Zia would give anything to be a typical teenager… again, because nothing is worse than being a maggot-housing, brain-craving undead girl. A humorous take on the zombie phenomenon, ZIA is a glimpse into the lighter side of the undead and how the need for love never dies… even if you have.
Chapter Chapter 2
Unbeating Hearts Still Break
Being a zombie sure has put a damper on my dating life. I used to have a boyfriend—Tyler. I really liked it when he held my hand. He had a way of rubbing my palm with his thumb, and it made me feel special.
I really thought I loved him and that he loved me. Apparently, being dead is grounds for breaking up.
He’s with Becky now, and I miss him.
It still amazes me how a heart that doesn’t beat can still break.
Crap. Here he comes. Every single day, dumb old Rory shuffles down the row of desks in Mrs. Peel’s third period science class and sits next to me. I should be used to it and perhaps grateful someone wants to sit near me. Just once it would be nice if someone normal, less zombie-ish, would give me a chance.
But no. It’s Rory—half a face, missing eyeball, no left hand Rory. At some point, everyone has become desensitized to his looks and hardly shrieks anymore when he walks by. He’s been dead for several years. He’s used to the stares and screams. I’ve only been at this a few months and it’s still hard to accept.
“Hey, Zia!” He say’s my name a little too cheerfully as he slides in the desk next to mine. “How’s it going?”
I shrug. “It’s going okay, I guess.”
“Did you study for the quiz? If you didn’t, you can always copy off me. I studied all night.” He smiles, but with half a face, rotting gums, and black tongue, it’s really quite nasty. That’s part of the reason I avoided him while I was alive. Mean, I know.
“That’s really nice,” I say, “but I actually studied. Probably not as well as you, but I read through the chapters. I think I’ll be fine.”
I still don’t understand why I have to go to school now that I’m dead. It isn’t as if I can really contribute to society in the usual way when I “grow up.” LI’s aren’t given the same opportunities as humans. We’re limited to the kinds of jobs we’re allowed to do. Especially zombies. I can never be a doctor or a nurse for fear of spreading infection or disease. I can’t work with animals since zombies tend to freak them out. And anything to do with food is out of the question.
I used to want to be a dancer. I was pretty good at it, too. But with my brace and rigor mortis type limbs, that’s no longer an option.
Rory, on the other hand, has always been intelligent. Becoming a zombie didn’t change that. If it weren’t for being a zombie, he would find the cure for cancer or create the first underwater world, something big like that, because his intelligence is better than most humans. Unfortunately, no one will give him that chance. The way a person looks will always trump their capability.
“Did you hear how they’re bussing in living impaireds from Riverton High? There’s too many of them, and to keep the human to LI’s ratio more balanced, they’re sending some here.”
This piece of information is interesting to me. Our school has roughly a dozen LI’s, with the majority being either werewolves or vamps. Having only Rory as another zombie to talk to can be rather lonely.
“When are they doing this?” I give him my full attention.
“Not exactly sure. I guess we’ll know when they show up. They won’t be hard to miss.”
That is true. “The humans aren’t going to like this at all.”
Rory smiles his gruesome smile once more. “I can’t wait.”
Rory and I are both given an extra five minutes to get from one class to the next. We’re a bit slower than our human counterparts, and without the extra time, we’d always be tardy. And who would want a bad citizenship grade—oh, the horror! I really don’t care but do my best to follow the rules of the living anyway.
I head down one hall to my locker and Rory heads down another. We have four minutes before the bell rings and everyone else crowds the halls, so I hurry. These little snatches of time where I’m alone are probably my favorite of the entire school day.
“Hey, you dropped something.”
I turn around, surprised anyone else was in the hall with me, and see Eli holding something of mine in his hand.
I’m not sure what to make of this or even where he came from—most likely the stoner boys’ bathroom where he snuck a smoke or something. He’s popular in a dangerous, non-lethal, totally human way. He’s been mistaken for a vamp before, with his dark leather jacket and the usual black pants. He isn’t a vamp at all. He just dresses like one.
Eli Olsen is a normal human. Why is he talking to me?
I retrace a few of my steps and he meets me in the middle. He holds his hand out toward me, and I’m immediately petrified and embarrassed.
He’s holding my finger in the palm of his hand. My finger!
“Oh my gosh!” I look down at my hand, hoping beyond all hope the finger he is holding isn’t mine. But it is. It fell off and I didn’t even realize it. “I’m so sorry.” I snatch it from his hand. When I look at his face, I don’t see any hint of horror. He stands there as if he was handing me a piece of gum or something equally common and not my detached finger.
The bell rings and I hurry and shove it in my pocket, not sure what else to do with it. Kids file out of the classroom and push past, for the most part ignoring us.
I turn to leave since I’m already running behind and also want to hide my utter humiliation.
Eli grabs my arm and stops me. “I can fix that,” he says, motioning to the finger in my pocket. “That is, if you want me to.”
I still don’t understand why he is talking to me. He never talked to me before I was a zombie; we didn’t run in the same circles. “Okay.” I’m not sure why I say that. Maybe because I had no idea what to do with my finger, anyway.
He starts to walk away, heading in the opposite direction, but calls back, “Meet me in Mr. T’s room after school.”
I nod, but worry this might be some sort of sick joke. Humans think it’s funny to mock and terrorize us. We’re the monsters, but they’re the bullies.
It’s weird to have a finger in my pocket. No one else knows it’s there, and only Lewis notices it’s missing from my hand.
“Umm… you had five fingers on that hand this morning, didn’t you?” He takes a big bite from his lamb sandwich—his usual. It’s chilly outside, but not too bad, and so we sit together on a bench under the school marquee.
“Yeah.” I reach in my pocket and pull it out to show him.
Lewis is a good friend. He doesn’t even back away. “That’s nasty.” He takes another bite of his sandwich.
“I know.” I shove the wrinkled digit back in my pocket. “Eli says he can help me fix it.”
He tips his head and raises an eyebrow. “Eli? As in Eli Olsen?”
I nod before I sip at my thermos. Gooey chunks of meaty flesh and blood slide down my throat.
“I thought he was expelled for punching Marcus in the face last week.” Marcus is a vamp—a mean one, at that. He’s a least six-foot-five and weighs over two hundred pounds. I can’t imagine Eli punching him in the face. He’s not tall enough, for one thing, and it would have surly gotten him killed for another. Since Eli is still alive, it seems like something is wrong with the story.
“I have no idea. He’s here, that’s all I know.”
“So how the heck is he going to fix your finger?”
“Not sure. He told me to meet him in Mr. T’s room after school.”
“The wood shop class?” Lewis cringes. “There’s a lot of stuff in there that could be used to kill you. Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
I shrug and take another sip from my thermos. It always tastes better at 98.7 degrees. I settle for room temperature. “If I show up at home without a finger, my dad will start crying again. He already feels bad enough for doing this to me. If I can’t get it fixed somehow, he’ll just end up feeling even worse.”
“What about the school nurse?” He pops some strips of uncooked bacon in his mouth.
“How would she fix it? With a band-aid? Besides, we both know she would never help someone like me. She’s too afraid.” I slurp what’s left at the bottom of my thermos. It’s never enough and I’m still hungry.
“You’re probably right. Well, I guess it can’t hurt to see what Eli can do. Worst case scenario, he ends up killing you.”
Lewis pats me on the back before he stands and makes a jump shot, landing his sandwich wrapper in the garbage can thirty feet away. Too bad they won’t let him on the basketball team. Our one-win-in-five-games team could use his help. Humans are stupid sometimes.
He starts to walk away but turns to look at me once more. “If you don’t make it out alive, I sure am going to miss you.” He smiles, and his dimples make their appearance on his handsome face.
Too bad he’s a werewolf.
Moreover, too bad I’m a zombie.
I push open the door to Mr. T’s room and hesitate before stepping inside. Large machines and shiny metal tools line the walls and various work benches. There’s an ominous humming coming from one extra intimidating machine to my left, and there’s an overall painter-sawdusty smell that permeates the air. Crap. Lewis was right. I could lose more than my brain here.
I’m about to change my mind and walk away when Eli calls to me. “Zia, over here!” He’s sitting near the back, his backpack tossed on the floor, and several bottles of chemicals on the table in front of him. He waves me over.
I didn’t even know he knew my name. Being only one of two zombies in the school, I should have figured he’d know.
I start walking to where he sits, waiting for me. The wood shop is empty. Not even the teacher is here, which I find rather disturbing. Shouldn’t someone be monitoring our activity? What if Eli is about to blow up the place with his chemical concoction or tries to decapitate me? There are laws against both of those things, but it doesn’t stop some people from trying it.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he says. “I think I got it figured out.”
I’m still not sure about this. Sandpaper lies next to everything else he has placed on the table. Sandpaper can’t be good.
“You still got your finger?” He looks at me, and I nod. I reach in my pocket and hand it over to him.
He turns it over, studying it, before he sets it down. “Let me see your hand.”
I’m rather embarrassed. I’ve been trying to hide it all day—self-conscious, I guess.
“It’s okay.” He holds his hand out to me, and I slowly slip my hand into his. He doesn’t freak or scream. He looks at the knuckle where the finger snapped off and stares at the jagged bone. “Do you know how you did it?”
I shake my head. “I have no idea. It was attached one minute. The next, it was in your hand.”
“Interesting,” he says while still holding my hand in his. He glances at me and smiles. “So you don’t feel any pain at all?”
“Then you need to be more careful.”
I indicated my finger on the table. “Don’t I know it.”
“Your hand’s really cold.” He turns my hand first one way and then another.
“Sorry.” I try to pull my hand from his, but he continues to hold it and doesn’t let go.
“It’s okay,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me.”
I ask the question that’s been on my mind all day. “Why are you doing this?”
He narrows his brows and looks at me as though I’ve asked an odd question. “I thought I could help.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. No one helps me. Not now, anyway.”
He’s still holding my hand. “I refuse to play school politic type games. I have nothing against vamps or werewolves”—he pauses and looks at me—”or zombies, but if anyone tries to bite me or suck my blood, I’ll have to kill them.”
I nod. “Fair enough.” I wouldn’t expect any less. It was only several months ago I carried a wooden stake, a machete, and small pistol loaded with silver bullets in my backpack. ‘Tis the way of the world now. Most everyone has some sort of concealed weapon on them, including preschool children.
Now, I’m on the other side, hoping no one will use their weapons on me. I do my best to behave and follow the rules, all of them, even if I don’t completely agree.
“For the epoxy to stick, I’ll have to sand down the two ends of the bones. They won’t match up and hold together otherwise, but I can have this fixed in no time.”
I watch him fold the sandpaper lengthwise, grab my hand once again, and with as much gentleness he can afford, he runs it across my exposed bone, being careful not to nick the remaining skin around it.
“You doing okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It doesn’t hurt.” Vibrations run up the length of my arm. That’s it. I feel no pain.
“Did you miss the bus?”
“Yeah, but that’s okay. If you can fix my finger, it will be worth it. My dad is still having a hard time with this whole me being-a-zombie thing.”
“I can give you a ride home if you like.”
“That’s okay. I don’t want to put you out. You’re doing enough as it is and, really, I can walk. It’s not far.” My home is only a few miles from the school. If I’m lucky, don’t run into trouble and walk faster than my normal gait, I should be home a little after dark.
“And risk you losing another finger? No way. I’ll take you home.”
“Eli, that’s nice and everything, but…I’ll stink up your car. It’s not an easy smell to get rid of either. It’s better if I walk.” I hate bringing it up.
“I have a motorcycle. The smell won’t even be a problem.” He looks up and stops sanding my finger. “Besides, your smell isn’t that bad. Rory’s is much worse.”
He picks up my finger and sands the bone. When he finishes, he sets it aside and begins to mix the powder and liquid compounds.
“This will set fast, so I’ve got to get it right the first time. You don’t want me gluing your finger on backwards.”
A backward finger would be the least of my problems, but I don’t say so. He puts a bit of the goo on my finger, takes my hand once more, and presses the two pieces together.
“Isn’t Isabelle your sister or something?” He continues to hold my finger in place.
“Or something. She’s my step-sister. Why?”
He shakes his head. “No reason. I was trying to connect the dots. I guess being step-sisters would explain why you’re pretty cool to talk to and she’s… not. No offense, but she’s a bit of a snob.”
“No offense taken. I completely agree with you. Imagine what it’s like living with her.”
Eli laughs a little. “That’s okay. I’d rather not.” He releases my hand. “Test that out. See what you think.”
I bend my finger and move it around. It seems to be working fine. Eli grabs my reattached digit and gives it a tug. “Don’t toot.”
“Never mind,” he says. “Bad joke. Looks like it’s holding.”
Eli did a great job. He even glued the skin around my finger into place and unless someone looks closely, no one could even tell.
“Thanks. It looks almost as good as new.”
“No problem. Let me clean up here and then I’ll take you home.”
He’s the first human, besides my parents, to take any interest in me. It’s kind of strange. Even though I’m not sure what to make of it, I like it.