The follow story is by guest contributor Joe Koch. Follow him on Twitter at @jfk35824.
I don’t go to work in the daytime anymore. Thant’s good. The Victorious Army of United Humanity doesn’t want zombies wandering around endangering property values. The war’s been over long enough that people are ok with us up and moving around and making positive contributions in the workforce as long as we are full of Dr. Mcgraffin’s “I’m not a mindless flesh eating beast “ juice.
That’s fine. I prefer being me, thank you. I don’t remember the war. None of us do. At least that’s what we tell each other. I don’t tell anyone about my dreams. We aren’t supposed to be able to dream on the serum; the dreams don’t happen often but they’re too close to what it was like before.
Salad doesn’t agree with me now. That’s ok because even with the side effects I enjoy the crunch of greens and onions; the feel of tomato opening under the rude pressure of my teeth. Thus, today’s lunch includes spring greens and veg to go with the meat course.
I like the night shift. You would think it would be the quiet and the lack of people I would appreciated most; I do, but it’s really about the dress code. Late shifts the rules are relaxed a little even for folks like me; so I get to wear my wing tips to work and I can skip the tie. I like wing tip shoes best and I always had trouble with ties. Go figure; shoe laces I can do, but not ties.
I love the sound of my shoes on the cement when I walk and on the tile where I work. Sometimes I push a little even though it’s hard so I can hear the tap, tap, tap, of my brisk walk. I try to do that at least once a week when I run errands before my shift; pay bills, grab a salad, whatever. It’s like I’m working out again. I try not to make too much noise at work. My boss Mr. Kane loves it when I make noise, but it’s not good for me.
“Hi Abel!” he’ll say as he walks into the morgue. He waves, trundles in like a big doughy bull, laughs, and thumps me on the back. Never my shoulder.
He says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Then he makes a show of being nervous before he drops the new folders on my desk as he walks out.
My name isn’t Abel, its Mark.
It’s ok. Mr. Kane provides cover for my work. Sure, I put in my 40. I do my job. I log my paperwork and send our guests on their way.
Tonight I got a note from Mr. D.
I can’t smell that much and my work gear doesn’t help. But if I work at it, I can tell Mr. D. uses paper and ink that’s different from what our printer spits out and what’s in the filing cabinets. I’m proud of that because most of the time all I can smell is food; and when I’m at work food smells are covered up by the metal the company makes me wear.
Mr. D.’s note says, “Your first job.” There’s a four digit number and a small key.
The war is a long fast forward in my head of red howling hunger. Long periods of grey nothing and an unending barking need to eat punctured with bursts of desperate moving and catching and…glory.
The next thing I remember was really painfully bright light. Gradually it occurred to me this was a new novel different pain. Then it occurred to me that nothing had happened to me in quite some time. I was sitting in a heavy wooden chair wearing so much metal all I could move were fingers toes and my eyes. I rolled them, looking for something to see. There wasn’t; too much bright light in my face.
“We will make this short.” I hear a thick male voice in front of me say.
“You work for me.” The voice says.
“Soon you will be taken from here. You will sleep and wake up again. You will pretend it is your first time. You will do and say everything exactly as you are told. If you mention this place, this meeting, this talk to anyone in any way your suffering will be a campfire tale among you filthy rags for centuries.”
“You will receive instructions directly from me. You will always be watched. Obey me and you get what you want.”
I feel a needle in my arm; then nothing.
I wish my apartment were bigger. I don’t mind the size. I don’t mind the lack of amenities. It’s the way where I live highlights my situation. Do I really need lots of room? Nah. Do I sleep? No. Part of why I have this job is I can work anytime. I don’t mind the work at all. I find our clients fascinating. But a standing crate in the back is a bit much. I don’t care if it is a morgue, that’s a bit cold. I don’t get overtime either. Not alive? Traditional laws don’t apply; that includes labor laws.
I know what this note means, what he wants. The serum lets me have my mind back, but that’s about it. We all get some “training” to deal with the hunger but its more motivational conditioning than anything else.
We lost the war. Our legal status is dubious. We’re kept because there’s a massive labor shortage. We work cheap and everyone appreciates a permanent underclass that’s surprisingly tough.
I don’t know who these “special” clients of Mr. D.’s are. I should care, but I figure if anyone finds out about this arrangement I won’t be the only one who’s in trouble. So, Mr. D. wouldn’t waste my talents on just anyone.
I never touch the dead except in a clinical sense. None of us would. They only unlock me when I’m one on one with a client.
The thing is, I think I’ll get to eat like I used to.
The client in the drawer isn’t dead. He or she is thumping and making muffled noise inside the drawer that matches my number.
I know what I’m supposed to do. There’s a living person in there. They haven’t’ done anything to me. I could let them out. Why not? What are they going to do, kill me? Bullets, knives, clubs? Don’t matter. If you damage my limbs I can’t work. Well, ok, I can work if they leave me one arm and an eye. But my productivity will drop. There goes my yearly review and raise.
I can’t believe that still matters.
It’s not rent and bills, it’s the loans and the “war reparations” that are killing me. We don’t make much. We don’t have to, right? Not alive. But we all get to pay the dead tax for losing the war. Every last one of us has a job. I make more than most because I could prove my skills and know how. But almost every cent gets eaten by the loan payments for the degree I had to “earn” to prove I could be trusted at my job, my rent, and the dead tax. I still get to pay my share of the building utilities too. My salad is a once a week thing.
This will never end. If I mess up at work there are worse things. My work is interesting. Working in a squad of sewer cleaners instead? No thanks.
I have to put the key for my mouthpiece in the drawer and lock it again with the four numbers when I’m done. I’ll get to eat like before.
I’ll bet people Mr. D. wants gone aren’t nice. I’m going to work for nothing until I wear completely out.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for dinner.