The girl’s nude body smacked into the cracked pavement just 10 meters from where John stood waiting for the bus. Her head exploded on impact, sending a large chuck of skull skittering to within inches of his feet.
“Another happy jumper,” John thought. He tried to shut the shattered body from his mind by closing his eyes, but his cerebral cortex displayed a snapshot, projected onto the back of his eyelids, of the girl just before she hit the pavement; she was holding her arms out, as if to embrace a lover.
Neither John nor the other fifty or so people standing in line for the bus moved a muscle, or said a word. Within fifteen seconds of impact, two soldiers pulled the body onto the sidewalk, and stood guard over the valuable corpse.
Two minutes later, the bus arrived. John was the last of the eleven people the driver could take. Standing on the lowest step, his face jammed against the folding doors, John saw a disheveled, grinning man licking the skull fragment as the bus wheezed on its way.
The bus’s TeleWeb Viewer displayed UN officials pleading for NATO military assistance to stop the Canadian Genetic Extermination squads. The crawler at the bottom of the viewer said the world population was at 32 billion, and climbing. The bus drove on pushing its way through crowds, past rotting vehicles, and decaying homes. John looked down at the floor, where renegade nanites sensed the gaze of his retina, hacked into the TeleWeb archives for his personal data, and a commercial for travel to Marrakech began to play across the floor mats.
Long ago, an advertising agency had developed the nanites, went bankrupt, and lost control of them. Now the little SOBs were everywhere, scanning retinas to identify potential customers, searching the TeleWeb for personal data, then throwing an ad at the hapless person. There was no escaping them. John closed his eyes. The scenes of exotic Marrakech were all lies. There were no exotic places left on Earth. Every place, every culture and far flung corner was the same; overcrowded, fast-food, plastic clothing, ticky-tacky prefab houses, and air filled with gray ash, and the scent of charred meat.
The world was one, crowded, gigantic strip-mall.
A pornographic TeleWeb site started to play across the bus driver’s back. The interior of the bus reeked of diesel exhaust, oil and burnt hair. “Oh God, not the exhaust” thought John, as he tried not to breathe. The bus fell in line behind a Snack Wagon; a huge, green dump trunk loaded with corpses. Dead hands and feet stuck into the air from the truck’s dump bed. At every bump in the disintegrating city street, the dead hands twitched a macabre little wave to horrified pedestrians.
The woman jammed against John’s back vomited. Passengers started to sob.
It was one of those days. However, John wasn’t sad today. He felt relief.
Two hours later, the bus arrived at his stop; The San Quentin Institute for The Differently Cognizant. Actually, the “Institute” was nothing more than a prison and “Differently Cognizant” meant people with ZMBS, short for Zumwalt-Merrybiter Syndrome. ZMBS got its name from the two scientists who had discovered the bizarre nanite-bacteria symbiotic organism that first killed its victims, and then transformed them into zombies. Where ZMBS came from was a mystery. One rumor was it started when an Asian nation had screwed up an attempt to develop an organism that could consume dead bodies, thus resurrecting priceless real estate normally used for cemeteries. Another rumor was ZMBS was a fumbled attempt by the American Federation to engineer a bio-weapon.
Luckily, for the living, the only sure way to catch Zumwalt-Merrybiter was to be bit by a zombie. However, once bitten, ZMBS acted within a few seconds.
The zombies were a happy bunch. They continually laughed and giggled. In fact, one of the first symptoms of the disease was uncontrollable laughter. Scientists had no explanation for the zombie jocularity, except that it was suspected to be linked to the only discernable brain activity the zombies possessed; a continual stimulation of the part of the human brain affected by sexual orgasm. That stimulation was especially intense when eating, which they did a lot.
Totally the opposite of the living, zombies found it easy to be happy; only dying was hard.
Although the zombies ate all carrion, they were especially fond of human corpses. So, every dead human went straight to the zombies dinner table. Some nations fed live criminals, the old, and sick, to the zombies. In return for feeding them, the zombies gave the living the most precious commodity in a world sucked dry of fossil fuels. The zombie feces was refined into crude diesel fuels to run vehicles, and light homes. However, a way of gathering concentrated, pure, zombie feces had to be found.
Thus, places like The San Quentin Institute were built and stuffed with zombies. As soon as a person was diagnosed with ZMBS, they were locked up. The imprisoned zombies got a never-ending buffet of human flesh, and the living got a never-ending supply of fuel.
It was a cozy relationship. The living just had to get used to feeding their dead loved-ones to the undead, and breathing air filled with burning zombie shit.
John walked through the heavy steel gates into The Institute, and past the kitchen where the zombie’s evening meal was being prepared. For the first time in his twenty-year career the sight and smell of human bodies being butchered and cooked didn’t bother him.
John reported for work in his cellblock. Three hundred seventy five zombies; one to a cell. Each zombie busy laughing, eating, and defecating. John got the zombie’s lunch ready; pilling the food cart with boiled organs (a zombie favorite) legs, arms, hands, and feet. Then, he dished out the meat. But, John did not feed one zombie. John called him Baldy because the zombie’s scalp and lips had fallen off. Baldy was a laughing skull who gorged on hands.
John walked down to Baldy’s cell, and stuck his own hand through the bars.
In a flash Baldy was biting John’s hand; neatly severing John’s index, and middle fingers, as easily as a person biting through raw carrots.
John yanked his hand away and watched it pump blood in rhythmic spurts. Baldy’s chewing sounded like a cat crunching a chicken leg, bones, and all.
For the first time in his life, John started to laugh uncontrollably.
©2011 Don Baldi