“The Undead”

Ryan said that he needed to call his girlfriend, and I wandered back to the living room and dropped into the recliner and pulled the wooden lever on the right, so the footrest popped my feet into the air. My sister’s eyes were tattooed into her skull, and her legs were twisted behind the leather cushions of the couch. After our house got burglarized that spring, the third time in two years, my father pulled down the executioner’s mask and welded iron bars across the rectangular basement windows and drilled holes into the glass frames upstairs, and we locked them low with heavy nails so nobody could slither in. Each day since, my sister devoured The Night of the Living Dead. She’d brought along her copy and was engrossed.

It was nearly ten o’clock. It was August, and the ceiling fan churned. The screen doors and windows were open, and the glow of street lights and cars slicing past offered an enticing foil to the stultifying darkness of our dirt road.

My sister and I locked eyes and sat forward as Ryan’s mother, Barb, backed into the living room and hovered in front of the television, mouthing, “Randy,” quietly, her arms outstretched to calm his approach.

“Randy,” my father said, cautiously, keeping a distance. “Randy,” he said.

They floated before the television. My father remained flat-footed just inside the doorway to the kitchen, and my mother slid into the room and moved carefully across the couch next to my sister. She motioned me over, and Randy—no longer an affable resemblance to Kenny Rogers, no longer the man who’d laughingly relayed spending time “in the can” in California in his 20s for stealing a beer truck when he was living at a commune, “You know how hard it is to hide something as big as a beer truck?”—caught the distraction and turned and processed the three of us with obvious disgust, and I looked away and at the film illuminating their bodies.

The white lady was losing her mind, and the black man was frantically boarding up the windows and the doors to keep the zombies outside. He torched the recliner and rolled it out off of the porch, and the zombies groaned and spun in confusion.

“Randy. Come on, Randy,” my father said, and my mother squeezed our hands, and we rose solemnly with our eyes on the carpet in excuse and we reached the hallway, hand-in-hand like a paper doll chain, just as Randy charged Barb, knocking her into the recliner, which flipped backwards with Barb’s feet above her head.

We hustled down the hall and my mother returned Ryan’s uncertain smile as we pushed into his room, and she thumbed the lock on the hollow door.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” she said. “We’re just going to stay in here until things calm down. Everybody is just a little upset.

Ryan sat on the end of his bed, facing the wall, and my mother placed her arm over his shoulders and he shrugged it off.

The headlights of a car rolled across the poster of James Dean.

“Should we climb out the window?” my sister said.

“We’re just going to stay in here for a few minutes, until things calm down.”

We could hear my father’s hovering drone, and we knew they were frozen in front of the movie at the moment the white woman went crazy when she realized that the zombies had turned her brother into one of them.

The lights of cars flooded the walls, and we listened for footsteps and stared out the window. My mother tiptoed from the room to check, and she returned to tell us that everything was fine and the adults were back downstairs where they’d put in a bar with ceramic pirate masks on the walls. My sister and I returned to the television, the recliner slightly out of place, and I popped my feet in the air and Ryan came out holding a copy of The Evil Dead 2 that we watched, and at two thirty when we finally tried to depart Randy attempted to talk the keys from my father after my father rolled out of the car and hit his head on the concrete.

“I said I’m fine,” my father said.

Randy heard the warning in his voice, and my father sat up straight and strangled the wheel.

“Just sit back and be quiet,” my mother said, raising her eyes. “We have a long drive home and your father needs to concentrate. Buckle up.”

My sister turns backwards, perched upon her knees, the way that she always rides in the car, turned away from us with her arms flat across the top of the back seat, and she stares out the rear window, streetlights rolling through the interior and illuminating our nature like a lost Rembrandt, and in her furious, hateful scowl I catch a flash of hope that a gang of marauders will overtake us from some corner of the night, and in her look they’ll recognize a kindred spirit and spare just her.

 

 

 

 

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About William Walker

William Walker delivered boxes in Manhattan high-rises long enough to qualify for a pension from FedEx. His work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Subtropics, Tampa Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Southampton Review, and FRiGG Magazine.