Authors: James Marshall
The next day at work, I sit at my desk, pondering everything I learned about Guy Boy Man, a living boy who can see us, who recognizes us for what we are, and who wants to destroy us. He has the enthusiasm of youth. He has the wherewithal of wealth. I’m excited. I
him to destroy us. I want him to destroy
. I never thought someone else would do it. I’m so tired. I don’t have the energy to destroy myself. I don’t have the strength. Aside from Guy Boy Man, everything else I can think of saddens me. He’s a speck of gold in the dark cave of my life. Is he fool’s gold or the real thing? Does it matter? I’m a fool. I’ll take what I can get.
The thought of Fairy_26 saddens me.
Before I met Fairy_26 and heard the sermons of Guy Boy Man, I just did my job. I destroyed senselessly: mindlessly; religiously. I picked up my paycheque and went home.
Some days, after work, I went out marauding with my colleagues. We’d crash a mall or an airport. It was mindless entertainment and an excellent source of vitamin human. But now, I don’t know what to do. I just sit at my desk, trying to think.
Barry keeps stopping by, every chance he gets. For some reason, he’s watching out for me. He’s trying to encourage me. “You have to do
, Buck,” he whispers. “You haven’t done anything all morning. They’re going to start talking. Just break a pencil, for God’s sake.” I don’t know if my wife talked to Barry’s wife and Barry’s wife told him to do this or if Barry is doing it on his own. Barry looks around, making sure nobody is watching and he spills a can of tomato soup over my head. It’s like he genuinely cares instead of just going through the motions of caring, which is what zombies usually do.
Barry comes to my cubicle, hiding a Molotov cocktail. He looks around, confirming that what he’s about to do will go unobserved. Then he lights the Molotov cocktail, throws it against the wall and yells, “Good one, Buck! Wow! Look at that sucker go! You guys see what Buck did?” I don’t trust Barry. He’s good-looking. Maybe he’s having an affair with my wife. It wouldn’t surprise me. That’s the way my life is going. Marriage is a sacred institution. That’s why divorce is illegal. So my wife is contractually obligated to remain faithful to me until someone bashes out our brains but infidelity is pretty much typical zombie behaviour. It isn’t typical for me, though. I honour my commitments.
Maybe that’s my problem. The thought of ditching Chi and Francis Bacon and trying to start something with Fairy_26 hasn’t crossed my mind once. It’s crossed it so many times it’s just about covered up everything else. I honour my commitments, though. I keep telling myself that.
A legless zombie drags itself and the chewed off ends of its legs, which trail dreadlocks of meat and sinew, to my cubicle. The legless zombie informs me that the director of this branch wants to speak with me in the conference room. The legless zombie drags itself away. Uninterested, I watch it go.
Overhearing, Barry stumbles to my side. He gives me a pep talk as I struggle to my feet. “Lift your arms,” Barry says. I didn’t even notice my arms aren’t outstretched. I’ve been holding my arms out for so long, reaching out for peace, or love, or the capacity to understand anything and to warn me if I’m going to run into trouble, I can’t remember what it feels like not to do it. It feels like this. It feels good. I just stand there for a moment with my arms down. Then I lift them. I don’t do it because I want to. I do it because I don’t want to hear Barry tell me again. I’m so sick of people telling me what I already know and repeating themselves when I ignore their words.
Barry ambles beside me as I stagger toward the conference room. “This is it, Buck,” says Barry. “I know you’re not feeling like yourself but these are troubled times and you don’t want to wind up on the street. You have a wife and family to consider.” He thumps his arm against my back, encouragingly. “You have to dig deep, Buck. You have to pull out all the stops. It’s now or never. It’s do or remain undead. You have to put on a zombie
for this supervisor! Buck, you can do it! You
to do it!”
“Okay,” I say.
In the conference room, the director is sitting in a big chair with his arms outstretched in typical zombie fashion. He’s wearing a suit jacket but he’s not wearing a shirt. Numerous gunshot wounds are visible in his flabby torso: black holes in the grey space of his upper body. A knife gash splits the side of his face, exposing the rotten purple meat of him. The very top of his head is bald but filthy. The hair he has on the sides is short and brown but dark with congealed human blood and it’s styled chaotically with it. He’s missing his right shoe. His right sock remains and it remains bright white like it was freshly laundered. It’s such a shocking breach of zombie etiquette it almost sparkles and glows.
As soon as I wobble into the conference room, I grab the mini-projector and throw it on the floor. It doesn’t break. I lurch over to it. I stomp my foot down on it, over and over, until I’m sure it’s wrecked. Then I overturn the conference room table. When I finally sit down, the director tells me, enthusiastically, “You really tore this place
“Uh huh,” I say, dispassionately, like I tear it up all the time.
“No, I’m serious,” says the director, seemingly impressed. “You wrecked it.”
“I hate what I do,” I say.
“And that,” he says, pointing a finger at me. “You always know the wrong thing to say.”
“I’m not a team player,” I say, shrugging. “I don’t know how many times I can say it. I hate working with others. If I could get rid of all you jerks and do this crap myself, I would, believe me, but I need you losers to mess up the stuff I don’t have time to get to personally. I believe in slowing things down. Lowering productivity. You know what our problem is?” Stiff necked, I twist in my chair to look at the director, sweeping my outstretched arms through the air. “Efficiency. We’re too efficient. It’s bad for the economy. You know why? We can’t hire more workers. More workers equals paying out more in salary. Paying out more in salary means a smaller bottom line. A smaller bottom line is good for America. Why? The more jobs we create, the more ancillary jobs get created. The zombies with new jobs can afford to buy the stuff we don’t make to break for themselves and they can afford to pay income taxes instead of just being a drain on zombie society.”
“You’re really on the ball, Buck,” says the director, shaking his head with his glazed white eyes wide, apparently in awe.
“I have suggestions, okay?” I try to crash my hand down on a table that isn’t there. “I have ideas. On how to fix this place so it causes even
damage. This place operates too much like a well-oiled machine. We need to throw a little sand in the oil. We need to create
. You know why? Because problems are opportunities for solutions. If there’s a problem, we can start a committee to look into it. The committee will assemble, gather evidence, compile a report, and give us a presentation. Then we’ll understand the nature of the problem. We’ll throw money at it. We’ll hire experts in various fields. We’ll actually hire experts to stand out in farmers’ fields. They’ll accomplish very little out there but experts need employment, too. We’ll shuttle the data out to them. That’s good for the shipping industry, which is really suffering in this high-speed information age. The experts will examine the data slowly, painstakingly, wandering around in farmers’ fields. While they’re doing that, we’ll hire a bunch of ethnic zombies who’ll work for cheap to actually
the hard work of separating the sand from the oil in the well-oiled machine. When the well-oiled machine is operating at maximum efficiency, which is bad, we’ll throw a wrench in the works and start all over. That’s how it goes. You know that. That’s why you’re the director of this branch.”
The director nods, mindlessly. “Buck, we want to offer you a promotion.”
“I don’t want it,” I say. “I really hate it here.”
“You don’t need to sell yourself anymore, Buck,” says the director. “We’re already buyers. Okay? We’re buyers of you.”
“This is terrible news,” I mutter.
“It’s all right, Buck,” says the director. “You can cut it out now. I’m depressed, too.”
Is this a trick? A trap? I don’t want to walk into something. I don’t want to fall into anything. I’ve lost my desire to survive but the instinct is in every undead cell of me. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re depressed. I’m depressed. The whole upper management of this place is depressed. What, you think regular zombies operate this place? They would’ve run it into the ground a long time ago. No. Depressed zombies are in charge.” As if to prove it, he drops his arms on his legs. “We keep things devolving at a certain pace. It used to be a great job but I’m afraid you’re coming on at a rather uncertain time. If we were having this conversation a few months ago, I would’ve said, ‘Buck, here’s the deal. We have a board of directors. They don’t do anything. Nothing at all. For this non-service, they don’t earn an absurd amount of money but they get it. They employ people like you and me to do their jobs for them. We oversee ourselves. In return, they expect us to receive an absurd amount of money, too. In fact, they expect us to demand
money than they don’t earn because they’re not doing anything and they assume, wrongly, we are. Don’t worry that this will be difficult. It won’t. Far from it. It’ll be a lot easier than what you’ve been doing until now. However, like I said, you’ll make a lot more money in exchange for the lessening of your workload. It doesn’t make sense but it makes sense if you don’t expect it to make sense. The more money you demand, the more valuable the board will assume you are. So demand a lot.’ That’s what I would’ve said a few months ago. These days though.” The director shakes his head. “Nobody knows
is going on. I’m glad you’re joining us, Buck, but when I learned you were joining our ranks, I actually made a couple of calls because I couldn’t believe we were bringing in somebody new. We’ve been making a big show of tightening our belts. It seems we’re making an exception in your case.” The director points at the ceiling. “Word came from on high.”
“How’d you know I’m depressed?” I ask. “I thought medical records are supposed to be private.”
“Would it surprise you to learn your wife told a few of her friends?”
“Okay, Buck.” The director tries to stand. His rolling chair rolls away from him. With a small earthquake I feel under my feet, he crashes to the floor. Out of habit, his arms stretch straight up toward the ceiling. He curses. He rolls over and starts getting up. “God, I hate myself,” he mutters during the process. “All right, Buck. Let’s go. I’ll show you to your new offices. Don’t worry about your personal effects. I’ll have someone clear out your desk and bring everything up for you.”
“I don’t have anything I want to keep,” I say.
“Really? Not even a blood-splattered shattered-glass picture of your wife and kids?”
Two hours after I settle into my new offices, the director rushes to see me, looking terrified. It takes a lot to terrify a zombie so I’m instantly alarmed. My offices are so tidy: no human body parts anywhere. There isn’t even any blood. There’s a disinfectant smell: chemicals scented like lemon. I keep thinking: supernatural creatures have been here; fixing, cleaning, organizing. Now the supervisor is here, destroying my ease.
“What is it?” I ask, awkwardly trying, and failing, repeatedly, to get up from my luxurious chair.
He ambles over, carrying a piece of paper. He drops it on my desk. It’s an artist’s representation of Fairy_26. It’s a very good likeness. I hate it. I want to tear it to pieces. She’s so beautiful. I despise the thought of other zombies seeing her, admiring her, passing her around, in painting form, destroying her with their stupidity. If I could feel anything other than emotion, it’d make me sick. I’d feel hot, prickly. I’d turn to the side. I, a wretch, would retch. But I couldn’t vomit. I haven’t eaten for days. I never got around to the catatonic girl. Nothing came up.
The director stares at me, gauging my reaction. Then he turns away, grabs a chair for himself, pulls it closer to my desk, and sits down.
“This is a problem, Buck,” he says, tapping the work of art.
I can’t think of Fairy_26 as a problem. She’s a solution. She’s the answer to the question of why there are questions. If it was death before, it’s she for whom my arms reach out now. Not her body. I can’t bear the idea of exposing her to me any more than she has been already. But I love her. I know this now. Looking at the artist’s representation, I know I love her. I love her more than I love my wife because my relationship with Fairy_26 isn’t real. It’s a fantasy. I could never be with her. She deserves so much better than me, a zombie. Besides, I’m contractually obligated to remain faithful to my wife until someone bashes out our brains. And I don’t know if anyone is good enough for Fairy_26. I love her so much. I actually want to help her to search for him, her, it, whatever or whoever it, she, or he is: the person, being, or thing who or that will make her happy. Can anyone make someone else happy? Can anything? Is this what Guy Boy Man means? I’ve given up trying to be happy and now I want to make someone else happy, someone who might never be. Is it all a trick to keep us going? Working? Is it all pointless? “How is this a problem?” I ask.
, Buck,” says the director, panicked, gesturing at the painting. “They know about
“Who does? How?”
I’m not sure exactly what happens. I get the impression the director wants to tower over me, dramatically, but his legs fail him so instead he just falls forward out of his chair, hitting his head on the edge of my desk. He gets up. He starts ambling around my offices, seemingly disoriented. What’s the matter? Is it the collection of antique clocks on the shelves? Is it the historic maps showing the world with different borders? Is it a concussion accompanied by memory loss? “This is crazy,” he says, finally. “Everything is falling apart.”
“But that’s good, right?” I don’t know why I want to be optimistic all of a sudden. The director’s fear has spread to me. I’m more afraid than miserable now. I suppose if I had time to think about it, I’d wonder if there’s much of a difference. I might suspect that if I were afraid for long enough, I’d become miserable and if I were miserable for long enough, I’d become afraid of that which I’m capable of doing: to stop it; to stop it. The strain. “We’re zombies, right? We like chaos. The more disorderly, the better.”
“Sure, we like chaos. Look.” The director grabs a golden telescope pointed out the floor-to-ceiling windows. He turns it to the side and lifts it and its stand over his head. He stumbles away from the windows, toward the wall opposite. Then he hurls the telescope and its stand. “I’m throwing something against the wall and, what do you know, it makes a hole and I think that’s terrific but that’s not the way things work.”
“Of course it is.” Why am I arguing? Why do I want to cling to the world I loathe? Why am I scared of mayhem unravelling? “Destruction is key,” I insist. “That’s the zombie code. Nobody understands why we live by it, but everybody benefits from it. Destruction leads to reconstruction. Wrecking and rebuilding the same things, over and over, leads to innovation: new and better ways of performing necessary tasks. Using your example: Somebody makes the telescope you threw. You bought it, broke it, and now you’re going to buy a new one. It’s good for the economy. Additionally, people will be hired to repair or replace what’s been damaged. By punching a hole in the wall and, in the process, ruining the telescope, you created jobs. The unemployment rate dropped. The good news will be reflected in the stock market. Investors will be rewarded. Furthermore, the newly employed will need to buy tools and materials. Whoever makes those tools and materials will see an increase in sales. They’ll hire more workers to keep up with demand. The new workers will have disposable income to invest or spend. Whether they invest it or spend it, it’s good for the economy. And we put money into research and development every time we destroy something. People will either make it so the telescope you throw either doesn’t create a hole in the wall, it doesn’t break when you throw it, or both. People will develop ways to more quickly and more effectively patch any future holes caused by the telescopes you throw or anything else for that matter. People will ultimately render themselves completely unnecessary and there will be no jobs at all because things will run so smoothly and then the future will be destroyed because it will all be pointless and that’s what we want, right?”
“Buck, Buck, Buck,” sighs the director. He taps his finger against his temple. “They’re in our heads. Our
. We only use
of our brains, right? Who uses the rest?
do. They control us. They show us what we see. They tell us what we hear. They make us do their dirty work for them. We’re powerless. They let us think we’re in control.”
“Who does?” I gasp.
“That,” he says, pointing at me, like I’d got to the matter of the heart, “is the right question to ask.”
I think of zombie computers: powerless computers that do what other computers tell them to do: spread the virus. The strain; the strain. “Who’s using our brains?” I cry.
“Albinos!” exclaims the director.