Dana used to love the smell of coffee shops. The way the aroma of the freshly grounded beans just filled the air was like a cozy blanket by the fire to her. They where places she could go in times of comfort. Even during the outbreak just seven months ago she had holed up in one for days living off of nothing but stale croissants, questionable milk and creamer, and lots of coffee until the forces descended upon her city finally freeing them of the weeks long nightmare. But now in this post-stabilized world not even the most potent smells could mask the vague stench of rotting flesh that lingered in the air.
She counted three zombies in the coffee shop, two of them were at a table across the room from her typing away at their laptops. Meanwhile the barista apologized to a customer about the unexpected ear in the customer’s latte. The barista reattached their ear and promised to make a flesh free latte on the house.
Dana rolled her eyes. She held a lot of opinions about this post-stablized society but the one she had the hardest time holding her tongue over was what amounted to living corpses working in the food industry. She wanted to get up and say something to the undead barista but before she could a familiar decrepit figure walked through the door and waved at her. Stephen, her brother. Dane waved back and the corpse of her brother hobbled over walking like so many undeads by carefully moving his arms around his torso as a means of making sure nothing fell off as he walked as if the Macarena had never gone out of fashion. He walked with a slow pace too, a technique used to make sure no sudden movements could snap a bone or detach a limb. Stephen’s corpse body was so far gone than most other zombies she’d seen that she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Finally, Stephen arrived.
Up close he looked even worse. His cheeks had holes in them revealing the slimy insides of his mouth. His eyes looked as if they were just one knock in the head away from falling out and his right ear appeared to be missing. Unlike the barista who’s flesh only showed mild rot, Stephen looked as if he had been on the verge of decomposing into a mound of slurried flesh and maggots. He smelled that way too. Not even his issued smell suppressant could cover up the smell of over ripe fruit and dog shit that oozed from his body. Suddenly Dana didn’t care for her coffee any more.
Dana held her nose and gave Stephen a hover hug, keeping her living flesh inches away from him as was customary between living and undead greetings. She pulled out a chair for him and the two sat down.
“So,” Dana said trying to hold back her gagging , “what’s it like being a zombie now?”
“You know, other than than occasional craving of human flesh it’s not that different from being human. To be honest.” Stephen said. His voice was clearer than she expected from a zombie so far gone, but it still had the same elongated groaning sounds that they all spoke with. Dana didn’t believe him.
“Look at your Stephen,” she said. “You’re falling apart. Have you been taking your rationed flesh?”
“Yeah,” Stephen said. He nodded slowly. Dana watched as the creases in his neck squished together and apart. Slime oozed out like the insides of a popped pimple. Dana pulled her coffee closer to her.
“Be honest with me,” Dana said. “I’m not mom.”
Stephen sighed, well more like groaned and looked down at the table. Sludge dripped from his face onto the wooden surface. Dana took a napkin and wiped it away.
“I haven’t,” he said. “Not in months.”
“Oh Stephen,” she said. “You have to or you’ll be nothing but a pile of living sludge.”
“I just don’t have it in me anymore. Becca left me and the kids won’t even hug me.”
“I had no idea about Becca,” Dana said.
“Are you surprised? The divorce rate is through the roof between us stabilized and our partners.”
“No,” Dana said. She looked down at her coffee and idly stirred it. “I guess not. I’m sorry to hear that. I’d hug you but…”
“Yeah, I know. I just want to die, for real this time. And yes, before you ask I have been taking my stabilizers.”
She looked around the coffee shop. At the barista and the two zombies typing away. Compared to them her brother looked like a zombie’s zombie. What you got when a zombie went “vegetarian” and gave up on his flesh rations.
“But the kids. You can still be a father to them,” Dana said.
“Nobody wants to hug a corpse, even you refuse.”
Dana sighed. “You have to eat your rations. For them. I can help you find a flesh artist and help you get back to normal. Zombies are more than fine with living in society with us. Well except for food business.” She eyed the barista. “But even then there are precautions. You have to be a role model for your kids. It saddens me to see you this way.” She looked down at her coffee. “I’m sorry if I’m being brash.”
“No, it’s fine.” Stephen said. “I needed that.”
Dana reached across the table towards her brother. He looked at her with confusion.
“Hand,” Dana said.
Stephen groaned and lifted his hand to the table. She placed hers upon his being sure to be delicate as not to accidentally detach a finger. His hand felt squishy and slimy like mashed grapes parents pretend are brains to their kids on Halloween.
“You have to do this. You might be undead but you can still live. Come on,” she stood up. Stephen looked at her.
“Where are we going?”
“To get you your goddamn rations,” she said.
Stephen groaned and lifted himself up. Carefully making sure to hold everything together.
“Let’s go,” Dana said. She began walking towards the door while Stephen hobbled behind her. Dana smiled at the barista. The barista smiled back. She was wrong about her most vocal opinion about this post-stabilized world. The one she was the most vocal about was her brother’s happiness. And she would do anything for it, maybe even give him a hug.