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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Dumb as Dirt

Garth Upshaw's work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Realms of Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and other fine magazines.

Zombies are stupid. Dumb as a box of rocks. Draw a line in the dirt and they'll go all glassy-eyed and follow it, shuffling along about two miles a day. "Gah, gah, gah."
Mom says, Don't Make Fun. Says, It's Not Nice. Says, It Could happen to Anyone.
But Gordy and I got 17 rotters following a big circle we drew around the old gas station. "Gah, gah, gah." A regular chorus.
Gordy cracked up. Said it was the funniest thing he'd seen his whole life. He ran to the pumps and fell in behind the last one in line--an old deadster, thirty or thirty-five when he turned, easy. Big hole in his side. Been a zombie a long time. Gordy shuffled forward. Said, look at me, Sam.
Mom saw us and came after Gordy with a broom. Said he Should Show Some Respect. Boxed his ears. Said he was a little-shit-who-shoulda-been-drowned-as-a-baby.
I said she should show Gordy some respect. Said he was at least a real-live human. Said he wasn't no idiot shambler.
She slapped my face. One-two. Bam, bam. Like lightning. Like breaking glass. Her face got all squinched and tight like. She said Gordy Should Go Home. Now. Said I Should Come Inside. Called me Samuel.
I said--well, I started to say--but she got my ear with a grip like a pair of pliers. Lifted me up and hauled me into the store before I could so much as get my breath.
She locked me in the back room and left. I sat on a box and picked at the duct tape patching the worn cardboard. My stomach growled. Mom said in a loud voice that Maybe a Night With No Dinner Would Teach Someone a Lesson.
I yelled back that I couldn't hear her and besides it wasn't respectful to try to talk to someone from another room.
Pots slammed and banged, but she didn't say anything else.
I tried the door, but the lock was solid. Moonlight filtered through the boards nailed over the windows. A mouse skittered in the walls. My heart did a flip-flop. All at once, big fat tears leaked out of my eyes. I clenched my jaw. Boys don't cry. It was just me and mom running the store. Mom and me.
Gordy makes fun of me sometimes 'cause I don't have a dad. He's got a dad and a mom and four older brothers. They all like to hit him though, so I don't see how he's got it any better. But I wonder sometimes.
I curled up in the corner, shivering. I was sure I'd never fall asleep, but next thing I knew, I stretched and rolled over and woke up. A big down quilt had been wrapped around me, and my pillow had been tucked under my head.
The door was propped open and bright yellow sunshine spilled through the crack. Dust motes danced and glittered in the light. I bounced up. "Mom? You awake? I'm starving. What's for breakfast?"
Mom sat in the good chair in the living room. A deader, the old one from the gas station, stood in the corner. "Gah," it said. "Gah." Drool covered its chin. "Gah, gah." The room smelled of turned earth.
Mom's eyes were red. "Don't be afraid. It's not contagious." Her hands clasped and twisted in her lap. "Sam, meet Frank." She said, "Frank, meet your son."
My stomach clenched, and I felt like I'd fallen off the roof, and the ground was rushing up at me, and I couldn't stop.
"Gah," it said.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
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