COLD
LIFELESS FINGERS
 

James S. Dorr





It did not matter how -- a laxness in security, perhaps -- but the Zombie was inside the gated community, shambling listlessly down gently curving tree-shaded avenues, passing between its well-kept houses, occasional guard dogs, short-trimmed bushes beneath alarm-wired barred front windows, feeling lonely as zombies will sometimes since zombies miss company as much as anyone, when it came upon the sign. It paused and it read, moving its lips as it formed the words, insofar as they still were lips, dropping occasional maggots on the mowed lawn around it as it parsed the message: GEORGE ARMBRUSTER, and, underneath a depiction of crossed American flags: Anyone Who Wants to Take My Gun will have to Pry It from My Cold, Lifeless Fingers.

The Zombie did not understand guns very well. It did not even understand fully how it had gotten here, one moment having been laughing, singing, in the market at Port-au- Prince. Then the next moment, pfft! All gone. Stuffed in a box with dirt around it. With free emigration to the United States, of course, which was a nice thing, but shipped as common freight.

And then . . . it did not know. It seemed to suffer from lapses in memory sometimes, it thought, perhaps a symptom of decaying brain-cells. But then it had never done well in school either.

That is, back when it had been a living person.

And then -- it was here! That's all. Parsing a sign, unencrypting its meaning. Zombies at the best of times were slow-witted.

But fingers it knew. It looked at its fingers. It raised them to push its dreadlocks back from the sweat of its rotting brow and felt a coldness, both in the acted-upon and the acting -- the brow and the fingers.

That much it established:  its fingers were cold, too. It was beginning to take a liking to this "George Armbruster," though it was not yet entirely sure why, until it began to remember one more thing as well:  was it not, too, lifeless?

Alors! Of course! What was the point of being a zombie if one was not lifeless? Was that not part of the zombieing process, that one first be dead? Then be put in one's grave?

And only then risen?

That much even a zombie could understand, even one in whom the cockroaches shared space with worms in the ruin of its brain-pan, twisting and scuttling among the neurons as thoughts crackled through them. That it and this George Armbruster, he of the "cold, lifeless fingers," were kindred spirits!

And so the Zombie abandoned the sign for the flagstoned front walk and shambled forth until it reached the home's steel front door. It raised up one of its cold, lifeless fingers and pointed it forward. It pushed the doorbell.

A middle aged, bald, mustached man answered, one who, in fact, looked quite well preserved for one of the Zombie's kind, albeit going to fat at the belly. The Zombie was momentarily jealous, the memory suddenly coming upon it of having once tried to be fat itself, except that the worms ate the soft grayness off it as fast as it was able to produce it. But then, the Zombie thought, that is as water that flows beneath a bridge, as rain-formed rivulets through a graveyard:  that is, it is in the past. Zombies, it thought, sometimes have trouble with their sense of time-frame, with past times as separate from the present, perhaps because their "lives," after all, are not in the here-and-now -- only their lifelessness -- and, hence, are often prone to confusion.

But now it remembered. It saw the middle aged man raise a pistol and, thus prompted, it remembered the sign.

"Georges Armbruster," it croaked from its throat, the words rising up like fetid Haitian-French accented bubbles from within its deepest parts. "You be ze mon, Georges? He who is of  les doigts froids et sans vie?"

To underscore its question the Zombie cracked one of its own fingers off at the knuckle, then offered it forward, but George Armbruster did not accept le doigt. Rather he uttered a word the Zombie did not understand -- that sounded as if he thought the Zombie was from Nigeria, even though it was sure it remembered being from Port-au-Prince -- preceded by another word, "Damn," and followed by "Get out!" Then he fired his pistol. And then slammed the front door.

The Zombie sat down hard, having been struck in the heart by the bullet. It had not been killed, of course, zombies being by their nature dead already, or even badly hurt, though it did ooze a green and brown substance onto the sidewalk, one tending to earth tones that blended in with the lawn, parts of it moving, and thought this George Armbruster lacked hospitality. But then it saw that others had come out, not zombies like it was, but regular people, neighbors perhaps responding to the noise -- it sighed for a moment recalling its own life, before meeting the Bokor in the market who blew the white zombi powder into its face -- and then thought that, non, it must give him one more chance, this George Armbruster, who possibly had shot him only from surprise. So, once again smoothing back its dreadlocks with the four fingers remaining on its left hand, noting the neighbors were crowding around it -- but not too closely -- joined now as well by uniformed gate guards who had their own pistols, it picked itself up. It regained its feet -- that is, except for two toes on the right one which, having been badly stubbed when it fell, remained where they had rolled -- and once more shambled forth to the front door.

Once more the Zombie extended its finger, cold and lifeless, to ring the doorbell.

Once more the door opened. Once more the middle aged man appeared, his still-smoking pistol gripped in his hand.

Once more he fired it -- but this time the Zombie ducked! Zombies may be slow, but they are not stupid. Not even zombies, like this one, with beetles and spiders within its brain -- what was its brain once -- but rather it stayed crouched, pressed to the front steps as the door slammed again, hearing the bullet whiz over its head. A scream! from behind it. Now more bullets firing and whizzing above it accompanied by more screams, by ringings as armor-jacketed slugs ricocheted off the steel front door. By crashings and echoings accompanied by soft thuds as bodies piled up behind and around it.

And then . . . dead silence. It laughed as it thought the pun, zombies not being entirely humorless, and yet it felt a resentment also. It had, after all, reached out to this man -- this Americain -- twice, had offered its friendship, but what had it received in return? A bullet through the heart. Another one over its head, nearly parting its hair in a way that it was not meant to be parted.

And yet it thought again, as it gazed over the lifeless fingers, not to mention other parts as well, of this George Armbruster's late friends and neighbors, that perhaps it still was nothing more than a misunderstanding. After all, it thought, this George Armbruster was new to zombiehood -- had it not noticed itself how well preserved the man's flesh seemed to be? And then, the sign too. Who else but one still unused to his state would think to advertise that his fingers were cold and dead. Cold and lifeless, as stiff as his gun's barrel -- one more evidence that rigor mortis was still upon him, that they would actually have to be pried -- even if they had seemed to the Zombie supple enough when they had twice pulled the pistol's trigger.

Who indeed? the Zombie thought. Certainly not it, it who, as the memory came, had at best been embarrassed when it had been exhumed from its death-coffin. It would not have thought to have signs painted bragging of what it was. Summoning others.

But then, it thought, it had been only a simple Haitian, no more than a day worker when it had been alive, unambitious, happy-go-lucky, while this . . . well this was, after all, America.

And then the rest came to it as well -- the cowboy movies it had known in its still-alive childhood -- the detective fictions -- that, after all, it being America, people did love guns. And so, if people, why not, too, les zombis? What more natural then that this one, new to being a zombie -- perhaps confused and embarrassed as well just as it itself had been so long ago at its Port-au-Prince graveside, but, being an American man, ashamed to admit it -- what more natural than to wish to show off instead how fine a gun he owned?

And not just to show it, but to demonstrate it.

Mais oui! It was obvious! This was the way that this George Armbruster proved how much he desired the Zombie's friendship. And so, once again, the Zombie would offer it!

Picking itself up amongst the corpses -- these ones dripping red, not green like it did -- it once again shambled up to the front door. Once again it extended its finger, it, too, cold and lifeless, when -- blam! blam! -- the door opened of itself without the Zombie even needing to ring the doorbell and long, twin barrels discharged at point blank range.

This time the Zombie was not quick enough to duck. Zombie-parts, most of them still concentrated -- most from its middle, the stomach-parts where the white zombi powder still churned and roiled, that portion of powder that, licking its lips reflexively back when it had been living, when the Bokor had blown it straight at its lips and nostrils -- these parts sprayed outward, behind and around where the Zombie still stood.

The Zombie itself, however, still stood its ground, having this time gripped the steel door's door-posts, glad in its heart -- what was left of its heart! -- that its theory had been correct. And more than just correct, for had not George Armbruster this time produced a larger gun to display to the Zombie, a twin-barreled shotgun? To show he desired not just friendship, but love?

And the Zombie loved George Armbruster back. Scarcely noting the subtle change of the dead neighbors' blood from a clotting red to an earth-toned green, the bubbling of flesh and the stirring of body-parts, not at all minding that they now stood up too and shambled forth behind and around it up to the front door, it rang the doorbell.  But others pressed, too, against the door itself, pushing against it until it buckled, despite its being made of the best steel, from the sheer weight of them.

Then, with the Zombie still in the forefront, they forced their way inside.

And then a strange thing occurred. George Armbruster unexpectedly -- ununderstandably -- inexplicably -- absolutely uncannily dropped the gun that he had been cradling, even though his fingers, as far as the Zombie could tell, had not been even the slightest bit pried. This puzzled the Zombie. It tried to ask him. "Pourquoi . . ?" it began. But it could not be heard.

And that was one more thing the Zombie did not understand:  why it should be that this George Armbruster had all of a sudden begun to scream.
 
 

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