The receptionist wore a green T-shirt with a logo of a lake abutting a heavily wooded mountain. In black-bordered green letters was the text GMV-Life. Her head was small and round, a patch of blue fuzz almost hidden beneath her wide-brimmed, green GMV sun hat. She smiled as Ethan came through the automatic doors and reached down behind her desk to lift out a shivering, tan rat. “Welcome to Green Meadows Village, here is your chihuahua.”
Ethan accepted the tiny animal with an absent-minded grunt. Its little body shook in the crook of his arm while he half-listened to the receptionist tell him about the absence of an innate anti-zombie instinct in dogs and their therapeutic value for people of all walks of life. GMV used small dogs for the comfort of residents who have had traumatic experiences with larger ones in the past. She handed him a key card. “This will be your identification during your stay.”
Ethan snorted. The receptionist probably saw people with Ethan’s attitude every day. Everyone who walked through these doors to receive their ID was grappling with the fact that the rest of their life would take place within the village’s borders. Ethan was now just another institution zombie.
“I can visit once a week,” his father had said in the parking lot just before the euphemistic “For your safety: Residents only past this point” sign. His mother was on a video screen. It was two in the morning in China where she had to make an emergency trip to soothe a skittish business partner or something.
“Write in your blog every day,” came her voice, garbled over the bad connection. “Don’t forget! That’s how we prove you’re still human if they say they you went full zombie.”
Ethan sometimes pretended his voice was worse than it was just so he didn’t have to talk to his parents.
The receptionist continued. “This is all covered in the handout, but as I tell everyone who comes here – you will talk again. We have classes for the breathing exercises you need, and meditation helps with the mental fog that makes it hard for some to think in complete sentences. You can check our schedule for lesson times. Marcus is right outside to show you to your new home. You can put the dog in your tote bag. We’ll print up a collar for you as soon as you come up with a name for -” she glanced between the animal’s legs – “him.”
Another set of sliding doors took Ethan to a young man in another green GMV t-shirt. The man put a hand out, then withdrew it after a few seconds of Ethan’s death glare. It was one thing to let other people pretend that everything was ok, and another to play along.
Ethan appreciated at first that Marcus said nothing as they walked along a dirt path through the woods. The walk continued past a concrete and glass pool building and over a wooden bridge with ornate lamps sticking up out of the metal reinforcements. Ethan noticed the dachshund trotting beside Marcus. As they climbed a hill up to a parking lot, he realized Marcus had not said anything at all, and began to wonder if he could speak.
Afraid any semblance of decency would be a capitulation to this place’s ridiculous cheery mood, he thought about how to find out in as grumpy and abrasive a way as possible without straining his own limited capacity for speech. He scowled until Marcus caught his eye, then he moved his fingers like a flapping jaw and pointed to him.
Ethan saw Marcus’s serene smile flicker for an instant, then nothing happened. Oh my God, he can’t. Terror and satisfaction mingled at his brief scrape under GMV’s saccharine veneer.
The walk continued in silence, until Marcus decided to end it. “I know how you feel, buddy.”
Ethan rolled his eyes.
“Green Meadows Village is not a place anyone goes to by choice, and it’s not a place people leave alive. You have every right to be sullen. Y-” Marcus’s next word became a croak and he coughed. They walked past a vast lake. Marcus pointed out a great white bird wading through on stilt-like legs. It stopped and looked back at them. “That’s our great egret. I call him Joey.”
Joey returned to his wading, and Ethan and Marcus watched him for a long while. “You take as long as you need to accept what you’ve lost. We’ll be here for you when you’re ready to consider what you’ve gained.”
Ethan glowered, and Marcus backtracked. “What you still have, how about. Although the community here really is wonderful.”
Ethan snorted again and gave a thumbs up. They walked until they came to a row of small houses, each with a tiny lawn and a white picket fence.
“Here we are, 122 Acceptance Drive. Your key card will get you in. Remember – no rush.”
I have the rest of my life. Ethan agreed.
Ethan swiped his key card on the wooden door and heard a click. He pushed it open and dropped his GMV-Life tote bag on the floor, jumping when it yelped. Ethan grumbled and fished the chihuahua back out of the bag, where it had sunk underneath a pile of pamphlets and GMV-life kitsch.
It shivered in his hands. He could hold it in one hand; just wrap it all the way around its dainty torso. The thing didn’t seem right. He set it on the ground and it stood there, staring back at him, shaking from the cold that wasn’t. At least you’re not trying to kill me.
Ethan left the dog to explore the house. His parents had not skimped. They’d bought him a full kitchen and a California king-size bed. Where was he going to get food to cook and put in the fridge? Maybe you could place orders and have them pick up from the grocery store and deliver. He had a den with a wraparound couch and a projector TV, to host enormous parties with all of his new zombie friends, no doubt. He grumbled under his breath.
Ethan found his new study, walled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. What was he going to put on those shelves? Just because I’ve lost everything I wanted doesn’t mean I’m going to become the bookworm you wanted, Mom. He sat down before a sleek macbook and opened his new blog.
That little dog was a poor substitute for Princess, he decided. Princess, who he would never see again, who now would just as soon tear his throat out as look at him. “My life is over,” he wrote. “Now I live in a surreal purgatory.”
He thought more and typed away. Words poured out of him like dog kibble. “Why am I here? That’s a philosophical question for most, but not for me. I am here because of Julia Sable, who is a psychotic bitch.”
He hit post. A couple minutes later, a call came for him on his cell.
“Hey, Buddy. How’s it going?”
“Hi.” Ethan stuck with the monosyllable.
“Buddy, we’re doing everything we can to help you, you know that, right? It’s not fair, it’s not good, it’s not right, but you can make the most of it.”
Ethan said nothing.
“I’m sorry we can’t do more, but hear me – you put yourself in danger when you attack Julia. Don’t do it. Just forget it. Leave her alone. Your mother and I don’t want to see you hurt any more. Can you just forget about Julia, please?”
Ethan laughed a hoarse chuckle that became a wheezing cough and hung up. He took down his blog entry.
He had a thought about putting that little dog that wanted to pretend to be an inanimate object on one of his many shelves. He returned to the foyer, but the dog was gone. He looked around the room and found it sniffing at another door. Behind this door were treats, tennis balls, and bags of dog food. Ethan picked up an unmarked dog dish from the floor and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. As he came back, the dog began to lift his hind legs in the air and whine, revealing his white belly.
When Ethan stabbed the dog food bag, the chihuahua lost its mind. It leapt into the air and ran in circles. Ethan continued to stab the bag. One, two, three, four holes. He grit his teeth and felt a rush while the dog yapped madly behind him. Ethan hefted the heavy bag and dumped a torrent of kibble into the little bowl. The dog dashed toward the bowl then away and then back again as kibble rolled over the edges and onto the floor. He went in to take a piece of kibble, but yelped and fled when more heavy brown morsels fell on his head, burying him. In a moment, he burst from the pile and tore from one side of the house to another, stopping only to gobble up a kibble piece that had rolled a safe distance away.
Soon Ethan felt as empty as his bag, and the chihuahua jumped in fits and spurts as he approached the pile of food several times his own size. He slowed down, carefully picking at a piece in case another downpour might come to bury him, but it wasn’t long before he threw himself into the pile, gorging on food, lost to the world.
Ethan glowered at the mess he’d made. Then he turned and went back to his blog.
Julia Sable is a zombie. I know because she infected me. We were making out and she bit me so hard on the neck it drew blood. On the neck. What was I going to do then, amputate my head? Since then, she has stopped at nothing to harass me and make it impossible for me to live my life, culminating with that ridiculous fake picture to end me for good. I don’t know what drives her to do these things, but it doesn’t matter. Wherever she is, someone needs to find her and put her on trial. Send her to a quarantine hotel. Or just shoot her in the head with a shotgun.
Ethan hit post. He stood and returned to the foyer where his new dog lay on its back, its four legs in the air around a visibly distended belly. It squeaked when he scooped it up, and he carried it to the couch in his den and laid down. His phone rang and he let it go to voicemail. He thought about different kinds of zombies. There were ones that just shambled around in undifferentiated hordes and then there were ones that came back from the dead for a specific purpose, like revenge. What were those called? He held his dog in one arm and searched his phone with the other hand until he found what he was looking for.
The little chihuahua began to snore in loud, yippy breaths that smelled like kibble.
“Hey, boy,” Ethan whispered, watching its little chest rise and fall. Then his throat tightened and he could say no more. It didn’t matter if the dog heard him or not, so he just finished his thought in his head.
Your name is Revenant.
Did you like? Don’t forget to hit the “like” button below!
Do you want to read more? Subscribe at the bottom of the page!
Can’t get enough Munk Fiction? Sign up for the newsletter!