Sunday, April 6, 2014

Getting Old Is Hell

{Note: a bit of a different post this time. This small glimpse of Hell is in response to a flash fiction challenge at Chuck Wendig's blog.}

Getting Old Is Hell

Richard couldn’t pinpoint the day the zombie took over his body.

It was more of a gradual descent: he would be fine, just unable to recall the name of the person who said hello to him at the supermarket. Moments of uncertainty in the midst of a task he’d done a thousand times. It seemed like after Millie died, these increased. Then one morning, staring in the mirror, feeling groggy, he’d seen the zombie start picking at his teeth with his finger. Richard started fully awake, and tried to still the movement, but the thing in control of his body just kept staring with vacant brown eyes, and obsessively scratching a bit of last night’s dinner from his crooked teeth. Stop that, Richard thought. The finger kept picking. He could hear it, faintly, a bare branch on an eave: skritch skritch. He tried to tear his gaze away, but he wasn’t in charge of his eyes anymore.

And then suddenly he was fine. He jerked his hand out of his mouth, gasping. He blinked, moved; his reflection paced him. Everything was fine.

Except a few days later it happened again: in the middle of driving, he felt frightened, lost. While he dithered over which turn to take, the zombie blithely drove on. The zombie turned on the car radio. “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Richard couldn’t make his hand switch it off again. That had been his and Millie’s song and he couldn’t bear to hear it now. The zombie nodded happily. “Yowza,” it said. Then it sang along, fumbling most of the words. Two towns past his exit, the zombie went away and Richard was just Richard again.

The zombie forgot to pick up milk. The zombie wandered the house in the middle of the night, and once stood in the street yelling at the dumpster until the cops showed up, leaving Richard unable to explain why he’d felt the need to disturb the entire neighborhood cursing at “Phil.” “I don’t know any Phil,” he told the officer, and looked longingly at his house. “Please, I just want to go back to bed.” The house belonged to a neighbor. The cops walked him to a door he didn’t recognize, until he saw framed photographs of himself and Millie inside.

He wasn’t happy about Jenny moving in. When she carefully explained it would save them both some money, the zombie snapped at her to get a job. She looked surprised. “But, Dad...I work downtown. At St Joe’s Hospital. Remember?”

“Of course,” Richard said. He knew that. Of course he did. He’d never been prouder than when she walked across that stage to receive her medical school diploma. “That was a wonderful day,” he said aloud. 

“Yowza,” the zombie agreed.

Jenny laughed. “You always used to say that! How funny.” She teased him with stories he could almost recall, stories about a little girl and her parents at the beach, hunting the sand for shells. They were good stories.

But Richard skulked about the house, peering around corners, never knowing when he would be imprisoned while that Other pottered off and left the soup burning on the stovetop, or carefully dressed in suit and tie and walked out to a job Richard retired from twenty years ago.

Over months, the balance shifted in the zombie’s favor. Jenny found them at the mall once. The zombie was arguing over an umbrella in a department store which he insisted he’d brought today because of the rain. Richard had never seen it before. He left it behind at Jenny’s coaxing, and meekly went with her outside, where the summer sun burned his bare head. Fixing dinner for them, he fell to weeping when Jenny insisted Mom wasn’t coming home tonight, that Mom was dead.

He knew that. Of course he did. But the zombie sobbed and had to be put to bed, where he became entranced by the sound of the ocean. Richard knew it was a false sound, from a little box. After awhile, the white-noise waves irritated him. The zombie let it drone all night, gazing raptly at the closed curtains.

The doctor prescribed Aricept. Fish oil. Then catheters; something about his bladder not emptying fully. Jenny had to help every time; the zombie couldn’t remember how to use the damned thing. Richard watched helplessly through his own eyes while the zombie hummed and swayed, frustrating Jenny’s attempt to insert the catheter. When she barked finally, “Dad, hold still!” he let loose. Urine sprayed the walls, the floor, his daughter. Richard keened, and strained to apologize. The zombie snapped.

“You stupid bitch look what you did! Clean this up! You’re fired!” he howled. Jenny gaped, then fled. The zombie resumed humming that damned song, that doo-wop. Richard struggled to regain control, piss soaking his pants. Jenny shut her door; he heard her crying softly. Then she spoke on the phone for a while in a low voice.

Richard forced all his will into his right hand. He picked up her shaving razor. His fingers shook, but he brought it slowly to his throat. He could thwart the zombie. He could save his daughter this hell. Save them all.

“Oh Jesus, Dad, what are you doing?”

“Shaving,” said the zombie. “When’s lunch?”

The nursing facility had a beautiful façade, wide shady arcades with well-ordered gardens. The zombie tottered beside Jenny, serenely greeting attendants in white shirts. The sunroom was all long thin windows and quiet babbling. Jenny listened to the litany of activities: music therapy, fingerpaints, sorting exercises. She nodded. She said goodbye and left. The orderlies strapped Richard’s body in a chair. Mustn’t wander off. Isn’t it nice here? A nurse offered him a drink of water, and a pill. The zombie took them.
The sunbeams stretched long across the wood floor. Someone creaked and giggled as she drifted by. It was all lovely. Richard begged, cried unheard, screamed inside his skull.

“Yowza,” said the zombie.


{Author's note: This is the worst hell I have personally witnessed.}

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