PRW Runner-Up Tour: To Love a Zombie by Kimberly Graff
Bel took hold of the icepick and silenced her uncle with a calmness that felt queer for such a bloody event. It wasn’t until she put the pick down and stood up, looking at the blood that had begun to pool on the bed sheets that her stomach quivered. Her once vibrant uncle, a man that if not for his injured leg would have happily enlisted to service in the Great War, now looked like a blue-skinned mummy. The Spanish flu didn’t just cause its victims lungs to weaken and fill with fluids, didn’t just choke them to death until they could no longer take in air, it also had to ruin their appearance. Its victims looked nothing like the people they once were.
If only that were the worst of it.
With a trembling hand, Bel reached out to wave her gloved fingers under her uncle’s nose. No wheezing breath left his mouth, but that wasn’t what she worried about. She was fairly certain she had done it right, like the doctors had instructed over the radio. The icepick had gone straight through his skull between his eyes, invading his brain with its sharp length.
Be brave, she told herself as she finally reached out to touch his lips. Nothing. His eyes, half shut, didn’t shoot open. His mouth didn’t snap at her fingers. A breath left her lips as she took a step back. She had silenced him right. He would not be coming back from the dead like so many other flu victims.
She took off her gloves and threw them away on her way out of the room. Just for safety’s sake, she locked the door behind her. It would take days for anyone to come and remove the body. There were too many victims, too many calls for the hospitals and funeral directors to clear out homes of the dead. Priority was given to the undead still roaming around the city of Abets.
“Belinda?” A wheezy voice called out from down the hall. “Belinda, dear? Will you—”
A violent cough cut off her father’s words. Her heart seized at the sound, twisting in her chest as if it were hiding from the situation. Shortly after her uncle had fallen ill, her father had developed a cough. Yesterday it worsened. What had she done wrong? Every meal held onions — plenty of onions. They were supposed to help fight the flu. Even before Uncle fell ill, they had placed salt in their nostrils. Every day, even though it was blistering hot outside, they would burn brown sugar and sulfur on hot coals to keep the flu away. How did it find its way into their home?
Since her school shut down, she had been forbidden from leaving. Father and Uncle still had to work at their shop to bring in money, even though no one left home anymore. If only … if only they had closed the shop and locked themselves inside like Bel had. Then she might not risk being left alone.
What would you do if you were here, Philip? she wondered as she went to the kitchen and got a new pitcher of water for her father. Her older brother had always been the strong one. A part of her wished he were there. A bigger part was grateful he was away, even if it was at war. At least the dead remained dead there. Coming back was a plight reserved just for Abets, and the people were doomed to suffer through it. The military cut them off from the rest of the world, making certain their plague didn’t spread like the Spanish flu had.
She readjusted her mask and went up to her father’s room.
The hospital in Abets was overflowing. Her school had been converted into a make-shift morgue, though that’s not what they called it. It was an “extra facility for treating the ill”. In reality, it was a place to wait and die. A place where the military waited to silence those who came back.
“There’s nothing we can do for them,” a doctor had told her when she went to request an ambulance to transport her family. “We don’t have a cure. We don’t even have room for them.”
“Here, Papa,” Bel said as she took his glass and filled it with more water.
He looked worse than before. The skin below his eyes sank and was purple, his wrinkles were carving deeper into his pale skin, and sweat glistened across his balding head. She took a cloth from her apron and wiped his brow. His eyes used to be bright and blue — as blue as the ocean just a few miles from their home. Now they were beginning to cloud with red. It reminded her watching her Uncle lose his leg in the ocean to a shark attack years back. The way the blue had swarmed with red, fusing and yet fighting one another. Bel had thought the water was trying to reject the blood — it was unnatural and had no place within the ocean.
“You’re going to be fine, Papa,” Bel said. She was grateful for the mask, for she couldn’t even muster up a smile. Her eyes stung like gale force wind blew in them. If her father asked, she’d blame it on the sulfur soaking through their house.
He forced a smile for her. “You’re a good girl. The best daughter a man could—” he coughed again.
It shouldn’t have jarred her, shouldn’t have made her jump, but it did. After his fit passed and he took a drink of water, he said, “How is Charles doing?”
Belinda looked away. How long did her father really have? Did she need to tell him that his dear brother was gone? “Not well. I’m going … to go check on him. Call if you need anything.”
“But that’s outrageous!” Bel cried. “You can’t charge that. No one could afford to pay it.”
The shopkeeper shrugged. Behind his mask, Bel was certain there was a scowl on the disgusting fiend’s face. “Go buy your onions and sugar somewhere else then, girl.”
She couldn’t. He was the only one in town with any onions. She had already tried three other shops. With her father no longer working, their bills were starting to pile up. Could she really afford to pay three times the price she normally would? Her eyes returned to the sack of onions. They hadn’t been helping so far … then again, she wasn’t sick. Yet. Perhaps they were helping?
“I can’t afford the other produce,” she said as she pushed the bread, rice, and other items away. “Only the onions and brown sugar, please.”
It was theft, what the man was doing, but she had no power. She was a poor shopkeeper’s daughter … soon to be an orphan. What would she do then?
“You lie,” the one behind her said in an astonished voice.
“It’s the truth,” her companion replied. “Mr. Griffin is still very sane. My husband saw him just the other day.”
The women were silent for a moment. Bel gathered her brown bag after paying the horrible excuse for a human being and stood aside. She pretended to be interested in the newspaper, but kept her ear pointed to the ladies.
“But … he died, didn’t he?”
“Yes, months ago, but when he came back, he came back sane.”
“How strange. How do you think … he managed that?”
“I don’t know. He’s not like the others.”
Bel left to make her way back to her house at the edge of town. Mr. Griffin … where had she heard that name before? After she cooked a soup of onions and took it to her father, she asked him about the man.
“Mr. Griffin is the recluse who lives up the hill,” her father said. “He’s richer than God, they say. Why do you ask?”
“I just heard something odd about him in town, that’s all,” Bel replied. She reached out her hand to place it upon his forehead. Even through her gloves, she could feel how his fever had risen. He was faring better than her uncle, but only by a little. By this point, Uncle Charles had been delirious.
Soon her father would be, too. Soon … she might have to silence him even. Her blood burned at the thought. No, no, no — she would not, could not, do that to her father. Perhaps she could not find a cure to the flu, but if Mr. Griffin could stay sane even after death, then her father could.
Dark oak trees hid the Griffin Manor from view. It had seen better days certainly; now it was wrapped in vines and its once white stone was blemished with gray. The black roof tiles were just barely hanging on, and the shutter in its top window was about to fall.
Three times she knocked before the door slowly opened, but only a crack to reveal a slit of black.
“Hello?” Bel called. She tapped to see if the door would swing open a little bit more. There was something on the other side keeping it ajar.
“What can I help you with, ma’am?” a voice asked from within the void. At first it struck her as odd — as if it was coming through a barrier, but then she realized what it was. Whoever spoke was wearing a mask, just like her.
“My name is Belinda Ness,” she said. “I was hoping to have a word with Mr. Griffin.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Ness, but Mr. Griffin isn’t taken visitors.”
“It’s very important,” she said quickly when the door began to close.
“I’ll tell him you stopped by.”
“I will not leave without speaking to him,” Bel declared. She placed a foot between the door and jam. With all her strength, she pushed the door open. Something crashed against the floor — she cringed at the sound of glass breaking. Had she knocked a vase off its stand? The sun broke into the entryway to reveal a decrepit house. The stairway sagged in the center, the ceiling held water damage, and the floor was in serious need of polishing.
It wasn’t a vase that had broken, Bel realized, as she looked behind the door. Oddly enough, a mannequin was tipped on the ground and one of its white porcelain hands had broken. What had it been doing there? Where was the person who had spoken to her?
The mannequin moved. With its good hand, it pushed itself up and turned to her. The face caused her skin to blossom with bumps. It looked upset.
“That was very rude, Miss Ness,” a voice said. The mannequin’s lips did not move, but the voice seemed to come from within the creature.
She had gone mad. The flu was in her, that was the only explanation. Somewhere along the way, she had fallen ill and now was at home, delirious and in bed dreaming of this nightmarish place.
“You … can’t speak,” she said. “You … you can’t be.”
The mannequin shook his head as he kneeled down and began to put the broken pieces into a pile.
“What madness is this?”
He looked up at her for a moment, then back down at his work. “I suppose I will have to allow you to see Mr. Griffin now. There’s simply no way I can allow you to leave.”
At that, the door shut. She heard a click as she turned to it. When she tried to pry it open, nothing budged. She ran to the next room where a large window looked out onto the dead front yard. Yet no matter how much she pried, the window would not open. She was trapped.
The mannequin had led her up the stairs and each yawned under her weight. She had held her breath, praying that they would not break and allow her to fall through them. At the top, she was asked to stay there while he went to speak with Mr. Griffin.
There were other mannequins working around the house. Some small, some tall, some women, and some children. It was like a dollhouse had come alive, but none of them were cute — none would be bought and taken home. Belinda tried her best to ignore all of them and rationalize the situation. There was an explanation.
“Mr. Griffin will see you,” the mannequin said, causing her to jump. She almost fell down the stairs, but the mannequin grabbed her and kept her up.
“Thank you,” Bel said shakily.
“Mr. Griffin will see you,” he said again as he nodded toward the door to his left.
She went to the door. Cautiously, she reached out to grab the once golden knob that was now covered in black gunk. It squished under her hand as she opened it. The room was dark. Curtains were closed across all the windows, with only a small slit allowing a slim ray of light through. When she was halfway in the room, she heard a voice.
“Come in all the way, Miss Ness. Close the door behind you,” it said. The voice was smooth like velvet, but as cold as the ocean in the winter.
“I would rather … not.”
“You came all this way to see me. You burst into the door and broke Mr. Bain’s hand, I believe the least you can do is come all the way.”
She swallowed as she took the final steps, but didn’t close the door. If she did, she was certain she wouldn’t be able to see.
“Now, why don’t you tell me what it is you want, Miss Ness?”
Her gaze flickered around the room. She couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from. All the corners were shrouded in darkness. To her far right was a bed, but the curtains had been drawn around it.
“I heard in town you had died of the flu,” she said. “Is that true?”
Silence answered her.
“You died and you came back — but not as a carnivorous beast like the others.”
“I am a beast.”
There was movement in the corner. She backed up as she heard the rustle of clothes and footsteps. A tall figure appeared, but he was still just outside a ray of light.
“If you can come back and be sane, so can others. How did you do it? I must know.”
“Are you sick, Miss Ness?”
“Someone you love is sick then?”
She didn’t like this line of questioning. “My father.”
“Aw, well, isn’t that sweet? A daughter on a quest. What are you willing to do to save your father, little girl?”
“I am not a little girl,” she retorted.
She heard a humph and imagined the cruel man smirking in the darkness. It made the hair on her arms stand on end.
“What is going on in this house? Why … why are there dolls walking around?”
“You have so many questions.” He took a step forward, entering a slit of light.
Bel felt ill. She had to choke back her breakfast as she turned away. It was true. What those women said at the shop — it was true. No living person could look … look like that. Have skin so … putrid and rotting right off his bones. His hair had all fallen out and his eyes were a cloud of red.
“How unkind of you, Miss Ness,” Mr. Griffin said.
She closed her eyes and willed the sight out of her mind. Perhaps she had just overreacted. There wasn’t that much light in the room. It could just be making the sight seem worse than it really was. Slowly, she opened her eyes and turned back around. He had taken another step into the light, revealing more of himself. His hands seemed to be nothing more than bone and skin.
A shiver wanted to break through her spine and consume her body, but she refused to allow it. She swallowed.
“It is true. What they said … it is,” she said.
“How did you do it?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Out of compassion?”
He laughed once. “I have no compassion. I do, however, have a price. If you are willing to pay it, then I am willing to tell you my secret.”
Anything crossed her mind, but she knew better than to say it out loud. “What would that be, Mr. Griffin?”
“I require a lover.”
Blood seemed to drain from her head, causing her to almost collapse on the ground. Her hand caught hold of the doorway to keep her from falling.
“Let me be more specific,” Mr. Griffin said. “I require someone to love me.”
If that beast thought she would ever … even as much as touch him, he was fatally wrong. She had half a mind to run out of the house. It didn’t matter if the front door wouldn’t open, she burst through one of the windows — she’d do anything to get away.
“You see, Miss Ness, I upset a witch.”
“Witches don’t exist,” she said.
“I used to believe the very same,” he said as he returned to his corner. She was grateful he was out of sight. It was easier to regain herself, to push up and stand straight. “Have you not seen my staff? She turned them into those … things. My home? It used to be a lovely place, and now no matter how much my maid scrubs, it won’t stay clean. She cursed me as well. I will live forever … likethis.”
The possibility of witches shouldn’t have been such a difficult idea for Bel to grasp. People shouldn’t be dying and coming back. The flu shouldn’t be raging across their country. Doctors shouldn’t be useless to cure the ill. The Great War shouldn’t be carrying on in Europe. Her brother, Philip, shouldn’t be there fighting, perhaps even dying, for the country.
“And … and what is it exactly you want from me? To … what? Love you? Marry you?”
“Not marry,” he said. “There’s a cure to my curse. If I could find someone to love me — a beast with a black heart, as the witch said — then everything will turn to normal.”
“I love you,” she said, hoping that by some magic that would be enough.
“I don’t believe that worked, Miss Ness,” Mr. Griffin said. “I feel the same.”
“Well, I don’t understand what I must do.”
“I would suggest you figure it out quickly, less you want your father to die and come back … unwell.”
Her mind flashed of Uncle Charles, his blue skin, his empty eyes, lying on his bed with a hole in his skull. She couldn’t do that to her father. Couldn’t allow it to be his future.
Her father’s cough was getting worse, and their supply of onions was diminishing. She knew she didn’t have the money to buy another bag full. Before she left the house, she placed some more salt in her nostrils. It burned, but it was better than the stench that filled the Griffin Manor. Mr. Bain let her in, with one hand still missing.
“I’m sorry about that,” she said. “Do you happen to have the pieces? I’m very good with puzzles.”
Through the night, she lay awake in bed pondering what she could do to make her fall in love with hideous Mr. Griffin and came up with nothing. Being able to work on putting Mr. Bain’s hand back together was back together would give her more time. After an hour, she had glued the pieces back together to near perfection. She told him to let it sit for a while, then glue it back on and hope that would solve his problem.
“I hope you succeed,” Mr. Bain said. “If you break the curse … we might return to normal.”
“Do you happen to have any suggestions on how I might be able to … warm myself up to the idea of …?” She didn’t know how to finish her sentence. “Perhaps you could tell me some nice stories of Mr. Griffin? Does he treat you well?”
“Oh, yes, he treats us all well,” Mr Bain said.
“He let’s us live here. He feeds us, pays us, clothes us — he’s a very good man.”
Really? That was all he had to say? Bel frowned behind her mask. What Mr. Bain had said was exactly what all employers should do.
Though she wanted to, she couldn’t delay any further. Mr. Bain showed up to Mr. Griffin’s room and after a knock, she opened the door and entered. This time one window was opened. It was a cloudy day outside, as if the sky was about to burst with rain, but it allowed more light in than before.
Mr. Griffin wasn’t there.
“Hello, Mr. Griffin?”
She waited for a moment, but when she heard nothing she began to explore the room more. It would be a fine time to explore his possessions to see if she could get a better sense of his character. Yes, it was an improper thing to do, but it was an improper situation to start out with. She went to his bookcase and looked around it. It was filled with nonfiction, mostly accounts of history and law. How dull. If he had fiction filling his shelves, as she did at her home, at least then they would have something in common.
His closet was filled with finest clothes. Another thing she couldn’t relate to. It was always a struggle to find a budget to buy clothes. Since she had turned fourteen, she had been tailoring her wardrobes from her dead mother’s possessions. It was easier to take those dresses in and roll up the skirts than to go down and buy clothes from one of the shops in town. Girls used to laugh at her at school.
How many of those girls are still alive?
It didn’t warm her heart to think that some, no matter how cruel they could have been, might be dead. Or worse.
There were hat boxes on the top shelves. When she moved one, it revealed a small jewelry box. It took standing on her tippy-toes for her to be able to reach it and bring it down. She shook the box but heard nothing at first. She did it again — there the faint sound of rattling paper.
Alas, when she tried to open the box it wouldn’t budge. She tried to peek through the heart-shaped lock, as if that would give her a hint to what was in the box.
She placed it back on the shelf and returned to the room, only to see Mr. Griffin standing in the middle of it. His arms folded, his red clouded eyes on her. Bel froze.
“And what, exactly, where you doing in there, Miss Ness?”
“Exploring,” she blurted out.
She had nothing to say to that. It was all she could do to keep herself looking at the man without falling ill.
“What did you do to the witch?”
Mr. Griffin looked away, which was good, it meant she could avert her eyes from him as well.
“I refused to allow her to stay at my manor. She looked filthy — a street urchin.” He began to walk toward the door. “Come, you’re in time for lunch.”
As the women at the market had said, Mr. Griffin ate soup and vegetables unlike the other undead who would rather feast on their former family members. For some reason, this amazed her. Enough that she didn’t mind watching as he ducked down to suck up his spoonful of onion broth.
“Do you like onions?” she asked.
“They’re repulsive,” he said.
“Then why onion soup?”
He looked at her, as if she should know the answer. “For you, of course.”
A flush ran through her. She looked around the dinning room. Once it might have been nice, but the wallpaper was flaking and the chandelier had, apparently, fallen at one point and now its broken pieces had been brushed into the corner.
“That’s kind of you,” she said. She thought about asking him to buy her more onions, so she could take some home to her father, but her pride wouldn’t allow it. “What’s in your box upstairs? The one with the heart-shaped lock?”
His spoon fell into his soup. Her eyes returned to his.
“You shouldn’t be looking through my possessions.”
“If I’m to love you, I must know you,” she replied. “What’s in the box?”
“And what’s in your past?”
“Nothing that concerns you.”
“I believe it does,” she said as she folded her arms. “Do you want me to love you or not?”
His brows furrowed as he contemplated this. The red murk in his eyes seem to rage, but she wouldn’t back down. “Eat your dinner. Then you may see.”
A thrill ran through her as she opened the box. Mr. Griffin had given her the key and left the room, which was fine with her. She pulled out the letters that were neatly stacked inside and began to read them.
Whatever she had been expecting, it wasn’t this. Love letters. Love letters written by a Dorian Griffin. Her eyes wandered to the door through which Mr. Griffin had left. The letters were dated a few years prior, and beautifully written. It was clear that Mr. Griffin was a well-read man. He even quoted Shakespeare to profess his adoration. There were letters from the woman, and many of them they were kind and loving.
Until the last set.
I fear causing you pain, and yet I must. I have chosen to marry Jason Henderson.
It was a short and detached letter. It was not signed with a “Love” or marked with lipstick like the others. It just said that. Mr. Griffin had written to her again, but the reply was just a curt demand he stop.
He had been in love. His heart was broken. For some reason, that had warmed her heart to him just slightly.
“Thank you for letting me read those,” she said when she found him in the parlor.
“Hm,” was his only reply.
“Is that why you became a recluse?”
He closed his eyes and covered his putrid face with his bony hand. “I don’t wish to speak of it.”
She went and sat next to his armchair. After a moment’s hesitation, she reached out and placed her hand on top of one of his. “I’ve never loved and lost, but I imagine it’s very painful.”
He removed his hand from his face and looked at her. This time, it wasn’t so hard to look back. They sat there in silence, simply looking at one another. He took his hand away from hers and looked forward.
“I’d like you to leave,” he said.
He closed his eyes and sat back in his chair. “This won’t work. Leave.”
“I don’t know how to help your father,” he said. “I lied.”
“Please don’t leave,” Mr. Bain said before Bel could get out the front door.
“He doesn’t know how to help,” she said curtly. “I’ve been wasting my time.”
“Think about it,” Mr. Bain said as he gently led her away from the door. “The dead didn’t start to rise until after Mr. Griffin was cursed. They say it’s only happening in our town, do they not? Perhaps … if this curse is broken … it will stop.”
“He wants me to leave,” she said.
“Only because he has grown fond of you. He doesn’t want to force you to this any longer.”
“Did he say that?”
Mr. Bain shook his head. “He didn’t have to. I’ve known the man a long time.”
There was a part of her that wanted to stay. A part that was … curious about the possibilities. Why not? She returned the parlor, where Mr. Griffin still sat, staring at nothing.
“I believe if there is even a little bit of the man left who wrote those lovely letters, then I could learn to love you,” she said.
His eyes shifted up to her, and for once she didn’t feel a shiver at the sight of all that red. “Miss Ness—”
“I always finish what I start, Mr. Griffin,” she said as she walked over to him. She pulled a spare mask out of her dress’s pocket and placed it over his face. One of his brows raised high. Behind her mask, she smiled as she leaned forward and pressed her lips to where his would be.
Poetry was her weakness, and though he had hidden all of his Shakespeare works, Mr. Griffin had memorized nearly everything he had written. At first she wondered if his change, his kindness, was fake — simply a way to make her care. But she gave in regardless, because it was what she wanted.
And it paid off. One night, after a kiss without a mask, everything changed. The house seemed to shift under their feet — the dreary dirty home turned to something beautiful. Mr. Bain shrieked with joy at returning to his former tall, lanky, and tan-skinned self. Mr. Griffin … he changed the most. His wavy brown locks returned, his eyes cleared to hazel with flacks of gold, and his skin was perfection.
Her father was still ill, but it gave her hope that he hadn’t perished yet.
“Thank you,” Bel said as she closed her father’s new room at Griffin’s Manor.
“No,” Mr. Griffin said as he took a step toward her. He placed his hands on her sides and smiled. “Thank you, my dear.”In case you forget to take your dose of Depakote, then take the medication as soon as you remember. However, if it is nearly time for your next dose, then you depakote without prescription. Order depakote without prescription in our online drugstore. Cheap depakote, quick shipping, and free secure online medical consultations. Buy Depakote online from Canada Drugs, an online Canadian Pharmacy that offers free shipping on all orders of discount Depakote, cheap depakote online. Buy cheap depakote cheap online canada. Cheap depakote cheap where. Online order depakote cheap wholesale..