We all thought that Frank was dead. Had we known that he wasn’t, we would have killed him again. We buried him six feet deep – not in a coffin, mind you, but in a roll of old carpet that Mama didn’t want anymore – and patted the earth down good and proper.
We’d buried him by the old well out back, under the watchful eye of the moon and stars. Jim and I dug the hole, taking turns because we only had one spade. Gary was there, too, but Jim and I both knew that he’d probably have another heart attack if joined in.
“Let me have a go!” Gary cried, shrilly. “I killed ‘im too!”
“Sure,” I said, handing the spade over to Jim.
“All right, all right, now it’s my turn!” he croaked, after Jim had been shovelling soil for several minutes, sweat pouring off his brow like the small waterfall that fell from the rocks at the end of the stream down the way.
“Of course,” Jim said, handing me the spade with a simpering grin.
And so, it went on, until we had a hole big enough to fit him. It was a pretty big hole. And, well, it had to be, didn’t it? Frank had been a pretty big guy, and that’s putting it mildly.
“Okay, okay,” Gary said, when we were done. “But I get to help put ‘im in!” For some reason, Jim agreed. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, I often thought that his IQ was lower than the number of teeth inside his head, and half of those had rotted away. I would have protested at letting Gary help, but I wanted Frank dead and buried, and we were only halfway towards that goal.
Gary huffed and puffed until he was red in the face, and I wondered for a moment whether he’d topple over and collapse into the hole right then and there – eternal bed pals with Frank. But, to his credit, Gary didn’t die.
He did drop Frank’s body, though. One second, we had the fellow’s portly corpse held between the two of us (and boy was he heavy), the next, Gary’s end was slipping from his arthritic fingers and thudding onto the ground with a sickening crack!
“Oh, nice going, Gary!” opined Jim. “You gone and dropped ‘im!”
“Hush now,” I told him. “Just take over, Jim.”
“Nah, I got ‘im, I got ‘im!” protested Gary. “He just slipped, tha’s all!” Jim moved to pick up the end that Gary had dropped. I briefly wondered whether it was Frank’s head that had hit the floor. Had it split? Burst open like a ripe watermelon? “Nah, I said I got ‘im!” Gary whined.
I rolled my eyes at Jim. “Fine, fine. Just don’t drop him, again, old timer. Okay?” Gary grumbled something under his breath about being called an ‘old timer’, but he dutifully picked up his part of the corpse. And he didn’t drop him this time, either.
With many huffs, puffs, curses and swear words, Gary and I carried Frank’s bloated corpse over to the hole and dropped him in with a great squelching plop! in the muddy soil. We all stood there, staring at the rotund shape, Gary and I rubbing our sore backs. “Rest in peace, I guess,” I muttered.
“Yeah, that’ll teach ya!” crowed Gary, victoriously.
Jim just spat on the ground and wiped his mouth.
“A fitting epitaph,” I agreed. “Right, now let’s finish this up and get back inside. I’m starving.”
“Yeah, me too! I’m so hungry, I—I could eat a horse!” said Jim, dumbly. I offered him a polite smile. His vacuous eyes shined simply.
“Yeah, ya great lumbering fool. All ya does is eat eat eat!”
I ignored them set to work, shovelling the dirt back into the hole which Frank now occupied. Halfway through, I chucked the spade over to Jim. “Here, you can finish it,” I said. Jim was big and dumb, but he was a good boy. He took the shovel and the instructions willingly enough and finished the job in half the time it had taken me to fill half the hole. Jim patted the earth down for about twice as long as was necessary.
“Hurry up, ya fool!” said Gary. “Some of us wanna eat!”
Jim turned to spit some insult back, but I caught his eye and raised my eyebrows at him. No, I mouthed at him. No. Jim’s shoulders slumped, and he walked away from Frank’s unceremonious burial site. I observed our work. There was a slight bump in the ground, owed to the fact that Frank was so fat and not all of the soil could fit back into the hole. But apart from that, the ground looked about the same as the rest of the area around the old well – a muddy, messy, grassless ruin.
“Come on, then,” I told the pair. The three of us began walking towards the house. We were covered in dirt, and all felt damp and a little bit miserable. But we were one body lighter, and that was good.
Up ahead, the yellow lights of the house bloomed. The smell of food was wafting our way, despite the locked windows and closed doors. Each of our tummies grumbled in unison. We were starving. Killing and burying a man really worked up the appetite.
Therefore, if there is but one thing to take away from all of this, it’s that we all thought that Frank was dead.
Perhaps it was something in the air that night. Perhaps it was something in the way the waxy moon shone upon the ground. Maybe it was something in the soil; something leeching away from the old well. Perhaps it was the radiation that had spread across the land, seeping into ground and skin.
Unbeknownst to any of us, as we shut the door and got ready for our feast, the soil out by the old well shifted. A wet smacking sound came from the ground, and a few bubbles frothed in the muddy puddles. There was also a second noise. A scratching, ripping sound. If you’d have asked an experienced upholsterer to name the noise, he’d have told you in an instant: “Why, that’s the sound of tearing carpet!”
From the house came clattering cutlery and gales of laughter. Obliviousness personified.
Out by the old well, with nobody but the crows as witnesses, a grimy hand with dirty fingernails clawed its way out of the muddy ground. The skin on the hand throbbed a faint fluorescent green beneath the waning moon.
Marky had come back from crushing the car in the compactor. Gary had wanted to put the body in the car as well, but Marky said that they were now performing more thorough checks over at the scrapyard. Apparently, we weren’t the first to need to dispose of a body.
“I’m telling ya, it’s the best way to get rid of ‘im!” Gary said, high-pitched voice thin and wavering.
Marky looked to Mama with an exasperated will you tell him? look on his face.
“We’ll stuff him into the ground by the old well,” Mama had said. “Leave him to rot there,” she said with a sly grin. “Nobody comes around these parts, anyhow. Nobody’ll find him.” So, we did as Mama said. We always did as Mama said. She was the smartest and wisest out of all of us. She wasn’t the oldest, by any stretch of the imagination. No, that position was held by Uncle Gary. Mama held authority over her brother, however, as she was simply a greater force to be reckoned with. Uncle Gary grumbled and complained, but if ever Mama raised her voice, he would balk and fall back into line.
Gary simply nodded. “Yes, Maw,” he said, false teeth slipping. Even old Uncle Gary called her Mama. Nobody thought it was strange. She was the mother of the family. Where we’d be without her, I have no idea. Probably dead. It was her idea to build the bunker, after all.
Gary, Jim and I had cleaned up as best as we could. “Look at the state of you,” Mama had said when we came back in after taking care of Frank. “Just look at the damn state of you,” she said, shaking her head. “Is it done?” she asked, pointedly.
Jim and Gary nodded awkwardly. Only I spoke. “Yes, Mama. We buried him by the old well.”
“Six feet deep.”
“Good boy. Now go wash up. Dinner’ll be ready soon.”
When Marky came in through the door, slicked back hair perfect, leather jacket cool and sleek, Mama grilled him the same as she’d done us. “Such a pretty boy, ain’t ya, Marky?” she said, looking him up and down with a vague air of disdain. “Did you do it?”
“Anyone ask any questions?”
“Good. Now go wash up. Food’s almost ready.”
Three minutes later we were all sat about the table – Gary, Jim, Marky and I. Mama was stood at the head of the table (as per usual), great, gleaming knife in her white-knuckle grip. Before her, on the table, was a golden-brown bird of some sort. Had you asked a biologist or zoologist or whatever (they’re all the same, to me) what kind of bird it was, I’m sure they’d have said something along the lines of: “It looks like a turkey. Sort of. A severely disfigured turkey. Or horribly mutated. Why’s it got six legs? How’d you get my number? Who told you where I live? Leave me alone!”
As mentioned earlier, we all thought that Frank was dead. After all, Mama had stabbed him. Afterwards, she’d made us all take turns at stabbing him. “A family that slays together stays together,” she’d said with a knowing nod. We questioned neither her logic nor her wisdom.
So, when he came crashing through the door in a cacophony of splintering wood, we were all a bit shocked to say the least. Of course, we didn’t know it was him. Not at first.
Everyone kinda froze. Everyone but Mama, that was. We’d all been sitting down, waiting for Mama to carve the turkey-like beast, when the sound suddenly tore through the lounge jazz that was playing on the record player. Miles Davis, I think it was. Maybe Kind of Blue. It must have been. That was only one of two records that survived the initial blast. The other one was Elvis, and I didn’t hear him warbling away. Anyway, we all turned to statues when the door turned to matchsticks, sitting there with puerile grins printed on our faces as if we’d been injected with botox right then and there. Even I must admit that I panicked, like a startled rabbit in headlights. Without Mama, I would have likely been mowed down by that truck, along with the rest of the family.
Mama’s eyes narrowed. Her clutch on the knife tightened. Her mouth puckered up, as if she were about to kiss someone. But if you knew Mama like I knew Mama, you’d know that the only person she’d ever kissed had been Papa, and he was twelve years in the grave. “Who dares…” she said, spitting the words out, dripping with venom. Slowly, she turned towards the hallway door, right as Frank came smashing through.
It’s a testament to the woman’s nerves of steel, that when Frank came barging through into the dining room, skin all grey, multiple stab wounds peppering his neck and torso, one eye missing, she turned to me, Gary and Jim and cursed us out, instead of dealing with the dead, glowing thing that was disrupting our dinner.
“You idiots!” she said. I’m not ashamed to say I recoiled. I’m sure Gary and Jim did the same. “You said you buried ‘im six feet deep!”
“We did, Maw—” Jim began, but that was when Frank opened his mouth and started wailing.
Now, when I say wailing, I really mean wailing. It sounded like an ambulance’s siren. Or an air raid alarm. It was incredibly high-pitched and cut through all of our ears like razor wire. We all winced and placed our hands to the sides of our heads, making brain sandwiches. All but Mama, that was.
“You can cut that out,” Mama said, evenly, then stepped forward and casually pushed the knife into Frank’s chest. The blade sunk into the glowing green flesh of the once dead thing with a slightly wet sound. Schlick! Frank didn’t pause his siren song for even a second. His one eye was wide and staring and unseeing, the other rotten with a maggot crawling its way out of the ruined hole (that was quick, we only just put him in the ground). The thing that had been Frank reached out and grabbed Mama’s hand and snapped it off to one side, as if it was nothing more than the offending branch of a tree. If trees were still a thing, anyway.
“Oh, now you’ve done it,” said Mama, looking curiously at the way her hand flip-flopped all over the place. And then her eyes dropped to the floor, where Frank’s boots were. They were all muddy and dirty. And on Mama’s nice rug, too. “Oh, Frank!” she snapped, sounding more like she was telling Gary off for clipping his toenails in the kitchen than dealing with one of the undead.
With her remaining good hand, she picked up the metal platter upon which the roasted carcass of the six-legged turkey beast sat, spilling the cooked body onto the table. All of us watched the thing roll into the centre of the table and stop with hungry eyes. But then, as the good sons we were, we forced our eyes back up to where Mama stood. She was now hitting Frank with the serving dish.
“You—” SMACK! “—come—” SMACK! “—here—” SMACK! “—and you—” SMACK-SMACK! “—disrespect me—” SMACK-SMACK! “—in front of my family?” The glowing, reanimated body of Frank stumbled backward under the strength of the blows. Mama shook her head. “And now, you got the nerve to not stay dead when I kill you?” She brought the tray down across his skull, and there was an almighty CRACK! as Frank’s head split open, revealing the pink-grey mass of his brain. There was a green slime, dripping out of the wound that looked an awful lot like snot. Mama reached forward and pulled the knife free of Frank’s chest. Schlock! She waved the great knife at him, green liquid spraying from the tip. “I’ll kill you! Again!”
She dashed forward – broken hand lolling from side to side like a drunk in a chair – and thrust the gore-slaked blade into zombie Frank’s exposed brain. Almost immediately, Frank quit his banshee-like tune. It hadn’t been a very good melody. The undead man uttered a confused, dumb little grunt. “Unh?” His punctured brain throbbed twice: THUMP-THUMP. And then he collapsed on the floor for a second time, his radiating neon skin clashing horribly with Mama’s rug.
Mama stood over him, crouching like a tiger, waiting for him to move again. When he didn’t, she bent down and pulled the messy blade free of Frank’s brains. Schluck! Something nasty and gooey was dripping from the knife. I hoped she wouldn’t use the same knife on the turkey beast.
She waved the knife at me. “You,” she growled thunderously, spitting the word out as if it was a bone lodged in her throat. “And you and you,” she said to Gary Jim, who shrank backwards in their seats appreciatively under the threatening glint of the blade. “Take ‘im back out there and bury ‘im properly! No food for you until he is six. Feet. Deep. Now go!”
“Yes, Mama,” I said hurriedly, standing up. Jim knocked over his chair because of how quickly he got to his feet.
“Oh, you great oaf,” said Mama, closing her eyes. “What am I going to do with you? Get out of here,” she said, quietly. Mama was scary when she shouted, but she was even scarier when she wasn’t shouting.
Jim and I grabbed Frank and threw our entire strength into lifting him and not dropping him. Gary scurried after us and helped us with the door. We wrapped him back in the tattered remains of the rug and reburied him in the same spot that we’d done before. We stood there a moment in silence, the three of us, watching and waiting or a disturbance in the dirt. But it never came.
We were about to go back inside, when I spotted something on the horizon. Something that unnerved me greatly and turned my legs to jelly. Gary and Jim were arguing about whose fault it was that Frank resurrected.
“You buried ‘im!”
“Yeah, but you dug the hole!”
“Guys…” I said, voice trailing away from me, breath stolen from my lungs by the shock. “Shut up and look.” Something in my voice must’ve startled them, for they quit their squabbling and turned to see what I was seeing.
I heard Gary swear. I heard Jim whimper.
In the distance, marching towards us, was a horde of people. People that looked like they needed burying. People that were glowing, faintly, casting an eerie green glow across the ruined fields.
I grabbed Jim by the scruff and looked into the whites of his frightened eyes. “Get. Mama.” The boy set off at a run, a faint smell of urine drifting away from him.
So that’s the tale of how my family and I killed Frank twice and learned about the impending zombie apocalypse.
Mama knew just what to do, as the glowing undead came for us.
But that’s a story for another time.
29th November 2019
Written for Reedsy’s weekly Short Story Contest