I observed her fragile corpse upon the cemetery seat, looking to and fro like a lost pigeon. She blinked her watery green eyes at me just once as I approached, then let them oggle wide.
"Madam," said I, "have you any need of assistance?"
A soft moan echoed back across the dying rhododendrons.
"Are you tired? Lost?" A quick glance at her spittle-slathered chops. "Hungry?"
She nodded vigorously and a bit of froth flew loose to stick upon a nearby leaf. I watched as it slowly slid its way to the very tip and plopped with a light "thwack" upon the freshly upturned soil.
"Er, there ought to be a dead squirrel or two out back by the fence. I imagine Mortimer left something, he's always forgetting what he's doing and scampering off, you know how those crazy groundskeepers can be . . ."
She made a sound a bit like the braying of a hound.
"Perhaps you don't. Anyhow, come along."
When dealing with the dead, it's best to be polite. I suppose I would be anyhow, though, I can't help it. It's simply how my mother raised me, always telling me, "Percy . . . PERCY! . . . Love, you gots to be the best you can, so the coppers won't fetch you up and *hic* your brothers and sisters will be cared for because *hic hic* there's less BEFFUDLEMENT and all for me to deal with that way . . ."
Mumsy liked the cooking sherry, she did, but she was a good enough sort in her own way. Never beat me with a strap, not once. Certainly wasn't her fault that I fell in with that bloodsucking lot in my university days and they turned out to be actual vampires. How was I to know? I assumed they were role-playing, just as when the rest of us played Dungeons & Dragons in the attic of Billy's house on rainy Sundays. It was quite the shock to wake up one morning in a rather cramped coffin (bless Mum for not completely skimping on the burial and having my legs cut off at the knees to fit into a more economical box) and then plow a path through the damp earth to find out where in the world they'd stuck my breathless body.
I wouldn't say that vampires are more elegant than other people, either. There's no lovely moment of awakening, no "birth into the darkness" or whatever you'd like to call it. The sort of thing they show in movies like Interview with the Vampire, where the gents are all homoerotically handsome and ladies are fanged grace personified, that's just silly. No, I'm pretty much the same pasty, scrawny fellow that I always was sometimes I think I've even gained color by inadvertently joining the undead, what with the diet of pure blood and remembering to eat more often.
But the pretty little dead lady, ah yes, well, I should get back to her. By this point, she was looking pretty ravenous, snapping her jaws at the twigs of bare September trees with an occasional morose grunt. Still, all in all, she was much better behaved than most people when they emerge disheveled and frostbitten from the grave. You should see how some of those socialites devolve when they reach zombiehood; I've watched the prime minister's wife face-plant straight into the earth in front of her and swallow earthworms by the gallons, murmuring something indistinct about brains the entire time. Poor dears.
I don't really know why they come back like that either. Perhaps it's something about the soil here, a certain seepage from a nearby power plant or some such. All I know is, when a man or woman (or probably even a dog, though I haven't quite tested that one out yet) gets shoveled into a nice hole in certain parts of this place, in a couple of days they come traipsing back out, incoherent and hungry, and I've taken it upon myself to usher them into the un-life. It keeps them occupied anyhow, the little tasks I set them and the alternative sources of nourishment I offer, and no one gets hurt in the outside world. Almost no one, anyway. And that, as they say, is good enough for government work.
And me? Oh well, I suppose now and then I pine for a bit of a bloodsucking mate or two, but I'm happy enough. Lots of distractions to keep me busy, so I really haven't the time to mope. And, well . . .
The little dead lady, anyhow you know, the person I'm supposed to be focusing on, if I weren't such an ADD narrator was already merrily plumping out her undead flesh on a discarded coney. Quite the luck I was having with this one, what with Mortimer leaving bunny rabbits about instead of his usual squirrels. (To be perfectly honest, I never can figure out why he kills the wee creatures. Best as I can imagine, he intends to eat them but gets flustered and runs off and never remembers that they're there, a bit like a squirrel himself. He seems somewhat on the senile and schizophrenic side, on the whole, so there are a number of reasons he might have for failing to return before I've fed the zombies.)
And I was lucky, too, that she was such a well-behaved one. And very very pretty. I blushed watching her eat, her painted lips masticating fur and bunny and bone, emitting the occasional smack of satisfaction. And when she was done, I could have sworn she groaned something close to a "thank you."
After the first feeding, a zombie-gent or zombie-lady is pretty well satiated for a while. They're rather simple folk, after all, easily pleased and just as easily flustered, so it's not at all difficult to balance the two emotions if you've been at it for a number of years. I neatly led my zombie miss back to her grave and tucked her into the soil for the day, even going so far as to kiss her good morning on the forehead. She snuggled in the grave like a little girl being buried in a down comforter.
I spent a rather restless day trying to sleep myself, but it was quite impossible. That zombiess was haunting my mind in a way the other ghouls never had before. She was just so astoundingly polite, well-composed, perfect (especially for someone whose cognitive faculties were a bit under the weather). And oh my, she reminded me so profoundly of how minimal my contact with lovely girls had been prior to my vamping experience with the boys at university.
The next night I awoke at the crack of dusk and went about the graves collecting flowers left by mourning relatives. Not the most chivalrous thing to do perhaps, but it was all I could think of in a pinch. (In the future, I promised myself, I would ramble out into the real world and go to a proper florist's shop.)
She was just emerging from her patch of earth when the last flickering parcel of light left the sky. On wavering toes, my phantom heart beating out an imaginary tarantella, I handed her my hodge-podge bouquet, comprised of marigolds from one grave and roses from another. I never did claim to be much of a flower arranger.
She held forth one well-preserved little zombie hand (the nails still burnished with an autumn leaf polish) and took my gift. And then promptly stuffed it into her maw.
I stared for a moment as she slowly chewed her way down the marigold stalks and ultimately decided, well, at least she seemed to like it.
Fortunately, she did not appear to crave any further sustenance that night, and so we were able to pleasantly stroll, arm in arm, through the gardens of the mausoleum. I told her my name, ("Hi, I'm Percy!"), and she told me hers ("Mmphgarrumph!"), but I didn't quite catch it, so I decided to call her Mary. And that was how we spent the night.
I'll admit, I did try to steal a more intimate kiss as I was walking her back to her grave, but she turned bashfully aside, shielding half her face in a shroud of curly blonde hair as she feigned intense interest in the lawn instead. But who am I to say, she may have just been really intrigued by the grass at that particular moment. It's hard to tell with her sort. Oh, girls.
Night after night, I tended to my regular zombie-keeper duties then meandered off to visit Mary. We would amble about and chat for hours or, at least, I would chat and she would merrily grumble and now and then I'd fetch her Mortimer's leavings and hunt up some fresh rats or birds for myself. We had a falling out of sorts our second week together, but I suppose that's only to be expected, and we were having some dreadful communication issues, you know. Mary's got a pronounced enunciation problem, and do wish I could find her an undead speech therapist, but there aren't many of those about and he would probably have to be a vampire as well.
Which is thoroughly unfortunate, because I do wish to learn more about Mary's past. What was her mum like, and did she also enjoy cooking sherry? Had she ever had a boyfriend before? Was she a fan of Twilight and, if so, wasn't she delighted to learn that real vampires didn't resemble disco balls?
Still, we had a real breakthrough a couple of weeks ago. It was our monthaversary. (Yes, I hate the word too, but Mary perked up when I joked about it, so I adopted the term to please her. Upon reflection, however, she may just have a habit of responding to any word that vaguely resembles her name.)
As you might well suppose, our cemetery home gets a number of visitors toward the end of October, particularly at night. Boys and girls in witchy clothes slither in through the gaps of the outer fence, leaving a wake of discarded matches, torn black lace, half-eaten sandwiches, and used condoms. (Sometimes of the glow-in-the-dark variety. Zombies of a dimmer persuasion or a more party-oriented mindset, I'm not sure which will periodically try to wear those as hats or phosphorescent finger puppets. Which begs the question how many graveyard ghost photos are really just condom-wearing zombies?)
Mary and I were thinking of having a picnic for our monthaversary, anyway, when we stumbled across a pair of gothy little muppets (a boy in a black vest and a girl with long red hair) eating crackers and cheese on Old Lady Allastair's burial plaque. Now I'm usually quite a restrained fellow, sticking primarily to vermin and the smaller critters of the area, but well, they did seem so perfectly positioned there for such a special night.
I buried the bodies in the grave of an adventurous zombie who had wandered off some days ago and presumably either started the zombie apocalypse or been dispatched by some would-be monster hunter. All in all, it didn't seem too unkind to bury them there, because they'd be back in about three days anyway, and then they'd be together forever. That's pretty romantic, if you ask me.
(And just so you know, they did emerge around Day of the Dead and have taken up a rather cozy residence to the side of the mausoleum. They eat squirrels together every Wednesday.)
The best of it, though, was that Mary had her brains, which she'd been craving for a dreadful long time, and I had a nice pot of fresh blood to serve with my scavenged tea set. Just like Mum used to make it, more or less. (It was something of the same color, anyhow, what with the abundance of rust in her kettle.)
And that was when it happened. I was pouring Mary a nice cup of blood and instead of gulping it down instantaneously as she was wont to do when given anything to consume, she sipped it slowly, contemplatively, and then murmured, quite clearly, "Mmm, tea." And she looked me full in the face and smiled.
Which just goes to show what a civilizing force teatime can be.
So I'm planning on organizing a cup of tea now and then and I have a feeling, knowing Mary, that a glass of hot water or mud might do just as well to bring her round and I expect I'll get some sort of conversation out of her in the future. Sure, it may last only as long as a few sips and a licked saucer, but at least it's something.
And I did so miss having someone to drink tea with.