Zombie Flash #7, but again also a stand alone. the previous entries are here
By Jason Warden
I knew the one who grabbed me. He was a patient. I even helped the cops identify his remains. That was only a couple of weeks ago, back before all this started.
Todd McCoy was the boy’s name. The hit and run “accident” messed him up real bad. I hate being called down to the cop shop. When you do what I do, there’s only one reason they call, and it isn’t because I’m selling laughing gas balloons.
They’d of course, found a body and needed x-rays to identify the boy.
“Boy?” I asked.
“Yep, ‘fraid so,” The Sherriff said, “Check and see if you have any film on a Todd McCoy.”
I did, but had to ask, “If you know who he is, why do you need me?”
“Clothes match the description, and he’s the only missing we have in the county, but just gotta be sure Doc.”
Right there my stomach cramped. I’d known Todd from the time he still had his baby teeth, He was only 14, and now in a roundabout way the Sherriff was telling me he had no face, at least, not one they could make out.
He only had two teeth left, a molar and a bi-cusped, but it was still an easy identification. I’d put a filling in the molar only a year before. It was a perfect match. They hadn’t prepped the body so what was there on the table was just about what they had found in the ditch on farm road 119. Even still, the grass and gravel had dried in the blood. It looked like whatever hit him had dragged him a ways. All they could say for sure was it had been a truck, and that only because the impact was so high up on his body. His ribcage had been completely smashed into his heart. The coroner said he didn’t suffer much.
“It was probably just some drunk, probably didn’t even know he’d hit him. Must have caught the bumper and drug him. Look at these.”
The coroner pulled up the boy’s shirt to show us the scrapes on his chest.
“These are consistent with the facial lacerations.”
They didn’t look like lacerations to me; his face had been peeled off. Starting at the scalp, his skin had just been pulled back from his skull exposing his forehead to the bone. Most of his nose was completely gone, just ground off. Where his lips should have been, only an angry red smear remained. His mouth was nothing but a reddish-black maw. All of it, and I call it “It” because it wasn’t so much a boy anymore, it was just meat, meat and gravel. I could even see where some of the rocks embedded in his skin were ground away by other rocks or asphalt.
The entire sight was gruesome. I guess you get used to it. I watched, amazed, as the coroner and Sherriff stood over the boy, just shaking their heads. I was only able to control my stomach because I simply could not make the connection between this mangled flesh and Todd. But that was before, back when we couldn’t or wouldn’t believe a lot of things. I looked down at the ragged mud and grass covered nails, the yellowing skin, and all the hope I had for the world just sort of left me.
It’s sad what death does to a person. Those of us who haven’t been below ground simply turn off our imaginations to what really happens when the dirt is tamped and the flowers are left to die.
Most people think the hair and nails continue to grow after death, but it’s just the skin receeding, drying up, and exposing more of the roots. Either way, we try not to think about it. Same with the rot, which really is nothing more than the feeding of parasitic bacteria and expansion of gas. What’s left is a husk, a shell of what had been.
For better or worse things used to be simpler, easier to deny. I probably wouldn’t have believed what was happening had I not seen the man on T.V. He was none other than Sam Belvin, an old-time radio pioneer I’d listened to back years ago with my dad. My brother had called just a week before to let me know he had passed. I was sad, but at my age, I’ve seen a lot of the relics of my childhood fade from view and die. Still, for us, it was like when we lost Jack Buck. He was just a part of our life for so long, he seemed to be a part of the family. I guess that’s silly now, given where we’ve ended up, but that’s how it felt.
It didn’t happen everywhere at once. The day I saw Sam on the news was a good three weeks before Todd found me, and that was a week after the men in town cut back on guarding the cemeteries.
I walked into the office, content with my regular post-Easter full schedule. Mona’s blood was cold when I got to her. The letter opener stuck out of her throat like a guarantee of more to come, but I couldn’t even look at it. My eyes were fixed on the bloody plaque on the floor, the one I’d gotten from the rotary club. The corners of it were broken off where someone had beaten it against her skull. My secretary’s head was cracked like an egg, pieces of bone littered the floor and the soft grey meat that should have been inside was almost completely gone.
I smelled him before saw him, it was like pickled cabbage left open to rot, but it was worse. It tickled my brain, but I could not remember where I had smelled it before. Then I saw him, Todd was standing behind the curtain, peeking around to watch me find her.
“Fuck! oh, you fuck!” I screamed at him. My rage had taken over my fear for just a second. To my surprise, he lowered his head as if in shame, but only for a second. Then he stepped from behind the curtain and blocked my path back out the door, and I just stared. The morgue had done all they could. Black, heavy stitches held the flaps of skin from falling from his brow. Where pieces could be attached to others they were. Where they couldn’t, staples joined the flaps to the muscle beneath. Even with all the staples and stitches, only the left and right parts of his forehead and cheeks were covered. Blue-grey meat replaced it everywhere else. He looked like a sick version of one of those college kids who paint their faces for football games. I thought of him yelling, “Go State!” and was horrified to feel a laugh coming. Then it hit me, the smell, I knew what it was.
I had an uncle who chewed tobacco. Even while he ate, you could see the bulge in his cheek from the plug he had hidden there. When he was dying in the nursing home, he had it on his nightstand. He didn’t know our names, and always asked us when we came what we wanted but he knew where his plug was at all times.
I remember he used to spit in mason jars. My brother and I found one of those jars in a shed while we were cleaning up his place for the auction. What was inside the jar had gone to soup. The contents had fermented and had actually pushed the lid out so that I could tell it was under pressure. Boy’s will be boys so they say, even us old ones. I showed my brother and we decided to throw it on the fire pit. It, of course, exploded and the resulting stink was almost exactly the smell coming off this thing in my office.
He moved toward me, and before I could even rise from my crouched position beside Mona, he had his hand clamped over my wrist and was pulling me up. He pulled me to the door. I grabbed at the jamb but he easily pulled me onward. I realized almost at once that he was headed toward the exam room. Thoughts of torture, instruments of pain, ran through my head. I imagined him drilling into my skull little by little with the little grinder and panic gave me strength enough to halt his progress. He stopped in the hallway and turned to me. He still had the iron grip on my wrist, but I think he realized I wasn’t just going to walk in there.
He reached in his pocket and produced a perfect set of silver series dentures, womens, if I gauged the size right, just like the ones I’d made for his mother. Then he opened the hole in his face, and mimed putting them in his empty mouth. Then he pulled me on toward the exam room, and I let him lead me.
In the exam room, he held out the teeth to me and sat in the chair. I took them from his hand, and my mouth finally found its voice.
“Todd, these won’t fit. I’ll have to make a mold.”
He seemed sad at that, and I swear, not that I’m a zombie expert or anything, but I think he was trying to cry, would have if his eyes had the ability to make tears.
I set the teeth in the tray, and walked around to the side of the chair, already he had his rotten mouth open displaying the two remaining teeth in his head. They gleamed white against the red and grey receeding gums.
“To do this right, those have to come out. Let me just get…”
I didn’t have time to finish before he reached in, took hold of the bi-cusped, and yanked the offending tooth out, revealing the black hole beneath. The stuff below it wasn’t blood, it was what was left of it, and it was as black as midnight in the woods. The second tooth came out just as easy and he held them out to me.
“Um…thank you. “
Now completely toothless, he gave me an awful smile.
I’m willing to bet 99 out of every 100 people have never seen the muscles of a person’s face work after they’ve been stripped of their entire hide, but I have, and it’s terrible. Terrible or not though, I must admit it was nice working with a patient who felt no pain or fear. So much of what makes my job hard is the fear and the pain, not the actual work.
Given what we had to start with, Todd looked pretty good when I was done. Well, his mouth did anyway. That made me happy, just like my work always had in the past. But the thing was, it made him happy too and for that alone I think I loved him a little then. He hugged me on the way out. I wasn’t expecting it, and I just froze when he grabbed me, expecting the bite that didn’t come. Instead, he patted me on the back, the way guys do when they hug, then walked out. I thought about it later and realized he was just happy that he could now live a normal death like the rest of his kind.