And the Dead Came Back to Life

Joel Golby

[a short story]

 

“Oh my— jeez, Pop-pop!” he said. His Grandpa was vomiting lavishly into the toilet bowl, his combover slick with a combination of Brylcreem and vodka jelly, his skin and waistcoat wan. “Dude, your Granddad’s hand is floating in the hot tub,” reported the lithe girl, the one he had, taut and tan, been hoping to get with tonight. “Plus he slammed like, all the tequilas.”

Earlier, the dead had come back to life. They had creaked and shuddered up from out of their graves and into old homes and families, and, after the first few had been dispatched with a spade (this was a near-future where a lot of the population were weaned on zombie movies), they had put their dead and clammy hands in the air. “Wait,” they had said, a reanimated voice in unison. “We just want to hang out!”

Dale’s reanimated Pee-paw had then been sat on the itchy sofa in his front room for like three days straight, while his moms feverishly hoovered up skin flakes from on and around him and ferried him fresh bags of caramel popcorn (‘I have never had this caramel popcorn before!’ he’d rasped. ‘This caramel popcorn, kid! Fuck me!’) which he ate while catching up on TiVo’d episodes of Oprah until, 72 hours after he had first shambled over the threshold, she had about had enough. “Ugh,” said his Mammy. “You take him out.”

He had pleaded, but to no avail. He had to take his Pee-paw to the high school party he was attending that night, his Ma said, while she fetched fresh steaming bowls of bleaches and unguents to wash out the carpet in the den.

 

 

“So, I don’t know if you have any daddy issues or anything,” said her Daddy, stirring sugar into his coffee at this just totally gross diner by the petrol stations. His nose was smushed across his face a little but otherwise he had survived both death and burial pretty much intact. He was wearing the suit trousers and shirt he was buried in, but had managed to dig out a shiny polyester bomber jacket with a rad snake down it when he fetched home to pick up some stuff. He ripped open another sugar packet. “Do you?”

She kind of did, yeah, she thought. The reanimated man in front of her, green, slightly, his hair still in the style of the early ’90s, that sort of over-gelled centre parting, with curtains and an earring – he had died young – was one she hadn’t seen since she was six years old, and there was a vacancy, there. She remembered pleading with her Ma – reanimated also, but had zeroed in instead on her second husband’s home, near the coast, where she exposed the still-alive man to rigorous and terrifying welcome back intercourse on the regs – in childhood, all “where is my Daddy?” and “why don’t I have a Pa?” when reminded in school and at sport’s days and parents evenings and sundry other events that her family was not in the traditional unit, bent somehow out of shape, and she also remembers, again, adolescence spent sulkily on the end of a clove cigarette and hair dye doings in a failed bid to P. O. the dude who had bought over a weekend case when she was nine years old and never left, the one who presently was wide-eyed and grinding somewhere in the north-west, the one she had always refused to call ‘Dad’.

“So,” he said. “What do you wanna talk about, here?”

“Nothing,” she said. “You know.”

“You like motorbikes?” he asked. He died getting hit off a motorbike, while riding another motorbike.

“Not really.”

“Hum.” This was painful, she thought, this was agonising. She tapped her fingernails on her coffee mug. He coughed. “So there any boys you like?”

Oh, this was the worst.

 

 

“I said I was sorry, dude,” he had said. He had had to apologise because he beat his buddy’s Uncle back to death with a tenderising hammer immediately after he rang the doorbell. “I got scared, you know.”

They had been playing Xbox together, sat on long plump little bean bags, when the first wave had hit. This had been before the emergency broadcasts went on the news, when bright newscasters had cheerily announced that no, all the dead people were not a sign of the apocalypse, they just wanted to hang. Do not beat them back into the grave with a tenderising hammer, they warned. Please do not do that thing.

It had taken some doing to bludgeon his buddy’s Uncle back into the abyss with a tenderising hammer, was the thing. When the Uncle had clawed, exhausted, back at the door (it was a long stagger from the graveyard where they had buried him, some sixteen miles over), he had, in terror, grabbed the first thing to hand. It had taken something in the region of 40 swings to get him down, and a further dozen to finish him off. They were stood over the body, still, the TV still on, emergency broadcasts still playing. “Stay tuned,” they said, “we have Elvis Presley on the other end of a satellite phone. Ah huh!”

“My Mom is going to be home soon,” said the buddy, his shirt still covered in blood. “She is going to be mad as heck.”

“Were they close, her and your Uncle?”

“Kinda!”

Hmm.

 

 

“So what is the deal with these dead people,” said the Mayor. “Like, what is the deal.”

“Well we cannot call them dead people, for a start, Sir. That is a misnomer.”

“What, because they’re creaking around the supermarkets handling the raw meat now? Because they do pisses? That makes them human?”

“Not so sure on human, Sir, but certainly alive.”

“I call bullshit. BULLSHIT. Get me a scientist on the phone, or something.”

They got a scientist on the phone. It took like half an hour, which the Mayor spent furiously drumming his fingers and gnawing at his pen. Occasionally he would shoot a look to a beshaded bodyguard stood by his desk and say, “I am serious. There is no way they are human.”

“Yes,” said The Scientist. “What.”

“Hello Dr. Scientist, Sir, this is the Mayor.”

“It is, like, 3am, here.”

“Yes I kno—”

“What in the heck do you want?”

“Just need you to settle an argument, here. You know these dead people?”

The Scientist looked at his fridge, where a reanimated Great Aunt was eating pickles straight from the jar and drinking some of the juice, even, and pinched at the ridge of his nose. “I am aware of them, yes.”

“Are they, like, human?”

“Hmm,” said The Scientist. “Umm.”

 

 

“Hey hun,” she said, nervous into the receiver, whispered into her cupped hand more than directed at him. “Hey.”

“Hey babe,” he said. They were going out, you know. This was acceptable speak.

“Uh, yeah hi,” she said, brightly. “How’s work?”

He straightened his tie and thought. How was work? She had never asked that before. She didn’t even know what he did. He did something with spreadsheets or something, I don’t know.

“Good, yeah. Something up?” he asked. She did not normally call him at work, because who does that. Why would you do that.

“Good, yeah. Yeah,” she said. “Umm. Kind of a thing, though.”

“Oh?”

“Oh. Yeah. Uh… yeah.”

“You gonna tell me?”

“There’s a dead guy in our flat eating Chinese takeout.”

*

“Huh,” he said, when he had gotten back from work, rolled up his shirt sleeves and taken off his tie. “It’s Mr. Wong.”

Mr. Wong had owned the flat before them, and had died in an armchair watching the sports happen. He had rotted through, mostly, in the chair, not being found for two months because of reasons of hermitage. He was sat there getting prawn crackers all down himself and just being transfixed by a Lady Gaga video on MTV. Mr. Wong did not really understand Lady Gaga.

“Mr. Wong,” he said. His name was like, Hank, and he was handsome. She held at his shoulder and tugged his shirt with fear, because sometimes ladies you are fucking useless at these things. “Mr. Wong? Hello?” He snapped his fingers in front of the less melted side of Mr. Wong’s face.

“I don’t think he really understands English, babe,” he said.

The Chinese delivery boy was p. stumped, when he finally turned up. “You want me to translate?” [1] he asked, holding out a warm chow mein. “Huh. Okay.”

They did some noises at each other, you know. Chinese noises.

“He says he has no family in the city,” said this kid. “You’re stuck with him, I guess.”

“Bummer,” said the handsome man. “Like, jeez.”

 

[1] The author does not exactly care for what he likes to call ‘racist phonetics’ where such a Chinese delivery boys are presented as speaking like this, all: “you think this how Chinese derivery boy speaka? You flackin’ raciss peopar!” – or, again similarly, with Irish grandmothers or such as French waiters – but in fact and actually this Chinese delivery boy went to an Ivy League school and was just doing this for extra dollars‡, but if it helps you to imagine the story with more colour here please go ahead and racist the heck out of this copy.

 

‡ again, or “dollar”, if you prefer

 

“I do not like them. I do not like these dead people.”

“Okay, Si—”

“I mean they don’t even pay taxes! Can they even vote?”

The assistant looked at his clipboard. It did not say whether they could vote.

“I do not know if they can vote, Sir.”

“The fuck if they can or cannot vote! You know what, Gibson?”

“Wilson, Sir.”

“Wilson. You know what, kid? I don’t think I like these dead people. I don’t think real people are going to like these dead people. Let’s make some laws.”

 

 

“Where is he now?” he asked the girl. He had a red beaker of water in each hand and a packet of jelly sweets in his ass pocket, and now all he needed to do was find his disintegrating Pee-paw in this rabbit-warren of a high school party house and administer the goods. “You seen him?”

“Um,” she said, her arm arched along the door frame. “Uh.”

“Is that a ‘yes’? Is that a ‘no’?”

“He’s… uh. Um. Your Pee-paw’s kinda hitting on Bracey.”

Oh shit, oh jeez. Bracey was the popular girl at school, you know: all swishing blonde hair and upright walking and chatting vapidly in the girl’s bathroom while smoking filtered cigarettes and sexlessly holding hands with the football captain and frowning at other girls, and oh jeez he had to find his Pop-pop like immediately.

 

 

They had tried turning the radio on as they drove, but all they seemed to be playing was Thriller on repeat so they switched it off, driving instead in silence, in fresh and unbloodied shirts. “You want a Cheez-O?” he offered, pointing to a bag of Cheez-Os. He felt it was the least he could do, offer him a Cheez-O. When you beat someone’s Uncle back to death with a tenderising hammer and then make them haul back to the graveyard in a ute with a corpse in the back and under a tarpaulin, he figured, least he could offer out here was a maize-based snack.

 

 

She was knitting them jumpers, because she was her Grandma, her decrepit hands not exactly quickening in death, no, but still nimble enough, deliberately winding wool around her needles. When she had died, some half a decade earlier, they (the kids) had been about old enough to wear the jumpers – adorned with gay farm scenes and happy bobbles – without qualms, but now, on the cusp of adolescence, they sat there, itchy and glum, watching the Superbowl. “Oh that’s nice,” said Mee-maw, slowly pearling. “They let Madonna sing the half time entertainment.”

“She didn’t die, Grandma,” said the eldest, sat on the floor hugging her knees and playing with her fresh lip piercing. “Ugh.”

 

 

The graveyard was strewn with arms and offcuts when they got there, and they had to reposition a few crawling corpses back on the path like snails when they got stuck head first fumbling into a headstone. They found his Uncle’s grave, a burrowed hole coming out of the ground, and put him back in on there head first. “What shall we do about those?” he asked, pointing at his floppy legs, just stickin’ on out of the earth. “Jeez dude, my Mom is going to be so pissed,” said his buddy, hopping from foot to foot. That just didn’t help at all. He spanged them back into the ground with a spade.

 

 

“What do you mean, I can’t get a credit card?” he asked, incredulous, his diseased ears covered with a trapper hat, his veiny eyes with shades. “I haven’t been in debt a day of my life!”

“Yes,” said the bank manager, sweating now, a sort of nervous fury. “Well.”

Money was becoming an issue now, as was rot. Those with impeccable credit dug furiously out of their graves expecting to buy hella Porsches with which to pick up chicks, but found that their families, in their grief, had beaten them to it, inheritances spiralled away on lapdances and patios. “What do you even need money for anyway, Pa?” so many had asked. “To buy cool shit with, jeez,” said the men, vigorously horny anew in reanimation. “To pick up chicks in bars.”

For other, bad debts came back to haunt them, the sweet embrace of death being not enough to deter creditors from finding them now, as they assembled dully around titty bars and horse racing tracks, to break their hollow knees. “Ouch,” they said, hobbled. “Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.”

The labour market was all topsy-turvy, too, all fucky la-la: temporary workers getting the sweeter gigs lifting barrels and picking fruits as they undercut actual alive people for pay; PhD fellowships were snatched from the keen and the with-it and diverted into funds for long-dead Hollywood scientists like Einstein and Newton, funds for them to peer down microscopes and say “hmm” and “yes”. That is to say, those who wanted to: a lot of the more beautiful minds of our century were just crazy into The Bachelor on E!.

 

 

“We gon’ to haf—ta fuck it!” she said, soggily jiggling on top of him. “We gon’ to haf—ta fuck it!” She had always said p. weird things whenever they had gone to Fuck Town together, but eversince she died and then got reanimated she had been freakier than ever. Honestly, he needed some sleep. He needed some sleep and just for this horrible nightmare to stop.

He was only when a coil of cigarette ash fell from her post-coital smoke and on to her clammy dead titties that he realised she had died again. “Phew, I guess,” he thought. “Aw jeez, I’m going to need new sheets.”

In the morning, after sleep, he was thinking again, while carefully arranging underwear and clothes on her limp, lifeless body. “Seriously though, weird,” he thought. “This is just like the last time.” Was his junk doing this, he wondered? Maybe he would ask the paramedic, when they arrived. Just once he’d hoisted these panties onto a corpse.

 

 

Mr. Wong was just happy eating takeout and trying to figure out the flickering and luminescent light that was modern pop starlets for the first couple of weeks. He liked Katy Perry and her just preternaturally fantastic titties. He has a soft spot also for Ke$ha, and tried his best to figure out what Nicki Minaj was saying, too. He did not even pretend to understand [THAT GIRL WHO DID THE 'GUCCI GUCCI' SONG]. He just did not get that at all. She watched him do all this, from the doorway, nervous hands balled in her jumper sleeves. “Goodbye, Mr. Wong,” she shouted from the door. Mr. Wong freaked her out.

Martha (her name was Martha, the scared woman) had about got into the elevator and pressed ‘G’ when she heard a damp and frantic shuffling behind her, and turned to see Mr. Wong – a muddied napkin still tucked in his collar, noodles around his face – hurrying towards her with tiny old-man footsteps and wide Mr. Wong eyes. She jabbed at the button but he managed to slip between the closing doors in spite of her, and they travelled downstairs in silence.

“Bing bo—ng.”

He ambled after her grotesquely all the way to the grocery store, shuffling around behind her and occasionally, silently, pitching multipacks of Fruit Roll-Ups into her cart. And it wasn’t basically long until he followed her everywhere, neatly undoing the napkin from around his neck and dropping mein-stained chopsticks whenever she had gotten up to leave, and somehow always seeming to catch the elevator as she was on the way down, travelling on buses and in taxis alike in her pursuit. He followed her to Starbucks, where he had a cinnamon swirl; to night school, where she was taking a short course in screenwriting; somehow he was allowed past the curtain to attend her annual gynaecological exam. “Hank,” she said, sat up now, in bed, her previous frills and lingerie replace by sexless tunics and long pants in case Mr. Wong barged in during the night and saw her in any state of altogetherness. “Hank, is he going to follow us everywhere?”

Yes, he did follow them everywhere. They had not had sex for three months, but they did have a dead-ass dude tagging along on their anniversary dinner, ordering a side of chicken noodle soup and getting it all down. They did have to take him to the supermarket and put him in the kiddy seat on the trolley and buy him smoked cheese. They hadn’t gotten crazy for a quarter of a year but they had pictures of them, Mr. Wong and Mickey together from their annual vacation to Disneyland.

 

 

“I wonder when Mark’s coming back?” said his Momma, twitching at the curtains restless. “It’s been days.”

“Uh you mean Uncle Mark?” he said, pushing a clot of tenderised flesh under the sofa with his foot. “Uh… didn’t we cremate him?”

 

 

It was not like a movie, you know, although he hoped secretly it would be. Maybe he would bowl up and they would be chatting and Bracey – who of course just typically, just obviously he was in love with from afar – would flick her hair around and turn to him, her eyes alive in a way they never were before, looking at him anew, all “Dale!”, all “your Pee-pop is so interesting!” and Pee-Pop would just smile, the old-timer, pat him on the knee and slink away and they would talk and talk and talk and he would ask her out for a milkshake and she would say “yes” and turn up all done up to the nines just looking fantastic and they would share a shake and have a straw each and she would go all heavy on the gooey eyes and give him an abrupt handy in the back of her Dad’s Camry and then they would get married, but no, it didn’t happen like that, because his Pee-pops seemed to be climbing out of his clothes and shouting about the President. He held the limp stump of his Grandpa’s hand, fished from the hot-tub with a net, still dribbling lifeless blood on the carpet.

“Hey Bracey, hey,” said his Peepums, sort of gyrating, certainly undoing his shirt. He was clearly trying to impress her. “Check this.” He then vomited hugely, just extraordinarily. Nearby boys in backwards baseball caps and overlarge shirts stood agog and watched. “Dude,” they said. “I think your Grandpa just whiteyed.”

“Come on, Pop-pop,” he said, tissue around his mouth.

“Man I’m coming,” he said, adjusting his girdle. “Girls these days are uptight.”

He did not even stop to apologise to Bracey, because: who names their kid Bracey?

 

 

“Did Diane Keaton die?”

“No, Grandma.”

“What about Marlon Brando?”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“Rod Stewart?”

“Nope.”

“Perry Como?”

“Yes.”

“Who else died?”

“Uh… Whitney Houston?”

“That black girl?”

“It’s not okay to say that anymore, Grandma.”

(They lived in a near-future where it was just not okay to say that, anymore. We’d figured it out.)

“This world.”

It was a shame, it seemed, that everyone’s rose-tinted memories of their dead were being sullied now in reanimation. They had always remembered their Gam-gam as a kind woman, a full biscuit tin, who pulled ruddy cheeks and gave them all fizzy pop with dinner. Now she was a racist with bits of meat falling off her and who did shits, and yet somehow she was babysitting them. “Ugh,” said the teenagers, privately and in their rooms. “The dead coming back to life is so unfair.”

 

 

Cut my life in—to pi—eces,” said the local garage punk band. “This is my last re—sort.” They had put up paper fliers in all the local music shops and messages on Craigslist, because they needed a new guitarist. ‘DEAD DUDES OKAY,’ they put, seeing as they figured it would make them cool to have a like zombie in their rock band. ‘WE ARE DOWN WITH THAT’. They had an enormous bassist and had to stop practising at 8pm because otherwise their Moms’ would all just be insanely mad, so they needed all the cool they could get.

“You boys need a… guitarist?” asked a dead guy, in fringed suede and with a lively drugs smell, pitching a jazz cigarette onto the pavement.

“HO BOY, JIMI HENDRIX!” they said in unison. “You here to be in our band?”

“Fuck no, kids,” he said. “You boys stink. You really, really suck at this.”

 

 

The economy that had sprung up around the undead was starting to wind down, what with them dying so much in the streets. Dating sites that specialised in matching up broken women with undead dudes saw memberships dwindle; farms that hired cheap and reanimated workers (the labour laws did not define a minimum wage for the formerly dead) had to hire tractors and diggers to slough all of the re-expired corpses up from out from their lemon groves; counsellors who patched together crumpled relationships between the once dying and now alive families saw sessions peter out, cushions soiled. This was driving the Mayor about nuts.

“These fucking dead pricks!” he said. It had been a long six months. “Get me that scientist on the phone!”

“Yes,” said The Scientist, when they got him on the phone. “What.” He had spent all afternoon with the rotary brush setting on his vacuum trying to get all the clumps of hair his Great Aunt was shedding out of the living room rug, and was just not in the mood for this. “What is it?”

“These dead people done dying?” asked the Mayor, chewing at a pen. “They gonna become alive again?”

“I do not know,” said the Scientist. “I specialise in fruit flies. Plus all my funding got cut so as Isaac Newton could just kick it under some trees.”

 

 

“Jeez,” said the judge. “Wow. Well, this is a tricky wicket.”

The furious man in handcuffs before him was the first ever dude to be charged on ‘remurder’, slaughtering as he did an alive man he had a quarrel with before he had first died. “Dang it!” he’d said, when he first heard the guy – who totally had S-E-X with his wife – had his heart explode in his chest. “I mean good, I guess. But still.” When the whole thing happened with the Dead Coming Back To Life he had found him in a local Irish-themed bar and shot him through the head while he puffed on a cigar.

“REMURDER!” screamed the headlines the next day. “Well, murder, anyway,” said the sub-heading. “He wasn’t murdered in the first place, he just died. MORE ON PAGE 6.”

Meanwhile, Algie tugged nervously at the stringy tufts of his mullet and watched CNN while locked in his room in nervous tears. He was going to be in so much trouble when they find out he beat a dude back into the grave with a wooden hammer.

“Where in fuck is Mark?” his dad had asked. “Your fuckin’ brother, always late!”

“I got no idea. I called Ma: nothing.”

“You think he’s down in Florida with that hoochie-mama?”

(Mark had had a hoocie-mama down in Florida, a broad he had been rocking it to while getting tans for close on ten years before his diabetes got too much)

“I guess.”

 

 

“Hey, can I getcha an ice cream?” asked her Daddy, rattling his sinewy arms in his empty pocket. They were walking through the park, some horrible theatre of being father and daughter. “I’m lactose intolerant, Daddy,” she said. “Remember?”

“I am p. sure we didn’t have lactose intolerance in the ’90s, sweetie,” he said, biting just straight up into a choc ice with his teeth. “You wanna go bowling some instead?”

“No, Daddy,” she said, shaking her head sadly, throwing the last of the bread to the ducks and walking away forlornly. “Nope.”

He watched her walk, you know, before shouting after her so hard entire flocks of geese shot up and out and away from the lake and, ultimately and in full, into the engine bay of a low-flying aircraft up above them. “YOU KNOW WHAT,” he said, shards of chocolate around his wizened mouth. “I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN REBORN!”

He didn’t have to wait long before he died on a motorbike again, slumping over dead on the fuel tank and skittling across the downtown traffic, taking out two cars and a truck as he did it.

 

 

Mr. Wong died having just the time of his life on a rollercoaster at Disneyland.

 

 

Jimi Hendrix shredded his arms to ribbons while busking on the underground and then died there, again, a few sad quarters in his guitar case.

 

 

Peepums, a fully paid-up member of the Just Insanely Horny Dead Dude Brigade (J. I. H. D. D. B.), was neither the first or last Uncle, Grandpop or cousin to be wheeled, dead and stiff, out of a Soho wanking booth on a gurney.

 

 

In the end, Meemaw was the last to die. They had assembled television crews and online feeds, just to confirm the passing of the final reanimated corpse, her eyes blind in their sockets, her clawed hands still attempting to knit at the air. The Mayor was in attendance, as were much of her family, and a crowd of hundreds of thousands in the stadium they had wheeled her into. She was weak, now.

“What about…”

“Save your strength, Grandma.”

“… Barry… w-White?”

“Yes Grandma,” they said. “Barry White died.”

“What… what are trans-fats?”

“Dammit, Grandma!”

“W-who…”

“Grandma, please.”

“Who is Blue Ivy Carter?”

“She is Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s baby, Gam-gam.”

“W-who… is… Be—yon—cé?”

With that, she died.

The Mayor went to make a speech (there was a podium and a microphone, so that the Mayor could make a speech). “Ahem,” he said. “Ahem.” Hastily, the Mayor’s aide came up and whispered in his ear.

“Oh, shoot,” said the Mayor. “Oh fuck. We forgot to ask them what death was like.”

 

 

 

*

SO WHAT NOW, HUH?

Well, you just read a story by me, Internet tough guy Joel Golby. Did you like it? Oh. Huh. Well— uh. There is no need to be mean.

If you did like it, any ‘retweets‘, or ‘Facebook shares’, or ‘Tumbles’, or just plain ol’ fashioned printing-it-out-at-the-library-and-conveniently-forgetting-all-about-its would be very much appreciated. If you would like to e-mail me then you can do that, yes: you can catch me on HEYNERD [at] JOELGOLBY [dot] co [dot] uk. Well: BYE.

—April 9th, 2012

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