Name (A short “Blood Soaked” prequel)
©James Crawford, 2014
I think I’d known Frank for about two months by then. He’d set himself up in the hardware store next to my garage, and was rapidly putting together a tiny trading empire. Look, I was a tiny bit jealous, but that don’t mean a thing.
Everyone wanted into that hardware store, but it was fenced, locked, and generally secured beyond our methods to get inside. Then Frankie Boy comes along, does a deal with the owner, and ends up cornering the market on nails. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t the only jealous person in the neighborhood, but I tried better than most to keep it under wraps.
So, look, dude was a bit of a freak. I saw it in his eyes. He’d seen way too much for his age, and regularly popping zombies—that used to be people, still looked (mostly) like people, and could bitch you out for bothering them—was taking a toll on his mind. Still, I’d been watching him long enough to see that he didn’t mean any of us harm. If he had, I’d have put a bullet between his eyes myself, and not thought another thing about it.
That particular night, I decided to make an effort to get to know him better. Everyone else was ahead of me on that, and had been bugging me about it.
“Hospitality,” Siddig, our neighborhood Imam, told me, “is an excellent way to judge a person. Do they receive it well? Do they offer it easily? From what I have seen, Frank does both.”
I mumbled a “thank you,” and tried to formulate my next move.
It was Springtime, and the nights were getting longer. I passed by my stash of Jim and Darcy’s apple brandy on my way into the garage, and held up for a moment. Booze is often called “social lubricant,” and it seemed like a decent way to open up a conversation with my neighbor.
I grabbed a small bottle, a repurposed glass Listerine bottle, and made my way next door. He was already outside, kicking back in a lawn chair as the sun started to fall. He looked smug. I thought it would be nice to wipe that expression off his face, for about twenty seconds, and decided a fist fight was poor behavior on my part.
“Hey,” I said, “How’s things?”
He rolled his head towards me, all shaggy hair that was trying to grow back after he lopped it all off. Having a zombie use your pony tail as a leash will do that to you. My hair was long, and I was fine with it, because I never let them get close enough to give me whiplash.
“Hi, Shawn. What’s up?”
“Not much, I just thought I’d come over and share a drink with you. Jim and Darcy, you’ve probably met them, do homebrew.”
“Cool! Pull up a chair, they’re right inside the door.”
That’s exactly what I did, the I passed him the bottle. He took a generous swallow, and gave it back to me.
“Foowheeooo! It tastes like Cognac, apples, and the bottom of a leaf pile in Autumn!”
“That’s our brewmaster, all right. Their apple brandy is second to none, in my opinion.” I couldn’t help smiling. We were justifiably proud of our friends’ products.
“I’ve had English cider and brandy from the Cotswolds, but this stuff gives those a fierce wedgie.” He smiled, and I took a swig from the bottle.
The burn was lovely, and it reminded me of the Fall back home in North Carolina. I missed home, but not all that much. My mother was a harsh matriarch.
“Why are you sitting out here by yourself?” I had to ask.
“I’m trying to think up names for my zombie extermination service, and all I’m doing is drawing a blank.”
“Well,” I took another drink, “what ideas have you come up with so far?”
He shook his head, pulled on his little soul patch, and motioned for me to hand him the brandy. This time, he drank more than a tipple. I don’t think he realized how strong that stuff is. I’d heard from our mutual friend, Marvin the bartender, that Frank’s a lightweight drinker.
“The last thing that came to mind was ‘Frank’s Amazing Problem Elimination.’” He grabbed the bottle back.
“FAPE.” I rolled it around in my mouth. “It sounds like you do more than kill things. Do you really want somebody coming around, asking you to artificially inseminate their pigs?”
He nearly spat out the brandy he was holding in his cheek, that would have been a sin.
“What about “Frank Kills Pesky Undead?” I asked, after he swallowed. There’ll be no spitting fine liquor in my presence. I grew up in a family that made moonshine. Mama would sling a rolling pin if you couldn’t take it.
“FKPU?” He didn’t look convinced. “It sounds like ‘fuck poo,’ and that isn’t an impression I want to leave with people.”
“Yeah. Got any other ones?”
“Um. ‘Frank Kills Zombies?’”
“Well, that’s accurate,” I commented, “but it lacks a certain zing.”
“A ‘certain zing?’” Frank leaned back in the chair, and I noticed his movements were a little wobbly. “What are you, a Madison Avenue marketing professional?”
“No, but you read car part slogans long enough and you develop a,” I found the word in my head, “discernment for what’s shit and what isn’t.”
“You know, for a blond gorilla, you’ve got a good vocabulary.” He was still drinking from the bottle in his hand. I guess he liked it.
“Now, now, there’s no call for calling me names.”
“It was totally affection. I like you, man.” Another drink. Gracious, boy was going to feel it any second. “You’re a solid…solid…water-filled bag made outta skin.”
Yep. The drink had started to talk.
He went on, head wobbling to and fro. “I was also thinking about ‘Very Obnoxious Frank’s Zombie Whacking Service,’ but it just didn’t resonate with me. Then it was ‘Frank’s Undead Killing Service,’ but the acronym sucked shit.”
I thought, “Please don’t take another drink,” but he did. I looked across the way, and something moved across the light I always kept lit in the garage.
“Hey, Frank, you stay here. There’s something I need to take a gander at.”
“Dude,” he replied, and I took that as permission to excuse myself.
I used to carry a .45 in the small of my back. My hand found it, and I racked a round as I walked towards the corner of my place. By the time I got there, I could hear somebody rattling around in my tool chests. That meant one of three things: an intruder, a zombie, or a neighbor who needed a screwdriver at night.
The gun came up, but I left my finger off the trigger, because killing neighbors isn’t nice. I rounded the corner, and hollered at whoever it was to stand and deliver.
Did he? Nope. He dove between the garage wall and Frank’s minivan, effectively out of sight.
That was fuckin’ annoying, but it did limit my choices. I had an intruder who might be a thief, or a zombie who might be a thief. As a group, we took a dim view on thieves of any kind. People we might let go with a stern warning, but zombies were killed without delay.
Martial law was over by then. Local justice was the way of things. We were a little more merciful than some of the other groups in our area. Some of them lynched thieves, others shot them, and one group in Falls Church (a religious commune) beheaded them.
Also, we were still a little unclear about how the zombie virus spread. People generally kept to themselves, or hung out in their little tribes, so thieves and squatters were unusual to begin with…at least singly. We’d had one or two tussles with other groups that wanted to acquire our resources, and it didn’t go well for them.
“All right now, you can come out right now, and I might not kill you. If you make me come in there, I’ll pop you between the eyes,” I yelled into the concrete cavern.
He did, right over the top of the minivan, almost too fast to see. We went to the asphalt in a tangle, with my pistol between us, pointing at my balls. His breath smelled like week-old fish. Zombie.
Any other doubts I could have had about that vanished when he raked those damned giant fingernails across my chest. God, it burned!
I noticed he had a handful of screwdrivers in his other hand, so he had been intent on stealing. Asshole.
I barely moved my head in time to avoid claws to the eyes. He hit the road instead, and I heard some nasty cracks right beside my ear. Brittle nails.
“You’re not eating enough collagen, are you? Unhealthy nails are a terrible thing,” I said in his ear, and then I bit it off.
He dropped the drivers and grabbed that side of his head as he rose up off my chest. I spat the ear back at him, pulled my .45 up, and aired out his chest. That got him all the way off me, and I put one between his eyes.
By the time I got on my feet, ¾ of my neighbors were running towards me, guns drawn.
“It’s okay, y’all. Go on home. Thanks for comin’ though!”
Like any armed mob, they dispersed, but not after cheery greetings and hugs. Gotta love it when people love each other. Instead of joining in, I strolled back to my drunk neighbor, and grabbed the bottle out of his hand. There was a little left in it.
I took a pull, swished it around to get the thick taste of blood out of my mouth, and spat it out. I poured the rest on my scratched up chest. It didn’t feel good, but alcohol might ward off bacteria, and it would leave me smelling tasty.
Frank rolled his eyes up at me, and I realized I had something to say.
“Look,” I sat back down in the lawn chair, “don’t name your business. Just be yourself. People will find you if they want you. Besides, all those names were awful.”