The great thing about reading for Mothership Zeta is the stories are fun. So fun! Often very funny! Sometimes you’re having an absolutely wretched day, and you dive into slush and discover a ridiculous screwball zom-rom-com that lifts your entire mood, with snappy banter, pop culture references a-plenty, and an affecting relationship at the center of its undead heart. We hope Carlie St. George’s mash-up of mad science, zombies, and Girl Scouts brightens your day as it’s brightened ours.
The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell
by Carlie St. George
My boyfriend Brandon had been dead two days. He smelled like he’d been embalmed in lavender.
Lavender wasn’t our first choice. Originally, I’d picked out Warm Vanilla Sugar. That had been a bad call: Warm Vanilla Sugar made Brandon hungry. But Sweet Pea faded too quickly, and anything strawberry gave me hives. Sea Island only made Brandon smell like rotting fish.
So I went to Bath & Body Works on a lavender shopping extravaganza, buying every vaguely purple product I could find. I left with lavender hand soap, massage oil, body lotion, shampoo.
Brandon wasn’t impressed.
“It has to be written down somewhere. It’s gotta be a rule.” He’d already said this three times, so I ignored him and worked the conditioner into his ridiculous Goku hair. We were sitting in the upstairs bathroom, in a tub deep enough to drown a Newfoundland, were it actually filled. It wasn’t filled because I suspected that soaking my sort-of dead boyfriend in bubble bath would be counterproductive. It shouldn’t have made a difference—Brandon wasn’t actually decomposing, not anymore, and yet? The charming smell of early putrefaction remained. Thus the lavender and a glaring lack of bubbles.
I filled a cup of water and carefully rinsed out Brandon’s dark hair. He tickled my toes absently with his pale spider fingers.
“Stop it,” I said.
Brandon didn’t stop it. He was the kind of guy who couldn’t stop tickling someone until she kicked him in the nuts. “The dead,” he said, “should not smell like little old women. Seriously, that’s a rule, right? Some zombie commandment?”
I didn’t want to hear about zombie commandments. I wanted him to appreciate how thrifty I’d been. Shit like this didn’t come cheap, and while I came from money—old, ridiculous money, the kind where you could just give your daughter a house because you still owned five other vacation homes to choose from—my parents weren’t paying for anything that might lead to awkward questions. Like, “Why do you need all that lavender?” or “Rachel, you don’t know who stole Brandon’s body, do you?”
Mom and Dad were already disappointed I wasn’t someone’s trophy wife. Corpse thief and mad scientist might have broken them.
Brandon continued to whine, so I smacked him in the head with a rubber ducky. “I’ll have you know—ah, ah! Stop it!”
Just like that, Brandon let go of my foot.
I frowned, but Miss Noodle distracted me by scratching at the door. “Five more minutes, sweetums!” I called out. “Then it’s Spaghetti-O’s time!”
Brandon snorted, which was hardly fair, considering it was his fault my poodle ate Spaghetti-O’s in the first place. I’m pretty sure he’d been trying to poison her. Now, it was all she’d ever eat. “This is on you,” I said. “If you just—“
Miss Noodle started barking.
Brandon looked at me.
“Shit,” I said, and jumped out of the tub.
Brandon hated Miss Noodle for two reasons: she loved biting his toes, and she was a “yappy fucker who barks all the damn time, Rachel.” This was an exaggeration: she only barked whenever she discovered spiders, listened to The Rolling Stones, or sensed something approaching the house.
I threw on my Batgirl bathrobe and ran down the stairs, hoping Miss Noodle had only heard a stray cat or possibly a very misplaced hedgehog. No such luck: Mrs. Crampton was walking up the driveway, another goddamn casserole in her arms.
Mrs. Crampton was the nice old woman who lived next door. She had rich brown skin and wire-framed glasses that she’d presumably dug up somewhere in the 1980s, making my pink hipster specs seem positively tiny by comparison. Her favorite hobbies were singing at church, talking about her grandkids, and teasing me about living out of wedlock. Or had been—now that Brandon was dead, apparently all she did was cook.
I opened the front door and quickly shut it behind me, meeting her at the bottom of the porch. “Mrs. Crampton,” I said. “This is very sweet, but I haven’t even finished the lasagna yet.”
“It’s no trouble, dear. There’s no rush to get the dishes back to me. I don’t want you to even worry about that.”
I hadn’t been worried about that. “I’m saying I don’t know if I can even eat all this food.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mrs. Crampton said. “Someone needs to look out for you. Look at you.”
I dutifully attempted to look at myself. There was a smudge of purple conditioner on my wrist. I rubbed it on the back of my jeans. “Mrs. Crampton—“
She shoved the casserole into my arms. “It’s not healthy, Rachel, being alone at a time like this. Surely your parents could fly in—“
“Christ, no,” I said before grimacing. “I mean—“
She held up a hand, smiling. “Understood. I have family myself, but you can’t do this on your own. Let me help. I can pack things, clean. I’ll even feed that terrible little dog of yours.”
“Miss Noodle’s adorable!” I said. “Honestly, you and Brandon, you should—“
I looked away. Mrs. Crampton squeezed my hand. “You can’t do this on your own,” she said again, gently.
“I’m not,” I said. “I’ll be okay.”
“Will you?” she asked, and walked past me.
I nearly dropped the pan, I moved so fast, awkwardly forcing myself between her and my front door. “Honestly, I’m okay. I just…I need a little time.”
Mrs. Crampton crossed her arms. “How much time?”
I thought about that. “A week.”
She nodded. “One week,” she said. “Then I’m coming over, and we’re eating popcorn and watching some very corny movies.”
I smiled. “It’s a date. Thanks, Mrs. C.”
I was almost at the door when she called out again. “This better not be about food,” I told her. She didn’t say anything. “Oh, come on. You can’t possibly—“
“It’s for Abby,” Mrs. Crampton said quickly. “Those troops are so competitive. If you could just buy a couple of boxes—”
I laughed. “Goodbye, Mrs. C.”
“You did not pass up Thin Mints. Babe, tell me you didn’t just do that.”
I dumped the casserole on the kitchen counter. “I didn’t think people actually did this,” I said. “Sorry about your loved one, here’s some pot pie. I thought that was just a TV thing.”
“Thin Mints, Rachel. Thin Mints.”
“Tagalongs are better,” I said absently, wiping sweat from my forehead. “Where’s my laptop?”
I rolled my eyes. That was Brandon’s response whenever you disagreed with him about food. I told him I liked Peeps once. He immediately started researching exorcisms. “Yes, yes, but seriously, where—oh,here it is.” I sat down at the table and went straight to Google. “Anyway, I don’t think you’ve got the right to criticize anyone’s appetite these—shit.”
“What is it?”
“94 degrees today. 97 tomorrow.” I looked up at him. “You probably should stay in the basement till I figure this out. Even with the A/C—”
“Got it. Smelly things belong downstairs.” Brandon turned without another word, didn’t even take any of the casserole. I frowned at him.
“Bran? Hey, don’t be mad. It’s just—”
“I’m not mad,” Brandon said. His voice was quiet and wrong, and he kept his back to me. “It’s just a pretty short-term solution, is all. Hiding in the basement. Bathing in lotion. Not much good against rotting flesh.”
“Hey,” I said. “Bran, no one’s rotting, okay? You’re whole. Look.” I walked over to him, held up his hand. “See? No slough, no gloving. Your skin isn’t green or black. Can you feel your heartbeat?” My fingers hovered over the pulse in his neck. “I can feel it. I feel you. You’re not…baby, you’re not cold anymore.”
He had been, when I found him. Six hours dead, and I…
“I’m going to fix this,” I said. “You know that, right?”
He looked at me. “Yeah? I mean, yeah. I know.”
He didn’t sound as sure as I wanted, but that was fair. I wasn’t as sure as I sounded. “Just remember you’re not really dead anymore. You just smell dead. That’s all that’s wrong with you.”
“Well, that and the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
He stared at me.
“Oh, right.” I shrugged and gave him a kiss, smearing his mouth with black lipstick. “Don’t worry. We’ll get to the other thing.”
Three hours later, Brandon was tied up in my basement because of the other thing, and I was working ten feet away, Miss Noodle at my feet and a baseball bat across my knees. I felt bad about cracking the bat over Brandon’s head, but if it hadn’t been nearby, well, I’d have felt worse.
“You know,” I said, as he started to stir. “You ate a huge piece of that casserole plus, like, half a bag of Funyuns. I don’t know how my brain can even sound good at this point.”
“Well, you know me, babe. Always hungry.” Brandon groaned. “Christ, did you have to hit me so hard?”
“Kind of, yeah.”
“That’s fair,” Brandon conceded. “Saaay, black ooze leaking out the ears…normal, right? Asking for a fri—“
“Black what?” I jumped up so quickly I slammed my shin into the table leg. “Shit, Brandon—“
Brandon laughed. “Kidding,” he said, moving his head side to side so I could see his ooze-less ears. I walked over anyway, roughly inspecting his skull. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him, other than that he was an asshole. “Babe,” he said fondly, leaning up to kiss me.
I kicked him in the stomach.
“OW! Rach, what the hell?”
“Not funny,” I said and stomped back over to my desk.
I felt Brandon’s eyes on me as I opened another Red Bull and went back to work. “Don’t sulk,” I said finally, when the silence grew stale. “I didn’t kick you that hard.” Which was kind of a lie, but he had tried to eat me three times in the last two days, so I figured we were even.
“So. Are we going to talk about it, or…”
“You. Finding me all, you know.” He stuck his tongue out and rolled his eyes up.
I turned away. “You want a reenactment?”
“Feelings, babe. I know you science types pretend you don’t have them, but maybe we should just skip the whole denial thing? Move on to the hugging?”
“I’m fine, Brandon.”
He sighed. “So not skipping the denial then?”
“Look, you being dead? Yeah. That sucked. But hey, here you are, so.” I carefully poured the ammonium hydroxide into three different test solutions, mixing them to no great effect. Dammit. “Admittedly, finding your new cologne is going slower than I’d like.”
“You’re working too hard.”
“We’re on kind of a time crunch, Brandon.” I leaned back, rubbing my eyes. “Even if I could keep stalling Mrs. C, we’ve got maybe a week before the smell overpowers the A/C and stretches out to the street. And if someone does find you…honestly, I don’t know what would happen.”
Brandon shrugged, or tried to. His arms were still tied to the bookcase. “Maybe this is my origin story. Hey, I could be RoboCop!”
I snorted. “Or you could be the Abomination. Or Nemesis, the Hollow Man, the Green Goblin—“
“Cheating. Those guys weren’t all undead.”
“Does it make a difference?” I slammed the rest of my Red Bull and tossed the can away. “Maybe you could be some kind of superhero agent, or maybe the feds would lock you in a lab and dissect you. Maybe they’d take a page from Romero and destroy your brain, or maybe they’d just burn you at the stake, and me too for playing God.”
“Babe. You cured death. I think you get medals and papers and interviews with the President for that.”
“I don’t want any of those things.”
“I can’t do this on my own,” I said. “Okay? Mrs. C. was right about that. I can’t—“ I took a breath. “They’ll take you from me, Brandon. That’s what I know. I can find this cure. I know I can, but if I don’t find it soon? That’s when I won’t be okay. All right?”
Brandon nodded. “I get that,” he said. “I do.”
“So, Re-Animator or Day of the Dead?”
I groaned. “Seriously?”
Brandon laughed. “Babe, three Red Bulls in two hours is kind of your limit. Any more and you’re gonna drop and break all your pricy lab shit, not to mention blow up whatever scary-ass chemicals you have over there.”
“Okay, Butterfingers. Of the two of us, who—“
He stared pointedly at my fingers, which were trembling. Traitors.
“What you need,” Brandon said, “is a nap.”
“But since you’re insanely stubborn and don’t believe in naps, let’s just watch a movie, okay? Maybe if you relax that giant brain of yours, some answers will come to you.”
I glared at him. “You know how I hate it when you make sense.”
“I know, babe. But maybe you could untie me anyway? I promise to wait at least twenty minutes until I try to eat you again.” He grinned at me, his self-described winning smile.
I grinned back.
“Maybe,” I said. “But I have some conditions.”
“Babe, come on. This is cruel.”
I shushed him. We were watching Re-Animator, and I was feeding Brandon popcorn and lasagna, so I didn’t think he had too much to complain about. I even graciously offered him one of my precious energy drinks.
“The only thing I want,” Brandon said evenly, “is for you to untie me.”
“Sorry,” I said. “No can do. How do I know the movie won’t give your undead brain a bunch of bad ideas?”
“My undead brain is regretting ever meeting you.”
I tsked. “Not nice. Where would you be without me?”
“Probably dead on someone else’s kitchen floor.”
I threw popcorn at Brandon’s head. “Not. Funny.”
“Seriously, babe. You won’t untie me. You won’t get me Thin Mints. Why do I even—“
An ominously loud clunking came from upstairs followed by a high-pitched whine—then nothing. I shook my head and then shook it again. “No,” I said. “Just no.”
He winced. “Maybe it’s not that. Maybe Miss Noodle just ran into something priceless and broke her face?”
I ignored him and walked upstairs to stand under a vent. Nothing. I went to the thermostat, pressing on all the little buttons. No response. No airflow. No A/C.
“Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?”
I walked back downstairs. Brandon, for his part, was trying to smile, although he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
“Guess break time’s over, huh?”
I covered my mouth with my hands and screamed.
I worked through the night and fell asleep sometime after dawn, waking with a crimp in my neck, forceps stuck to my cheek, and the certainty that Brandon was unequivocally, irreversibly dead. I jumped up, throat tight…but he was fine, asleep on the couch, his ridiculously long legs hanging awkwardly off the side. I lingered over him, watching his chest expand and contract, expand and contract. It gave my lungs permission to follow suit.
But I didn’t have time to stand here, watching him breathe. I had fans to buy. Lots of them.
I couldn’t blame the people at Home Depot for staring at me, as I’d also decided I didn’t have time for fresh clothing or a shower, and my curly black hair had reached Young Frankenstein levels of crazy. I ignored them as best I could and bought fans until there was no more room to put them. Then I sped home, running through the numbers.
Brandon had been dead four days. It was already 84 degrees out, and it would only get hotter. I’d bought two fans for every room in my house, but even with that Brandon had been dead four days, and four-day corpses smelled bad.
I was screwed. I was so unbelievably screwed.
I pulled into my driveway and grabbed as many fans as I could carry before going inside. “Hey!” I called out. “Think you could—“
And then I stopped because I saw Brandon, and Brandon saw me.
“Shit,” I said, dropped the fans, and ran.
Brandon came after me, moaning as I sprinted upstairs for my bedroom. All I needed was a locked door between us, just for a few minutes. The cravings were short, like, commercial break short. I just needed—
Brandon grabbed my ankle, pulled, and I went down hard, my chin slamming into the top stair. I rolled over and frantically tried to kick him off, but he had too good a grip. His whole body shook as he stared down at me, mouth open.
“Brandon,” I whispered. “Baby, don’t—“
He kept shaking. His throat swallowed convulsively. His pupils were blown, his teeth too close.
Downstairs, Miss Noodle started to bark. The basement, maybe—she’d probably found another spider. Brandon’s head twitched at the sound and, before I could blink, he let go of me and ran downstairs.
“Brandon?” I yelled. “Brandon!”
Miss Noodle barked loudly. Then she stopped.
“Babe? I said I was sorry. Over.”
I shook my head and went back to work. I’d turned my bedroom into a makeshift laboratory, not wanting to face Brandon or the mess downstairs. I couldn’t cut him out entirely, though…my lungs closed up at the thought of it. If something happened, if he couldn’t reach me…
Well, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. My improvised solution: walkie-talkies. In theory, it’d been a great idea.
“Babe? Come on, talk to me. Over.”
Theories were bullshit.
“Bran,” I snapped, my voice not steady at all. “I think I’m actually on to something here, so I’m going to need a little quiet time from you, okay?” Admirably, this wasn’t even a lie—I was possibly on to something, if the results of this last experiment were anything to go by. “Besides, I already forgave you, remember? Over.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t exactly SOUND forgiving. Over.”
I threw up my hands. “What, you want me to sound cheerful? You ate my freaking dog, Brandon. Over and shut up.”
“Shouldn’t that be shut up and over? Over.”
Unbelievable. I resisted the urge to throw a test tube across the room. “You never liked her. You never liked her, and now she’s dead.”
“I’m sorry, you think I WANTED to know what poodle brains tasted like? Wow, yeah. Thank God I died. Praise Jesus for that handy heart defect; now my fiendish revenge against your yappy mutt is finally complete. OVER.”
This time, I did throw the test tube. It shattered impressively against the wall. “For Christ’s sake, Brandon. My dog is dead. Why does this have to be about you?”
Static. I sighed and started cleaning up the mess. I needed to focus. If I could only get the same results again, then maybe, maybe—
“Rachel? I’m sorry, okay? Over.”
“Yeah.” My voice cut so sharp, it almost hurt me. “You didn’t mean to. Got it, Brandon.”
Brandon took a breath.
“Okay,” he said. “You know what? Fuck this. I totally meant to, Rachel. I murdered your dog, ‘cause you, you walked in the door, and I just wanted to kiss you. I wanted to tease you about your hair, and then the hunger came, and it was too fast. It was you or Miss Noodle, and babe? That’s not even a fucking choice. You want me to be sorry? I’m not. I couldn’t lose you. If you can’t understand that…babe, I’m living proof you understand that. Okay? Over.”
Damn it. Damn him.
I dropped my walkie-talkie and buried my face in my hands.
Ten minutes later, I heard the bedroom door open. Brandon stepped inside, radio sticking out of his back pocket. He’d washed his face and hands. That was considerate of him. I tried to say hi but decided to burst into tears instead.
Brandon moved, but I waved him off. “Don’t,” I said. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” His left eyebrow let me know what he thought of that statement, but he sat down on the bed anyway, pulling out his walkie-talkie.
“Maybe, after all of this, we could get another dog? I’ll try not to eat this one, okay?”
I started crying harder at that.
“Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, babe. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
Brandon’s hands dropped to his sides, the radio dangling helplessly from his long fingers. “Didn’t mean to do that, either,” he said.
I looked away. “I slept through it. The love of my life, and I slept through it. Did, did you know? Were you—“
He shook his head. “Babe, no. I just, I woke up thirsty, that’s all. I went downstairs to get a glass of water, and everything, it happened so fast. I tried calling out, but it hurt so much. You couldn’t have heard me. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Six hours, Brandon. You were dead for six hours, and I was sleeping. I was sleeping.”
I swallowed. “You were so cold, Brandon.”
“Don’t do it again, okay?”
He smiled, sort of. “I won’t if you won’t.”
“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath and picked the walkie-talkie back up. “Brandon? Over.”
“I’d have eaten Miss Noodle for you too. Over.”
“Yeah, babe. I love you too. O—“
The doorbell rang.
The doorbell rang because someone was on the porch, because my dead poodle wasn’t around to warn us before they got to the porch. Shit. SHIT.
“Stay here,” I said, and ran out of the bedroom.
There were Girl Scouts at my door.
I couldn’t just ignore them. I wanted to, but the girls were wrinkling their noses, which meant the smell had already permeated the walls, which meant it was damage control time. Great.
I stepped outside, slamming the door behind me. “That time of year again, huh?”
Abby Crampton nodded, her tiny, beaded braids bouncing everywhere. “Hi, my name is Abby Crampton,” she said, very seriously, as if we’d never met. “I am in Girl Scout Troop 34855, and we were wondering—“
“Why does your house smell like dead things?”
I looked at the taller Girl Scout. She had rosy, freckled skin and blue eyes, roughly the color of the gum she was loudly smacking. “Sorry about that,” I said. “I’m a scientist. See?” I pointed at the pink goggles on top of my head. “I’m just in the middle of a really important experiment.”
The taller girl looked unimpressed. “I take science in school, and our class doesn’t smell like that.”
“Well, you guys must have better air fresheners.” I glanced up and saw an idling minivan on the street. Terrific. As soon as their chaperone heard about the weird smell at the big, yellow house, I’d be done. “How about I buy a few boxes, and you don’t mention the smell to whoever’s driving that car.”
“What kind would you like?” Abby asked politely.
“That’s a weird secret,” the other girl said, less politely. “Kids shouldn’t trust strangers who ask them to keep weird secrets. They talked about that at school.” She crossed her arms triumphantly.
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you shaking me down right now?”
The girl just stared at me.
I sighed. “Fine,” I said. “Fine. How many boxes do you want me to buy?”
“Sweet Jesus, babe. There must be forty boxes here.”
“Twenty-two,” I corrected. “She wanted fifty at first, but I bargained her down.” I thought I’d done pretty well, all things considered.
Brandon was already opening one of the Thin Mints. “You think they’ll keep their mouths shut?”
I snorted. “No. But for 88 dollars, I’m kind of hoping I secured us the afternoon at least. Hey, uh. Is Miss Noodle—“
“I took care of it,” Brandon said quietly.
“Good,” I said. “Okay. Well, let’s go downstairs and find a cure for dead boy stink, shall we?”
He offered me his arm. I took it.
“Okay. Okay. I think I’ve got it.”
Brandon looked suspiciously at the beaker. It wasn’t the most appealing concoction I’d ever created, in that it was literally steaming and had the texture of coagulated blood. But it was, at least, a very nice shade of peach rose.
“Shouldn’t it be green? Aren’t magical potions always green?”
“It’s not magic,” I said, offended. “It’s mad science. And there are no hard and fast rules to potion color, magical or otherwise.”
Brandon got to his feet. “Well. Okay, then. Let’s give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“You could explode.”
“I could WHAT?”
I shrugged and ate another Tagalong. “You said you wanted to know.”
“I was kind of hoping the worst case scenario was that it wouldn’t work.”
“Yeah. Well, remember those combustive chemicals you mentioned? I might have used a couple. But,” I added before he could start screaming, “I neutralized the explosive agents, obviously. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“Okay, but what if my stomach acid or something un-neutralizes your, uh, neutralization?”
I smiled tightly. “That would be bad.”
Brandon laughed. “That would be bad, she says. Heh. Bad.”
I draped my arms loosely around his neck. “Brandon.”
“No, no, I’m fine, just…maybe we shouldn’t jump headfirst into something that could blow me up. You’re a scientist. Aren’t there trial runs or something before human testing?”
“You think if my re-animator juice worked on chickens, I wouldn’t have tried this out by now?”
“I think I already died young once. It hurt. I’m not ready to do it again.”
He was shaking a little when I hugged him. We didn’t talk much. His skin was still warm, and his heart was still beating, and his whole body still smelled like so much rot and waste. “We need to do this now,” I told him. “I’m going to be right here with you, okay?”
Brandon shook his head. “Oh, fuck that, Babe. You aren’t blowing up with me. There are too many versions of Romeo and Juliet as it is.” He kept trying to smile, kept not quite managing it. “Hand me the Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell.”
I gave him the beaker and he pulled away, walking to the other side of the basement. I doubted the proximity would make much difference, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t do this without him, and he couldn’t lose me, and what else was there to say?
“I love you.” That’s all that was left. “Brandon, I love you.”
“I know,” Brandon said, and drank.
His pale skin went pink. Beads of sweat broke out over his forehead, and steam escaped from the corners of his lips. Brandon emptied the beaker, set it aside, and looked at me.
He didn’t explode.
He didn’t move.
He didn’t explode.
Brandon blinked. He looked down at his body, and the expression on his face was hard to read. “I didn’t explode,” he said. “Yet.”
“That’s good,” I said. “That’s really good.” I was crying, or laughing, or both, and all I could smell was ooze and decay. But the whole house smelled like that now. “I can’t tell if it worked or not.”
“Honestly? I’m just happy to still be standing here.”
“Me too,” I admitted. “Maybe we should—“
The doorbell rang.
“For Christ’s sake,” I said. “Is this punishment? Is God that pissed I took back one of his flock?”
Brandon shrugged and tore into a new box of Thin Mints. “Ten bucks says your parents finally flew in,” he said.
It wasn’t my parents, thank God.
I didn’t recognize the woman at the door, but I did recognize the blue minivan now parked in my driveway. “Troop leader?” I guessed, silently cursing Abby Crampton and her terrible friend.
“As a matter of fact.” She was a pretty Latina woman, despite her awful mom hair. Her perfectly manicured nails covered her nose and mouth. “My girls told me a concerning story, Miss…“
“It’s doctor, actually.” It wasn’t, but I’d always wanted to say that, and who knew if I was going to get the chance now? “And about the smell, I can explain…“
I couldn’t explain.
“Rachel? You ready?”
I turned around. Brandon walked into the room, carrying a shovel and a long, cardboard box. His eyes were wet. “I got—oh. Ma’am.” He set the box carefully down on the floor and stood beside me. “Did Rachel tell you? It’s so awful. It must have been a car, but somehow she made it home, and then…”
“I’m sorry,” the troop leader said. “I don’t quite…”
But I did. I looked at the box, and I understood what was inside of it.
“My dog,” I said. “Miss Noodle, she went missing. I thought she ran away, but this morning, the smell…we found her in the basement. She must have been there for days.”
I started to cry because tears sold the story better, but also because I just couldn’t keep holding them back. “I didn’t want to tell Abby. She liked Miss Noodle.”
The troop leader shook her head. “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s so sad. That’s—” She paused. “Did you say Miss Noodle?”
I stared at her.
“Not that there’s, well. I’m so very sorry. I’ll let you get back to…“ She nodded at the shovel and turned away, walking quickly to her minivan.
I shut the door and dropped my head into Brandon’s chest.
“Quick thinking,” I said.
“I try,” Brandon agreed. “So. Verdict? Lady didn’t freak out too much when I showed up.”
I took a long, deep breath. “You smell…like lavender,” I said, and laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop.
We buried Miss Noodle in the back yard.
Brandon wore a dark hoodie, in case anyone who knew him peeked over the fence and saw a dead boy digging graves. I continued wearing my jeans and goggles.
“You were a good dog,” I said. “I loved you very much.”
“I hated you,” Brandon said. “But I’m really sorry you died that way.”
Hoodie or not, it was risky for Brandon to stay outside, but it felt good, being out in the open air together. I kissed him on the cheek and leaned into his shoulder.
“When you died,” I asked, “did you see God?”
“You don’t believe in God.”
“Yeah, but did you see Him?”
Brandon smiled but didn’t actually answer the question. “So, I was wondering about the plan.”
“Our plan. You and me. Am I just hiding out until I get old and die again? Don’t get me wrong: spending all my days with you, kinda the goal, but…“
“You’d like more out of life than being an undead houseboy?” I shrugged. “Don’t worry. When it’s time, we’ll reintroduce you to the world with some kind of cover story. I was thinking paralysis by snake bite.”
“And you…what? Stole me from the morgue ‘cause I wasn’t really dead?
“No, silly. You woke up on your own. Yeah, and you were all traumatized and confused—“
“As you are, when you wake up in the morgue—“
“And you wandered through the woods and stuff for a while. Cause, you know. Post-traumatic amnesia.”
Brandon laughed. “Babe. Who’s going to buy that bullshit?”
“You think re-animation sounds more credible?”
He held up a finger. “Point.”
“Thank you. When I cure your zombie munchies—”
My phone started playing the Wicked Witch’s theme song from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, awesome. “Hey, Mom,” I said. “Tell me you aren’t on your way here.”
“Well, of course not,” Mom said, sounding annoyed. “I can’t leave now. The entire charity would fall apart. But you—“
“It’s a short flight,” she insisted. “And it would look good if you were here. Just say a few words about him, about the importance of organ donation—“
“Mom, no.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brandon clenching his fingers in the grass. You okay? I mouthed.
Brandon looked at me.
“Hey, Mom. Let me call you back.”
“Rachel, I don’t think you understand—“
I didn’t run.
“Mom,” I said, standing very slowly. “Can’t do it, sorry, love you, bye.”
I dropped the phone, and Brandon leapt at me. I hit him in the head with the shovel.
Slowly—excruciatingly slowly—I dragged Brandon’s stupidly tall ass back inside. He woke a few minutes later. “So. You were saying something about zombie munchies?”
He looked at the floor, at the shelves, at just about everything but me.
I kissed him on the cheek and took his hand.
“Don’t worry, Bran,” I said. “We’ll get to that.”
Carlie St. George is a Clarion West graduate whose work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, The Book Smugglers, and others. While not eating deliciously yummy Girl Scout cookies or writing stories about smelly zombies, she blogs long and occasionally profane movie reviews at mygeekblasphemy.com. Find her on Twitter as @MyGeekBlasphemy
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