EAT YOUR HEART OUT was a finalist for the Golden Crown Literary Award, and was selected for Lambda Literary's Book of the Month club.
A breakneck tale of kick-ass, wise-ass, sexy-ass lesbians and ZOMBIES, Eat Your Heart Out opens on what promises to be another tediously annoying day at Ashbee's Furniture Outlet. Then the strip-mall calm of Nowhere, Ohio, is shattered by the sudden, simultaneous appearance of Renni Ramirez – hyper-competent star of the beloved Rising Evil B-movie franchise – and actual ZOMBIES, leaving Ashbee's hapless staff and Renni trapped behind an automatic door they can't lock. Can failed creative-writing student/apprentice store manager/eagle-eyed markswoman Devin escape the besieged furniture store to rescue her girlfriend? Will Renni's experience slaughtering motion-captured CGI monsters save the day before the army bombs the town? Once bitten, how many zombies can a person expect to take out before succumbing to infection? Who is the mysterious Deus Ex Machina, and what is he doing with that bone saw? All of these questions and more whisper behind the scream of the single most important thing Devin needs to know in order to survive: is Renni a top or a bottom?
True confession time: I hate zombies. I had to be cajoled into giving this one a chance, and, wow, I'm glad I did! A lesbian store manager trapped in her suburban furniture store with her B-movie-star crush while a horde of zombies attack—what's not to like here? Ingram carries it off in bravura style, mixing undead horror, dead-on dialogue, and sexy flirtation. It's the best lesbian zombie story you'll ever read. – Melissa Scott
"Sex, violence, and horror combine in a ridiculously entertaining novella of lesbians and zombies... [Eat Your Heart Out is a] no-holds-barred action-packed romp, filled with rich descriptions, detailed sensory input, sexy flirting, and zombie fighting in the best cult tradition. Ingram has a keen ear for dialogue and believable characters, and this punchy, raunchy story would make a great grindhouse film."– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"...if you fancy a rip-roaring zombie action story where the girl gets the girl, written by an author who has a sense of humour and knows how to play the tropes of this subgenre with a virtuoso skill and invention, then Eat Your Heart Out is the book for you."– Peter Tennant, Black Static
"A clever character study splattered with recognizable horror tropes, in which the heroine confronts not merely zombies but herself, resulting in a tightly paced, humorous tale about the perils of being emotionally repressed and menaced by the undead."– James K. Moran, Rue Morgue
That Ends Dead
My first real-life zombie encounter is a pretty
low-key aff air, considering I don't even realize at the time what I'm dealing with. I'm under a lot of pressure from all sides this morning: I have to be in early at Ashbee's Furniture Outlet to shadow the assistant manager so he can teach me how to open; I've actually been shadowing Biff for a week now and think I've got it down but the manual says every new shift leader needs two weeks of opening training and two weeks of closing training, and there is no wriggle room with Biff Tipping. So I'm already in a hurry when my girlfriend asks me to stop by the coff ee shop and get her usual breakfast—a double-mocha Frappuccino thing that I'm pretty sure can't legally be called coff ee. I can't say no to her because, as she reminds me, she did 1 go down on me the previous night for the fi rst time in two months. I owe her. She has to get to work too, so I am really under a time crunch. Th e coff ee shop is of course packed so early in the morning, and while in line I watch the minute hand of my wristwatch tick past the one, and Biff calls.
"Ten minutes late and you won't get paid for the hour," he says.
"Okay, I'll see you at nine then."
"Don't be a smartass, Devin. Just get here."
When it is my turn up at the counter I decide to go ahead and get a treat for Biff and the others who'll be opening today, Cherry and Brad. I don't know what they like so I just get three extra coff ees and some sugar and powdered cream on the side. I'm trying to shuffl e all of this out the door when my phone starts buzzing. I can't maneuver my hand into my pocket very smoothly while carrying the tray of coff ees and holding the door open. I'm a graceless swan, fumbling around and apologizing to the line I'm holding up in front of and behind me. Finally I get the phone out and fl ip it to my ear, and that's when it happens. Th e real-life zombie.
Only I don't see him as a zombie, just an old drunk dude. He's walking like he has a limp in both legs, keeping his eyes to the ground so all I can see is the skin along the part in his stringy brown hair, scabbed over like his scalp has rejected hair plugs. He's moaning kind of low, the way you do when you just wake up and can't quite face the day even though you know you gotta, and everyone in line just kind of moves out of his way without even needing to be touched. By the time he reaches me I can tell why everyone is backing off : he reeks, like cottage cheese in the underwear of a two-dollar hooker left out in the sun (the underwear, not the hooker, but probably the same odor would result).
"Excuse me," I say, trying to lean up against the door to allow him access. For a brief second he looks up at me and I can see the nothing in his eyes that I mistake for a drunken stupor. He stops abruptly and then kind of slowly bends toward me, but someone elbows me in the back and I stumble past him, out the door and into the waiting line of people.
"Watch it!" someone yells.
"Devin? Are you there? Devin!" my girlfriend squawks into my
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Sorry." I push away from the coff ee-shop entrance, distantly registering a surprised yelp behind me and a gruff response, which I assume signals the start of some sort of altercation between one patron and another, perhaps the old drunk guy.
"Where the hell are you? I'm going to be late." My girlfriend's name is Carmelle Souffl é, like the dessert. She's never forgiven her parents for this but still hasn't legally changed it, so I can't feel too bad for her. We met during college, before I dropped out, when she was working at a strip club and going by the stage name Caramel Apple. Sometimes I slip up and accidentally call her Caramel instead of Carmelle and she stops speaking to me until I make some grand gesture of apology, which usually involves a signifi cant portion of my meager paycheck.
"I'll be there in two minutes, honey," I tell her. Our apartment is just on the other side of the block. Th is coff ee shop is literally our backyard, but we're separated by a fence so I have to walk around the whole block. We live above a small independently owned pet shop that only sells supplies for reptiles and fi sh, but still has kittens and puppies painted on their windows. I've only been inside once and there weren't any customers and everything smelled like week-old marijuana. I think the whole store's a front for a mild drug cartel, but no one wants to hear my theories.
Carmelle almost knocks into me as she's rushing out the door and I'm rushing in. "Jesus, you startled me!"
She doesn't strip anymore, but she does work at a sex shop so she still wears kind of revealing clothes. I don't mind because I trust her but it is late September and she's still not wearing sleeves or pants so sometimes I get concerned for her health.
"You're not gonna wear the jacket I bought you?" I ask her. It's barely a jacket; it's very light fabric that only goes to her midriff and purposely doesn't button so her cleavage can still be visible.
"Ah, baby, come on, don't start with me." She plucks her frozen mocha drink from the tray and presses her chest against mine to lean in and kiss me on the nose. "Don't wait up."
I watch her bound down the outer staircase to the sidewalk, taking a little leap off the fi nal step, sipping at her drink as she saunters down the block. We haven't said "I love you" yet, even though we've been living together for four months and dating for over a year. She's 3 the only girl I've ever been with and I've been kind of following her lead, so I'm not sure if I should be the one to say it fi rst. I don't know how she'd take it.
Since I'm at the apartment already I fi gure I might as well take a piss before heading on. Ashbee's is only six blocks down the way, across from the freeway entrance, and it really doesn't take that long to walk there. I'm sitting on the can when Biff calls again. Normally I wouldn't answer while on the toilet, but I know it'll just piss him off more if I don't answer.
"You weren't kidding about nine o'clock, huh?"
"I'm on my way, Biff ."
"If you're over an hour late, it's a no-call no-show. I could write you up for this."
"I'm practically there," I say, and fl ush the toilet. I can hear Biff laughing on the other end but he won't give me the satisfaction of knowing I've broken his Boss Man exterior. "Save it," he growls. "You got ten minutes." I'm there in twenty.
Biff isn't waiting at the side door like usual to let me in because it's after nine and we're already open. I go right through the automatic glass doors and walk across the sales fl oor. "Hey, Devin," Cherry calls to me from one of the bedroom displays where she's fl uffi ng pillows.
"Hey, Cherry. I brought coff ee!"
She follows me into the back room and snags a cup. "Th anks, kiddo." Cherry's only three years older than me which is why I guess she thinks calling me "kiddo" is funny. She goes back out onto the sales fl oor.
Biff comes out of his offi ce into the break room. I hold the Styrofoam cup out to him like a shield. His big hand wraps around it and lifts it to his lips. He eyes me as he gulps down about half the cup.
"It's cold," he grunts, and sets the cup back on the table.
"Th at's it, I'm suing." I stamp my foot. "Serve me tepid coff ee, will they? I just bought this."
"Clock in and get in here," he says, heading back into the tiny offi ce. I punch my card and follow him. Biff Tipping is a big man, like a bear who transmogrifi ed into a person. He moves uncertainly in his 4 new, plastic environment, navigating around desks and chairs like he wishes he'd just stayed a frikkin' bear.
Th e orthopedic roller chair creaks under Biff 's weight as he sits himself down in front of the old Mac. He scrolls through some Excel fi les and shows me how to do the payroll. He takes this shadowing thing quite literally; he expects me to stand behind him and watch while he goes through the motions, and not say anything. It's been this way for two weeks. Mostly I tune out and start thinking about things like Carmelle's boobs or a nice plate of seafood pasta, but I haven't had either of those things in a long time and it is getting hard to picture them.
"All right." Biff clicks off the computer and swivels around. "Get your vest on and get on the fl oor. We'll cover daily scheduling over your lunch break."
"Come on, Biff , you're gonna make me work through lunch?"
"No, Devin, you're making me work through lunch. Don't make me write this up."
He's not kidding, he really does take all this seriously. He's not even middle management yet, but I'm pretty sure that's as far as his ambition goes. Maybe someday he hopes to fi nd a nice lady who isn't intimidated by his bear-like exterior (or a nice gentleman who wants to dress him in some leather chaps) and settle down in a double-wide trailer park a few blocks away, raise some kids or some alpacas, and retire with just enough money to get on food stamps. I guess my offering of cold coff ee does not factor into his plans anywhere.
I give him a stiff salute. "Sir, yes sir." A hard turn on my heel and I am out the door before he can wield his smidgen of power again.
Out on the fl oor I take a sweep of the minimal activity. Ashbee's is inside a square building but its innards are circular, a feng shui sphere of maximum effi ciency. A moat of various display rooms (living, dining, bed, kitchen) encircles a hub—or castle—of register computers where I see Cherry click-click-clicking away, drawing up a contract for the young couple standing near the Baroque ottomans. Th e most expensive stuff at Ashbee's is positioned nearest the entrance, fanning out into less desirable items, until fi nally hitting the clearance nexus—funky stains? mysterious odors? you want 'em, we got 'em!—behind the register hub. To be honest, I'm not so good at the hard sell, but I do all right on commissions simply by hovering
around the clearance section, being extremely helpful.5
Cutting between the nexus and the kid's mattresses is a hallway that leads to the customer bathrooms and our staff -only back room. Here we have a little kitchenette break room that connects to the manager's offi ce and the loading dock. Th e offi ce—Biff 's cave—is unremarkable, except for the life-saving employee bathroom which the customers can't know we have, otherwise we'd appear cruel in their time of crisis ("Whaddya mean, the bathrooms are out of order?
Where do you go?"). Th e loading dock, on the other hand, is a remarkable example of poor planning, as the doors leading to and from the dock aren't quite wide enough to fi t a king-sized bed through. Most of our delivery guys understand this and will pull around to the front to drop off their loads, but whenever the regional manager comes around—a twig of a man who takes himself even more seriously than Biff —we have to fi ll the space with as much of the smaller furniture as possible so it doesn't look like we're wasting space. (Th e furniture we deliver to your home actually comes from a warehouse on the other side of town with adequately-sized doors.) Every dollar counts and everything is dollars. Th at's what the corporate sponge is constantly telling us, anyway.
Faintly, I hear the sound of a toilet fl ushing and a few seconds later Brad comes out, still zipping up his requisite beige khaki pants. Cherry has printed up her documents and is going over them with the couple, making them comfortable on a purple velvet love seat. I'm tapping my fi ngers on the register desk, rethinking my decision to skip breakfast.
Brad eyes Cherry with her customers and approaches me. "What the hell is she doing?"
"Good morning, Brad. I am well, thank you for asking. And yourself?"
"Did Cherry just sell them people a fucking couch?" He hooks his thumb in their general direction, his eyes bloodshot and screaming at me.
"Why, you want to congratulate her?"
"Th at's my fucking sale!"
Brad keeps his voice down when he swears, but he swears pretty much every other sentence. It's like Tourette's. Mostly customers ignore it, thinking it really is Tourette's, or it makes them feel like
6 home. Th e only people I know of who he's ever off ended with his colorful language are the higher ups—thus Brad is conveniently scheduled off when they make their bi-weekly visits—and Carmelle at last year's company picnic. To his credit, he was trying to be nice—well, his version of nice—but it came out like this: "Fuck, how you doing, Carmelle? Goddamn, your girlfriend's real sweet, a real fucking nut grabber on the fl oor, fucks 'em like dogs, fuck." He was trying to tease me about how little I actually sell, but Carmelle took it the wrong way
and possessively whisked me away from him, and the entire picnic, in favor of going shoe shopping.
She said, "I don't know how you can put up with that dick."
I said, "He kind of reins it in at work."
Now, he is saying, "Th at whore cunt-grabber, I fucking told her, I told her, it's my goddamn turn, Devin, fuck."
Th ere are always two or more salesfolk on the fl oor at a time. To keep commissions fair, we take turns on who gets to schmooze with the next customer through the door. No matter who it is. Sometimes you get stuck with the teens just stopping in to wander around on break from their fast-food gigs, but fair is fair.
Suddenly, in Brad's predicament, I see an opportunity to fl ex my fl edgling shift-leader muscles. I look around the store for Biff , but he must still be in the offi ce doing Big Boy stuff . I want him to observe how expertly I handle this squabble, so he can write that up, and almost consider paging him over the loud speaker, but that would seriously undercut my sincerity.
"Now, Bradley," I say, gracelessly dropping a hand on his slumped shoulder. "Calm down. Don't go jumping to conclusions before you have all the facts. I'm sure she just forgot the rotation schedule. Or maybe the customers approached her and she couldn't very well give them the cold shoulder and wait until you were done taking a shit or toking up, right?"
"I'm damn well gonna fi nd out!" He starts toward them, but I hold him back and force him to look at me.
"You will do no such thing," I tell him, invoking the power of all mothers and elementary school teachers before me. "Th e sale is done. Look, they're walking away. You can get the next one."
"She should give me her fucking commission," Brad whines. "What if the next one's a dud?"
"I'll give her a warning," I say reassuringly. Brad looks at me like, 7 With what authority? "I'll tell Biff about it," I amend. "I mean, I'll report it." Still getting used to the lower-middle-management lingo.
"If this shit happens again, Devin, I swear to fuck…."
But Brad doesn't have time to swear to fuck because a tiny mechanized bell bleats through the sound of the automatic doors whooshing open, and we turn our heads in unison to watch an octogenarian hobble in, sporting a tweed coat and corduroy pants and two wobbly canes. Brad slowly turns back around to look at me.
"I'm sorry." I cringe out an apology. It's clear this old dude is only here to escape the heat of the morning or possibly to curl up in a nice soft bed to die alone, like cats do.
We watch him shuffl e at a snail's crawl to ease himself down into the nearest deluxe leather recliner. Finally, Brad sighs, mutters something about crotch lickers under his breath, and heads over to the man's side.
Cherry comes back over to the hub and starts fi ling away the paperwork from her sale. "What a pleasant couple," she beams. "Th ey're having a baby and they're completely remodeling the guest room for her. Th ey bought the complete Shirley Temple bedroom set, mattress frills and everything."
"You stole Brad's sale," I tell her.
"Oh, he'll get over it. He was in the bathroom, for crying out loud.
Th is will teach him to hold it next time."
"Th at's not the point, Cherry."
"Like hell. Look, Devin, if you're bleeding so bad for the guy, why don't you give up your turn for him?"
Th at isn't the point either, but it does sound like a workable idea. "Brilliant, Cherry. I will do that." I remember my newly acquired leadership role and add, "And hopefully you will learn from my upstanding example."
Cherry laughs. "You just hate customers."
"I don't hate customers."
"Sure you do. Th at's why you want to work your way up to management, so you can hide in the back room all day and masturbate, like Biff ."
"Okay, A, Biff is probably not masturbating. And B, you may have
8a point. But I don't hate customers, I'm just shy around them."
"Well, sister, if that's all it is, I can get you over that."
"Sure. It's a little trick I use to put myself at ease with each and every customer, to remind myself that I have all the power in this dynamic." Cherry leans in conspiratorially close to my ear and whispers,
"I simply picture them all with cocks in their mouths."
I'm stunned into silence. Cherry widens her eyes and smiles at me expectantly.
"Cocks?" I ask.
She nods. "In their mouth." Her smile broadens.
"Even the old people?"
"Especially the old people. It's a whole mind-over-matter thing. People use the same technique to get over their fear of public speaking."
"I'm pretty sure those people just picture the crowd in their underwear."
Cherry waves her hand through the air, dismissing the idea. "Please.
How pussy is that?"
"I don't think I want to envision any cocks in any mouths today."
"Oh, come on, just because you're this huge gaymo doesn't mean this technique can't work for you, too."
"I'm sorry, huge lezmo."
"I don't think it will work for me."
"You never know until you try it, right? Here, someone's coming in right now, try it on her. I got your back!"
"Cherry!" I try to protest but she's unnaturally strong for a girl of such slight frame. She drags me around the desks and pushes me out of the hub. I bang my knee on the corner of a glass coff ee table and look up to make sure the customer didn't notice.
As I near her, something about the woman seems familiar. Maybe it's the way she is standing, kind of carelessly, shoulders humped, arms held close to the chest, knees bent, head angled to one side, inspecting the oak end tables near the door. Maybe it's the clothes she's wearing, combat boots, navy camo pants at least one size too big for her small frame, and over that, draping to just above the knee, a white spaghetti-strapped sundress fl ecked with small, light blue fl owers. 9 I'm pretty much on top of her now and I can see her white bra straps underneath her dress straps. Her lengthy dark brown hair moves over her deeply tanned bare shoulder, indicating she has turned her head and is now staring directly at me.
"Can I help you?" Th at's my line, but she says it to me. Th is close, she almost smells familiar, like sweat and popcorn, but not in a gross way. Kind of alluring, actually.
Th at's when I tear my eyes away from her bra and look at her face. She smirks, kind of her signature bad-ass smirk, and takes off her oversized sunglasses to stare me down with those big, brown eyes.
"Should I repeat the question?" asks Renni Ramirez. Renni Fucking Ramirez.
Here in rural Ohio, we might be behind the times in many areas as far as the wider world is concerned (the height of fashion still largely involves denim), but we do have a second-run movie theater in the strip mall, and some of us can aff ord cable. I have personally seen Rising Evil twelve times, mainly to educate my friends about the lesbian subtext totally happening between Ms. Ramirez and her co-star Ms. Zhirenkov, but also for the hundred and twenty minutes of goresplattering zombie killing. I'd know those sexy-angry eyes anywhere, that resonant rasp of a voice, those well-toned arms normally exposed by a form-fi tting man's sleeveless undershirt (personally, I'm a fan of the sundress). You might think the three-hundred-foot movie screen version of Renni Ramirez would be more intimidating than the tiny fi ve-foot-six version two feet away, but you would be wrong.
Th e only thing that saves me from complete and utter paralysis is remembering, however involuntarily, Cherry's perverse advice. Suddenly I'm no longer stunned to silence by Renni's gorgeous, unreal face, because the giant penis fl oating beside her head distracts me. I don't know why it's so giant, maybe to refl ect how ridiculous I think this visualization technique is. Th ankfully, the penis (fl accid, for some reason) does not get anywhere close to Renni's mouth; it hovers impotently behind her, until, slowly, as I come back to myself, it fades into the arm of an antique rocking chair.
"I'm sorry, no. What? I'm sorry." Well, so much for playing it cool.
But Renni Ramirez just laughs, a Sunday morning laugh, casual and unhurried. "Don't sweat it."
10 Th is is when I realize if I can sell her some type of furniture, or even just one of the lamps that are technically display-only, she will have to sign a contract and then I can have her autograph without having to stoop to some generic fangirl level and ask her for one. Genius! Carmelle would fl ip out, hug me, maybe kiss me, maybe more. One of our fi rst dates was a cook-in movie fest where I made her dinner and we watched the fourth movie in the Shut Up and Drive series, or at least the fi rst fi fteen minutes before Renni Ramirez's character was unceremoniously killed off . We consoled ourselves over this injustice by fucking heartily for several hours.
"So you came all this way to buy a couch, huh?" I'm trying to take her cue and play it nonchalant, but my pits are sweating and the penis is starting to reform.
"Right," she laughs again. "You guys deliver to L.A., right?"
I laugh, a little bit too long because her eyes start to meander a little to the left of my head, and I wonder what fl oating appendage she might be envisioning.
"Well, if you really are looking for something, I could help you, or…."
"You're sweet," she says, clipping her sunglasses to the bosom of her dress. "What's your name?"
I point out my name tag, conveniently close to my nipple, which is slightly visible beneath my requisite blue vest and white shirt.
"Ah, I played a chick with that name a long time ago."
"Yeah." I know! It was your tough-as-nails, "First day on the job and I gotta deal with fucking zombies?", take-no-shit rookie cop in Rising Evil. I've seen that movie twelve times and I've made everyone I know and love watch it because I cannot truly love anyone who hasn't seen that movie because you rocked so hard in it rocks are ashamed they can't rock as hard as you and who the hell's decision was it to kill off your character because I just like to pretend she survived and ran away with Jennifer Zhirenkov's character and they saved the world together which sounds like some kind of fanfi ction 'shipping thing but I don't write that shit, I promise. "Th at movie was cool."
"Devin, you're the fi rst person to recognize me all weekend."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
She laughs again, throwing her whole head into it and punching my shoulder like a pal. "It's nice! I was starting to think I didn't rate 11 in…."
She struggles to recall the name of our quiet oasis, and I fi ll the blank for her: "Buttfuck, Ohio?"
Somehow I knew she would appreciate this. She laughs enthusiastically, and I laugh too, and she says, "Shit," like I just said the best thing in the world and she can't believe it.
I can't believe it. I'm building a rapport with Renni Fucking Ramirez. I desperately want to text Carmelle and tell her all about it, but whipping out the cell phone right now would defi nitely kill the moment. I'm already reconstructing our encounter for story-time later: And then I said….
I feel a presence at my shoulder before the smell of damp socks and toff ee hard candy assaults me. I turn to see the old man Brad had been busy with a few minutes ago, shuffl ing excitedly by me. He kind of nudges my shoulder a bit with his tweed arm, the stitching scratching my skin, as he ambles forward on his dual canes.
"Excuse me," he says to Renni Ramirez. "Are you America Ferrera?"
Th ere's a beat in which Renni Ramirez's response to this query is unpredictable. She kind of cocks her head to eyeball the old man, the shadow of a smile still gracing her lips, one hand on her hip, the other absentmindedly fi ddling with a fold in her dress. Th en she sweeps her eyes back in my direction, and I know this is my moment, this is when I get to decide both our fates, maybe even the fate of the old man. Whatever gesture I make now, whatever words I let fall out of my mouth, however minutely expressed, however softly whispered, will set the tone for Renni Ramirez's response. Glib, I think, how do I project glibness?
Finally, I take a page from all the stoners who ever tried to convince my high school English teacher that they were paying attention to his lecture on Lord of the Flies. I close my eyes to half-slits, cross my arms over my chest, and nod once, slowly.
Renni Ramirez sweeps her eyes back to the eagerly patient old man. "Yep," she says. "Th at's me."
"Oh goodness but you're taller in real life, and well fi t," the old man exclaims.
"It's for a movie I'm doing," she explains. "A Midsummer Night's 12 Furniture Store. It's a re-imagining."
"Th at's excellent!" Th e old man and I are actually thinking the exact same thing but for entirely diff erent reasons. Renni's smirk takes up permanent residence on her face as the old man continues speaking. "My nieces just love your show, Ugly Confetti, they talk about it all the time when I visit. You wear glasses in that, though. Th ey showed me an episode or two. I didn't really get it, but they love it. I watch M*A*S*H myself, sometimes the news. I usually can't sit still for that long. Can I have your autograph? For my nieces."
"Sure, papa," she says, making me wish absurdly that I was "papa." "Got a pen?"
"Not on my person as such," he says, patting down his coat, then his slacks. "I have one in my Firebird. Let me just run and get it."
Running, of course, is a relative term. We watch him scoot towards the double glass automatic doors, standing shoulder to shoulder, a hair's breadth away from touching. When the glass doors slide open, he is taken aback and nearly tilts over, but rights himself and continues on his way.
"Th at man has a Firebird?" Renni says under her breath.
"Th at, or dementia," I say, and Renni snorts a little air out through her nose in a way that makes me pee myself a little.
And that is when it happens. Th ere in the soft haze of this perfectly surreal moment between myself and someone whose image I have repeatedly masturbated to, materializes my fi rst ever real-life zombie.
It's the same guy from the coff ee shop earlier in the morning, who I had assumed was just some harmless drunk trying to start his day right. Now as he hobbles along the sidewalk, perpendicular to the sluggish trajectory of the old man who just left the store, seconds away from contact, I can clearly see something is far more wrong with him. His gait has become even more broken, his arms dragging along at his sides. Th ough one of his ankles is twisted at a very painfullooking angle, he pushes it forward, scraping it along the pavement. From his dangling hands drips a dark, slick substance that I don't think is coff ee. And his face. Fuck, his face. Th e skin droops down as if melting, turned some sort of greenish-yellow hue that has nothing to do with sun exposure, and his scalp is peeling worse than ever, whole chunks of dirty hair displaced, revealing the dry sores. Th e 13 same non-coff ee substance leaks from his mouth, splattering his befouled shirt and torn jeans.
Renni Ramirez grips my wrist instinctively and clenches hard as the old man cuts off the drunk man, who I now think is injured or an escaped mental patient or….
"Maybe he needs help," I say.
"You don't want to go out there," Renni says.
Th e doors slide shut on her words, and on the howling scream of the old man as the drunk guy, who I'm now certain is a zombie, lurches forward with unfathomable speed and bites off the old man's cheek.
For a second, perhaps two, we both just stand there, her fi ngernails digging into the underside of my wrist, my bladder threatening to spill, my eyes unable to look away from whatever the hell is happening outside. I know what is happening outside. One man is ripping apart another man. Except he can't be a man, I know through some place deep and buried, leftover from Man's prehistoric hunting days, some natural survival instinct, that the attacker is something far more dangerous than a man. And because I've watched so many movies in this piece-of-shit, do-nothing town, and because I don't believe in God or divine invention, and because I've read about the fucked-up experiments science has sanctioned in its quest for knowledge since the invention of psychoanalysis, I know this man is a fucking zombie.
Th e old man out there, literally caught in the zombie's jaws, has no hope of survival. But us, in here, Renni Ramirez and Cherry and Brad and Biff , we can still make it through this. Th ere is still time to run. But only if the zombie doesn't see us fi rst.
I whip around, tearing my arm away from Renni's death grip. "Cherry!" I shout. I spot her and Brad in the hub, emphatically gesturing at each other behind the registers. Th ey didn't hear the old man's screams, but they see now, looking beyond me, the violence reaching a crescendo outside. "Cherry, hit the lights! Turn off the fucking lights!"
"What the fuck?" Brad's jaw drops and he starts toward the door, but Cherry is a smart lady; she grabs Brad by the shoulder and twists him around, marching him toward the light switches on the wall near 14 the Serta Sleepers.
"Everybody hide!" I shout.
"Lock the door, lock the fucking door," Renni calmly suggests. She's clutching her sunglasses like they're my wrist.
"I can't," I tell her, "they're automatic. Locking them requires a key. Biff keeps it…."
Th wack! We both jump back at the sound of fl esh slamming against the double doors. It's the old man's upper thigh, sheathed in blood, inching its way down the glass, streaking a crimson stain in its wake. I can't really see through the blood splatter, but I can see enough movement to know the zombie is still going to town. Th e old man's dismembered thigh slides to the ground, and when it hits the outside mat it triggers the automatic sensor and the doors swish open.
Th e zombie looks up.
I don't look at him long enough to know if his eyes, surely lacking in retinal reception by this stage in his zombifi cation, got a chance to register my presence. I grab Renni Ramirez's elbow without thinking and shove her along the circle until we can dip behind a large black leather sofa. Cherry and Brad didn't make it to the lights, but I see them ducked behind the register desks, Cherry's manicured fi nger over Brad's scowling lips. I hear my heart beating in my chest, and become aware that I can feel Renni's heart beating against my left arm.
I dare not peek out to see what the zombie is up to, but I don't hear him enter. Th e doors will stay open for as long as the thigh remains on the sensor, which means either the zombie will reclaim his meal, fi nd a tastier morsel somewhere else in the plaza, or come exploring.
Over Renni's hot breathing in my ear, I hear the distinct scraping of a twisted foot along the concrete. He's coming in.