by Gary Fincke
The makeup woman said, ‘We have tons of different shirts and blouses for all twelve of you. Every time you’re in a shot, you’ll wear something different. By the time we’re done with you, there will seem to be something like twelve-squared zombies in the building.’
‘We’ll do some group shots first,’ the director said. ‘In the halls. In the lab. Let’s get you all acting like zombies before we do the feeding scenes.’ For the rest of the day, Rick felt powerful in the makeup. Huge, in fact, but nothing was filmed except establishing shots. There was a hassle with lighting. Complications with the two police cars that had been promised for an exterior scene. The young woman who, it turned out, was scripted to survive, had an asthma attack in the dust-filled janitor’s closet where she would hide during the first wave of zombie attacks.
‘How’s my zombie doing today?’ Rick’s wife said.
‘A Hazardous Waste zombie. A chemical company illegally dumps near a cemetery. The movie is eco-conscious.’
‘I bet it is. Is the make-up person good? Do you look dead?’
‘I look really awful,’ he said. ‘Like I was smashed with the edge of a shovel.’
‘That’s the way every zombie looks. Like they were murdered and buried by their killers.’
‘Think of it as being dead for a living.’
‘I think of it as way low budget,’ she said. ‘I think of you as a more-or-less unpaid intern.’
‘Credits are credits. I need to lengthen my list.’
‘I’ve been seeing the feeding scenes in my head,’ the director said. ‘You know – extended close-ups, special props.’ When he held up what was unmistakably a heart, there were a few gasps, a smattering of laughs, and one, barely audible ‘Jesus Christ.’
‘Don’t worry,’ the director said. ‘It’s not from a morgue. It’s a lamb’s heart.’ He pointed with his heart-filled hand at the woman standing closest to him. ‘Sandy, I want you to be the zombie who slobbers all over this.’
Sandy nodded, her eyes glued to the heart. ‘You,’ the director went on, nodding at Rick, ‘you’re going to be our entrails-eating zombie.’
Rick gave smiling a try, but the heart seemed like a way better deal. ‘We’re only going to be showing two different zombies eating in close-up,’ the director said. ‘We think you’ll be the ones who are really convincing with all the gore.’ Rick raised one hand to his chest in a way that made the director laugh. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘The guts are on ice. We won’t let them spoil.’
Rick watched the actors who played Julie and George as they received instructions from the director. They were the last couple to die, the ones the audience was expected to feel sorry for. George would be caught first, giving himself up so Julie and Samantha could escape, but Julie would stop and stare and scream while the zombies tore open George’s chest so Sandy could eat his heart. Julie, after that misbegotten hesitation, would be screaming as Rick lunged at her.
Tomorrow, he told his wife, was his close-up. ‘Is the girl pretty?’ she said. ‘Is that stomach of hers you’re going to rip open flat?’
When Rick arrived on set, Sandy told him the makeup woman had called in sick. Without her makeup, she looked plain and pasty, like she spent every day watching television and waiting for the phone to ring. Like she dreamed of ripping a man’s heart out while she binged on ice cream.
Rick hovered over Sandy as she raised the lamb’s heart, showering the realistic-looking blood all over him before she tried to jam the heart into her mouth like a peach while Julie, still alive for now, screamed.
Rick stared at Julie, who began, at last, to run. Who tripped and fell. Who hid herself in a room with no other exits but the one she’d locked behind her. He lurched through the easily caved-in door. She cowered in a corner under a counter cluttered with an assortment of beakers. While she floundered for the camera, Rick had time to imagine his wife’s surprise, how she’d have to admit the next minute was worth a week of rehearsals and a week on set for minimum wage.
He dragged himself toward her, using the hitch step he’d learned for his high school graduation. Stride with the left, slide up the right. Stride with the left, slide up the right. Instead of getting to her feet and trying to get past him, Julie began doing her scream again. Didn’t she know her screaming was what attracted zombies? It was a sure sign you were alive. Zombies didn’t eat each other. Zombies didn’t speak.
Julie was on her feet at last, but it was too late. His hands were on her shoulders. Her blouse fell open enough to show cleavage, but her breasts, the director had explained, were to stay untouched. Rick shielded her from the camera. As she kicked and struggled, he tore open her prosthetic stomach. He freed the sheep guts as she fell to the floor.
He knelt beside her, lifting those chilly intestines slick with realistic blood to his mouth. The camera was directly on him now, and he took his time. His wife couldn’t miss seeing him lick the intestines up and down. He stuffed one end of that gore into his mouth, the rest of it swinging, before his fellow zombies arrived to join the feeding, even Sandy, who had quickly changed into a spotless blouse after leaving her heart behind in that other blood-spattered room.
Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His story “The Corridors of Longing” appears in Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-editor of the anthology series Best Microfiction.