Every morning Bobby visits Chuck. He goes down to the basement and rattles Chuck’s cage with his cane. Chuck only snarls and spits, and grinds the rotten stubs of his teeth — gnish, gnash, gnish, gnash. He’s a real codger, Chuck is. Should have seen him back in the day, though. World ain’t got zombies like Chuck anymore.
As a boy, Bobby liked to climb the town walls and watch grown-ups fight Chuck’s pack outside. Splurt sprayed blood, whee flew a zombie head, but Chuck kept going. A freshly undead football player, he had the highest biting average in the county, and all the kids loved to hate him. “I wanna be an ax-man, Mommy,” Bobby pleaded over breakfast. “I wanna brain Chuck.” His mother shook her head at him, weary and wise. “There’s no money in it, Bobby. None.”
Crossbows were all the rage in school, and Bobby picked off a zombie head or two on the lazy golden afternoons of summer, but he never got a shot at Chuck. Came college and a girl, and hungry-mouthed children underfoot. Bobby became an actuary and tried to forget about Chuck. Occasionally he’d see a buddy on the street with brains dripping off his axe, and he’d come home melancholy with thoughts of a career change. But there was always the mortgage and tuition for the kids, and extermination fees for the wife (after she got bit in the parking lot at Trader Joe’s).
Came the Surge; all over the country ax-men brained zombies day and night. Bobby had never felt so low. He watched despondent as the red spots on the TV man’s map grew sparse (while Bobby’s waist thickened), and sparser (while Bobby’s hair grayed), and sparser still. One day Bobby was debt-free, and his house was wife- and children-free. He could’ve taken up the axe then, but his town was zombie-free.
Except, he learned, for a specimen in the local zoo, preserved for posterity in a metal cage. Bobby went to visit. Wonder of wonders, there stood Chuck! Pungent, no meat on his thighs, left eye hanging out, but Chuck nevertheless. “What a sorry state he’s in!” Bobby said to Chuck’s keepers. “Don’t you know who this is? Come, at least feed him sheep brains at breakfast.” They wouldn’t listen.
For once, Bobby made the hard choice. For once, he did the right thing. He maxed out his cards. He paid off the night guard. He backed in his truck, loaded up the cage and drove Chuck across state lines.
Bobby feels guilty now and then, but he figures a man’s got a right to his dream. His knees won’t bend and his back aches something fierce, but he can still rattle Chuck’s cage okay. Then Chuck snarls at him and Bobby laughs, and they pretend it’s good old days all over again.
Soon Bobby will decide. Perhaps he’ll brain Chuck. Perhaps he’ll burn Chuck. Or perhaps… perhaps one night when all is quiet he’ll drive Chuck into town and unlock his cage, and gift him back to society.
World ain’t got zombies like Chuck anymore. It sure could use some.
Tom Crosshill’s fiction has appeared in magazines such as Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed. In 2009, he won the Writers of the Future contest. After many years spent in Oregon and New York, he currently lives in his native Latvia. He’s a satellite member of the writers’ group Altered Fluid. In the past, he has operated a nuclear reactor, translated books and worked in a zinc mine, among other things. Visit him at tomcrosshill.com.
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