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The Last Zombie Story

Joy Kennedy-O’Neill teaches composition and literature at a small college on the Gulf Coast, where her husband--writer K. S. O'Neill--teaches math. They live in a small house, on a small pond, with two not-so-small cats. Her works have appeared in Strange Horizons, New Orleans Review, and in such collections as Zombies: More Recent Dead by Prime Books.

Stairs. I remember what they are, but I can't get up them. I shuffle in front of the library and moan. My hunger has shrunk through the years into a fist. There's only one thing I want to eat, that I've ever wanted to eat. Well, two, and they're inside the building. My husband and the little tramp who's sleeping with him.
Two women pause on the sidewalk, watching me. "They really weren't that scary when it actually happened," one says.
Her friend nods. "Couldn't swim. Couldn't climb stairs."
"And slow. I don't know why we paid them so much attention."
"Well, it's sad, isn't it? I mean, look at her. She was probably somebody once."
I was somebody. I worked in that damn library, too. An archivist. Now I'm the last of my kind. Like a Petrarchan sonnet or a penny dreadful.
"It didn't even make much sense. Their saliva was the only contagion? No other fluids? And it required a bite? That was actually hard for them to do."
The women walk off, debating.
Muh, I say. My teeth have fallen out through the years.
Matthew works at the reference desk, and the chippy was hired as the new outreach director. I called her "the party planner," back when I was unchanged. Puppet shows, origami days... I don't remember anything involving actual books. She was young, blond, and everything she said ended with an optimistic uptick, you know? One day my husband said, "She has some really great ideas, you know?" And I realized that he must be sleeping with her.
But now I'm toothless. I'm helpless. I can't get up the freaking steps. I look at the distance and realize it's not just the steps. My feet seem to be tied down.
Seasons change. I shuffle in place, next to the flowerpots donated by the Beautification Society. The library patrons come and go, and I'm the last vestige of the outbreak. A living, non-living statue. A rotting memorial. No one has the heart to do me in. Even my husband and her, when they walk by, don't make eye contact. I'm not even sure they know it's me.
I feel snow and sun and rain, but vaguely. At Easter teenage boys put bunny ears over my lank hair. At Halloween they put Hulk hands over my boney fists. Some nights they pull my pants down and point at my pale haunches. They laugh at my rotting patch of pubic hair.
The library manager will usually see me and mutter "Jesus Christ." He'll pull my pants back up. He'll take off the bunny ears or the Santa hat. If there's a sign on my back that says "Shoot me," he'll remove that too.
Muh. Muh.
"I'm just not sure it held up," a man says one evening. He and his wife look at me.
"What, the outbreak or the genre?" she asks.
"Both," he shrugs.
They step lightly up the stairs, and their ease at it drives me crazy. Muh! He slides his books into the return chute.
"You really should get a Kindle," she tells him.
I was a word eater back before the change. My brain crunched paper like white, flat bones. My hands cracked spines. The dark ink of the archives was like old blood. Beautiful. Forever.
Today the teenage boys are back. "Watch this," one says.
He pulls a stake from the ground. I realize that is what's been tied to my feet. He taunts me. "Come get me!"
But I look past him, to the library stairs.
And I'm off! I'm lurching, but I'm off. I fall when I hit the first step. But I had forgotten about crawling. It's easy. The metal stake and its tether dangle behind me. The boys run, whispering "Oh shit!"
I'm finally up the stairs. I did it! Muh! I fall against the library's glass door and it opens. I hear screams. One scream ends in a question, aaeeeee? and I know it's her.
I'm over the counter. It feels good moving. My sinews are like dried tree roots, tough and earthy. I land on her hard. Her wind is knocked out. I'm trying to think... think. I need to be smart. I may not be able to bite, but there's the stake. I know it's the wrong genre, but I push it into her heart anyway. I hear her sternum pop and there's blood.
"Oh my god!" It's my husband's voice.
"Muh-muh," I say to him. "Muh-Matthew." He recognizes me now.
He's backing away, yelling, but I'm on him. My grip is strong. I grab his arm and twist, and it's like pulling a wing off a chicken. Everyone is screaming. Matthew clutches his shoulder and goes into shock. I lumber into my old office.
Inside, the dusty fax machine smells like old skin. The microfilm and microfiche machines watch me like monoliths. I have my husband's arm in my hands. I hear people shoving bookcases against the door, but I don't care.
I stumble and knock over an old card catalogue. The index cards spill out like paper tombstones. The "A" subject drawer crashes to the floor: alexandrine, archaic, anapaest.
"Someone get a gun!"
I gnaw wetly at my husband's arm, gumming it. It's just as good as I imagined; the stump end tastes like salt and copper. At the other end I hold his hand. There's a pale line around his ring finger. He must have only recently taken his wedding band off. And after all this time...
I lick happily, with renewed love. Then I climb to the top of the fallen cabinets because I can do it now. I am triumphant. Muh!
Maybe my story did get old. A woman spurned, a lost love, a living death... blah, blah. If it wore itself out, that's okay.
Because say what you will, the ending was satisfying. It left one hungry for more.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Author Comments

"When will it die?" Everyone keeps asking me this about zombie fiction, but it just keeps shambling along.

- Joy Kennedy-O'Neill
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