Faint artificial light filters up into the night sky, silhouetting the trees below me and creating a soft, ambient glow that’s reflected off the falling snow, which doesn’t make any sense because the last thing I remember I was inside the research facility. So it’s a little disorienting to discover I’m flat on my back on a hillside.
That and I hear somebody humming “Jingle Bells.”
When I sit up, something rolls off my chest and down the hill, coming to rest against a mound of earth with a thud. It’s some kind of heavy black metal cylinder. I get to my feet and walk down to retrieve it. At first I think it’s a flashlight but when I pick it up, I realize it’s a stun baton. And the mound of earth isn’t a mound of earth but a decomposing corpse.
I’m in the body farm.
Half a dozen human bodies in various stages of decay are laid out on the hillside around me—some of them fresh, some of them mummified, some of them sinking in upon themselves, doing what corpses do best: decaying in their own, fragrant way.
I look down at the nearest one, which looks like it’s pregnant. Since the corpse is male, I’m guessing it’s not a miracle of medical science but is instead in the late stages of bloat.
When the human body dies, the bacteria that live in the stomach continue to feed. Though instead of eating the food we’ve consumed, they start eating away at us and excrete gas, which builds up in our abdominal cavities until eventually something gives way. Usually the intestines but sometimes the torso. Either way, it’s not something you want to occur on a first date.
Not speaking from first hand experience, but sometimes it happens.
I look around at the corpse-infested hillside and try to remember how I got here and what happened to me, but my powers of recollection aren’t lending a hand. Or even a finger. That probably has something to do with the fact that my head feels like someone hit me with a sledgehammer. I look down at the stun baton and think maybe I got clocked with it when I notice my shirt is soaked in blood.
I don’t know if it’s my blood or someone else’s but I’m hoping for what’s behind Door Number Two. However, since it’s dark out and I’m feeling a little disoriented, it takes me a moment before I realize that I’m neither bleeding nor drenched in someone else’s blood but am wearing a Santa Claus suit.
I’m not exactly built like your traditional St. Nick. You wouldn’t call me chubby or plump and I don’t have anything that shakes like a bowl full of jelly. I’m a leaner version of Santa. More like the AFTER picture than the BEFORE.
However, I am sporting an authentic beard, not one of those fake, synthetic jobs. We’re talking thick and bushy, which is what happens when you don’t shave for twelve months and your hair turns white. I’m no Edmund Gwenn from Miracle on 34th Street, but I look as much like Kris Kringle as your average Salvation Army Santa.
While I remember where I got the suit and why I’m wearing it, I still don’t have any idea how I ended up in the body farm or what happened to everyone else. The last thing I remember, we were all inside the research facility, singing Christmas carols and handing out candy canes and spreading holiday cheer.
I’m guessing things got a little out of hand.
I look around the body farm surrounded by the darkness and the falling snow, caught for a moment inside my own little warped snow globe, trying to piece together what happened and why I’m out here all alone. I’m about to walk down the path to the front gate when I notice the humming again. Only instead of “Jingle Bells,” they’ve switched to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”
The humming is coming from beyond the trees above me, so I walk up the hill, past a man wearing a maggot merkin and a woman melting out on to the ground around her like the Wicked Witch of the West, until I come to a small clearing on the hillside. A couple of Santas and a naked guy walk around among a dozen or so corpses, most of which are naked themselves and staked down with U-shaped rebar around their wrists and ankles. All except for one, which is neither naked nor staked down and isn’t a corpse yet, but that’s just a matter of time.
He’s wearing a Santa outfit, just like me. The major difference between us is that he’s getting eaten alive by a pair of elves.
The elves sit on either side of him, dressed all in green with fur-trimmed red hats and green rubber surgical gloves, humming “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” in perfect harmony with one another as they share an evening snack. When the elves see me, they stop humming and look up with matching smiles.
“Hey Andy,” they say in unison.
My name is Andy Warner and I’m a zombie.
That’s not something you ever really expect to admit. Alcoholism, sex addiction, gambling problems? Sure. They just come with the territory of the human condition. But you just never plan to wake up one day with a cannula inserted in your carotid artery and your body cavities packed with autopsy gel.
It’s a big adjustment coming back from the dead. Kind of like going through puberty, only the acne and the smell never completely go away. But most Breathers just can’t seem to understand. They act like we can do something about the way we are. Like we did this to ourselves on purpose. As if we had some kind of choice.
It’s not like there’s a twelve-step program for being a zombie. You can’t just go to a bunch of meetings and get a sponsor and cure yourself of undeath. Once you reanimate from the dead, you’ve pretty much crossed a line and there’s no going back.
As a whole, zombies tend to have trouble accepting their new reality. That’s something a friend of mine used to say. Accept your reality. While that’s good in theory and a healthy philosophy to live by, putting it into practice is a lot harder than you’d think—especially when your reality involves having to worry about bloat, maggot infestations, and getting dismembered by fraternity pledges.
And you thought you had problems.
When I say I’m a zombie, I’m not talking about the typical mindless, shambling ghouls you’ll find on the screen at your local cineplex. Most movie zombies are brain-dead monsters that lack any spark of humanity and are unrelenting in their single-minded purpose to devour anyone in their path.
Kind of like politicians, only with less corporate funding.
Real zombies aren’t Romero wannabes. We’re just normal, sentient, reanimated corpses who are gradually decomposing and who could use some serious therapy. No moaning and groaning. No cracking open skulls with our teeth. None of that ridiculous Hollywood crap.
Except for the eating of human flesh. Turns out they got that part right.
The elf on the left takes a bite of Breather and points at my face while the other one says, “Ouch.”
I reach up and discover I have a dime-sized wound on my forehead. At first I’m not sure what it is or why I can fit my pinkie inside of it, until I reach around to the back of my head and find the exit wound.
That explains my headache.
I hate getting shot in the head. Talk about misinformation. It’s just a movie, people. A plot device for a script so your main character can avoid getting eaten and move on to the next scene. The truth is, shooting a zombie in the head just makes a big mess. That and it’s kind of hard to cover up with makeup.
I need some Advil. And I could probably use some gauze and Neosporin. Maybe a hoodie to keep any flies from getting curious.
“Is he the one who shot me?” I ask the elves.
They look at me and nod together, then go back to eating the Breather.
“Oooo,” he says. “Eee aaa oooooo.”
When you’re getting eaten alive, you tend to speak mainly in vowels.
I recognize the Breather’s face but his name escapes me. While you can’t kill a zombie with a head shot, there’s a definite adverse impact on mental acuity. After all, when your gray matter explodes out the back of your skull, you’re probably not going to win any spelling bees.
The good news is, zombies don’t need their whole brain in order to function. We don’t even need most of it. Considering the majority of Breathers get through their lives barely using their brains at all probably has something to do with that. But I’m still a little fuzzy about everything. It’s all a little surreal, in a holly jolly zombie Christmas kind of way.
If you’ve never woken up in a body farm wearing a Santa suit with your brains blown out the back of your skull, then you probably wouldn’t understand.
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