Home > Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(7)

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1)(7)
Isaac Marion

I have begun to wonder where I came from. The person I am now, this fumbling, stumbling supplicant . . . was I built on the foundations of my old life, or did I rise from the grave a blank slate? How much of me is inherited, and how much is my own creation? Questions that were once just idle musings have begun to feel strangely urgent. Am I firmly rooted to what came before? Or can I choose to deviate?

I wake up staring at the distant ceiling. The memories, empty as they already were, evaporate completely. It’s still night, and I can hear my wife ha**ng s*x with her new lover behind the door of a nearby staffroom. I try to ignore them. I already walked in on them once today. I heard noises, the door was wide open, so I walked in. There they were, naked, awkwardly slamming their bodies together, grunting and groping each other’s pale flesh. He was limp. She was dry. They watched each other with puzzled expressions, as if some unknown force had shoved them together into this moist tangle of limbs. Their eyes seemed to ask each other, ‘Who the hell are you?’ as they jiggled and jerked like meat marionettes.

They didn’t stop or even react when they noticed me standing there. They just looked at me and kept grinding. I nodded, and walked back to Gate 12, and this was the final weight that broke my mind’s kneecaps. I crumpled to the floor and slept.

I don’t know why I’m awake already, after just a few feverish hours. I still feel the weight of my accumulated thoughts bearing down on my tender brain, but I don’t think I can sleep any more. A burr and a buzz tickle my mind, keeping me alert. I reach for the only thing that’s ever helped in times like these. I reach into my pocket and pull out my last chunk of cerebrum.

As residual life energy fades from the brain, the useless clutter is first to go. The movie quotes, the radio jingles, the celebrity gossip and political slogans, they all melt away, leaving only the most potent and wrenching of the memories. As the brain dies, the life inside clarifies and distils. It ages like a fine wine.

The piece in my hand has shrivelled somewhat, taking on a brownish-grey tint. I’ll be lucky to get another few minutes of Perry’s life out of this, but what blazing, urgent minutes these will be. Closing my eyes, I pop it into my mouth and chew, thinking, Don’t leave me yet, Perry. Just a little longer. Just a little more. Please.

I erupt from the dark, crushing tunnel into a flash of light and noise. A new kind of air surrounds me, dry and cold, as they wipe the last smears of home off my skin. I feel a sharp pain as they snip something, and suddenly I am less. I am no one but myself, tiny and feeble and utterly alone. I am lifted and swung through great heights across yawning distances, and given to Her. She wraps around me, so much bigger and softer than I ever imagined from inside, and I strain my eyes open. I see Her. She is immense, cosmic. She is the world. The world smiles down on me, and when She speaks it’s the voice of God, vast and resonant with meaning, but words unknowable, ringing gibberish in my blank white mind.

She says—

I am in a dark, crooked room, gathering medical supplies and loading them into boxes. A small crew of civilian recruits are with me on this salvage, all of them handpicked by Colonel Rosso except one. One of them picked herself. One of them saw a look in my eyes and worried. One of them wants to save me.

‘Did you hear that?’ Julie says, glancing around.

‘No,’ I reply instantly and keep loading.

‘I did,’ Nora says, brushing her frizzy curls out of her eyes. ‘Pear, maybe we should—’

‘We’re fine. We scoped it out, we’re secure. Just work.’

They watch me constantly, tensed like hospital orderlies, ready to intervene. It changes nothing. I won’t endanger them but I’ll still find a way. When I’m alone, when no one’s looking, I’ll do it. I’ll make it happen. They keep trying and trying but the beauty of their love only drives me deeper. Why can’t they understand it’s too late?

A noise. I hear it now. A rumble of footsteps up the staircase, a chorus of groans. Are Julie’s ears so much more sensitive or have I stopped listening? I pick up my shotgun and turn—

No, I blurt into the middle of the vision. Not this. This isn’t what I want to see.

To my surprise, everything halts. Perry looks up at me, the voice in the sky. ‘These are my memories, remember? You’re the guest here. If you don’t want to see it, you can spit it out.’

This is a shock. The memory has come unscripted. Am I having a conversation with the very mind I’m digesting? I don’t know how much of this is actually Perry and how much is just me, but I’m swept along.

We should be seeing your life! I shout down at him. Not this! Why would you want your last thought to be a replay of your dirty, meaningless death?

‘You think death isn’t meaningful?’ he retorts, chambering a round in his shotgun. Julie and the others wait in their positions like background props, fidgeting impatiently. ‘Wouldn’t you want to remember yours if you could? How else are you going to reverse-engineer yourself into something new?’

Something new?

‘Of course, you dumb corpse.’ He puts his eye to the sights and makes a slow scan of the room, holding for a moment on Berg. ‘There are a thousand kinds of life and death across the whole metaphysical spectrum, not to mention the metaphorical. You don’t want to stay dead for the rest of your life, do you?’

Well, no . . .

‘Then relax, and let me do what I need to do.’

I swallow the lump in my throat and say, Okay . . .

—pick up my shotgun and turn, just as the thundering footfalls reach our floor. The door blows open and they burst inside, roaring. We shoot them, we shoot them, we shoot them, but there are too many, and they’re fast. I crouch over Julie, shielding her as best I can.

No. Oh God. This is not what I wanted.

A tall skinny one is suddenly behind me, grabbing my legs. I fall and hit the table and my vision flashes red. Everything is wrong, but as the red fades to black I still allow an exultant shout, one last selfish orgasm before I go to sleep for ever:

Finally. Finally!

And then—

*

‘Perry.’ A jab in my ribs. ‘Perry!’

‘What?’

‘Don’t you go to sleep on me now.’

I open my eyes. An hour of sun glaring through my closed lids has faded all the colours of the world to bluish grey, like an old movie poster in a dying local video store. I turn my head to look at her. She smiles wickedly and jabs me again. ‘Never mind. Go ahead and sleep.’

Beyond her face I see the looming white posts of the Stadium roof arches, and beyond that, the deep cerulean sky. I slowly alternate my focus between her and the sky, letting her face blur into a peach-and-gold cloud, then refocusing it.

‘What?’ she says.

‘Tell me something hopeful.’

‘What kind of hopeful?’

I sit up, crossing my arms over my knees. I look out at the surrounding city, the crumbling buildings, the empty streets and the lonely sky, clean and blue and deathly quiet without its white-sketching airplanes.

‘Tell me this isn’t the end of the world.’

She lies there for a minute, looking up at the sky. Then she sits up and pulls one of her earbuds out of her tangled blonde hair. She gently plugs it into my ear.

The warbled strumming of a broken guitar, the swelling of an orchestra, the oohs and ahhs of a studio choir, and John Lennon’s weary, woozy voice, singing limitless undying love. Everyone playing this song is now bones in a grave, but here they are anyway, exciting and inviting me, calling me on and on. The final fade-out breaks something inside me, and tears squeeze out of my eyes. The brilliant truth and the inescapable lie, sitting side by side just like Julie and me. Can I have both? Can I survive in this doomed world and still love Julie, who dreams above it? For this moment at least, tied to her brain by the white wire between our ears, I feel like I can.

Nothing’s gonna change my world, Lennon chants, over and over. Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Julie sings a high harmony, and I murmur a low. There on the hot white roof of humanity’s last outpost, we look out over our rapidly, hopelessly, irretrievably changing world, and we sing:

Nothing’s gonna change my world. Nothing’s gonna change my world.

I am staring at the airport ceiling again. I drop the last chunk of Perry’s brain into my mouth and chew, but nothing happens. I spit it out like gristle. The story is over. The life is gone.

I find my eyes burning again, craving tears that my ducts can’t supply. I feel as if I’ve lost someone dear. A brother. A twin. Where is his soul now? Am I Perry Kelvin’s afterlife?

I finally drift back to sleep. I’m in the darkness. The molecules of my mind are still scattered, and I float through oily black space, trying to swipe them up like fireflies. Every time I go to sleep, I know I may never wake up. How could anyone expect to? You drop your tiny, helpless mind into a bottomless well, crossing your fingers and hoping that when you pull it out on its flimsy fishing wire it hasn’t been gnawed to bones by nameless beasts below. Hoping you pull up anything at all. Maybe this is why I only sleep a few hours a month. I don’t want to die again. This has become clearer and clearer to me recently, a desire so sharp and focused I can hardly believe it’s mine: I don’t want to die. I don’t want to disappear. I want to stay.

I awake to the sound of screaming.

My eyes snap open and I spit a few bugs out of my mouth. I lurch upright. The sound is far away but it’s not from the School. It lacks the plaintive panic of the School’s still-breathing cadavers. I recognise the defiant spark in these screams, the relentless hope in the face of undeniable hopelessness. I leap to my feet and run faster than any zombie has ever run.

Following the screams, I find Julie at the Departures gate. She is backed into a corner, surrounded by six drooling Dead. They close in on her, rearing back a little each time she swings her smoke-belching hedge trimmer, but advancing steadily. I rush at them from behind and crash into their tight circle, scattering them like bowling pins. The one closest to Julie I punch so hard the bones of my hand shatter into seashell crumbs. His face cracks inward and he drops. The next closest I ram into the wall, then grab his head and smash it into the concrete until his brain pops and he goes down. One of them grabs me from behind and takes a bite out of my rib meat. I reach back, tear off his rotten arm, and swing it at him like Babe Ruth. His head spins a full three-sixty on his neck, then tilts, tears and falls off. I stand there in front of Julie, brandishing the muscle-bound limb, and the Dead stop advancing.

‘Julie!’ I snarl at them while pointing at her. ‘Julie!’

They stare at me. They sway back and forth.

‘Julie!’ I say again, not sure how else to put it. I walk up to her and press my hand against her heart. I drop the arm-club and put my other hand on my own heart. ‘Julie.’

The room is silent except for the low grumble of her hedge trimmer. The air is thick with the rancid-apricot smell of stabilised gasoline, and I notice several decapitated corpses I had nothing to do with lying at her feet. Well done, Julie, I think with a faint smile. You are a lady and a scholar.

‘What . . . the fuck!’ growls a deep voice behind me.

A tall, bulky form is picking itself up off the floor. It’s the first one I attacked, the one I punched in the face. It’s M. I didn’t even recognise him in the heat of the moment. Now, with his cheekbone crushed into his head, he’s even harder to identify. He glares at me and rubs his face. ‘What are . . . doing, you . . .’ He trails off, at a loss for even simple words.

‘Julie,’ I say yet again, as if this is an irrefutable argument. And in a way, it is. That one word, a fully fleshed name. It’s having the effect of a glowing, talking cellphone raised before a mob of primitives. All the remaining Dead stare at Julie in hushed silence, except M. He is baffled and enraged.

‘Living!’ he sputters. ‘Eat!’

I shake my head. ‘No.’

‘Eat!’

‘No!’

‘Eat, fu**ing—’

‘Hey!’

M and I both turn. Julie has stepped out from behind me. She glares at M and revs the trimmer. ‘Fuck off,’ she says. She links an arm into my elbow, and I feel a tingle of warmth spreading out from her touch.

M looks at her, then at me, back to her, then back to me. His permanent grimace is tight. We appear to be in a stand-off, but before it can escalate any further the stillness is pierced by a reverberating roar, like an eerie, airless horn blast.

We all turn to the escalators. Yellowed, sinewy skeletons are rising up one by one from the floors below. A small committee of Boneys emerges from the stairs and approaches me and Julie. They stop in front of us and fan out into a line. Julie backs away a little, her bravado flattening under their black, eyeless stares. Her grip on my arm tightens.

One of them steps forward and stops in front of me, inches from my face. No breath wafts from its hollow mouth, but I can feel a faint, low hum emanating from its bones. This hum is not found in me, nor in M, nor in any of the other flesh-clad Dead, and I begin to wonder what exactly these dried-up creatures really are. I can no longer believe in any voodoo spell or laboratory virus. This is something deeper, darker. This comes from the cosmos, from the stars, or the unknown blackness behind them. The shadows in God’s boarded-up basement.

The ghoul and I are locked in a stare-down, toe to toe, eye to eye socket. I don’t blink, and it can’t. What seems like hours pass. Then it does something that slightly undermines the horror of its presence. It raises a stack of Polaroids in its pointy fingers and begins handing them to me, one by one. I’m reminded of a proud old man showing off his grandkids, but the skeleton’s grin is far from grandfatherly, and the photos are far from heartwarming.

Off-the-hip shots of some kind of battle. Organised ranks of soldiers firing rockets into our hives, rifles popping us off with precision, one two three. Private citizens with their machetes and chainsaws hacking through us like blackberry vines, spattering our dark juices on the camera lens. Monumental stacks of freshly re-killed corpses, soaked in gasoline and lit.

Smoke. Blood. Family photos from our vacation in Hell.

But as unsettling as this slide show is, I’ve seen it before. I’ve witnessed the Boneys performing it dozens of times, usually for children. They drift around the airport with cameras dangling from their vertebrae, occasionally following us on feeding trips, lingering in the back to document the bloodshed, and I always wonder what it is they’re after. Their subject matter follows a precise theme that never varies: corpses. Battles. Newly converted zombies. And themselves. Their meeting rooms are wallpapered with these photos, floor to ceiling, and sometimes they drag in a young zombie and make him stand there for hours, even days, silently appreciating their work.

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