brains go great with aquavit
If Irina and James hadn't decided to request that all
the guests at their commitment ceremony wear black, a lot of things might
not have happened. Miss Pastels, the weird witch lady from the end of
town, might not have shown up and made loud announcements about the
inauspicious date the lovebirds had chosen. Marshall, the fireman Irina had dated for a split second two summers ago,
might not have decided to crash the ceremony wearing nothing but a black
thong. And Julian Rainville might not have
gotten all dizzy from excitement, dehydration, and copious amounts of rum
and had to go lie down for a minute.
Of these three
events, the first two might seem direr. But that would only be to people
who didn't know the major plot points of the story, like everybody except
your Friendly Author, or to people who didn't understand the full
significance of Julian's feeling faint, like everybody else who wasn't
She'd approached Irina about the dress code, fiddling with the straps
on her dress and saying, "Are you sure about this, Irina? I mean, black being bad luck and all..."
"I know, I
know." Irina ran her fingers under her
pink sash, regarding herself thoughtfully in the mirror. "But James
wanted black, and he said that he wants all the photos to be great and
everybody looks great in black, so, y'know --
it's a small thing to make him happy."
"Awww, that’s sweet," Poppy wrapped her arm
around her friend and looked pointedly at her bosom. "Small things make James
"Loser," Irina grinned. She pinched Poppy's ear and seemed
about to say something, but then they had to go down because James was calling,
and James, Dear Readers, was not to be ignored.
ready?" he asked as the other two came down the stairs. "The
park is full of Decorah's best and brightest, and we only want to keep
them waiting as long as we have to."
Irina shook her head, hopping
down the last couple of steps to loop an arm around James.
"Poppy," she said, "remind me why I moved to this
provincial little Iowan town again?"
lutefisk?" Poppy suggested brightly.
"mmmm." Irina wrinkled her nose and kissed James. "Must
There were little
pastries all over the food tables. The little pastries looked good, but
Poppy wasn't quite sure what was in any of them.
She'd taken one that she'd thought was apple, but when she'd bitten into
it she'd gotten a mouthful of marmalade. Who the hell put marmalade in
She picked up a
little pouch and squished the business end hopefully as Julian slid up
next to her, sipping on a rum-and-coke and staring around, glassy-eyed.
"Great party, huh?" Julian asked, licking his lips. "Irina and James looked so good, like, really good,
and everybody's been so cool, are you gonna eat
Poppy gave the
bundle one more considering prod, decided that she felt shrimp in it, and
held it up to Julian. "Knock yourself out."
Julian popped the
pastry in his mouth and continued surveying the crowd while Poppy
investigated a spinachy item. As you can
probably tell (if you've been to a lot of weddings and have been witness
to this kind of thing), Julian had been drinking quite a lot and eating
not so much, so even the shrimp pastry that Poppy had kindly given him
didn't do a lot to clear his head. To be honest, I would never chance
seafood at a buffet-type setting, but Julian is younger and more
foolhardy than I, so the thought of food poisoning didn't even cross his
"Man, Irina and James have a lotta good-lookin' friends,"
Julian observed, bumping his hip against Poppy and diverting her from
trying to remember whether or not she liked sundried
do," Poppy mumbled. She was thinking that maybe it was a bad idea to
have made that pact with Julian to come to the wedding stag, because where
to Poppy this might mean 'let's have fun eating as much as we can and
talking about people's outfits' to Julian it meant 'let's see if there
are any dating prospects among the guests'. And Julian was looking good,
super-good, and he was much much better
at that game than she was.
"Let's go find
me a drink," she suggested. Julian looked happy and started motoring
off in the direction of the bar, making little chicka-chicka-bow-bowm
If this were a
movie, there would be some sort of musical cue here -- something ominous,
maybe, like a thundercrack or bell toll. But
all there was, was Matthew Sweet's
"Girlfriend" playing from the deejay table, and Julian saw
Robert for the first time, standing there all tall and delicious in black
"Oh, heeeeeeeyyyy," Julian drawled, pulling up
short and making Poppy slam on the brakes behind him. "Hey. I don't
think we met. I'm Julian, I'm Irina and James's best friend."
"Congratulations," he said. Poppy felt Julian wiggle with delight
against her. In case my Dear Readers are getting the notion that Julian
is a cheap floozy, it should be noted here that Robert's voice was of
course deeply sexy and would make anybody's heart speed up. Julian
(being perhaps a little bit of a cheap floozy) was affected as
such, as Poppy might have conceded had she not been somewhat distracted
by being disgruntled.
that on," she said nastily, grabbing Julian's shoulders and
manhandling him on ahead.
"Byyyyyeeeee," Julian called backward. Poppy
didn't feel very bad when Julian bumped into the lady who ran the pet
store and got her vodka gimlet all over his shirt.
couple who has just committed to each other in some sort of legally
binding manner embarks on a honeymoon, in order to celebrate their new
tax breaks. However, Irina and James didn't do
any such thing. James said it was because they were saving to go on a
Mediterranean cruise later that year. Irina said
it was because they were "too fucking broke." Then James said
that Irina had an awfully big mouth, and Irina said something that I'm too delicate to repeat
here, and then they retired to their bedroom to make up.
Left to her own
devices, Poppy decided that it would be a good time to load the
I realize that this
seems odd, but you have to understand something about Poppy -- she
liked doing chores. Laundry, sweeping, even some gardening, and
especially doing dishes with green apple dish soap. She didn't like doing
these things because she secretly longed for domesticity, or anything;
rather, in a house of four very vocal people, wiping toothpaste off the
mirrors gave her some time alone to think. It was soothing.
Plus, the others
didn't make her pay for the utilities or much of the food, since she did all
the cleaning-up. It had been like that since college, when they'd first
leased the house together, and it was only now that Irina
and James had tied the knot that Poppy and Julian were thinking of moving
out. They couldn't just yet, because they were biding the time until
James landed Head Archivist at the college and started making more money,
but that was okay. They all got along well, and in any case, Irina's and James's relationship was nothing new.
So Poppy was
carefully putting coffee mugs in the dishwasher and daydreaming about
what kind of apartment she'd end up getting when Julian came waltzing
through the backdoor, rumpled and red-mouthed. "Hi hi," he drawled at Poppy, who shook her head
fun?" she asked. Julian careened over to the table and sat down,
then got up and poured himself a glass of juice and sat down again.
he grinned. "The Doctor -- that's Robert, Robert Caraway, the really
hot guy we met? He's a doctor -- the Doctor came and took care of me when
I was feeling sick from the heat."
massive amounts of rum," Poppy added, smiling, but Julian wasn't
"He got me to
lie down, and he gave me Gatorade to drink, and made me wet my
head," Julian said dreamily. "And then he kissed me."
you? Just like that?"
Julian nodded and
rubbed his cheek like he was a fairytale heroine. "Poppy," he said.
"Poppy, he's amazing. He's so smart, and hot, and he makes a ton of
money and wants to take me out clubbing and stuff --"
"-- and he has
a massive package."
So perhaps Julian
wasn't quite as much the fairytale heroine as Poppy thought. If any of
you Dear Readers has spent an embarrassingly large amount of time lurking
around in bookstores furtively thumbing through A.N. Roquelaure
books like the Author has, you will probably disagree, but Poppy hadn't
read those books and so didn't draw a parallel.
nice," she said instead, then slapped Julian's nose with the
dishtowel. "You're a slut."
Julian threw his
arms out across the table and put his head down, smiling big at Poppy.
"You loooooove me," he cooed,
unmistakable fondness in his voice. Poppy couldn't protest in good
conscience so instead she finished Julian's juice, gave him a smacking
kiss on the head, and wondered when she'd stopped being the sassy-sexy
best friend and become the good-hearted plain sister.
"So he's been
seeing Robert for how long now?"
"Jeez, Irina -- since your wedding. Don't you remember when
that was?" Poppy took the opportunity to stop by a tree, pressing
her hands against her knees and panting heavily. She didn't mind running
with Irina sometimes -- she liked running --
but Irina seemed to have lungs made of some
sort of particularly annoying polymer that was impervious to fatigue.
Running lightly in
place, Irina squinted. "Oh yeah," she
said. "So, about three weeks, then. They screwing
Poppy gave Irina a look and Irina laughed.
"Of course they are, what was I
thinking?" She trotted a circle around Poppy, who straightened and
they set off again.
him about it some time," Poppy huffed. "You'll get the full
story. You'll get it with clothed reenactments and really crappy diagrams."
Poppy shook her head as they coasted down a hill, heels hitting the dirt
path hard. "On second thought, don't ask. The Doctor's apparently a
whirlwind of sexual excitement and kinkiness. I bet he'd give you and James a
run for your money."
"oooh, don't be so
sure," Irina said coyly, then slowed to a
walk at the bottom of the hill, wiping sweat from her forehead. When she
talked again, his voice was slower and more serious. "Poppy --
Poppy, you don't think he's making Julian...I mean, Julian's good with
this, right? He's happy?"
happy," Poppy assured him. "Doesn't shut up about the dear
darling loaded hung-like-a-horse Doctor."
Irina nodded and waved hello to
James as they turned into their gate, seeming content with this answer.
For Poppy, though, a tiny little doubt had been planted; Irina's more emotional instincts were usually dead
should call Julian," she mused out loud to James when Irina had gone inside for a shower. James leaned on
his elbows against the porch railing and looked thoughtful.
over at Robert's, what -- half a week, now?" James asked. "You
might as well call. Even if he does get pissed at you for interrupting
his sex." He grinned, then sobered up quickly. "But be polite,
Poppy. Robert Caraway's a respected professional member of the community,
and a big contributor to the college, and --"
"I know, I
know. You don't want to step on any toes on your climb to the top."
Poppy made a face at James, but she didn't feel any malice. James had a
If this were a
movie, Dear Reader, you would at this point be treated to cut-scenes
accompanied by a voice-over from Poppy to show how each character earns
his living. I can't quite recreate that in a text format, but I shall do
JAMES worked at the
Luther College archives as an
Archive Research Assistant. Imagine him keeping a watchful eye on
students as they don thin cotton gloves to handle artifacts of the
Norwegian Lutheran Synod, or sitting at a long table in the archive
basement painstakingly cleaning off dirty old manuscripts.
IRINA worked at Agora Arts, selling things like
heartwood kazoos and Lucite choker necklaces to tourists, of whom there
were many. She was the best salesperson there, perhaps because she could
actually convince people that martini glasses with stems shaped like
human torsos make the perfect gift for anybody.
JULIAN worked at
Community Co-Op, where he spent a lot of time perfecting recipes for
things like Anasazi Chili and Black Bean
Chipotle Puree sandwiches and rolling his eyes at customers who
complained about the prices and called it a "communist grocery
POPPY had the best
job of all, because she managed Bookends
and Beans and loved every bit of it, from choosing the flavored
coffee of the day to trading recommendations and discussing books with
patrons to just sitting down on the leather sofa in front of the
The Head Archivist
position was one that James was thisclose
to getting, so they were doing their best not to jeopardize that in any
way. Which was generally easy enough, because James
tended to make his own good press and all they had to do was not mess
So Poppy was
prepared to be polite when she phoned Robert later, at a time when she
figured they'd be finishing up dinner. She said hello politely, asked for
Julian politely, and was just a bit put off when Robert said "call
back later" and hung up on her. Frowning, she hit redial and waited
impatiently until Robert picked up again.
"I wanna talk to Julian," Poppy said, cutting off
can't," Robert told her.
It's about his...his mom." It was kind of dirty to use the mom card,
but nothing would get Julian to the phone faster.
"I'll let him
know." Robert paused, then gave a low laugh
that made Poppy's hackles rise. "He's not convenient to the phone
listen, Poppy could swear he heard a breathy little moan in the
background that sounded like Julian. "Was that him?" she asked,
starting to get worried. "Was that--" she gripped the
mouthpiece end of the phone and yelled into it. "Joo!
She slammed down
the phone and James appeared as Poppy hurried into the hall to get her
jacket and keys. "What the hell happened?" James asked.
"Is Julian okay?"
wouldn't let me talk to him," Poppy fumed. "I'm gonna go over there my own damn self --"
Poppy," James started, and Poppy knew what he was going to say next.
"Poppy, are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, maybe they were
just fooling around -- Dr. Caraway's got the manners of a python, maybe
you're overreacting a little bit --"
hear it," Poppy snapped, yanking on her jacket. She'd just grabbed
her keychain when the phone rang again; James raised an eyebrow.
him," he said. "How about if I get on the other line this time
and listen in?"
Poppy figured he might as well -- James was one of those people who
tended to believe things more if he was directly involved. She picked up
the cordless and turned it on when James held the hallway phone to his
A rush of relief
suffused Poppy. She was kind of surprised to realize how much, but
swallowed that quickly and said, "Yeah, hey Joo.
Are you okay?"
--" there was a pause, and then Julian gasped, quickly. "I,
uh...I'm fine, Joe. Poppy. Uh. mmmmmm."
Although you can't
hear Julian yourselves, Dear Readers, I'm sure there's no doubt in your
minds as to what's going on at the other end of the phone. And it's just
as filthy as you're imagining it.
looked across the room for support. James was biting down on his lips,
eyes scrunched shut, his shoulders shaking as Julian went on, voice
uneven and hoarse. "I'll be...I'll be going away. With Rob -- with
the Doctor, uhhh, I, um --" his breath
caught and Poppy closed her eyes, feeling heat rise in her cheeks. "mmmm. Um, for a
yourself. I'll see you when you get back." Poppy turned off the
phone and thunked it a
few times against her forehead before looking at James, who had hung up
and was grinning wide at her. "Okay, so -- not exactly in
trouble," Poppy smiled weakly.
James shook his
head. "Not quite," he murmured, and held out his hand for
... ... ...
So life went on in
the manner to which it was accustomed, with every day passing much like
the one before. Irina and James, slightly
disappointed to find that being married really didn't change them at all,
began to dabble in little things to make committed life more interesting.
Poppy, not being
such a big fan of finding her friends having sex in the closet, spent a
lot of time doing activities that required her to be out of the house. She
volunteered to help at the museum, she learned how to carve nissae and posted the little wooden gnomes in
every window, she took up canoeing, she went for
walks. A lot of walks.
The good news was, she'd
lost some weight and those cargo pants that had gotten uncomfortable were
nice and loose again. The bad news was, she
In the four months
Julian had been gone, things hadn't gone crazy or anything -- his checks
for utilities and nominal rent had arrived like clockwork, neatly signed
and postmarked from places like Las Vegas, Baltimore, San Antonio. He'd
called Poppy once, early in the morning, and Poppy had been so sleepy she'd
barely understood anything Julian was saying. Eventually, Julian had
laughed, said, "love you, poodle," and hung up. That had been
As any Dear Readers
who have had mutual friends who are dating each other will know --
despite all assurances to the contrary, it's very hard to hang out with said
friends and not feel like that saddest of accessories, a Third Wheel. And
that's just how Poppy was feeling.
manager at the bookstore-cafe, Brian, sympathized. "That's just how
I was feeling when my friends got together," he told Poppy as they
filtered coffee into the percolators early one Thursday. "Suddenly
they were always holding hands, and sharing little jokes, and I
constantly felt like they couldn't wait for me to leave so they could get
down to business."
the problem," Poppy said glumly. "I live there. I can't
Brian nodded, then shook his head. "Tough call, man," he
said, patting Poppy's shoulder. "But you gotta
make a choice, y'know? Either get used to being
left out, or move out on your own."
money situation --"
provide." Brian smiled, taking a deep happy breath when the aroma of
fresh coffee wafted from the percolators. "And in the meantime, Irina will help."
The bell on the
front door jingled and they turned, surprised; it usually took about half
an hour for the customers to start coming in, and those were all regulars
grabbing a cup on their way to work. But no, there was Miss Pastels,
clutching her hateful furless dog and staring suspiciously at them.
morning," Poppy said, a trifle belatedly.
"Would you like some--"
Kouklakis! For shame!" She wagged a scolding finger, thinning her
eyes. "You're gonna bring down a Great
Evil upon this town, and y'alls just better
stay the hell away from me with your bad mojo,
for damn sure!" The scary dog barked in accordance and Poppy
blinked. Really, the whole thing would have been kind of alarming if Miss
Pastels hadn't been dressed in an enormous quilted red tracksuit.
don't--" she began, but Brian neatly stepped in front of her,
solicitously guiding Miss Pastels to table. "How 'bout a cup of
coffee, ma'am?" he asked. "And a bowl of water for the little
Miss Pastels seemed
mollified by Brian's cosseting and consented to be served, still glaring
at Poppy from the corners of her eyes. She skedaddled as soon as she
could and didn't feel comfortable until she was safely between the
"travel" and "cultural studies" shelves on the other
side of the store, feeling like a wuss, but a
Poppy went to bed
early that night, tired out from an unusually busy day (a bunch of
tourists from a Norwegian culture group in Rochester) and a busy evening (helping
Brian put up a rose trellis and archway in his garden). Brian had come up
with a brilliant suggestion over lemon meringue pie, musing that Poppy
could probably rent the empty space upstairs of the shop, on the brick
heritage house's second floor. It really was a good idea -- Poppy was
sure that the owner would be amenable -- but the notion made her tired
and stupidly depressed.
She had two fingers
of whiskey before bed and fell asleep so quickly and hard that despite
the flash thunderstorm that blew in and the celebratory bumping of Irina's and James's bed down the hall, it took Julian
falling across her to wake her up.
Julian panted, grasping for Poppy's shoulders, and Poppy was wide, wide
awake, Dear Readers, in less time than it takes me to tell.
"What the hell
-- Joo?" she mumbled, sitting up and
grabbing hold of Julian, who was wet through and shaking. "What's
wrong? What're you doing here?"
Poppy...." Sniffing loudly, Julian stared at her with big, panicked
eyes while Poppy wiped rain from his face. "I just did the worst
"What did you
-- Jesus, is this blood?..." Poppy
stared in horror at her dark fingertips, then at the matching stream from
Julian's nose. Julian shook his head impatiently.
not important. Poppy, I --" He took a deep breath and said, all in a
rush, "I killed the Doctor. Doctor Robert."
It took a second
for that to hit. "You what?!?"
the bad part. Bastard deserved it for smacking the shit out've me. But Poppy, fuck
-- I did something worse than that." Julian's voice climbed into a
pitch closely resembling a wail. "I think I turned him into a zombie!!!"
Julian stared at
her, anguished, and Poppy considered what had been said very carefully.
The Doctor had hit Julian, and in retaliation, Julian had killed him and
turned him into a zombie. Yes. That was pretty much the gist of it, she
"I'm having a
nightmare," Poppy announced calmly. "I am now going to go back
to sleep. Good night."
It wasn't a
nightmare, of course. But just for a moment, she managed to convince herself.
"So this is
look very dangerous."
probably 'cause he's dead, Poppy."
give me lip right now, okay? I'm the one out here in the freezing rain at
two in the goddamn morning helping you figure out what to do with the man
you killed and zombified, so you
could show me a little consideration."
baby, you know I love you thank you so, so much." Julian's look of
consternation seemed genuine enough, so Poppy patted his shoulder and
turned back to Robert Caraway, whose stiff, unmoving body was crammed
into the trunk of his own fully automatic power steering luxury vehicle.
said slowly, "maybe burying him would help?"
Julian was skeptical. "He might claw his way out or something,
though. Maybe we should throw him in a lake?"
"And have him
dredged up like Laura Palmer? No, no thanks. Besides, having him rot in
there would taint the watershed."
"Good point. Uhh...we could...plant him in the Carters'
"One of their
dogs dies every couple of months. They're always digging in that
cornfield." Poppy wiped rain from her eyes and hoped that the water
dripping from her eyelashes was responsible for the twitch she thought she
just saw Robert make. "You said you zombified
him, right? Which, by the way, you owe me a full explanation about later,
but -- you kill zombies by cutting off their heads, right?"
"No, Poppy --
no way." Julian held up his hands, taking a step back. "I am so
not cutting off his head. That's just sick."
Poppy chose not to
comment on that. "Okay," she said evenly. "There's only
one thing we can do with him, then."
Irina and James were very happy
to see Julian at the breakfast table in the morning, and even happier to
find his vanilla waffles on the menu, because they were of accord that
Julian's vanilla waffles were the best any of them had ever tasted. Poppy
very carefully kept her face neutral while she portioned out strips of
bacon and Julian nonchalantly drank coffee and told the other two about
his time away.
"It was great
for a while," he said. "We went traveling, and the Doctor was
so cool and smart and sexy --"
rich," said Irina, to whom these things
mattered a great deal (not because Irina was
shallow, but because she had a good head for finances and a keen taste
for expensive clothes). Julian nodded, smiling.
totally filthy doctor-rich. And he made love like a wild man."
powdered sugar on his waffles, not looking up. "Hit like one,
too?" His voice was level, but they all knew James enough to
recognize the barely-covered anger there. Irina
frowned at him, but didn't say anything.
Flushing, Julian worried at his
split lip for a bit before saying, "yeah. Yeah, well -- he started
getting all possessive-like, mental crazy possessive. First I thought it
was kind of cool, because, y'know...I figured
he must really love me, if he got so jealous and stuff."
honey." Irina patted his hand, leaving
little sticky syrup marks along Julian's knuckles. "You're so dumb
when it comes to love."
They all snorted a
little at that and it broke the heavy mood; Julian grinned and started
folding his bacon up, eating it with his fingers. "No fucking
kidding," he said. "Anyhow, he started getting crazy, swung at
me one too many times one night, and so I stole his car and here I am,
back safe and sound at home."
"You stole his
car?" James asked, wiping his mouth.
well, kind of...technically, he, uh, gave it to me, so it's not like,
Man, Julian was
shit at lying. "Compensation for the bloody nose, eh, Joo?" Poppy said loudly, grinning fit to burst.
Julian stared at her for a second, then grinned
When Poppy was
standing at the sink after breakfast, filling it with apple-y smelling
suds, Julian leaned in close and murmured, "thanks, hon.
Poppy," and his nose pressed neatly behind Poppy's ear.
"So, what happened." Julian kicked the porch swing off,
glaring moodily out at the empty doghouse that sat in the corner of the
yard while Poppy pulled her feet up on the swing, tucking them neat under
Julian's thighs. "What happened is he like, lost his mind and turned
into jealousy overload, complete with flying fists of rage."
Poppy shook her
head. "You're so Sleeping With the Enemy, man."
Anyhow, we were in his apartment in Chicago
and I had about enough of his mood swings and stuff, wanted to come home
for a bit, see all of you guys and he flipped right the hell out. Started
cussing me out and punched me in the face -- he'd roughed me up a bit
before, but I dunno, that was different -- this
time he was mad, really mad, Poppy. I've never
seen anybody get that mad." Julian shuddered and Poppy pressed her
toes upward as a comforting gesture.
"But yeah --
he freaked me out, and after he kicked me a couple of times and I was
down on the floor, he went over to the blinds and started ripping the
cords down. I managed to get up while he was doing that and there was
this stupid sculpture on the table next to me, this stupid fuckass super-expensive sculpture that he loved and I
just grabbed it up, and he was turning around and I hit him in the head
with it, Poppy, just fucking smashed that thing down on him, and
there was all this blood and some of it got in my mouth, and all
over my sneakers, and, fuck...."
"C'mere, c'mere." Poppy
leaned over and hauled Julian to her, swinging one leg down so she could
fit Julian against her shoulder. "It's okay, he was gonna hurt you, you were right to hit him. So, about
this...about this...zombie...thing --"
thumping the back of his skull against Poppy's collarbone. "Yeah,
right," he said, bad-tempered voice again.
"Well -- remember that summer I spent working for Miss Pastels, when
she needed her whole yard cleared?"
not for real," Poppy groaned. "You are not for fucking
glumly. "Oh, yeah. Once I got the yard done she taught me all kinds
of weird magic shit, and I was just like, hey, I'm getting paid to learn
how to make amulets out of chicken wing bones, what the hell, y'know? So when I -- after I -- after what happened
with Robert, he was lying there all dead and stuff and I got scared and
remembered this zombie ritual she showed me. Except, she had a bunch of
stuff that I didn't, chicken feathers and magic zombie powder, and so I
think I fucked it up somehow."
sure he's a zombie," Poppy said.
wrapped his head up so he wouldn't bleed anymore, and I was cleaning all
the blood off the floor and he sat up and kind of groaned, and I swear I
nearly shit myself, man. And then he lay down and stopped moving again,
but I figured I couldn't take any chances so I tied him up with the blind
cords, shoved him in the trunk and drove here."
"You got some
sprawled more comfortably onto Poppy. "Tell me about it. Robert's CD
changer's in his trunk, and I had to go in there to take the damn Berlioz
out of the stereo."
Poppy smiled into
Julian's hair. "Poor baby."
It was three days
later when Irina came in for dinner looking
puzzled and said, "Hey, remember when that raccoon was living in the
doghouse? I think we've got rats or something in the cellar, now. There's all these scratching and bumping noises coming
from down there."
Poppy could feel
Julian's panicked gaze swing over to her and concentrated on James's
lasagna. "I'll check it tomorrow," she said casually, pushing
the garlic bread over to Irina. "Probably
just a woodchuck or something."
It wasn't a
woodchuck, or rats, as I'm sure you've all guessed. And perhaps, Dear
Readers, you could have come up with better solutions for dealing with an
undead ex-boyfriend than shutting his zombiefied
ass in the cellar, but Poppy and Julian figured that if the dear dead
Doctor was starved for brains, he would just shut down. Being generally
peace-loving, gentle people, they opted for this indirect method rather
than anything more quick and violent.
But, as we all know
-- that's not the way to stop a zombie.
"We'll go get
him tonight," Julian whispered to Poppy.
"And do what
"I'll think of
Julian proved to
run his mouth off without results, because he really hadn't thought of
anything by the time that he and Poppy, armed with a gardening hoe and a
baseball bat, opened up the cellar late that night.
But that didn't
matter in the long run, Dear Readers -- because he was not in it, the
hungry dead Doctor.
They found him
eventually at the Carters' place, mouth attached to the throat of one of Shelly
Carter's dumber border collies. The dog was limp in Robert's arms and
fell heavily to the ground in a weak spatter of blood when Poppy swung
her bat across Robert's shoulders; Julian sidestepped it and hit Robert
neatly once more behind the neck. Growling,
Robert stopped reaching for the dog's head and swayed slightly, making no
move at all. Poppy and Julian stared at him, weapons at the ready.
look like he's going to move," Julian said unsurely, after a while.
she said. The zombie looked dully at her, and Poppy wet her lips.
"Uh...time to go home, Robert. Back to the cellar."
Poppy took a few
steps, backward, in the direction of the car; Robert shuffled docilely
forward. "You're fucking shitting me," Julian breathed,
lowering his hoe.
"I guess he's
okay now that he's eaten," Poppy ventured. "Poor doggie."
six others," Julian said absently, peering at Robert. "This is
so weird. You suppose we gotta keep him fed so
he doesn't go crazy?"
Jeez, what do I look like, the Zombie Care and Control Department? Let's
just get him back home before he decides to snack on one of us."
"I don't think
he will." Julian put his hoe down and stepped up to Robert while
Poppy had nervous fidgets behind him. Tilting his head, Julian exposed a
long stretch of throat to the zombie, who regarded him mildly. "Go
on," Julian said, silk-voiced. Poppy had the sudden uncomfortable
feeling that she was seeing much more of their relationship dynamic than
he wanted to, especially when Julian licked his lips and inquired,
"Okay, maybe you want to eat my brains, huh?" in that same
find any," Poppy said tartly, hauling Julian back. He was right,
though, the little tramp. Robert was looking completely uninterested and
in fact kind of sedate; he shuffled quietly behind them back to the car, then shuffled down into the cellar without protest
when they got home and unloaded him from the backseat.
find a way to stop him," Julian said when they went inside, taking
off their shoes and jackets. "He can't be eating people's
"We -- no,
you, you should go talk to Miss Pastels. Tell her you screwed up and
need her to help you put him down." Poppy lowered her voice as they
went up the stairs. "She has to help, it's her fault you even knew
how to zombify him!"
help me, Poppy!" Julian pulled on the hood of Poppy's sweater until she
stopped and turned around to face him. "She'll be pissed that I used
her magic and she'll put a curse on me or something! That woman's
can't just follow him around every night making sure he doesn't eat
Muffin and Patches!" Poppy hissed. "And why's he acting like a stupid
vampire, anyway? I thought zombies only ate brains!"
yes," James said. "But this sounds like a special case."
Poppy threw up her
hands, vindicated. "Thank you. God!"
She was halfway to
her room before she realized.
They had cheesecake
in the fridge, but Irina insisted that since
they'd woken her up at such an unholy hour for such an unholy reason, she
was entitled to the full helping (robbing us all, Dear Readers, of the
full Golden Girls-esque experience, but
no matter). Poppy found a pail of Whippy-Dip ice cream and made cones for
the rest of them; they sat at the kitchen table for a bit, gloomily
eating while coffee perked.
"So," Irina said, licking her fork, "Robert's a big
dead dog-eating zombie."
Julian said miserably and bit his cone.
James put his down.
"Hmmmm," he said. "You didn't do
the ritual properly, that's probably why he acts more like some sort of
generic undead creature than an actual zombie. Otherwise he'd want
brains, and you'd be controlling him."
"Maybe Julian can
control him!" Poppy said, excited at the thought. But James shook
his head and Irina nodded in agreement, picking
up James's cone. "Why not?" Poppy asked, disappointed.
a voudoun priest, only a proper bokor has that kind of power," Irina explained helpfully around a tongueful of espresso flake.
"Oh, right, of
course," Julian said, staring at her. "Don't tell me you know
about this stuff too?" Irina just flashed
an enigmatic smile at him and continued eating ice-cream.
"I don't want
to destroy him just yet," James decided. "We might still be
able to turn him back, since Julian didn't use zombie powder or a zombie
cucumber. Robert might not even have been fully dead when Julian
everybody know this kooky magic shit but me?" Poppy asked, staring
haplessly from one to the other. James waved an impatient hand.
"Oh, you do
too, idiot," he said. "It's you weaving all the harmony magic
into our laundry and dishes and stuff, so shut up about not knowing
anything. We have to figure out what to do about our zombie. I think we
should take turns patrolling him at night, so he can go out and hunt
gophers and rats and not Mandy's kittens down the street."
good." Irina patted her chest and let out
a modest burp. "You gonna check the books
for reversal rituals?"
James got up and fixed them all cups of coffee before sitting back down.
"I'll ask Miss Pastels if I have to, but I'd rather we solved this our own selves."
Julian said numbly, beginning to look as though somebody had handed him
the keys to a candy shop. "Sure. Guys, I totally appreciate all
this, you have no idea."
Irina drained her coffee cup and
stood up, hugging Julian. "You're welcome," she said.
"What're friends for, if not to help with a little zombie
James watched Irina say goodnight and head upstairs, adoration in
his green eyes. "I so love that woman," he said admiringly.
Poppy spluttered in her coffee.
... ... ...
here, my Dear Readers, is where I give you a
little bit of expository transition, because I have only so much space
and desire to write about James, IRINA, Poppy and Julian performing
nightly zombie-duty. Suffice it to say that this went on for a week and a
half, during which the chipmunk population around Decorah decreased by a
couple dozen and the skunk population by one (due to an unfortunate
occasion which resulted in IRINA getting soundly sprayed and then
subjected to repeated scouring in tomato juice).
The boys decided that
despite this, it was a good idea to actually take Robert out instead of
just throwing animals down to him; by the time they walked him out to
feed and walked him back, Robert was docile and submitted peacefully to
being locked up until the next feeding time. Apart from a need to round
him away from Nick's collies (whom he seemed to have gotten quite the
taste for), Robert wasn't a very demanding chore.
Of course, since
you are all Very Smart Readers and have been exposed to quite a number of
detective shows in your time, you are doubtless thinking, "But,
Robert Caraway was an important and respected member of the community!
James said so! Surely somebody is bound to notice that he's
Quite right. Robert
had, indeed, overshot his booked vacation and -- his signature on
paychecks being much missed at his office -- this disappearance was
reported to the police. And that was why, when Poppy got home from
Bookends & Beans one evening, he found Detective Christopher
Kirkpatrick waiting for him on the front porch.
Kirkpatrick lifted his nose and upper lip at Poppy and regarded him
through squinched-up eyes. He reminded Poppy of
a particularly near-sighted beaver. "You're not Julian
Timberlake," he finally said.
not," Poppy admitted. "He should be home soon, though. Would
you like to come in?"
"Yes. Yes, I
Poppy could swear
that Detective Kirkpatrick was staring at his ass as he opened the door,
but that was just silly.
"So -- how
well did you know Doctor Caraway?" Detective Kirkpatrick asked, once
they were inside and having coffee and bars. "This is great coffee,
by the way. Is it chicory? I miss chicory coffee,
my assistant only drinks that fancy French Roast stuff, like you get at
Starbucks? I grew up on chicory, though. Can't beat that, it's gentle on
the ol' stomach lining and all."
"Uh, it's, uh,
blend. Low acidity and mild body," Poppy rattled off automatically,
a little disoriented. "And, I didn't know the Doctor well at all. I
met him a couple of times, at IRINA and James's wedding and I think once
at the Fareway."
"What was he
think. I don't really remember, it was a while
Detective Kirkpatrick said, scribbling something in his notebook. "I
find that very significant."
There are other important indicators that point toward --" he
stopped short and smiled at Poppy. "But that's police talk, you're
not interested in that, wouldn't make any sense to a civilian. Sometimes
I forget not everybody speaks the lingo, y'know?"
"Er, yeah." Poppy stared at the notepad, where
the detective had written something that looked like
and thought that perhaps
Detective Kirkpatrick was what his mother used to call "touched in
the head." "Um, Detective Kirkpatrick --" he began.
please, call me Chris. Only my lieutenant calls
me 'detective.' Well, and my ex-wife, but that was purely for sexual
reasons. Dear girl had kind of a thing for Columbo,
y'know, wanted me to wear the trench coat and
all, which was all fine and good but I drew the line at the eye thing
because that's where I draw the line." Poppy's eyes widened in
horror as Chris leered and winked exaggeratedly at him, but was
fortunately distracted by Julian coming inside with somebody else.
"-- and that
was pretty much the last time I saw him. I sure hope nothing bad's happened, Detective. I did love him so."
cursed Julian's community theatre experience for the high, affected tone
to his voice and practically sprang from his chair to pour two more cups
of coffee. "Ah, little Hannah's here!" Chris exclaimed.
"Sit down, son, and have some of this fantastic chicory coffee and
an oat square."
The other detective
looked pained and stopped writing in his notebook. "This is
Timberlake, Chris," he said. "The doctor's boyfriend?"
So, Julian, level with me --" Chris put on a chummy tone, "--
did you and the mister have an argument over who had to sleep in the wet
spot and you bumped him off?" A moment of horrible, awkward silence
followed before Julian broke it.
he bleated. "No! Why would you even say that? That's
"Do you have
any evidence?" Poppy asked. Julian elbowed him hard in the ribs.
Chris chortled, picking up another oat square. "Gotcha good there,
didn't I? No, we don't have any suspects, at this point we don't even
know if foul play was involved, so you're not in any trouble. His place
seemed okay, nothing broken or missing, and the only thing we couldn't
account for was his car, which I noticed out front looking nice and clean
and well taken-care of. For all we know, the doctor might just have
headed off to the Upper Iowa River for a
nice little fishing trip, y'know?"
Hannah said pleadingly. "Those are the case specifics. Maybe we
shouldn't be sharing them."
indulgently at Hannah. "Sure, sure." He rolled his eyes and
held one hand up to shield his mouth, whispering loudly, "Junior Detective
Dorough is a little bit on the
stick-up-the-corn-chute side, pardon my French."
Poppy managed. Julian's face was slowly turning red.
Kirkpatrick stood up reluctantly, collecting a couple of oat squares into
a napkin. "Well, thanks for the chicory and everything, Mister Fatone." He smiled brightly, sweeping his gaze
up and down Poppy's body in a very obvious manner, and stuck out one
slightly crumby hand for Poppy to shake before marching out the back
"We'll be in
touch," Detective Dorough assured them.
"Thanks for your time." He snatched up Chris's forgotten spiral
notebook from the kitchen table and dashed after him, leaving Poppy and
Julian possessors of the field, non-chicory coffee and all.
be careful," James said when they told him about the police
investigation. "This Kirkpatrick guy sounds like kind of a moron,
but you never know. It could be a Very Clever Act. What with him checking
out Poppy, and all."
Poppy shouted. "I am a very fine piece of ass, thank you! " James ignored him and went on talking.
better make sure you've got your whole 'I just wanted to see my friends
again so he lent me his car' story straight, or they're gonna get suspicious. I think I'm right on the verge
of discovering something about revivifying Robert, so if we can just keep
the cops off our backs for the next two days we should be set. Think you
guys can handle that?"
incompetent, James," Julian huffed. "I'm sure between us we can
all keep our mouths shut. It won't be a problem."
The back door
opened and slammed shut, and IRINA came skidding in, covered in dirt and
holding a hockey stick.
he panted," we've got a problem."
The cellar door was
thumping when they got there, boards and the stick IRINA'd
shoved between the outside handles shaking threateningly. They could hear
roars coming from inside, harsh angry ones that sounded like Robert's
throat was tearing to make that noise.
hell's wrong with him?" James demanded. IRINA shook loose dirt from
his hair, looking frazzled.
"We were out
by the McLeans'
-- they've had a huge rabbit problem in their gardens this year, I
figured Robert could help out -- and he attacked me. Not really
strongly," he hurried to add, over the others' exclamations of
concern. "Like, he just sort of shambled up and grabbed my head, but
he did it from behind me and knocked me over into the dirt and I had to
kick him off and hit him a few times with my hockey stick. He didn't
start getting really mad until we got home and I locked him in
James hugged IRINA
briefly, scowling at the cellar doors. "Dammit,"
he said. "I thought we'd have more time for this."
into a proper zombie, isn't he?" Julian asked, panic rising in his
voice. "We won't be able to turn him back? We'll have to cut off his
"If we wait
too long, yes. But I think I can probably have the revivifying powder
done by tomorrow night, if I make a few substitutions and call in a few favours." James's distinctly displeased tone
seemed a little more deeply motivated than Poppy could figure out; IRINA,
on the other hand, had gone stiff and stonefaced.
He handed his hockey stick to Julian and went into the house without
wondering, Dear Readers, what's up with IRINA's
sudden hissyfit. Well, that's easily signified
with the use of a diagram:
I didn't say it was
a good diagram.
So, yes -- James
had to go make use of Nick's extensive collection of fresh and dried herb
materials, and IRINA didn't like this fraternization one bit. Nick Carter
had been IRINA's boyfriend in their second year
of college and they had been fine up until it turned out Nick thought
IRINA wasn't serious enough about Life in Decorah, as evidenced by IRINA's refusal to become Lutheran and his staunch
non-interest in Norwegian history. They broke up in a big shower of
fireworks, Nick calling IRINA a "godless city-rat" in front of
the funnel-cake tent at the Winneshiek County Fair and IRINA repaying the
favour by "returning" Nick's copy of Logo
Design That Works and his entire term's Milton notes -- after
plunging them in the deep fryer at Marty's.
It hadn't taken
Nick long to start dating James, who was Decorah born and bred and who'd
taken Norwegian lessons and knew how to make lefse
and was just the kind of boy Nick would take
home to mom. This went well until Nick learned that James had absolutely
no desire to be involved in the welfare of the Carter family farm; at
that point, Nick unceremoniously dumped James and swore to become
The celibacy didn't
last, but by the time Nick found love with somebody else, IRINA and James
had hooked up. Nick was an off-boundary subject for them because he and
James had made up at one summer's Sine Nomine
Vocal Faculty Recital, and he and IRINA still snarled at each other on
Poppy, who had
transferred in after the big Nick/IRINA breakup, had no idea why IRINA
was so pissed off. Julian did, though, and loped off into the house,
leaving Poppy the hockey stick. "Maybe we should quiet him down a
little?" Poppy asked tentatively, glancing at James. "He's
making an awful racket down there."
James growled. "It's not like we're expecting visitors or something.
Look, I've got stuff to do -- you take care of this." He stomped off
and Poppy heard his car start up and drive off a little while later. The
cellar door bumped again, loudly, and Poppy gave it a blank stare.
As it so happened,
either zombies got tired and had to rest after a lot of activity, or they
really liked Poppy's renditions of songs from Little Shop of Horrors.
The following morning
was, as you can imagine, an uncomfortable one for our four heroes. James
was firmly in the bad books and utterly resentful of IRINA for it; Julian
was worrying himself into an annoyingly nervous tizzy over the police
involvement, IRINA was cold and unbearably snippy, and Poppy was headachy
and cranky from the overwrought emotions around him -- not to mention,
tired of the whole affair.
So when James
muttered, "I have to go finish up with that powder," and
hurried off, and when IRINA sniffed, "I'd better find some vermin to
feed our pet zombie," and swanned off, and
Julian just sat there and frowned into his coffee cup, Poppy'd had about enough.
doing here, man? It's the weekend!" Brian paused in counting out the
float into the till as Poppy slammed around behind the counter. "Did
you switch shifts with Mandy?"
Poppy said. "Just felt like coming in today."
Brian grinned in
sympathy and kept sorting change into the till tray, probably assuming
(and rightly so) that dynamics at home were strained. Poppy tied an apron
on and wordlessly went to work the cafe counter.
The fridge was
cleaned out, the counters spotless, and every single slice of banana
bread perfectly arranged in the display basket by mid-morning when
Detective Kirkpatrick turned up at Bookends and Beans, smirking at Poppy
in an insinuating manner and smelling strangely of Lemon Pledge.
Mister Fatone," he said. "Police
discount on a cafe latte with whipped cream and a shot of Irish
licensed," Poppy said shortly. "You can have it straight."
whatever's kosher, you're the boss here." Chris leaned over the
counter while Poppy steamed the milk, watching every motion in a most
irritating way and smiling to himself like he'd
convinced Poppy to come up and see his etchings. When Poppy finished the
drink and put it on the counter, Chris nodded towards the fireside sofa.
"Come have a sit-down with me," he invited. "Doesn't look
like the place is too busy, and I think I can
afford to take a few minutes to enjoy this fabulous coffee even with me
being as busy as I am and all, y'know."
wiped his hands on his apron and came around to sit with the detective,
"So this is
your place, huh?" Chris craned his neck around, eyes wide.
"Nice, nice. Must do a lot of business, what with all the people
around here, the tourists and students and stuff, and this kind of
store's really popular now, right? Like on that show, that -- what was
it? There was a redhead--that Ellen show,
right? There was a store like this in it, with the books and the coffee
Kirkpatrick," Poppy interrupted. It was either that or pick up the
book of Ansel Adams photos on the table and
bludgeon the man to death with it. "Have there been any leads on the
irritated, and his coat gave off that whiff of lemon again. "Well,
see now," he began, "I don't really want to get into that too
much, what with the investigation being an official police matter and
For fucksake. Poppy closed his eyes briefly, then opened
them again and smiled slowly at the detective, shifting a bit closer on
the leather sofa. "Oh, I won't tell anybody," he murmured.
"I mean, I probably won't understand anything you say, hardly, not
knowing the lingo, but...."
Chris regarded him
levelly and one eyebrow went up. "That's a nice one," he said
wryly. "With the killer smile and all. I didn't fall off the back of
the rookie wagon yesterday, y'know."
Poppy blinked at
the tone of Chris's voice, even and kind of way more attractive than his
previous nattering. "Okay, look," he said, abandoning the vamp
act, "just level with me, huh? Julian's a nervous wreck and he's
driving all of us batshit."
There was a pause,
and Chris calmly sipped his coffee. "We found something," he
said finally. "Hannah located some cords from the blinds back in the
apartment." Poppy's heart did a somersault and jump-juddered rapidly
along as Chris, dammit, took another thoughtful
sip of his drink and added, "We got a search warrant and found them
in his car, parked outside your house, and we found traces of blood from
both Doctor Caraway and Mister Timberlake on the cords --"
Poppy stood up,
head ringing. "I think I'd better go home," he said faintly.
Chris put down his cup and stood as well, his eyes hard and canny. Poppy
could hardly believe this was the same funny short guy who flirted with
him over the cinnamon roll display.
that's a good idea," he said. "I'll give you a ride."
There was a police
car in front of the house when Chris drove up. Poppy practically bolted
out and up the porch steps, bursting into the house and yelling for
Julian. No answer. Julian's jacket and keys were still hung up, so he
couldn't have gone out, but he wasn't in the house.
He nearly collided
with Detective Kirkpatrick on the way back out. "Timberlake not
here?" Chris asked, drawing his gun. "I'm not getting a
response from Hannah, either."
Poppy pushed past
him and ran out into the yard. "Julian!" he called.
There was a rattle
near the front fence, then scraping and a definite, "Poppy?"
Coming from -- coming from the doghouse.
"Jup?" Poppy bounded over to the doghouse, seeing
Julian's sneakers flop out of it. He helped unfold his strangely awkward
friend from the small construct, wondering why Julian was making it so
difficult until he was out and standing there panting with his wrists
cuffed behind his back.
"The -- he
came -- the detective, he found the cords and he came and arrested me,
and then Robert --"
Robert?" Chris trotted up abruptly, gun still held at the ready.
Julian ignored him and started heading towards the cellar.
out!" he yelled. "The detective just put the cuffs on me and
Robert broke through and knocked him over and I ran and hid in the
doghouse, and Jesus I hope he's okay...."
They skidded up
beside Detective Dorough's unconscious but
otherwise unharmed body and Julian slammed himself into Poppy in relief,
rubbing his head against Poppy before Chris yanked him away, holstering
his weapon. "You're still under arrest," he said grimly.
"Where do you think Doctor Caraway would have gone?"
don't understand!" Julian said desperately. "He's not alive any
"No! No --
well, maybe, but in self-defense! And anyway, he's attacking other people
now, because he's a zombie and unless James can turn him back then he's gonna be a proper zombie and he'll want brains
to eat and we'll have to cut off his head!" Julian wailed.
stock-still, staring at Julian. Then he turned to Poppy. "He's got
some kind of craziness in the brain, right?"
The detective was
about to say something else when they heard, "what the hell?
--" and IRINA jogged up, sweaty and obviously having just arrived
back from a run. He gJamesd around at the irate
cop, the cuffs on Julian's wrists, the prone Hannah and finally alighted
on the splintered cellar doors, eyes flying wide in horror.
IRINA gasped. "I was so pissed at James this morning I forgot to bar
the doors again after I tossed Robert his squirrels! Oh, Julian, baby --
I'm so sorry!"
"s'okay, C, but we gotta
find him now. Where could he have gone??"
"This is all
complete bullshit!" Chris shouted suddenly. "You expect me to
believe that doctor Caraway was turned into a freakin'
zombie, and you people have been keeping him in your cellar?!?"
IRINA said. Chris whipped to look at him.
IRINA said again, more excitedly. "One of his bitches had a litter
last night, Robert would totally want to eat
"Why would he
--" Poppy began, but Julian was already nodding eagerly, and of
course, Dear Readers, you must know that any objection Poppy has to that
leap of logic must be overridden by your Faithful Author, seeing as there
does need to be an ending that ties everything together -- and in a
zombie story there is already some inherent suspension of disbelief.
"James is over
there finishing up the powder," Julian said, mouth dropping open.
"Fuck, we better haul ass!"
"Hey, look -- I'm the goddamn policeman here, and one of you is
still under arrest, and furthermore I don't believe this cock-and-bull
story about any zombie --"
impatiently on him. "You can arrest me after, Chris. Just come the
hell with us and you'll see, you'll see what Robert's turned into and I
swear if it's not true I'll come down to the station without a fucking
Chris looked angry
when he got into the car and undid Julian's cuffs, but he didn't say
The backroad to the Carter farm never seemed longer and
more abominably bumpy than it did on that ride, everybody in the car
tense and worried. IRINA had tried calling James on his cell phone, but
it was turned off and no amount of IRINA hollering "turn on your
goddamn PHONE!!" into the mouthpiece could change that.
When the shed where
the dogs lived appeared around the corner, Poppy gunned the car, barely
throwing it into park before they all poured out. "JAMES!"
IRINA bawled. "Where the hell ARE you?"
There was a
resounding crash from the greenhouse and they all took off running,
Detective Kirkpatrick too, slamming the door open and pelting in -- and
just in time, it would seem, because Robert was chasing James around a
table. The zombie shot out a hand and grabbed James around the neck,
jerking him back sharply; James made an "urrk!"
noise and flew backwards against the Doctor.
him!" IRINA yelled, furious. He snatched up a gardening stake and
bolted over, beating Robert about the head with it. Poppy armed himself
with a rake and applied it vigorously to Robert's kidneys until the
zombie groaned and dropped James, who dragged himself up, coughing.
him!" he rasped, making his way over to a table that was covered in dessicated plants and strange ground-up concoctions.
"I'm nearly done with the powder, I just need to mix it and perform
an invocation --!"
Julian said, and turned to Chris. "Give me a hand with this hose, wouldja?" Chris nodded, wide-eyed,
and the two of them managed to wrap Robert into the hose, pulling it
tight at either end and getting IRINA and Poppy to help throw their
weight into holding the Doctor.
around, hastily stirring components together in a big wooden bowl before
hurrying out to stand in front of Robert. "Hold him tight," he
cautioned the others. "This might be rough." Taking a deep
breath, James grabbed a fistful of powder and flung it at Robert,
shouting "CHAMAUX KI BESOIN KONYEN PWALL COURI DEYE OU NA
Robert paused in
his struggles, then roared even louder and
strained forward, trying to get to James, slowly dragging the four men
holding him inexorably forward. James put the bowl down and grabbed
double handfuls of the powder, casting first one and then the other at
the zombie, who threw his arms into the air, let out one last almighty
bellow, and then toppled facefirst onto the
ground in a cloud of potting soil and ground herbs.
Poppy said, "was some fucked up motherfucking
shit right there."
IRINA vaulted over
Robert's body to wrap James in his arms, kissing him about the face.
"Thank God everybody's okay!" he declared. "James, honey,
what the hell was that you yelled at him?"
I found on the internet," James said dazedly, staring down at the
Doctor. "It means, 'you will be chased across the desert by
sex-starved camels'." He saw the others staring at him and shrugged,
spreading his hands. "Hey, I'm not a voodoo priest either. I figured
I'd have to rely more on intent than ritual."
worked, whatever the hell you did," Poppy said, prodding Robert in
the ribs with the toe of his shoe. Chris pushed past him and dropped to
his knees beside Robert, closely followed by Julian. "If this man is
dead," Chris told them, "you all have some serious explaining
to do, most of which will probably implicate you further."
He was cut off by
Robert, who groaned loudly and started to struggle within the confines of
the hose. "Jesus, you're alive!" Julian gaped, then hurried to help Robert get out of the coils of
rubber. He patted Robert all over the head and back, dusting dirt off his
tattered clothes. "Are you okay? Is anything broken? Do you remember
being a zombie?"
Robert furrowed his brow at Julian, then stared
around at everybody else. "Where the hell am I? I don't remember
"How nice for
you," Poppy said frigidly. He hadn't forgotten Julian's blood on his
fingers in the middle of the night.
Julian seemed to,
though, since he still had his hands splayed all over Robert's back and
arm and was inspecting him for injury. "That's good," he said
hopefully. "I mean, it's good that you don't remember anything, none
of what happened in your apartment --"
Robert said, "I don't remember being a zombie. I remember that."
He scowled as Julian stood up, frowning. "You hit me with my Reg Butler original, you little slut."
Julian said, and kicked Robert in the nose.
... ... ...
As you can
doubtless presume, Dear Readers, Julian didn't go to jail for killing and
zombifying Robert, since the Doctor in question
was alive and well (once he got his broken nose set and the gash on his
head sewn up) and decided that it would be wisest not to press charges.
James and IRINA made up in fine style and really did book that
Mediterranean cruise they wanted, because James was finally promoted to
Head Archivist as he deserved.
"It kind of
sucks that you guys have to leave," IRINA said as Poppy and Julian
carried boxes out to Brian's flatbed. "I mean, all I know of Decorah
has been living with you!"
when you lived on-res at the college,"
Julian reminded him.
four months you lived with Marshall
when you and James were Exploring New Options," Poppy added. IRINA
rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean," he said.
And they really
did. It felt strange when they drove away, both of them sitting up front
in the cab with Brian and waving to IRINA and James until they couldn't
see the front porch anymore. "You guys'll
get used to it," Brian told them kindly, and turned on the radio.
The whole process really seemed quite anti-climactic; moving was a big
deal in the scheme of things, but after all of the excitement of keeping
and hunting a zombie, pretty much anything seems small and unimpressive
"It's not like
we live far," Julian said in a small voice, poking Poppy's shoulder.
Poppy heaved a sigh and rubbed his eyes.
he said heavily. "And they really should be on their own, what with
being married and all." He grinned and shoved against Julian.
"'Sides, we got each other, right?"
Yeah!" Julian sat up straighter. "And we got that whole big
second floor to ourselves, and it'll be tons of fun." He slung an
arm around Poppy's shoulders and jostled him affectionately. "We'll
get used to it in no time. But you'll still do the dishes, right?"
Julian sighed in
contentment, then hummed to the song on the radio a little bit, then
leaned in and gave Poppy a soft kiss to the side of his mouth.
Poppy supposed it
was a start.