In his book, Zombie Revolution: A Guide to the Stabilization of Zombies in Recovery, Dr. Arnold Krenske claimed that zombies in recovery would occasionally crave brains; but Cole didn’t believe it–until she moved in across the street. Cole could understand that zombies would crave foods like brownies and potato chips, because there was history there. They may be undead, but zombies still had minds and those minds remembered potato chips, sometimes with fierce determination.
Dr. Krenske assured the zombie community that his pills would keep them sane and alert; and with that promise of normalcy came the unfortunate truth that, though their minds would remember food, their stomachs could no longer adequately digest it. But brains? Why would Cole, if he took his pills daily as prescribed by Dr. Krenske, crave the human brain–something he’d never seen, smelled, or certainly tasted?
But now Cole understood.
The first time he saw her, standing in the driveway of the vacant house across the street, her dark hair slightly lifted in ringlets off her shoulders by the wind, her pinkish eyes glowing in the moonlight, Cole knew what it was to want to crush a skull with his bare hands and slurp out its juicy brain. No brain had ever appealed to him so much–no brain had ever appealed to him at all! But now his zombie sense was exposed, irrevocably heightened, and he knew that he would want her for the rest of his unending, undead life.
Cole sat in the zombie corner of the noisy lunchroom at DarkspurNightHigh School and stared across the room at the vamps, where the new girl from across the street sat next to Darlene Chriss, better known as the white vamp. Next to Darlene’s fair hair, washed-out brows, and deathly pale, bony frame, the new girl was dark, mysterious, and luscious.
Her name was Livia, but Cole wouldn’t tell Alan that, no matter how many times he asked. As far as the zombies were concerned, Cole didn’t know anything about the girl. He didn’t know that she smiled just a bit crooked and had really soft skin on her cold hands. He definitely didn’t know what she sounded like when she laughed.
Cole couldn’t know these things because vamps don’t talk to zombies. And that was the one thing he absolutely would never let on that he knew: Livia Duvessa talked to him like he was not a zombie. She’d moved in on Saturday and came right over to introduce herself. She and her mom sat in his living room with his mom, and talked for an hour, while Cole sat in the kitchen at the bar listening, occasionally walking through to go up and down the stairs to and from his room for no real purpose. On his fifth pass through the room, his mom took his somewhat unconscious hint and introduced him. Livia held out her hand and he took it in his and was surprised at its coldness; he’d never touched a vampire before. He did his best to appear uninterested, but her smile was tattooed on his dead brain.
As he sat staring across the lunchroom mindlessly he could still hear his mother’s voice trying to welcome the first family of vampires to their predominantly zombie hood. “With enough sun screen and a good pair of Ray-Bans, and an umbrella of course, your Livia can even go out in daylight here.”
While the regulars, the magick, and the two Franks ate lunch, the zombies huddled in their corner, avoiding occasional angry stares from the vamps. Zombies didn’t like vamps any more than vamps liked zombies. Unfortunately, most of the high school population favored the vamps.
Cole Bertrand could think of many reasons why this was unfair. For one thing, the zombies looked normal. Their skin was gray, sure, and some of them wore repair patches where it rotted and threatened to fall off; and their eye color was dulled. But the vamps were ghostly pale with eyes just a shade too pink. Their bodies were rendered thin and wiry from the virus, unlike zombies who retained their original proportions–a frustrating circumstance for the overweight zombie who found that undead fat cells had to be surgically removed while the vamp virus apparently dissolved them for nourishment.
Vamps were delicate, beautiful creatures. Normal people liked that sort of thing. The regulars and magick loved being recognized by the vamps. They followed them around and hung on everything they said and did.
But not the zombies. And not the Franks, either. The Franks were too confused most of the time and spent their nights in special classes. And the zombies, well, to put it bluntly, they were too smart to lust after shallow vamps. Zombies had brains; it was part of the zombie virus. They got real smart after being infected, and that overload of brain activity was the thing, Dr. Krenske found, that caused them to zone out, drool, and go on rampages for fresh brains. Sure, being dead didn’t help. But the Zom-be-Gon pill made them almost normal again, except for their smarts and their lack of rosy cheek color.
The vamps, wiry and sleek, ruled the school. They walked the halls three and four abreast and everybody got out of their way, even zombies. If they wanted a regular’s answers on a test, the regular gave them the answers. If they wanted his book report, they got it. If they told a joke about zombies and brains, everybody laughed–even zombies. If they stuck a note on your back that said, “zombie in recovery,” you just left it there for a while so they could have their fun. And if they wanted a regular to punch a zombie, the regular did it–regulars would do anything to get noticed by vamps. And zombies took it. The punches didn’t hurt. The jokes didn’t hurt. And zombies were too smart, and too polite, to retaliate against the sniveling wannabe regulars. They were only doing what they could to survive in Darkspur, after all. Nothing ever changed. The vamps were cool and the zombies weren’t and there was nothing Cole could do about it.
Suddenly Cole realized he was staring at her and Livia turned to look at him, her dark eyes stark against her pale skin; he jumped in his seat.
“Are you off your meds or something?” Winston said.
“Just a little jumpy, that’s all.”
Cole realized that Winston, Rachel, Isabella, and several others had joined him and Alan at the table while he was out of it. Was it Livia? Or did he need a higher dosage of Zom-be-Gon?
“I have an extra pill, if you need it.”
“You have Zom-be-Gon at school?” Stu Martin said.
Cole smiled. “Winston is obsessive compulsive. He’s got pills everywhere, just in case.”
“What if I were to forget to take my dose in the morning?” Winston said, looking over his thick-framed glasses at Cole. “I’d need a back-up, right?”
“But Winston,” Rachel said, smiling. “You would never forget your pill. You’re the most organized zombie in the world.”
“Well, you may be willing to bet on that,” Winston said. “But I’m not.”
He dug into the plastic pocket protector in his shirt pocket, pulled out a small, flat pill box and shook it.
“My back-up plan.”
“How can you not know her name?” Alan said, frowning. “She lives right across the street.”
“She’s still a vamp. Have some zombie pride, man. Stop worrying about Slade’s blood clique.”
“This isn’t idle curiosity. We have to know the enemy by name. We can’t let them get an edge over us.”
“Oh, please,” Stu said. “She’s a female. You’re interested in every female.”
“I’m not a vamp lover,” Alan said with a whine.
“But you’re a chick lover.”
“But not vamps.”
“What’s the difference?” Rachel said.
Alan’s face darted from one zombie to the next as he seethed with embarrassment. Finally they all laughed at him. Winston nudged him.
“You have to admit you’re obsessed with girls.”
“I can’t help it.”
“Isn’t the new vamp in your Lit class?” Stu said.
Cole glared at him. “I don’t remember her name, okay?”
A tingling sensation filled his face as his skin tried to blush. He couldn’t let the others, especially Alan, know of his new-found obsession with Livia Duvessa.
Alan Patterson, while claiming the title of biggest zombie whiner of the year, was also the most stringent vamp hater in the group. Every day Alan had a new scheme–leer at any vamp who wandered too near, mumble the word brains at them, or growl as you pass their lockers–and he tried to start up growling workshops to help them release their inner zombies. Alan had issues. Whining and complaining were not the traits of a self-actualized recovering zombie any more than hate was. But Cole knew, as most of his friends did, that Alan’s vamp hatred was driven by jealousy. There wasn’t a regular or magick girl in school who gave him a second look, once a vamp smiled at her. And any time any girl noticed a zombie, a vamp was sure to discover her and change her mind.
“We should do something about lunch,” Cole said.
“Not again.” Brock Hanson said, falling into his usual chair across from Cole.
“It’s not fair we have to sit here and wait while the regulars eat.”
“I like sitting here,” Rachel said. “It’s good to spend quality time with you all.”
She smiled at Cole and he tried to smile back. Rachel’s straight blonde hair was thinning, more every year, and the big Skin Like New patch on her round face could only be re-glued so many times before it would fall off for good, exposing the decayed flesh beneath. He remembered when they first met, how she tried to cover her rotting skin with thick, beige make-up and then hugged everyone as they were introduced, leaving their faces and collars smeared with it.
“You’re allowed in the library or the gym, you know.” Stu said.
“We should get an extra class.”
“Don’t even go there.” Brock said. “It’s bad enough you made them let the regulars in.”
“I didn’t do it all by myself.”
“You started it. Just mind your own business.”
Alan suddenly reached his hands out across the table and leaned low over it. He whispered.
“Look at the magick.”
They all turned to look at the corner near the cafeteria line.
“No, don’t look.”
“You told us to look, man,” Stu said. “What are they doing?”
Rachel laughed loud and snorted, setting off giggling and laughter through the zombie corner.
The magick had lit candles on their three round tables and were standing in a large circle around them, swaying back and forth, holding hands.
“Quiet, quiet,” Isabella said. “What are they chanting?”
“Very entertaining lately,” Winston said.
“It’s Cole,” Stu said. “Every time he writes something about them in the school paper, they get weirder.”
“They’re trying to prove they really have powers.” Brock said.
A high-pitched scream rang out and one of the regular girls darted into the cafeteria from the main hall, frantic and panting. Nurse Frommer huffed in after her.
“I need help,” she called, wheezing, to the zombie corner. “Bill’s off his meds again.”
The regulars panicked and jumped from their seats screaming. The magick broke ranks, their ritual cut short, and dashed toward the kitchen, toppling one of their tables. The alarm sounded and Principal Lute’s deep voice boomed over the loudspeakers with an echo.
“Do not panic. Please stay seated.”
Chairs crashed to the floor as Brock, Alan, and Cole leapt up and ran toward Nurse Frommer, dodging students.
“Where is he?” Brock shouted over the din. Amid the chaos, a loud growl reverberated in the hallway and Cole pushed past Nurse Frommer and out of the cafeteria. Bill Teeter lumbered slowly toward him.