John Rivera is a zombie.
You wouldn't think it to look at him, so neat in his shirt and tie, biking in to work with his son in a little plastic seat behind him. Doug Cho, you say, now there's a zombie, shambling around in the server room, and maybe you're right, but I think you just have something against the IT guys ever since they found the porn in your personal folder.
But John. See him now, standing by the watercooler, sipping like it's a nice Chardonnay and not flat, over-filtered empty-tasting water. Watch him smile cheerfully and greet Marjorie with a jaunty "Good morning!" When he turns around, see the small sticky spot of sweat pasting his shirt to the line of his spine--but that just makes him seem all the more human, doesn't it?
What you don't know, what you can't see, is that John is a zombie. No, not a rotting corpse, shambling and diseased, obviously. But John isn't in control of John any more. Not always. Maybe not even often. He's a big walking doll, a meat-puppet, the dancing fool of some faraway master.
Mostly John isn't aware of this, but lately he's started to catch on. Sometimes he sits at his desk, hands hovering over his keyboard, and he just feels disconnected. He begins to wonder why he can't remember the moment before, what he was thinking, what he was about to think. He gets suspicious, staring into the mirror in the bathroom, watching himself scrub his fingers and under his fingernails and getting the soap good and foamy. His fingers do not feel like his fingers. His fingernails are somebody else's.
Why, the other day, he zoned out while driving back from the dentist's office and ended up all the way on the other side of town. He tried to tell himself he'd just gotten caught up singing along to the radio--but he doesn't remember singing at all.
But worse than that: sometimes he stands in the doorway to the living room and looks at his family fondly. It's an old habit of his, admiring his wife and his children. Lately, however, he stands there and he could be looking at furniture. Lovely furniture, furniture he hand-selected, but furniture. Not people. Not his people.
When that happens he turns away, marches woodenly into the kitchen. His legs are not his legs. They march him to the locked cabinet and his not-hands find the key and he unlocks the cabinet and he takes the scotch and he pours himself a big slug into the funny Pokemon cup: his son's cup, his not-son's not-cup. He drinks the scotch like it's water, doesn't stop even when it burns, swallow, swallow, swallow, swallow. His belly lights on fire but he pours more scotch, and then he puts the bottle away, and he locks it in the cabinet and hides the key again.
Mostly after that he goes to bed, falls into it like a puppet with its strings cut. But sometimes, he imagines he dances. He imagines his puppet-master makes him dance, prancing around the kitchen, laughing giddily. Not even drunkenly, but mock-drunk. Sometimes he thinks he is actually dancing, but that can't be true--surely his family would notice him spinning and leaping in the kitchen, rattling the dishes, cackling like a hyena. So he must imagine it.
Unless they are zombies too, of course. But who's ever heard of a whole zombie family? Let's not be ridiculous.
Look! What's John doing now, standing there like an idiot? Uma just about ran into his back. He doesn't even seem to hear her question--oh, wait, now he does. Turning his head and smiling. Did you hear him? I just had a thought, he says, I just had such a great idea, sorry Uma, I'm such a dingbat.
Zombie words from a zombie mouth. Have you ever heard John say "dingbat" before? Who says that anyway, these days?
Oh, well, you're right. Sometimes I do.
© 2011, LC Hu