
"Damn." Tommy thought disappointedly. His activities would have to be suspended for an hour or so; dinner was their designated "family time" and could not be skipped.
Tommy ascended the stairs and hit the light switch as he exited. He was not concerned about his parents finding his new toy down in the basement. The basement was his domain; his parents let him play there with complete autonomy. Although his parents never acknowledged their reasons for this aloud, it was because it was as close to pretending that they had no son as they could legally come. It wasn't that they were naturally callous or neglectful parents, but there was only just so much of Tommy that they could comfortably take. Tommy looked like a freckled cherub, was moderately clever, and was often astonishingly annoying.
After dinner, Tommy rushed back to his new project in the basement. Stuffed into his pocket, he had concealed a portion of meatloaf from his dinner. Whatever type of animal this creature was, after traveling inside a crate for a few days, it must be hungry. Tommy set the hunk of food on the floor next to crate and waited.
His eyes grew wide as something emerged from the dark depths of the cage, moving to the bars. It was humanoid. In fact, Tommy was relatively sure that it was human, or had been at one time. It was hunched over, shrunken-looking, and severely rotten. It was a wobbly-looking zombie.
Mouth agape, Tommy watched with fascination as the creature slipped its thin, skeletal arm through the bars and poked at the meatloaf.
There was no mistaking -- it was really a human corpse... an animated corpse! Tommy could see its jaw muscles and teeth through its cheeks. Its eye sockets were goopy, and it had no nose. Its blackened and desiccated skin was stretched too taut over its emaciated frame and had split in some places. It even smelled bad...
Nobody at school was ever going to believe this.
When his mother called him to go to bed that night, Tommy simply could not settle down. How could he possibly go to sleep? He was too excited. He had his own pet zombie!
The following day was a Monday. Tommy suffered through school, feeling as though it would never end. Hurrying home, he disappeared into the basement, a plan already firmly set in his head.
"Ugly! Hey, Ugly!" Tommy called as he descended the basement stairs. He was proud of this ever-so appropriate name he had chosen for his new pet.
The zombie was audibly shifting in its cage.
Tommy wanted to get it out of that cage. He needed more access to his zombie, wanted to better examine it...
It took a very long time, but he was determined. Finally, he managed to break open the other sides of the crate, exposing all four sides of the cage. And, as he had suspected, on one side of the cage was a hinged door. It would probably take another full day of his efforts with his dad's bolt cutters to cut through the thick chains that were looped around the door, locked in place with a huge padlock. But that was okay. Tommy was resolute; he would get it done.
But first, there were other matters to which to attend.
For the most part, while Tommy had worked on taking apart the crate, Ugly had just stayed balled up in a corner. Tommy reasoned that the noise might be frightening it, although that struck him as slightly odd since Ugly didn't actually have ears -- only holes. But hey, for all he knew that might mean its hearing was actually more acute.
Ugly was sitting on its haunches, resting its head against the bars of the cage. Each of its hands clutched one of the bars. Tommy approached it slowly from the left-hand side. Then he leaped forward, grabbing its left arm and wrapping clothes line around its wrist, using one of the more powerful knots he had learned in scouts, and tying it off to a clothes line hook on the far left wall of the basement.
Ugly initially tried to draw back its arm, but once Tommy eliminated the slack in the line, it ceased to struggle. The zombie looked confused, but did little more to resist. Quietly, it looked plaintively at the bound arm.
Tommy soon repeated the process, approaching this time from the right side and grabbing its other arm. It was a bit slimy, and filmy sheets of skin came away in his hands, making Tommy gag, but he persevered, knotting the line around the wrist and then tying it to the clothing hook on the right wall of the basement, near a mountain of assorted discarded toys in which Tommy had lost interest.
Ugly's arms were outstretched crucifixion-style, like a bird in flight. It sat resting on its knees, immobilized, existing now at Tommy's discretion.
Tomorrow, Tommy would get the cage open and extricate his zombie from it. Then the real fun would begin.
Tommy possessed healthy quantities of scientific curiosity and dogged determination. After dismantling the cage, which took nearly a week, he was able to begin to conduct his "experiments" in earnest. These initially consisted primarily of cutting off pieces of Ugly's shriveled, blackened fingers and toes, examining them under a magnifying glass, and then feeding them to the dog, who soon became inexplicably sick.
Tommy also tried to experiment with his zombie's diet, but with only limited success. Ugly had turned out to not be a fan of his mother's cooking. It had turned up its decomposed nose at her meatloaf, fried chicken, pot roast, spaghetti, and pot pie. It had gleefully eaten her tuna casserole, which, considering its other dietary choices, made Tommy very suspicious of the dish; he had vowed never to eat tuna casserole again. Other than the casserole, the only things that Ugly had shown interest in were living bugs. It would gobble up any flies, roaches, or spiders Tommy was able to provide.
However, Tommy was only able to provide very meager portions of anything (except on casserole night) that Ugly would eat. He was sure that it must be starving, but since it was already dead, he figured that hunger couldn't kill it. Besides, feedings were not conducted for Ugly's benefit; they were for the purpose of gathering empirical data.
Lunch Kit of the Damned
Tommy had had his zombie for a little over two weeks now.
He bounded down the stairs and greeted his zombie with a cheerful "Hey, Ugly!" A number two pencil protruded from Ugly's sickly grey cheek. Another was sticking out from one of its eye sockets.
The day before, Tommy had stuck pencils in Ugly's face. That hadn't really been part of one of his experiments. It wasn't very scientific. It was just bad-ass and funny.
"Heya, Ugly! How's my voodoo doll?" Tommy inquired gregariously, grabbing one of the pencils by its eraser and wiggling it inside the zombie's face.
Tommy had recently taken to affectionately addressing his zombie as his "voodoo doll." This was mostly because he thought it was funny to use Ugly as a biological pin cushion.
He happily jeered at the creature. "Oh, man, you sure are ugly, Ugly! And you stink!" he taunted. The zombie wobbled sadly, softly rocking back and forth on its knees. Growing bored with its lack of responsiveness, Tommy turned his attention to straightening up the basement.
Silently, Ugly's head followed his movements as Tommy tucked embarrassing toys away out of sight and wiped up some of the more disgusting pieces of dried food residue that had accumulated on the cement floor around where Ugly was tied in place.
Tommy's parents would not be home for a few hours, and Tommy was an industrious young man with an entrepreneurial spirit. The kids had not believed him at school when he told them about his new pet, of course. So he had devised a way to prove it to them and make some money for himself at the same time. He was selling tickets.
Do Zombies Feel Pain?
"Step right up -- right this way!" Tommy chortled, getting into his role as he ushered a stream of elementary age children down the basement stairs.
"A quarter gets you a look at him. But a dollar buys you a chance to poke him with a stick!"
The dollar bills fluttered in the children's hands.
The brutality of school children is rivaled by little else. By the time the throngs of young spectators had had a chance to poke him, Ugly was looking quite a bit worse for wear. There were dozens of indents and holes dug into its skin. If that wasn't bad enough, Tommy had decided to show off and, in an effort to impress the other children, he had taken a very solid whack at Ugly for the benefit of his audience. The force of the impact had cracked its brittle ankle bone in two; now the foot hung at an unnatural angle from its right leg. And, of course, Ugly had already been missing portions of most of its fingers and toes due to Tommy's experiments. So the zombie looked like an utter mess -- a sad sack of bones loosely held together by tattered flesh.
If Ugly had been capable of post-mortem cognitive activity, he surely would have wondered what he had done to deserve this life of merciless, never-ending torment. It would probably have been of little comfort to him to know that his misery was due to the random mistake of an overworked delivery man who was trying to deliver parcels in a hurry and get home to his family before his dinner got cold again.
Ugly had been packaged with the intent of being kept safely in storage at a government facility that was located on the other end of town. Unfortunately, 21 Harrington Court and 21 Harrington Facility looked the same if you stopped reading before the end of the line. This was a mistake that was commonly made by postal employees. In fact, Tommy's parents had received thick envelopes of classified material on a few occasions. They had always just thrown them out unread.
And if Ugly had been capable of post-mortem emotion, he would have undoubtedly hated his captor. As Tommy delighted in cruelly taunting him, kicked him for sport, and "playing dentist," he would have been burning with internal rage, planning his revenge against this sadistic child.
If Ugly had been a sentient being. Of course, Ugly was not. Ugly was dead. And, therefore, Ugly was not even a "he." Ugly was an it. And so it sat there, day after day, suffering silently, enduring stoically all varieties of forms of creative torture. Any impression it might have given of waiting and biding its time was completely coincidental.
After several months, Tommy's visits to the basement became less frequent. The novelty of having his own zombie had worn off, and baseball season had begun. Soon the boy only came to see Ugly maybe once a week, and even then his visits were abbreviated. Heaping physical and verbal abuse upon his enslaved zombie had grown boring and monotonous. And so Ugly mostly just sat on the remains of its haunches, arms splayed, gathering dust.
Resting on its boney knees in the dark, if Ugly had had functioning tear ducts, perhaps it would have cried from hunger, pain, and loneliness. Or perhaps it would have cried out of sheer relief that Tommy had finally lost interest in it.
It sat in silence for days on end. Over time, the ropes that bound its arms began to develop some slack. Each day, Ugly seemed to have a little more play in the lines. Before long, it was able to bring its arms directly in front of its face. And, in spite of Tommy's escapades into the make-believe land of dentistry with his mallet, Ugly still had some of its teeth.
It had been about a week and a half since Tommy had been down in the basement. These days, he was more interested in sports and video games than his less than lively pet, and it wasn't like Ugly was going anywhere. When he found himself more confined to the house in the winter, he figured that he would resume his "study" of the creature then. Today's appearance was merely perfunctory. Tommy leaned in to taunt his zombie, but his heart wasn't really in it; nevertheless, he did still find some modicum of pleasure in the ritual itself.
Although he had turned on the overhead bulb, the light in the basement was still dim, so Tommy did not notice that Ugly had all but chewed through the ligatures at its wrists.
As Tommy leaned in to spit in the zombie's face, as he was wont to do, the zombie, which now had a more accommodating range of motion, leaned in toward Tommy as well. Their faces met, and Ugly latched on, drawing its arms around the boy, embracing him with its boney limbs in a death vise. Then the zombie lunged forward, propelling Tommy to the ground, and perched on top of him, its limbs drawn around his head as if the Ugly were a face hugger from Alien.
Tommy let out a shriek of surprise, but his screams were soon muffled as Ugly drew more and more of his face into its mouth, sinking its teeth into the boy's upper pallet, pulling loose a hunk of lip and gobbling it down feverishly. Then it dove at him again, returning to devour his cheek, and then to pull away pieces of his tongue as he tried to articulate his little cries for help. The starved corpse descended upon Tommy's face again and again, coming away with generous strips of tissue, then with his nose, and then returning to slurp at an eye.
Ugly embodied mindless hunger, greedily gulping down the boy's flesh. But this mindless hunger was not malicious; it was merely inescapable. There are things far worse than mindless hunger. And one of them was being consumed by Ugly's mindless hunger in the basement.
The boy shrieked, then wailed, then sobbed, then moaned, then gurgled, and finally ceased to make any more noises. In the peaceful calm of the boy's new and final silence, Ugly continued to eat. It would be thorough; this meal had been a long time coming, and not a morsel of it would go to waste.
Many hours later, Ugly sat contentedly curled up in dim corner of the basement, gnawing the bones. It slurped at the marrow, then paused, the muscles of its face contorting in an odd way; if Ugly had had lips, it would have looked like it was smiling.