Amber’s Story

SOMEONE speaks as they eat.

SOMEONE: My grandfather died when I was four. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I learned he was supposed to stay that way.

When I read the recent news story about the first natural death in over fifty years, I was skeptical too. Of course I was. This wasn’t the first story of it’s kind. It wasn’t even the first this year. Ever since the tragic 1968 pandemic, the world has latched on to any and every hope that maybe, just maybe the end is in sight – medications, genetic treatments, and, yes, stories like Amber Sawyer’s. And every year, we’ve been left disappointed.

The first such story that I could find in print is from 1973. Gloria Whitaker of Philadelphia claimed her thirty-year old sister, Dolores, passed away in her sleep. But unlike countless incidents of families – even entire apartment complexes and neighborhoods – devoured in their sleep during those first five years, Gloria awoke to a quiet house and her sister’s inanimate corpse still in bed. And according to the article, instead of running in terror, Gloria wept. But she wasn’t heartbroken about Dolores’ death, as they both had been with the passing and subsequent reanimation of their parents in ’71. No, she was overcome with joy at the thought that her sister might be the first of many to once more find rest after death.

Turns out, Dolores died from a ruptured aneurysm that mercifully damaged the part of the brain affected by Romero’s.

When Amber’s case started trending, I assumed the inevitable autopsy would show something similar – perhaps a head or brain injury she decided to sleep off instead of seeking medical attention. Perhaps drugs or alcohol were involved. This was a nineteen-year old college student, after all. In a world where the dead simply don’t stay that way, it’s not hard to feel a little bit immortal at that age.

But then… nothing.

Far as I know or can tell, Amber Sawyer is the first person to be medically declared dead of natural causes for the first time since 1968. There was nothing in her system. No aneurysm or head trauma. No defect. Nothing but a dead girl with a bad heart who stayed that way.

My mother is getting on in years now. She’s called me up every night since Amber’s story made its way to her local newspaper, sharing stories of a world where Amber’s death wasn’t news, only a fact of life. And like many others, she’s afraid of what will become of her when what should be the end comes, but doesn’t. She doesn’t want my father to keep her around in chains, like how her mother had kept her father, my grandfather, all those years ago. Every night she asks me to tell her that Amber’s story isn’t yet another news story that will come and go like all the rest, and every night I’m left unsure what to say.

When she asked me again last night, I replied with a question of my own: “Why did grandma keep grandpa around?”

And to her credit, she finally shared with me what grandma had said all those years ago: “God took him, but left the rest behind for me.”

I want to tell my mother that the world is a different place. That when she’s gone, she’ll stay that way. But I can’t. Because I’m unsure. Because I still have my doubts. Because I worry Amber’s story will be no different than Dolores’ or my grandfather’s. Because a not-so small part of me is scared of a world without her in it. Because in a world where the dead don’t stay that way, it can be that much harder to let go.

An uncomfortable silence. And then…

They continue with their meal without another word.

THE END

Terry, Please Shut Up

A living room. TERRY screams and bleeds out all over the carpeted floor as PAULENCE and JENNDA bicker.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Aside from the bloodthirsty, flesh-craving ghouls now eager to force their way into their home, it had been an otherwise boring Sunday night until just a few moments ago.

Jennda preoccupied herself for most of the day by arguing with strangers on the internet about the racist connotations of ordering a burrito platter from a burger joint owned by a sweet Korean couple.

Paulence, meanwhile, once more pleasured himself with a flaccid attempt at something resembling a novel, which mostly amounted to several social media posts about writing his novel rather than actually writing any of it.

But it wasn’t until they got around to arguing about what to order out for dinner that they finally noticed their neighbor, Terry, had broken into their home, barricaded their door, and taken to dying and bleeding profusely all over their carpet.

JENNDA: Terry! You know we just had the carpet cleaned last summer!”

TERRY: (coughs blood and viscera) Sorry. I forgot.

PAULENCE: I hope you plan on paying for another cleaning.

TERRY: Actually. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.

Jennda claps her feet and laughs.

JENNDA: You hear that? He wants to talk about it!

PAULENCE: I’m sorry, Terry. But you’re bleeding all over our carpet. I really hope you don’t think you can convince us to pay for your mess.

Terry waves what used to be his hand at this, blood splattering all over the place.

TERRY: I wouldn’t dream of it. No, I wanted to warn you about all the zombies.

Paulence looks out at the ZOMBIE HORDE looking in from the living room window.

PAULENCE: Is that what those are?

JENNDA: I thought it was the Mormons again.

TERRY: It’s zombies, I’m afraid.

JENNDA: How can this night get any worse?

TERRY: I think I’m dying.

PAULENCE: Don’t be stupid, you stupid, stupid man. You’re not dying.

TERRY: I’m not?

PAULENCE: Of course not!

TERRY: That’s a relief.

PAULENCE: No, you’re slowly turning into one of the undead.

TERRY: I think maybe I’d rather die, if it’s all the same to you.

JENNDA: All the same? (spits, then spits a second time on Terry) We respect the sanctity of life in this house, Terry.

PAULENCE: That’s right. We won’t kill you until you’re already good and dead.

TERRY: Undead.

JENNDA: For God’s sake, shuttup, Terry. (spits again)

TERRY: Sorry.

PAULENCE: You ought to be after suggesting such an awful thing. There’s no need for such needless suffering and violence.

TERRY: I’m suffering rather bad, to be honest.

PAULENCE: Perhaps. But have you even stopped to think about how much worse Jennda and I would feel if we were forced to help you suicide yourself?

TERRY: I’m sorry, guys. It won’t happen again, I swear.

PAULENCE: I should hope not.

Jennda notices she’s being bitten by a zombified MRS. CERVIX from across the hall.

JENNDA: Uh-oh.

PAULENCE: (annoyed grunt) I’ll go get the gun.

TERRY: Wait. Why does she get to be mercifully put down?

JENNDA: My body, my choice.

PAULENCE: First you bleed all over our carpets, and now you act like a misogynistic ass to my wife as she needlessly suffers a fate worse than death? You really are a selfish bastard, Terry.

JENNDA: No wonder your wife left you.

TERRY: She didn’t leave me – she was the one who bit me.

JENNDA: And where is she now?

TERRY: How should I know? She’s a zombie.

JENNDA: (scoffs) A woman liberates herself from an abusive, ignorant piece of shit like you, and the only thing you can be assed to do is start with the name-calling!

PAULENCE: (firm, but polite) I really think it’s time you left, Terry. (beat) Terry? Terry, are you listening to me?

Terry lies unresponsively dead on the floor.

JENNDA: I think he’s dead for the moment.

PAULENCE: Better go get the gun, then.