“There is no greater drug than relationships; there is no sweeter death than love.”
Love is horrible. It’s ruthless, messy, mind-altering, and raw. It takes no prisoners. It chews you up and spits you out and leaves you for dead. Love is, you could say, very much like a zombie.
In this haunting short story collection, anything is possible—a dying musician turns to tea for inspiration; a police sergeant struggles with a very unusual victim; a young wife is trapped in a house hiding unimaginable evil….
With “Hungry For You”, A.M. Harte explores the disturbing and delightful in an anthology that unearths the thin boundary between love and death.
The girls lined the street corners in tattered skirts and dusty high heels, midriffs showing, legs cocked jauntily to lure the passing man. Condoms choked the gutter and the sickly sweetness of rot was heavy in the air but still the girls stood there, silent, waiting, hungry.
When the zombie apocalypse began, Sergeant Retta hadn’t expected it to end like this. The stench, the decaying bodies, the shambling gait and inability to speak—that, she had expected. It was the zombies’ hunger for sins of the flesh rather than flesh itself which had come as a surprise.
The girls were pretty, in a half-dead way, their eyes dark and their skin pale. The uglies and the males had long since died of malnutrition. Those that remained were the elite: slim, flexible, with four limbs and an almost-complete set of fingers and toes. They were well-fed enough to have never progressed past Stage 1 of decay, and now—with their brothers and sisters long buried and the virus easily prevented—these girls lingered on the edges of the city, arms outstretched to welcome their next meal.
Retta eyed the girls with a mixture of revulsion and pity as she drove past. The girls stared back, not at her but at Detective Mortimer, their noses sensitive enough to smell his maleness from miles away. They tracked the car’s progress like sunflowers, faces upturned and yearning, all broken bones and gangrene smiles. But however much they strained forward, the thick chains around their ankles held them in place. These girls were going nowhere.
Retta forced herself to keep looking. These were the girls she had failed, the ones she hadn’t protected when it’d been her job to stand between them and the plague. It made bittersweet sense that now she was the only one watching out for them. The rest of the force didn’t care. Certainly Mort beside her had the surly expression of a post-tantrum child.
“You’re only killing them, you know,” he said, through mouthfuls of his burger. The baconator, it was called; just looking at it made Retta feel sick. Where other men compensated with sleek cars and large motorbikes, Mort used food. “A man sees us cruise by, he ain’t gonna stop for the zoobs. And with no business, these girls—” he paused to swallow, drew a line across his neck “—dead. Well, deader than they already are.”
“They never died,” she retorted, scowling, but he had a point. That the government turned a blind eye to zombie prostitution didn’t make it legal. Retta took a left at the next intersection and began heading back towards the inner city.
She was just on the edge of Dead District, idling at a red traffic light, when she noticed it. A closed door. Anywhere else the sight would have been commonplace—expected, even. But here where only zombies wandered, with no privacy nor home, a closed door was an anomaly. ZombieAid had even run a campaign to remove all doors from the area after several zombies were found trapped inside, starved to death.
“Green,” Mort grunted, balling up the wrapper of his burger and throwing it into the backseat.
It took Retta a moment to realise he was talking about the traffic light. She put her foot on the gas, then stopped and looked at the door again. It was probably nothing.
“Green,” Mort repeated, jabbing a finger against the window shield for emphasis.
Retta bit her lip, then parked on the hard shoulder. Before Mort had a chance to ask her what she was doing, she’d unbuckled her seat belt and gotten out the car. She looked at him over her shoulder. “I’m going to check something. It won’t take long.” He grumbled his protest, settling more firmly into his seat.
Retta closed the car door and scanned the perimeter, one hand on the gun strapped to her waist. At the end of the road was a solitary zombie, arms stretched out towards the car, the chain around her ankles pulled tight. The rest of the street was quiet, abandoned, no zombies in sight. Maybe that was why the door had been left closed, maybe ZombieAid had skipped this street in their campaign because it did not house the undead. Mort might have been satisfied with that explanation, but Retta was not the type to rely on assumptions.
She walked forward slowly. The garden was a forest of weeds, tendrils crawling over the stone walkway as Nature reclaimed her space. The house was battle-weary: the porch was slanted and the window panes were fringed with fractured glass, like dark mouthfuls of teeth. The paint was peeled and cracked. Yet the door was closed. Had the wind blown it shut? Her cop instincts told her it was something else.
The porch creaked heavily under her weight. Retta walked over to the front door and tested the handle. It turned easily: the door was in use, then. She put her shoulder against the door frame and pushed the door open with one hand. Silence. Retta peered around the frame, looked into the ruins of a hallway. On the walls were large square patches where pictures had once hung, the paint just that bit brighter. There was no furniture, just a scrap of cloth close to the door. Retta stepped inside and picked it up. It was a sock. A dusty one.
She was about to throw the sock back down on the floor when she noticed the logo on the underside of the sole. The cursive black script was familiar. Could it really—? Retta shook off the dust and studied the sock more closely. Yes, it was an original Caligula design, the most elite pheromone-masking clothes brand in existence. Wearing head-to-toe Caligula guaranteed your safety from hungry zombies, if you had the money for it. Of course, the drug lords were using the brand’s new technology for entirely different purposes.
Retta pocketed the sock, edged a little further into the house. No drafts, she noticed, yet despite the closed front door the air smelled fairly fresh. Another sign that the house was in frequent use. Was it a drug den? Maybe, but there was no point calling in the DK9 unit until she was sure.
She looked over her shoulder and beckoned Mort over. He took his time getting out of the car, moving sulkily, glancing over at the zombie at the end of the road with evident disdain. But when he was close enough to see her serious expression, he ditched the attitude and put a hand on his gun. He lifted an eyebrow. Retta put a finger against her lips, tilted her head towards the house. Together, they moved inside, alert for trouble.
The house must have belonged to a wealthy family before the apocalypse. The marble floor was well-polished, and the curved staircase on the left had a hand-carved banister. The banister was covered in a fine, even sheen of dust which had not been disturbed. Not upstairs, then. When Mort looked at the stairs quizzically, Retta shook her head and indicated further down the hall to a curved archway on the right.
They kept their backs to the wall as they walked further down the hallway. Retta held up a hand when they reached the archway, lined up her shoulder with the edge of the wall. She nodded at Mort and then leaned slowly to the right to evaluate the situation.
The archway opened onto a large, rectangular room with floor-to-ceiling windows along one wall and real hardwood flooring. The walls were painted a rich, earthy brown and on one side of the room was a red brick fireplace. There was no furniture save for a double bed in the very centre. Lying on that bed, tied up by his ankles and wrists, was a zombie.
Retta scoped the rest of the room but there was no one else there. She looked at the zombie again and hesitated. He would have caught her scent by now, yet he wasn’t trying to move towards her. Either he was tied down extremely tightly, or he was dead. She took a deep breath and walked into the room, feeling uneasy.
Mort followed her in. He cursed. “Dead?”
Retta holstered her gun and moved towards the bed. The zombie was naked, his body dark brown and leathery but lean and fit, and stiff—everywhere. She averted her eyes. “I can’t tell. He’s not moving.” A small, guilty part of her hoped he was. She had no desire to become a zombie’s dinner, however pleasurable the experience was supposed to be.
“Well I ain’t touching it.”
Retta sighed, moved closer to examine the dark green rope tying the zombie’s wrist to the bed frame. It was thin but sturdy, the kind of rope her boyfriend had used when he’d gone rock-climbing. The memory brought with it a twinge of grief, still sharp after all that time. Retta counted backwards from five and pushed the grief away. She had a job to do.
That was when she felt the curious prickling sensation of being watched. Retta lifted her gaze to find the zombie staring directly at her. She backed away from the bed, mouth dry. “You’re going to have to touch him. He’s alive and needs untying.”