Authors: Kevin Millikin
Summer of ‘68
For my wife, Kristin.
I sleep easy knowing that if the zombies don’t kill me, you will.
Professor David Andrews was a bookish fellow. There was no denying it and given the opportunity, neither would he. At fifty-six, he lived a rich and affluent life. A doctor by trade, he long since swapped his stethoscope, clipboard and rolodex—opting for the podium and lecture circuit. He no longer looked as handsome as he once had. Still, he couldn’t complain. Where he was once slim and firmly built, with a neatly cropped beard and full head of auburn hair, it had all but been replaced.
His gut expanded out in a sluggish arch, teetering along his beltline. His hair also suffered the ravage of time and had since thinned, grayed, and retracted around his crown. Not that it mattered because Andrews was content with his appearance. It made him feel as if he looked the part—a professor of medical science at the University of New York.
Andrews stood beside the dissection table as its stainless steel surface reflected the glare of overhead lights. As the professor shifted his weight and rested his hand against the corner of the steel slab, he looked out upon his class. The overhead lights prevented Andrews from seeing the auditorium fully beyond the first couple of rows.
He waited, listening as they took their seats and allowed a couple of extra minutes for the late comers to arrive. It wasn’t school policy, but he could still remember his own youthful days and how hard it had been to start the day, especially during summer classes when all you wanted was nothing at all.
Peering against the lights, the mass of students slowly materialized. With a glance at his watch, it was ten past eight. On that note, he cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the light.
“Good morning, class,” he paused so that his voice could traverse through the densely populated auditorium.
His students quietly murmured their arbitrary replies. Andrews waited until the final response had been uttered, before he continued. “First and foremost, I must warn you that this week’s lesson will be a messy one at best.” He smiled, clapping his hands together, it echoed through the room. “So with that in mind and if you don’t have the, uh, stomach—” again, he paused, “—may I suggest another profession—dentistry perhaps?”
A couple of chuckles reached through the fluorescent veil. The professor turned back to the dissection table. The corpse on it was recent, no more than twenty-four hours cold and the victim of heart failure. In life, the cadaver had been active, judging from his firmly sculpted forearms, he never missed a day of manual labor in eighty years, as decades of work overshadowed the scrawny 112-pound physique.
The cadaver’s skin looked waxy beneath the lights, giving his pale complexion the appearance of Jaundice. Along the length of his backside, from his neck to his ankles, blood began to pool, congealing inside stationary veins. Decay was present, causing his body to bloat. The elder cadaver’s belly puffed outward as though pregnant. The corpse was nude with the exception of a small white towel, which strategically covered a set of swollen genitals.
“Mister Williams here has been gracious enough to donate his body to the field of medical science.” Andrews wasn’t sure of the old mans’ name, such information wasn’t provided in the initial paperwork. He found that assigning it a fictitious name was more palatable than the impersonal patient/cadaver serial number it received postmortem.
“Now, with the holiday season only a couple of months away, I would like to pose a question for all of you. Let’s say, you were to sit down on Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve with all of your family, friends and loved ones…would it be possible for you to
yourself to death?”
A few hushed voices drifted back to him, reaching the stage like a cresting wave. Generally they were positive, others indecisive.
Andrews chuckled. “Let me clarify for those of you who don’t seem to understand the question. What I want to know is if it’s possible for the human stomach to rupture—like the popular phrase,
Another wave of murmurs arose from the bright lights.
“Good,” he said, “because in 1891, a German born scientist did just that. He stuffed a cadaver’s stomach until the point of rupture. Can anyone tell me how much it took for that particular stomach to burst?” Andrews leaned forward, shielded his eyes from the light, and pointed at random.
“You,” he said.
“Four quarts,” an unknown student replied.
The professor smiled, “Very good.”
It was at this time, the professor went and compared the difference between the 1891 experiment, and that of another more recent study, when something happened on the table behind him—one of the fingers on the cadaver’s right hand twitched and the toes wiggled slowly. The movement was slight, unnoticeable to anyone watching.
“When the gastrointestinal tract ruptures, it causes the trillions of bacteria that line its walls to leak into the stomach. Often times, this will create a fatal and systemic infection that—”
The professor paused. In the back of the class, a girl gasped. Whatever startled her, he heard it as well. Looking back, Andrews glanced at the dissection table. He saw that the cadaver’s left hand now dangled over the edge, its bony fingers pointed at the gray tiles.
He cocked a bushy eyebrow and smirked. “Surely you can’t be startled by that,” he said, turning to address the girl, as well as anyone else who would’ve been caught off guard by the motion. “Bacteria in the intestinal tract expel waste just as any other organism. In fact, this is what causes a body to bloat postmortem. It’s as these gases build—” he paused, his smirk widened to a smile. “Well…since the dead can’t
themselves all at once, like you and I…”
He pressed his hand against the cadaver’s abdomen and pushed. Not hard, just hard enough for the gases to expel. The rancid odor hit him immediately. He turned away with a toothy grin. His look was comical and he reveled in their chuckles. The odor lingered for a moment before dissipating.
“And if you’ll notice,” he said, waving a hand across his face, “the escaping gases often times create involuntary muscle spasms, such as—”
Andrews grabbed the cadaver’s hand, holding it up for the class to see. He was about to speak, when something brushed across his wrist. The cadaver’s finger moved slightly. Its fingertips caressed his wrinkled skin. For a moment, it felt as though he could feel the cadaver’s muscles pull and contract beneath its cold skin.
He coughed, clearing his throat, but the action failed to clear his mind.
he told himself, but he still wasn’t convinced.
Again, the cadaver twitched. More forcefully this time, the motion caused its leg to jump, skidding off the table and dangled there without further movement.
“What the hell?”
He wanted to believe that this was the fault of escaping gas and nothing more. Yet, after all his years as a staunch believer of medicine and science, he was in awe. Andrews had never seen anything like this. This was the real world, not some B-grade monster movie.
His students raised their voices from hushed whispers to panicked cries, as the cadaver began to convulse. Was it possible that the man wasn’t dead after all? As sudden as it all began, the violent convulsions ceased. In its wake was an unnerving silence that left the students and professor with nothing but questions.
Somewhere, someone began to cry.
There was no denying it. For the first time in a lifetime, Andrews was at a loss for words. Realizing he still held the corpses hand, he blushed, feeling a foolish heat spread across his face.
This can’t be happening,
Breaking the silence was a groan. It grew from the center of the table, billowing out in a long and painful sigh. The haunting sound filled the room with fear. Panic and fright forbad the students from taking flight, cementing them to their chairs. Before the professor or anyone else could regain their composure, it was too late. The cadaver latched its cold and clammy hand around the professor’s wrist, and with an off putting tug, jerked the old man towards the table.
The corpse sat upright, belching another stuttered groan. Its eyes remained closed, like a newborn entering the world. A moment passed before they opened.
Andrews saw himself reflected in the milky haze of the cadaver’s eyes.
Order shattered, giving rise to pandemonium, as the class scrambled to escape. Their chaos was masked beneath the glare of lights. Once a privilege to be on this stage with all eyes front and center, now left the professor to feel isolated and helpless. He could do nothing but stand there with his hand being held tightly, and listening as his students fled.
“Mother of God,” he whimpered as the cadaver lunged from the table.
Andrews sidestepped his attacker, jerking his arm back and nearly wrenching it free of the vise-like grip. Andrews staggered back, and kept his balance, even after the cadaver had fallen. His shoulder burned raw as he was sagged forward.
“Jesus,” his voice lost beneath a frenzy of stampeding feet. “Jesus, Lord in Heaven…”
Unfazed by the fall, the corpse crawled forward. Its hand still latched to the professor’s wrist. The professor pulled his shoulder back, captive arm to his side. The cadaver trudged forward, gaining momentum in the face of Andrews attempt at self-preservation. The foul humanoid crawled forth, sliding across the floor with more force and determination than it had moments prior.
It reached for him with its free hand, stiff fingers slashed wantonly at the air. Groaning, the cadaver’s mouth went slack, jaws and teeth snapped shut with a chewing motion. Like a beaten dog, the professor yelped, pulling himself further back.
The corpse pulled forward, following the professors’ pitiful retreat. They moved together, ebbing and flowing in a circular dance around the other. Unable to free himself, he turned to his class.
“Help,” he screamed. The overhead lights kept him from seeing whether any of his students would come to his side. His spirit fled, no one had. He never felt so alone, knowing his students were there, watching him like a freak on display. A flutter of footsteps roared through, carrying an echo as they made their grand escape, forsaking the professor for themselves.
Andrews mustered his strength, stealing it back from the fear that robbed him blind, and wrenched his arm from the cadaver’s grasp. Trembling, he held it to chest and stumbled back—regrettably tripping over himself in the process. He hit hard, landing butt-first as the corpse staggered upright; rising first to its knees and then to its feet.
The professor scooted back, his sweaty palms slapping the tiles with such force, a twinge of pain radiated through his elbows and into his shoulders.
For a moment, the corpse stood motionless. Its cold and calculating eyes locked on the professor as though measuring its options. With a groan, it lurched forward. The corpse staggered like a drunk, swaying with each step, and as it raised its arms, needy fingers slashed through the air. The gap between them ebbed with every movement the other made. Never once did the cadaver blink, never once did it look elsewhere; its sights were set on one sole destination.
Andrews cried out, “You’re not real!”
The dead man lunged, colliding against the professor’s round figure. Like a punch to the gut, Andrews hissed. The pain grew immense, spreading from stomach to the groin.
He whimpered, sucking air through clinched teeth. “Please, no—you’re not real, you’re not real!”
The cadaver crannied its neck and opened its mouth wide. Without hesitation, it struck. The corpse tore through the professor’s throat, trapping muscle and skin between grinding jaws.
The professor screamed, his eyes bulging from his skull.
“Help!” he reached to the light, his hand slapping the stage.
With a guttural sigh, the cadaver growled, shaking its head from side to side like a dog.
A faint, barely audible
echoed between the professor’s ears as his throat ripped. A sheet of blood cascaded down his chest and through the fibers of his tweed jacket, warm with numbing afterglow.
The cadaver quickened its pace as blood spilt across its tongue, driving it into
a frenzy. It slammed its head back, arching its neck, while blood oozed down its chin and on to its chest. A patch of pinkish flesh dangled from its lips, before being slurped up and swallowed whole.
The professor’s screams reached their peak, abruptly reduced to a moist whimper as blood filled his throat and trickled to his lungs. It suffocated him quicker than the pain ever could. In these final seconds, his vision blurred with numb warmth. It started in his heart and spread throughout the rest of his appendages. By the time the cadaver had taken its second bite, the professors cries had ceased inside the empty classroom.
First the victim of a cannibal, and second, a heart attack.
Louis lounged in his chair and propped his legs up on the edge of his desk. He thumbed through a stack of vinyl records and sighed, reading through the track listing for a couple of the LP’s he had selected. Nothing about them seemed of interest and before long, he tossed them aside in search of something new.