Symmetrical, ominous escalators in an empty mall.

An Acquired Taste

This story was written in response to the following prompt on r/WritingPrompts:

Zombie apocalypse time baby! So what’s the issue? Well you are a zombie and even sometimes you are kind of aware of that fact.

If I ignore the blood that had sprayed up the face when his head was cut from his body, and just look at his eyes, I’d guess this person is at the end of a long day.

But your long days are over, friend. Just a head now, you might not even reawaken as a zombie. Deep, eternal sleep for you.

I was not so lucky.

A void churns in me, compelling me to crack this grotesque nut on the tile and eat its contents. I hear a gurgling groan and think it’s coming from another zombie, but they’ve all moved further into the mall. I’m alone, sitting on the edge of the fountain surrounded by corpses in various degrees of wholeness. My stomach clenches. My grip on the head tightens.

Is there a word for simultaneous revulsion and hunger? I’m careful not to touch the slippery neck wound, and the ears and hair are sticky on my hands. Becoming a zombie doesn’t, as is commonly assumed, deaden sensory awareness.

But my attackers made such a mess of my nose and its inner workings that I can no longer smell nor taste anything. Does this make my innate desire to eat brains more palatable? Of course not. Who wants to eat something with the texture of a human brain?

Well, the answer is apparently: many of my cohorts. Some of them relish it. They scoop the stuff into their mouths with their broken hands, or pick at bits with exposed finger bones like chopsticks.

I assume their sense of taste is intact. Maybe it’s delicious.

Our “zombie groupthink,” as I term it, lets me hear the thoughts of others nearby, and I’ve noticed that when it comes to children’s brains there seems to be a universal initial disgust at the idea, followed by a line of reasoning that decides the child in question was probably the type to break things in stores or scream in airplanes, and therefore deserving of its fate.

Following this logic, police, politicians, and military personnel—corruptible authority figures of any kind, really—would make for Dionysian feasts.

None of my own interpersonal conflicts would drive me to do such a thing, not even the provost who denied my tenure and flippantly urged me to “try again next year.” Neither of us knew that in the meantime I would be granted a more macabre sort of tenure.

But I won’t seek her out to eat her brain.

Was this humankind’s destiny from the beginning? What was the point of striving, recording our triumphs, and filling our minds with knowledge only to have them gobbled up?

The edge of my vision glitters.

If the food court is empty, I could try to scavenge a slice of pizza or some chow mein—though chow mein might feel too “brainy”—or maybe some cookies or a pretzel.

I don’t know to which body this head belonged, so I find one without and carefully set the head down next to it. As if offended by my decision, the body jerks to life, struggles to its feet, and runs away.

I leave the head there bodiless.

Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him not at all.

*

I search the map for the food court.

I’d never visited this mall until today. I was first attacked by mechanics in the auto shop—they used a tool to remove my nose before I got away—and I ran across the street to the vast expanse of the mall parking lot, hoping to lose them in the rows of parked cars. But they were very fast. That is one thing movies eventually got right: as long as the necessary muscles are intact, zombies are strong and fast. The pain of their wounds only spurs them on.

Fingers clutched at my shirt all the way to the mall entrance, where the automatic door didn’t open in time and the thing behind me grabbed my wounded face and took a bite from my shoulder. I wrestled it off and entered the doors, dodged through awestruck shoppers and found refuge through an exit door into a dead-end concrete hallway.

Later, I emerged frightened, confused, and still in great pain. The mall was a chaos of shrieks, growls, and anatomy. I stepped carefully and hid when I could, but any zombies who saw me were uninterested, and then I realized why.

*

The food court is a mess, and deathly quiet.

I sit at a table of abandoned food, the first I see that’s still mostly clean. Before I get the burger into my mouth, my stomach pushes back.

But this is meat! Does it not qualify?

My children, zombies or not, would have no problem with this burger and fries. Oh, the children… And Cassandra. So far away, all visiting her mother for the weekend. I hope they are safe.

Perhaps after I’ve eaten I can try to call them, to warn them. I can explain my state and convince Cassandra that she needn’t worry, that I’m not a threat to them. Things don’t have to change. And we’ve no need for money now; the problem of my tenure is solved.

With fresh optimism I bite into the burger, and immediately push forth a spray of bright green bile.

I toss the burger to the floor. The fries are ruined as well.

A body in the seat next to me has its cranium cracked open, but somehow the brain is untouched. It sits in the skull like a Jell-O mold. I take a spoon from a cup of soupy ice cream on the next table, and I scoop. Pretend it’s ice cream. Or Jell-O. Or Cassandra’s favorite, panna cotta with raspberry coulis.

With my eyes closed, I can almost taste it. My stomach groans with satisfaction.

Nothing has to change. If my family accepts, I can ensure their safety. A little nibble here, a little nibble there, and we can stay together.

Panna cotta for everyone.


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