Brain Food

The vampire stared at me for a second, then burst out laughing. “You’re vegan,” he repeated. “That’s a good one.”

I crossed my arms. “My dietary choices are not a joke.” I did my best not to look at the brain-on-a-plate.

His eyebrows went up. “You’re serious. Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’d be more accurate to say that you were vegan.”

“Am.”

“You’re a zombie now. Zombies eat brains. Brains, last time I checked, are not part of a vegan diet.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Illustration by Chloe Omelchuck

“I’m not eating that.” I gestured at the brain with my chin, still without looking at it. I mean, what did he expect? I doubted most meat-eaters would be happy eating a human brain, whole and uncooked.

“Yeah, well, it’s eat that, or you lose your own brains. And since brain crazy zombies are a public hazard, we don’t give you a choice the first night.” The vampire smiled, making his face wrinkle like paper. The expression didn’t reach his eyes.

“I’m not a zombie! Somebody screwed up.”

“The mark on your face says otherwise.”

“The mark on my face is wrong!”

“Just keep telling yourself that.” He took a noisy slurp out of his cup of blood, and I didn’t bother to hide my shudder. “Now eat your brains, so we can all go home.”

“I told you, I’m vegan.”

“You were vegan. Just like I was vegetarian. Neither of us gets that choice anymore.”

“I’m not eating the brain.” How many times did I have to say it?

“Why not? Comes straight from the living-side morgue.” He shrugged. “The previous owner’s dead whether you eat it or not.”

“And that makes it okay? That’s like…war profiteering!”

“Whoa, okay. Except some of these people would die anyway. Natural causes, and all that. Although, old people blood does taste kind of dry…” He took another sip from his cup, then shrugged again.

“Except as long as there’s a use for people when they’re dead, why should doctors and police officers work so hard to keep them alive?”

“You got me there. Except, without dead people, I’m dead, and you’re brain crazy.”

“You’re already dead.”

“But still walking.” He raised his cup like some sort of grotesque toast.

“You drink blood! You’re a parasite!”

“Yeah, and you eat plants. We’re all parasites.”

“It’s different,” I muttered through gritted teeth.

“You keep telling yourself that, and your head will be mush by the end of the week.”

Dietary Choices

When the van doors opened, I was blinded. Again.

“Damn floodlights,” the vampire muttered, suggesting his eyesight wasn’t any better than mine at the moment. For a second, just a second, I thought of jumping out and running away. Then hands grabbed my arms and dragged me from the van, removing that possibility.

“Later, Vince,” the woman, Clara, called.

“Later.” Though I knew he had hold of me, it I still jumped when I heard the vampire’s voice directly behind me. “Come on,” he added, to me.

I quickened my pace before he could shove me around any more than he already had. We passed through a door, taking my poor eyes out of range of the bright glare of the lights.  Glowing, blobby shapes drifted across my field of vision. My eyes adjusted faster than they had when I’d woken up, but I still nearly ran right into the next set of doors.

“You know, you can’t actually go through doors when they’re closed.” The vampire let go of me in order to open said doors. “Unless you’re a ghost.”

“Stop trying to be funny,” I grumbled. “It’s creepy.”

“I’m a vampire. It’s in the job description.” He pointed me down a hall with barred cells on both sides, all of which appeared to be empty.

Jail Cell Picture-p1
Illustration by Maggie Greyson

He pulled a ring of keys from a pocket, unlocked the nearest door, and held it open as if it were the door we’d gone through to enter the building.

“Oh no. I’m not doing a cell again.”

“Not really a choice. Either you go in, or I make you. And I’m lazy, so…” the vampire gestured at the open door.

I glared at him and walked through. Maybe I should’ve taken that martial arts class Tabitha had suggested last year.

He locked the door behind me. “I’ll be back in a moment with breakfast.” A few soft footsteps later and he was gone, leaving me alone again. It was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I didn’t have to deal with a vampire in close proximity. On the other, the only thing I could think about was how to get out of this mess and back to my life. And there wasn’t exactly precedent for anyone returning from the dead side of town.

“Are you hungry?” the vampire asked, interrupting my pointless inner monologue when he appeared, entirely too suddenly to be natural. In one hand was a plastic cup filled with dark red liquid. In his other hand was a paper plate, and on it was…a brain. He shoved the plate through a gap in the bars that had probably been built for that exact purpose. “For you.”

I inched backward, eyeing the plate and its contents with disgust. “I’m not eating that.”

“That’s what they all say. But you don’t get to leave until you do, so eat up.” He took a sip from his cup. God, that was probably blood.

“No, I mean, I’m really not eating that.” The vampire didn’t seem impressed, so I went on. “I’m vegan.”

On to the Afterlife

For the entire hour the vampire had stated, he sat comfortably, perusing the werewolf’s newspaper, while the werewolf paced in and out of sight, growling periodically.

“There!” The werewolf pointed at the clock. “It’s been an hour. You can take your new zombie friend and leave.”

“Paperwork first.” The vampire slid a thick sheaf of papers across the desk to the werewolf.

The werewolf growled, bending over to flip through the sheets and scrawl his signature. In his haste, several sheets came close to tearing, and one flew right off the desk. Neither the vampire nor the werewolf seemed to care.

“You missed one,” the vampire pointed out cheerfully, flipping back several pages.

When he’d reached the end, the werewolf slammed his pen down on the desk and crossed his arms, glaring at the vampire. “My bit’s done. Now you do your bit and get out of my hair.” He stalked over to my cell door, unlocking it and holding it open. I backed up against the wall. There was no way I was getting any closer to that vampire than I had to.

The vampire glided forward. The thought popped into my head that the werewolf might lock him in with me, and I hurried through the open door, leaning away from the vampire as I passed him. On my other side, I felt the werewolf flinch as my arm brushed his.

“Wait up,” the vampire drawled. “I won’t bite. Zombies taste disgusting.”

I wheeled around at that. “I’m not a zombie!”

Chloe Illustration
Illustration by Chloe Omelchuck

“Sure you’re not, sweetheart.” Then, to the werewolf, “I’ll get out of your hair now—or should it be fur?”

The werewolf growled. As the vampire hustled me toward the door, I heard the cell door slam shut with a clang.

The vampire pushed me through a side door and towards a large black van parked nearby.

“Don’t touch me,” I snapped, wrenching my arm away.

The vampire just grinned in response to my glare, raising both hands up in the air and waggling his fingers.

When I reached the van, I grabbed the handle of the nearest side door, but the vampire put a hand out to stop me. I flinched back at the contact.

“You go in the back.” He pointed at the rear of the van with another smug grin.

“I shouldn’t even be here!” Despite my protests, I did as I was directed, if for no other reason than to keep the vampire from touching me. His hands were cold and clammy, just like a dead body. “You can be certain I’ll put in a complaint with your supervisor.”

The vampire opened the back doors of the van. “Good luck with that. Clara!” he shouted over one shoulder as I clambered in. “Time to go!”

As the vampire shut the doors behind me, I caught a glimpse of a blond woman in a long, paisley dress as she rounded a corner. The caste mark around her mouth was not one I’d seen before.

“Done tormenting the wolf on duty?” The woman’s voice was muffled, but I could just make out the words.

“It was Augustus,” the vampire replied. “He deserved it. Besides…” The voices faded as they moved out of earshot. I heard a couple car doors slam, then the rumble of the engine. I lurched against the wall as the car started moving on its way to the dead side of the city.

Zombie for Pickup

“What did she mean, about the will?” I asked the werewolf once Tabitha had gone.

“Hmm?” The werewolf looked up from his paper. “Oh, right. Well, you’re legally dead, so…” He paused, sniffing the air. Then, without another word, he stood and stalked toward the door. Sometimes werewolves really had no manners.

“Zombie for pickup?” a male voice asked. I put my face up against the bars, but the angle was such that I couldn’t see the speaker.

“You’re early,” the werewolf growled. “It’s nearly an hour before sundown.”

“I used the covered entrance. Never pass up an opportunity to go sightseeing on the living side.”

“Then what are you doing here? Go sightsee.”

“Not much to see through tinted windows. Like you said about sundown.”

The werewolf only growled. Who was he talking to?

“Come on, you should be honoured. I got up early for you.”

“Then you can take the zombie early too. She’s just here, ready to go.” The werewolf stalked back into sight, shoulders nearly touching his ears and legs stiff. If he’d had fur, it would all have been standing on end.

The man that followed him was so pale his skin looked like copy paper. He was thin and a little shriveled looking, and moved with with a strange, spider-like grace. The twin scars over his lips marked him as a vampire.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Illustration by Jessica Emmas

I stepped back from the bars, feeling suddenly afraid. Werewolves I was more or less used to, but vampires…they were dead. I didn’t want to die.

“Not the usual type.” The vampire studied me with the eyes of a predator. “Usually it’s addicts or suicidal goths that get zombie bites.”

“You’re welcome to take her and go any time now,” the werewolf snapped.

“I don’t want to go with him,” I blurted out, my voice unexpectedly squeaky. “He’s a vampire!”

The vampire smiled, revealing pointed canine teeth. “Yes, I am. But don’t worry, you still have an hour here.” He looked at the werewolf. “Those are the rules.”

Next of Kin

I sat down on the hard floor with a thump that would probably leave a bruise later. Did zombies even get bruises? But no, there was no way I could possibly be a zombie. It had to be a mistake.

Seemingly of its own accord, my hand reached up to trace the new scar on my face. It felt strange, dry, but raw and a little crusty. This new of a cut should be painful, should be bleeding, but I felt nothing. Did zombies bleed? They’d have to have a functioning heart…

With a hand that wasn’t entirely steady, I reached up to find a pulse. I felt around my neck, at first calmly, then with a growing sense of panic. It had to be there. It had to.

“Margot!”

I looked up to see my sister Tabitha, dressed to party in a short dress with a plunging neckline, standing a couple feet from the bars of my cell. I’d been too preoccupied with myself to notice her come in.

“There’s an hour left for visiting,” the werewolf told her, before settling back down with a newspaper.

“Oh, it’s fine, I only have a couple minutes anyway.”

I gritted my teeth at the flirtatious tone in Tabitha’s voice. “Did you come to see me or my guard?”

“Don’t be like that.” Tabitha pouted. “I don’t want to spend our remaining time together fighting.”

“Fine.”

“Oh, Margot, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you last night, and now just look at your poor face…”

“Pushed me?” I stepped right up to the bars. Tabitha stepped back. “What do you mean, pushed me? Do you know what happened?”

“You mean you don’t remember?” Tabitha fidgeted with the hem of her skirt. “Well, you were really drunk… You know what, that’s probably best.”

“I don’t drink, Tabitha. What happened?”

“Um…” She bit her lip. “Oh! I’m supposed to ask, do you have a will?”

I stared at her. “A will? You’re joking, right?”

“Well, you know, you are technically dead, so the lawyer said…”

“The lawyer?”

“Yeah. You know, what’s her name. Emily something?” Tabitha was staring at a spot somewhere over my shoulder.

“You went to see my lawyer before you came to see me. I know we don’t always get along, but this…” I shook my head. I didn’t even know what to think.

“Look, I should probably go. I have this…” Tabitha looked toward the door. “This thing, so… Anyway, dad says he’ll miss you, and Richard said to say he loved–loves–you, so…I’m just gonna go.” Tabitha walked away, her heels tapping a rapid rhythm across the floor.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Illustration by Jessica Emmas

“Tabitha!” I called after her, but she didn’t look back even once.

Morning After

It was the headache that woke me. I felt as if someone had stomped my brain into mush, then tossed it out with the trash. When I tried cracking my eyes open, light stabbed into them like needles. I groaned. What the hell had happened to me?

“Finally. Margot Lucas?”

I forced my eyes open and squinted in the direction of the voice. “Who are you? What did you do to me?” I croaked. The light was too bright to make out much more than a man-shaped silhouette. And were those bars?

“What did I do to you? You’re the one who wandered over to the dead side of town.”

“The dead side of town?” I scrambled to my feet, ignoring the pain that lanced up my legs, and stumbled against what were definitely bars. Like the ones in jail cells. “You can’t keep me here! I’m human!”

“Calm down. Don’t you remember what happened to you?”

Either the light was getting dimmer or my eyes were adjusting, because now I could make out the face of the man standing on the other side of the bars. He was of middling height, muscular, and in dire need of a haircut. The law enforcement uniform and the caste mark over his right eye completed the image of a stereotypical reluctant werewolf police officer.

“Remember what happened to me?” I repeated, once I’d recovered from the shock of his audacity. “Obviously you’ve drugged and kidnapped me for some insane reason, and you’re dressed like a policeman so I won’t protest. Well, I won’t be fooled!”

The werewolf just snorted. “I’m dressed like a policeman because I am a policeman, lady.”

“No, you’re not.” I coughed once, then twice. My throat felt like sandpaper. What had he given me?

“Look. As hilarious as this little act is, I don’t really care what you think. You’ve got a couple hours for them to call in your next of kin for goodbyes, then one of the guys from the other side will come and take you off my hands. That’s how it goes, okay?”

While he talked, my eyes continued to adjust. Behind the werewolf were all the trappings of a small police station, down to the insignias on the wall. Doubt began to creep into my mind. This was a very elaborate kidnapping ruse.

“What do you mean, goodbyes?”

The werewolf turned and folded himself into a nearby chair.”Standard procedure for transition. No contact once you cross to the other side, you know how it goes.”

“Transition to what?” It was a struggle to keep my voice even, but I managed, just.

“You really don’t remember, do you?”

“Transitioning to what?” I repeated through gritted teeth.

“Zombie. You’re a zombie.”

I stared at him. “No, I’m human.”

“You wanna look in a mirror?”

“I’m human.” There was no way I could be a zombie. It simply wasn’t possible. “There’s been a mistake.”

The werewolf stood, wandered over to a file cabinet, and rifled through a couple drawers before approaching my cell, carrying a mirror not much larger than his hand. “See for yourself.” He held the mirror up even with my face.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Illustration by Jessica Emmas

The face was mine, for sure. Acne scars on my chin, eyebrows that managed to make me look stern even when I was trying to appear friendly, a nose that was just a little bigger than I’d like. The human caste mark was still on my cheek, but now there was a bigger scar overlaid, an X that crossed over my nose and stretched all the way up to my hairline and down to my jaw.

“But I’m human,” I whispered.

The werewolf sat back down and tossed the mirror aside. “Not anymore.”