Henry came out of the newsagent, looked at the youth loitering near the burger bar entrance, and showered their backs with disgust.
He headed for the cut-through that connected the high street to the small estate at the back of the shops, listing all the things that were wrong with what he had just seen. First, young people should not be standing idle, but if they had to be allowed some leisure time and wished to spend it promenading the high street, they should make an effort not to be an eyesore. They should wear a decent pair of trousers – the kind that hanged over their rears not underneath them – and a clean shirt; a blazer would not go amiss either. And the girls – he shook his head in dismay – how could their parents let them out of the house dressed like that? It was beyond belief!
Henry stepped on the path that led to his flat. The tongue of concrete in front of him was edged with weeds, empty bottles and plastic containers; those were the kind of flower borders he had come to expect from his churlish neighbours.
His nose quivered at the smell of burnt oil and he sought to escape the assault by curling up his frowning forehead. Who on earth needed deep fried chicken at half past ten on a Sunday morning?
Henry went past the small yard at the back of the takeaway shop and emerged into the Indian restaurant garlic cloud. Peddlers of overpriced food and beverages – like that one – had destroyed the area.
Cheap restaurants and fancy coffee houses had turned the high street into a crude spectacle of neon signs and al-fresco eating, and his garlic-gnawing and coffee-drinking neighbours were to blame. They had filled the coffers of these evil-smelling newcomers and left the old shops to wither and die. He missed the old shops; they had made the walk to the supermarket so much more picturesque.
Henry glanced at the entrance of the small building. As usual the main door had been left open. He pushed it close behind him and double-checked that the old latch had caught.
Henry had sent a letter to the Maintenance Committee asking for an intercom system to be sat up. His flat was the only one on the ground floor, and the first in line, when some bored youngsters wanted to amuse themselves by knocking on doors at all hours of the night and day. His request had been turned down.
He made sure that there were no intruders hiding in the shadows then walked up to his flat. With one last glance over his shoulder Henry let himself in.
After finding a man sleeping under the stairs Henry had written asking for an intercom system again, but the Maintenance Committee had refused him and advised that an intercom system would not have helped.
Henry sat down in his armchair and unruffled his newspaper.
It had taken the police forty-five minutes to arrive! And whom had they sent in reply to his call for help? One spotty youngster! Blah!
By the time that excuse for an officer of the law had turned up at the block entrance, his upstairs neighbour had come down in a tattered dressing gown and started yelling abuse. How could he be expected to know that the man sleeping in the corridor was her boyfriend? Or that she had accidentally locked him out? What a horrible woman! So common!
His eyes focused on the capital letters stretching across the front page.
‘THE DEAD ARE RISING,’ then smaller, ‘Police Chief outlines action plan…’
He snorted. The police?! Do me a favour! They were useless at planning, or acting.
Loud music thumped its way through the ceiling into his flat. Henry’s mouth became a thin line of indignation. There was never a moment’s peace with those two above his head.
He straightened the paper then began reading again.
Shouting broke through the rhythmic thud-thud and boom-boom of the music.
Every fibre in Henry’s body vibrated with powerless anger. All he wanted was a bit of peace and quiet on a Sunday morning, was it too much to ask?!
The music stopped.
Henry read the first line of the second paragraph.
A stream of profanities came from the upstairs flat, turned the air blue in Henry’s living room.
Horrid, horrid woman!
Then it happened.
Henry had died with his fists clenching the newspaper, and his face a silent expression of unbound venom.
Henry blinked then unclenched his fists. The pages slid down his knees and fanned around his feet. He blinked again, placed a hand in front of his mouth then moved it down to his chest – still nothing.
Perhaps he ought to call his GP. He looked at the phone and decided against it; there were no pills that could restart his breathing, or heartbeat, and anyway that lousy doctor of his did not take call-outs on a Sunday, or any other day of the week.
He glanced down at the article he had been reading. He pushed himself up and shuffled to the phone. Henry punched the number in. After a few rings he was presented with a number of options. He listened carefully, but none seem to apply to his current condition. So much for the police having plans in place!
The recording began listing options again, and Henry decided that he would be better off talking to a human being, rather than a machine. His finger slid; the automatic system chimed that the number had not been recognised and to please select an option from the menu, then cut him off. Henry groaned and dialled again. He pressed the buttons carefully, and was rewarded by a feminine voice advising him that his call was important and he would be transferred to an operator as soon as possible. He sat back in his armchair with the phone pressed to his ear; his hearing was not so good anymore and he did not want to miss anything the operator had to say.
One hour later, Henry hung up. The feminine voice had reassured him hundreds of times that his call was important, but, evidently, not enough for anyone at the other end of the line to answer it.
He would have to haul himself to the police station. He straightened up and all his joints cricked, then, with an ominous bang, his gut released a large amount of gas, followed by his breakfast. Henry cursed; the newspaper could at least have hinted something like that might happen! He had been right all along – the press could not be trusted!
Henry looked down at his trousers. He could not very well go out in the state he was. He picked up the soiled cushion and headed for the bathroom.
Henry showered himself, then the cushion.
He noticed the lingering smell of bad meat; he should have known that modern shower gel would not be up to the job – modern things never were.
He looked at the bottle of laundry soap sitting on top of the washing machine. Guaranteed to cut through even the most stubborn stains and leave a refreshing smell of citrus fruits, the label said.
He washed himself and the cushion again. He could still pick up a bit of a smell on his skin, but it was pleasantly overpowered by the scent of oranges.
He threw the soiled clothes in the washing machine, added double the recommended amount of detergent, and started it. The machine made a gurgling noise then began to hop around. The din was maddening. With a grunt, Henry lifted the washing machine and adjusted the legs.
He stood up in wonder. His back had been bad for years, and yet he had been able to lift that heavy lump of metal without as much as a twitch in his spine. He looked down at his hands and his sudden burst of happiness was cut short. Two of his fingers were dangling off at their roots. This body might not hurt, but it was fragile.
He got the sewing kit out and repaired the damage as best he could.
Henry looked at the black stitching; perhaps he should have taken the time to pick a colour that would not stand out so much against his grey skin.
He carefully dressed himself then looked at his reflection in the mirror. He had been saving that suit for this special occasion and was, overall, pleased with his appearance of quiet respectability.
Henry sat down on the edge of his bed. He’d had plans: a sombre ceremony, a black shiny hearse to take his body to the cemetery, the family plot surrounded by flowers; instead he would have to walk himself down to the police station, fill in his own death certificate, then head to the crematorium, and wait out his turn in the oven. Where was the dignity in that?!
His life had been one disappointment after another: no wife to share his old age with, no children to cherish, a job that had left him with a pension he could barely survive on. And now this: a humiliating death.
He wanted to cry, but there was no spare water sloshing about in his body to produce tears. Henry laid down, crossed his arms on his chest then closed his eyes and pretended he was receiving his last rites.
Loud banging and shouting, filtering down from the upstairs flat, filled his bedroom.
He pushed himself up. Enough was enough! He was going to give those two a piece of his mind.
He crawled up the stairs. The old Henry had been afraid that those two savages would put him in hospital, or a coffin, if he ever dared to complain to them about the noise. Not anymore. Henry’s lips curved upwards; there were some advantages to being dead.
The door burst open, and Henry found himself about to knock on a nose.
Henry stepped back then looked up and down at the young man standing in the doorframe, he believed in minding his own business, but the man was clearly holding a knife, and Henry’s nose was telling him it was not strawberry jam that was dripping off it.
Henry did not claim to be an expert, but he had watched enough daytime television to hazard a few guesses; the blood was human and, in all likelihood, coming from the arm he could see pushing against a half-closed door. In addition, if that chubby arm was still attached, the rest of the body should be laying on the kitchen floor.
The young man began to tremble.
‘It’s not my fault… I was spreading some butter on my toast, and, when I turned to see what she was shouting about, she impaled herself on it. I swear to God.’
Henry looked at the man then at the carving knife in his bloody hand. Odd choice of cutlery for spreading butter, he thought.
‘We should check on your wife,’ he added aloud
‘Girlfriend.’ the man interjected.
‘Girlfriend. She might be wounded and in need of medical attention.’ Henry headed for the arm.
He bent down then peered at the sprawled body. It seemed to him that the woman had pushed herself against the carving knife a half-dozen times, at least.
Hunger gnawed at his stomach. Hardly surprising, Henry told himself, he’d had breakfast before going to church, and it was close to lunchtime now.
‘Are you sure this was accidental?’ he asked, standing up.
‘What are you saying?’ the man hissed.
Henry looked at him shaking like a tower of lime jelly – even in his current condition, confronting the man might not be advisable. But he could try to calmly talk the murderous boyfriend around, and then accompany him to the police station. It would not be much of a trouble, after all, he was heading that way himself. The aroma of the freshly deceased tickled his hunger.
‘What’s your name, young man?’ he asked. It was important to create an emotional bond with a distraught criminal, all the police dramas suggested as much.
He patted Ian’s shoulder and, silently, congratulated himself for coming up with a gesture that was both sympathetic and comforting.
Henry spotted the dark stitching at the base of his fingers and quickly hid his hand behind his back.
‘Ian, I don’t mean to impose on you at such a difficult time, but given the circumstances, I feel I ought to ask you what happened.’ Henry said, then used his left hand to pat Ian’s shoulder.
‘I told you man, she was yelling at me.’
‘She used to raise her voice quite a bit,’ Henry said. Strange… he had never noticed before how delicious the woman smelled.
One of Henry’s nails caught into a loose thread. He eased his hand away, but his blackish nail remained stubbornly lodged into Ian’s scruffy t-shirt.
‘Yeah, and a man needs some peace on a Sunday morning.’
‘Absolutely.’ Henry agreed, as his left hand joined the right one behind his back.
‘I loved her and I would never harm her.’ Ian mumbled, while tears chased each other down his cheeks.
‘I know, I thought you were very understanding after she locked you out all night.’ Henry offered, more to distract himself from the mouth-watering aroma than to console.
‘She still hit me with the frying pan.’ Ian added.
Henry turned and looked at Ian. The man had a black eye and there were quite a few bruises on his arms. Strange, he had always assumed… as it turned out, he had been wrong.
‘She was a good cook then?’
Ian gave him a puzzled look.
‘Erm, I remember reading somewhere that good cooks can be somewhat temperamental,’ Henry added, thinking that if he stayed much longer in that kitchen, he was going to drool.
‘Could not fry an egg to save her life.’ Ian mumbled, staring at the body ‘Oh my God, I didn’t mean…’
‘Ian,’ Henry said guiding him out into the corridor. ‘I will be honest with you, it doesn’t look good.’
Ian shook him off and nearly sent Henry’s arm flying.
‘You don’t believe me?’ he growled.
‘Of course I do, but what about the police?’ Henry replied.
‘The bitch made my life hell! But, oh no that’s not enough for her, now I have to go to prison because of her.’ Ian wailed.
The quick change of heart caught Henry off-guard.
‘You are a nice man,’ Henry said, catching up with events. ‘I may know someone that could help,’ he added, drawing on his memories of early evening television.
Ian eyes lit up.
‘Man, I would never forget it.’
‘But first, we need to bring her down to my flat.’ Henry said, picking up the woman by her shoulders, then noticed Ian’s dubious look. ‘My friend does not need to know about you,’ he whispered.
Ian nodded – as fast as his neck would let him – then picked up the woman’s legs.
On their way out, Henry spotted a portable air conditioning unit.
‘I will need that.’ he said. ‘I need to keep the place cool… until my friend arrives, you understand’.
Ian looked down at the body of his girlfriend and a tear collected at the corner of his eye.
Henry sat in his small kitchen. He had laid the body out on the old linoleum floor. Her name was Tina, Ian had told him. He tucked the edge of a large towel inside his collar. He had been a vegetarian for years because his pension would not stretch to keep him in meat. He looked at Tina and nodded, approving of the woman’s full figure.
He whispered Grace under his breath then wiped the drool off his mouth.
‘Waste not, want not,’ he murmured and bit into the woman’s thigh.
She had been an unpleasant, bitter character in life. Henry took another bite. In death, she was nothing but sweet and juicy.
Henry sat back on his heels. He needed to make her last, he may not find another body that easily. He licked his lips, he would allow himself one more bite then he would store her for later.
Oh, but she was so delicious, Henry thought whilst nibbling her fingers. She must have watched what she ate; he could not believe anyone gobbling down those horrid concoctions they passed for food on the high street could taste that nice.
He would take one more bite to make that edge tidy then pack her into the fridge… Maybe he could take another morsel, a teeny-weeny one…
Henry sat back. He could not believe it, all there was left of sweet Tina was the brain and the heart. He had set the two aside, planning to bury them in the back garden. It was not proper to eat the two organs where the woman’s soul might have resided. Henry went to church every Sunday, regular. He knew about souls.
Henry rubbed his stomach. He’d had the soft bits first, the pink, then the dark red ones. He had snapped the bones, and sucked out the marrow, then he had chewed on the bones with childish greed.
He was full, and yet he felt like he could do with something else. It was the kind of feeling he used to get after a big meal… back then he would have satisfied himself with a bit of sticky toffee pudding and ice-cream. Perhaps a bit of steamed sponge, out of a tin, might do the trick; he would have to go to the mini-market to get some, though… His attention turned to the pink-grey brain and the dark red heart. Maybe he could allow himself a little taste…
He took a small bite of the brain, then the heart. He had enjoyed Tina – flesh, guts and bones, the lot – but those two organs were something else; they tasted like nothing he had ever eaten before. He scooped them up in his hands. After all, Mother used to say that wasting food was a sin. He pushed both heart and brain inside his mouth and, with a happy grin on his face, chewed down the last of Tina.
Henry stood up, licked his fingers clean, then pulled the towel out of his collar and dabbed at his mouth. It had been heaven, the best meal he had ever had.
He pushed the air conditioning unit close to his armchair, turned it on and waved his hand in front of the cool stream. He switched it off. Could he afford to run it? The smell of putrid meat spread around the warm room. He looked down at the unit again. Winter was coming, and what he spent now on cooling himself, he would save on heating during the long winter months. He switched on the machine again and turned the knob to full power.
Henry picked up his newspaper, then lowered himself in his armchair, and listened. The only sound was the air conditioning unit whooshing in the background. He slid down his seat and basked in the blessed silence that had finally descended on his home.
He opened his paper.
‘I miss him.’
Henry sat up. The voice had come from somewhere inside him.
Maybe it was part of his condition, a side effect, deterioration of the brain and all that. All the reports said that the zombies shuffled around, uttering unintelligible grunts, grabbing people and tearing out their guts. But those report had to be wrong – or greatly inflated – after all, he had been able to hold a rather intelligent, and creative, conversation with Ian.
‘I want him,’ the voice screamed.
‘Who?’ Henry found himself replying.
‘Ian, I want my Ian! It feels lonely in here.’ The voice ended in a high-pitched whine.
All Henry wanted was to close his eyes and rest for five minutes. He ripped the head off Meredith’s boyfriend, turned it upside-down, scooped out the brain out then shoved it down his throat.
Henry had not had a quiet moment since the day he had died. Ian had been the first, but then Tina had missed her mother. Her mother had wanted her dog, the dog had pained for the kid that had adopted it, the kid had missed his mum and dad, the mum had missed her sister, who in turn had missed her son, and the son had missed his friends, and so on…
Henry shuffled on, growling and grunting. He could not get a word in or a thought out with all the chattering, singing, barking, meowing and yelling that was going on inside him. If he could have, Henry would have cried…
The racket inside his head reached another peak, and began to climb higher. He could not bear it anymore.
‘Sir, there is another one at the door.’
The Sergeant looked up from his desk. He had just finished clearing off last night’s intake.
‘Would be any use telling him to come back later?’ he asked.
‘I don’t think so. He is grunting and drooling… Sir, he is rattling the door.’
‘I guess we cannot have that,’ the Sergeant said, picking up the stick with the hoop at the end.
He nodded and the other Officer threw the door open. The Sergeant lowered the loop around the zombie’s neck and pulled it tight.
‘Check his pockets,’ he ordered.
The Officer made a face, but patted the zombie down. He pulled out a bunch of papers.
‘The name is Henry Stapps, a pensioner.’
‘All right Henry, let’s get you to a nice, cosy cell,’ the Sergeant said.
‘Good, good,’ the Sergeant said, shoving him inside a cell with six other growling zombies.
He freed Henry’s neck then quickly locked the door.
‘Now, someone from Social Services will be around in,’ the Sergeant scratched his temple, ‘a couple of months, tops.’
‘Ghrrrr.’ Henry said then tried to strangle himself, but his last remaining three fingers came off.
‘No need for that, pal,’ the Sergeant said. ‘As I was saying, the Social will assess you and re-locate you to refrigerated accommodation.’ He wiped the sweat off his brow. The holding cells could get mighty hot.
‘You will be held there until your case is due in Court. The new Bill on Zombie Rights is being discussed, and once the Government passes it, the Courts can start working. Your case number should be…’ the Sergeant looked into his notebook. ‘Three six five nine.’
‘No reason to get all worked up about it, Henry. Quite down, you!’ he shouted at the other howling zombies. ‘Look you have six mates to help you pass the time.’ The Sergeant yelled over the din. ‘Make yourself at home, put your feet up, relax.’
‘Oh, I reckon no more than fifteen years, seventeen max before you are sentenced.’
© 2014 DK Newton
DK Newton is an artist and writer.