Short Story: Undead Life

ID-100212529“It’s not fair.”

“What’s not fair?” I turned my face into the breeze. I loved my friend dearly but he’d forgotten to sit downwind and he was getting a bit ripe. I had meant to sit in the shade but it being January, there was none to be found.

“We’ve given rights to everyone. Women, indigenous people, gays. Yet not to me. One tiny heart attack and I lose everything… It’s just not fair.”

“Jack… You’re not exactly the same as everyone else… It’s hard to legislate this when technically – people like you…”

He looked at me, eyebrow raised in the familiar look of mock surprise. The motion shook loose a few hairs. “People like me are what, Max?” I ignored the whispers of the blue haired old ladies, walking down the footpath opposite. People always stared and whispered. You’d think they’d be used to it by now.

“Jack… I was there. When you fell over, grasping your heart. When you made that awful death rattle…” I paused, remembering Eliza’s wail on hearing the news. “But you’ve got to admit, when you’ve been declared dead, buried and gone for two months, what did you think was going to happen? Eliza had no idea you’d activated the undead clause in your DNR. She moved on, sold the house…”

“Well, admittedly, I did forget to tell her…” He paused and breathed sharply through his teeth. I watched in trepidation as the tip of his nose quivered. “But it’s still not fair. You’d think my boss would have accepted the application for leave that the Facility sent him…”

“You were gone for two months! The economy is shit at the moment… It’s not like sysadmins are hard to replace, y’know. Besides, who wants an employee that’s… that’s….” I looked at him, seeing the oversized suit he hadn’t had a chance to replace since he’d left the Freezer. Jack had looked worse but only once. And that was a trip to Costa Rico I’d rather forget. Shaking the memories off, I noticed the tip of his nose was going green. “Jack, you’re literally rotting. You are starting to smell. I’m not sure how well you’d fit in at a professional workplace in your current state. I know they have undead working in the sewerage plants, why don’t you apply there?”

He shook his head. “I’m not old enough for them. It’s a bit like cheese? They think I can still pass as,” he paused and crooked his fingers in the air. “Normal.” Jack sighed, placing his hands beside him. “You’d think they’d tell us. Sure, you can escape death and live on forever, but only if you’re wealthy enough to invoke level one status. Those bloody vampires, kicking around, looking completely normal. Those’ve us that can only afford level three turn into…” He looked down at his hand. It had been white the first time I saw him, red where the blood had settled in death, walking around downtown. Now it was turning black and swelling slightly. “Well, I guess calling us zombies isn’t inaccurate.”

“Oh, come on.” I tried to reassure him. “You just haven’t put out enough applications. We’ll get you a job.”

“You do realise that I won’t? Right?” Jack smiled sarcastically. “It’s illegal in most sectors to employ someone who’s an OH&S liability, I can’t own property anyway since I’m legally dead, and I can’t even afford the upgrade that’ll stop my bits falling off.” I winced. His voice rose as he got more frustrated. “It’s unfair. I have to live somewhere, I have to buy new clothes, and I can’t even afford the continued medical treatments. Healthcare doesn’t cover the undead. We’re not full of health, we’re full of death. And nobody ever told me that deathcare is over a million a year, so I’ve never had a chance to prepare that kind of money.” He looked down suddenly, embarrassed. In the twenty years I’d known him, he’d never raised his voice. At least not in regular conversation. Jack Madson was a mild mannered man, who’d just wanted to help his wife and kids out after he’d died. He hadn’t counted on them leaving him, terrified, and taking all the money he’d saved up so that he could continue being undead.

“We’ll figure something out.” I said softly, and placed my hand on his shoulder. I winced slightly at the feel of him, soft and slightly damp. “I’m sure Mary will let you stay in the little flat out the back of ours. We’ll put some tarps down.” Mary would hate it but she’d have to abide. Her own father had invoked the undead clause and he hadn’t lasted six months. It wouldn’t be for long.

Jack smiled. “Thanks Max. I really appreciate it.” He was starting to slur as his tongue swelled.

“Let’s get you out of the sun.” I walked him inside, making sure to stick to the plastic covered areas of the house. The frenzy had been crazy ever since the undead formula had been made public two years ago. People lined up to sign away their houses so that they could afford it, braving the chants of the protestors. “Dead is dead! And it should stay dead!”. The controversy was increasing as level one and two undeads were protesting the fact they had nowhere to live, work or even get medical care, as they ran out of money or it was stolen by their families. They weren’t even eligible for state welfare payments, as they couldn’t prove they were alive. Activists were trying to legislate but many of them had reached such a state of decay by the time they reached Parliament that they were either unintelligible or stinking of death. Jack would be fine though. We’d watch over him until he finally passed, the formula out of his system. He would have no idea that Eliza didn’t know he was alive, that his children had prevented every letter he ever wrote reaching her.

He was a bit clueless, our boy Jack. He’d never known I was a level 1. I’d died ten years ago, in a roofing accident. Thankfully, I’d been part of the clinical undead trials for the year before or I’d never have been able to afford this. And there was no way I was going to tell him. He wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. I’d lose my job, my wife, and my house. I hadn’t planned on caring this much about having things. I’d always been such a happy-go-lucky chap when I was alive…

I guess you only realise what you have when it’s about to be gone. Being undead has really made me care about life.

 

BY EMMA-LOUISE GROUCUTT

 

 

 Image courtesy of hin255 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Review: Rebecca

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

If there was ever a book that gave me haunting dreams, it was Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier, echoing the style of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, has crafted a classic piece of gothic literature for the twentieth-century. Filled with beautiful prose, the reader is transported, to the woods filled with bluebells, to the stately house of Manderley, and to the rocky bay, fraught with dangerous memories. The reader is further drawn in, encouraged to place themselves in the heroines shoes, by the fact that Du Maurier never names her, speaking instead from the first person for the duration of the novel.

We first meet this unnamed heroine (UH) in the summery Monte Carlo, acting as a companion to a rather overbearing woman named Mrs Van Hopper. Mrs Van Hopper is a society magpie, quickly fluttering to the brightest sparkle in the room. It is not long before our magpie finds an attractive bauble in Mr. Maxim de Winter. Maxim, a wealthy landed gentleman from England, is relatively famous: he owns Manderley, a beautiful country house that is found on postcards and in picture collection. The death of his wife Rebecca in a sailing accident a year ago has made him a shadow of his former self and, with Mrs Van Hopper occupied by the flu, our UH is drawn to his mysterious and brooding ways. Quickly, she finds herself besotted by his similarities to the tragic heroes of gothic literature and his resemblance to brooding but handsome medieval portraiture.

At first, I felt rather hostile towards Maxim. He is rude, brooding, and while he may smile and laugh with UH on long drives through Monte Carlo, his reaction when he is about to be separated from UH is a bit over the top. He proposes…

Do you mean you want a secretary or something?

No, I’m asking you to marry me you little fool.

… and she accepts. As UH is (understandably) sick of acting as a companion, she readily goes to Manderley, even though she is aware that he asked her only to escape living alone in an empty house. However, Rebecca is just as formidable in death as she was in life. Her memory lingers everywhere and the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is quick to endlessly compare UH to Rebecca and undermine and creep out our dear UH wherever she can. The tension increases when the boat in which Rebecca disappeared is finally found and an inquest is opened into her death. Will Rebecca haunt the couple forever? Will they ever truly be happy to love completely?

As a masterful piece of gothic literature, full of flawed characters and terrible pasts, I would recommend you read Rebecca. Du Maurier is a skillfull wordsmith and her prose flows, placing us in the shoes of an awkward, inexperienced woman who is thrown out of her depth into upper class society and a marriage with a man she barely knows. It’s a coming of age story, as UH learns to both stand up for herself and to defend the man she loves against all critics. And most of all, it is a story of lies and secrets, that threaten to destroy the very existence that UH has come to know. Read it by the fire, with a cup of tea, or reading on the train on the way to your really boring job that doesn’t have a brooding gothic gentleman just dying to whisk you away to his manor in the English countryside.

Rating: 4/5

This review has also been published at The Forgotten Bookshelf!