“Zombies,” Daryl said, skimming his butcher knife down the leather strop, “have outlasted the zeitgeist.”
Daryl was a squat block of a man, all hard angles and sharp edges. His boxy head set on his square shoulders without the benefit of a neck; his stocky legs led into rectangular feet without stopping for ankles. He was wearing an old Led Zeppelin t-shirt and shopworn jeans underneath a rough leather apron flecked with fossilized brown stains. His cropped, dingy amber hair was tucked up under a faded cowhide newsboy’s cap. He slid the big knife along the strop again, honing the edge.
Noah looked up with a start; the movement of the blade against the leather had mesmerized him for a moment. He was taller than his brother, and rounder; if it hadn’t been for the size difference, they could have pulled off a decent Bert and Ernie couple’s costume at a Halloween party. His own apron had once been white and frilly, but had faded to a dull grey with use and time. “I’m sorry?” he said. “Outlasted the what?”
“Zeitgeist,” Daryl said again. “Think about it. Most horror fads are a reflection of the pervasive fear of the times, yeah?” He tapped the tip of the knife against his fingers as he counted off examples. “The fifties were all about fear of the bomb, so you had monsters created or defeated by radiation. The seventies were about loss of the core family unit, so you had scary cults and demonic possession and supernatural influences corrupting the innocent. The nineties were about disease, so suddenly you could become a monster because you had sex with the wrong person.”
“Right, yeah,” Noah said amiably as he placed a heavy aluminum stockpot under the kitchen tap. He turned the lever to ‘cold.’ “And the one-two punch of rampant consumerism and immigration fears has led to a resurgence in zombies as the pop culture monster du jour, right? Can you pass the salt?”
Daryl handed him the tin of kosher salt from the pantry and said, with a smile as sharp as his blade creasing his face, “Exactly. So how ironic is it that the very same consumerism that zombies represent has kept them at the top of the pop culture food chain for so long?” He laid the butcher knife down carefully next to a clean, bleached, white plastic cutting board, then pulled a meat cleaver down from the row of hanging utensils above the sink. “Think about it. Most horror fads get about five years, seven tops. Zombies have been ‘in’ since…when did the Dawn of the Dead remake come out?”
Noah had set the stockpot, filled better than three-quarters of the way to the top with clear, crystalline water, on the back burner of the kitchen’s stove. Now he was sprinkling a large pinch of salt into the pot as tiny bubbles began to form on its bottom. “Ugh, mid-aughties? 2003, 2004? Somewhere in there,” he replied. “But you know that Australian movie Undead came out before that.”
“Yes, but Dawn was the one everybody saw,” Daryl said. “Don’t be a horror snob.”
Noah cracked a smile of his own, stirring the pot with an oversized wooden spoon in one hand and licking the last of the salt from his fingers. “Just sayin’, man.”
“Anyway,” Daryl sighed, “come ought-four or so everyone had zombie fever. And I mean everyone. Which is fine, except for that fact that it never went away. I was at the drug store the other day, you know what I saw? Zombie house shoes. Literally, house shoes that look like zombies are eating your feet. It’s ridiculous.”
Noah paused, looked over his shoulder. “Wait, did you go to town without me?”
Daryl sniffed. “Pop put me on reconnaissance this time. What’s it to you?”
Noah walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out a pile of carrots, squash, zucchini, and mushrooms. “Nothing. S’fine. Clear out, I need to chop something. And will you grab the noodles? Water’s about ready.”
Daryl went to the pantry again, pulled out a half-full sack of extra wide egg noodles, held closed by an old bread twist tie. “How much do you want to use?”
“Go ahead and dump all of it,” Noah said. “What we don’t eat tonight’ll be good for leftovers tomorrow.” After another pause, he said, “Okay, I get what you’re saying about commercialization, but I think you might be overstating things. Ghosts are coming back in a big way, right? The Conjurings made buckets of money. And how many sequels has Paranormal Activity had?” He grabbed a second butcher knife from the overhead rack and, with almost preternatural speed and surety, minced a carrot on the plastic cutting board.
“Hey!” Daryl shouted, as Noah reached for another carrot. “Use the wooden one for veggies. Plastic is for the meat dish.” Noah put his hands up, shoulders hunched, fingers splayed; thumb tucked around the handle of the knife to keep it from falling. “Picky,” he muttered before using the side of the blade to slide the minced carrot onto the second board.
“And of course,” Daryl continued, ignoring his brother’s grouse, “there’ve been other movie monsters over the last ten years. Sparkly vampires and hauntings and demon possession and all that. But what matters is penetration, you know?” Noah snorted so hard at that his knife slipped and very nearly sliced his finger. Daryl threw a half-hearted punch at his brother’s arm. “Market penetration. Get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway, none of those properties have had that big an impact on the consciousness of popular culture. And I think it’s funny that part of the reason for that is the exact same as why they became popular in the first place.”
“True,” Noah chuckled agreement. He finished the carrots and moved on to slicing mushrooms. “Hey, did you grab a wine for tonight?”
Daryl frowned. “Yeah, I know you wanted to get a chianti for this one, but I couldn’t find it. I picked up a pinot noir.”
Noah rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Eh, it’s fine,” he said, popping a slice of mushroom into his mouth. “Chianti was just for the joke of it. It’s not like we have fava beans, either. Oh, and did you pick up some bananas?”
“Yeah. Why did we need bananas, anyway? This is a barbecue.”
“I’m making a pudding. You know Dad gets snitty if he doesn’t get his dessert.” Noah grunted. “Hey, you know what I miss? Slashers.”
“Well, sure,” Daryl said. He pulled the spoon from the stockpot, quickly slurped a noodle from it, chewed thoughtfully. Then he pulled a pair of oven mitts from his apron pocket, turned the heat off the stove, and hauled the pot over to the sink, where a wire colander had been placed at the bottom. He began pouring the pot’s contents into the receptacle, paying close attention to assure none of the noodles were lost. “But slashers were so…of their time, I guess? So much of their charm is tied into practical effects and starving creativity. There’s an atmosphere to those flicks that can’t be reproduced, and honestly, I don’t think will ever be recaptured. Here, try this.” He held up a noodle between thumb and forefinger.
Noah grabbed it and popped it into his mouth, flicking his hand back and forth as though the noodle had stung him. “Personally, I would have pulled them about a minute before you did,” he said around the bite.
Daryl rolled his eyes. “That’s how I know they’re done. Your idea of al dente means there’s still a crunch to it.”
Noah chuckled again. “Want to oil up the pan before we initiate final prep?”
Daryl shook his head. “Nah, we’ve still got enough to do that we may end up scorching the oil before we get to it. Plenty of room in the icebox?”
Noah nodded. “Absolutely. I made sandwiches for the work crew yesterday.”
“You know, if you keep giving our meat to a bunch of construction workers, you’re going to get us caught.”
“What can they do? I’m union.” Noah grinned. “Grab your knife, I’ll get the bucket.”
In a few moments the brothers had gathered their tools and were heading out the kitchen’s back door to a small shed behind the house. Daryl pushed the door open, and Noah stepped into the weatherworn building their father had nicknamed The Slaughterhouse.
The room was about ten by fifteen, its floor covered in loose sheets of yellow plastic tarp. It smelled on alternate breaths of alcohol, antiseptic, and blushing death. The walls were bare, and nothing occupied the room but the table that Daryl and their Pop had built when he had been thirteen years old. It was made of polished oak, sanded fine and varnished to a high sheen. It was splattered and strewn in the same fossilized brown that coated Daryl’s leather apron, as though Jackson Pollack had take a trough of mud to it. The table top was tilted at close to a seventy-degree angle, supported by sturdy oaken legs and an iron crossbar. Strapped to the table with worn nylon belts, upside down and unconscious, was a young Filipino woman in a crisp, conservative white gown.
Her skin was creamy pale, almost as white as the dress that covered her slender, curving figure. Her eyes were almond-shaped, her lashes long and soft against her milky cheekbones, which were themselves beginning to show just a touch of scarlet. Her button nose looked delicate and demure above the gag that Daryl had secured against her mouth. Her throat pulsed sweetly with the oscillation of her heart, her insufflation. Her lengthy black hair flowed like a wave toward the ground, pooling against the tarp beneath her.
“Where…where did you find this one?” Noah breathed. His voice sounded dry, ragged; he licked his lips as he knelt down to get a better look at her face.
Daryl grinned. “She’s perfect, isn’t she? I found her at a farmer’s market, heading back in. I was tailing this pretty little blonde–pigtails, cheerleader outfit, real Final Girl material. But then I heard this, just like a resounding call, like a…I don’t know, a siren song, I guess. And I look up and see her,” he pointed at the fair woman with the point of his blade, “walking away from the market, all by herself. She was singing.” Daryl’s grin widened. “She was actually carrying a bushel of bananas. I figured that it was destiny.”
Noah stood up from his crouch, his knees popping. The time for admiration was over–now it was time for Man’s Work. “All right, brother,” he said. “You gonna try for the heart this time?”
“I was gonna stick with the throat, let her bleed out,” Daryl said, squatting down himself. Noah snorted. “What?”
“You’ve done throats like three times now,” Noah said. “What, are you afraid you’ll miss again?”
Daryl shot up. “You little twerp, that was one time–“
“Aw, come on, big brother, can’t you take a joke?” Noah laughed. “Do it however you like, so long as the meat isn’t spoiled.” He took a second long look at the woman’s face as his brother bent down once again.
“Okay,” Noah said, running a finger over his chin. “So if you could have any horror staple supplant the current zeitgeist. If you could have anything knock zombies off, King of the Mountain-style, what would you choose?”
Daryl shrugged and wiped his hands on his apron. “I dunno. I’ve always been partial to the ‘backwoods redneck fiends’-subgenre, y’know? But outside of Chainsaw and The Hills Have Eyes, that’s never really taken off.”
Noah sighed. “Yeah. I guess some people just don’t appreciate the classics.” He let his eyes slither over their dinner again and sighed. “You know, I’m starting to feel some J-Horror tonight. Maybe watch Ringu after we eat?”
Daryl glanced at him askance from his crouch. “Okay, come on, that’s a little racist.”
“Why? A guy can’t be inspired–” Noah began, only to be cut off by a soft, unnatural moan that suddenly permeated and reverberated through the enclosed space. As the sound died, a thick, cloying oder filled the brothers’ nostrils–a decadently sweet scent that abruptly withered to putridity. Noah clapped a hand to his face as Daryl began to rise. “…the hell…?” he started to ask, but was again silenced by another sound. This time, it was Daryl screaming.
Neither man had seen her move. She was fast, uncannily fast, the strap that had secured her arms to the table had become shredded rags between eye blinks. Her hand shot towards Daryl’s crotch as he tried to raise himself; with impossible speed and grace, she gripped, twisted, and tore his testicles free, then sliced upwards, bisecting his manhood with a stroke. Her other hand plunged deep into his stomach; her legs scissored out, forcing Daryl to the ground and flipping with burlesque grace so that she landed lightly on her feet, trailing his small intestine behind her. Noah stood, shocked into immobility, frozen by the grotesque ballet before him, his ears ringing with the sound of Daryl choking on his own blood and clotted shrieks. The woman…the thing they had thought was a woman, that they had though was dinner, was smiling at him, her lovely features now smeared with gore and ichor.
“You…you…” Noah was at a loss for words. Then he realized he still had the bucket in his grip. The heavy steel bucket that they used to collect the blood, to keep the place clean and store a useful thickener for the gravy afterward–he still had it, he could still use it, he could avenge his poor brother.
With a guttural roar, Noah lurched forward, swinging the bucket in a wide arc, aiming for the beast’s cute, pert little nose.
With an effortless poise, his intended victim pivoted on her bare right foot, caught the bucket with strength her form should never have possessed, snapped its handle in Noah’s grasp and shoved the container into his skull. His nose broke on impact, fragments of bone splintering into his brain. He collapsed as Daryl gagged a final time.
The Pontianak looked down at the pair, gnawing on the shorter one’s innards. “J-Horror is so two-thousand late, you guys,” she sighed. Then she sat down to enjoy her meal.
Derek Moreland has had short fiction published in Cease, Cows and has an academic composition in the collection The Ascendance of Harley Quinn, published b McFarland & Co., Inc. He also writes the comic Legends of Streaming, available at Facebook.com/streamingcomic, and his the co-host of the podcast “Blah Blah Comics Blah Blah Curse Words,” available on the Night Nerd network (as well as iTunes and Soundcloud). You can follow him on Twitter as @VoodooBen, if you are so inclined. He lives in Texas with an awesome dog and an infinitely more awesome spouse. He has a bad habit of picking out beard hair when nervous.