I mean, sure, I don't smell so good, and I like a delicious, fresh brain just as much as Joe Zombie down the road, but I'm different.
What you've got to understand is that I'm an original, true-blue 2012 edition. Year Zero. Retro, baby. I didn't jump on the bandwagon like so many other zlobs.
That's what I tell the ladies, but frankly, I sometimes wonder why I bother. They hardly ever listen to me anyway. And isn't that just a sign of the times?
I haven't met a smoking hot zombie chick since the spring of '13. Things were different back then.
Let me tell you...
Anyhow, we had the humans penned in pretty tight, they weren't leaving anytime soon. They had some sharpshooter up on the roof, but hell, how many bullets did they have? We could wait.
"Hey sugar, how would you like to taste my grey matter?"
That was the first thing I said to her. Pretty basic, I know, but those were heady days. The basic stuff worked more often than you might think.
She smiled at me. There was something I couldn't place at first about her smile. It was special. Then her lip moved, and I realised it was a maggot. It was kind of cute.
Just then there was a crash as a group of humans decided to make a break for it out of some back door they didn't think we had covered. I was so into this chick, though, I didn't even look up.
"I'm Melaena," she told me.
"Pretty name," I replied. "What's it mean?"
The trend was to re-christen yourself with a zombie name back then. Shit, we were such idealists.
"Blood in the stool," she explained, and flashed me a sheepish grin. "I used to be a pre-med before..." she let the words hang, and gestured around at everything.
"That's beautiful," I told her. "I'm Rot."
I had to shout because one of the humans had just fallen over and they were screaming pretty loud. If I had wanted my share of the brains, I could have gone forward and tucked in. But suddenly I wasn't so hungry anymore. Melaena was enough for me.
"Listen," I said. "I know this great little bar. It's real special, kind of invite-only. You wanna blow this joint?"
She shrugged, and one of her shoulders flopped slickly in the joint.
Jesus, this chick was driving me wild!
"Sure," she told me, and that was that.
* * *
Gore's is a pretty special place, like I said. Or rather, it was pretty special. Some chain's taken it over now, and there's nothing much to write home about anymore. But back in the spring of '13, Gore's was the place to be.
It used to be some top-secret research facility, back in the day. Matter of fact, the rumour at the time was that it was where the whole zombie thing started. I mean, everyone knows who did it now, of course, and why. But back then, the whole thing seemed magical, and everyone had a theory.
Anyhow, Gore's was on the bottom floor of this humungous research building. It was about ten stories underground, and it was big. Difficult to bust open, but Gore managed it, and man, it was just like opening up a gourmet box of extra special chocolates.
That place was just chock-full of the nerdiest, smartest science geeks you can imagine. The brains on those researchers! Gore used to have them chained up behind the bar, thirty or forty of them. He had a selection of hammers and whisks, and he made cocktails to order, real classy.
"So, you come here often?" Melaena asked me, lurching seductively into a seat next to me.
I shrugged, trying to play it nonchalant.
"Now and again," I told her. "What would you like?"
Gore showed up just then. He was a class act himself, skin as grey as gutter snow, and real sharp teeth.
"If I can recommend," he said smoothly. "We have a very fine visiting languages professor freshly harvested from our, ah, vineyards. The frontal cortex is, unfortunately, nearly all gone, but he does have a rather splendidly developed left tempero-parietal region, not to mention an especially juicy basal ganglia."
"Sounds good," said Melaena firmly. "And don't stint on the CSF, huh?"
"I wouldn't even dream of it," said Gore smoothly. "And for sir?"
"The usual," I told him.
Gore raised an eyebrow. Half of it fell off.
"Sir intends to settle his bill soon, I presume?" his voice was polite, but I knew better than to underestimate him.
"What? I'm not still good from those teachers I brought in last week?" I asked, not that I needed him to tell me. You got credit in Gore's by bringing in a supply of the finer brains. A zlob could get by on estate agents and bureaucrats, but shit, that wasn't real living. People came to Gore's for that little something extra. And that meant Gore was always on the look out for dealers who could keep his cellars stocked.
"Sir, please," Gore's voice was like honey being pored over an iron rod. "There were only three of them. And they taught at the community college."
I sighed. This zlob was going to ruin my play if I wasn't careful. I waved a hand at him airily.
"Sure, sure, I'll bring you something good. Just get us our drinks and get out of our hair, huh?"
Gore bustled off to get the drinks. In the background there was the sound of a buzz-saw starting up.
When I turned back to Melaena, she was staring at me with those beautiful green eyes of her. Not that they were that far along, but decomposition comes to us all in time.
"You go hunting for this place?" she asked breathlessly. "Wow, what a cool job!"
I spread my arms, trying to look humble.
"What can I say?" I moved closer. "I like to make a difference to society. I want to do something that matters with my death."
From behind the bar there was a deep crunching sound, and what was left of the languages professor suddenly started singing something urgent in Armenian.
She nodded, looking serious.
"I don't suppose..." she started hesitantly, then stopped, shy.
"Well, I don't want to be forward," she went on, "but I'd love to come with you one time."
I couldn't believe it! The day was just getting better and better!
I shrugged, trying to play it cool.
"Word is, there's a wild pack of computer programmers that have a camp just North of the city," I told her. "I was thinking of making a trip out there later this evening as it happens. If you'd care to accompany me, you'd be most welcome."
Just then, Gore turned up with our drinks.
Melaena took a slurp of hers and looked at me with delight.
"That's incredible!" she exclaimed. "Man, I can't believe I've been chowing down on car salesmen when there's good shit like this in the world!'
Gore looked happy.
"We aim to please," he said.
"Որ ճանապարհը դեպի ոսկե զուգարանից իմ ընկերը," said the visiting languages professor, but only very softly.
* * *
By the time Melaena and I got out of the city, there was a lot of sexual tension between us. It was in the little things, like the way she laughed and tossed her hair back, or the way she swayed her hips so hard they dislocated with sexy little popping noises. To tell you the truth, I was tempted to ask her back to my place right then and there, and to hell with Gore and this hunt. But then, I had a feeling that half the reason she was hot for me was this mission of ours, and I didn't want to ruin that. I decided I would just have to wait.
The sun was starting to go down and we were well out of the city when we started to see signs of our prey. It was subtle, but I knew what to look for.
"See that?" I pointed at a flash of grey half-hidden under a bush.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The outer covering to a 1982 Commodore 64, complete with attached tape deck and dot matrix printer," I told her. "They're so close, I can almost smell them."
We didn't have much further to go. Before long, a little string of smoke was visible, rising up against the muddy red of sunset. If only the other zlobs had a tenth of my imagination, then these nerds with their juicy brains would have been history by now. As it was, the country was rich for the pickings if you only knew where to look.
"Remember, we need them alive," I told Melaena. "So here's how we're gonna do this. You wait here in this bottleneck, and I'll circle round and flush them down to you."
"Then what do I do?"
"You lay hidden and the bushes and bite their ankles off as they come past."
The plan was simple enough, and it should have worked like a dream.
I climbed up through the bushes, then came in close. They were lit up by their fire, and they couldn't see me at all. Jesus, they were chumps. I mean, they might have had big brains, but they were not wired up for practical thinking. They hadn't even posted sentries.
There were five of them, four guys with bad hair and skin, and one chick who must have weighed two hundred pounds and was clearly their leader.
"Argh!" I shouted, and came stumbling at them out of the darkness. That was when things began to go wrong. I'd played this routine a dozen times before - usually I had a net or a pit or something waiting instead of Melaena, but still, basically it was the same plan - and it had never failed before.
Every other time, I only had to give a groan and a lurch, and those puny little critters would be high tailing it out of there as fast as their delicious little legs could carry them.
This time, things were different.
"Oh dear, not another one," said one of the men, sounding bored. "Come on Ben, it's your turn."
"Mine?" said the one evidently called Ben. "But it was my turn last week! It must be Ralph's turn today."
"Fine, it's Ralph's turn," said the first man, not even looking up from the fire.
This left me feeling rather shaken, I can tell you.
"Um...Urgh?" I tried again, feeling as if I'd lost my momentum.
"Yes, yes, we heard," said Ben absently. "We're all very terrified. Oh dear, a zombie. Gosh. And so on."
This really wasn't going according to plan. I decided that I would just have to take a bite out of one of them, show them who was boss. I lurched forward as fast as I could, and heard something snap in my back. It felt lovely.
The woman, I decided. Get the leader out of the way, and surely the rest would fold.
I rushed towards her, and she rose in front of me like a great delicious fleshy snack.
Then something strange happened. I was just reaching out for her, just about to grab her and reel her in towards my sharp teeth...and suddenly I was stopping. My nose was twitching. My hand was frozen in mid-snatch.
Something smelt delicious. I mean really delicious. I mean it was so amazingly, stomach rumblingly, mouth wateringly delicious that the smell just bypassed my thought processes and latched straight onto my muscles. That's the only way I can explain it. I just couldn't help myself.
My head swung round the to right, towards where the man known as Ralph was holding something up. It was difficult to see in the darkness, but it looked like it was a bowl filled with dog food. It glistened in the flickering light of the fire. It was the source of the delicious smell.
"Here good zombiezombie," crooned Ralph. "Does zombie want some delicious fresh brains?"
I had to admit, zombie did.
Oh well, I thought as the last threads of my self-control disintegrated, I'll just have a taste, then get on with the business of capturing these puny humans.
I fell on the bowl like I hadn't eaten in a year. It made all the other trash I'd shoved down my throat since the Big Change seem like offal. Even Gore's shit seemed like cheap rubbish by comparison.
"Aw, he's sweet," said Ralph, patting me absently on the head. "Can we keep him?"
"No," said the woman firmly. "You always want to keep them. Why do you always want to keep them?"
I finished the last of whatever had been in the bowl and licked my lips. It had been delicious, but now things had gone quite far enough. They seemed like decent sorts for humans, and I felt kind of bad about it, but we had to face facts. I was simply higher up the food chain than them.
"Thanks for the food," I told them, standing up. "And look, this is nothing personal. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to bite off your ankles and drag you back to the city now. It's kind of my job," I added, feeling like a bit of a Judas.
"You see?" exclaimed Ralph, completely ignoring me, and turning to the woman. "He's just adorable! Doesn't he make you laugh?"
To my horror, I realised that Ralph was right. All the humans standing around the fire were either smiling at me or outright laughing. That made my blood boil. Enough was enough.
"Fine," I said. "Have it your way."
I lunged forward and bit Ralph's nose off.
Except I didn't.
That's what I meant to do. I sent the message to my muscles, I began to move forward...
"Stay," commanded Ralph.
"Bad zombie," said the woman. "Don't you know it's nasty to bite people's noses off?"
As soon as she said it, it seemed...true to me, somehow. I mean, deep down I knew it was the most natural thing in the world to bite a guy's nose off. But on the surface, what she said sounded absolutely right. I couldn't escape the feeling. It was like her words were crushing me.
"It's sad, actually," said Ralph. "He doesn't have any idea, does he?"
"Have any idea of what?" I asked. "I'm sorry about your nose, by the way."
"About what happened to you," said the woman. "About what happened to the world. About what made you the way you are."
I managed to draw myself up at that. Back then, we were such idealists, like I said.
"Sure I do," I said, trying to sound scornful. "There's been an uprising. Your day is over. All the little wars, all the little petty corruptions, all the human mistakes...they're all gone, they've all been washed away. It's time for your species to move over. You can call it revolution or evolution, but that doesn't matter. The point is things have changed, and your time is done."
"That's impressive, actually," said Ralph, one eyebrow raised. "It managed to justify the whole thing without resorting to God once. Usually, God's the first thing they cling to."
The woman shrugged.
"You think we should tell him the truth?" she asked.
I couldn't stand the way they were talking over me, so I decided to try and bite Ralph's nose off again. It still didn't work.
"How about it, zomb?" asked Ralph. "You want to be enlightened? You think you can handle the truth?"
"There's nothing you can tell me that'll convince me I'm not talking to an inferior species," I replied. "Now would you mind just leaning over and putting your nose into my mouth?"
I had to admit it, I was feeling kind of desperate by now.
The woman laughed.
"Nothing we can do to tell you?" she repeated. "Fair enough. How about something we can feed you? Or maybe something we've already fed you? That speaks for itself, really."
I licked my lips. An icy tingling feeling was beginning to form at the base of my spine. At first I thought it was just a fractured vertebra beginning to fill up with pus, but deep down I knew I was wrong. Deep down, I knew that feeling was dread.
"Go on then," I said brashly. "Do your worst."
And they did.
They just opened their mouths and explained everything to me.
And right then and there, on a hill a few miles outside the city, surrounded by computer nerds, right then and there was where I lost my illusions. That was when the world changed for me. After that, the heady days were over.
I sloped off back down the hill.
"You think we should have told him?" I heard Ralph asking the others as I left.
"It'll be for the best," the woman replied. "If I was him, I'd want to know."
* * *
Melaena wasn't impressed when I came back alone. She wanted to know what had happened, what had changed, but I didn't have the heart to tell her. I said I'd made a mistake, that those chumps were real stupid, not fit for Gore's at all. She listened, and I even managed to talking her into going to grab a few city hall employees - I always ate trash when I was feeling down - and for a while I thought that things would be OK.
But afterwards, sitting next to each other by the bodies, we both knew something was wrong.
"What's the matter?" she wanted to know. "Was it me?"
"You were perfect," I told her quickly. "The way you cracked that skull, the little slurping noise...You're a real classy girl, it's just..."
"Just what?" she asked. "Was it too fast for you? I'm sorry, I was just so hungry. We can go slower next time."
"No, it's not that," I could hear the frustration in my voice. "It's just...well, I ate a lot at Gore's earlier. I must have been more full than I thought."
"You shouldn't feel bad about what happened, you know," she told me, putting a beautiful, slimy hand on my shoulder. "It's very common. You'd be surprised how many zlobs can't finish a whole brain these days."
She smiled at me desperately, and I tried to smile back.
How could I tell her the truth? How could I tell her that after what the humans had fed me, after what they had told me, that I would never be satisfied with human brains again?
We went our separate ways soon after that. We told each other we'd meet up again, but we both knew that was a lie.
I never saw her again; a few months later, I heard she'd left for Paris. Good luck to her. I hear a zlob can do real good for herself in the Old World.
Not long after that, some big corporation took over Gore's. I'm sure you've heard of them. I guess we all have now. When that happened, the last thread of my doubt snapped, and I knew the heady, wild days were over.
* * *
So that was the story of the last smoking hot zombie chick I met, and how I completely failed to score with her. To tell you the truth, it took me a while to get my mojo back after I had that truth-bomb dropped on me by those computer nerds in the woods.
Like I say, things are different now. No-one's an idealist anymore. I mean, some zlobs pretend they still believe we're the result of a government experiment or an extraterrestrial plague. But we know the truth. Deep down we all know.
It all made such perfect sense. As soon as you heard it, you just knew it was true.
And when the big chain eateries started opening up again, was there really any doubt?
Turns out we were the result of a secret experiment, all right, but it wasn't the government that was running it. Turns out it was just the marketing department of a rather famous fast food chain.
You remember the rumours you used to hear about what went in to burgers back in the day? All the cheap cast off bits of meat, the bits that were no good for steaks, or even for sausages. The bones, the eyes, the little stringy bits of gristle.
And the brains.
All those cow brains, millions and millions and millions of them.
They would just have been thrown away, otherwise. That would have been no good. They have to squeeze the last ounce of profit out of the operation, don't they?
That was why they commissioned the virus.
It was top secret, of course, and it was supposed to be selective, very subtle.
It would just worm its way into the taste centres of the human brain, flip a little switch, and suddenly cow brain wouldn't taste so bad, after all.
Turns out genetic engineering is a bit more tricky than that.
Turns out that it's not so easy to do something quite that specific, and certainly not without side effects.
One aspect was completely successful, however. Once we had been infected with the virus, we became completely submissive to whoever it was that fed us the brains.
But hell, I don't mind.
After all, what have I got to complain about? I do alright. Got myself this nice little eatery, where I serve old-style dishes for other old-style zombs, like me.
Even got myself a girl. She's not smoking hot like Melaena - actually, she's a vegetarian - but what can I say? She sneaks bean burgers into the Brain Jamboree when she thinks I'm not looking, but company's company.
I keep my own little collection of smart-looking humans right up there in cages above the counter, and a list of cocktails, just like Gore did. I even still have the visiting language professor, what's left of him. I'm saving him for a real special occasion.
Everyone looks the other way when the delivery van comes with the cow parts, but hell, what does it hurt to pretend?
I was there at the beginning, back when the movement seemed real, back when being a zombie meant something.
Does it matter if it turned out we were wrong?