Young Zombies in Love (part 1) by Kyle Garret from Best New Writing 2014
“Unnamed Adaptation of ‘Unrequited’” lacked romance.
Karen had never worked with zombies before. She’d never even considered them. She watched as many movies as she could, from Romero’s originals and all the remakes, to the various off shoots that pretended to be something other than zombie movies, but were just that. She watched the B-movies and the summer blockbusters, the serious takes and the comedic ones.
“I don’t really understand the mythology,” she said to Greg. He’d been home for two weeks now, no longer at the local psychiatric facility, no longer under “suicide watch.”
“What’s to understand?” he said. “The dead come back to life.”
“Well, yeah,” she said, “but why? I mean, it’s implied that radiation from a comet caused it, but that’s just pushing the suspension of disbelief too far.”
“Walking dead you can understand, but radiation from a comet is too much?”
“Of course it is,” said Karen. “The comet is a story in and of itself. Besides, the biblical allusions in all of these movies are pretty overt, so the comet angle seems unnecessary.”
“I guess,” said Greg.
“And is it a disease? One that’s spread through bites? And if that’s the case, what does that have to do with radiation from a comet? And how did the first zombies show up if they weren’t bitten?”
“Yeah, a lot of questions.”
“I’m actually surprised that something so vague would have such a following,” said Karen. “Although I guess that’s the appeal, like open source software.”
“I don’t know,” said Greg.
There was a time, when they were dating and even early in their marriage, when Greg would have jumped all over a conversation about zombies. He would have challenged every single point Karen made, answered all of her questions as best he could and goaded her into a debate so intense that it would nearly turn into a full blown argument. But that time seemed long past.
Karen had brought Greg back, but she wasn’t sure that she should have.
“Anything new?” said Greg. The fact that he’d taken such an interest in her new job was a positive sign, one that she should have found hope in, but that she nonetheless found bothersome.
“Not really,” said Karen. She was brushing him off. She didn’t want to, but it was her first instinct these days and she hated that. “I’m considering the zombies as characters.”
“Romantic characters?” said Greg with a smile.
“Right,” she said, “taking Bubba to the next level.”
“You’d definitely change the demographic appeal of the movie.”
“I have to think the necrophiliacs are going to a zombie movie regardless.”
“I like it,” he said. “’Young Zombies in Love’ has a nice ring to it.”
Karen laughed, not so much because she actually found Greg’s idea funny, but because she was taken aback by the fact that he just made a joke.
“I’ll run that by the studio,” she said, smiling.
“It has franchise written all over it,” said Greg as he started heading back downstairs. “I know what I’m talking about. I know my zombies and I know my romance.”
Karen plays with her hair when she writes. She strokes it in long, loving motions, as if it were a cat on her lap. Sometimes she twirls it with her finger, like someone pantomiming that she should get to the point. Periodically, she will run her palm over the ends of it like it’s a painter’s brush and she’s trying to remove excess paint.
If she were to hazard a guess, she probably spends a third of her time at the computer playing with her hair and another third surfing the internet. She is always amazed when she actually completes something.
Karen was determined. She loved “Unrequited” and refused to let the movie version exorcize its soul.
There was a place for love, she thought, even here. But she was having trouble picturing it.
Greg’s uncle had filled a void left by his father, a man made void with a specific shape. But when his uncle died, Greg realized that that void had never really been filled, and that his uncle had simply been a distraction, a distraction which now left a hole of its own. It wasn’t the holes that drove Greg to suicide, as much as the knowledge that those holes could never be filled.
Greg took time off work to fly back home for the funeral. That time off kept extending longer and longer until he was given an ultimatum: quit, come back, or be fired. He quit, a decision he made without talking to Karen.
Two weeks later, Karen was holding his head in the bath tub, trying to get him to throw up as she explained the situation to a 911 operator named Vanessa.
“Wait,” she said to herself. “Young Zombies in Love” was ridiculous, of course, except that perhaps it wasn’t.
Karen made a few notes on her legal pad, then flipped through her battered copy of the script. She had something. She had what she thought could be the fix she’d been looking for. She just had to figure out how to work it in and how many scenes she would have to change because of it. She also had to make the changes seem as natural as possible.
Only in Hollywood would a solution have to be shoe horned in and then made to look like it wasn’t.
“It’s great,” said Greg as he tossed the script on to the couch next to Karen. He did not seem pleased.
“You didn’t like it,” she said.
“No, actually, I really did think it was great,” he said. “You found the best solution; you’ll keep everyone happy.”
“O-kay,” said Karen. She gave Greg a questioning look, but if he noticed he ignored her. He had said everything he wanted to say, and walked back upstairs.
Karen sat, torn by her desire for peace and quiet and her all too common desire to yell at Greg. She wished she could just ignore him, just sit on the couch and watch TV, satisfied in the knowledge that she had turned what was a questionable, underperforming script into demographic hippie, open to the embrace of everyone and anyone. But Karen couldn’t have unresolved storylines. She picked up the script because she felt like she should have a prop and walked up the stairs to their bedroom to have an argument she didn’t understand, yet knew by heart.
Karen didn’t think it was possible for her heart to pound faster, but it does when she sees her house in the distance. She didn’t think it was possible to run faster, but she does. She is running for Greg’s life and she plans on telling him that after she brings him back again.
She wonders how determined he is. He wouldn’t try sleeping pills again. Greg is smarter than that. They don’t own a gun. Maybe he would hang himself. Could she bring him back from that?
She bursts through the front door because they never lock it when one of them is home. They would be the first to die, she thinks, if zombies were real.
Greg is lying on the couch. He is sprawling and unconscious.
“Greg!” yells Karen with a force she didn’t think she had left in her lungs.
Greg opens his eyes. “Karen?”
Karen collapses on their hardwood floor, the front door still open.
“Jesus, Karen,” says Greg as he jumps off the couch and hurries to her side. He kneels down next to her, wraps his arms around her. “Are you okay?”
“I ran,” she says between large gasps of breath. “You didn’t answer, so I ran.”
“You ran from the store?”
“Nap,” he says quickly. “I turned everything off because I was actually tired enough to take a nap. That’s all.”
Karen starts to cry.
“Karen, it’s okay,” says Greg. “I’m not going to…I’m not there anymore. You don’t have to worry about that.”
Karen shakes her head “no.” She’s trying to calm herself, trying to catch her breath and calm herself so she can speak.
Greg holds her close, trying to transfer his calm, regular breath to her.
She takes a deep breath and her entire body shakes.
“I’m sorry,” she says as she exhales.
Greg gives her a reassuring smile. Karen smiles back. She swallows and pats his cheek with her hand, looks into his wide open eyes.
“I’m sorry I made you a zombie,” she says.
“You killed me with a baseball bat,” he says.
“You like baseball.”
“I like you,” he says.
She smiles, a feeble, determined smile at odds with her tears.
“I don’t know what to do, Greg.”
“Nothing,” he says, glancing towards the still open front door. “I don’t know. Part of me feels like this is where I was headed no matter what.”
Karen stops crying and sits up. “And now?”
“I’m tired, Karen,” he says, as if it’s been just below the surface this entire time. “I’m tired of always thinking about what I don’t have instead of thinking about what I do.”
“That would be me, right?” says Karen, her smile now dominating her tears.
“God, yes,” says Greg.
As they kiss, Karen breathes deeply through her nose and her body shakes. She slowly lets the air out, her body relaxing, Greg’s mouth still there, still connected to her. She begins to smile despite herself.
“Now,” says Greg, as their lips separate, “I think you should take a nap with me.”
“I like that idea,” says Karen.
They stand up. Karen shuts the front door. Hand in hand, they walk up the stairs to the bedroom. They lie down together, wrapping themselves around each other, like a couple that had just started dating and had been up all night talking. There is plenty of room in their king sized bed and Karen pulls Greg around her, wanting to disappear inside him.
They fall asleep as if pressed up in a corner with no where to go but each other.
In Karen’s script, the female lead sees her ex, now one of the walking dead, and dispatches him after an emotional good-bye. She is then free to fall in love with the male lead. Karen will leave this in her script and the studio will love it and she and Greg will walk hand in and hand down the red carpet at the movie’s premiere.
And even though the leads die at the end, the studio will green light a sequel and they will ask Karen to write it, because this is the world she lives in, and because in it, something that has died can be brought back to life.
And she will be the one to revive it.