Friday, May 13, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: The Strange Case of East Parish

Most operate in a simple way. They shamble towards smell or sound, and they bite whatever moves. If it tastes like flesh, they keep biting. One time they broke into Westers’ pantry. The Westers are vegan, but the zombies ate every last ounce of their chicken-flavored tofu. Noise, smell, the taste of flesh, shambling slowly and biting whatever they found. Most were simple like that.

During the outbreak, parishioner Rev. Calvin was helping evacuate local elementary schools. He was on his third, Fleetwood Elementary, when a sallow, middle-aged woman bit him. He looked so scared, but held the woman away from the others until police could quarantine her. When the authorities nabbed her, he got himself as far away from the flock as he could. His parish thought he’d run into the woods and gotten eaten.

Two weeks later, with the outbreak mostly over, people returned to East Parish and began opening places back up. When they entered the church, the pair of officers heard scuffling somewhere. They stood still, and it stopped. They talked, and it started again.

The two traced it to the confessional booth. Something was pawing at the priest’s door. They asked for verbal confirmation to no reply. One lost a coin flip and the other covered him as he opened the door.

It was Rev. Calvin, shirt soiled, but collar intact. He sat in the booth, his flesh clearly rotten. After a moment he turned and reached for them, at which point the officers slammed the door shut.

The officers were Catholic and couldn’t bring themselves to shoot a priest in his own confessional. And how had he even gotten in there? What sort of zombie enters a room, then closes the door behind himself? They’d never even seen a zombie sit down before. They peeked through the sliding panel on the other side, and sure enough, he sat at peace unless they made noise.

They put a sign on his door, warning that a zombie was inside, then went back to dispatch.

They asked around. No one in the department had seen a zombie that used doors. The idea of zombies working doors scared all of them, and they considered going and re-killing Rev. Calvin just to keep him from teaching this trick to other biters.

But he wasn’t a biter. Upon the return, there were no signs of any others, live or dead, on the premises. Zombies were pack creatures, yet Rev. Calvin had apparently been alone in his church since the outbreak.

A lapsed deputy was stationed to watch him, specifically to see if Rev. Calvin would eventually open that door. If he did, she was to shoot.

Except for when the deputy checked her cell phone, the zombie never made a noise. If it rang, he scuffled. If she talked on it, he scuffled louder.

People do dumb things if left alone. For instance, unrelieved of duty by the end of the day, the deputy entered the confessional. Rev. Calvin scratched at the screen partition until she said it had been six years since her last confession. He scratched less and less as she imparted things she’d never say elsewhere. She got so carried away that at the end, confessing that she’d left somebody behind during the evacuation, that she shouldn’t have, had been too scared to think straight. She got so carried away that she asked the zombie what to do for penance.

She went quiet, realizing how absurd she was being.

After a moment of peace, Rev. Calvin scratched at the screen again. If it’s to be believed, he scratched twice, making the sign of the cross.

If it wasn’t to be believed, there were other things to believe. The dead had risen, and maybe they could work doors. A family of vegans claimed that zombies had broken into their pantry and ate all their chicken-flavored tofu. Zombieism was, supposedly, making the leap to other species, and had replaced mad cow disease as a major farm scare. That farm scares were even an issue after the dead had risen took some of its own believing. So if you didn’t believe a zombie providing absolution, there were other things to do.

Rev. Calvin got a lot of visitors. First other cops, curious. Then civilians. One-by-one, and when they came in groups, only one entered the church at a time. Any visitor could tell you, it was something you had to do alone. There’s something about loneliness. People and zombies alike are social creatures, and being alone makes them do bizarre things.

Rev. Calvin had been alone for almost two weeks before receiving his first undead confession. He still hasn’t figured out how to open up the door and get out. Nobody’s gotten rid of him, either. In a post-zombie world, he’s kind of an attraction.

This story originally appeared at Alienskin Magazine. May they rise from the grave.


  1. I don't usually read zombie stories, but this one really worked on a lot of levels. It really isn't a zombie story, but the story of a man who loved his god so much that even being undead wouldn't stop him.

    Well done.

  2. I liked this one too and, like Michael, I don't usually care for zombie stories. I like the good reverend's commitment. Funny we both had "men of the cloth," as it were, on our minds for our stories this week :-)

  3. For just a flash (no pun intended) I thought there was going to be a reference to the Rev being the 2nd coming. In a post-zombie era, anything's possible and he was just too good a zombie not to hold some significance. Great job, John, and as you know, I'm not big on zombies. Maybe I should branch out and delve into that world a little. I might learn something.

  4. I left a comment on your back up wordpress blog, but I wanted to repeat here that I found your story very original in many levels. I second Micheal's comment.

  5. Ahh, I remember this one from a long time ago! One of my favorites. The premise is creative but not as zany as many of your others, and it's written with such a clear voice. It feels very cinematic.

  6. Could this mean that Zombies are evolving?

    This line made me laugh out loud "but the zombies ate every last ounce of their chicken-flavored tofu"

    This was a fun story.

  7. My highlight is also that the zombies have gone vegan! Should have spotted that this was no ordinary zombie story. It's very intriguing, and unusual: parishoners confessing all, and more, to their zombified priest. Good read.

  8. A truly original and clever angle for a zombie story John, nice work.

  9. A nice twist to zombie-lore. I really liked the scratched cross in the confessional, a nice stroke indeed. Thank goodness I'm not catholic. I'm not sure how relieved I'd feel to be pardoned by a zombie after laying bare my soul.

  10. I also commented on the temporary WP site, but wanted to chime in here too. I love the zombie priest. I agree with the others that this was more than just a zombie story. And it has that classic Wiswell humor mixed in. Great job, John!

  11. Very poignant touch with the initial deputy who begins to confess. This makes the piece shine as much more than a zombie story. I like the commentary on people doing dumb things when left alone long enough.

  12. Was very slow in getting back to comments this weekend. Apologies - the Blogspot crisis and then personal issues intervened.

    Michael, Mari and Chuck, it's interesting to read comments about it not being just a zombie story. Are most zombie stories really so devoid of character and creativity? I was only trying to do something with the Rev. Though it's true, like in my Fantasy where I don't only write about magic swords, I am interested in the characters at the heart of the experience. Thank you all for the kind words.

    Gany/Catherine and Steve Green, thank you for the compliments.

    PJ, I'd originally intended to do a Possible Origins story, but couldn't get the audio to work on Wordpress. All's well now, though. You'll hear me next week.

    Susan, you never know. Was it all his discipline and religion? I can see the significance, as can the tourists.

    Max, I wondered how many people would remember this from the original publication. Glad it still have an affect.

    Helen, I will spoil that zombies are not evolving. That requires genetic generations and the passing on of traits. This guy is just a deviant, though why he deviates is up for some speculation...

    Scribbler, well, they ate vegan. Unless we have an endless supply of fleshy-tasting soy, they're probably going off the wagon tomorrow.

    Stephen Bullets, I chuckled at your unCatholic relief. I can join you on that. I'd likely be more unsettled than settled by the grace.

    Aidan, I've certainly done more dumb things when left alone than in company. In company I'm more likely to draw back. Alone, I'm more likely to climb a ladder on an icy deck.

  13. What a main character you created here! A zombie with far more of his humanity still intact that one would think possible.

    A terrific take on the genre.

  14. I hear what everyone is saying, here. Michael's comment is bang-on "a man who loved his god so much that even being undead wouldn't stop him." And Max's comment about the clarity of your writing. Also agreed with the words "poignant" and "human" in other comments. John, this was a really beautiful story. Touching, as well as funny (especially at the start - the chicken tofu was hilarious). Just lovely writing and an unforgettable main character. He really could star in a novel, you know. Kind of like a religious Hannibal Lecter.

  15. Zombies eating tofu and not being able to open doors! Good stuff.


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