Home > Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(10)

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(10)
Isaac Marion

I shake my head, making a gag face.

‘What, you don’t eat fat people?’

‘Fat . . . not alive. Waste product. Need . . . meat.’

She laughs. ‘Oh, so you’re an audiophile and a food snob! Jesus.’ She tosses the clothes aside and lets out a deep breath. ‘Well, all right. I’m exhausted. The bed in there isn’t too rotten. I’m going to sleep.’

I lie back on the cramped love seat, settling in for a long night alone with my thoughts. But Julie doesn’t leave. Standing there in the bedroom doorway, she looks at me for a long minute. I’ve seen this look before, and I brace myself for whatever’s coming.

‘R . . .’ she says. ‘Do you . . . have to eat people?’

I sigh inside, so exhausted by these ugly questions, but when did a monster ever deserve its privacy?

‘Yes.’

‘Or you’ll die?’

‘Yes.’

‘But you didn’t eat me.’

I hesitate.

‘You rescued me. Like three times.’

I nod slowly.

‘And you haven’t eaten anyone since then, right?’

I frown in concentration, thinking back. She’s right. Not counting the few bites of leftover brains here and there, I’ve been gastronomically celibate since the day I met her.

A peculiar little half-smile twitches on her face. ‘You’re kind of . . . changing, aren’t you?’

As usual, I am speechless.

‘Well, goodnight,’ she says, and shuts the bedroom door.

I lie there on the love seat, gazing up at the water-stained cottage-cheese ceiling.

‘What’s going on with you?’ M asks me over a cup of mouldy coffee in the airport Starbucks. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, I’m okay. Just changing.’

‘How can you change? If we all start from the same blank slate, what makes you diverge?’

‘Maybe we’re not blank. Maybe the debris of our old lives still shapes us.’

‘But we don’t remember those lives. We can’t read our diaries.’

‘It doesn’t matter. We are where we are, however we got here. What matters is where we go next.’

‘But can we choose that?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘We’re Dead. Can we really choose anything?’

‘Maybe. If we want to bad enough.’

*

The rain drumming on the roof. The creak of weary timbers. The prickle of the old cushions through the holes in my shirt. I’m busy searching my post-death memory for the last time I went this long without food when I notice Julie standing in the doorway again. Her arms are folded on her chest and her hip is pressed against the door frame. Her foot taps an anxious rhythm on the floor.

‘What?’ I ask.

‘Well . . .’ she says. ‘I was just thinking. The bed’s a king-size. So I guess, if you wanted to . . . I wouldn’t care if you joined me in there.’ I raise my eyebrows a little. Her face reddens. ‘Look, all I’m saying – all I’m saying – is I don’t mind giving you a side of the bed. These rooms are kinda spooky, you know? I don’t want the ghost of Mrs Sprat crushing me in my sleep. And considering I haven’t showered in over a week, you really don’t smell much worse than I do – maybe we’ll cancel each other out.’ She shrugs one shoulder, whatever, and disappears into the bedroom.

I wait a few minutes. Then, with great uncertainty, I get up and follow her in. She is already in the bed, curled into the foetal position with the blankets pulled tight around her. I slowly ease myself onto the far opposite edge. The blankets are all on her side, but I certainly don’t need to stay warm. I am perpetually room-temperature.

Despite the pile of luxurious down comforters wrapped around her, Julie is still shivering. ‘These clothes are . . .’ she mutters, and sits up in bed. ‘Fuck.’ She glances over at me. ‘I’m going to lay my clothes out to dry. Just . . . relax, okay?’ With her back to me, she wriggles out of her wet jeans and peels her shirt over her head. The skin of her back is blue-white from the cold. Almost the same hue as mine. In her polka-dot bra and plaid panties, she gets out of bed and drapes her clothes over the dresser, then quickly crawls back under the covers and curls up. ‘Goodnight,’ she says.

I lie back on my folded arms, staring up at the ceiling. We are both on the very edges of the mattress, about four feet of space between us. I get the feeling that it’s not just my ghoulish nature that makes her so wary. Living or Dead, virile or impotent, I still appear to be a man, and maybe she thinks I’ll act the same as any other man would, lying so close to a beautiful woman. Maybe she thinks I’ll try to take things from her. That I’ll slither over and try to consume her. But then why am I even in this bed? Is it a test? For me, or for her? What strange hopes are compelling her to take this chance?

I listen to her breathing slow as she falls asleep. After a few hours, with her fear safely tucked away in dreams, she rolls over, removing most of the gap between us. She’s facing me now. Her faint breath tickles my ear. If she were to wake up right now, would she scream? Could I ever make her understand how safe she really is? I won’t deny that this proximity ignites more urges in me than the instinct to kill and eat. But although these new urges are there, some of them startling in their intensity, all I really want to do is lie next to her. In this moment, the most I’d ever hope for would be for her to lay her head on my chest, let out a warm, contented breath, and sleep.

Now here is an oddity. A question for the zombie philosophers. What does it mean that my past is a fog but my present is brilliant, bursting with sound and colour? Since I became Dead I’ve recorded new memories with the fidelity of an old cassette deck, faint and muffled and ultimately forgettable. But I can recall every hour of the last few days in vivid detail, and the thought of losing a single one horrifies me. Where am I getting this focus? This clarity? I can trace a solid line from the moment I met Julie all the way to now, lying next to her in this sepulchral bedroom, and despite the millions of past moments I’ve lost or tossed away like highway trash, I know with a lockjawed certainty I’ll remember this one for the rest of my life.

*

Sometime in the pre-dawn, as I lie there on my back with no real need to rest, a dream flickers on like a film reel behind my eyes. Except it’s not a dream, it’s a vision, far too crisp and bright for my lifeless brain to have rendered. Usually these second-hand memories are preceded by the taste of blood and neurons, but not tonight. Tonight I close my eyes and it just happens, a surprise midnight showing.

We open on a dinner scene. A long metal table laid out with a minimalist spread. Bowl of rice. Bowl of beans. Rectangle of flax bread.

‘Thank you, Lord, for this food,’ says the man at the head of the table, hands folded in front of him but eyes wide open. ‘Bless it to our bodies. Amen.’

Julie nudges the boy sitting next to her. He squeezes her thigh under the table. The boy is Perry Kelvin. I’m in Perry’s mind again. His brain is gone, his life evaporated and inhaled . . . yet he’s still here. Is this a chemical flashback? A trace of his brain still dissolving somewhere in my body? Or is it actually him? Still holding on somewhere, somehow, somewhy?

‘So, Perry,’ Julie’s dad says to him – to me. ‘Julie tells me you’re working for Agriculture now.’

I swallow my rice. ‘Yes, sir, General Grigio, I’m a—’

‘This isn’t the mess hall, Perry, this is dinner. Mr Grigio will be fine.’

‘Okay. Yes, sir.’

There are four chairs at the table. Julie’s father sits at the head, and she and I sit next to each other on his right. The chair at the other end of the table is empty. What Julie tells me about her mother is this: ‘She left when I was twelve.’ And though I’ve gently probed, she has never offered me more, not even while we’re lying na*ed in my twin bed, exhausted and happy and as vulnerable as any two people can be.

‘I’m a planter right now,’ I tell her father, ‘but I think I’m on track for a promotion. I’m shooting for harvest supervisor.’

‘I see,’ he says, nodding thoughtfully. ‘That isn’t a bad job . . . but I wonder why you don’t join your father in Construction. I’m sure he could use more young men working on that all-important corridor.’

‘He’s asked me to, but ah . . . I don’t know, I just don’t think Construction is the place for me right now. I like working with plants.’

‘Plants,’ he repeats.

‘I just think in times like these there’s something meaningful about growing things. The soil’s so depleted it’s hard to get much out of it, but it’s pretty satisfying when you finally do see some green coming through that grey crust.’

Mr Grigio stops chewing, blank-faced. Julie looks uneasy. ‘Remember that little shrub we had in our living room back east?’ she says. ‘The one that looked like a skinny little tree?’

‘Yes . . .’ her dad says. ‘What about it?’

‘You loved that thing. Don’t act like you don’t get gardening.’

‘That was your mother’s plant.’

‘But you’re the one who loved it.’ She turns to me. ‘So Dad used to be quite the interior designer, believe it or not; he had our old house decked out like an IKEA showroom, all this modern glass and metal stuff, which my mom couldn’t stand– she wanted everything earthy and natural, all hemp fibre and sustainable hardwoods . . .’

Mr Grigio’s face looks tight. Julie either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

‘. . . so to fight back, she buys this lush, bright green shrub, puts it in a huge wicker pot, and sticks it right in the middle of Dad’s perfect white-and-silver living room.’

‘It wasn’t my living room, Julie,’ he interjects. ‘As I recall we took a vote on every piece of furniture, and you always sided with me.’

‘I was like eight, Dad, I probably liked pretending I lived in a spaceship. Anyway, Mom buys this plant and they argue about it for a week – Dad says it’s “incongruous”, Mom says either the plant stays or she goes—’ She hesitates momentarily. Her father’s face gets tighter. ‘That, um, that went on for a while,’ she resumes, ‘but then Mom being Mom, she got obsessed with something else and quit watering the plant. So when it started dying, guess who adopted the poor thing?’

‘I wasn’t going to have a dead shrub as our living room’s centrepiece. Someone had to take care of it.’

‘You watered it every day, Dad. You gave it plant food and pruned it.’

‘Yes, Julie, that’s how you keep a plant alive.’

‘Why can’t you admit you loved the stupid plant, Dad?’ She regards him with a mixture of amazement and frustration. ‘I don’t get it, what is so wrong with that?’

‘Because it’s absurd,’ he snaps, and the mood of the room suddenly shifts. ‘You can water and prune a plant but you cannot “love” a plant.’

Julie opens her mouth to speak, then shuts it.

‘It’s a meaningless decoration. It sits there consuming time and resources, and then one day it decides to die, no matter how much you watered it. It’s absurd to attach an emotion to something so pointless and brief.’

There are a few long seconds of silence. Julie breaks away from her father’s stare and pokes at her rice. ‘Anyway,’ she mumbles, ‘my point was, Perry . . . that Dad used to be a gardener. So you should share gardening stories.’

‘I’m interested in a lot more than gardening,’ I say, racing to change the subject.

‘Oh?’ Mr Grigio says.

‘Yeah, ah . . . motorcycles? I salvaged a BMW R 1200 R a while ago and I’ve been working on bulletproofing it, getting it combat-ready just in case.’

‘You have mechanical experience, then. That’s good. We have a shortage of mechanics in the Armoury right now.’

Julie rolls her eyes and shovels beans into her mouth.

‘I’m also spending a lot of time on my marksmanship. I’ve been requesting extra assignments from school and I’ve gotten pretty good with the M40.’

‘Hey, Perry,’ Julie says, ‘why don’t you tell Dad about your other plans? Like how you’ve always wanted to—’

I step on her foot. She glares at me.

‘Always wanted to what?’ her father asks.

‘I don’t – I’m not really . . .’ I take a drink of water. ‘I’m not really sure yet, sir, to be honest. I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. But I’m sure I’ll have it figured out by the time I start high school.’

What were you going to say? R wonders aloud, interrupting the scene again, and I feel a lurch as we swap places. Perry glances up at him – at me – frowning.

‘Come on, corpse, not now. This is the first time I met Julie’s father and it’s not going well. I need to focus.’

‘It’s going fine,’ Julie tells Perry. ‘This is my dad these days, I warned you about him.’

‘You better pay attention,’ Perry says to me. ‘You might have to meet him someday, too, and you’re going to have a much harder time winning his approval than I did.’

Julie runs a hand through Perry’s hair. ‘Aw, babe, don’t talk about the present. It makes me feel left out.’

He sighs. ‘Yeah, okay. These were better times anyway. I turned into a real neutron star when I grew up.’

I’m sorry I killed you, Perry. It’s not that I wanted to, it’s just—

‘Forget it, corpse, I understand. Seems by that point I wanted out anyway.’

‘I bet I’ll always miss you when I think back to these days,’ Julie says wistfully. ‘You were pretty cool before Dad got his claws into you.’

‘Take care of her, will you?’ Perry whispers up to me. ‘She’s been through some hard stuff. Keep her safe.’

I will.

Mr Grigio clears his throat. ‘I would start planning now if I were you, Perry. With your skill set, you should really consider Security training. Green shoots coming through the dirt are all well and good but we don’t strictly need all these fruits and vegetables. You can live on nothing but Carbtein for almost a year before cell fatigue is even measurable. The most important thing is keeping us all alive.’

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