It was the day after the Zombocalypse struck Indiastan. In the rest of the world, there were nuclear bombs being readied to go off, cannibal headhunters eating hearts, ice caps melting, rebels storming presidential palaces, and the like. But in Indiastan there were zombies.
High up in a bar on the top floor of a mall, two people were hiding. They were a man and a woman, and they were criminals. That was not why they were hiding, because they were that particular kind of criminal who have no reason to fear the law. They were hiding from the zombies.
“Damn zombies,” the Cracker said. An expert hacker, he was literally worth his weight in platinum to those who valued skills like his. He stood looking down at the mall’s forecourt through the window. “They’re wandering around everywhere.”
“Zhjhombiesh,” the Gangster’s Moll agreed, round a mouthful of premium whisky mixed with lager. She was an expert getaway driver, known for running over anyone who wouldn’t get out of the way. “At leasht we’re in the right plashe for it.” She waved a hand around. “No...shortage of drinksh in thish bar.”
“We can’t hang around here forever, Moll.” The Cracker pointed down at the forecourt. “At the rate the zombies are accumulating, we’re going to be swamped in...” He took out his cell phone and did some rapid calculations. “...In eleven hours at the outside,” he said.
“Then we have eleven hoursh to finish all theshe drinksh,” the Gangster’s Moll began, and then a sudden thought struck her. “What happens,” she said, forgetting to be drunk, “when they swamp us?”
The Cracker shrugged. “I have no idea, but you’ve seen the movies.”
“Yuck.” The Moll tossed off the rest of her whisky-and-lager and ran her fingers through her hair. “Then we’d better get out of here, right?”
“Very true. But how? And where do we go?”
The Moll propped her small chin on her hand and began thinking aloud. “There’s Cockatrice Mall a couple of kilometres north of here, and then Wyvern Mall on the other side of the bridge. No, the bridge was closed last I heard, so that’s out. Then there’s Griffin Mall five kilometres east, and –“
“Moll! What on earth are you talking about malls for?”
“In the moviesh...shorry, movies---they always hide in malls. But I see what you mean. Malls aren’t the besht hiding plashe. Damn movies.” She thought for a bit. “Never mind,” she said, “we’ll find somewhere.”
“Before we find somewhere,” the Cracker pointed out, “we have to get out of here. How do we do that?”
“Nothing shimpler,” the Moll said. “We walk to the lift and go on down.”
“And they’ll be waiting at the bottom to eat us.”
“No, how would they know we’re coming down? They’re zombies. And if we’re on the lift we at least aren’t running the risk of being ambushed on the bloody stairs.” The Gangster’s Moll was about to say something more when her satellite phone went off. The Cracker and the Moll worked for a rather top-line organisation, which gave its members satellite phones and not cell phones like everyone else. “’Ello?”
It was their immediate boss, the Big Villain, or Billain. “Where are you two?” he demanded. “I’ve been trying to contact you forever.”
“Hiding in a bar in Phoenix Mall,” the Gangster’s Moll said promptly. “You want to come over? Lots of good boozhe.”
“To hell with the booze.” The Billain had many irritating personality traits, one of which was a dislike for alcohol. “I want you here in the Secret Shelter right away.”
“The Secret Shelter?” The Cracker and the Gangster’s Moll exchanged mystified glances. “Where’s that?”
“That’s a secret,” the Billain snapped. “How would it remain the Secret Shelter if I told you where it is?”
“Well, we do have to get there, don’t we?”
“You’ve got a point,” the Billain said, apparently surprised. “You said you’re in Phoenix Mall? Right, you go out along Route Yellow, and then turn on to Route Green at Intersection Red. Then when you pass Point Purple you turn right on Route Black. And then –“
“Wait a minute,” the Cracker protested. “What what what what what?”
“Never you mind,” the Moll said. “I’m the getaway driver, remember?” She turned back to the phone. “We just have to get out past the zombies swamping the mall,” she said. “Any suggestions?”
“You’ve got booze, right? Pour it on them and set it on fire.” With a snort the Billain ended the call.
“Philistine!” the Moll said, casting an anguished eye on the rows of bottles filled with the precious fluid. “It’s bad enough that we’ve got to leave it behind, and he wants us to –“
“What else can you do with it anyway?” the Cracker said. He picked up a bottle and looked at the label. “Seventy proof. Should burn well, don’t you think?”
“Damn it,” the Moll muttered, and grabbed hold of as many bottles as she could manage to hold in her small hands. “Let’s get down to the car.”
They walked out of the bar. There were only a few zombies as yet on this level of the mall, and they were far away, right on the other side of the huge building. None of them looked across as the intrepid duo made their way to the lift. “Moll?” the Cracker asked. “What do we do if there’s a zombie inside the lift?”
The Gangster’s Moll hefted a bottle of rum and sighed with regret. “We bash it over the head with this, I suppose. What a waste of booze.” The lift sighed to a stop and the door slid open, so she raised the bottle high, and then lowered it again. No zombie. “Right,” she said. “Down we go.”
So down they went. There were groans and moans at several levels, but they got to the basement parking lot with no greater scare than something tapping on the outer lift door as they passed the ground floor. Then the door slid open and...
“Gasp!” the Gangster’s Moll gasped.
“Gasp,” the Cracker agreed.
The basement parking lot, which should have been crawling with zombies, was almost empty. Except for a few wandering around among the parked vehicles, there were none to be seen. One saw them, started in their direction, bumped into a vehicle, and staggered off in another direction again.
“Why aren’t they all over this place?” the Gangster’s Moll asked petulantly. Her blood was up, and she was itching to bash someone over the head with a bottle, just to work off her frustrations. “What are they all upstairs for?”
“Probably nothing to eat down here,” the Cracker diagnosed. “It’s all cars, after all.” He followed the Moll to her car, which was parked several rows away. The zombie which had tried to walk towards them saw them again, began walking towards them, bumped into another car and staggered away once more. “Hey, Moll?”
“Yeah?” The Gangster’s Moll reached for her car keys and dropped several bottles, which didn’t improve her temper any. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” the Cracker said. “Forget it.” He got into the seat beside the Moll, whose car was big and intimidating enough to scare people out of the way under normal circumstances – at least when taken in conjunction with how she drove. But these weren’t normal circumstances. “Moll,” he tried again, as she steered for the exit ramp, “what do we do if they’re jamming the exit?” His eyes widened. “Forget it,” he added. “Stupid question.”
“Gangway,” the Moll yelled, and stamped her foot hard on the accelerator. The zombies wandering around the exit weren’t even fortunate enough to find time to get out of the way. There was thudding and thumping on the bodywork, and a crack magically appeared in the windscreen in front of the Cracker’s face. And then they were through, and the street lay before them.
And the street was blocked. Abandoned cars lay here and there, with zombies wandering among them, occasionally raising their arms and moaning something that almost made sense.
“Moll,” Cracker asked, quite reasonably, “what do we do now?”
“Hold on to your seat,” the Gangster’s Moll snapped. “I’ll show you why I get to be the getaway driver, and not you.” The Cracker never quite found out what she did next, because he had his eyes screwed up as tightly shut as he could, but the next thing he knew they were roaring down the pavement, bowling over abandoned hawkers’ stalls like fruit carts in a Hollywood action movie. The only thing they needed was a police car chasing them.
Speaking of which...
“Moll,” the Cracker ventured timidly, “there’s a police car chasing us.”
The Gangster’s Moll didn’t even glance at him. “Of course there is,” she said. “We’ve got to throw them off the trail.” Wrenching the wheel over hard, she roared into a side street, neatly demolishing a pile of cardboard boxes that someone had placed there for exactly that eventuality. “Now if this were a film,” she said, twisting and turning through a maze of lanes, “this would be a dead end. But since it isn’t...” the car rushed into another road, sideswiping a few vehicles as it did. “Since it isn’t,” she said, “we’re through.”
The police car wasn’t so lucky. Barrelling out of the side street at something like ninety kilometres an hour, it hurtled across the street, bounced over the pavement and rammed the wall on the other side. There was a crash loud enough to be heard above the noise of the Moll’s engine, and the pursuit was over.
“Don’t you think we should go back and rescues those cops?” the Cracker ventured.
“Rescue them?” the Gangster’s Moll sounded honestly astonished. “Whatever for?”
“Well, the zombies will get them otherwise, and...”
“Zombies?” The Gangster’s Moll laughed. “The zombies won’t get them, Cracker. They’re zombies themselves.”
“Zombie cops?” The Cracker peered back over his shoulder to try and get a glimpse of the crashed police car, which was fast receding astern.
“Of course. Did you ever know any other sort?”
The Cracker glanced at the determined set of the Gangster’s Moll’s jaw and decided to keep his peace, in case the Moll was provoked into throwing him bodily out of the vehicle. “Where are we?” he asked instead.
“Route Something.” The Moll indifferently handed him her satellite phone. “Call the Billain and see if he can guide us.”
The phone rang in the Cracker’s hand before he could even begin trying to remember the Billain’s secret number. “Where the hell are you two?” the evildoer yelled. “I’d expected you here by now.”
“Sorry, chief, we got chased by a police car and had to make some detours.” The Cracker looked in the rear view mirror. “And now,” he added, “we’ve got a zombie riding on our rear bumper, making faces at us through the back window.”
“What?” the Gangster’s Moll turned her head briefly to look, and only lost control of the car long enough to send a packing case lying on the street flying. “You’re right,” she observed. “There is a zombie riding on our rear bumper, making faces at us through the back window.”
It was a pretty friendly-looking zombie, actually, by zombie standards. It waved and smiled when it saw they’d seen it. The smile was marred a little by the fact that it had lost all its front teeth, but it was a nice smile for all that.
“What do we do about this?” the Cracker asked, plaintively.
“Just let it ride,” the Billain said over the phone. “It’s going to fall off eventually.”
“If it doesn’t,” the Gangster’s Moll said, “I can always back the car up against something and turn it into zombie squash.” She grabbed the phone back from the Cracker. “Tell me which way to go, damn it.”
While the Billain guided her, the Cracker turned back to look at the zombie, which was actually looking far happier than any zombie had a right to look. He found himself wondering why it looked so happy. In fact, it looked not so much happy as stoned right out of its mind. As he thought that, the light outside suddenly vanished. They were driving down a tunnel.
“This is the ramp down to the Secret Shelter,” the Gangster’s Moll said, before the Cracker even got a chance to ask. “Is the zombie still back there?”
The Cracker looked round again, and couldn’t see it. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s fallen off.”
“That’s good,” the Moll said, slinging the vehicle with abandon round a series of bends. “I’d hate to have to back this car against something. You’d never find anyone to get the bodywork fixed.”
“You’d never find any diesel to fuel...” the Cracker began, but with a screech of brakes the Moll came to a stop in a dimly-lit garage. “So we’re here?”
“You’re here.” The Billain’s voice said from a loudspeaker on the ceiling, and a door in the far wall slid open. “Leave the car and come along.”
So the Moll and the Cracker got out of the car. There was a soft scroobling noise, and when they looked, they saw the zombie standing there behind them.
“Hi,” said the zombie shyly. “Never mind me. I’m just tagging along for the ride.”
The Gangster’s Moll and the Cracker stared at the zombie, which blushed furiously.
“Don’t look at me like that,” it said. “If you don’t want me, just say so, and I’ll go right away. Just don’t look at me as though you’re afraid of me, please.”
“Uh, I’m sorry.” The Gangster’s Moll recovered first. “I’ve never actually met a zombie before.”
“We didn’t know you could talk...and think.” The Cracker scratched his head. “I still don’t know how you manage it. I mean, you don’t breathe and so on, so how can you talk?”
“Or blush,” the Gangster’s Moll said. “Why, you might almost be alive.”
“It’s because I have a...” the zombie seemed to have second thoughts about what it was going to say.
“Are all zombies like you?” the Billain said over the loudspeaker. “Are they all almost alive?”
The zombie looked hunted. “No...no. I’m trying to hide from them. You see, they want what I have and they don’t.”
“You have something other zombies don’t? What’s that?”
The zombie looked at the floor and muttered something.
“What’s that?” the Billain thundered over the loudspeaker.
“I said,” the zombie repeated, “that I have a brain.”
The Gangster’s Moll crossed her arms on her chest. “Explain.”
“Well, you know how we zombies go around searching for brains? That’s because we’re looking for one to put in our heads. And I managed it.”
“You mean...you killed someone and put his brain into your head?” The Cracker sounded horrified.
“Of course,” the zombie said. “How else would I have a brain, anyway? But the rest of them don’t, so they’re after me. And that’s why I had to hitch a ride with you.” It looked despondent again. “Of course,if you tell me to go away, I will.”
“Let’s get this clear,” the Billain said. “Since you have a brain, you don’t need one any longer?”
“No,” the zombie responded. “As long as I have a brain I’m fine.”
“So, if we let you stay, you aren’t going to harm us?”
“Harm you?” The zombie looked horrified, or at least as horrified as a zombie can look. “If you let me stay, I’d be the best ally you could have. I don’t need food, so you don’t have to spend any supplies on me. And I don’t need any sleep, so I could be the perfect sentry. All you have to do is let me stay.”
Later on, when they’d all rested and the Billain had served dinner, which three of them had eaten, it finally occurred to the Gangster’s Moll to ask the obvious question.
“Hey, zombie,” she said. “You say the other zombies are chasing you for the brain you killed someone for and popped into your head. So what’s stopping them from, you know, killing other people and putting their brains into their heads?”
There was a long silence. They all stared at the zombie, which looked as though it was debating whether to speak.
“Well?” the Cracker asked at last.
The zombie sighed. “Do any of you realise,” it asked, “just how rare brains are?”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015