Hans and Gretta

“They’re here,” Gretta called from the front hall. “And they want a flesh tithe.”

She made her voice rough, like her larynx was rotting out, which wasn’t hard to do since she was already hoarse with fear. I forced up some phlegm myself before answering. Zombies may be rotting cannibals, but they’re smarter than you’d think, smart enough to tell living voices from dead ones—if the living ones speak normally.

“Tell them there isn’t any flesh here.” If she was trying to disguise her voice as a zombie’s, she probably was thinking the same thing I was.

I heard her murmuring, and then a gurgling response from the front door. I imagined the picture outside: a mass of rotting undead, clustered on the porch and walkway of a gingerbread-trim cottage in a Midwestern suburb. I liked the house; it looked good enough to eat. But I shouldn’t think of eating, given the current situation.

“They say they aren’t fooled. But I’m not sure...they aren’t forcing their way in...yet.”

“Crap.” I looked around the kitchen for weapons or whatever might get us out of this. We had been in the cottage two days so far; it was one of the many we had taken shelter in, staying until we ate out the edible contents in a practice we knew as ‘bread-crumb following,’ since our parents abandoned us. They said it was better to split up the family, that two healthy teens would have a better chance of survival when they weren’t hampered by the forty-somethings. That might be true, but it still felt like abandonment.

I pushed the thought aside. It seemed we might finally get eaten today, and I didn’t want to go thinking of my stupid parents.

Kitchen. Weapon. Idea. Anything.  Yellow checkered tiles, yellow checkered curtains and tablecloth. A platter of greasy chicken bones on the table, sucked mostly clean. We had found them in the freezer, and eaten ravenously even though I had no idea how long they had been there. Possibly since before the plague, since the platter held bones and not a zombie chicken.

“Hans?” Gretta appeared in the kitchen doorway, her face white as the lace borders on the curtains. “They’re working on the shutters...”

“Crap,” I said again. Our options were limited. We could give in and one of us would go as the—well, it was more of a flesh half than a flesh tithe. If we paid the zombie’s rent, they would let us—one of us—go.

Or, if they forced their way in, they’d eat both of us.

Zombies are smarter than most people give them credit for, but not any nicer.

“Only...a few...more...seconds...fleshlings,” something grated from the dining room.

“I...uh...” I stared at the table. We’d be eaten, like that chicken...just like that chicken...

—§—

“Hold it,” I rasped.

The dining room windows stopped shuddering before my eyes.

“Ye-aagh?”

I crept forward, my full-bodied form mostly concealed beneath a greasy, yellow-checkered tablecloth. “Luk,” I said in my best imitation-rotting burble, “there ain’t fleshlings in here, I tol’ you that. See here.”

The zombies muttered, confronted with something skinny poking through the shutters covering the broken glass of the window.

“What is this?”

“’S my finger,” I said, and hesitated, trying to remember if a rotting throat can form r’s. “I’m mos’ly gone...not got much to eat a‘ound here.”

The chicken bone quivered in my hand as zombie fingers poked it.

“I...ssseee,” a voice croaked apologetically.

“Yeah. Sorry. If you, um, find any fleshlings...that you aren’t using...send them here, would you?” I rasped.

The zombies didn’t answer. Of course they wouldn’t be that generous anyway, but from the funny shuffling and oozing sounds coming from beyond the window I figured they were hastening off the porch and away from the scene of this embarrassment.

Zombies are smart enough to feel embarrassed when they make mistakes. But then, they’re stupid enough to make mistakes, or to be fooled into thinking they have despite my rotten accent.

Actually, zombies might be smarter than you’d think, but really, they’re still pretty stupid.

Ω

Therese L Arkenberg  Therese L Arkenberg's website is a student from Wisconsin, though she studies only in the most extreme circumstances and most of her stories are at least drafted in the classroom. Her work has been published in M-BRANE science fiction magazine, Labyrinth Inhabitant, and will appear in the upcoming online anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments.

Other works by Therese L Arkenberg