Hungry for Love
by Heather J. Frederick
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Donny Limpton, my wanna-be high-school sweetheart stood in front of us with his thumbs hooked through his belt loops. For three weeks before prom, he had lurked at my locker after lunch. “But why won’t you go with me?” he’d asked a tramillion times.
Gone was the pudgy, freckled face that had pouted every day when I turned him down. Now his curly brown hair was buzzed and black. Henna tattoos covered his bare arms. Cute trying to be bad, gone terribly but intriguingly wrong.
His eyebrows (still brown) lifted and the corner of his lips smirked at me. “Allison,” he drawled. He grew up on the same street I had, right in the middle of Connecticut. But it was vaguely authentic, sounding anywhere south of Virginia, north of Mexico.
Even if I had known what to say, there was no time to reply. Lilah had swiveled at Donny’s approach and faced him with one hand poised on a slender hip. “Hi, Donny,” she said.
He smiled a huge Texas smile at her that brought back more than a bit of his youthful cute.
I settled more firmly into my new, black look.
“Ladies,” he rumbled. “The other... recruits couldn’t make it, so it’ll just be us this afternoon, at least for the first part. Let’s get started.”
My mother said Donny had a voice and a face made for radio. His swaggering, booming presence followed him into the little room with the podium.
Lilah and I sat a few chairs away from each other. I wondered if I should have brought a notebook, then I remembered: This wasn’t school, this was Donny Limpton, and I was in a boring, little room in the library.
But when Donny stood behind the podium and started talking, the room disappeared.
My mother was wrong. Donny didn’t belong in radio, he belonged in a university. For the first hour, he lectured about Fleshovore biology: Survival in ultraviolet radiation, basic virology, and fundamental cellular changes that result in digestive dependence on raw flesh. Details I never thought I wanted to know, but somehow, he made them fascinating.
And what was even more amazing, he and my brother had discovered much of the science themselves, in my basement.
All this time I thought they were just watching movies.
It was a tragic accident, he finally revealed, his voice raw with emotion. One of them had become contaminated. He wouldn’t say who. But they made a pact: if one succumbed, the other would, too. Blood was exchanged.
Jimmy, he said, was a mistake, and had been taken care of. He apologized, with his eyebrows peaked earnestly and his hand splayed over the 80’s band logo on his t-shirt.
In the silence that followed, my stomach gurgled loudly. But I was more confused than hungry. “Who’s the Man in Black?” I asked.
At the same time, Lilah asked, “When can we eat?”
Donny swept his hand toward the hall. “This way, ladies,” he intoned. “A brief snack, before our evening session.”
Waiting in the hall was a small buffet table covered in plates of dead seafood. My brother Howie stood behind it, wielding a very sharp-looking blade.
“Howie, did you steal that from your boss?” I asked. “Again?” The local sushi restaurant had employed Howie for the past month, longer than any job he’d ever had.
“No.” He puffed up his chest and propped well-muscled arms on his hips, which just exaggerated the sweat stains on his t-shirt.
Donny moved behind the table and began slicing fish and other slimy creatures of the sea. Hunger battled with disgust; I detested raw sushi. But maybe there would be soy sauce?
“You first, Allie.” Donny held out a small plate with an easily recognizable hunk of dead fish. Sheez, I could see gill slits.
Bile rose, unimpeded from my gallbladder through my empty stomach all the way to the back of my throat. I shook my head. “I really prefer California rolls.”
“Your new digestive system will never tolerate that. You’re lucky we’re starting with fish. We’ll work up to poultry by tomorrow.”
Somehow, this is not how I pictured the Zombie diet. It almost sounded... healthy. If you liked that kind of thing.
I suppressed a gag and reached for the plate. Donny handed me chopsticks.
“Soy sauce?” I asked.
“Naturally fermented, but don’t overdo it.” He took a tiny pitcher off the table and poured me some.
Did I mention I was starving? I grasped the fish, dipped it in the sauce, closed my eyes, and put the whole thing in my mouth. I was afraid to chew, but my first attempt to swallow failed. The lump bounced back against my palate. I struggled to keep my mouth closed while I forced my jaw to work up and down, up and down, all the time wondering where my saliva had gone.
Finally, after a zajillion swallows, I forced it down.
I opened my eyes to Donny’s cell phone camera lens. It got a glare and an eye roll.
He shrugged. “You’re cute when you’re mad.”
I would have stuck my tongue out at him, but it was plastered to the roof of my mouth with dead fish.
Besides, he’d called me cute.
Lilah gave me a light pat on the shoulder. “You really are cute when you’re mad. Was it as bad as all that?”
I nodded. “Unh huh. Like cafeteria pork chops, but worse.”
Donny handed Lilah a plate next. My brother had prepared her a full tuna roll, garnished with pickled ginger and wasabi.
“Not fair,” I cried. “How come she gets real sushi with rice and everything?”
Howie grabbed her plate. “Sorry, hon. I forgot.”
Donny stood vampire-still, eyes focused heavenward, expression innocent.
I squinted my eyes at him, then my brother. I almost said there was something fishy going on. While Howie prepared Lilah another plate with just raw meat, I studied him for signs of unearthly immortality. He had the same cocky grin. The same thick, black hair and year-round tan. He may forget to show up for work or class, but it didn’t look like he’d been missing many days at the gym.
Not bad, for a guy who lived on pizza and beer.
Wait a minute... If Howie was a zombie, I was Queen of the Dead.
I should have known the promise of immortality was too good to be true. I whirled to face Donny and jabbed him in the chest. I hit him right in the middle of an electric guitar. “You liar!”
“Moi?” he said haughtily.
I knew he’d never stepped foot in France. I considered two options for saving face, now that I realized I was being played:
Grab the cleaver, wave it in an intimidating manner, watch him squirm, and mention Jimmy was a great kisser, while I tried not to laugh at the memory of all that spit.
Abandon the chance for a flashy confrontation, especially in front of best friend who never stumbles over words. Turn on brand-new black Converse and run. Fake death and change identity.
While I was thinking, Donny grabbed me by the shoulders and softly licked my neck. “Oh my, you taste delicious,” he murmured.
An unexpected thrill traversed my nerves. Also: was that Old Spice he was wearing? What were the odds?
I didn’t dwell on it, because I heard tip-toeing footsteps. I whirled to see my brother and Lilah disappearing up the stairs.
“Wait a minute, freaks,” I said. “I know your Facebook passwords.”
The cleaver was covered in fish guts. I grabbed a chopstick instead and shooed them into the classroom. Either I looked scary, or they felt really guilty, but they hustled. One wiggle of the wooden stick, and they plopped on the floor.
“Sit on your hands.”
“Aw, sis, now you’re just playing with us,” Howie whined.
I held the skewer up to his neck, just because I could. “Do it.”
Lilah started with, “I didn’t—”
“Not you.” Because she never did, and I knew I’d forgive her. I always had, since we were five years old. “Although I can’t believe you went along with this.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, “you know Donny’s had a cru—”
“ZZZT!” Donny’s hand sliced across his neck.
“Er, you didn’t think one little kiss could turn you into a zombie, did you?” she finished.
My non-committal glare masked many emotions. I turned it on Donny and turned up the glower until it could have burned holes in immortal — even mortal — flesh. “How about you, mister?” I said in my most gravelly, no chance of squeaking voice.
His eyes met mine with an outrageously arrogant look. “You do remember what you said to me, right?”
“Why would I?” I asked, trying to sound breezy and nonchalant. Instead, I sneezed.
“Every time I asked you to prom, you said you’d rather ‘eat raw flesh’?”
My mouth literally dropped open, something that can’t be done without looking like an idiot. I snapped my jaw shut.
This was where talking always led to trouble. But if cops happened to show up in the library on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer vacation, I was confident I could get them on my side.
“Your motive is reprehensible,” I said. “But I still want answers. How did you plant a man in my bedroom? How did you make my rabbit smell like food? How did you make me KISS JIMMY KAZINSKY?”
“The question you should really be asking,” he said, “is how much did I have to pay him not to kiss you again?”
The chopstick was in front of my eyes, still in my hand, possibly heading in Donny’s direction. Then I felt my hand wrenched backward, and before I could scream the weapon was no longer mine; a telephone pole-sized arm had me in a headlock, and a voice like double espresso was saying in my ear, “Don’t move, Miss.”
“Aw, Sam, don’t hurt her.” Donny jumped to his feet with more grace than I expected.
The arm released some pressure. “Whatever you say, bro. She’s all yours.”
The voice. The spice. The black leather under my chin. It could only be the Man in Black.
“Are you really a cop?” I asked the solid wall of man behind me.
“Are you really Donny’s brother?”
“Can you call the cops? And have them arrest him for impersonating a zombie? And maybe ruining a young girl’s life?”
He laughed. “Not this time. I just stopped by for some sushi.”
Howie raised his hand. “Can we go? We’ve kinda got a date tonight.” Lilah lifted her face to him for a kiss, which he delivered with more tongue than I thought necessary.
“Please go,” I said.
“Good luck, sis,” Howie said with an inexplicable wink.
Howie and Lilah hopped up and ran out the door, hand in hand.
My escape attempt was pitiful — a push, drop, and turn — but Donny’s brother released me anyway. As I stood up to face him, he turned his crooked half-smile into a more serious expression.
I scowled. “Isn’t breaking and entering into a teenager’s bedroom illegal?”
“Your brother let me in.”
“And Roger?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?”
“Just answer the question.”
“Sprinkled with soy sauce.”
I remembered the sneeze that woke me up. The woozy, agreeable feeling I’d experienced. “Did you drug me?”
The Man Formerly Known as the Man in Black blushed. “Well,” he said, “nothing illegal.”
“A whiff of intranasal scopolamine. Totally over the counter.”
“He” — Sam pointed to Donny — “said it would work.”
I spun to Donny. “You know that you are seriously deranged, right?”
He waved it off and placed his thumbs through his belt loops again. “I know what you’re going to say.”
“Oh, really?” Did he know the answer, too? Because I thought what he had done was a felony, but I assumed it would take a lawyer to answer that.
“Yes, I do. And the answer is no, I’m not.”
“Dating anyone. Wanna grab some dinner?”
My stomach rumbled, and my knees got all wobbly. Then Donny had his arm around me, bracing my fall to the floor. He lifted my chin and looked me in the eyes. “Allie, are you okay? It really was just a joke. I’m sorry, don’t pass out on me.”
I was probably light-headed from not eating all day. There was a perfectly rational explanation for the pounding of my heart. I leaned my head against the reassuring warmth of his shoulder, and that’s when I realized the worst part about being a zombie... was that the whole day had been about setting me up with Donny Limpton.
And it had worked.
Copyright © 2014 by Heather J. Frederick