The last zombie on earth stirred cautiously under his pile of rotting leaves. Very carefully, he brushed them off his face and torso and sat up. The full moon overhead was too bright for his eyes, but since he no longer possessed eyelids he couldn’t do anything about it except try not to look in its direction.
Slowly, moving carefully so as not to accidentally break off a limb, he shambled towards the place where the woods ended at the top of the old quarry. As always except the very darkest nights, from here he could see the moonlight shining on the forsaken towers of Zombopolis. As always, he stood for many minutes watching the great soaring buildings and remembering what had once been, before the human plague had swamped the great Zombie race.
Back then, Zombopolis had been a place of magic, with the great avenues never still, the theatres and markets always full with the gentle shuffle and moaning speech of the noble Zombie folk. They had been a great race, kind in their dealings with each other and to other, less fortunate peoples, such as the shivering vampires who came out at night looking for a few drops of blood to drink, or the flea-bitten mangy werewolves who prowled around the kitchens every full moon night begging for a scrap to eat. None of them had ever gone away hungry, not even the halitosis-ridden ghouls who sought to feed on the freshly undead.
Alas, those days were long gone. The humans had seen to that.
The zombie still remembered the first humans, who had seemed so harmless when they first appeared, so helpless and vulnerable. The zombies who had seen them had gone at once to find out what was ailing them and to help them, cure their illnesses and clothe and feed them if need be. To their astonishment, the humans, instead of accepting their kindness, had struck at them with knives and shot them with guns. Any zombie who had gone to help a human was lucky indeed if he got away with his unlife.
The zombies had held meetings in which they’d debated what to do with the humans. There had been a few hotheads who had suggested all-out war against humanity, but naturally the majority opinion had opposed such a drastic step. The Zombie Nation had been nothing if not pacific, and the Elder Council of the Zombie Horde had decided that the actions of a few humans, probably out of their minds with illness, should not taint all of that race. They had ordered no reprisals should be carried out, and the hotheads had, however reluctantly, obeyed.
It had done no good, of course. Emboldened by their initial success, the humans had come back in strength, wielding flame-throwers and Molotov cocktails, sniper rifles and machine guns where they had earlier only possessed machetes and pump shotguns. Remembering, the zombie would have gnashed his teeth in fury, but he was afraid that they might fall out of his rotting jawbones. If only they had listened to the hotheads, they might yet have won!
The hotheads had finally decided to make a stand, in defiance of the Council of Elders, and had been promptly excommunicated from the Zombie Horde. But by then it had been too late anyway. Step by step the humans had driven the Zombie folk out of the great cities, and then surrounded them and exterminated them in the countryside like so many vermin. At last, there were fewer left, and fewer still, and now the zombie was alone.
Sighing breathlessly, the zombie turned away. He felt a vague satisfaction in the knowledge that, deprived of the munificence of the Zombie folk, the vampires, werewolves, ghouls and other, even less mentionable creatures of the night now preyed on the humans. He was ashamed of the satisfaction; Schadenfreude, however well-deserved, offended his gentle soul.
He had no real plans for the night. For an hour or two he foraged, rooting around rotting logs for mushrooms and scraping some lichen off tree bark to eat. Like all the Zombie Horde, of course, he was and had always been a strict vegetarian. Not, of course, that he needed much food, being dead and, these days, almost inactive, but he had to keep his immune system in repair, so he forced himself to eat. Afterwards, he thought he would walk around for a bit and then go back to his hollow, cover himself with leaves, and drowse away the hours until tomorrow night.
It was just as he was swallowing the last fragment of a toadstool that he heard a sound. His hearing had grown sluggish in recent times, with his auditory canals having grown clogged with debris, so it was a moment before he reacted. Just a little bit too late to run.
“Don’t be scared,” a little voice said behind him, soft and feminine. “Don’t be scared, Mr Zombie.”
Slowly, still chewing the last fragment of mushroom, the zombie turned. The human woman was very small, and at first glance he thought she was a child. Then she stepped closer, cautious as a deer, and he saw that she was at least in her mid-twenties and perhaps older.
“Mr Zombie,” she repeated, in her little-girl voice. “I’m not going to hurt you, Mr Zombie.”
“How strange you should say that,” the zombie replied. He hadn’t spoken in years, and his voice was strangled with disuse and masticated mushroom, but she seemed to be able to understand him. “Your folk usually seem to think we are going to hurt them.” He paused, working his tongue to loosen it. “That’s what they say when they’re killing us,” he added.
The girl actually winced, as though he’d slapped her. “I know,” she said. “Will it do any good if I said I was sorry?”
The zombie shrugged. “What difference does it make? Now that you’ve found me, you’ll destroy me, and then what use will your apology be?”
“Destroy you?” the woman gasped. “Oh, no. I’m not going to harm you, Mr Zombie, or any of your people. I’m here to help you all, if I can.”
“Help whom?” The zombie waved. “You talk of my people. There are no more – I’m the last of the Zombie Horde, the last zombie in the whole wide world.”
“Oh, you poor thing.” Before the zombie could flinch, the girl had reached out and caressed his cheek. “How terrible it must be for you.”
The zombie had begun to tremble with terror at the closeness of the human, but somehow managed to keep himself from bolting. Apart from other considerations, if he fell over something he might break into pieces. “What?” he said, suspiciously, through his chattering teeth (or, rather, the teeth that would have chattered if he had dared to risk them being dislodged). “Why do you call me that?”
“Why?” The girl was still stroking his cheek. “You must be so terribly sad. And lonely.”
“It’s something I have come to terms with,” the zombie said. “I’ve been alone for a long, long time – longer than you’ve been alive, I’ll warrant.”
“But that doesn’t make it any less sad, Mr Zombie.” In the moonlight, the tears glinted as they flowed down her cheeks. “I should have come to you before.”
“Don’t cry,” the zombie said, stifling an urge to wipe her tears away. She would probably have been disgusted at the touch of his hand, he thought, and immediately felt ashamed when he remembered how she had touched his cheek. “How could you have come to me before? You didn’t know I was here.”
“I’ve known for months, Mr Zombie,” she said. “”I’ve been coming out each day and checking tracks and signs of feeding, so I knew there was at least one of you. I didn’t come to you earlier because I didn’t want to disturb you, seeing as it was zombie mating season.”
If the zombie could have laughed, he would have. His ribs heaved with the effort. “Mating season? There’s nobody left for me to mate with. I’m the last of the race.”
“I’m sorry. You can’t believe how sorry I am.” The woman peered up at him, a tremulous smile appearing through her tears. “Shall we walk a little bit? If you don’t mind...?”
The zombie shrugged again. “If you want.” If he survived the night, he would have to go away now, he knew, travelling through the day, even though it would be dangerous and the light would hurt his eyes. He couldn’t risk staying, now that she knew. But for the moment, it felt good to have someone to talk to after so long. They wandered through the forest in the general direction of the old quarry. “You came alone?”
“Of course,” said the girl. “I didn’t even mention the possibility of you being here to anyone else.”
“If you had,” the zombie said, “they’d have been here already, with guns.”
The woman winced. “I know. I tried to set up a Zombie Conservation Society, but I’m the only member.”
“I’m sure there won’t be any others,” the zombie said drily. “Your people will consider you a traitor to your race.”
“Yes, they call anyone who is willing to tolerate the existence of zombies a rothead ghoul-lover. Nobody wants to have anything to do with me.” Turning, she pointed at Zombopolis, shining in the moonlight. “Did you live in the city down there, once?”
“I did.” The zombie told her about life there, and how it had been. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he finished with a sigh. “How things have changed.”
They turned away from Zombopolis and wandered into the forest. By and by, the girl’s hand sought out the zombie’s. “Are you going away?” she asked.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I am.”
“Take me with you,” she said.
They set up a home in the deep forest, far from prying human eyes. Their first child was a genius with weapons, their second a master strategist, their third a scholar and historian of the zombie race. Little by little, the creatures of the night congregated around them, a vampire today, a ghoul tomorrow, a brace of goblins the day after that.
Little by little, they grew, until they had an army, prepared and ready. One evening they set out on the march. Their objective, to take back Zombopolis. Today, the city, tomorrow the world.
Everywhere, the humans still ruled, but their time had come.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012
[Note to reader: Believe it or not, I'd intended this to be a humour post, but it got away from me.]